5.10 Following But Not as Cute as Pushkin. It's December now. Very long. Post-modern.

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Prologue

If you take my hand now, I will lift you up.

And then we could float awhile. Or, better yet, fly. Think of what heaven it is to feel weightless in the pool as a child. The warm sun on your face... The freedom that comes with that. This will feel like nothing more. I promise. You could close your eyes, but I advise against it. I really do.

If your eyes are closed you could still smell the pine and the snow in the air as you rise up above into the dark night. But you would not see the lights, which, in my opinion, would be a terrible shame. It's so beautiful to be up there. And you will be safe and warm, but still able to feel the tingle-burn of the cold air straight to the depths of your lungs that is Winter and Connecticut at night.

You will see, if your eyes are open, the twinkling lights of the little town below, or the brighter ones in the city a ways away. You might flip then and float on your back awhile too and see the stars. Lots of people love to do that.

I will not let go of your hand. You can trust me. You have before and we've come through just fine.

So, let's swoop about and watch and be with them all (those below) in their small lives, needful needs, hungry wants, and fearsome fears too. Poor them, I say.

But there are the other moments as well, when it is all so worth it for they who struggle and for we who watch.

That is the best part of this job. Those moments.

Charles Dickens, May God Bless him (she does by the way, daily) wrote serialized stories in the newspaper. A penny a word (but I've told you that before). It behooved him therefore to write lots of words. So he did. He gave us character after character. Rich and poor. Cruel and kind. Or complex patchworks of both, like you and I. Well, you. I, of course, no longer need bother with such things.

That is the reward we will all receive. If we try in life.

I tried. I did. I wrote in a small way. I tried to rise above my affliction. I forbore bitter disappointment. I stood by and watched my father die just so he would know I was near. And when he breathed his last, I lifted my face up hoping, but not yet knowing, that he would see me there smiling and bidding him farewell as he floated away, grateful that his pain was at an end.

I know I loved well and with my full heart.

But that is me and tonight is not about my journey. It is yours. And those we know and love in Connecticut (admit it, you never thought I'd get there). So you and I will swoop about tonight like the wraiths that we are (you have a special one-time guest pass—my present to you). Do not be concerned if we hop quickly from place to place, if we slip in time, or listen even to those who are dead.

You are so brave here and now as I stand before you in your darkened bedroom. Surely I scared you when you startled awake, and I'm sorry for that. And do not worry about your appearance, you are beautiful to me. For you are alive, and trying as we all do to get through this night with grace, and what is more lovely than that?

And remember, I've got you.

Let's go!

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It's a little showy perhaps, but first we go up, up, up... further than you've been before, further than a Luke or a Taylor could certainly imagine, so high that maybe only Dickens himself when alive could have an inkling of it. For it is here where we will meet out first storyteller. Because Dickens would have loved that.... and I'm a terrible suck up.

I'll be quiet now.

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Hey there, glad you could make it.... Mind if I smoke?

Once you're up here, you gotta ask.

It's not like it makes a damn bit of difference. 'Cause everyone here's dead. Pretty funny, huh? They're all dead, but still you gotta ask, all polite-like, to smoke. Premium placed on manners here. Not so much on having a sense of humor though.

Uh... that's just my opinion, by the way. It's not like I'm the gold-star representative of this outfit. No way. No halo here, that's for damn sure... Just because a guy likes to take a few things with him. I mean, Geez, what's a few hundred baseball cards and some dueling pistols in the big picture? What do they care? But, no... apparently they do care and look down on you too just 'cause you like your things... What's the point of enjoying the life you had I ask you, if you can't enjoy your stuff too...?

Excuse me a minute while I spit.....

That's better.

So no, I'm not the stellar citizen around here, but I have learned the protocols for getting along. The damn manners: You gotta be polite.

Oh, and all that 'shalt not' crap...

What are you gonna do? That's the way The Boss likes it.

Still, I've come to enjoy sitting here watching everything that's going on, and there's nothing better, dead or alive, than a good stogie while you're having a conversation.

You know what I mean?

My brother, he's up here too. With his wife. They don't mix much with the likes of you. Nothing personal, but they're just not quite as earthy as me. Guess they were split up too soon and are using eternity to make up for it. Well, that's them. They still tune in on the big picture screen, of course. But they don't really mix. I told 'em they should've with that greasy grandkid of theirs, but that's another story.

But here and now, I'm watching. And seeing some pretty interesting stuff too.

You know, I appreciate that he (my nephew) gave me my due in death, I really do. I myself, in his place, probably would've pocketed the baseball cards and not stuck 'em in the coffin at all. But he didn't. He did the right thing. Respectful-like. You learn the value of that when you're a war veteran.

So anyways, I started getting a little concerned when he was yelling at Minnie Thompson a few weeks ago. Not for her. I never liked her. Prude. Knees practically soldered together. Nah, I was getting concerned because he was gearing up again for that damn Dark Day those loons all call it.

My brother just sighs, shakes his head and calls him a fool.

Me, I call him Cheese-head.

And where does he get off yelling at that brunette hotty-totty about that stupid old boat? She may be a little pigeon-toed, but she's got a helluva an ass on her. Is he really trying to chase away every damn woman within a four hundred mile radius? Pretty soon he'll have to resort to married ones like I did.

Cheese-head, I tell ya. Still wrapped up in it all after more than twenty years. Won't even change the frickin' sign on the store. Let it go, Lucas! I yell at him. I mean, I literally stand there in the old hardware store and yell at him while he works. But does he hear me? No, he does not. Just tells that pencil-neck kid (easy Halloween candy mark, by the way) to shut the door because he thinks there's a draft. A draft! That's what he thinks I am now. A draft.

I tried throwing some small tools at him from one of the bins on the shelf there (couldn't find a rock), just to get his attention, but they go right through my hand now of course due to my current non-corporeal status.

So, for years I've been standing there yelling at him and trying to throw tools at him, and still he just moped over his dad and wouldn't make a move on the leggy brunette.

Life, folks, is wasted on the living.

You tell them Louie says so.

My brother and his wife just shake their heads and sigh and tell me to let it be. Everything has it's season, and everyone too... blah, blah, blah. But I feel I still have some redeeming to do. So I don't leave it.

I mean he did finally make the move on the brunette, so anything could happen now. Right?

So, I'm having my stogie, blowing smoke, spitting—same old, same old... And watching...

Might have to try throwing some tools too before it's all over.

So, we're gonna start in the middle of the story tonight, or thereabouts, because that's what I want to do. You can just buzz off to another story if you don't like it. I'm startin' here because I get to watch that brunette walking down the street in some of them jeans, and no man, dead or alive, is gonna skip over that.

Wowza.

So, that's where I'm startin'...

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She felt the cramp in her stomach again, but kept walking anyway.

No, no, no, no!... this is not happening. I am fine! I cannot—I will not be sick! I'll make it to the diner, have the magic coffee and be healed!

All this she told herself—the last bit with her inner hysterically funny evangelist's voice as she hurried along (as well as she could). She pretty much had herself convinced too by the time she rang through the door and had sat at the counter to remove her gloves.

"Go home," she heard.

"Luke, I'm fine," she told him, and smiled too, to prove it.

"You are not fine," he corrected as he leaned over the counter, "You're pale, probably feverish, and have dark circles under your eyes. And your hair is kinda flat."

"Wow. Is this how the Prince got Grace?"

"You're sick," he ignored her, "Go home. Wallow in your denial there so you don't contaminate the rest of us."

"You know, when you talk like that it's just Cary Grant all over again."

"Lorelai..."

"Coffee, please."

"That is not what you need right now."

"Dirty! And, it is. It is what I need: Coffee!"

"I am not giving you coffee. I'll give you some chamomile tea for your stomach in a to-go cup. After which, you will go home and go to bed."

"Tea? Absolutely not! Coffee is the magic cure."

"So you admit you're sick then?" he said with no small satisfaction.

"I concede that if you do not give me the Magic Coffee right now... The veritable Lorenzo's Oil from the Beatific Bean, it's gonna get ugly in here. Fast. I'm talking Falwell and Sharpton on Russert, buddy."

"Fever's making you delusional."

"Fork it over, coffee man."

He looked at her a moment, eyed the now diminished crowd in the diner, and turned to pour a to-go cup of coffee before coming around the counter to take her arm.

"Here," he said handing her the cup, "I'm taking you home."

"No," she shook her head, "I am going to the Inn."

He grabbed his coat off the rack then, "Ceasar, I'm going out for awhile!" he called, and led her outside, as she pulled on her gloves and drank deeply of the coffee.

"Lorelai, you cannot go to the Inn. You are sick."

"But Luke, it's...—"

"...Christmas eve. I know. I understand. But apparently that stomach virus you've got doesn't recognize holidays."

They crossed the street in this way.

"But..."

"No buts. You've got to go home to bed. Look at it this way, it gets you out of going to your parents' tonight."

"But I like going for Christmas. And this is my first Christmas with you."

"You've seen me on Christmas before."

"Yes, I know. That's true. And charming as you were..."

"It's all commercial hype, Lorelai..."

"I repeat, Charlie Brown, charming as you were, we were not an us then."

"How will Christmas be any different now that we're an us?"

She smiled at him knowingly as they walked past Miss Patty's, "Because we'll be together."

Luke shifted uncomfortably, "About that..."

"Oh Luke... what?"

"Well..."

"Oh my God, wait...!" she cried suddenly, paling at the cramping in her stomach...

"W-what? Oh, Lorelai...!"

And at that he knelt down next to her, and swiped her hair quickly out of her face as she un-breakfasted into bushes next to the dumpster.

She sat back on her knees then, eyes closed and mortified, gloved hand to her lips, trying to will the nausea and dizziness away with all her might.

Luke looked at her in real concern then, and pulled off his own glove to feel her face.

"Lorelai, you're burning up..."

She turned to look at him then, eyes moist, deeply embarrassed, "Oh Luke, I'm so sorry..."

"There's nothing to be sorry about," he told her gently and rubbed her shoulder softly, "We've got to get you home."

"Lorelai! Are you all right?" demanded Miss Patty at their side now.

"Patty, she's really sick. Can you sit with her while I go get my truck to drive her home?"

"Oh sure. Let's bring her inside. Here, honey, let me help you up..."

Luke and Patty got Lorelai into the studio and upon a chair then (Lorelai protesting the entire way, 'I'm fine... I can walk...')

Once Luke had gone, Patty turned to Lorelai, "Would you like some water, sweetie?"

Lorelai smiled weakly up at her, "That would be great, Patty."

The water did taste good. And boy-oh-boy she did feel crappy, dammit.

"Lorelai," began Patty knowingly as she took the glass from her, "There isn't some little announcement you have impending, is there dear?"

"Huh?" asked Lorelai wearily as she leaned her face into her hand and rested her elbow on the table.

"You and Luke, I mean. It isn't unreasonable to assume... what with you booting into my chrysanthemum bushes and all..."

Lorelai looked up, "Oh no, Patty! No, no, no! It's the flu, I promise. Rory had it last week. My ovaries are in a vault made of titanium, I assure you. I mean, fool me once... Right?" she tried to laugh weakly.

"Okay dear, if you say so."

"I do. I do say so."

"Fine dear. Whatever you say."

"Patty..."

"Are you ready?" asked Luke from the door then, "I've got the truck outside."

"Absolutely! Thanks Patty. Merry Christmas!" she smiled and headed gratefully out to the truck.

"Merry Christmas!" called Patty after them.

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My nephew isn't really a bad sort. A Cheese-head yes, but not bad.

(They're heavy on stressing that good and bad difference up here, so I thought I'd make that clear.)

But he does have it bad for the brunette. That's plain. And she for him too. I told you I keep an eye on things... And, boy-howdy, she's got some sexy black lacy stuff to wear too!

But you didn't hear that from me.

And now she's sick, and yuking her guts out, which is pretty disgusting to watch but necessary for us to know in the scheme of things now. And before you go all female and soap opera on me like that battleaxe Patty, she ain't pregnant. She's sick. End of story.

When you're up here you're privy to the inside dope like that.

What kind of cliche outfit do you think The Boss is running here, anyway?

So, Lucas gets her to her house and upstairs and changed (I looked away) and into bed, and then she, being the pitbull that she is, starts in all suspicious on him about being so shifty about spending Christmas with her...

This oughta be good....

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"Luke, I understand that you want to be open for breakfast and lunch tomorrow. Some people only have Luke's for Christmas. I applaud that. I understand that. I do. I just don't get why you won't come over right after you close so we can have the rest of the day together..."

Luke shifted uncomfortably, unwilling to admit the truth.

"Is it TJ and Liz?" she tried to reason.

"No, they're going into the city to be with Jess."

"Okay..." she waited.

"I just don't want to intrude on your time with Rory," he tried.

"Honey, you wouldn't be. She wants you here too. And she'll go see Lane in the afternoon any way... But, I've told you that already..."

"Well then, you should rest..."

"Luke..." her eyes misted up, "It's Christmas tomorrow. Don't you want to be with me? I mean I thought that we... that you and I..."

"Look," he blurted more harshly than he intended, "I've got some business... an errand to take care of, and tomorrow afternoon's the only time I can get it done!"

"You have an errand?"

"Yes."

"An errand on Christmas Day?"

"Yes."

"Okay," she paused to breathe, "I see."

She eyed him coldly then from her bed as he stood before her looking anywhere but at her. She was beyond puzzled. She was pissed.

"Fine, Luke. Take care of your errand," she finally said quietly. "I'm going to call Rory now, and then get some sleep, so if you'll just pull that curtain closed before you leave, I'd appreciate it."

"Lorelai..." he sighed, truly miserable now (frickin' holiday!) "Look, I'll send Ceasar over with some food for you later and then I'll see you tomorrow evening."

She only looked away at that so he pulled the curtain closed then, casting the bedroom in an odd darkness in the mid-morning.

"No need," she finally told him, "I'd probably just send all the food back, and not in a recognizable form."

"Lorelai, don't be that way... please. Maybe you'll feel better later and want something. I'll send brownies," he wheedled.

She looked up at him. "'Bye Luke."

"I will see you tomorrow evening then," he finished lamely.

But when nothing came of that either, he headed to the door.

"Ouch!" he yelped in it's archway.

"What?" she demanded in irritation.

"Big bolt just fell on my head," he rubbed his crown ruefully while looking at the offending article on the floor.

He looked back at her in the bed, "Did you just throw a bolt at me?"

"Wish I had," she grumped under her breath and crossed her arms over her chest.

He looked up and examined the door jamb ledge above him.

"How the hell did that thing get up there to fall on me?"

"Go home, Luke," Lorelai told him irritably and scrunched down into her pillows, "And do not send food!" she yelled after him for good measure.

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Hahaha! I did it! Just goes to show you, where there's a will, there's a way!

Look at him, the flipping Cheesehead! Should just tell her the truth, that'd be better than this!... Now she's hurt and sick and on Christmas too. I wonder if I could pull that rug out from under him by the front door there too...

Louie, stop it!

What? I didn't hurt the guy.

You can't interfere that way.

They do it in the movies all the time!

That may be, but this is not the movies. And if you keep Luke here at Lorelai's, it spoils the rest of the story, and I have made special arrangements for my friends to be here tonight, so knock it off!

But...

I mean it, Louie. No more throwing things at people. End of story!

Fine, fine... Next time it won't just be a bolt I heave at him, I can tell you that right now....

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Sorry about that. But let us take this lesson from the fact of Louie: Those who are gone from among us, never truly depart. I'm sure you've sensed that before. Most do. Some even see things now and then as you will tonight. It is the best bit of comfort allowed the living in their grief over loss. Well, that and the children. It is sadly not enough for many but the best that can be done, for ultimately they must all learn to live again...

Excuse me! But I beg your pardon!

Yes, what can I do for you?

I have been waiting an inordinate amount of time. It seems long past time for my entrance.

Oh, I'm sorry but you must wait a bit longer, Mrs. Gilmore.

I find that very inconvenient. And rude. In life, I was never kept waiting.

Well, you know that we are all equals here, Mrs. Gilmore.

I do not have a lifetime to stand about trying to accommodate your schedule, young woman!

Excuse me, Trix, but you have eternity.

Do not get uppity with me!

Sorry. Mrs. Gilmore, please...

And I fail to see why that uncouth, spitting, peasant of a man should get to go first when clearly my role in this is far more important...

Because that is the way it is. Besides, for your part to have the greatest dramatic impact, we must wait until the sun goes down and the clock strikes twelve. It being so important and all.

Well, as you put it that way and if you really feel it is for the best...

I do. So, please again Mrs. Gilmore, be so kind as to wait until midnight.

Very well. I certainly do not want to be associated with low-brow bolt-dropping tricks.

No, you do not.

Silvery mists, perhaps. Moonlight certainly. And bells. Real bells, with deep tolling. No cheap clanking about.

Tolling not clanking. Got it. Much classier.

It is not an issue of class, young woman.

Sorry.

It is only what is appropriate.

Of course.

All right, I will wait. But, mind you, I will not wait one minute past midnight!

Well, that is gracious indeed, Mrs. Gilmore.

And I'm not waiting over there with that Louie. He smells bad.

I understand perfectly.

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My apologies again.

Here, let's join hands, shall we?

Let us descend now from this lofty place . We have time before the Midnight Hour and because we are what we are, we can keep an eye on Lorelai as she sniffs into the phone about Luke to Rory at Emily and Richard's party...

And watch Luke himself as he dejectedly mops the diner...

And over there, look! Kirk and Lulu sit cuddling in the gazebo watching the snow before going for a romantic Christmas dinner at Luke's. Wait until she sees what he got her for a gift! (I hope her inoculations are up to date)...

And yes, I know it was just breakfast a moment ago by your standards, and that Luke is mopping closed the diner Lulu and Kirk haven't gone to yet, but remember what I told you about time tonight?

Oh and, by the way, you don't get airsick, do you?

Good.

Over there to the south, Babbette and Morey are at a hot jazz club in New York. It is just swinging with the Christmas spirit! And look, they've brought Patty with them too. That's nice...

And here Lane sits with her mother at services. Let's watch for a moment as they go afterwards to visit the elderly and shut-ins in town. Mrs. Kim gives each a xeroxed copy of various large-
fonted bible verses (she's hi-lighted the important parts) and when her back is turned, Lane slips them one of the small baggies of treats (green Oreos, ribbon candies, nuts, soyfudge, and the roll of Tums necessary after soyfudge) she and Rory put together earlier in the week (they've done this every year for as long as they can remember).

They think Mrs. Kim doesn't know, but I am here to tell you that she has always known that the girls do this, and has consciously created reasons to turn away at the exact right moments so that the girls might still enjoy their secret.

Mrs. Kim is not who you think she is at all.

Now, I feel we must take a moment to honor Charles Dickens here.

He wrote with a social agenda, you know. And was publicly blasted in his life for encouraging the poor to marry. He well-understood the privations many have in this life, and wrote not only for entertainment, artistic calling, and a living, but for illumination on social welfare as well.

As you can imagine his was that rare ear in life that heard the whisperings of angels.

So, in this vein, I ask you to recall this: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

Now, I do not preach to you. I promise. That isn't my job. I mean, what the hell do I know?

Nothing, that's what.

Whether you believe that the savior has been here once, or that we are still awaiting him (or her) is not my business. Whether the above-statement is truth in fact, or truth in metaphor is not my concern now either. You have to wait until you have full resident status here to learn the juicy stuff (think of it as the Ultimate Cosmic Sweeps Week).

It is the act, that is important for our purposes tonight, Friends, and why I draw you selfishly away from your families and warm beds, not to mention The WB.

To be plain: The giving, Friends... It is the giving.

So, I give you this now: This story. And, this moment as well to pause and reflect upon those whom you've lost, perhaps long before it seemed quite right that they should go. To tell you how sorry I am that you have lost them. And to show you how even now, after all these years, my own eyes well up as I think of my grandmother and the little pink dresses she made for my Barbie.

So, this is a night for gifts.

Oh! and friends please, think a little too, especially at this time of year, on the one hundred and seventy million children in our world who are malnourished (many of whom live very close to you). Think of them, friends. Think of them too.

It is the giving.

And back here in Connecticut as we fly warm and cozy and free through the snowy night, think also of Taylor Doose (and his ilk) and how there is no Nephew Fred asking him to dinner this night, though there be many nephews. Think of him alone eating day-old sushi and plotting ways to improve profits. Think of him with charity in your hearts.

At last, as we fly Mary Poppins-like past the steeple, hear the deep tolling coming from no clock known to the human ear. It is mournful and deep as it strikes the Christmas Midnight Hour and knocks coldly at our consciences in our sleep: Did we do all that we could? Were we selfish? Greedy? Did we use words that cut and hurt? Did we turn our backs though the knowledge of hunger and bigotry trumpeted across our television screens daily? Were we apathetic, you and I?

Grim as that may be, Christmas cannot be without such questions, whatever your faith.

But I have promised you your story and as I don't want you flipping channels on me, you will have it.

Here now...

We are back at Lorelai's.. In her darkened living room. I have just switched on the tree lights in the corner...

The loud tolling continues, the deeply haunting clamor of the Christmas midnight bell droning on and on, shaking the windows in their frames.

Now wait just a moment.... There! There, look! See the wispy bits of silvery fog gather and spin about? Oh, this is drama!

The boom of the tolling bell, the gathering mist....

She stirred and woke then in her darkened room. Her stomach was not roiling as it had been before but her mouth tasted like, Oh God, socks? Then: What was that? Had she just heard something? She blinked and squeezed her eyes, and dug at the bit of sand in the corners as she slowly got out of bed....

Something... Someone?

And was she hearing bells?

Had Rory changed her mind about sleeping at Emily's and come home? And why was she ringing bells?

She flipped the hall light switch with no result. Damn, how could both bulbs be out? Oh, well. She padded stiffly down the stairs to the landing then stopped and blinked, her bladder suddenly feeling pressured, her heart beating faster just like... just like an elevator out from under you...!

"G-Gran?"she gulped.

"Hello, Lorelai. I see your hair has not much improved since last I saw you."

"G-Gran?!" She repeated and gaped at her grandmother in her living room below, swimming in a silvery mist.

"Yes, dear. Don't stutter. It's unattractive."

"You're dead."

"And certainly do not be rude, young lady!"

"Sorry."

"I have passed beyond the veil which separates the living from knowing all, that is true, but I have come tonight, most beautifully in a silver mist and with ominous bell tolling as well, to see you."

Lorelai sat down hard on the stair beneath her, lest she fall over, and placed her face into her hands.

"I must be sicker than I thought."

"You should not have eaten that cheese this morning."

She looked up, "I cut off the green part."

"Nevertheless."

"Am... am I dreaming?"

"You may perhaps think so tomorrow, but here and now you are not."

"Dad was so sad when you d--.. passed beyond the veil."

"Of course he was. Only right that he should be."

"A-Are you going to show me what Stars' Hollow would have been without me?"

"Good heavens, no!"

"Are you going to scare me into repenting my sins and giving my money to little lame boys?"

"I sincerely doubt it."

"Oh! Are you going to tell me that my father was murdered by my mother's new husband?"

"I will not even dignify that."

"Oh. Okay."

"You sound disappointed."

"What? No!"

"Yes you are, you are disappointed... Here I've come all this way and gone to all the trouble to make a grand entrance from The Beyond...!"

"It was beautiful, Gran! Really it was. It's just in movies, the ghost always comes to do that kind of stuff."

"This is not a movie, Lorelai! As if I'd be caught within ten feet of an actor, living or dead!"

"No, it isn't. It isn't a movie. You're right. My mistake. I've just never encountered this sort of thing before. I'm a little rattled. Could we start over, please?"

"I don't know if I want to now."

"Please?"

"Very well."

"So, you've come to see me?"

"Yes."

"Any particular reason?"

"Well, naturally."

"Are you going to tell me the reason?"

"You know, you were a very spirited little girl."

"I haven't heard it put quite that way before."

"I remember Richard writing to tell me all the clever places you found to hide in the house. He was so proud! And it just drove your mother to distraction, which made me so proud!"

"Oh! Is this when you show me my childhood?"

"No."

"Just as well. Didn't enjoy it so much the first time round."

"Tonight is not about you, Lorelai."

"It isn't?"

"No."

"Why did you wake me up then? Oh! Is it about Rory?"

"You must look beyond Rory and yourself here, Lorelai dear."

"But... I don't understand."

"I know you don't. That is why I am here."

"Okay..."

"My dear, you will have three visitors tonight... You should perhaps consider tidying up."

"Hah! I knew it! Past, Present and Future, right?"

"No. Do not interrupt me again. It is irritating."

"Sorry."

"Now, I want you to go back to bed and wait for them like a good girl."

"But...!"

"Now, Lorelai! And make a hair appointment Monday morning for heaven's sake!"

And suddenly the hall lights above her, dead only a moment ago, clicked on. Lorelai swivelled her neck up to look, but when her gaze returned to the living room below her, it was empty.

Gran and her mist were gone.

"Gran?" she tried, looking about.

Nothing. No Gran. No bells. No silvery mist.

"Gran!" she called again more loudly.

She went tentatively to the bottom of the staircase then, and after nervously checking every lock and closet, knew that she was truly alone.

"Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that cheese," she thought as she finally climbed the stairs back to bed.

A dream, she thought and palmed her forehead to test for fever.

Hope so anyway.

She glanced quickly over her shoulder and back into the still-empty living room below before bolting down the hall into her bedroom and diving into bed.

Definitely a dream.

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Now, it could be said that like Elliot's everyman Proofrock, Lorelai Victoria Gilmore measured her unremarkable life in Coffee-spoons. She is no Scrooge after all. She is not miserly nor mean. She is merely a taller, thinner, wordier one of us. With a much better wardrobe.

And we all know that in these magical-movie ghostly sorts of stories, there is always a lesson to be learned, repentance sought and gained, and a happy ending too (well, not in Hamlet, but Shakespeare could be an awful snot.). Tonight's tale is no different than any of these. Clumsier, yes. Less delicate, certainly. Anvil-esque, for sure.

And why, you may well ask, do we do this to a perfectly ordinary woman who does no real harm in the world? Our heroine? Our object of fantasy? Why bother her thus when we could be watching her in bed with Luke? Or, dispensing witty wisdom to Rory? Or, verbally fencing with Emily?

Because I call her forth tonight to stand and be counted for you and I...

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Mmmm.... popcorn, she smiled through her sleep. Popcorn smells good. Want some popcorn...

Beep, Beep, Beep!

Oooo! Popcorn's finished....

But... she was in bed! Where was her popcorn? And why was she in bed?

Oh, right: Home sick. Stupid Luke fight. Bad cheese dreams...

But someone was definitely making microwave popcorn downstairs. No doubt about it. She glanced at her clock. It was only one. Had Rory come home for real this time? Had Luke returned contrite?

She got up and walked into the hall, flipped on the lights (working this time–Stupid Dream!) And went down to the kitchen...

And saw Lulu standing in front of her microwave opening a steaming bag of popcorn.

"Oh, Lorelai! Glad you're up! I've got the popcorn all ready."

The young woman stood happily before her in a red and white full-length Lanz flannel nightgown. Each button done right up to the lace that circled just below her angelic chin.

"Lulu? H-how did you get in here?" asked Lorelai in surprise and glanced at the backdoor—the deadbolt was still turned.

"Oh, that wasn't a problem, don't worry," smiled the younger woman sweetly.

And then, "Come on, I've got us all set up in the living room!"

And with that she dumped the popcorn into a waiting bowl, picked it up, and sailed past a dumbfounded Lorelai and into the living room.

By the time she could regain the power of movement, Lorelai had turned and followed.

There Lulu sat on her couch, the quilt already tucked around her, the bowl of popcorn in her lap. Looking as comfy as a kitten.

She smiled again, "Come sit with me, Lorelai," she patted the place next to her. "I'll share the quilt."

"Lulu, w-why are you here?" Lorelai finally asked.

"Oh, don't be silly! You know why I'm here!" giggled Lulu as she dug her hand into the popcorn bowl.

"No, I don't."

"Didn't your grandmother tell you I was coming?... Lorelai? Lorelai, are you all right? You look

pale. Come sit down! Here, I'll help you... There you go... Oh, poor thing! I've given you a shock, haven't I? And here you're sick and all....I'm so sorry. Let's put the quilt around you... There. We'll share and be cozy and warm together. Don't be afraid, Lorelai. You know me."

"B-But..."

"Shhh, I know, Lorelai. I know. There, there," comforted Lulu.

"Have some popcorn, Sweetie, it'll make you feel better," she told her too, and popped a kernel into Lorelai's gaping mouth.

And instantly, she did feel better! The nausea and cramping melting away.

"I don't feel sick any more," munched Lorelai in some amazement.

Lulu nodded merrily and proffered the bowl, "Have some more."

Lorelai didn't need to be asked twice.

"Lulu," she finally asked after a couple handfuls, "You aren't dead, are you?"

Lulu laughed out loud at that, "Nope! Just lending a hand."

"B-But, don't you have to be... dead... to do this sort of thing?"

"That is a popularly held misconception."

"Oh," said Lorelai nodding, pretending to understand what she did not.

"Anyone can help out, Lorelai," added Lulu after a moment.

"I see. But..."

"Hey! Let's watch The Movie now!"

"The Movie?"

"Yep!" and with that Lulu leaned forward, grabbed the remote off the coffee table and clicked it on.

"You're gonna love this!"

They watched the FBI warning flash on the screen then.

"Lulu, there isn't anything illegal in this popcorn, is there?"

"Oh Lorelai, you are so funny!"...

They sat in silence for a moment as they awaited the credits. It was all strangely unstrange to Lorelai as she continued to eat the popcorn. Felt like something she did everyday. Hanging out with Lulu on her couch in the middle of the night... She stole a sideways glance at her then and thought what a pretty and sweet girl she was, and how lucky Kirk of all people had been to find her. She even went so far as to shake her head a little in wonder over it: Lulu and Kirk?

"Watch the screen, Lorelai," whispered Lulu.

Lorelai felt an odd pang of conscience at her unkind Kirk-thoughts and quickly complied.

Kirk's Movie the screen now read.

"But, I've seen Kirk's movie," she turned again to Lulu in protest.

"Shhh," hushed her companion. "You've seen A Film by Kirk. This is something else."

Lorelai turned back to watch her tv then and was amazed to see that in her momentary distraction, the screen had increased by a hundred-fold! It seemed now to fill her wall and boasted new and improved realism-enhancing accessories like Surround-sound and Smella-vision! Lulu slipped something into her hand then, and when she looked down she saw cardboard sunglasses with lenses of different colors. She understood at once that she was to put them on.

She looked back up at her enormous home-theater screen now, glasses resting on her nose, and gasped at what she saw. (Well, not the what, because it was only Stars' Hollow. More like the how) So realistic was the view, that she felt at once as if she were in the scene before her...

Like a fly on the wall was her last fully aware thought....

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It was cold. Too cold for her liking. She had found in recent years that the closer she got to retirement, the harder the Connecticut winters seemed to get. She flipped up the collar on her old tweed coat then and hunkered her shoulders inward a little as she switched her carry bag to the other hand. She sighed, yet again, over the dilemma that had kept her awake all last night.

It never got easier, these situations. And were by no means new. But that didn't make them any easier. They were never easy. But one had to make the report to the authorities, the police, the social workers. That was the law. And Adele Cassinni was nothing if not an honest woman.

She loved to chat and gossip, she would be the first to admit. But right was right, even when it meant that the father had to be removed from the home. The wife wasn't going to be happy, that was certain, whatever the old man had done. Twelve kids, for land's sake. Twelve hungry mouths to feed. And only three or four of them old enough to have jobs. And heaven only knew if jobs could be found for any of them in a town as small as Stars' Hollow. What with the recession on and all.

She continued down the street lost in thought this way. Two more years and she could retire. Two more years. She'd miss the kids, no doubt about that. She loved the kids— her kids, she liked to think of them. And their parents too—many of whom had been her kids themselves at one time.

But it wasn't getting easier. What with the ridiculousness of standardized testing, the overcrowding, the budget cut to the bone, and so many parents having to work such long hours that there wasn't nearly enough supervision in the homes.

And her eyesight no longer what it was.

It depressed her.

Well, what was done, was done. The father needed taking out of that house despite the fact that he was the bread winner. Not much of one, to be sure, but all they had. And here Christmas only two weeks away. But now, of course, she'd do what she could to keep the children and mother together. Which wasn't much. Frankly, she was out of ideas. The church fund for helping families in need wasn't what it used to be, the congregation so small now. And the school was making their pennies squeak.

She herself had been going to Staples for years now to buy paper for her students. Spent over a thousand dollars in classroom supplies alone last year. And was almost halfway to that now in only December. She couldn't afford any more. Not with retirement coming up.

Well, nevermind that now. Focus, Adele. Jobs. If she could find some after school jobs for a couple of the kids, that would be a start.

She paused at the corner and looked up then at... Luke's! Maybe Luke could take one of the kids on as a busboy or something!. He'd always been a good boy, that Lucas Danes. A bit wild after his mother died, but that was to be expected. He'd settled right into helping his father quick enough. Silent and taciturn, sure, and quick-tempered too, just like Louie. But good hearted.

She glanced down at her watch. She still had twenty-five minutes before her first class. She would go in, have a coffee, and talk to Luke about a job for one of the Gleason kids.

She stepped through the ringing door and took in the busy crowd as she shrugged out of her coat. There wasn't an open table in sight.

"Adele!" she heard then. "Over here!"

She looked to the counter to see Patty waving her over.

"I'm leaving, honey, take my seat," her friend offered.

She smiled her gratitude and slid into place as soon as Patty had vacated. Ceasar poured her coffee then and she took a grateful sip as she waited for Luke to be free enough to talk.

He certainly could use help, she noticed in satisfaction. The walls were lined with people trying to read newspapers as they waited for available seating. Thank God for Patty. Thank God too for being an old lady who won't get yelled at when she takes an offered seat. There had to be some perks to this getting old business otherwise, as near as she could tell, it was for the birds.

Luke moved down behind the other end of the counter now so she tried to catch his eye.

"Luke..." she began, but was immediately cut off.

"But Luke!" she heard a plaintive whine.

She looked over then to see Lorelai Gilmore standing opposite, and her heart sank. She knew that getting Luke's attention now could well be impossible. Everyone knew that. Everyone also knew that it was only a matter of time for those two, which didn't bode well for the town once they broke up. Which they surely would do. Always messy, these town romances— What was that candy maker's name? Fay. Fay Wellington. She hoped then that Luke didn't turn out to be the bastard that Art Bush had.

Lorelai Gilmore, she sighed. The pretty Inn manager had only moved into town from The Inn itself a year ago, but had no qualms at all about cutting in front of anyone to get what she wanted. And Luke, one eye always cocked, like antenna, never let himself miss an opportunity to flirt with her, or catch a view of her curvy rear end.

Adele rolled her eyes then as the game as old as time began between them.

"Come on, Luke! I really need the coffee!"

"So what else is new?"

"Seriously, I do."

"Lorelai, there are about five thousand people ahead of you."

Then why are you still standing there! thoughtAdele with a groan.

"But, my water heater broke yesterday, I'm out of coffee at home, and I had to send poor Rory to Babbette's to thaw out."

"What's wrong with your water heater?"

Here we go. Adele felt the level of irritation in the diner rise palpably. If these two ever do get together, the town will starve.

"It doesn't work," said Lorelai with a pout.

Fancy that.

"What did you do to it?" asked Luke, pretending to scold.

"I resent that implication! I have done absolutely nothing to Ted!"

"Ted?"

Ted?

"I'm going to call the plumber for him as soon as I get to The Inn, but first, in order to make it there, without dying of hypothermia; I need coffee!"

Luke turned then to fill her a to-go cup.

"I could come look at it for you," he offered shyly.

"Really?" she beamed.

Adele thought a smile like that could light up a Christmas tree pretty darn well. What it was doing to Luke was also clear.

"Sure, I'll come by tonight. No point in paying a plumber. It's probably just the thermostat."

Damn. Class in ten minutes.

"Well, Mr. Danes, you are probably the handsomest man I've ever seen! And so talented! You can cook and do the plumbing?! Boy, some lady will be lucky to get you! If you can also do impressions, I may have to snap you up myself..."

"Yeah, yeah," he mumbled and turned away.

Adele sighed seeing how happy these silly words made this very lonely man. She pulled a dollar out of her wallet then, set it on the counter, relinquished her seat to Mr. Perkins, and headed to the coatrack.

Once outside and on her way again to the high school, she considered her other options. Perhaps Doose's. She'd never cared for Taylor, but he did hire kids now and then. Of course he didn't pay well, but it would be something. She'd stop by after school on her way to the hospital to talk to him.

And then she felt the old pain rise up in her heart. The pain of wanting to do so much yet only being able to do very little.

Poor little Kathy Gleason. Imagine a grown man kicking a little girl so hard as to leave a perfectly identifiable foot print, treads and all, in purple and yellow bruises on her rib cage! What could possibly make anyone do that to a child?

She blinked then and stopped a moment to pull a kleenex from her pocket to dab her eyes.

She'd stop at the library tomorrow too, right after she spoke to Taylor. That's what she'd do. Get Kathy a book to keep her mind off things... Okay Adele, she gave herself a shake and hurried along again. Put out one fire at a time. Freshman Comp first.

She crossed the road then toward the high school but just before turning, caught sight of Lorelai Gilmore striding out of the diner sporting a Cheshire grin and with a to-go cup in hand, and wearing what was very probably a thousand dollar coat.

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"So, this film was a drama then?" said Lorelai quietly, her lips drawn tight.

The screen before them was dark now.

"Yes."

Lorelai pulled off the glasses and turned to look at the young woman next to her on the couch. And, for the first time saw beyond the pretty sweetness that always rang from Lulu clear as a bell, saw beyond it to a sort of, well, elderly look in her eyes. A tired look. A knowing look. And a look that was clearly seeing Lorelai in a way apart from most.

Why had she never noticed this about Lulu before? This way she had of looking at you.

"It was Kirk's sister?"

"Yes."

"Is she all right now?"

"She's going to be a kindergarten teacher. Kirk's been saving for her tuition for years. He pretty much had her set to go next semester but then his mother's car finally gave out, so he's had to start again."

Lorelai paused, feeling cold and hollow within.

"Lulu," she asked, squeezing her eyes closed in a feeble attempt to keep them dry, "How could I have known?"

"You couldn't have."

"But, then why..."

"Not then, anyway."

Lorelai nodded.

"Lulu... Would it have made any difference if I had known?"

"Of course. Knowledge always makes a difference," smiled Lulu sweetly, "Oh! I should tell Kirk to put that on one of his t-shirts!"

"Lulu... please..."

"You didn't know, Lorelai. You didn't. Do you see?"

Lorelai sighed and leaned her head against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes again.

Not really. She didn't see. Not really.

"Poor Kirk," she said instead.

"Poor Kathy," said Lulu.

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No, no, no, no.... No!

No more.

But, she was not an unintelligent woman.

And though she'd been asleep again just moments ago, she knew she had to get up and go out into the hall again. She knew also that then she must switch on the lights that might or might not work, and discover what freakin' and newly painful realm of personal reflection she must next enter.

Well, crap to that. Frankly, she'd rather stay in bed.

And if she, admittedly shallowly, preferred her beauty rest to the examination of her character, well, so what! It was her business. She didn't want to talk to Lulu (or whomever) again.

But a little voice in her head (I'll admit to you right now that it is mine!) told her it was not just her business. Rather, the business of us all. Simply because it is. What Lorelai Gilmore experiences on this night of all nights is everyone's business. If people only understood that, things would be so much better.

Trouble was (for her), she couldn't go back to sleep.

Because of the noise.

For fifteen minutes she had remained stubbornly sitting up in bed, arms crossed, trying to wait it out. With little luck.

She would very much have liked to believe that the droning of the hair dryer emanating from her bathroom down the hall for the past quarter hour was Rory. Rory, who had come home at two o'clock in the morning on Christmas eve (no, Christmas day now), and had then proceeded directly upstairs to wash then dry her hair in her mother's bathroom.

The fact that Rory had her own perfectly usable bathroom with its own hair dryer right next to her bedroom was irrelevant, and snort-worthy at this point.

Dammit!

She got up.

After quietly opening her bedroom door, she peeked into the dark hall. The bathroom door at the head of the stairs was open, its light on. Still, the hair dryer wailed.

Double-dog dammit!

She sighed then. Well, she'd just get it over with. So she walked directly down the hall then and turned to look into the bathroom...

"Oh, hello. Give me a minute, will you? I got rumaki on my new cashmere. A Pringle. Just bought it in London last week. I've sponged with cold water and now I'm drying on 'cool'."

And he was.

Jason Stiles was standing in her bathroom holding her hair dryer up to his midsection, and watching closely as the spot on his black and gray argyle slowly disappeared.

He looked up at her then and smiled.

"Surprised to see me?"

She sighed in irritation, crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned against the doorframe.

"Let's see," she replied, "So far today I've had a stupid fight with Luke, publicly vomited, talked to my dead grandmother who talked back by the way, and had a home invasion by the world's cutest living pixie."

"So, not surprised then?"

"What are you doing here, Jason?"

"Believe it or not, helping."

She only stared at that.

He had the grace to look a little sheepish.

"Well, trying to rack up a few points in the old Cosmic 'Pro' Column too, if you must know. You will be amazed when I tell you that I have not led the purest of lives."

"Do tell."

"Oh, it's true."

"So this is about Redemption?" She was curious now.

"That is perhaps an over-simplification, certainly a tad over-dramatic, and a little hokey too. But it works for me! You see, I have recently learned that anyone can help out."

"Really?" she asked dubiously.

"Yep, I did a little research," he smiled.

"And you're not dead?" she checked.

"Hello? Pringle cashmere here."

"What?"

"When I die it will be in the Versace."

"Oh, right."

He examined the sweater spot once more.

"Well, looks like the cashmere will live another day. So, if you're ready, I think we should get going."

"G-get going?" She was just a little panicked by this. "Where?"

Jason strode past her into the hall and took her elbow so that she would accompany him.

"Jason, I don't want to go any where!"

They were descending the stairs now.

"Well, that's not exactly the issue," he said escorting her to the front door.

"Jason, I'm wearing flannel pajamas with Scotty dogs on them!"

"And they are adorable," he said and opened the front door to conduct her out.

"Couldn't we just watch a movie here?"

"No. I've hired a car."

Lorelai looked out into her driveway then to see a tasteful black limousine with darkened windows awaiting them. A uniformed chauffeur in sunglasses stood quietly by, his hands crossed before him.

"My mother always said that a simple classic limo is the way to go. Stretch limos make one look like a trashy pop singer. And don't even get her started on white limos," Jason commented, and started walking toward the car.

"Makes sense," replied Lorelai hurrying after him, "But Jason, where are we going?"

"You're a smart girl, Gilmore," he told her as he handed her in, "I'm sure you know I can't tell you that."

And in a moment they were on their way.

Jason leaned forward to an elegant picnic hamper then and pulled out a dish.

"Rumaki?" he offered.

"Please Jason, just give me some idea what I'm in for!"

"No rumaki then. How about a martini?"

Lorelai stared at him a moment.

"They're extra dry," he coaxed.

"Fine," she sighed, giving up.

"Excellent," beamed Jason, as he pulled a silver shaker from the hamper and poured them each a drink.

"Now, what shall we toast to?"

"I swear to God, Jason, if you are taking me someplace to watch people playing The Minister's Cat, I will kill you."

"How many film versions of that story have you seen?" he laughed.

"If you count the one with the singing Muppets, then twelve."

They drank in silence a moment.

"I'm sorry your condo wasn't on fire," she finally said.

"Okay..."

"I didn't mean it that way," she dithered. "I just meant that I'm sorry they pulled that joke on you."

"Well, they wanted me to leave."

"I know, but they shouldn't have done it that way."

"I was being a pest and it was a better option than The Swirly."

"You're being understanding," she told him appreciatively.

"Who would'a thunk it?" he quipped. "I won't lie and tell you it's been easy, Lorelai. It hasn't. I really wanted something with you."

"I know and I am sorry."

He nodded and looked away a moment.

"Well," he tried more blithely then, "Tonight is not about me. And if you don't drop dead from shock over that statement then you truly are invincible."

She smiled.

"Thank you, Jason."

"To the journey," he clinked her glass with his own.

She sighed at that and took a sip.

She glanced out the window then.

"Jason, we're in Hartford! In my parents neighborhood!"

"Oh? Do tell!"

They swept into the Gilmore driveway then and Jason hopped out, then leaned back in and looked at her through the doorway.

"Come on... Secretly you're dying to know what's next..." he smiled.

"I hate you!" she groused and got out of the car.

"You know, " she said as she followed him up the walk, "I have absolutely no evidence that your little visit tonight has anything to do with Divine Intervention."

"Oh yeah?" he grinned at her, "Have you ever gotten rumaki out of cashmere with nothing but cold water and a hair dryer?"

"Huh. Good point. Hey, don't you think my parents will find it a little odd? Us showing up, I mean. And me in my pajamas.".

"I don't think they'll notice a thing," he replied and leaned in to ring the bell.

The door was opened then, not by one of many beleaguered maids, but by a small boy of about ten years of age. He sported longish dark hair and large dark eyes. He was pale with dark circles under his eyes. Asthmatic perhaps, Lorelai guessed.

"Hello," said Jason kindly to this boy. "Are they in the living room?"

The boy only pulled the door open for them wider and then shut it closed when they passed.

Jason looked over his shoulder to the child.

"Don't be scared," he told him kindly. Lorelai caught her breath at the gentleness in his voice.

The dark boy only stared at them.

Jason took hold of Lorelai's elbow then and led her into the living room.

Where sat her parents and his together. Emily pouring them coffee.

"...I checked on Rory. She's asleep, poor thing. I think she's still a little tired out from having the flu last week."

"I hope she's quite recovered," said Carol Stiles.

"Oh yes. Just tired. Yale had her working hard right up to the last. It's cream for you, right Floyd?"

"Hello, Mom," said Lorelai at the living room entrance, "Surprise! Thought I'd come by after all!"

"Well, Emily, I must say that I believe this may have been your best Christmas Party yet."

Richard told his wife heartily as he accepted his coffee.

"Yes, it did go well," Emily agreed with a smile. "Glad they've all gone now though and we can sit and enjoy old friends."

"Mom?" tried Lorelai again. "Hello?"

"Emily, I'd like to triple my offer for your apple tart recipe. I would love to have Juana make some for me at home,"

"Now, Floyd. That recipe has been in my family for years. And I tell you the same thing every year!" scolded Emily.

"I'm wearing Scotty Dog Pajamas in Public!" Lorelai shouted.

"I don't even know the secret ingredient, Floyd, and I've lived with her for nearly forty years!" laughed Richard, "She makes every cook we have sign a confidentiality agreement."

"So, they can't hear us then?"

"Nope," responded Jason, "Are you okay with that?"

"It's a little freaky, but I'm pretty used to them not listening to me."

"I think I can relate there," he told her.

"Poor Jason," she smiled sympathetically.

"How is Lorelai, Emily?" asked Carol then.

"Well, poor Lorelai has the flu herself now."

"Just as well. Might have been a bit awkward. Us all together." responded Floyd.

"I suppose," said Emily coldly.

"Terribly sorry, Emily, that came out wrong."

"Don't think a thing about it, Floyd."

"And how is Jason doing?" asked Richard then politely.

"We don't see him much," replied Carol sadly. "Once the lawsuit was settled, I thought he might come around more."

And they all sat in silence a moment over that.

"Children can be difficult." said Richard finally.

"Carol," began Emily by way of subject change, "I've always wondered how Jason came by that ghastly nick-name of his... What was it? Plunger?"

Jason snorted at that. "Would've been if Chris had gotten his way," he whispered to Lorelai. She giggled in response.

"Digger," responded Floyd. "That was my doing, Emily."

"Sounds like a story there I haven't heard before, Floyd, old man," stated Richard.

"Well, Richard, there is as it happens..."

"Come on..." said Jason to Lorelai and pulled her arm to lead her out of the room.

"Hey!" she protested, "I want to hear that story! And then I want to go knock all the paintings just slightly askew, and put salt in the sugar bowl, sugar in the salt shaker, then packing tape over the toilet seats.... Oh, and a big poster of Boy George in the library up over the Rory portrait!"

"Maybe later," he told her, as he pulled her toward the garden door.

Jason turned the knob on the French door leading to the garden then and pushed it open, gesturing for Lorelai to step through. As she crossed the threshold, she blinked at a sudden bright light that blinded her.

"What is that light?" she asked and put her hand over her eyes in irritation.

"The sun," whispered Jason in her ear, "takes a minute to get used to."

When Lorelai could open her eyes, she looked about.

"This isn't Emily's garden," she frowned.

It wasn't. Instead they were on a broad cobblestoned terrace overlooking a sparkling pool and its requisite pool house below. A formally groomed rose garden blazed in glory in the bright sun at the pool's edge, and beyond stood a lush wooded area.

"No, it isn't," Jason agreed.

"It looks familiar, though."

"You were here once."

"Jason! Come here! Right now, young man!" they heard a voice boom.

They watched then as the little dark boy who had opened the door for them before dropped out of a nearby tree and walked dejectedly, head down, toward the pool house.

"Come on," said Jason and started to the pool house as well.

"I don't want to," said Lorelai unable to put down a rising uneasiness.

He paused and looked at her, "I know you don't, Lorelai. I know you just want to eat chips and watch tv in peace. I understand. There are things in the world that we all want to hide from. But there are many who can't hide, Lorelai. Many. And though you and I have problems in our lives, offenses taken, cars that break down, narrow minded asses for parents, and computers that run slowly too... We need now to realize that these are not problems at all. I could fly you over Rwanda, or take you to one of many orphanages in Bagdhad, probably a soup kitchen in Montreal in deepest winter would be enough, but I've only brought you to a beautiful garden in Hartford on a July afternoon. You can do it. It is only one very small story."

"I'm still scared," she whispered.

"I know."

Together they followed the boy into the pool house.

"Come closer, Jason," demanded Floyd from the bar where he stood.

The child walked warily closer to his father.

"Do you see your mother over there? Do you see how you've upset her?"

Lorelai swivelled her neck to the sofa at the room's edge, and saw a much younger Carol Stiles reclining there with a cold cloth across her forehead."

"She had to double her dosage today, Jason. Does that make you happy?"

Clearly the child knew better than to answer.

"Now, it is my understanding that you received nearly fifteen hundred dollars in cash and checks at that ridiculous AquaMan birthday party you had last Saturday. The party your mother went to a great deal of trouble to plan, by the way.

Still the child studied his shoes.

"Look me in the eye when I am speaking!"

The boy snapped his head upward to meet his father's gaze.

"The police came to see me this morning, Jason. The police. Do you know why?"

"No, sir," the boy finally spoke.

"They found that Mexican girl, and the very best maid your mother has ever had, walking at the end of our driveway, suitcase in her hand, and fifteen hundred dollars in her purse at four am! Fifteen hundred dollars, Jason! Naturally they were suspicious and contacted me wanting to know where a Mexican maid got fifteen hundred dollars, and why she was leaving our home by cover of darkness at that ungodly hour."

"I g-gave her the money," whispered the boy.

"Excuse me?" queried his father, coldly quiet now.

"I gave it to her... sir."

"You gave it to her?"

"Yes."

"You gave the maid all of the money you got for your eighth birthday?"

"Yes, sir."

Floyd turned and walked a way a moment. His fury palpable. He clinked some ice into a glass then, poured himself a scotch, and downed it.

"It seems you clearly have a thing or two to learn about managing money, son," he said without bothering to look at the boy.

"She was homesick, sir. For her mother. And her mother is sick. Gilberta was crying in the kitchen, so I gave it to her so she could visit her mom."

"Oh, Jason," moaned his mother from under her cloth, "you can't give these people money like that."

"She was just going to see her mother. She was going to pay me back."

Floyd snorted in derision at that.

"But we have lots of money...." protested the boy.

"Correction: I have lots of money! You gave yours away to Mexican trash and now have none."

"It just didn't seem right," said the boy softly.

"Oh, for chrisakes! I will not abide this 'have and have not' crap from my own son! Carol, I will not have my son talking to me this way! Jason Edward Stiles, for your information, there is nothing wrong with being rich!"

"There might be sir, when others don't have anything. Doesn't seem fair."

Thwack!

It took a moment for the sting of the slap to be felt. So, the sound first, then the sting. Then the shock that it happened. And then the not-really-being-so-shocked at all, because of the many times it had happened before.

"If a Mexican maid needs money, she can damn well work for it like the rest of us!"

Floyd poured another scotch, clearly detesting this loss of composure.

"Now, Jason, here is what is going to happen now," he eyed the boy over his glass, "Your mother and I are going to the Hamptons house for six weeks, during which time you will go to camp as usual. When we return in the fall, you will be transferring to The Groton Residential Boys School. We will re-evaluate later as to whether or not you may return at the holidays."

"Y-yes, sir. W-what about Gilberta, sir?"

"Who?"

"The maid."

"She will be charged with theft and deported, I imagine. Taking money from a stupid child! The lawyers will deal with it."

"But..."

"Damn fine thing! Now your mother needs to find and train a new maid."

"But, sir...."

"And, you will receive no pocket money for camp as your punishment, Jason. If you want money, you'll just have to dig for it, I suppose. Ha! Like treasure. Dig for your own gold, son. See how quickly you give it away then! I will, of course, always provide for your education. That is the proper thing, but this incident shows very poorly for your future, boy. I seriously doubt that you'll ever be able to dig yourself into anything at all. Digger, heh... that's you now, boy. Carol, I'm fed up with this. I'm going to the club and won't be home for dinner."

"Fine, dear," they heard in the laconic tones of Carol Stiles.

"Her medication is kicking in," whispered Jason to Lorelai, "it lessens the melodrama."

Lorelai nodded and they watched then as Floyd strode from the room, leaving the dark boy blinking after him. The moment's silence which ensued only broken finally by a soft snoring from Carol. The child looked over at his mother then and let his shoulders slump.

"Hey," said Jason to the boy as he pulled something from his back pocket, "I've got the latest issue. Wanna read with me?"

The boy broke into a small smile then when he saw AquaMan! blazed across the cover of the comic book.

"He can hold his breath underwater forever!" said the child.

"Superman can't even do that," Jason agreed.

"You're not really Jason at all, are you?" said Lorelai with a sudden flash of insight. The dark haired-man smiled at her then walked over to join the little boy.

The two sat on the floor and began to read the comic book together, and with one last look at them, Lorelai slipped outside. In a moment she found the French door back into her mother's home, and was back behind her father's chair listening in no time at all.

"What was the boy thinking giving away all his money like that? It would be worth something today if he had invested it shrewdly," mused Richard.

"Digger needed toughening up, that's certain. My own son! Sending him away seemed the best choice," responded Floyd, as Carol put down her coffee cup and picked up the nearby glass full of sherry.

"I wonder what became of the maid," wondered Emily quietly to herself.

Lorelai swiped at her eyes, sniffed, and left the room then. She climbed the stairs to Rory's bedroom and tip-toed in. She felt then as if a deep thirst had been quenched when she caught sight of her sleeping child, and sighed for the relief of it. She slid into bed behind her daughter, spooned around her, and kissed the top of her head too.

"Thank you, God, for this," she whispered before falling asleep.

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Fire!! was her first coherent thought.

Then, Fire!!! She sat up hastily, and looked over at the still sleeping Rory.

"Rory! Wake up! There's a fire!" she shook her daughter a little desperately. Oh, my God! She could definitely smell smoke!

She shook Rory again as the relentless alarm blared through the house, "Rory!"

"Dammit!" she heard, "That always happens!"

She turned then to see an old man standing over her, a lit-cigar in his mouth, puffing away.

"W-who are you?" she demanded in panic.

"Don't recognize me, huh? Well, I guess when you met me I wasn't exactly looking my best. 'Bout dropped a guppy when you told them to get a bungee cord to lash me in!" chuckled the old guy. "Hold on a sec," he added.

He dropped his cigar on the carpet then and stamped it out. Instantly the wailing alarm silenced.

"That's better," he smiled down at Lorelai.

"You just stamped out a cigar on my mother's Aubusson."

"Yep," he grinned with yellowed teeth. "We'll wait for you downstairs."

"You'll be waiting a long time then!" she yelled crankily. "And I'm not taking the fall for that carpet burn, Mister... Whoever you are!"

She heard chuckling follow as the old man walked out.

She peered over at Rory then. Clearly, she hadn't heard a thing. She looked at the clock; three am.

"You will have three visitors..."

She got stiffly out of bed and walked grumpily to the door. This was sleep deprivation on a Herculean scale and she was heartily sick of it.

She stomped downstairs and into the living room then. It was dark now. All signs of the Gilmores, the Stiles, and the earlier Christmas party long since cleaned up.

"I hope Uncle Louie didn't scare you," she heard.

She turned then to see a willowy figure standing next to the piano.

"Hello, Lorelai. After tonight, I don't suppose even my appearance can surprise you."

"Nicole?"

"Yes."

"Y-you look beautiful."

"Thank you."

She stood before Lorelai in a lovely long white gown. Billowy and soft. Her strawberry blonde hair, curled elegantly, framing her face.

"Like a bride," Lorelai went on.

"That is very gratifying, I have to say," Nicole responded on with a blush. "I always thought you so beautiful and felt so awkward whenever you were around. Never knew what to say. And, I admit that it took me forever to decide what to wear tonight."

"Well, you definitely put my Scotty dogs to shame!"

"Lorelai, I know what you think of me..."

"Oh, no...."

"But I'm not here about that tonight."

"Okay."

"Will you come with me?"

"I think you're the first one tonight to actually ask."

Nicole laughed and reached her hand out to Lorelai.

"Come on."

Lorelai reached forward and clasped the cool white hand extended her.

"I'm not dead, either," Nicole leaned in to whisper then.

Lorlelai swallowed, "Good to know."

"Have fun, ladies!" called Louie after them, as the front door swung open seemingly under its own power, and the two women stepped out into the misty night holding hands.

The mist continued to gather about them as they walked.. Lorelai was completely unable to identify where they were, but she could feel Nicole's confident hand in her own, and that gave a certain measure of security.

"I realize you want to know where we are going," smiled Nicole kindly.

"And I know you can't tell me," responded Lorelai in understanding.

Nicole nodded.

"You're making him very happy, by the way," Nicole finally spoke again, a bit shyly, after a few moments walking hand in hand in silence.

Lorelai felt her heart leap to her throat, "Really? Are you sure?" she asked, terribly full of hope at that.

"Yes."

"Nicole... I want to say..."

"Shhh," Nicole shook her head, "we're here."

"We are? Where?"

"Look."

Lorelai glanced down to where Nicole was pointing and, as the mist artfully parted, made out a simple headstone before her.

Mary Virginia Williams Danes it read on the left.

Joseph Walker Danes it read to the right.

The ususal dates and beloveds listed below.

Lorelai caught her breath.

"His parents?"

"Yes. Mary and Joe met one summer when he came to work at her father's hardware store. After they married, and when the old man eventually passed, Joe took it over. He kept the Williams on the building for the old man, though. In gratitude. Not a very original story, but lovely nonetheless."

"Sounds just like Luke."

"Yes, it does. He will bring you here one day soon to see this. He won't make a big deal of it. He'll pass the trip off with some excuse. But know this, Lorelai, he's never brought anyone else here before."

"You really were in love with him," Lorelai observed quietly.

"The one who stands for me in the world was, yes. But he was quiet and sullen and not forthcoming for her. For you though, he is," she said simply, her eyes full of meaning.

"I love him too."

"I know do and you must tell him so. Like yours, his is also the sin of self-absorption, but of a different sort. You must tell him, Lorelai, and bring him back out to the world. You are strong and can do this. You and he are for each other and mustn't ruin this. There is no fate or soul mates on your plane, there is merely the absolute best for you that can be while living. And, contrary to popular belief, it can be screwed up. So, tell him Lorelai. Tell him in the morning."

"I haven't done that before. Not really. And never first."

"You've done very little in this life much beyond yourself, Lorelai," observed Nicole archly.

"Ouch!"

"But true."

Lorelai sighed her acquiescence to that.

"I understand. I must go first this time. I get it. But where is your dramatic reveal? The miserable child? The selfish Lorelai? You know, the lesson landing with a great big anvil 'thud' on my head?"

"Do you really need more, Lorelai? You and I are bright women. We can do this with words. I am only here for summation. Do you need more than the knowledge that far too often in this life you have thought of yourself first? That children and the disadvantaged suffer right smack in the face of the great wealth around you? That yes, wealth is wrong when the only charity it serves is the throwing of grand parties to reinstate obscure fowl to the wetlands? When you know damn well that you are able change this and other things within your own small sphere. What more could you possibly need?"

"The cost of my mother's dress for that function alone probably could have saved those damn birds," reflected Lorelai on the last 'save the whatever' function her mother had hosted.

"Yes, it could have. And done far more too. Now you are beginning to see. I will postpone your trip to Darfur. For now."

"So what happens to me, and them, now?"

"Do not despair, Lorelai. You do not deserve that luxury. I am a lawyer. I could call forth a string of witnesses to testify to your goodness too, the entertainment and joy you bring, the lifting of hearts just a smile from you can spark. As for your parents, perhaps they will receive their own visitations, I cannot say. But you must value your own life and try to influence those around you to improve the lot of others. That is your lesson. In a nutshell."

"So, It's a Wonderful Life?"

"Lorelai, The Heavenly Powers above could employ the crowbar of Atlas and still not get half the apathetic world off it's collective ass to help the other half."

"Wow, depressing."

"Yes. But stories might. Like these we have shown you tonight. And other much better ones created by my betters. One story at a time, we might show each of you, by proxy, that turning the other cheek, saying 'I love you', and how giving up that precious green can make a helluva difference in many, many lives."

"Is that tonight's moral then, councilor?"

Nicole smiled, "Someone had to shake your pretty head out of In Style magazine and The WB, Lorelai."

"And you came to do that for me?"

"I came to do that for him."

"Ah."

"Follow that path through the trees there, and you will find your way home now. Others will help you along the way. It is tonight's final parable," Nicole told her then.

Lorelai turned to look at the wooded path she indicated, just visible through the mist, knowing pretty well that when she turned back, Nicole would be gone.

And, of course, she was.

Lorelai sighed and made her way to the path then, her mind reeling with the events of the night. Thinking about Luke, and Kirk, and her family's money too. And poor Gilberta....Wondering what the hell she could do about it all... That was a start, she supposed.

She continued in this way for some distance until a voice stopped her...

"Hello, Lorelai."

She looked up to the man standing in the path before her.

"Max, it's good to see you," she told him with a smile, oddly comforted and not at all surprised, by his presence.

"Rory wanted books in the story tonight so she sent me... well, us, with them," he explained and extended a volume to her.

"What's this?" she asked curiously.

"Sachs for the wonder of it all. Seems anyone can help."

She nodded and looked over the book.

Max was gone too by the time she finished.

And her journey continued thus as she walked through the dark woods that Christmas night.

People who she knew appearing on the path before her. Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, often with the most incongruous of offerings, would hand her a book and speak a few simple words so that she might learn the why of it. Sometimes it spoke of them too. Sometimes of her.

She would take the book given and move on through the mist only to meet a new benefactor or friend around the next corner, or even just leaning against the next tree.

"Dickens for humor and tragedy," smirked Jess, "and the poverty too, of course."

And he handed her a book as did each in their turn.

"For the soul and survival of spirit: Friere," said Straub Hayden.

"You must have Cisneros for family, Lorelai," Richard and Emily told her.

"Shakespeare for betrayal." From Dean, Marty, and some blonde kid in an ascot.

"Only Cather grasps the healing we receive when embraced by the earth," Jackson proclaimed mistily. Sookie comfortingly by his side smiling.

"Gotta have Austen for people and society, doll," grinned Babbette.

Rory was next, sitting completely unafraid astride Cletus, "Hogdson Burnett for grit, Mom."

And at last, Miss Patty stood with a sort of glow about her, a sequined top hat on her head, at the end of her driveway, surrounded by dancing child angels in the snow.

"Neruda for love, darling. Collette for sex (you can work up to deMaupasant on your own)," she leered with a wink, and walked airily off toward the town square, the angels cavorting behind.

Lorelai watched her go, her arms heavy with books now, then turned to walk slowly into her home, up the stairs, and fall into bed, Cather's The Lark under her cheek for a pillow.

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Now you and I would think that after such a night Lorelai Gilmore of all people would sleep until noon, then bump about as she got dressed and crank until coffee.

But not today, Friends.

Not this Christmas morning.

Today she awoke, alert and sure of herself before first light. She hopped out of bed to pull on her jeans and scribble a hasty note to Rory.

She did not need to look for the books, she wasn't an idiot. She knew they wouldn't be there.

And before you get too excited by this, you must know that this will not be a permanent pattern for her. Not at all. The bumping and cranking will recommence in a few weeks at full and standard Gilmore standards. But that is not to say that Lorelai will be unchanged by her extraordinary experience. Not at all.

She will be changed. And better for it. She will think less of herself and actually do more for others beyond her little sphere. I could take you into the future and show you a hilarious episode in which she and Emily volunteer at a homeless shelter, and another in which Kirk gets fabulously wealthy, with Richard's backing, with his ingenious Locker Insurance Policy program for high school students.

Or, I could take you to that wonderful day not to far away in which Luke and Lorelai are finally able to adopt their foster son Jose.

But this story is way too long already.

Suffice it to say that hilarity and true goodness ensue in all cases. With a little drama on the side. Especially during sweeps.

But back to the here and now...

Down the stairs, out her front door, and into the pre-dawn light marches our new and improved Lorelai Gilmore, Friends.

Look at her. An old flannel of Luke's. No make up. A down jacket tossed over all. I think she is more beautiful now than ever.

She hurries to the diner, of course. For Luke (and a little for the coffee too—she is still, after all, our Lorelai, and only human, and has had a helluva a night besides)

She waits then, her heart beating to burst, for him to come down and into the diner, and when he does, and sees her too, he comes quickly to turn the bolt.

"Luke!" she threw herself tearfully into his arms then.

"Lorelai, what the...?"

"I missed you so much!"

"Are you still feverish?" he pulled away from her in concern to look into her face.

"No, no," she brushed it off, "Lulu gave me some magic popcorn. I feel fine! But I need to talk to you..."

"Lulu gave you what? Are you all right?"

"Yes! No! I don't know! I had these visitors... or a bad cheese dream. I don't know which, and I don't care!" she laughed wildly.

"Visitors? Lorelai, you're talking crazy. Who visited you?"

"I don't know how to explain it. Or what I'm allowed to say. I don't want you to commit me, after all. Let's just call them Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail!"

"What?"

"Too cute? How about Been There, Done That and Bought The Souvenir?"

"Lorelai..."

"Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda?"

"Stop! I'm begging you! What are you going on about?"

"Luke, it's Christmas and I'm in love with you! I love you, do you understand? I. Love. You. You don't have to respond in kind, not right away. Though it would be nice if you've got the itch. I just want you to know that I think... I think you're it for me. And I want you to know it before it's too late."

"Too late? For what?"

"I love you, Luke," she said again more softly.

"I love you too," he told her and she saw his eyes begin to well a bit.

"Good," she breathed at last, and in relief. "And we're spending the day together, you and I." she told him matter of factly. "Christmas Day. I will help you with the diner. I left a note for Rory to meet me here. And then I will wait patiently while you run your mystery errand and won't even ask what it is. And then I'll be happy when you come home. And then we'll go to bed and I'll let you know again just how much I love you..."she snuggled into his neck.

Luke stared down at her head on his shoulder over this outburst and caught his breath at the wonder of it too, as she finally fell silent.

"It's for your ring," he told her quietly. She pulled away to look up at him.

"The errand. Some jeweler friend of Liz' made it. He was supposed to have it finished yesterday but he flaked. And I was pissed because I wanted it for you for last night. For Christmas eve. I wanted to ask you, you know, in the snow and the moonlight and all that crap like you would want. And the jerk didn't finish it. And I wasn't going to have anything to give you until tonight..."

"Yes," breathed Lorelai.

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, I'll marry you!"

"You will?"

"I love you."

"And you'll marry me?"

"Yep, you and me, forever, Dinerman. We can carve it in a tree later."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. But I still want the ring."

"You can come with me to get it," he said happily and leaned in to her lips...

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And we'll leave them there, Friends.

I'm sure your imaginings for snogging and cooing, and secret-whispered future-promises is much better than anything I could ever write.

So, I'll leave it you, this lovey dovey business. All in your mind's eye. Things are always best there anyway. You can watch them open the diner together, and later go to pick up the ring too. And for the randy among you, peep into the bedroom later tonight as well.

Which gives a wonderful Gilmorian double meaning to my final words which I steal from T.S. Elliot. He was trying to call the indolent to the work of society too: To move away and out of ourselves, to help. Only so much more cleverly than I. But that goes without saying.

"Are you coming?" he asks of us all.

"Are you coming?"

"Are you coming?"

I took up his call herein and, chain letter like, pass it on to your very capable hands.

I must go now. Three little girls have come to my door to sing Christmas Carols! They've asked nothing in return. Now even I am a true believer.

God bless you.

And hey, thanks.

Epilogue

I, of course, do not own just about anything I've written about in the ponderous story above. The Gilmorian universe is all Sherman-Palladino. AquaMan, certainly not. And, of course, I am prostrate before T.S. Elliot and Mr. Chas. Dickens too, for the gift of one of the finest and most often parodied, copied, stolen, and poorly-aspired-to-by-hack-writers-everywhere stories in the English language.

I would love to see Dickens lampoon today: The realities of what it is to live in Orange County where I used to teach (more of my students living in residential hotels, warehouses, and garages, than anything approaching real homes) versus The OC on television, for instance. Or, perhaps those who invest their time in proprietary squabbles for TV show spoilers on the boards?! Ha! Maybe even in the way we skip right over reports of genocide to get to the Christmas sale flyers in the newspaper.

He would delight in all this, Dickens, I think. These little everyday petty things can be so hilarious that I want to cry for the tragedy of them (being perhaps the worst offender among you).

And, lacking as I must, the ability to create something out of absolutely nothing as true writers can, I've tweaked and borrowed perhaps for the last time.

I'm out of my own words now, and depth too, (I am no AquaWoman!), so I will borrow again from the greats...

Dickens...

I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost

of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with

themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May

it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Gilmore...

...Dirty!