AN: I have to start, once again, with innumerable thanks to my beta, all things holy, for reading the many variations and permutations of the first two chapters, for her very enthusiastic cheerleading, and for her all around, general badass-ness and rockitude. Seriously. Much love.
AN, Part Two: This story is the follow up to "Separation Anxiety," a sequel, if you will. You don't necessarily have to read all of "SA" to follow this; the last chapter will get you through. It's been three weeks since Rory and Emily came home from Europe and the events of the last chapter of "SA."
Disclaimer: Amy Sherman-Palladino thought them up, and she does wonderful things with them--I'm borrowing them for a little while because I love them so.
Everything Old Is New Again
"Rory? How much do you love me?"
Rory turned her head and looked at her mother. They were side by side on the floor, flat on their backs. Both had damp washcloths draped across their foreheads and small metal bowls full of ice resting on their stomachs, under the theory that if their cores were cold, the rest of them would cool down as well. It wasn't working—Lorelai pointed out shortly after the experiment began that she on top of being hot, she now had a wet, numb bellybutton as well.
"Why?" she asked.
"Would you do me a favor?"
Rory shifted slightly and went back to staring blankly at the ceiling. "I'm not going to kill you, Mom."
Lorelai's mouth fell open as she lifted her head to stare at Rory. "I'd do it for you!" she whined.
"You would not," Rory retorted.
"I would, too," Lorelai said, "if you asked me to. I would totally kill you."
"Thanks, Mom. That's a comfort." Rory sighed. "When's Luke going to get here, anyway?"
Lorelai plucked an ice cube from her bowl and began running it along her collarbone. "He said he'd leave as soon as he could get away."
Rory unfolded the washcloth and covered her face with it. "It can't really be this hot."
Lorelai only grunted in reply and was silent a moment. "I can't believe you won't kill me."
"Mom," Rory began; the shrill ring of the telephone silenced her. "I'll get it." She got to her feet awkwardly, trying not to spill the water rapidly accumulating in her bowl.
Lorelai closed her eyes and rested her arms flat at her sides. She heard the screen door shut and a heavy tread cross the floor before his shadow fell over her. She smiled.
"Hi," she said.
Luke squatted down on his haunches and folded his hands. "What are you doing?"
She opened her eyes. "Solving the problem of world hunger."
"How's that coming?"
"Well, so far all I've come up with is that it's hot," she said."I'm trying to cool down," she said. "It's ice."
"I can see it's ice," he said patiently. "You know you didn't have to wait for me to come fix the shower. You could have come to my place—"
"Too far in the heat," Lorelai told him.
"—or gone next door."
She rolled her eyes, set the bowl of ice aside, and put out her hands to him. "Showering at Babette's isn't an option. It'd be like Bill Murray in the Japanese shower," she said, as he helped her to her feet. She gave him a once-over with her eyes. "This is a new look for you," she said, gesturing. He wore a gray tee shirt with the sleeves cut off and what Lorelai guessed used to be cargo pants, grease and paint stained, also cut off and fraying at the knee. "Very redneck handyman. I like it."
"I'm ecstatic," he drawled, and pointed up the stairs. "I'm going to go fix the shower head."
"Dirty!" Lorelai giggled.
"My toolbox still in the bedroom?" he asked.
She covered her mouth with her hand. "Dirty!"
Luke ignored this and started for the stairs. Lorelai followed him, carrying her bowl of ice in one hand, lifting the end of her ponytail away from her neck with the other. He paused on the landing and turned to look at her.
"What are you doing?" he asked again.
"One more of those and you officially use up your allotment for the month," she said. "I'm coming to watch you fix the shower head."
She blinked. "I don't have anything else to do." Off the slightly irritated and disbelieving look he gave her, she shrugged. "I promise I'll be good." She paused, grinned. "And if I'm not, I give you leave to treat me like the bad girl I am."
Lorelai sat on the closed lid of the toilet as he worked, handing him things as he asked for them, watching him. He stopped and stood staring up at the showerhead, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. Without thinking, Lorelai reached out and took his hand, lacing her fingers through his. He looked at her, squeezed her hand.
"Hey," he said.
She tugged gently. "C'mere a sec," she said.
He stepped over the edge of the tub and kneeled in front of her, resting his hands on her thighs. She put her arms around his neck and studied his face a long moment.
"I miss you," she said.
"It has been a while."
"Two weeks!" she cried. "We haven't been alone for longer than five minutes for two weeks!"
Luke smiled. "And a very interesting five minutes the day before yesterday," he said.
"Interesting, but not long enough."
He ran his hands along the sides of her legs, letting them come to rest on her knees. "I know," he said. "Believe me, I know." He sighed heavily.
She smothered a grin. "Someone missing his regular piece of stuff?" she teased, cocking an eyebrow at him.
Luke looked at her darkly. "I would say I'm missing more than that, but comments like that make me question my devotion to said piece of stuff."
"You love it," Lorelai said. She raised one hand and cupped his cheek. "So. What are we going to do about this? Can you stay awhile? I took the whole day off."
He turned his face into her palm and kissed the heel of her hand. "Well," he began.
"Up here," Lorelai called. "Who was on the phone?" she asked, when Rory appeared in the doorway.
"Hey, Luke," Rory said.
He looked up at her. "Hey, Rory, how's it going?"
"Going hot," she said. "That was Paris, before, but right as we were hanging up Lane beeped in on the call waiting. Brian's little sister's best friend's cousin—"
"Said she saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night! I guess it's pretty serious," Lorelai said.
Rory shook her head. "Well, that and she's having her bat mitzvah today, and the band her mom hired got food poisoning, so Lane and the guys are going to fill in," she said.
"Lane's band at a bat mitzvah?"
She shrugged. "She said they've got a set list that's pretty user friendly, whatever that means. But they need a roadie, so I'm going to help out."
"Sure," Lorelai said. "You getting paid?"
"No, but free food, so there's that."
Lorelai looked at Luke. "There are few things a Gilmore won't do for free food."
"So, Gil's van is in the shop," Rory said, rolling her eyes for Luke's sake, "and none of the others have a car that's big enough, so I was wondering if I could take the Jeep?"
"The keys are on the hall table," Lorelai said. "When is this thing?"
"This afternoon," Rory said. "Which brings me to my next question." She looked apologetically at Luke. "Lane's too chicken to actually ask you herself, and she's really sorry to cut out on you especially with Caesar being sick, but she needs the rest of the afternoon off and she's willing to work as many doubles as you want to make up for it."
Luke pushed himself to his feet, groaning slightly. "She doesn't need to make up for it, it's fine. When does she need to go?"
"As soon as possible."
Lorelai closed her eyes and dropped her head to one side, her nose wrinkled in an expression of extreme frustration.
"Tell her I'll be there in twenty minutes," Luke said.
"You're the best, Luke," Rory told him. "I'm going to change and head over to the apartment."
Lorelai rose and put her arms around Luke's middle, rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Well, there goes that opportunity," she said.
He rubbed her back. "Why don't we do this," he said. "I'll close up a little early and we can go out somewhere—dinner, movie, whatever you want."
She looked up at him, her smile delighted. "A date?"
"If that's what you want to call it."
"I do," she said. "Come here around seven, seven-thirty?"
"Seven," he said. He kissed her forehead. "I'm going to finish with this shower and go."
"Mom, I'm leaving!" Rory called from the living room.
"Hang on!" Lorelai hollered, leaned up to kiss Luke's cheek. "Be right back." She bounded down the hall and the stairs to the landing. "Babe, I'm going to stay at Luke's tonight, so if you and Lane and everyone want to crash here, do the end of summer sleepover thing, feel free, okay?"
"Thanks, Mom," Rory said, shouldering a small purse. "Have fun—I'll meet you for breakfast at the diner tomorrow?"
"Deal," Lorelai said. "One rule."
Rory smiled. "No boys in your bedroom, I promise."
Luke was fussing withsomething on the showerhead when she returned and plunked herself back down on the closed toilet. He looked over at her, a wry smile on his face.
"Awfully presumptuous of you," he said.
Lorelai narrowed her eyes. "Oh, come on. We both know you're a sure thing," she said offhandedly, reaching for her ice bowl. She took the biggest remaining cube she could find and again began running it over her collarbone.
He tossed a rag into his toolbox and stepped over the side of the tub. He glanced at her, his mouth open to speak, but seemed to think the better of it and turned back towards the shower.
"Is it fixed?" she asked.
Luke looked at her over his shoulder briefly before reaching for the taps. "We'll see," he said shortly. He let the tub run a moment, his hands on his hips. Lorelai rose and came to stand beside him, peering around him towards the shower. She absently slid the ice cube down from her neck to the hollow of her throat. Luke hitched himself away from her and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Could you not do that?" he asked.
He gestured. "With the ice and the neck and the melting," he said.
Lorelai grinned. "Okay," she said simply. She slowly leaned past him to flip the dial that turned the tub faucet off and the shower on, brushing against him as she did. She stood upright quickly as the shower sputtered and began to run. "Excellent," she cried. "Move over, Ty Pennington. I have the world's hottest handyman right here in Stars Hollow." She raised the ice cube she still held to her lips, running her tongue over it before offering it to Luke. "Ice?"
He worked his jaw side to side, eyeing her. "No."
She shrugged. "Your loss," she said. She began to run the ice along her lower lip; she watched him with wide eyes as she did, her expression arch and challenging.
Luke edged past her, throwing his hands up as he went. "Ah, cut it out already, would you? I gotta get back to the diner."
"Cut what out?" she asked, her voice high with feigned innocence.
He sighed. "Lorelai."
"You are so easy," she said. She crossed the small space between them and took his face in her hands. She kissed him, her mouth cold and firm against his. "Hurry up and go away so you can come back."
When the doorbell rang at five after seven, Lorelai was seated halfway up the staircase to the second floor, idly flipping through a magazine. As the afternoon had stretched out before her, she'd been listless and cranky with nothing to do, annoyed with herself. It had been so long since she'd had time like this, time to waste, time when no one was demanding her attention, when she wasn't demanding attention herself, that she felt she'd almost forgotten how to do it.
The last three weeks had gone by all too quickly. Not only was she scarcely able to have a moment to herself, it had been nearly impossible to have one with anyone else. With Rory working odd hours at the Inn, doing grunt work at the Gazette for minimum wage, hanging out with Lane, and rearranging her fall class schedule, Lorelai had very little face time with her daughter. She saw Luke briefly each morning at the diner, but for the most part he worked early and she worked late and those snatches of time were all they had. Things at the Dragonfly were progressing exactly the way they should: they were getting bookings enough to make ends meet, however far the ropes were stretched, and Lorelai was planning four different events for the coming months simultaneously. She felt crazed to the ends of her hair. The few hours of sleep she had every night never left her quite rested; she feared details of her different projects were leaking out her ears as she slept. On top of it all, the inn was chronically understaffed and Lorelai spent more time hiring than she was happy with.
It wasn't the only thing she was doing more of than usual. She had regular meetings with Emily every day in the back office of the inn, discussing the details of the Bedermeier house. Emily took the job much more seriously than Lorelai had intended; she was firm and business-like and consulted her daughter about most major details before acting on her behalf. Lorelai knew she also had daily conversations with Winky, though what they talked about she couldn't fathom. Her mother had made no mention of returning home, though she went with Lorelai and Rory to Friday night dinners. Richard came to Stars Hollow for lunch with her every Wednesday, and Lorelai knew he called Emily at the Inn every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday evening as well. Though she watched Emily carefully, her mother revealed nothing.
She tried not to think about the inn, about her mother, about the all details pressing on her at every moment, and do something frivolous. She'd made herself iced coffee and tried to watch TV, tried to read, took two cool showers when she felt overheated, and eventually gave in. If Luke had come only an hour and a half earlier, he would have found her in the same place she'd been the last time he arrived, flat on her back on the floor, but with the stereo cranked up and a mix CD full of the Bangles and Bon Jovi and Pat Benatar spinning on repeat, Lorelai singing along at the top of her lungs. When that lost its charm, she took another cool shower, dressed for her date in a thin white sundress, and sat on the stairs to wait. Her promptness at the front door surprised him; he grinned as she swung the door open.
"Hey, gorgeous," she said. Lorelai smiled and leaned up to kiss him hello. "Although the handyman ensemble has its own unique aesthetic, and I am, you know, an enormous fan of the plaid shirt-jeans-backwards-baseball-cap combo, I have to say it: lookin' good, Luke Danes, lookin' good!"
She loved that he blushed slightly at this and averted his eyes. He wore loose fitting khakis she'd never seen before and a light blue button down with the sleeves rolled up and open at the collar. She suspected he'd been shopping in the recent past and hadn't told her, as he'd also acquired several new tees and a pair of jeans that made her thoughts veer towards scandalous when she caught sight of him walking away.
"Back 'atcha," he said, steering her out the door and down the walk, his hand at the small of her back.
"I'm starved. Like, green ghost in Ghostbusters starved. Where are we going?"
He opened the truck door for her. "A place in Woodbury. It's some new Italian restaurant."
"Really? Should we get a bottle of red, or a bottle of white?" she asked.Luke glanced at her from the corner of his eye as he put his keys in the ignition and threw the truck into gear. "I guess that all depends on your appetite," he told her.
She laughed. "Or, we could just get both, get really hammered, and go to Long Island and crash the car into a tree!"
They battled over the fact that the truck had no AC as they drove to Woodbury, the windows down. Even as she berated his "antiquated vehicular propensities" (eliciting a "Remind me to tell Rory to stop teaching you new words," from Luke), she was grateful for the steady breeze from the open window, relishing the coolness that slid over the back of her neck. She'd never enjoyed the humidity of New England summers, and for the first time all day, she could stop thinking about how bloated and nauseous she felt from the heat. She reached for Luke's hand as they walked to the restaurant from the parking lot.
The restaurant was cool and dim. They sat at a small table in a corner, sharing garlic bread and a bottle of wine. She didn't release his hand as they sat together and talked, waiting for their orders, concentrating on the way Luke ran his thumb lightly over hers as he talked about bagels and lox. She could feel herself unwinding, the worry slowly sifting out.
"I don't think Stars Hollow is quite ready for the whole fish for breakfast thing," Lorelai said, sitting back as the waiter put her plate in front of her. "Holy Baba, that's a lot of food."
"You can handle it," Luke said. "That, and everything else. You can. And you have to know that."
"You're the best," she said. She leaned over the table and kissed him briefly. "You're my Zen master boyfriend."
They lingered over coffee and dessert (for Lorelai), and a last glass of wine (for Luke). The restaurant was close to empty when Luke raised his hand for the bill. Lorelai scraped her fork across the plate, trying to get the last bits of tiramisu.
"See, the Italians know what they're doing. They put the espresso and the booze right into the dessert. It's like an instant party," she said. She watched him sign the credit receipt, slip his card back into his wallet, a scarred, battered, possibly leather affair that would have made Emily cringe. He gave her his hand as she rose from her chair. "Hey," she said. "Let's just go home, skip the movie."
"Well," she said, "it would be air conditioned, which would be nice, seeing as your apartment is not only the size of a matchbox, it's also directly above the kitchen and so hotter than a deep fat fryer. However, the theater seats aren't really made for romantic interludes, so to speak, and Bette Davis only knows when we'll have a whole block of indeterminate time together, so, yeah, I'm sure."
They were quiet on the drive back to Stars Hollow. Lorelai sat with her legs tucked up under her, her forehead against the edge of the window. She was drowsy, restful, as she listened to the rush of the wind past them. She smiled sleepily for Luke's benefit, knowing he was watching her from the corner of his eye, most likely thinking the silence wasn't like her. It was something she'd begun to appreciate in the time that had passed since he kissed her that first time: the comfortable easiness of quiet.
Luke let them into the diner and paused at the counter. "Why don't you go on up—I've got a couple things to check on down here."
"Okay," she said, releasing his hand. She kissed the edge of his jaw, just below his ear. "Thanks for dinner," she said. "It was perfect."
She kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the bed. Luke had three stand fans oscillating from different corners of the room along with two enormous window fans working at the highest speed. The curtains billowed out towards the center of the room, making slight snapping noises. Lorelai closed her eyes and listened: the room was full of faint rustling sounds and the hum of electric wind. She felt herself loosening in her joints, in her fingers and her toes, the way she always did when she spent time in this apartment—even when he wasn't there, it was, she thought, a very Luke place and that could almost be enough.
She groaned when the phone rang. She raised her head, listening for his step on the stair; not hearing it before the fifth ring, she sighed and reached for the receiver herself.
"Hello?" She was met by silence. "Hello?"
Someone cleared his throat on the other end. "Yeah, is Luke there?"
"No, I'm sorry, he's stepped out," she said. "May I ask who's calling?"
"Depends on who's asking."
She couldn't keep herself from making a face. "Hey, Jess. It's Lorelai."
"Oh. Right." He paused. "So is he around?"
Lorelai picked up the phone and walked towards the door, dragging the cord behind her. "He's just downstairs. He should be up any minute, though. You want to hang on?"
"Good." She chewed her lip, stretching the cord to its limit as she angled for a view down the stairs. "So," she said.
"He's a pretty good guy," Jess said abruptly. "My uncle."
"He's the best guy," she replied.
He was silent a moment. "He's been, you know, ah... happy... lately. Which is weird. But he, you know, he, ah, deserves it."
"So, ah..." She heard him suck in air over his teeth. "Thanks?" He cleared his throat again. "And I'm not one to talk, or anything, but—"
Lorelai turned away from the door. "I'm not going to do anything to hurt him, Jess," she said gently. "That's a promise. To him, not to you, but just so you know. I wouldn't."
He seemed to audibly relax. "Good."
"That's him now—hang on a sec," she said. Luke appeared in the door. She thrust the phone at him. "Jess," she said.
She tried not to listen as he greeted his nephew. To avoid the temptation altogether, she grabbed her cell from her purse and dialed Rory's, only to be met by an immediate jump to voicemail. She left a quick message, a request for clean clothes in the morning and a good night before she hung up. Luke still paced, the receiver wedged under his chin and the phone in his hand, bobbing his head as he spoke. She smiled and dialed again.
"Hey, Kelly, can you put me through to my mother's room? Thanks."
She let the phone ring eight times before she pressed the end button, turned off the cell, and threw herself back on the bed. She folded her hands over her stomach and waited, her brow furrowed in thought.
"Talk to you then," Luke said. "Take care." He replaced the receiver and brought the phone back to its place before laying down beside Lorelai. She curled against him, fitting herself under his arm. "Who were you calling?"
"Just making some checking in calls, but there's no one to check in on," she said. "How's Jess?"
Luke wrapped his arm around her. "He's doing okay, sounds like. He's got this new job at a used bookstore, and all these NYU kids are coming through to buy books." He chuckled. "Went on a two minute rant about junior year literature students who still can't pronounce 'Goethe' correctly."
"Wonder where he picked up that tendency," Lorelai laughed.
"Just what are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything," she told him. "I'm outright saying the rant is your trademark—the rant did not exist in its current form until you took it in hand. It's quite an accomplishment."
She considered it a moment. "I think so." She tipped her face up to him. "He's looking out for you."
"What, Jess? What do you mean?"
She shrugged awkwardly. "He just let me know how lucky I am," she said simply. "Or tried to, anyway. You'd think someone who reads that much would be a bit more adept with the verbal skills."
"He's adept enough when he wants to be," Luke said. "What did he say?"
"Doesn't matter," she said. "It was just—it was nice for you that he said it." She sighed. "God, can you believe the school year's nearly started? Rory's going back to Yale next weekend—it just seems so soon."
"I'm assuming my moving services will be required," he said dryly.
Lorelai smiled against his shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll be more than adequately compensated." She lifted her head. "I feel like this year went by so quickly. Think about it. This time last year, Rory and I were just getting back from Europe. She was leaving for Yale for the first time, going out on her own for the first time. My mom and dad were still together, and Sookie hadn't even had the baby yet. The Dragonfly wasn't the Dragonfly—we hadn't even broke ground. Dean wasn't married yet, and you were."
Luke made a noise somewhere deep in his throat. "Separated," he said.
She gave him a slight squeeze. "And we weren't anywhere close to this," she said with a wave of the hand.
Luke pushed Lorelai's hair off her shoulder, away from her neck. "Or we thought we weren't," he said.
"This, now, is better," she said, tracing the line of his jaw with her fingertip.
He kissed her shoulder. "It is."
Lorelai began to play with the buttons on his shirtfront. "So, it's been a while since we did this—anything new I should know about? Any piercings, body art, anything shaved or waxed or altered in any way, shape, or form?" she asked.
"Perhaps," Luke said. "You ever have anyone tattoo your name on his ass?"
She tipped her head back, her expression thoughtful. "Well, there was that one drunken tryst in Mexico with Patrick Dempsey a few years back," she said. "Does it count if they spell it wrong?"
Luke looked at her. "Patrick Dempsey?"
"Some crushes die hard," she said, smiling.
He laughed, his head falling onto the crook of her neck. Her pulse quickened and her middle tightened as the laughter ended, replaced by the familiar, welcome scratch of stubble against her skin as he kissed her at that place where neck melts into shoulder. She closed her eyes as he brushed his hands across the small of her back and laid her hand on his cheek, bringing his lips up to meet hers, her movements slow and deliberate. This was their dance, she thought, pressing against him till there was no air between them, breathing him in as they kissed in the last of the dying light.
The one evening, she thought later, watching him as he slept, didn't quite make up for the times she'd had to cancel on him in the past weeks or the unsatisfactory snatches of conversation they'd had between meetings and tours, burgers and pie. She held his hand and stared at the ceiling. Her life was moving at much too rapid a pace; she felt spent, worn. She had never quite recovered from the stress leading up to the opening, and there were so many other things, so many worries.
She turned her head and looked at Luke's profile in the dark. He frowned as he dreamed, drawing his brows down and scrunching his nose. He tightened his hand convulsively around hers, suddenly, grunted. Rolling on her side, Lorelai shifted closer to him, shushing him, placing her free hand just over his heart. His breathing slowed a little, though the frown persisted and he still held her hand a little too tightly. She closed the rest of the distance between them, tucking herself along his side, his arm between them, her chin on his shoulder. She laid her head on his pillow, her face close to his. Her palm pressed flat against his chest, she counted to the rhythm of his heart. She watched him, a painful lump at the base of her throat and her eyes smarting, until she at last fell asleep.
Emily was quick to establish something close to routine when she had fully installed herself in the honeymoon suite of the Dragonfly. She had her breakfast of tea and toast, one poached egg and fruit, every morning at seven-thirty. By eight-fifteen she was at work on whatever task she'd scheduled for herself that day, whether it be picking wallpaper patterns or speaking to landscapers about the garden out back. The remodeling of the Bedermeier house was a fulltime job, one that kept her busy from the moment she folded up the morning paper until she returned to the inn for a light supper. On Wednesdays, she had lunch with Richard; Fridays, she let Rory and Lorelai drive her to Hartford for dinner. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, she knew to expect a phone call from her husband at exactly seven-thirty in the evening. He was as eager to hear about her day and her work as he'd once been to tell her about his own. It was something like courtship, she thought.
They'd ended their conversation later than usual this Sunday, close to an hour after he'd called. Emily found herself listless, tired of the claustrophobic atmosphere of her room and the manufactured hum of air from the unit in the window. She pocketed her key and stepped out into the humid evening to walk the gardens.
There were things she'd done since leaving Richard she never had before. On the trip to Europe, she'd relived every moment of their early marriage, all the while trying not to think of every more recent, more painful moment. She had deliberately put those thoughts to rest when she moved into her room at the Dragonfly, trying to do the thing she'd always done best—finish the task at hand, put the past just beside the present while she dealt with that. Her daily phone calls and conversations with Winifred—at whose insistence she'd begun to unwilling call Winky—made it more and more difficult.
Winky kept Richard fresh in her mind, as she prattled on about her Harry, which she often did when she was particularly tired or in pain. Harry had been taken suddenly, Emily knew, and Winky left bereft, with nothing but scraps of paper and dusty books to heal herself. She'd been reconstructing Harry's life ever since, writing his biography in her head, and in Emily she'd found a fresh ear and someone willing to listen. In turn, she'd asked Emily more questions than Emily felt comfortable answering, many of which she didn't think she knew how to answer at all.
It had been a long time since she'd thought of her mother, wondered what she'd be like were she still alive. Talking with Winky, telling her about Lorelai's childhood and pregnancy, about the time between now and then, it brought Emily back, made her think. Each night before she went to bed, she opened the drawer in her bedside table and looked down at the journal Rory had given her when they returned from Rome. She hadn't written anything yet—when Rory left it for her, she wasn't sure that there was anything to say, but as she moved through her days, making decisions and phone calls and meetings, she thought she felt something stir she hadn't thought of for years.
She wandered the gardens, unseeing, until she suddenly realized it was dark. She hurried back, chiding herself, feeling slightly foolish for getting so lost in her own reverie. With nothing else to do, she prepared for bed, checked her planner for the following day, and turned off the lights.
She still wasn't used to sleeping alone.
They stopped at a twenty-four hour convenience store on the way home to pick up the necessaries. Soda, things both salty and sweet, trashy magazines, and beef jerky at the boys' insistence. They ordered three huge pizzas when they got to the Gilmore house (courtesy of the emergency pizza fund in the cookie jar on the top shelf in the kitchen) and ate them on the floor in the living room, talking with their mouths full and laughing at each other. Just after one, Brian and Zach left for video games and their own beds. Lane stayed behind, borrowed a pair of pajamas from Rory, and the two of them curled up on opposite ends of the couch, talking when the inclination struck them, silent when it didn't.
"Candle s'mores are the best kind," Rory said. "It's the optimum heat level for toasting to the right shade and level of gooeyness."
"Only you'd make s'mores into a scientific experiment," Lane told her. "But I have to give it to you. These are the best s'mores ever."
She paused, stretching a marshmallow between her fingers. Her voice was lower, softer than usual, and Rory found herself leaning forward to listen. All day, in moments of quiet, Lane's expression had been thoughtful and distant, almost somber, Rory thought.
Lane threw the marshmallow into an empty soda glass before she spoke. "So, Dave called yesterday."
Rory sat up straighter. "How'd that go?"
Lane smiled sadly. "Went like always. We talked for, like, ever—and thank God he's got one of those unlimited calling plans, because otherwise I'd be way more broke than I already am."
"What did you talk about?" Rory asked, pouring them both another cup of soda.
She shrugged. "Nothing. Everything. And I love that, that I can talk to him for hours and not get tired of him and not run out of things to say. That we can still talk the way we did when we were just friends, you know?" She sighed. "So, we're winding down, all, 'I should go to bed,' and 'I've got so much to do this week,' and he pauses for a really long time. And then he says, 'Lane? I don't want you to feel like you can't see other people.'"
"Oh, Lane," Rory breathed.
"And then he said that he didn't want to see anyone but me and he hated thinking about me seeing other people, but he probably wasn't going to be home until Thanksgiving or even Christmas, and he just wanted to put it out there, so I wouldn't feel like I had to wait, or something. And I told him I didn't feel like I had to wait, and I didn't really want to see other people, and I know I'd hate to think of him seeing other people, but if he wanted to I wouldn't blame him," Lane said. "And then there was this really long silence, and I asked him what we'd just decided."
"What did he say?"
"He said that when we're together, we're together, and when we're not..." she trailed off and took a shaky sigh. "When we're not, we're still us, we're still talking, and we don't have to worry about what to call it."
Rory felt tears pricking her eyes. "Maybe that's good, in a way," she said hopefully. "That way, if either of you do start to see someone else, you don't have to have that conversation where you tell the other person and it feels like a break up, or something—this way even if that happens you can still talk, you know it's not the end of anything."
Lane nodded, drew her knees to her chest. "I know, and I know that's what he wanted, too."
"But that doesn't make it better," Rory said softly.
Rory edged herself across the couch and put her arm around her friend's shoulders. Lane leaned her head against Rory's and drew a deep breath. "You okay?" Rory asked.
"I'm sad," Lane said.
They sat together in silence a long while, Rory's arm around Lane, leaning their heads against each other. Lane surveyed the mess on the floor in front of them.
"They absconded with one of the pizzas," she said, sniffling slightly.
Rory followed her line of sight. "Pizza thieves!" she cried. "Still, there's still half a pie left. You want?"
They pushed off the sofa and shared the remaining pieces, flipping through the magazines as they did. Rory looked up at the clock.
"What time are you working tomorrow?"
"Seven," Lane said. "Why?"
"That's in like, three hours," Rory said. She looked at Lane, her eyes wide as she smiled. "Do you remember when we were eight or nine or so, and all we wanted to do in the world was stay up all night long, and we swore when we were grown ups we'd do it?"
Lane grinned. "I remember. And we were going to climb on the roof when we did."
Rory's mouth fell open. "I forgot that! So, what do you think? Sunrise on the roof?"
"Oh, absolutely!" Lane laughed.
"We need more soda!" Rory said, clambering to her feet. "I know for a fact my mom keeps the fridge fully stocked at all times with Diet Coke, if nothing else."
Lane followed her down the hall. "Hey, Rory?"
"Thanks." She adjusted her glasses on her nose. "It's been a good few weeks, hanging out all the time."
Rory nodded, her expression thoughtful. "I hate to say it, but like old times."
"You sure you have to go back to Yale next week?"
She rolled her eyes. "Believe me, if I could put it off, I would."
"You would not," Lane snorted.
Rory handed her a soda. "Well, no. But—I just hope it's different this year."
Lane linked her arm through Rory's as they headed out to the porch. "You'll be fine. You're Rory."
She smiled. "I guess. I'm just—I'm hoping that works out for me this year." She sighed. "To the roof?"
"To the roof!"
The last weekend of the month had been exhausting. Emily's room at the Dragonfly was no longer available and she had taken it upon herself to move into an apartment above Gypsy's garage, much to Lorelai's shock and chagrin. Emily made the announcement one day and wouldn't listen to any protests, discussion, or wild speculation as to her motives. She simply stated that this was her chosen course of action and she really didn't care to pursue the conversation further. If she wanted independence, Lorelai thought, she was going about it in the most un-Emily-like way possible.
Lorelai had driven her mother and her possessions into town the last Thursday of the month, unwillingly holding her tongue. Emily Gilmore, living in a tiny apartment over a mechanic's shop—it left her depressed for her mother and worried that something beyond the rift between she and Richard was plaguing her. If she kept this up, Lorelai knew Emily would soon become a fixture in Stars Hollow, and she didn't relish the prospect. Not only did she find the concept of her parents separated unsettling in ways she'd never expected, somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that once people arrived in Stars Hollow, they didn't tend to leave. It didn't bode well for either of her parents. (Or her, for that matter.)
Just after she left Emily in the dingy studio, Lorelai drove directly home and began loading the Jeep again with Rory's school things; the Lorelais packed together for two days, and on Saturday, the caravan of the Jeep, Rory's Prius, and Luke's truck pulled up in front of a dorm on the Yale campus. The three of them together schlepped Rory's bags and boxes up two flights of stairs to the long, narrow single room she'd picked in the last year's room lottery. Lorelai dawdled, lounging on the bed after each vehicle was emptied and Luke had left for Stars Hollow alone. She watched her daughter, unpacking her books and arranging them systematically on the bookcase, filling her desk drawers with fresh notebooks, lining up her toiletries on the top of her wardrobe.
Rory paused and gave her mother an irritated look. "Are you going to just loll around or help me out?" she asked.
"Loll?" Lorelai said, giggling. "No, I'm not going to loll." She rose and began rummaging for sheets. "It seems like we just did this."
Rory's expression was thoughtful as she opened the wardrobe doors and began to stack clothes on the side shelves. "You think so?" she asked. "It feels like forever ago to me."
Lorelai snapped a sheet in the air and let it fall across the bed. "Oh, babe, trust me, this year has gone by so quickly, I feel like I can't catch my breath. So many things have happened."
"I guess you're right," Rory said. "When does that happen?"
"When does what happen?"
"When do you hit the point in your life when time seems to speed up? I don't think I'm there yet," Rory said.
Lorelai smiled sadly as she tucked the comforter snugly against the wall. "Don't rush it, babe. You will be. And," she said, shaking a pillow into a case, "the irony of it is that you won't know it until it's happened." She threw the pillow on the bed and turned, her hands on her hips. "So. You want me to stay until you get settled?"
"You don't have to," Rory said. "You should go home, hang out with Luke." Lorelai only smiled in response. "You know," she continued, "your boyfriend? The guy with the hat? Kinda grumpy on occasion?"
"Kinda grumpy?" Lorelai grunted. "Okay. If you're sure."
"I'm sure," she said, gave her mother a gentle smile. "Besides, Paris'll be here soon and the trans-hall communication shall commence."
Lorelai picked up her purse and pocketed her keys, put her arms around Rory. "Call me later," she said.
Rory kissed her cheek. "I will."
Lorelai drove home by herself, lost in thought. It had been a summer of too many things, both good and bad--hurt and change and happiness all at once.
She wondered what the fall would bring.