Title: Snow Shovels and Silence
Spoilers: MAJOR SPOILER WARNING. SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 101.
Summary: He fit so neatly in her life that, sometimes, she forgot to acknowledge he was there. This is the problem with things that fit neatly into her life: they never lift neatly out.
AN: The LL angst in "Say Something" was calling to me, and it somehow got mixed up with the blizzard that pummeled the East Coast this weekend. Thus, a story.
The snow has been shoveled.
It's single-digits outside and the wind is still blowing and the damn blizzard hasn't even quit yet, and someone has shoveled her walk. There's a trench three feet wide and two feet deep where there ought to be nothing but a bright expanse of white yard and a Jeep-shaped snowbank.
She knows it's him. She knows it's him and she can't acknowledge it, can't even say it out loud; she's afraid if she lets the idea out it might not be a reality anymore, it might freeze in the cold air, cracking in two. She can't see him and she can't even speak to him and yet he came here, to her house, before the snow even stopped and shoveled her walk.
It's always been that way between the two of them: he existed in the background, at the edges, shoveling her walk and fixing her roof and cooking her food and drying her tears. He fit so neatly in her life that, sometimes, she forgot to acknowledge he was there. This is the problem with things that fit neatly into her life: they never lift neatly out.
He could barely look at her when he said it. She hadn't caught the words, not all of them, she heard problems and mother and Hartford and break, and before she knew it she was walking outside in the cold, walking away from the diner in the middle of the night, purse clutched in one hand and knuckles so tight she thought they might swell.
She was still wearing his flannel.
He'd implored her to say something, anything, after it happened. He asked in two phone messages and a note in her mailbox and one phone call at the inn. He asked on a slip of paper in a to-go carton, dutifully delivered by Rory. He asked in a hundred, silent ways, eyes darting toward the street every time someone walked by, head snapping up every time someone walked in. But still, she was quiet.
And for the first time, Luke was afraid of silence.
She was tired of television. Lorelai, tired of TV. This was something she never thought she would say. (She was tired of other things, too, but not tired enough to admit it: the Dragonfly, Sookie, cupcakes from Westin's, people with sympathetic eyes, and phone messages that never said the right thing.)
So she was tired of TV, and not tired enough to read, and tired of work and friends and play, and a blizzard was coming. She was going to be caught in the house, here, alone, when she was tired of everything. It was the worst possible timing and yet, somehow, fitting.
Why did you shovel my walk?
His fingers clenched around the stub pencil, still poised over the order pad. It was the middle of the lunch rush, at the only place in town to open after the storm, and he'd been ready to take his thirty-second phone order. And there she was, after six days of silence, on the other end of his phone.
He couldn't think of a thing to say.
Luke? I asked you a question.
Yeah, give me a second.
He pulled the phone into the storeroom, sinking down on a crate, putting the notepad down and picking it back up, running his free hand through his hair and replacing his hat again.
It needed shoveling.
It was all he could think of to say.
So, you just thought you'd come to my house in the middle of a blizzard and shovel it for me?
You don't own a snow shovel.
And that's it?
He nods for a second before remembering that she can't hear that through the phone. Yeah, he says. That's it, he says. What else did you want me to say?
That's a very long list, she says, and he hears the bitter edge in her voice. He knew it would be there, knew to expect it, but it hurts him still. He had hoped this would be brief, necessary, the drastic step it took to make all the pieces fall into place. But he can see it now, can hear her on the other end of the phone, not talking, pulling into herself and pulling away, away from him, away from anything that might hurt too much or be too hard or cause both of them pain. He hears it, and sees it, and is afraid. She is burying whatever might have been there deep, too deep for him to find.
Bye, she says, and the phone has clicked dead before it even registers, before he can think of another thing to say.
She hears the sounds and tries to ignore them, pulling a pillow and thick comforter over her head. It doesn't help; they're back again, a rhythmic scraping and thumping filtering up through her window and into her sleep. She stumbles out of bed, down the stairs, pulls on the coat hanging on the doorknob, and walks outside.
What the hell are you doing?
He's standing beside her jeep, where a snowdrift used to be. He's cleared a trench around the jeep and shoveled most of the snow from the top and he's working on a deep, wide path to the street.
Your car needs shoveling. You'll never make it to work, he says, and lifts another shovelful.
So you thought you'd come over here in the middle of the night and dig it out? He shrugs, at least she guesses it's supposed to be a shrug, and dumps another shovelful of snow.
Luke, come inside.
She's dropped her voice low, into the serious-mommy tone that never failed to get Rory's attention. It gets his, too, because he stops mid-scoop, back tense and straight. He stands that way for a moment, face turned away, fighting some internal battle she can't see. Finally, he turns, drops the shovel, and trudges past her, up the steps, and inside.
He's perched on the edge of the couch when she closes the door, staring at the floor and clenching and unclenching his hands. He watches her from the corner of his eye as she comes into the room, taking her time, slipping out of her coat and shoes. She sits across from him and just a little bit down, on the edge of the coffee table, and waits for him to speak.
This was supposed to make things easier, he says. She snorts.
Luke, breakups never make things easy.
He just swallows, and nods.
I don't know how to fix this, he says, and his voice is low and scratchy. He takes a deep breath, then adds: but I don't want to give up.
So that's why you're out there shoveling my car in the middle of the night?
She stares at her hands, tangling and untangling her fingers. I'm mad, she says. I'm mad and I don't remember ever being this mad at you in my life. He flinches, as if she's struck him. Perhaps she has.
I didn't want—he breaks off, working his jaw, and tries again. I didn't want to ruin everything. I just didn't know how to sort all of this out.
Well, you did a pretty crappy job of that. Her voice begins to break when she says it, and she shuts her mouth again, drawing in a long, deep breath.
I'm not good at fixing things, he says, still staring at his hands. Pipes, yeah, toasters, fine. But I don't know how to fix this. Any I'm trying.
You want to fix this? she asks; there's a challenge in her voice, and he looks up to meet her eyes. You can't just quit. I thought you were the one who was committed, I thought you were the one who was all in, I thought if anyone was going to walk away, if anyone was going to completely screw this up, it was gonna be me. That's what I do, Luke, I leave. I've made an art form out of it. Don't – she pulled back her arm, away from him, he'd barely been aware of reaching out his hand. Don't. She drew another long, slow breath. I didn't think you would leave. You're not that kind of person. You're not the one who leaves.
Her voice breaks fully, now, and she turns away from him, swiping at her cheeks. It's only a moment until she's composed again, looking down, twisting and untwisting her hands.
I don't want to leave. His voice is thick and raspy. I don't want to leave.
He reaches out his hand again, slow, tentative, afraid she might pull away further, afraid she might bolt. She doesn't move, still staring at her hands as he slips his hand between both of hers, grasping her fingers and squeezing them lightly.
I'm sorry, he says. It—it was the wrong thing to do.
Shoveling in a blizzard? There's a teasing note in it, but something else, as well, something bitter. She's giving him an out.
Asking for a break. His voice is lower, then, even quieter than before, and he's perfectly still, holding in a breath. It's in his posture, the way he sits, every muscle tense. He's afraid that if he moves the moment might pass away.
She sits for a long moment, and waits, and then squeezes his fingers lightly.
You realize you'll have to dig me out of this storm and every one that comes after it.
His whole body shudders with the breath he lets out.
I'll drive to New Haven and dig out Rory.
Good, she says, and her voice wavers again. Then he's pulling towards her and she's pulling towards him and he misses the coffee table and she misses the couch and they both slide down to the floor together, him wedged between the furniture with her in his lap, arms around his shoulders, and he's holding her so tightly he can feel the knobs of her spine beneath his palm. Her face is against his neck and he can feel the wet tear-tracks on her cheek. He doesn't know how long they sit there, after a while his knees begin to ache, and then his shoulders, and he doesn't dare move because if he does he might be further from her, her face might not fit into his shoulder, his arms might not fit around her back. He doesn't know how long it is until she moves, standing up, and he pulls himself up with her.
She kisses him, twice against the neck and once on the mouth, the moment is long and slow and strong. He cinches his arms around her, again, afraid she might slip further away, afraid he'll never quite get her close enough. She stands on her tiptoes and rests her arms on his shoulders and her face against his ear. She says it so quietly he almost doesn't hear; he's afraid he's made it all up, it's certainly too good to be true. But his grip stiffens and hers softens and she relaxes against his chest. He's blinking his eyes and working his fingers, the material of her shirt bunching beneath his grip. He draws in a long breath, and rubs one hand slowly across her back, and tries not to stumble across the words. I love you, too, he says.
And he's no longer afraid of the silence.