You don't need to read Eloquence or Satisfaction, but in my perspective, this is sort of the third stand-alone in that sequence. (If that makes sense.) Moving forward from 5.17.

Again, I am extremely fortunate to have two stunningly wonderful betas, JeSouhaite and Undisclosed. These two women just totally rock, and any mistakes left are mine, because they were amazing.

As always, Amy owns them; I'm still just moving them around.

Handles

by ecouteuse

Luke came out of the kitchen at the sound of the bell over the entrance door and tried not to show his disappointment. It wasn't Lorelai. He glanced at the clock on the diner wall; it was nearly nine-thirty and the breakfast crowd was dwindling. He figured Lorelai must have been running so late that she'd decided to go straight to the Inn and have her fix of coffee there instead of dropping by the diner first.

It was stupid to feel disappointed.

They'd had a great day yesterday. A great night. And, he felt himself mentally add, an amazing morning. He was thinking about how she'd woken up a few minutes before the alarm, having grown accustomed to it blaring when he had to get up. He had started to apologize, but she'd simply smiled and kissed him and then they'd—

He realized the entire diner had gone stone silent. Luke glanced around at everyone staring at him. He grouched, "What!" and they all flinched and quickly looked away. All except Kirk.

"You were smiling," Kirk offered, because even at the age of thirty, he really had no idea when he should be quiet.

"I was not smiling," Luke said, turning to go back into the kitchen.

"Oh, I beg to differ," Kirk intoned, "because there was a distinct upturned crease in your face which—" he stopped, as Luke glared at him.

"So?" Luke asked, daring him to go further. "Can't a man smile every once-in-a-while?"

"Uh, well, not you, Luke."

Luke looked at Kirk like he was nuts. Of course, Lorelai would have said that was stating the obvious.

"I can smile. When I want to. Not that I usually want to."

"But Luke," Kirk protested in a puppy-dog eager voice, "you can't start smiling every morning." When Luke raised his eyebrows, Kirk continued, "It throws my entire day off kilter." Luke knew he was going to regret the puzzled expression he was certain had just crossed his face because Kirk launched into an explanation.

"You see, when I first get up at six-fifty-five, and of course, after I brush my teeth, I help Mother plan her social calendar, which usually involves calling all of her bridge partners—"

"You call a bunch of old ladies at seven in the morning?" Luke asked. He wanted to smack himself in the forehead. "Why," he fumed, staring down at the floor, "did I just do that?" He should know better than to ask Kirk questions by now.

"Oh, yes," Kirk answered. "Mother wants to make sure they're all still alive."

Luke gaped at him a second.

"Mother takes her bridge games very seriously," Kirk said, deadly earnest as usual. "They plan exactly who's going to be there, weeks in advance. Which means a lot of the ladies explain exactly how they're feeling so I can write it on the chart, and they usually tell me all sorts of other things, like about their grandchildren or puppies or cats, because that's what little old ladies do, I suppose, and so when I come in here, I depend on you being grouchy and curmudgeonly. It balances everything. It's a routine. And routines are very important, Mother says. So if you start smiling, I have to know why, and of course, you never explain it, and then it will bother me the entire rest of the day, and my whole routine will be thrown off and I will be thinking of that instead of whatever I should be thinking about and I could be distracted and walk into traffic and die. So you just have to stop smiling."

"I'll see what I can do for you, Kirk," Luke said, exasperated. How the hell did he get himself into these conversations, he wondered for the thousandth time. It used to be that as the town's killjoy, he didn't have to talk to people. Didn't have to interact, didn't have to go to the stupid town meetings, unless Taylor was going to talk about something which would affect the diner. Luke walked into the kitchen, realizing that his entire life could be divided into pre-Lorelai and post-Lorelai, because now, people talked to him. They smiled at him. People even waved occasionally.

He was never, ever going to admit to Lorelai that he kind of liked it. Not talking to Kirk, of course, but the other stuff wasn't horrible.

Luke glanced back at the clock and saw that it was getting closer to ten. In a couple of hours, Lorelai was going to blow through the diner, swearing that she was about to die of starvation and that she desperately needed coffee. He often thought it would have been easier just to put an I.V. from the coffee maker straight into her veins. Of course, he wasn't going to suggest that, even in jest, because Lorelai would probably start riffing on actually doing it, which would not only squick him the hell out, but it would also mean spending five minutes arguing over a non-issue when he'd rather talk to her. In the storeroom. Privately. Where no talking would be happening.

Luke smiled, then saw Caesar gawking at his smile, and he rolled his eyes, scowled, and turned back to cook the next order.

When the phone rang about thirty minutes later, he grabbed it and leaned against the doorframe, expecting to hear Lorelai's staccato-paced voice on the other end as she launched into some sort of nonsensical random story which, of course, he would mock. It was too early for lunch orders, too late for breakfast, and just about the time when things at the Inn settled into a short lull. It's when she usually called.

Instead, he heard, "Hey, Luke, it's Sookie. Can I speak to Lorelai?"

He blinked a second, then said, "She's not here, Sookie. I thought she was at the Inn."

"Oh! Oh, well, good grief, I'm probably blind. There's no telling – I know she had a hundred things to do this morning. Thanks!"

"Okay," Luke said, feeling odd, displaced, and his gut made him say, "Wait."

"Yeah?" Sookie asked.

"Didn't she grab some coffee there?" Luke asked.

"Oh, she probably did, Luke. She called earlier and had overslept and was running a little late so I had to go and deal with some stuff. We probably just missed each other. You know, all Evangeline."

"Do I want to know?"

"Oh, Evangeline is this really sad poem about how two people—"

"Sookie!" he interrupted, "Lorelai?"

"Oh. Right, well I just didn't know where she was and she's not answering the cell or the house, but that's happened before, especially if she forgets to charge the cell. We've got a bunch of tourists and it's been a madhouse here and busy busy busy that's probably why we haven't seen her. I'm sure she's just upstairs sorting out some minor squabble with the Baptists and the Belly Dancing Troupe. How on earth those two groups managed to book for the same week is beyond me and man, when the two belly dancers were accidentally given the key to the Reverend's room, you should have seen the look on his face, like he'd died and gone to heaven or something, but wow, that could have been a really bad moment"

"We?" Luke asked, interrupting her, wondering if she ever actually took a breath in those maze-like sentences.

"We-who-huh?" Sookie sputtered, lost again far far far from the point.

"Who's the 'we' that hasn't seen Lorelai?"

"Oh, just me, Luke. And Michel." Luke could hear her turning to the kitchen crew and ask if any of them had seen Lorelai that morning. "Oh, and the kitchen crew. But it's no big deal. I'll go find her."

"Yeah," Luke said. "Hey, tell her to call me when you do, okay?"

Sookie agreed and hung up, and Luke stood there a long moment, wiping his hands absentmindedly on a dish towel. He wondered if there'd been something bothering her and she'd been covering it up, the way she used to before they broke up and then got back together. He thought they were more solid, now. Different. Better. So much more a unit. He let himself exhale. If something had been wrong, she would have told him, he decided, trying to keep the worry that nagged him at bay. They were good, right? Right.

It was entirely possible, he knew, for her to oversleep. They'd been up late last night, talking and laughing, and then the sex had been pretty damned phenomenal. He knew, however, that it wasn't possible for her to do without coffee. One cup of her own taken with her to the Inn wouldn't have lasted this long, and before Luke realized what he was doing, he was moving out of the diner, onto the sidewalk, heading for Lorelai's house.

He hadn't even been aware that he'd started jogging, but when he got to her street and saw the jeep still parked in her drive, dark fear exploded and saturated every cell in his body as he bolted to her front door. Luke hoped she'd just fallen back to sleep and when he woke her, he could rant at her for worrying everyone, and that was all it was going to be, just that she'd fallen back to sleep. That was it. She was asleep and that's why the Jeep was still there. He pounded on the front door, cursing the fact that he'd locked it when he left that morning and cursing himself for leaving his keys – with the new key she'd given him – on the back counter at the diner. And then he steamed, even more frustrated, when he remembered he'd made her take the spare key out of the turtle, finally. Well, he'd ranted for a solid fifteen minutes on safety issues and she'd taken it out to shut him up, not that she actually believed he had a freaking point. Why the hell had she listened to him that time? It's not like he hadn't had the same rant four hundred other times. Couldn't she have waited until next week to finally do what he'd been suggesting for ten years?

"Lorelai!" he thundered, and he strained to see if he heard her thudding quickly down the stairs or shouting from the tub or stirring in the kitchen, but the house was quiet and calm and strangely bereft everything it was in Lorelai's absence. He hurried around to the back door where, dammit, he'd locked it the night before, and he banged on it, calling her name several times. His noise alone should have woken her up if she was still asleep. But then, she could sleep through just about anything, right? Right. That's right. That's what was happening. It wasn't anything else but that. Which he was really going to have to do something about. Maybe put a few dozen extra clocks around the room to make sure she got up, like that dream she'd told him about a long time ago. Or maybe she was over at Babbette's and just didn't hear him or was standing on Babbette's porch, waiting for him to go back to the front of the house so she could giggle and wave and watch him launch into a lecture, and then she'd bat her lashes and do the hair flip thing and he'd be extremely annoyed, but she'd make it up to him later. He really did like that hair flip thing.

Luke thought he heard her Jeep start and he rushed back to the front of the house, but no, it had been a neighbor. He glanced over at Babbette's, but didn't see anyone over there, and anyway, even Babbette would have come outside, determined not to miss a moment as gossip-worthy as this one. He went to the front door, hammering it again.

She must've gone off with someone, he thought, but he knew she wouldn't have. Not without mentioning it. Not without checking in with Sookie. He leaned over the porch railing and looked into the living room window.

Luke saw the dark curls of her hair flowing through the railing of the stairs where she was lying, upside down.

He didn't remember leaping back to the front door and kicking it so hard in one swift motion that the door flew off its hinges and landed in the opposite archway. It took an eternity to move through the doorway to the stairs, every second shredding years from his soul, and everything inside him went numb at the sight of blood beneath her head.

He knelt there, beside her, willing himself to think, to breathe, to know what to do. He felt Lorelai's cheek – still warm, and he exhaled. Luke leaned close and felt a small breath of air – her breathing was shallow. He had no idea tears were streaming down his face, no idea he'd said her name a hundred times already.

She had not awakened at his touch. Luke thought she would have… should have… but he wasn't going to allow himself to think about that. He grabbed the cordless and ran back to her, calling 911. He described the emergency and gave the dispatcher directions. It was as if he were watching himself, operating somehow on auto-pilot, listening to the EMS people on the line, answering their questions, all the while, screaming inside.

When he put the cordless down to wait for the paramedics, he kept saying her name over and over and over and over, stroking her hair, smoothing her cheek, holding her hand, praying that she would hear him and wake up, and this would be one of her terrible, stupid jokes and he could be really really angry at her and she would regret it and apologize profusely. Only… she didn't move, didn't answer.

Luke hadn't realized the ambulance had arrived until the EMS crew pulled him off the stairs so they could get to Lorelai. He hadn't seen Babbette standing there, crying, wringing her hands, and he couldn't hear anything she was saying. It was as if all sound had ceased except the rush of his own heart in his ears.

"Call Sookie," he said to Babbette, still not able to hear anything, hoping that his sentences were coming out coherently. "Tell her… tell her and Jackson to go get Rory." He looked hard at Babbette. "Don't let Rory drive to the hospital – she'll be too scared."

Babbette nodded and grabbed the phone.

Luke tried to focus on what the EMS crew was saying, but before he knew it, they had Lorelai in a head brace on a stretcher and were moving to the ambulance. One of the paramedics tried to stop him at the ambulance door, but after one look at Luke's face, he stepped aside to let Luke climb in.

The ride was a blur of sirens and lights and weaving through traffic and nothing, not one moment of it, felt real. Luke held the hand that wasn't hooked up to the monitors. He watched her pale skin grow paler, and her very stillness shattered the pieces of his heart. The EMS crew suggested he talk to her, that maybe hearing his voice would pull her around and all he could manage was a choked, strangled sound as everything he wanted to say lodged in his chest.

He'd never had the words.

She'd known that. He'd been able to show her, he'd been able to do things, but he'd never had the words. All they could tell him to do was to talk to her, and he'd never felt so lost in his entire life, except when he was eight, and his mom was dying. That's when the words stopped. That's when living lightly, living in the now, slowed to a crawl; that's when hope had edged away from him and left him alone. Until Lorelai had tornadoed into his diner and then his life and had shaken everything and splashed color everywhere. With Lorelai, he had started remembering the words and laughter and sweetness and talking and dreams… and hope.

The doctors made him wait just outside her room while they examined her, and then they'd pronounced that there didn't seem to be anything broken, that the blood at the back of her head was from a gash she'd probably gotten in the fall. She still wasn't conscious or responding, and they were going to do an MRI on her next.

Luke sensed and heard everything as if through a thick fog. He tried to follow them down to the MRI room, but three orderlies held him back until they convinced him he wasn't allowed and that they'd be bringing her right back to that room. He knew they didn't understand. She hated tight spaces, and if she woke up while they were doing the MRI, she would be scared and he knew he'd be able to calm her. Every second she was away killed him, sliced at him, taunted him, and he didn't know what to do with himself. He tried pacing, tried sitting, tried praying, tried standing, and then started over again with the pacing.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw them bringing her back to the room.

As they hooked her back up to the monitors, the nurse explained, "The neurologist will read the film and then come back in here and talk with you."

He nodded, not able to respond, just staring at her lying in the hospital bed.

"Talk to her," the nurse encouraged. "She really can hear you, you know." With that, the nurse left the room.

Luke lowered the side rail of the bed so he could sit near and hold her hand. It felt so wrong, so unnatural, so platonic. Luke did the only thing he understood. He turned and climbed into the bed with Lorelai, sliding one arm around her shoulders, kissed her on the forehead and held her free hand. He wanted to gripe about the antiseptic hospital smells, because she would understand it and find a way to mock it and make him laugh or at least think about something else for a moment.

"I'm here," he said, low into her ear. "You know. If you wanna wake up and start mocking the gown they put you in. It's… plaid," he lied, hoping to get a response. He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her hand, then closed his eyes, searching for the words. There was so much he ought to say, so much he wanted to say, but he couldn't get to the words.

He heard a commotion in the hall and realized Rory was there, with Sookie and Jackson, and he rose to greet them at Lorelai's door. He wanted to warn Rory, to prepare her for the pain. Maybe hearing Rory's voice would pull Lorelai around, though, so as much as he hated seeing Rory hurt, her mom needed her. Luke opened the hospital door and saw Rory down the hall; they were looking for him. When she saw him, she flew to him in a blur, a thousand questions a second, just like her mom. She launched into his arms as he explained that Lorelai wasn't awake yet.

Rory dissolved into sobs, and he held her the way a dad would, this child he'd almost helped to raise, this almost woman who'd been the daughter to him since the first time she'd asked him to come to her caterpillar's funeral when she was a kid.

"We have to have our chance," she said, muffled somewhere in his flannel.

"Our chance?" he asked.

"To be a family, Luke. For you and mom to get married. For you to be my dad…" and feeling guilty, she edited and said, "my step-dad."

He couldn't speak; he nodded and hugged her. Then Sookie was there, hurrying towards him, asking all sorts of questions, with Jackson not far behind her.

The doctors had said one person at a time could go in, so Rory went first and Luke tried not to die when the door between him and Lorelai closed. He walked the opposite direction of the main waiting area, where half of the town had already gathered, and found a quiet nook with a couple of chairs and a window. He stood there, not seeing a single damned thing, not really knowing what he was thinking, except that this was normally the time he would have left. This was the kind of situation he would have tried to escape, bowed out, appeared to be stoic, (and would have been mocked by Lorelai for the three or four words he'd uttered). Then maybe later on he'd have given some slight indication that he'd really wanted to stay to be supportive, and she'd have understood why he didn't, and he could have left, knowing all of that. Only things had changed. Or rather, he had changed.

He'd never really thought of himself as the kind of man who was afraid. He was pretty sure no one would describe him like that, and he'd definitely lived his life on his own terms. Mostly. He hated that he was coming to a realization about himself, especially in a hospital, because how cliché was that? He really loathed hospitals, and he especially loathed having realizations about things he ought to have known and he really hated the two things together. If he could have run from it, he probably would have, but there was nowhere to go.

Part of him, he realized, had always been waiting, somehow, some way, for Lorelai to leave. At first, he thought she would leave like Rachel did: just up and go. But that wasn't Lorelai's style. Then he thought she was leaving when she'd lied about Chris and her mother had interfered. They finally got past that and were solid now. Even so, he'd held something back. He was all in – it wasn't that. He was more head over heels in love with that insane woman than he'd been the first time she'd badgered him for coffee, and even back then, he knew he had fallen hard. Still, he hadn't moved fully forward, instead taking everything one tiny little step at a time. Waiting, he realized now. His mom had left. Hadn't wanted to, he knew, hadn't been able to stop it or help it, but it didn't change the fact that she was gone. Suddenly, Luke couldn't breathe, couldn't feel any air moving in the room, and he knew that was the darkest place he could find himself, in any place without Lorelai.

"God didn't put handles on rainbows, son," his dad's gruff voice said, and the memory startled Luke so much, he felt as if he could turn around and see his dad standing there, shaking his head.

Luke remembered when he'd said it – he'd been nine and he and his dad were going on a fishing trip, riding in the old white truck that seemed so big to Luke, it was as if it were a giant ship gliding across concrete rivers. There had been a misty rain early that morning, just before dawn, and Luke and his father were rambling down a highway that Luke had seen a hundred times and had memorized beyond the point of boredom, when the gray of night finally slid away and the sun broke through the clouds. Up ahead, beautiful and crisp, was a rainbow. Luke watched it in awe. Like many rainbows, it seemed to arc down and touch the road just ahead of them, and images of pots of gold danced in his little boy head. Even at nine, he was familiar enough with the phenomena of rainbows to know that they tended to keep moving just a little ahead of you, just a little out of reach, like a mirage dancing just beyond your fingertips. Only on that particular day, the rainbow seemed to be stationary where it arced down to the road up ahead, and he found his eyes growing wider and wider as he began to believe they were going to drive right through it. He was afraid to speak, afraid it would break the spell and the closer they got, the more spread out the misty colors seemed to be. And for one brief moment, he watched them pass through the colors. He didn't really believe it had happened, didn't really believe it was real, and he saw his father looking at him oddly, as if wondering what Luke was thinking, but he didn't know how to explain it.

He spun in the seat and looked out the back window as they moved away from that fixed point and the colors seemed to coalesce and band back together and after another moment, the rainbow was back in place, marking a point in time and space that Luke knew he would never get to see again.

"Did you see that, Dad?"

"What?"

"The rainbow!"

"What about it?"

Luke spent the next ten minutes trying to convince his dad that they'd driven through it, but his dad – who had been focused much farther down the road to drive safely – hadn't seen it, and Luke wished he'd said something. He felt as if his dad had been watching him, wondering what Luke's awe-filled expression had been about and Luke had assumed his dad would know. It bothered him that his dad missed something they could have shared.

Later that day while they were fishing, Luke said something off-hand about rainbows and how they weren't all that important; he didn't want his dad to feel bad about missing something so amazing. His dad had looked at him a long moment and said, "God didn't put handles on rainbows, son. We can't hold on to them. We keep 'em here," he'd pointed to his heart. That was the first time he saw his dad look off into that middle distance, and knew he was thinking about Luke's mom. "Sometimes, you can't hold onto the best things forever, Luke. Doesn't mean it isn't worth trying for all you're worth, though, for as long as you can."

Luke stood there all those years later in that hospital, staring blindly out the window. Waiting. He'd always been waiting for Lorelai. First, to say yes. And then, somehow, to leave. It hit him with sudden brute force that Lorelai had been doing the same thing. She'd waited all those years for him to ask her out. He knew, now, from little hints she'd dropped, that she'd wanted to go out long before Rachel had returned. She'd wanted more from him several times, but life kept getting in their way. They'd waited. And maybe she was afraid, too, that he was going to leave. Maybe, what Lorelai had been waiting on… was him.

He stood outside Lorelai's room again. Sookie had decided that Rory needed to be pulled out of there before she completely dissolved into a distraught puddle, and Luke traded places with her.

The neurologist came by. "Some swelling of the brain," she said. "Somewhat to be expected in this kind of fall. Usually, once it goes down, the patient regains consciousness."

"Usually?" Luke had asked, and seeing the unspoken warning in the neurologist's eyes, simply turned away. Sookie forced Rory to the cafeteria, and Luke had just moved to Lorelai's side when he heard Emily's voice in the hall. The very last thing he knew Lorelai would want.

Emily burst into the room, with Richard close on her heels.

"What on earth are you doing here?" she demanded. "Get away from my daughter. If you—"

"Leave now," he warned them. Loudly. Abruptly.

"I will not," her mother snapped. "That is my daughter in that bed. Richard, get Barry on the phone. He'll know a specialist."

"You can do all of that from outside," Luke said, moving toward them, forcing them back out of the door.

"What right do you have—" Richard bellowed. Luke didn't give him a chance to finish.

"Every right. You can hate me, I don't care. You can plot revenge against me for the rest of your lives, I don't care. But you will not, under any circumstances, carry any of that anger into that room right now. She can hear you. You will upset her. And if I have to throw you out myself, I will do whatever it takes to help her. Do you understand me?"

He must have been loud. Luke hadn't really planned on being loud, but nurses and orderlies suddenly sprouted by the bucketful from doorways, all looking their direction, worried. He was glad Rory was still in the cafeteria.

"She is still upset with you, Emily," Luke said. "I respect her choices. You, however, don't. You may stay here at the hospital – I can't stop you and you may get whatever specialists you can – that's great. I want her to have the best of care. But you will not go in there. Not now. Not until she is awake and wants to see you. Are we clear?"

"Just who do you think you are?" Emily finally managed, seething.

"I am the man who loves your daughter more than life itself. And she loves me. And we're going to have handles, dammit."

"Handles?" Emily interrupted, incredulous because that may have been the most insane thing she'd ever heard, but Luke kept on ranting, ignoring her.

"Handles. And we're going to hold onto them as long as we can. Not fancy, skinny, cold, metal handles encrusted with useless stones that hurt your hand when you grip them, but perfectly shaped, warm, worn leather handles that exactly match our grip. Handles!" he exclaimed as if it all made perfect sense. "I am going to be in her life until I die. That," he seethed back, "is who I am. Deal with it."

Luke had maneuvered them backward out of the door and he turned on his heel and went back inside. He scanned Lorelai for any change, but couldn't see any. Everything on the monitors looked the same, and he leaned over her, kissing her forehead, smoothing her curls away from her face. There was no response.

He lay down with her again, holding her. Finally, he had the words. If he had them for Emily, he sure as hell had them for Lorelai.

And so he told her. He told her the stories she always wanted to hear, but he'd rarely ever wanted to speak about: stories of his mom and the things he remembered about her cooking. How she loved to sew, and laugh and tease his dad. He told her stories of fishing with his dad. Luke told her stories of the first hamburgers he'd cooked and how awful they'd tasted, so awful that his dad almost didn't let him keep trying because he'd managed to burn not only the burgers, but the pan he'd been cooking them in.

The hours clicked on and day turned into the wee hours of night, and still, he talked. Luke told her of his dreams for them together, of the things he wanted. He told her of all the things he'd thought all of the times they'd had near misses. He told her about the many times he'd almost kissed her. The day they'd read his dad's order behind the counter. The day she'd lost that stupid chick in the house. He told her about the many times he'd almost asked her out, and how he regretted wasting those years. He told her how words were hard for him, and why. He told her how very much he wanted that middle, too. And how much he wanted to hold onto everything they had.

She turned a little, on her own, to face him and Luke froze and looked down, as she squeezed his one hand and reached to his chest with the other.

"What was all the shouting about… handles?" she whispered, and when he didn't answer, she added a small chuckle. "And remind me to mock you later for the burned pan."

His heart caught so sharply, he couldn't speak a moment. When he found his voice, he asked, "how long have you been listening to me?"

"Forever," she said, patting his chest right over his heart.

"Lorelai," he managed to strangle out before the relief hit him, full force, and he couldn't say another thing for fear that he'd break into sobs, and right now, she needed him to be strong. He clung tightly to her, and finally said, "please don't ever stop."

"I won't," she whispered back.

The doctors and nurses came bustling in, doing all of the things they needed to do to say that Lorelai was going to be okay. He went out and woke Rory and Sookie and Jackson, and yes, her parents, along with half of Stars Hollow, all gathered in the waiting room, and told them the good news. Rory launched at him again and hugged him hard and then sprinted towards her mom's room. Sookie and Emily and Richard followed immediately after.

Luke buried his face in his hands. Sometimes you're standing smack in the middle of the rainbow, and you can't see it because you're so close and it's all around you. Time, he knew, was going to push them through to the other side, and he'd wasted too much time already. They needed handles.

Later, Lorelai admitted to Luke that because she was in a hurry and because she was feeling silly, she'd hopped on the banister intending to slide down the stairs and "boy, did that ever backfire." He ranted for almost a solid hour before he could calm down enough to breathe again normally, and he made her promise a dozen times not to do something so crazy ever again.

Though Lorelai asked repeatedly about the reference to "handles," Luke held back, which only served to increase her curiosity. She begged him relentlessly and he finally "gave in," sharing the story about the rainbows and what his dad had said about handles. Lorelai had grown quiet as he spoke, tears pooling in her eyes, knowing that he was sharing more than just a story. The passion he felt seared their kisses and they made love, over and over, never wanting to let go, never wanting to be apart. He knew when she fell asleep, smiling, curled into his arms, that she'd felt as completely united with him as either one of them could have ever dreamed. He wasn't waiting for her to leave anymore.

The alarm wasn't set that Sunday morning; he'd told her he was going to "sleep in" but there was a humming noise coming from the gazebo area and it grew until Lorelai shuddered awake. He let her believe he was still asleep as she slipped out of the bed and pulled on her favorite flannel shirt to go peek out the upstairs window to see what the fuss was about. He already knew lots of people were gathered on the sidewalk, staring at something in the grass. He also knew that the morning sun's glare would obscure the view and she'd have to go downstairs and outside to see what it was. Luke kept his eyes closed as she pulled on her jeans and tiptoed downstairs, and then a cacophony of noises erupted from everyone in the diner and he could hear everyone talking to her at once.

"Ohmygod, Doll, have you seen it?" he heard Babbette cry.

"Way cool," Morey added, and Luke didn't have to see Lorelai's face to know she'd just looked at them with her "utterly confused" expression.

Luke stood at the top of the stairs, buttoning his shirt, and he heard Rory rush into the diner, exclaiming, "MOM! You've got to come see it."

"See what?" Lorelai asked, still groggy, and sounding ever more baffled.

Rory just laughed and pulled her mom outside, over to the large grounds adjacent to the gazebo. Luke walked downstairs now, since the diner had emptied out with people following Lorelai and he let the door stand open, the better to hear what she might say. He watched as the crowd – everyone there – parted until Lorelai was standing on the sidewalk, facing the words Luke knew were filling the square:

Lorelai, will you marry me?

"Ohmygod," was all she could say, with her hand flying to her mouth. Then, "What's… what's it spelled… with?" she wondered aloud, and she rushed into the grassy area and then picked up one of the items that made up the giant letters. It was a handle. He'd spelled it out with handles. Leather handles, old wooden ones, beautiful ones, antique handles… everything imaginable that was warm and inviting and wonderful to touch. Nearly five thousand handles, he knew, and it had taken him a couple of weeks to find and ship and hide them until the right moment.

"Ohmygod, how…?" Lorelai asked, of no one in particular.

"He had a little help," a very sleepy Kirk volunteered, but Lorelai just turned and ran back into the diner.

He was waiting for her, smirking, standing there in his blue jeans and flannel and baseball cap. He stood behind the counter, pouring her a cup of coffee. She gazed at him with such a look of amazed, awestruck wonder that his heart raced. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the stunning ring that he'd been carrying around for weeks.

"Handles," he said, grinning as she eased onto a stool, still speechless. He leaned forward, his elbows propped on the counter, putting his face within inches of hers as he held the ring between them. When thought finally made a little progress through her dumbstruck brain, Lorelai put out her hand and he slid the ring onto her finger.

"Handles," she said, smiling at him.

His dad, he realized, was an incredibly smart man. Luke met Lorelai on the other side of the counter and she leapt into his arms, and they held each other as the onlookers applauded.