Disclaimer: They are not mine, no matter how much I love them
Author's Note: I owe so many thanks for everyone who helped me with this chapter. Between the baseball statistics and getting April's voice right, I found it enormously difficult to write. My wonderful betas: Bridges, CineFille and JeSouhaite were so amazing to deal with multiple drafts of such a long chapter. I also got a huge amount of help from Macha with the baseball section. I honestly could not have written that section without her help (and Major League Baseball website). The length of this chapter can at least partially be blamed on CineFille since she kept telling me more scenes that she wanted to see in this story. I just hope this chapter doesn't bore everyone to tears.
I admit it. I've always wondered, at least a little bit. Not because I felt like there was anything missing from my life, but just because it seemed like a piece of information I should have. You know, in case either one of us ever needs a bone marrow transplant or something.
I've asked my mom once or twice about it, but she's never really answered me directly, so I've always gotten the impression that the story isn't as straightforward as it should be. I mean, I learned the whole sperm and egg thing years ago. It's just that Mom hasn't been very forthcoming about whose sperm we're talking about. I've tried to reason it out – to figure out what traits my father must have, given what I know about me and my mother, but there are too many possibilities. So then I try to stop wondering.
But when I do family history projects for school, or watch my mom filling out insurance forms, I imagine filling them out myself when I'm older and having to leave blanks. I don't like leaving things blank. It means you don't know the answer.
There are times I figure it's probably Steven. He and mom have known each other since college and I've watched the way that he falls back into our lives again and again. Over and over, until something comes up, and he's off again. It wouldn't be so bad, if it were him. He's a decent guy, you know, for a flake.
Every once in a while, when I'm imagining he's my father, I wonder if it would make him want to stay. Would I want him to stay? Would mom want him to stay? And then I realize that it's probably better this way. Having him around is fun for a while. He makes mom happy. But he also puts us off-kilter, especially when he leaves.
I asked mom once if it was him. She looked embarrassed and changed the subject without answering. I didn't understand her discomfort at first, but I wonder if it's possible she's not sure who my father is. I have to think about that for a while, to figure out what I think about it. I know that Steven tends to show up out of the blue and hang around. And she lets him – even that time when she was dating the car salesman. I finally decide that's why she hasn't told me: that she doesn't know. I accept that for a while because, like I said, I don't really need a father.
It's the blanks that get to me, though. The next time he's around, I imagine putting his name in those blanks. I wonder, and I decide that it would be nice to know. Just because I'd be able to fill in the blanks. Then there's that whole bone marrow issue.
I don't ask my mom again, but she's given me enough to go on. I'm pretty good at getting information out of people, and mom's got a couple of really talkative friends. They're fuzzy on the dates, but there are two other guys that fit the general time-frame. After a little time on the internet, I find out that they both live fairly close.
It's not until we're brainstorming questions for our science fair projects that I realize that this might be the way to finally beat Samuel Pilotski. Our teacher has been trying to get us to come up with original questions, and since it's DNA, I can get my uncle to help me. Of course, I don't tell him it's human DNA I've collected until it's too late to come up with a new project. He's annoyed with me, but since I'm his 'little scientist' (a name I hate, by the way), I'm able to talk him into it. It helps that I told him my mom said it was okay.
When I find out the answer, I have to sit and think about it for a little bit. It's that guy from the diner: Luke Danes. The impatient, grumpy one. He seemed annoyed just talking to me, so I'm not sure what that means about us. I guess I know who he is, though. So at least there's that. And I can be satisfied with that, because I can fill in a few blanks. Luke Danes. Stars Hollow.
Then he shows up at the science fair. He does that 'I've got to sit down' thing, so I know he's surprised. I shouldn't be amused that he's flustered, but I am. When he's nervous, he reaches up and adjusts his hat. At least that's what he's doing now, and he sure seems nervous. I'm not sure if he does that all the time.
I wonder if I should ask him. I wonder what else I should ask him.
He asks about Mom. I think it's a good sign that he remembers her and seems to not hold some sort of longstanding grudge.
But, before long he's leaving, and since I can't go out for ice cream with him, that's sort of it, and he goes. It's not until afterwards that I start to wonder why he came to the science fair – what it means. I like that he asked me for ice cream, though.
A week passes, and then two, and I haven't heard from him. It's not really that I expect him to call. Once Mom found out about the project and got over being angry with me, she explained that though she'd been almost sure Luke was my father, she'd known how he felt about kids and she didn't want me to be hurt if I found him and he didn't want to be a part of my life. She didn't want to build up my expectations, only to be disappointed. So she told me nothing. I think that this is one of the ways that I'm different from my mom. I'd always rather know, even if I don't like the result. I'd rather do the experiment and prove my hypothesis wrong than never know the answer.
So, as her way of preparing me, she tells me that I shouldn't expect him to be around, that I shouldn't get my hopes up. And I don't think I do. I did this so that I would know, not because I suddenly felt the need to have a dad around the house. Which is good, because he's not – around, that is.
It's not that I'm bothered by that. It's just that I've thought of questions I should have asked when I had the chance. More blanks to fill in. What's his family health history? What's his blood type? Does he need bone marrow? What are my grandparents like?
Eventually, he comes by the house and talks to Mom. It's been almost three weeks by then, which feels like a long time. I'm a little annoyed with him, and I can't figure out why. Mom told me he might not want to get involved, so I shouldn't be surprised.
She tells me that they talked, that she made sure that he knew he had no obligation. Having me had been her choice and she'd never regretted it, but she didn't want to tie him to us unless he wanted it. It makes me wonder if the two of them thought about what I want. I'm starting to wonder what it is that I want.
A few more weeks pass by and I'm beginning to think that my mom was right – that the grumpy diner guy is content to be the person who provided half of my genetic material.
I'd buy that, especially based on how annoyed he was when I first met him. But he came to the science fair. He offered to take me out for ice cream. I hate when there's conflicting evidence. That's when everything starts to get subjective.
He does eventually call. He talks to my mom and asks if he can take me to dinner in a few days. I wonder what changed his mind. I think I'm glad he changed his mind, but I wonder if he's doing it because he wants to or because he thinks that he should.
He takes me to a restaurant owned by old friends of his parents and they fuss over me just a little, which is weird, but once they've gotten that out of their system, they mostly leave us alone, so that we can talk.
We do the whole small talk thing. He asks what I like to do and I tell him about my friends, my website, and some of my other hobbies. He's not very forthcoming with his own details and since my fallback is always science, that's where the conversation heads.
It's not intentional, really, but since he's not offering any topics to discuss himself, what am I supposed to do? Besides, I should find out if he's willing to talk to me about science, or if he's going to be one of those people who gets freaked out by it. There are far too many people in the world like that. If they only realized what it can tell us, the questions it can answer.
He does seem a little freaked out, but I can't tell if that's because of the science or because of me. It's hard to tell what he's thinking, because he looks sort of stunned. At least he's listening.
He talks about 'the fiancée' and her daughter a lot. I don't think he realizes how much. The first time he mentions her is when I'm explaining the DNA test and talking about how many alleles we had in common.
It's right after he's asked me why I did the science fair experiment. He wants to know what made me do it now. I try to explain about the blanks and the bone marrow, about why it was important to know, but he looks confused. He asks about the DNA test and I can't tell if he really wants to know, or if he can't figure out what he wants to know. And all I know is that I can explain the DNA test. So I do.
I ask if he knows what alleles are and he says, "Like in CSI?" and I'm surprised. He doesn't seem like a crime drama type of guy. He doesn't seem like a TV type of guy.
"Yeah, like CSI. You watch CSI?"
"Yes…well, no. I mean Lorelai watches it while I'm in the same room." I give him a questioning look and he explains, "Lorelai is…uh, my fiancée."
"You're engaged?" I wonder if Mom knows this I think she would have told me. He nods and I ask about her. He tells me that she runs an inn and that she had a baby when she was young and her daughter is 21. When he's talking about Lorelai and her daughter, he looks ever so slightly more comfortable. I try to remember that, and later, when he starts to look like he doesn't know what to say, I ask a question about Lorelai's inn. That's how we get through the rest of the night. Me, talking about science and my experiments and then, when he seems to have lost his ability to speak, I throw in a question about the diner, or the town, or this Lorelai person.
It isn't until our next dinner that it occurs to me to tell him about last year's project – the one about baseball. He's a guy. He probably likes baseball.
I'm right. He does like baseball and he sometimes plays on a town softball team and his dad used to take him to baseball games, and he has more to tell me, and suddenly we're a little more comfortable. Comfortable enough that when he asks me if I ever played t-ball or little league I can laugh at the suggestion without feeling like I'm going to hurt his feelings.
There are still so many things we don't know.
Finally, after a few dinners together, he brings me to meet 'the fiancée.' When he picks me up, he's back to being as nervous as the first night, with the stammering and long silences. He does say that Lorelai has been looking forward to meeting me and the way he says it, full of expectation, makes me anxious about making a good impression.
We pull up and he lets us into the house and I have this little moment of confusion, because for some reason I thought that he lived above the diner. But this makes sense, I guess. They are getting married.
I know she's been waiting for us, because when we walk in, she's already heading toward the door. She stops a few feet away and stands there for a moment before giving us an uncertain smile. Then she looks at me. "It's so nice to finally meet you, April. Luke has told me so much about you. Ever since you told him about your baseball project he hasn't been able to talk about anything else. You know, as much as he talks about anything." She glances at me, and clarifies, "Because he doesn't really talk much, usually. " Her voices trails off, like the last few drops dripping out of a faucet. I have to wonder if this impatient stream of words is her response to being nervous the same way that my father's response is silence. I barely have time to get the thought clearly in my head before she starts talking again, though. "So. Well. Welcome to our house. This is it, I guess. I could show you around while Luke finishes dinner." She turns to him. "I think the chicken must be just about done in there. It smells so good in there and I swear I could hear that little pop-up timer cluck. What do you think, do you want to see the house? I know there's not much of it, but…"
It takes me a moment to realize that her last question was directed at me. I should know though, since he certainly doesn't need to be shown around. I'm not sure I need to either, but it seems like that's the kind of thing that grown-ups always do when someone comes to their house. They've got to show them around.
He takes my coat and mumbles something about checking on the food. And then he leaves me with the crazy babbling lady who wants to show me her house. I nod and look at Lorelai. "Sure, I'd love to see the house."
She smiles and gestures around her, "Well, obviously, this is the foyer, where all of the house-entering happens." She turns and moves a few feet further into the house. "And this is the living room where we…"
She gives a little chuckle, "Yeah, and watch movies and eat junk food and very, very occasionally, when Luke has been exceptionally good to me, we watch baseball…or football." She turns slowly, as if scanning the room, then settles on the stairs. "There's not much upstairs, just our bedroom, the one your, uh…your dad and I…well, it's our bedroom. You probably don't need to see that, right?"
I realize suddenly that I really don't need to see where he sleeps. I'm just getting used to having a father and even though the 'fiancée' thing isn't exactly brand new news, I don't really need to think about him sleeping with her in their bedroom in their house that I didn't know he lived in. I look back up at her and she's waiting for me to answer.
"No, I don't need to see."
"Well, there's not that much more then. I guess that's not much of a tour, huh?" She gives me an apologetic glance and I shrug.
She leads us down a short hall in the direction of the chicken smells. He looks up as we walk in and says, "Everything should be ready in a few minutes."
We all look at each other, not knowing what to say next. It's the longest Lorelai's been quiet since I got here. He wasn't kidding when he said she talked a lot. Of course, I can tell she's nervous. That's been happening a lot lately – me making people nervous.
I'm not surprised that Lorelai is the first to speak again. I was still trying to think of something to say. "This is Rory's room," she says, reaching to open a door off the kitchen. "I guess Luke probably told you about Rory. She's at Yale. She's smart too. You're both smart. I guess you'll meet her at some point. She's looking forward to meeting you."
Lorelai is gazing into the room. I point inside, "Can I go in?"
She nods, "Of course."
I walk in and look around. For some reason I am intrigued by this girl, Rory. Maybe it's because of the way he talked about her, about both of them. Like they were family. I know they're going to be his family, but I guess it's just that he's known them both so long and I've only known him a short time.
I look around at her book titles and I see a lot of 'literature,' – the kind of books I generally only read if they're assigned in English class. I've never really understood why some novels get a special section in the library just because they're old. Rory's got a lot of those kinds of books, but she's also got some Asimov and Heinlein scattered among the other books on her shelves, so there's hope. I smile to myself when I see her Judy Blume collection, which is tucked back into a corner of the shelf and looks remarkably similar to the one I have at home.
I turn back into the kitchen, where my father is setting the table as Lorelai lifts the lids off the pots on the stove. "Broccoli?" she cries, in what I think is mock horror, though I don't know her well enough yet to be sure. "You made broccoli! In this house? In my pots!"
If I hadn't been sure before, I am now, because he's smirking as he answers, "First of all, those are pots I brought with me from my place. Nothing you had here was useful." It's the fact that she's starting to chuckle that lets me know that this is a routine between them, this sort of mutual teasing. "And yes, if I'm going to live here there will be broccoli. Besides," he adds, "April likes broccoli."
That pretty much puts an end to the discussion, though Lorelai quips, "Well, of course she does. She's got your genes," before looking up and noticing me standing in the doorway. I can't help but wonder how long they would have gone on if he hadn't brought up my name. If I hadn't been here. It probably would have been amusing to watch.
It's a little odd though, seeing him with her. They've got a rapport, a rhythm. He's comfortable here. We're still searching for conversation topics beyond science fair projects.
Of course, now that we're all seated at the table, at this 'meet the fiancée' dinner, that weird tension is back. I'm going to have to start calling it the April Effect. I wonder if I can figure out what it depends on and write an equation for it. That'd be cool.
I need to say something quick, because I think if Lorelai gets going she's likely to start showing me the contents of the kitchen drawers or give me a tour of the backyard. I'm trying to figure out if she always talks this much, or if she's nervous. I think it might be some of both, but shouldn't I be the one who's nervous? I think maybe I should, but the fact that she is, that they both are, really, makes me less nervous. "So, not a big fan of broccoli, huh?"
"Well, let's just say that the vegetable section is a little smaller on my version of the food pyramid."
"But you know that vegetables are a great source of vitamins, and fiber."
"I know. I eat fruit, though," she offers brightly.
"Yeah, if it's baked into a pie," he snorts.
"Fruit is good too. It's got antioxidants and fiber too, but did you know that one serving of broccoli has almost two times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C? And green pepper…" My voice trails off as I look over at my father and see him grinning, gloating, in fact.
Lorelai glances back and forth between us suspiciously, "Did you guys plan this? Is this some sort of vegetable intervention?"
"No, but that's a good idea," he says, winking at me.
"Well, let me know when you've planned it for, because if you two are going to gang up on me, I'm going to have to get Rory in here to fight on my side."
The way she says it, 'you two,' referring to us together, as a unit is strange, but at the same time, kind of cool. Makes me feel a little less like I'm getting in the way of his life.
She continues, "Or if not help defend me, at least go out with me for hamburgers and French fries afterwards."
"Don't forget the pie," he adds sarcastically.
"And the ice cream." By now, I've gotten this dynamic down well enough to see that they're back to the teasing.
He glances at me, "You know, the sad thing is that she's not joking. This is how she eats." He turns back to her. "How are you not four hundred pounds?"
"Back to this again?"
"Ah well," he shrugs. "I try. Every once in a while, I try. So, April, how's your chicken? Is it okay?"
"Yeah, it is. Thanks for cooking."
"Well, it's about time he showed off his cooking skills for you," Lorelai says, with a smile back at him. Then she turns to me and asks about school and friends and it's the same topics that he and I stumbled around at our first dinner, but she's clearly more skilled with small talk, so it's not as hard. It's almost comfortable.
We continue eating and despite her protests, I do see one or two pieces of broccoli pass Lorelai's lips, so clearly he's had some success improving her diet, though I'm still perplexed by her figure. It's not until my father is serving dessert, asking if we want whipped cream or ice cream, and she requests both, that an idea occurs to me.
"Maybe it's hyperthyroidism."
"What?" she asks.
At almost the same time, he looks up with a confused expression and says, "Huh?"
"That would explain how you could eat a lot without gaining weight." They both still look confused, so I explain, "Your thyroid regulates metabolism, but hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid produces too much hormone. It sort of fits because you seem to have a lot of energy."
"Oh," she says. "And to think I just assumed it was the Lorelai Paradox."
"Do you have insomnia?"
Luke chuckles to himself, "Yeah, right."
"Okay, what about an elevated heart rate?"
"Uh, only sometimes," she says and exchanges a glance with my father, which for some reason makes him flush and look down.
"Maybe that's not it then, unless…are your menstrual cycles really light or irregular?"
Lorelai opens her mouth to speak and then looks over at my father and chuckles. I realize that his eyes are sort of bugging out and I remember what my mom's always telling me about watching what I say. I'm about to apologize (even though people should be able to deal with biological realities) when Lorelai winks at me and places her hands over his ears. "Luke doesn't really like to be reminded about that particular bodily function. But no, mine's pretty normal." She drops her hands, "So it's probably not that. Maybe it's just the coffee."
"I guess. Caffeine is a stimulant." I look back up at her, "You don't smoke, do you?"
"God no. Do you think that Luke would be with me if I smoked? He can barely stand the coffee."
I look at him for a moment. He's still quiet, but he seems to have recovered from my earlier question. "You're right. Maisie and Buddy told me he's the one that convinced them to make their restaurant smoke-free before the law required them to."
She looks surprised by that and looks at him. He just shrugs and says, "Second hand smoke." Then his forehead wrinkles a little bit, like he's thinking. "Do you know how hard it was to convince them? There was absolutely no reason for them to keep allowing people to smoke, but they were so worried about changing anything. So set in their ways."
"This, from the king of the status quo?" Lorelai teases. She turns toward me. "Do you know how hard it was for me to convince him just to paint the diner? We barely even changed the color. And we won't even talk about the 'decorations' on the walls." She uses air quotes to emphasize her point. "In fact, it takes effort just to get him out from behind the counter of the diner. He's like a…a…"
"A proton," I interject.
"Uh…okay," she says, giving me a curious look. "Not what I was going to say."
"What were you…?"
"Um, a guy who doesn't change much."
She looks for a moment like she's pondering the idea. "So, if he's a proton, what am I?"
"An electron," I say, almost automatically. It's not until I say it that I realize how much sense it makes. She's this bluster of energy and motion - hip and stylish. And he's not. Hip, I mean. Because like she said, he doesn't change much. "An electron," I repeat, "which, I guess, would make the two of you hydrogen."
His eyebrow is raised, which I think means that he's either amused or skeptical. Lorelai says, "Really? There's nothing else in hydrogen? Isn't there some other crap in the nucleus or something?"
"Nope, other atoms have neutrons that exert a strong nuclear force to hold the protons together, but hydrogen just has one proton, so it doesn't need anything else."
Lorelai looks pleased at this revelation until my father speaks up, "Isn't hydrogen what made the Hindenburg blow up?"
Lorelai gives him a look of mock outrage. "Luke, why'd you have to ruin a perfectly good analogy?"
"Actually," I clarify, "there have been further tests done that have shown it was more likely caused by the aluminum powder that was in the coating on the outside of the acetate skin."
He looks impressed. "I didn't know that."
"Yeah, neither did my sixth grade teacher…"
Lorelai just smiles and says, "See, it wasn't hydrogen's fault after all." She looks thoughtful and she's still smiling to herself.
She seems to like being part of a hydrogen atom.
It's not until a couple of weeks later that I actually get to meet Rory. When we arrive at the house, Lorelai is still upstairs, but there's this young woman there and I know she's got to be Rory, but it's hard to believe that she's Lorelai's daughter, because she looks so mature. I can tell right away that she's not nervous to be around me and it's such a relief that it makes me realize how much tension I've felt the few times I've been in this house, like we're still being careful about what we say. Maybe the April Effect has an age-related factor.
Rory says, "Hey Luke," and gives him a hug. Huh. A hug. I didn't know he hugged. From the looks of it, he probably doesn't very often. It's pretty awkward.
He asks her how school is going and she tells him about her classes. They sound very humanities-like and I begin to wonder if we're going to have anything in common. He told me she was majoring in English or Political Science or some combination of the two, and so I'm curious if she even likes science. I'm holding out some hope though, because I did see A Brief History of Time on her bookshelf.
"Have you taken any science classes?" I ask. "I mean, there is a science requirement, right?"
She smiles at me as she answers, "Yeah, they're part of the distribution requirements. We have to take at least three classes in each distribution area, and science and math are grouped together. We had to take at least two by the end of sophomore year."
"What did you take?" I ask, a little too eagerly. I can't really wait to get to college and be able to take whole classes about the interesting topics that get skipped over in my science classes.
"I took an environmental science class. It was about environmental problems and how governments try to deal with them. I thought it would be useful to learn more about that, since I'm planning to be a journalist." I nod and she goes on. "And then I took an astronomy course, just because it sounded interesting." She looks almost sheepish as she says this, as though there's something wrong with taking a class for fun. I hope there's not.
"Really? What was the astronomy course about? Cosmology? Planetary systems? Stars?"
"It was sort of a history of astronomy course. Like how observations were made up until the time of Copernicus. It was cool. We did some naked-eye astronomy."
Both of these courses sound like the kind of fruity science courses that non-science majors like to take – too much talking and not enough experimenting. But at least she seemed to like them.
I hadn't responded, so Rory mused, "I haven't decided what to take for my third class. I'm trying to figure out if there's something else that might ultimately be useful to know. I'm just not sure that a basic biology, chemistry, or physics course would be as useful as something else. I'll need to decide at some point though, because I think that I'd like to complete that requirement next semester."
I nod and she keeps talking, "I was hoping to double major in English and Political Science, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to fit in all the requirements in the next three semesters. I might have to choose one or the other."
"Well, which do you like better – English or Political Science?" I don't add that either one sounds just a little bit dull to me.
"I think that I'd rather major in Poly Sci, but I'm closer to being done with English, so I'm not sure. Maybe I'll get a major in English and a minor in Poly Sci."
"Makes sense," I say. If I didn't know already that she wanted to be a journalist, I'd be concerned about her marketability, because honestly, what do people do with majors like that besides go to grad school? Of course, I admit to myself, I'm very likely to end up in grad school too, so I should probably stop criticizing.
Sometime in the last few moments, Lorelai has come downstairs. She asks me how I'm doing and the polite small talk continues until my father lets us know that dinner is ready.
We've just sat down and been served lasagna and passed the garlic bread and for a moment everyone is quiet as they begin eating. I look up at Rory and say, "You know, there's always statistics. There are applications for statistics in every field."
They all look up at me, and I realize that even though everyone else has moved onto Paul Anka's latest tricks, my brain is still on the previous conversation.
My father gives me a small, amused grin. "You mean like your baseball project?"
I return his smile. "I mean, of course, there's baseball statistics." Rory looks confused when I say this and I suddenly feel like I'm leaving her out of an in-joke. And that feels weird too – having an in-joke with him. But I explain quickly, "I did a project on baseball statistics last year." I gesture toward him, "we've been talking about it a lot."
"That's right. I think Luke or Mom mentioned that."
"But anyway, statistics are useful for all sorts of things and if you're reporting about any kind of research study or anything, it helps to know what all the statistics mean. Of course, that's just an idea."
"It's a great idea. I'll have to check out the options. I'll let you know what I find out the next time I see you." She seems to genuinely be interested in my opinion, which is unusual. Most people just nod and smile when I talk about science and math. Or if they're less sensitive they laugh and tell me how much they hated science when they were younger. But Rory listens to me. I don't think she's going to change her major or anything, but she's listening, which is more than most people do.
"That sounds good. I'd like to know what you decide."
"Hey," Lorelai interjects, "speaking of getting together again, you know what we should do?" It's obviously a rhetorical question, since she doesn't wait for any of us to answer before going on. "We should all go to the Firelight Festival this Friday."
Rory gives a big smile, "That's a great idea. Have you been to any town festivals, April?"
"Not here. We have some in Woodbridge. Does Stars Hollow have a lot of festivals?"
I hear my father give a little snort. "Does Stars Hollow have festivals? That's like asking if Taylor has a cardigan. This town has at least 20 festivals a year – at least 20 more than necessary." I'm starting to get the sense that he doesn't enjoy the festivals because he goes off on what Lorelai has taught me to call a 'Luke Rant.' I have to admit, they are pretty amusing. This time he goes on about the wastefulness of the decorations, the mess created by the trash, and stupidity of creating new ridiculous things to celebrate.
What's even funnier is the way that Lorelai caps his monologue by saying, "Yeah, yeah, I know all that, but we're still going to go, right?" Then she turns to me and I know she's playing a little dirty by asking, "Would you like to come to the Firelight Festival this Friday? It's one of the better ones."
Before I have a chance to answer, he says, "If by 'better' you mean that there's someone besides Kirk running it." He sighs, then looks at me. "Would you like to come to our stupid town festival?"
"I think that I would, but I'll promise not to enjoy it, if that will make you feel better." I smile so that he knows I'm teasing. I've taken my cue from Lorelai here with the mocking, but I don't want him to take it the wrong way.
He raises his eyebrows a bit, and then gives me a warm smile, "You enjoy it all you want. These two sure will. Just don't sneak any Founder's Day punch. Miss Patty spikes it past the point of drinkability."
"With alcohol? Of course I won't. Even the smallest amount impairs your judgment and your fine motor skills. And it makes you less responsive to stimuli, so if you're outside you could be getting hypothermia and not even know it. People do really stupid things under the influence of alcohol."
All three of them look a bit guilty, and I catch Lorelai glancing at her wine glass. "Yeah, well, if we didn't occasionally do stupid things, then everyone would expect far too much perfection from us." She gives me a wink as she lifts her wine glass and takes a drink. "But Luke is right. The Founder's Day punch is lethal."
Rory leans over to me, "How about if we make a vow to abstain from the punch bowl? There will be plenty of non-lethal things to drink."
I agree and then she reaches out her hand with all her fingers curled in except the pinky and gives me a little nod. I lift my hand skeptically, and we do this weird pinky handshake.
I get the sense that Lorelai and Rory have done this pinky thing before when Lorelai says, "Well, that's settled. No one can go against a pinky-swear."
We talk more about plans for the following Friday and I hear stories of festivals past – the crazy traditions that Lorelai and Rory have shared and the small ways that my father has allowed Lorelai to pull him into the silliness that he mocks. Watching the three of them reminisce, I have to wonder for a moment what it must have been like to grow up in this house, in this town.
The following Friday, it's dark by the time we all head out to the festival. The event itself seems to consist of endless decorations with a starry motif, a few booths with food, and preparations for a bonfire. And lots of people milling around.
I haven't spent much time in Stars Hollow itself. Besides that day I came for the hair sample, I've only been in the diner a couple of times and those were quick visits when Mom dropped me off before we headed out for dinner. Other than that, we've spent most of our time together at Maisie and Buddy's restaurant or at the house.
Stars Hollow has one of those classic New England town centers, complete with a gazebo that makes it just that much more quaint than Woodbridge. I'm looking around, taking it in, and noticing that you can see the stars just a bit more clearly here. It's because of that that I don't notice an odd –looking skinny man walking toward us until he's right in front of us.
"So it's really true? And I was so sure that everyone was playing a practical joke on me. Like that time that-"
My father interrupts with a huff of frustration and, "Yes, Kirk, this is April. April, this is Kirk." He turns to me. "If you ever wonder why I've got a two-hour time limit on tables at the diner, look no further," he says, gesturing at Kirk.
Lorelai interrupts, probably to keep my father from continuing, "So Kirk, is Lulu with you tonight?"
"She's helping Miss Patty get the children into their little bonfire costumes for the firelight pageant, but she'll be here in time for the bonfire." I'm amazed that he can say that with a straight face because seriously, bonfire costumes? Firelight pageant? But he does seem a little strange, and I'm starting to see what my father means about the festivals.
"Well, you enjoy that."
"Oh, we will. Lulu loves these romantic moments so we'll be occupied tonight, if you know what I mean, which I'm sure you two do," Kirk says, gesturing between Lorelai and my father.
He responds with a gruff, "Kirk!" and Lorelai smothers a laugh, as Kirk wanders off.
We walk just a few more feet, when we're practically accosted by a large woman dressed in a flamboyant muumuu, "Well, well, well, Luke," she proclaims, "it's about time you let us meet your daughter. Isn't she a pretty little thing?"
Now it's me trying to keep from laughing because while I know I'm not repulsive, pretty is the word you use for the girls with shiny perfect hair and cute clothes – the ones that whisper about boys at lunch. That's not me. I can think of much more interesting things to talk about than boys.
But this Miss Patty is at least friendly, and she seems thrilled to meet me, so I let my father introduce us, and nod through her exclamations about how exciting it is that Luke has a daughter. A few introductions later, I realize we've only been here about ten minutes and for a quiet guy, he's got an awful lot of people interested in me. Or at least interested in verifying that I exist.
It's weird, the way that people are trying to casually meet me without appearing to be staring. I'm surprised at how interested they are, and also at how well these people seem to know him and care about him – and about Lorelai. Everyone here seems to have a history with them, and Rory too, and it makes me feel like an outsider.
I can tell that he is kind of hesitant about introducing me to so many people all at once, and even though he goes on about people not having anything better to do with their lives than jump all over us, I wonder if that's the whole reason. I'm trying to decide if his emphasis on introducing me by name is to point out to everyone that I have one or because he's still getting used to the word 'daughter.'
After another flurry of introductions and my first official exposure to Babette (having heard stories of her last week when I asked Lorelai about the gnomes next door), this cute small-towniness is starting to get just a touch annoying. I've been called 'darling' and 'beautiful' and 'sweet little thing' and that's just been Babette. Somehow, Rory reads my mind, because she gestures toward me and suggests that we go and find some of the non-punch. "Besides, we should let these two alone for a while. This really is a festival about love, after all." She's teasing, but she also sounds impressed at the same time.
We track down some sodas and run into Rory's friend Lane, which is yet another introduction, but not annoying at all. We sit and talk for a while, which mostly seems to be us listening while Lane talks about which recent CD releases are worth buying. I don't really know most of the groups she mentions, but it's fun watching her go on about them. She asks what kind of music I listen to, and it's a hard question to answer, since I'm usually satisfied with whichever pop or oldies station the radio is tuned to, and I'm just as likely to listen to NPR as anything else.
More than anything, it's just a relief to relax a little. I hadn't really thought about what it would be like to meet everyone from the town. Stars Hollow seems much closer knit than where we live. I mean, I understand that 'Town Diner Owner has a Long-Lost Daughter' is big news, but I didn't realize how much everyone would care, how much people pay attention to him.
After a bit, Rory suggests that we go check in with her mom and Luke. "Otherwise, they might actually think we – well, I - succumbed to the punch," she says, winking at me. The bonfire is about to be lit, and I can see them nearby. My father is standing behind her, with his arms tight around her waist and his cheek resting against her head. Her arms are resting on top of his. They look entirely content.
I stop for a minute, just to watch. I haven't been able to see them like that – comfortable. When I'm around, there's this nervous tension all around us, and everyone is worried about putting on their best impressions. I can see him whisper something in her ear and she laughs, turning toward him for a quick kiss before resting her head back against his shoulder again.
Rory notices that I've stopped and when she looks back at me, I say, "They look happy."
She glances over at her mom and my father and nods. "It's good to see them so happy. They've been through a lot recently."
"Really?" I ask.
Rory looks uncomfortable when she answers, "There's just a lot of stuff that happened this year."
She doesn't elaborate. Normally I would try to get her to clarify, because it bugs me to think that there are things about my father that I don't know, but I'm getting the impression that she doesn't want to talk about it. And there's part of me worried about what she would say, because I can't help but think that my sudden appearance is 'the stuff' that she's referring to.
Looking at them now, so at ease and comfortable together, makes me wonder if it was fair for me to disrupt his life like that, to make him feel obligated to me.
Try as I might, I can't shake that thought for the rest of the night.
My dad is nervous when he gives me the baseball tickets, and I'm surprised at the gift. Most people would think that's the last thing I would want. But he knows better, because we have this thing we share now and it's kind of cool that it's something almost no one else would suspect I cared about.
He does admit that it was Lorelai who suggested it, which makes me smile, because it tells me that she sees me too. She and I have had some more time to get to know each other in the past few months and we're no longer on edge when we have dinner together. Sometimes she and I even meet up at the diner and had dinner together while he's working. The 'April Effect' seems to have a property that makes it diminish over time.
He confirms when he gives me the tickets, "You've never been to Fenway, right?"
"I've never been to a baseball game."
His look of surprise is amusing. "Well, it's about time then."
The game he's chosen is the last in a three game series against Baltimore. It's on a Sunday afternoon, so we set out that morning in Lorelai's jeep because, as she says, "I'm not sure that truck will make it to Hartford, much less Boston."
"You know, I drove it to Maine."
"Two summers ago. It makes a lot more strange sounding noises now."
Being in Lorelai's car means that we've got her CD collection, which he refers to as scary, but I tell him it's a chance for experimentation. It can't be that bad, right? I mean, most of the CDs in his truck were picked out by her, at least that's what Rory tells me.
But he is right. This is very eclectic. She's even got a Marky Mark CD, which I hold up to show him with a raised eyebrow. He just shrugs, "Not mine."
"How about this?" Now it's his turn for the raised eyebrow because I'm holding a Bangles CD, but I've heard numerous references to the Bangles in the time I've spent with Lorelai and Rory, and I'm intrigued. He looks a little reluctant, but I know he'll let me listen to whatever I want, and not just because we're on my birthday trip. "I'm just curious," I say. "If it's awful, we can turn it off."
He agrees, and I pop it in. My first thought is that it sounds like Lorelai – upbeat, fun and full of energy. I've heard some of the songs before, in isolation, but bunched together, it's like having Lorelai herself sitting in the car with us. I can tell that he hears it too, because he looks thoughtful, and I can't imagine it's because he actually likes the music.
"So, is it okay?" I ask.
He nods. "I think this is one of Lorelai's favorites from high school." He goes on, a little wistfully, "She missed out on a lot, having Rory when she did. I think this," he gestures at the CD player, "reminds her of when she was a kid."
I nod, not knowing what to say and not knowing if he really meant to say that out loud. But I think that it does mean that he's okay with the music, so for a while, we both just listen to it. I lean my head back against the seat and try to imagine Lorelai as a teenager. I've picked up enough from the various conversations I've had to know that she left home when Rory was a baby and she worked as a maid at an inn, before working her way up to manager and eventually opening her own inn.
I know some of what my mom's been through raising me on her own; Lorelai and my mom have that in common. But my mom had a college degree and a job. Lorelai had very little. They both made choices to do it on their own. I've always kind of admired my mom for that, but her experience sort of pales in comparison to what Lorelai's been through. When I think about the fact that my mom made the choice for my dad, that all this time she didn't need to be raising me on her own, it doesn't seem quite as admirable.
He breaks my train of thought when he asks, "So, I don't know if I ever asked you how you got interested in baseball statistics. I mean…" his voice trails off and I can tell that he doesn't want to say that I don't seem like the baseball type.
But it's true, which is what he found out so long ago when he asked if I'd played Little League. "I know. It doesn't seem like me, but my uncle likes baseball and he was doing this fantasy baseball league and going over his statistics and that part of it just seemed so cool. There's just so much to analyze."
He smiles at that, and I know that I'm starting to sound like a geek again, but that doesn't seem to intimidate him so much anymore. "Well, I hope you like watching the game as much as analyzing the statistics."
"I'm sure I will. I'm looking forward to seeing the Orioles. They were one of the teams I researched for my original project."
Even though we've talked about baseball and baseball statistics a lot since I told him about my previous year's project, I never did tell him my original idea – the one the teacher shot down because she was worried that it was too complicated. "I was originally really interested in looking at how well a team's Pythagorean predictions matched their actual performances."
"Pythagorean prediction? I'm not as familiar with that one."
"It's a formula that uses a team's runs scored verses runs allowed. It's supposed to be a fairly accurate predictor, as far as baseball statistics go anyway, though you can't use it too early in the season, since it's based on current statistics." He nods, and I continue, "Anyway, I was really curious why the Yankees seemed to be outperforming their Pythagorean predictions in recent years, so I was wondering if there was something about the team that made them more successful. I mean, one thought about the Yankees is that they have a great bullpen so that they're able to win more one-run games than other teams. It made me wonder if there was a way to take that into account. I know that there are people who've played with the exponent used in the formula to see if they can make it more accurate, but I wanted to try to find out if there was some other statistic I could isolate that would translate to other teams performances as well." As I say it, I feel a little silly. I mean, there are PhD mathematicians working on perfecting this formula. What makes me, a twelve-year-old - nope, actually thirteen now - think that I can do a better job? And yet, I had wanted to try.
"Wow, that sounds really complex."
"Well, I was going to limit it to the AL East and try to find out if there was some pitching or hitting statistic that could be used to tweak the formula, but my teacher thought the idea was too broad and was worried that I wouldn't be able to do it, so she made me narrow the project and just focus on how some of the hitting statistics correlated with wins or losses for the whole team." I shrug, a little sadly, "It was okay I guess, but I'd already done a bunch of research. And then she made me focus on just two teams. Well, actually she really just wanted me to do one, but I convinced her to let me do the Red Sox and the Yankees." Telling him this reminds me what it was like, pitching this idea to her, waiting for her to tell me that it was stupid. Of course, she didn't say stupid, and we did manage to agree on a baseball statistics project, but I couldn't help thinking that she was wishing I could just be like the other kids and test how the length of a pendulum affected its period. Which is a stupid project because of course a longer pendulum has a longer period because it has more distance to travel in one cycle. Duh.
So, of course, all of this is running through my mind when he says, "That does sounds more manageable than your original idea."
And it sounds so much like my teacher that it bugs me, and I can't help retorting defensively, "I could have done it."
His eyebrows raise at the tone of my voice, but then his expression shifts to one of understanding. "I'm sure you could have."
He has this way of saying it that makes me think that he really believes I could, so I admit, "I think it was partly because the teacher didn't really understand it, and my uncle was going to be away most of that year doing some research in another lab, so there wasn't going to be anyone to help me with it if I got stuck. So I ended up with the less impressive version of the project."
"All of your projects sound impressive to me," he says, the awe apparent in his voice. I also hear something else, almost like he's embarrassed or something, because he doesn't always know what I'm talking about.
I hear that every once in a while and want to say that I tend to have that effect on everyone – but that he's different because he actually listens. He cares about what I'm talking about. So I just say, "Thanks. It means a lot to me that you think so." I say it honestly, because it's the truth.
"Yeah?" he asks hopefully.
He smiles then, a little shyly. It's then that I notice the CD is back at the beginning and we spend a little time choosing the next one, and then most of the rest of the trip discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the Sox bullpen in an attempt to figure out who will likely relieve Wakefield when his knuckleball starts to roll instead of flutter.
We're not too far from Boston when he reaches behind my seat, lifting up a cooler and placing it between us. "There are some sandwiches in there for lunch. Probably better than the overpriced crap they sell at the park. You hungry?"
"Sure," I say, opening the cooler to find sandwiches, baby carrots and bottles of water. I unwrap his sandwich and pass it to him and open his water bottle, putting it in the cup holder near him so that he doesn't get too distracted from driving. We continue our conversation, though at a slower pace now that we're eating.
He finds his way into Boston surprisingly well for a small town guy. When we were planning our trip, I looked up the parking options on the internet and found a garage at the Prudential Center with a price he considered merely outrageous, rather than unthinkable. The walk from the Prudential Center to Fenway is about 20 minutes and takes us through Kenmore Square, which seems like an odd name, since it's really just two streets crossing at a narrow angle. We walk by the subway stop, where people are literally flowing out in the direction of the ball field. We're still a couple of blocks from Fenway itself, but there are scalpers everywhere, repeating quietly how many tickets they have available to sell. Coming from our fairly quiet part of Connecticut, the crush and noise of the crowds is fascinating and also a little intimidating, so I don't mind at all when my dad rests his hand protectively against my shoulder.
We pass through Kenmore Square and over a highway bridge before getting to Fenway itself. The air is filled with the smell of grilling sausages. I glance at a nearby stand just as the vender calls out, "Hot sausages," and looks over at us.
I hear my dad say, "Stuff'll kill you," then he looks down at me. "You want one?" The way he says it, all in one breath, is so ironic I have to laugh.
I'm tempted to say yes, just to see if he really would buy me one, but the sandwich was plenty, so I reply, "No thanks."
He nods and we continue a little further, before turning onto a street that runs along the ball park. This street has sort of a carnival feel, since there are no cars and tons of vendors and souvenir shops.
Once we enter he buys a program. "For the stats," he says, with a wink. When we take our seats – pretty good ones – behind first base and not too far back, he opens it up and we look at it together. Looking at the Red Sox roster, he sighs. "Wow, I knew a lot of people left or were traded, but you don't really get the full impact until you see how much the roster has changed."
I start to say that they've still got most of them, and most of the trades resulted in better players for the Red Sox anyway, except maybe for letting Pedro Martinez go, but I stop myself because I realize that it's not about that. He was invested in that group of people, which is kind of surprising. I thought he was more practical than that.
The Sox take an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, when Ortiz hits a home run. When the ball passes over the outfield fence, my dad gets this broad grin. I'm not really sure I've ever seen him smile like that.
In the second inning the Orioles tie it up and the Sox are unable to get a hit. My dad mumbles something about needing a drink. After glancing around and finding no one selling anything besides hot dogs and ice cream, he gets up, saying, "I guess I'll go to the concession stand. Do you want anything?"
"Some water would be great," I say distractedly as I page through the program.
"Do you, uh, want to come with me?"
"No, I'm okay here."
He hasn't moved though, so I turn toward him as he asks, "Are you sure you're going to be okay alone?"
Every once in a while he does this, like he forgets how old I am. "I'm thirteen, which is old enough to baby-sit. I think that I can sit here for a few minutes by myself."
"Uh…okay," he says slowly, though he's still looking at me nervously, obviously reluctant to leave. He looks around the stands one more time, and then says, with relief, "Oh, there's a vendor headed this way." He lets out a sigh as he sits down and I have to chuckle at his protectiveness. I mean seriously, I ride my bike from Woodbridge to Stars Hollow by myself – I can't sit still for a few minutes?
It takes several minutes for the vendor to make his way toward us and by the time he does we've actually got two of them converging on us at once. My dad steps into the aisle to pay and when he turns around he's got a water for each of us, a package of peanuts and a box of Cracker Jacks. I raise my eyebrow at the Cracker Jacks. "Did you really buy this? It's almost candy."
"Peanuts and Cracker Jacks are classic baseball food," he says, by way of explanation.
I'm still skeptical, but I just shrug. "Okay."
"Besides," he adds, "we used to always get them when we came to games when I was younger."
This is the closest he's come to talking about his childhood, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I know nothing about his life growing up other than the barest of details: he's got a sister; his mom died when he was little; his dad died before I was born. This little opening almost makes me ask, but I don't want to ruin our first big outing by being too nosy. After all, he did buy us Cracker Jacks. "Well, then, pass them over."
The Orioles pull ahead in the fifth inning when runners on second and third score after Luis Matos hits a ball that falls in the spot directly between Trot Nixon and Coco Crisp. In the same inning, Miguel Tejada hits a homerun, bringing the score to 1-4 Orioles. The Sox start warming up Papelbon in the bullpen.
I can see my dad getting frustrated, grumbling, "How are they getting all these hits? Wakefield's knuckleball seemed great through the first four innings, and now this." He gestures out onto the field. "And how is it possible that we aren't getting more hits off this Lopez guy? He's not even that great a pitcher."
His reaction is almost funny, except that it's true. The game is defying logic and statistics. "Exactly, but for some reason Lopez seems to do really well against the Sox. It doesn't make any sense at all. In fact, the Orioles in general do better against the Sox than they should. Did you know that in 2004, they had a winning record against the Sox?"
He gives a small smile. "Yeah, I think I read that somewhere."
But now I'm on a roll. "Do you know how frustrating that was? All the numbers said that Boston should be winning those games, but they didn't. I couldn't figure out any way to account for it."
"Well, that's because it wasn't logical."
"You know, the whole project was like that sometimes."
"What do you mean?"
"It was just so hard to predict. I mean the project itself was limited because I agreed with my teacher to focus on batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, so that eliminates a bunch of factors right there. But then there were all these other complications…"
My voice trails off as I glance over at my dad, wondering if he's tired of me talking about this project yet. But he just looks at me expectantly and gives a little nod, which is all the permission I need to launch into my rant - huh, my rant? - full steam. "Okay, well first of all, Nomar and Nixon spent so much of 2004 injured. You could never tell when they were even going to play and when they did, they weren't really on. And their replacements were worse offensively, which of course was the only factor I was supposed to be paying attention to. And then there's the way that statistics are calculated anyway. You know, you count the previous year three times, the year before that twice, and the year before that once."
He nods again and I remember that we've talked about that before.
"Well, that seems to make sense, counting their most recent season most strongly, but then you get someone like Mueller, who hit really well in 2003, but regressed in 2004, so that unreasonably inflates his projection. Or Bellhorn, who hits really well in even seasons, but not in odd ones, so he hit better than his projections, which were weighted toward 2003, but still not well enough to make up for the Nomar and Trot losses. I wish that weren't the only way to calculate stats for players." Now I'm sure I've got to be losing him. I told myself I wasn't going to overdo the statistics talk, so I'm regretting going off on this tangent.
I open my mouth to say, "Oh well," and brush it aside, but before I get the words out, he says, "Why do you have to do it that way?"
"Because that's the way it's done," I explain patiently.
"But if it doesn't work, why can't you come up with a better way?"
He says it so matter-of-factly. I just look at him, a little amazed, because not only did he listen to all of that, but he actually thinks that I, his thirteen-year-old daughter can do what professional statisticians cannot. It's sweet, but I've already managed to discourage myself.
I let out a frustrated sigh, "I'm not sure it matters. I just want to make the numbers work out so that I can make better predictions, but there's always something that screws it up."
"Maybe it's just not possible to predict everything," he offers.
There's this kind look in his eye, but I can't tell whether he understanding me or placating me, so even though I'd just been thinking it myself, I can't help saying, "Are you saying I can't do it?"
His response is immediate. "No, of course you can do anything you set your mind to. I just mean maybe there are too many variables."
"But if I could just factor everything in."
"But that's my point. Some things just might not be predictable."
"But that's what science and math are for – to make predictions. There should be a way to figure it out." I'm starting to sound petulant and it annoys me further.
His voice gets softer when he answers. "Maybe it's not supposed to be predictable. I mean, would you want to go to a game knowing who would win? Doesn't that take the fun out of it? Isn't it the unpredictability that makes it interesting?"
I look up at him and shrug. "I guess. I just like being able to predict things and then see if I'm right. I thought baseball would be something I could do that for."
He nods and then gazes out toward the bullpen, then back to the plate, where one of the Orioles is heading toward a full count. He's still looking away from me when he says, "You know, I didn't predict you at all." He speaks slowly, his voice serious.
"You mean you weren't expecting a 12-year-old daughter to show up on your doorstep, or I guess, in your diner?" I tease.
He looks over at me with such an intent look that I regret the joke, but he doesn't look angry, just thoughtful. "It's the last thing I would have expected, but now I can't imagine anything different." He shrugs. "So I don't know. I guess I'm kind of a fan of unpredictability at the moment."
Now how did he do that? How did he take a perfectly good theoretical discussion and turn it into a father/daughter moment? I say softly, "Oh."
"Yeah…well…" He looks down at his feet self-consciously and then back up at me, and I realize that he's just as weirded out by our moment as I am. He looks at me a moment longer, then lifts his hand. "Do you…want some more Cracker Jacks?"
"I'd love some."
The rest of the game is more lighthearted. He seems to get gradually more hopeful as the Red Sox pick up one more run each inning until they finally tie the game in the eighth inning. He sits rigidly as the Orioles have their next at-bat, cringing just a bit every time the bat connects with the ball, but the Sox successfully keep them from bringing anyone home. Youkilis surprises the entire crowd by getting a hit off the first ball thrown in the top of the ninth, and the surprise turns to euphoria when Varitek hits a line drive down the first base line and Youkilis comes home while the ball rattles around in the right field corner. I think I even hear my dad cheer, as unlikely as that sounds.
I'm surprised at the sudden end to the game. I've never really understood why they don't finish out the inning. It feels wrong somehow, incomplete.
Fans start to flood out of the stands and my dad gestures toward the steps. "You ready to go?"
I nod, and we head for the car. It's a sign of his good mood that he doesn't complain at all about the traffic as we make out way toward the MassPike and head out of the city. Once we're on the highway, and traffic has settled out a bit, he looks over with a smile, "So, how did that fit with the predictions?"
I grin back, "Better than expected, actually, considering how playing the Orioles always seems to mess with the odds."
"You know, if you haven't completely lost your faith in statistics, and you still want to try that other project, I'd be happy to help you with it. I don't think I know as much about statistics as your uncle, but…well, if you want to."
"Really?" I ask, looking over at him for confirmation. When he nods, I smile back excitedly, "That would be great actually. If I knew going in that you could help me then it's more likely to be approved, and then I can start my research now. Wow, I need to start keeping closer track of the AL East."
He laughs at my enthusiasm. "Hey, slow down. The project is for next school year, right?"
"Yeah, but the sooner I get started the better chance I have of winning. At least baseball has a universal appeal. That always plays well with the science fair judges. Of course it helped with my last project that the Sox had just won the World Series."
He smiles when I say that and then suggests tentatively, "You know…if you're going to be spending all that time thinking about baseball, maybe we should go to a few more games and see the Sox play at least some of the other AL East teams." He looks at me with mock seriousness, "For research, of course."
"Of course," I say, chuckling. Then I give him a more serious look. "That would be really nice. Thank you."
"Hey, do you think that Lorelai and Rory would want to come?"
He evaluates for a moment. "Nah. And if they did they'd probably turn the whole thing into a junk food eating contest or spend the whole time trying to figure out which team is ours. Or, God forbid, find the souvenir shop. And they certainly wouldn't let us talk about statistics." He winks at me. "Maybe this can just be an 'us' thing."
"An 'us' thing, huh?" I confirm. He nods. "Cool."
"Besides, they have some of their own 'them' things."
"Yes, they do, and I'm just as happy not to join them on their trips to the mall or Sephora."
He laughs at this, and I can tell he's pleased at finding another thing in common. I think that I like this idea of 'us' things.
I pull out the Red Sox schedule and we start to plan out which games we'd like to see. By the time we get to Connecticut, we've got a tentative plan worked out, and I choose another CD to finish out the ride home.
We're both quiet for a while, sitting in the darkening car listening to U2, and I'm realizing how comfortable the whole day has been. There's this question that's been in the back of my mind since the Firelight Festival, and while part of me doesn't want to potentially ruin our wonderful day, another part of me realizes that this might be something I'd be more comfortable talking about when we can't look each other in the eye.
"Did I cause trouble for you and Lorelai – showing up when I did?"
From his perspective it must be a pretty out of the blue question, but he answers quickly and firmly, "No." He looks directly at me for emphasis. So much for no eye-contact. "No. I caused trouble because I didn't tell her right away." He takes in a breath and lets it out slowly. "And I made a mistake by not trying to see you sooner."
"Well, Mom said that you might not want to be involved," I reason.
"She was wrong," he says quickly, as a flash of anger crosses his face. Then he looks at me kindly. "But I'm sorry if I ever made you believe that. This is…I'm just really glad you found me."
I give him a little smile, "Yeah, me too, " and I can't help but remember those weeks after the science fair – that stretch of time when he was just the grumpy diner guy who gave me half my chromosomes. This is more than I expected.
Later, when he drops me off at home, he stands by the Jeep as I walk to the door.
Halfway there, I turn around and say, "Hey, Dad?"
By the way his head jerks up I realize that it's the first time I've called him that and by the way that he smiles, I know that he is thrilled. You know, at least as thrilled as Luke Danes gets. "Yeah?"
I walk back toward him and say, "I had a great time." Then an impulse takes over and I reach up around his neck and he leans down and returns my hug. "Thank you for taking me."
"Anytime," he says. "Happy Birthday, April."
And it isn't awkward at all.
Lorelai and Rory have pulled out all of the stops for this one. I've heard about their movie nights and from the looks of it, this is the movie night to end all movie nights. There's more junk food here than I've seen in my entire life. Every kind of hydrogenated trans fat and preservative known to man. They've got ten movies even though we'll probably only have time for two or three. And they're talking about manicures. Are they serious? Because I've never seen any point in messing with what I was born with. Natural cartilage color is fine with me.
I've heard about Lorelai and Rory's movie nights. It's one of their 'them' things. This, in fact, seems to be the ultimate 'them' thing. Mother and daughter sharing their last night together before mother is off and married. I'm just not sure what I'm doing here.
My dad told me that Lorelai invited me, that it was Rory's idea, but I still pushed him about it, wanting to make sure. And he still insisted that they wanted me here.
Regardless, it feels odd, being here without him, without my dad. I've only ever been here for dinner, and he's always been here too. I've never slept here, or been to a movie night. They're trying to pretend it isn't weird, but I can tell that it is. They're trying too hard. They shouldn't have to, not on this night. They shouldn't have to invite me, just because I'm his daughter.
Before we've even had a chance to choose a movie, my dad stops by with some food for us, which of course is the last thing that we need. I kind of want him to stay, wedding superstitions or not. Or at least go into one of his rants when he sees the heart attack-inducing spread of food they've got. But he's not quite his normal self, and all too soon he's gone again.
When he leaves, Lorelai fishes through the bag, pulling out cheeseburgers and french fries for all of us. Looking more closely at the burgers, she jokes, "Wow, he must really love us – he didn't even try to sneak lettuce on our burgers. Except wait, he put it on yours, April. He even brought you a salad."
I'm trying to not to notice how it sets me apart – that I have lettuce. It's a little thing really. Another 'us' thing that my dad and I share. But here it just feels like a 'not-them' thing.
But then Lorelai says, "Luke definitely knows how to take care of his girls, doesn't he?" Rory agrees and I note how casually she includes me in 'his girls.'
We watch the first movie, The Wedding Singer, which they've clearly seen multiple times. They happily fill me in on their jokes and mocking, but it only slows down their quippiness. Afterwards they pull out the nail files and polish and I realize that they were serious about the manicures.
"So, you weren't just trying to bring up all the girly stuff you could think of to tease him about?"
Lorelai grins. "Well, of course we were doing that, but the nails are a necessity." She looks at me with a glint in her eye. "Let me do yours."
I give her a skeptical look. The last thing I need is my fingernails advertising the latest 'it' color.
She continues, "Please? Look at this color. It's practically the exact same color as your nails."
"I don't know," I say, hesitating. I'm not sure what my mom will think and I have a sense that my dad wouldn't approve. I'm not even sure why, but I just get the feeling that he probably thinks I'm too young for all that stuff. If only he met some of my classmates.
She looks at me and says more softly, "I don't think he'll even notice, if that's what you're worried about."
"Although," Rory adds with a grin, "it might be funny if he did. It would probably incite a killer rant."
She and Lorelai laugh together and I get drawn into the conspiratorial giggles, especially when they mimic his reaction to finding out that they've stolen me over to the evil dark side of girliness. It feels a little odd, having this kind of a moment with them, when I've never really done anything like this with my mom. I was never one of those girls who had much patience with pretty dresses and hair ribbons and my mom always seemed to get that. So why is it that being in this house makes it sound, if not appealing, at least intriguing?
A few minutes later, while Lorelai is painting my nails – yes, she did talk me into it after all - Rory asks, "So, Mom, do you think Luke will ever adjust to being the only man in the family?"
"I'm not sure he will. I still haven't been able to convince him to buy me tampons at the market. Hey, April, do you remember when you asked about my period?"
I flush with embarrassment at the memory, but Lorelai just laughs, "You should have seen him Rory, his eyes were all bugging out. We'll have to remember that as a strategy for putting him off balance. Just mention menstruation and he'll give us whatever we want just to keep us from talking about it." They've thrown themselves into another fit of laughing as they dream up other ways to put my dad on edge. Rory throws out a few possibilities and they debate. I add, a little guiltily, that it really throws him off to notice him doing something nice for someone else, especially Kirk. Lorelai and Rory heartily agree, even detailing a few such examples. After a few minutes, Lorelai finally says, "Nope, those are all great, but I still think menstruation is the best option." She grins at me. "But that doesn't mean we can't keep dreaming up new ways to torture him."
I'm not quite sure how they've done it, but they've managed to pull me into their silly girliness, so that by the time we put in Muriel's Wedding, they've got me singing along with "Dancing Queen." I'm not dancing on tables or anything, but I am cheering them on while they try to determine if the table will hold them.
Later, when Lorelai comes back downstairs and slips into her sleeping bag, she says, "Hey you two, this has been a fabulous night. Thanks."
"It really has, hasn't it?" Rory says sleepily. "Did we scare you too much, April?"
"No," I answer with a chuckle, "I had fun. Thank you for inviting me."
"It wouldn't have been the same without you," Lorelai says sincerely. "I'm glad you could come. Now, the only thing that would make it better was if we were having Luke's blueberry pancakes in the morning."
Rory sighs wistfully, "That was the best thing about moving home – Saturday morning blueberry pancakes, right here in our own kitchen. But Sookie's going to bring us a fabulous breakfast in the morning."
"I know," Lorelai says as she flops back against her pillow. Then her head pops up and she props it against her palm. "Wait, the best thing? What about the chance to spend time with your charming mother?"
"Of course. And it's even more wonderful spending time with my charming mother while we're eating the blueberry pancakes. Hey, do you remember the time he brought strawberries and whipped cream?"
"I do remember that, and he's refused ever since. What did we do to deserve it that time?"
"You didn't do anything. I caught you guys making out on the couch. Luke was blushing so much I think his toes must have been red. I think that the strawberries were supposed to make me forget it had happened."
Lorelai laughs out loud at the memory. "We'll have to add that to the list of ways to torment him. Anything to get the whipped cream and strawberries back." She settles back down against her pillow and mumbles, "Goodnight, you two. See you in the morning."
"Good night," Rory answers, sounding similarly sleepy.
I lay awake for a while. I feel like there's this balloon of happiness surrounding me, but it's got a little puncture. Not a catastrophic pop, but more like a slow leak. And I know that doesn't really happen with balloons, but it's the best I can do at this point. Because even with all of this togetherness we're building as the girls in the family, there's still a 'them' that doesn't include me, even when it includes my dad. I feel like it shouldn't bother me, because I've got my mom. We're a family too.
But I'd like to wake up sometime and have blueberry pancakes on Saturday morning.
With strawberries and whipped cream on top.
I didn't think I'd be nervous about walking down the aisle, but I'm first and these shoes are uncomfortable. And I know there are probably some of the people wondering who I am and why I'm in the bridal party of someone I only met a few months ago. I'm pretty good at hiding my nervousness, though, so I lift my head and keep walking. About halfway down the aisle my dad catches my eye and smiles, then gives me a wink. It makes me feel like I am supposed to be here after all. I take my place up front and then Sookie and Rory join me. My dad is still giving me little looks - until Lorelai appears at the end of the aisle. When he sees her, he's transfixed. He seems to have forgotten there's anyone else there.
My dad's nephew, Jess, is his best man. I only met Jess and his mother and TJ a few days ago, and was surprised again at how strange it felt to meet even more people that had known my father for so much longer than me. I mean, they're his family. Of course they've known him a long time. It still feels strange though.
Jess smiles and nods at me before glancing over at Rory. She and Jess start exchanging these looks, like 'what took these kids so long?' I look out at the guests as they rise to watch Lorelai walk down the aisle. This is when I see the ribbons – pink and blue ones, to be specific. Almost all of the guests are wearing pink and blue ribbons. In fact, they are each wearing one pink and one blue, pinned right there on their lapels and dresses. The townspeople are exchanging grins. Sookie taps Rory on the shoulder and points, then they both smile and shake their heads. Even Jess doesn't seem terribly surprised.
It's some sort of town joke, and I'm not in on it. And that's when it hits me. There are all these people here who are a part of my dad's life. Not just Lorelai and Rory and her family. Not just Liz and TJ and Jess. This whole town has known him his whole life, has watched him get to know Lorelai and make her a part of his life. And none of them know me. Not really.
They've started the ceremony and he's still got that look, like Lorelai's the only other person in the world. He's holding her hand so tightly that I wonder if she still has feeling in her fingers.
The ceremony is mercifully short. No long, drawn-out speeches or endless musical selections. Nothing extra to distract from the purpose of getting these two people married to one another. It's elegant and moving and over very quickly.
Since I was the first down the aisle, I'm the last out and therefore the one everyone is waiting for so that they can get out of their seats. Before I've had a chance to wonder what's next Rory pulls me over toward the receiving line. That sense of not-them-ness from last night is returning and I'm feeling out of place and still curious about the ribbons.
Lorelai and my dad are standing together, smiling widely. He looks happy and excited and relieved and content, all at once. He looks up as I approach and smiles at me, leaning down to hug me right there in public, one more piece of evidence that he's somewhat beyond himself right now. When he releases me, he pulls me next to him and I notice that Rory is standing next to her mom.
Even though we're all standing together, I'm starting to get that feeling again – that 'who is she and why is she here' feeling. Because there's still that ribbon thing. It's bugging me not to be in on the joke, especially when Lorelai teases Kirk about it and then shares a knowing glance with my dad.
It's ironic actually, that several months ago I was almost able to convince myself that all I needed from my father was his genetic material, those strings of chromosomes that control my cellular makeup. And now I'm hurt when I think about all of those things that he and I don't know about each other, those things that we still need to learn and do together.
But I let myself be comforted by his arm around my shoulder, by this eccentric group of people that keep referring to us as family. I let myself recognize that Rory's scary grandmother calls me a lovely young lady without a hint of sarcasm, that her grandfather reaches down to give me a hug and welcomes me to the family. Even Lorelai and Rory seem surprised by their warmth.
I'm starting to feel more comfortable, even though there's still that question in my mind. I hate having to ask, but it's worse than not knowing, so I turn to my dad and ask, "What's with the ribbons? Everyone seems to have them."
"Uh…it's a stupid town thing. Sort of a joke, I guess."
It's not a very satisfying explanation, and so I wait for him to say more.
He looks a little uncomfortable, but he continues, "Last year, Lorelai and I went through a rough patch."
"Rough patch?" I ask, still not seeing the connection to the ribbons.
He shuffles his feet a bit and looks down before answering, "Well, we broke up for a while."
"You did? Why?" I can't hide how much this surprises me. And not just because they've always seemed so happy together. It's just one more thing about my dad that I don't know – and yet everyone else does. It bothers me more than I think that it should. It bothers me a lot, in fact.
When I look back up at him, he's thoughtful, pondering my question. He shakes his head and says simply, "We were being stupid."
"Okay," I say uncertainly, not sure how to respond.
He seems to have sensed my confusion, because he adds, "We just…we were both used to being alone and independent and we had trouble letting go of that."
I nod slowly, taking this all in and processing it, before looking at him with renewed confusion. "But what does that have to do with the ribbons?"
He grimaces as he explains, "Last year, when we broke up, Taylor gave out ribbons for people to wear to show who they supported – blue for me, pink for Lorelai. When we got back together, Lorelai collected them all. Someone must have gotten a hold of them and given them out for this, probably Babette or Miss Patty."
"They really did that?" I ask, horrified.
"Yeah," he grumbles. "Stupid Taylor." I can't believe anyone would do that and he must see the anger in my expression, because he says quietly, "It's okay. It was a long time ago. Now it's just a stupid story." I give a small nod, and even though I have this lingering feeling of unease about the fact that I've never heard any of this until now, I feel a little relieved as well. Because it's not like anyone is hiding anything from me. They just don't always remember that I don't know. So I just need to ask, and they'll tell me. After all, I've always been pretty good at asking questions.
It feels a bit like a door just opened, or maybe it's been open all the time. It's true that my dad and I are still getting to know each other, and it may take some time, but we're getting there slowly. The thought makes me smile as the guests start to line up to one side of us. 'Receiving line' is probably too formal a description for what is going on, as most of the guests live in the town and see each other every day, but everyone wants their chance to hug the bride and shake hands with the groom.
It turns out that there are remarkably few guests I haven't met before, in one capacity or another. It speaks to the community here that they've invited the town mechanic, but there's virtually no one from Hartford. I step back a bit, so as to not get in the way of people who want to greet my dad, but everyone greets me as warmly as the bridal couple themselves.
I have to laugh when I hear Babette gush, "Oh Morey, they're just the most beautiful family. Luke, how did you do it? How did you get to lucky to end up with such beautiful girls?"
He flushes and mumbles something that I don't hear, because Babette suddenly shrieks, "Ribbons! None of you have ribbons." She digs down into her purse and pulls out ribbons for the four of us while Lorelai tries to explain that she doesn't want to pin anything to her dress, but Babette presses them into our hands anyway. When she moves on, my dad taps my shoulder and says, "Here, I can hold those, if you want to get rid of them."
I finger the ribbons a bit, then look back up at him. "That's alright, I think that I'll hang onto them, if that's okay?"
He gives me a skeptical look, but then shrugs. "Sure, if you want."
It's getting a little easier to say the 'hellos' and 'nice to meet yous.' There are very few unfamiliar guests, but for those I haven't met, my dad wraps his arm around my shoulder and says, "This is my daughter, April." Now, my dad and I have a few things in common – and one of them is that we don't get emotional about things. But listening to the way he says daughter makes me want to reach out and hug him.
As the line starts to thin out and the guests head in the direction of the cocktails, Lorelai ducks behind Luke and says, "I haven't given you a proper hug yet." As she pulls me toward her, she says, "Thanks so much for being here for us. I'm so glad you found Luke."
When she pulls back her eyes are wet and she wipes the corner of one eye with her knuckle, "Hazard of the day, I guess."
It's this gesture that makes it all clear. I didn't know what to think about having a father. I was worried about blood types and bone marrow. I wondered if he was spending time with me out of obligation, or some sort of misplaced sense of guilt. But I didn't just get a sperm donor. I got a dad, and a family, and a town.
I look up at my dad for a moment, then glance back at Lorelai. "I'm glad I found him too."To be continued. Next up: Luke