August 5, 2022 (Year 13)

"God, I hate it when she does this!" Lily flung the notebook on the floor, and burrowed her tear-stained face in her pillow.

"You hate it when I do what?" came the muffled voice from behind the closed door. "Is it safe to come in now?"

"Go away, Mom. I'm still vegetating."

"Well, feel free to vegetate til you sprout hairs, Lil, but your sister has been bawling about blowing the candles for the last hour. Think you can look kindly upon her? She's only 4 and can only grasp the concept of chocolate birthday cake, not your annual ritual of reflecting upon from whence you came." Rory poked her head in the room. "Sweetie? Happy birthday."

"Well? What happened next?" The blonde, bespectacled, long-legged girl turned around to look at her mother expectantly.

Rory rolled her eyes upwards but gamely plopped on the bed next to her 13-year-old daughter. "Duh. You're here, so I guess that means I had you," Rory ticked off her fingers. "Two, you already know that your Dad and I got married," she plowed on while Lily sighed in exasperation.

"Three, you have a 12 year-old brother, so I guess that means we had Matt a year after you." Obviously, that was unplanned for--again--but between her, Logan, Lorelai, and their now-nanny-of-13-years Sue, Rory had the whole baby boom balancing act down pat. Even if it meant arriving at meetings a tad late, with applesauce stains on her crisp power suit. Sometimes, the things unplanned for bring the most joy, for all their being so unexpected.

"Four, you know that your mother has recently become head of the New York bureau at the Times, and that your Dad has his own Internet media company, so things turned out well on the career front. Aaand seven years after Matt, we had Emma, your baby sister." The only child Rory would have had if her plans of launching her motherhood at age 32 panned out. Which, thank God, didn't.

"End of story. Did I miss anything? Anyone?"

"Thanks for writing to me, Mom." Lily leaned her head on Rory's shoulder.

"You're welcome, heart."

"But why did you stop?" She had new questions every year. (Last year, it was "Do you still hate Grandma Shira?" That was a tough one for even the very-diplomatic Rory to answer.)

"Well, I guess its because there was no reason to keep things just between us two, anymore. I kept our secret alive in that journal. But later on, I had your Dad to share you with."

"Were you happy after…after that last page?"

"Oh, Lily, what do you think? So happy I couldn't think of what to write in my journal anymore. It's mostly the tortured souls who have much more fodder to write about, you know. Normal is boring," Rory replied, looking pointedly at the stacks of diaries under Lily's burgeoning bookshelf. "Me--it hasn't been always easy--but I've been pretty much living my happily-ever-after."

"I only wish there were a few more entries, you know…"

"You wish that every year hon, I know. But any more entries and that journal would merit an NC-17 rating."

"I'm thirteen, Mom," Lily insisted, as all 13-year-olds do. "Besides, I skipped all the sex parts. Really, as if the very idea of my parents having sex wasn't traumatizing enough."

The bedroom door swung open and Logan stood at the threshold, carrying a tear-stained, pink-cheeked Emma. "Okaay, time's up. What's going on?"

"We were just talking about sex. The overabundance of it between us, in fact." Rory smiled at Logan, whose hair was the same color as Lily's.

"Huh. So this is what you talk about every year on your birthday?" He looked alarmed.

"Yuck, noo…we were just getting to the part where Mom would tell me about my name."

"Well it certainly wasn't Demerol," Logan laughed. "Brave soul, your mother. She didn't have any anaesthesia, just straightaway did the whole Amazon-tribal-woman thing."

"Not by choice! I would have preferred to be knocked unconscious."

"Just be thankful Frank was able to get us to the hospital in 7 minutes flat, Ace. Or you would have had Lily in the limo and she might have ended up with the name Lincoln."

"Well, it was painful!" Rory complained bitterly.

"Not so painful that she couldn't have two more, apparently," Logan and Lily shared a laugh, while Rory set her arms akimbo.

"Well, that's just classic. You men have no idea."

"I think I do. You kept cursing me and screaming for your mother those last few life-defining minutes. Hence, your name, Lily," he said, turning to his daughter. "It just seemed right to name you after Lorelai."

"Lorelai the Foouurrth," came the singsong voice of Matt, as if on cue, from the hallway. "May I have the honor of cutting off a slice of your nose? An eye? We're getting hungry down here!"

"Oh, shut up, you two," Lily shouted back at Matt and his perennial partner in crime, Ian.

"Hey, that's no way to talk to your uncle." Ian of Lorelai's blue eyes and Luke's aquiline nose came bounding into the room. "Hey, Ror," he said, walking over to Rory and kissing her cheek.

"I still don't get why he can call you 'Ror' and I have to call you 'Mom'," Matt complained.

"Maybe because she is your Mom and not your sister, airhead," Ian replied, flopping on Lily's bed.

"Aaargh, and since when were you even permitted to enter my bedroom?" Lily stood up, towering over Ian.

"I'm here for the ritual coming-of-age sacrifice reserved for 13-year-old girls. I was told that it actually transforms you into someone attractive enough to date. Maybe you'll finally look like a girl."

Ian and Matt teased her mercilessly, but were her staunchest defenders against any untoward attempts of some hapless member of the male species to date her. Lily, after all–despite Ian's teasing–was beautiful in a classic way, leggy and blonde and blue-eyed. Rory often pondered the irony of having a daughter that looked like a cheerleader…but was in every other way her daughter, bookish and a bit awkward, moreso at 13.

"Well I'm not interested, anyway, so there!" Lily retorted, folding her arms across her chest and sitting back on the bed. Unless he's as handsome and brilliant and fun and loving as my Dad, anyways, she thought.

"Hey, stop tormenting the birthday girl. Matt, could you go downstairs and tell Sue to make Emma's milk now? She looks about ready to take her nap. And see to your grandparents!" Logan called to his spitting image bounding down the staircase.

"I can take her," Rory offered, stretching her arms to Logan.

"No, it's okay. I missed my bunny the past two days." He nuzzled the dark head of Emma, silent and comfortable on his shoulder, as Rory nuzzled Logan's arm herself. "There's been a lot more 'missing' going around…" she whispered.

"Now…where were we…?" Lily began loudly, dragging Ian and pushing her father gently out the door and hoping to complete her birthday ritual with her mother before the party got into full swing.

But it wasn't to be, for Lorelai barged in, the door narrowly missing Logan and Rory, with an "Aand the coolest, hottest grandma is here! The party can now officially commence!"

"Hey Mom!" Rory called out in greeting.

"Lorelai!" Lily squealed, jumping up to hug her.

"Why does she get to call her 'Lorelai' and I have to call her 'Mom'?" Ian now muttered in turn, under his breath.

"Has the party moved up here? 'Cause I got the candles, the cake, the cake knife, the camera, the balloons, the little goodie bags…"

Sure enough, streams of "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…" came wafting up the stairs. Luke was bearing the cake, decorated with a picture-perfect face of Lily, surrounded by candles and sugar flowers. It was pretty enough to make Emma clap excitedly, despite Lily's groans of "Aw, this is just too corny!"

She was smiling, though. As were her parents and siblings, Lorelai and Luke and Ian, Emily, Shira (a truce was called for these occasions) and Mitchum. A handful of her schoolmates from Columbia Prep were there, whispering and giggling at Matt and Ian. Normally this would have annoyed Lily. But not today. Today, she was a happy girl, blowing out her candles and wishing for nothing in particular. Except maybe the complete, leather-bound collection of novels by Jane Austen, which she already knew her Mom and Dad got for her (it was her mother's copies, after all, that were so worn the pages were practically disintegrating).

"Happy birthday, heart," Rory said again, kissing Lily's hair, as pieces of Lily's face were passed around. "I love you. I'm the happiest for having had you. You saved me and your Dad, you know. In a roundabout way. But you did."

"Love you too, Mom," she leaned ever so slightly against Rory, now of the age when hugging–especially in front of one's friends–was simply not done.

With that, the birthday ritual was complete. The ritual which began every year since Lily was 9 with her reading of the journal, the story of her and her mother's heart.

This is the sound of your heartbeat.

T H E E N D

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A/N: I hope you all enjoyed my Rory-centric "mini-fic" (not quite one-shot, but not quite full-length, either, heh); I find that there are so few fics that really focus on Rory almost exclusively. I'm looking forward to your comments and feedback.

The assignment (fulfilled, I hope I fulfilled at least some of your expectations :) Thanks for the inspiring story prompt! I love the novel from whence it came):

story prompt: "In the center of the paper, very small, in black ink, I draw a heart, not a silly Valentine but an anatomically correct heart, tiny, doll-like, and then veins that reach all the way to the edges of the paper, that hold the heart enmeshed like a fly in a spiderweb. See, there's the heartbeat. ("The Time Traveler's Wife," Audrey Niffenegger)

One thing you would like to see in the story: A birthday party (but not Rory's) that has a picture cake with the birthday person's face on it.

One thing you don't need: A love triangle of any sort, whether it involves Rory and her love life or anyone else.