"I want a Sno-cone!"
"I want ice cream!"
"I want a Push Pop!"
"I want to go home," Luke grumbled under his breath as he held his two-year-old great-niece in his arms and prayed that whatever sticky substance coated her hands was going to wash off.
"Okay, okay, gather round and tell the man what you want. I'm only the bank, not the mouthpiece," Lorelai instructed, herding the small army of children to the front of the line.
"That's quite a crowd you got there, Lorelai," the booth worker smiled as he started handing out frozen treats.
"They're voracious," she commented back easily.
"Gramma," Ella tugged on Lorelai's skirt. "Do they have Italian Ice?"
"Baby can't see over the counter," Will teased her, taking his ice cream cone from the vendor.
"Enough outta you," Luke corrected his son.
"Sorry. We gotta go, or we'll be late," he slurped up one side of his cone, but was unable to catch the large drip coming off the other side and it landed half on the street and half on Ella's sandal.
"EW!" she cried out.
"Okay, calm down, everyone," Lorelai whipped a baby wipe out of the diaper bag slung over Luke's shoulder and cleaned up the mess. "See? Good as new. Here you go, Honey, is lemon okay?"
"Do they have pink?"
Lorelai smiled and looked to the vendor. "Do you have pink lemonade by chance?"
A pink version came over the counter and Lorelai did a quick hand-to-treat count. Her son had gone off in search of his best friend and permanent shadow, Davey Melville, with his ice cream, Jules was sucking a Push Pop that Luke was doing his best to keep from just getting smeared all over her chubby cheeks, and the three mobile ones had their Italian Ice and Sno-Cones. She smiled at the fact that her grandson had chosen the same treat as his best friend.
"Okay, who wants to play a game?" Lorelai clapped her hands.
"Maybe we should sit and eat?" Luke suggested, pulling the stick on the pop down to lessen the amount of exposed treat for his charge.
She rolled her eyes. "That's the point of carnival food. You don't have to stop to eat. What should we do first?"
"Oh, he's lighting it on fire!" Ambrose exclaimed, pointing across the street as he slurped the melted remains of his Sno-cone from the bottom of his paper cup.
"Cool!" Jake turned to his grandmother. "Can we go do that?"
"Sure!" Lorelai leaned down to Ella, who looked skeptical. "Look, Ella, you can burn in shapes and letters. I bet you can burn your name into the paper."
She immediately brightened. None of the other kids could write their names yet, they were still too young. "Okay."
"Nicely played," Luke leaned in and kissed her cheek.
"I know little girls," she assured him.
"You do pretty good with the boys, too."
"Boys are easy. They want bright colors and to see stuff blow up," she said as she moved to help all the kids get set up with their papers on the pavement, which she guessed was already about two hundred degrees and capable of burning paper without the help of the sun's rays concentrated through the magnifying glasses.
"Now, no 'accidentally' burning holes in any one else's clothes and NO pointing it at any else's eyes!" she looked especially at the boys, who shrugged and immediately went to work.
"Amby play!" Jules called out, holding her hands out to her brother.
"Aww," came a chorus of coos from bystanders, other parents watching their kids and Kirk try to get their papers to light fire.
Ambrose shot his sister a look. "I'm busy."
Jules pouted and went back to slurping her frozen treat. Luke patted her on the back, soothingly. "It's okay, Jules."
"Jules," Lorelai got in her face and smiled. "How would you like to go get your face painted?"
"It's four hundred degrees out," Luke pointed out.
"So it'll slide right back off her face," he sighed.
"Just give me the baby," she took Jules out of his arms and nodded to the kids that were rewarded with smoke billowing off the paper at long last. "Watch them and I'll meet you at the Popsicle stand in fifteen minutes."
"They just had treats."
"Trust me," she smirked and walked off with Jules in tow. Minutes later she'd circled the entire festival, seeing none of the normal face painters that showed up for these events. She kept a smile on her face for Jules and snagged Taylor Doose.
"Hey, Taylor, I have a question."
Taylor sighed. "It's not going to be one of your ridiculous inquiries as to why I wouldn't let Patty run that dunk tank is it? I told you before, there were liability issues…." he trailed off.
She shook her head. "No, I just noticed I didn't see a face painter."
"That wasn't a question."
She shifted Jules up higher on her hip. "Where's the face painter?"
"I had to cancel the face painter," he looked down and to the side.
"What? Why? They were so good with the kids, and could do more than clown faces and hearts."
"It was beyond my control, Lorelai."
"What happened, Taylor?" she narrowed her eyes at him.
"They wanted air conditioned tents! Do you know what it costs to cool down the out of doors in July? I would have had to charge an admission fee."
"Those nice little old ladies demanded air conditioning?"
"Well," he shrugged. "They did want two oscillating fans. And I couldn't afford those and the ice sculpture."
Her jaw dropped. "You got an ice sculpture?"
"Just a few," he cleared his throat. "Enjoy yourself, little one," he chucked Jules on the chin, and she scowled. "My, is that Jess's daughter?" he peered at her.
"Uncanny likeness, isn't it?" Lorelai beamed.
"Yes, well, here take these," he handed her two tickets.
"Vouchers for a free dish of frozen yogurt. To enjoy while you're looking at the ice sculptures. They'll be unveiled at three—I wouldn't be late. I was quoted they'd probably melt by 3:30."
"Taylor, I have four kids under the age of five! What am I supposed to do, pick my two favorite?"
He sighed and forked over two more vouches. "Then there's Will," she hitched Jules up again, noting that the little girl had most definitely grown since she'd seen her last. "And Will never does anything without Davey," she reminded.
"Oh, fine, here," Taylor placed a small stack in her hands. "That's all I have left."
"Thanks, Taylor," she smiled brightly as he walked away, grumbling. "Okay, little girl. I think I know where we can go to get your face painted," she held her a little tighter as she walked off across the town square.
Luke couldn't imagine where Lorelai had gone. She'd promised that taking all the kids this weekend wouldn't be that big of a deal, because she could keep them all entertained. She'd been gone for a while, and it was all he could do to keep the kids from killing each other.
After Ella had written her name and age, five and three quarters, during a very trying lesson from Kirk on how to construct a fraction, the boys had been happy only after burning their papers completely and attempting to do the same to Ella's paper. They were unsuccessful, but did manage to burn up Kirk's paper completely. Grateful that those fifteen minutes were behind him, Luke dragged the three warring children over to the Popsicle stand. He got three red Popsicles and hoped that having something in their mouths would stop them from goading each other.
"AhhhhhHHHHHH!" came Ella's shriek.
Luke looked down to see Ambrose's Popsicle aimed like a knife. A long, pink streak covered her white shorts. He frowned at the little boy.
"I didn't do anything," the wide brown eyes looked up at him.
Luke rolled his eyes. The only thing that differentiated him from is father was about twenty five years.
"I hate you!" Ella shrieked at Ambrose, looking down at the stain.
"Ambrose, apologize to Ella," Luke instructed.
"She ran into my Popsicle. If I was trying to get her, I would have gone like this," he lunged at her, causing her to shriek again and hide behind Luke's protective leg. He leaned down and picked Ambrose up by the back of his shirt.
"Fifteen minutes and you can't keep the natives from getting restless," Lorelai chastised as she came back with Jules, who had a small heart on her upper cheek and whiskers around her nose, all painted on.
"I didn't hurt him. Yet," he looked at the little boy who was hanging from his hands.
"I'm a kitty," Jules announced.
"Gramma!" Ella cried out, causing Lorelai to kneel down.
"What? Oh my," she gasped. "Well, at least it's pink."
Ella scowled and looked at Ambrose. "He's mean!"
"Aww, honey, he's not mean, he's spirited," she narrowed her eyes a little at the young boy that Luke was still holding up. "And I'm sure he's sorry."
"I'm not sorry," he said, causing Luke to give him a look of impatience.
"I told him to do it," Jake spoke up.
"You!" Ella made fast for her brother, Popsicle poised for revenge.
"Whoa!" Lorelai grabbed hold of her arm. "I think it's time to go see how Will and Davey are doing."
"Good idea," Luke said, tucking Ambrose under his arm as they got ready to walk away.
"Let me down!"
"Not until your Popsicle is gone," Luke said.
"You're a very pretty kitty," Lorelai smiled at Jules, who was the only child still smiling after the encounter.
"Okay, now you all know the rules?" Ms. Patty stood on the platform, talking into a bullhorn.
Kirk raised his hand. "Are all these eggs from the same chicken?"
"How are we to be guaranteed that all the eggs are the same? Will one cook at a lower temperature?"
"Kirk, they're eggs," Patty frowned.
"Let's go," Dave yelled.
"Yeah, come on," Will urged.
"They got the good eggs, didn't they?" Kirk questioned.
"Kirk, grow up," Luke called out.
"Okay, on three! One, two, three! Crack those eggs!"
All the contestants cracked their eggs onto the pavement, and the crowd gathered round to watch the gooey globs. "Good job, Will! No shell!" Lorelai called out. Luke gave her a look. "What? You should be proud. You taught him that!"
"I need a do-over! I have shell in my egg, and it's impeding on my egg's ability to cook!"
"Kirk there are no do-overs!" Patty said as she looked at all the eggs.
Kirk pulled out his magnifying glass and aimed it at his egg.
"Cheater!" Will yelled, garnering everyone's attention.
"I'm not cheating! I'm trying to burn the shell out."
"Cheater!" Davey and Will both cried out.
"Kirk!" Patty admonished. "I'm gonna have to disqualify you!"
"On what grounds?" Kirk challenged.
"On the grounds that you're a grown man, cheating to take away the kids' fun!" Luke yelled.
Ambrose ran over and took the magnifier out of Kirk's hands while he was distracted by the screaming adults.
"Hey! Give that back!" Kirk jumped up and ran after the little boy, who was small enough to duck around people and under the buffet tables.
"Oh, jeez," Lorelai groaned, handing Jules back to Luke. "I better go get him."
"No, Kirk," she took off into the crowd.
Jules looked up at him. "Meow," she giggled.
"Look! Will's egg is starting to cook!" Anna Melville's voice came out of the crowd and she came over to watch his egg as it grew whiter around the edges.
"Mine's going, too!" came a voice on the other end of the street.
"Kirk's is starting to go, does that count?" Davey pointed out.
"You do have to be present to win," Patty nodded.
"Yes!" Will and Davey high-fived as Will's egg continued to grow whiter and less transparent.
Luke wiped off Jules' forehead, in an attempt to save her face painting, and swiped the top of the heart by mistake. He took a finger and tried to reshape the top of the heart. Once he was satisfied, he looked at the mess on his fingers and groaned.
"Oh, crap, Lorelai!" he called out, causing her to turn from her pursuit of Kirk, who was doing his best to climb the tree that Ambrose had gotten up into.
"I need a baby wipe. I've got this face paint all over my hands!"
"Just lick it off," she said impatiently and reached for Kirk's leg.
"Lick it? That's disgusting! Not to mention toxic," he began.
"It's chocolate!" she shouted then looked up to Kirk. "Stop kicking!"
"He's got my magnifying glass!"
"Kirk, just come down, and I'll get your magnifying glass!" she reasoned.
"And we have a winner!" Ms. Patty called out. "William Danes has won the hot enough to cook an egg on a sidewalk competition!"
"Aw, crap!" Kirk yelled as he hopped down out of the lower branches of the tree.
"Yay!" the gathered kids celebrated around Will, who looked uncomfortable as Patty hugged him and gave him a big kiss on the cheek before presenting him with a blue ribbon. Lorelai jogged over to Luke and handed him the frozen yogurt tickets. "Gather the kids and get them these," she instructed.
"Wait, where are you going?"
She pointed to the tree. "To get Ambrose."
His jaw fell open. "You can climb a tree?"
She rolled her eyes. "Please. How do you think I got out of my parents house all the time before I moved out? Actually, I've done it since I moved out."
He sighed and took the tickets. "Fine. Just don't let him break anything. I'd never hear the end of it from Jess."
She snickered. "He is pretty fond of the little stinker. Okay. I'm going in," she ran back off to capture the magnifier thief.
"Okay, who wants frozen yogurt?" Luke smiled at the crowd.
"Do they have pink frozen yogurt?" Ella looked up at him expectantly.
"Oh, geez," he sighed and herded the group away from the fried eggs.
Sleeping children were scattered all over the front room of the house. Will looked at the carnival wreckage, all the half-melted food and won prizes, and then to his dad. "Can I spend the night at Davey's?"
Luke sighed. "Your mother probably wants you to stay and help get the kids cleaned up."
Will grimaced and looked at the smeared face paint, stained clothes, and sticky limbs. "Do I have to?"
Luke smirked. "Go. Don't tell your mother."
Will nodded and took off without gathering a single possession. Lorelai came in from the kitchen with a half eaten Popsicle. "Where's Will?"
"Why'd he go there?"
"Fewer children," he shrugged.
"She has four, too."
"Yeah, but two of them are his age. And he doesn't have to clean any of those children."
Lorelai frowned. "Okay, so how about I take the girls and you take the boys?"
He sighed. "I hardly call that a fair deal."
She giggled. "So, you'd really rather hear Ella complain about you choosing a blue bath towel instead of a pink one?"
"What is it with her and pink?"
Lorelai shrugged. "She's a girl. Do you want to flip for it?"
Luke moved to take a better look at the sleeping children. He poked at arms and inspected clothing.
"What are you doing?"
"A survey of mystery substances," he informed her.
"Just take the boys," she shook her head and picked up Jules.
"Aren't you going to wake her up?" Luke inquired.
She shook her head. "No way. The more they sleep, the smoother this will go."
"I can't believe you put chocolate all over her face."
"She loved it. Besides, I'm not the one that let Ambrose and Jake share the Slurpee."
A huge blue stain went all the way up to the elbow of Jake's arm and covered both of their tongues. "If Ambrose hadn't dropped the magnifying glass into it, he wouldn't look so Smurfy," Luke defended.
Lorelai giggled and held Jules tighter against her. "Smurfy?"
Luke looked up. "What?"
"You know what a Smurf is?" she tilted her head mockingly.
Luke glared. "This is why I don't tell you things."
She started for the stairs. "I'm gonna take the tub. I'd just take the boys out back and turn a hose on 'em. Or put them both in the shower, fully clothed, and wait for some of that to rinse out," she smirked.
Luke looked at the remaining three kids and sighed, wishing they'd never agreed to this in the first place. He'd never been more tired. His vision was blurry, his sanity was questionable, and the only thing that had made the day worth it was watching Taylor fold to the power of the rambunctious children. And watching Ambrose taunt Kirk repeatedly. He couldn't help the smile that covered his face as he recounted their antics.
"Uncle Luke?" came a very sleepy voice, causing him to look down at Ella. He knelt down closer.
"Is Mommy gonna be mad about Jake's arm?"
He paused. "That's gonna come right off." He hoped.
She nodded and yawned. "It was hot today."
He nodded. He was surprised they hadn't all melted like the ice sculptures. They'd lasted only fifteen minutes outside of the freezer, and no one got to see them thanks to Kirk's second attempt at chasing Ambrose down that ended in the magnifying glass landing in the bottom of the Slurpee.
"Can I have a hat like yours?" she looked up at him with her wide blue eyes, something she'd inherited from her mother and Lorelai alike.
"Sure, Honey, just go back to sleep," he ran his hand over her fallen curls, soft golden brown hair that Lorelai had worked into perfect ringlets so much earlier that morning. He covered her with the light throw that was on the back of their couch and picked up the boys, one under each arm and headed off toward the downstairs bathroom.
"Are you sure they weren't any trouble?" Rory asked as she took a sip of her coffee.
Lorelai yawned. "Oh, they were fine. Everything was completely under control."
"Really?" Rory asked, encouraged. "Because you can tell us if anything happened. I know Ella is demanding lately with her hair and all the pink," she sighed.
"No, really, it was cute."
Jess finished his coffee. "Okay. What did he do?"
Luke looked up. "Who?"
"You know who. Do I have to write a check to the town to fix anything?"
"Jess," Erin sighed. "She said it was fine."
"He was fine," Lorelai looked into her coffee.
Jess sighed. "Just tell me."
"He might," Lorelai stressed the word, "have borrowed something of Kirk's and made him chase him around town."
Jess raised an eyebrow and suppressed a smirk.
"Said item was returned, eventually. And Kirk only cried a little."
Jess' smirk turned into a full smile. "That's my boy."
Erin nudged him.
"Kirk does make it too easy," Tristan stood up and put his hands on his wife's shoulders. "We should probably collect the kids and get going."
Lorelai and Luke stood, ready to walk the other parents into the living room.
"Hey, where's Will?" Rory looked into her old bedroom. "Didn't he stay and play with the kids after the festival? He loves playing uncle."
Lorelai looked to Luke. "Oh, he had a campout planned with Davey. Boy stuff," he covered.
Rory nodded and went into the living room to see all four kids sound asleep in fresh pajamas and their overnight bags packed and lined up behind the couch. "Wow. You guys really didn't have any trouble at all, did you?" she looked at her mother in awe.
"Oh, please. We're old pros," Lorelai breezed, feeling ready to collapse the moment the kids were out of the house. They'd been up 'til four in the morning getting the kids that clean and calm enough to sleep.
"Oh, good, then I don't feel so bad asking," Rory bit her lip.
Luke paled. "Asking what?"
"I planned this romantic getaway in a couple of weeks, before we have to get the kids in school and everything gets hectic," Tristan looked to his in-laws. "You don't mind taking them again, do you?"
"Uh," Luke looked to Jess. "Don't you normally get the honor?"
Jess looked down at the floor, trying to hold back laughter, sure that the kids hadn't been that easy to handle. He'd had his hand at it, many times over. "I'd love to, but I have a conference at work, and Erin will be up with her folks. You already promised you'd take ours, so I told Rory that you'd love to have all four."
Luke narrowed his eyes at his nephew, and Lorelai put her hand on his shoulder. Killing Jess would have to wait. She had to get a nap pronto. "We'd love to."
"Great," Rory hugged her mom and picked up her son. "That's such a relief. You have no idea how nice it is, just to get away for a couple of days now and then."
"Oh, I can imagine," Lorelai supplied.
"Oh, wait, I have a little something," Luke went upstairs and came down with a very small, very pink baseball cap. He handed it to Tristan, who had his daughter slung over his shoulder, completely passed out and unknowledgeable to her father picking her up. "You know, in case you guys stop for breakfast and she's upset about her hair not being curled."
Tristan smiled and took the hat. "Thanks."
Jess leaned in to give his uncle a hug, even with his daughter and her diaper bag already on his person. "You really are becoming a big softie."
"Shut up," he said good naturedly.
"Admit it, you loved it all."
Luke grumbled. "I'd get out before they wake up and start emulating their parents again, if I were you."
Jess snickered and followed the rest of the crowd out the door. Luke stepped out, waved, then came back in and locked the door. Lorelai fell back against the couch and closed her eyes. Luke joined her and gave a very tired, almost amused laugh.
"What?" she lolled her head against the back of the couch, too tired to move it on the strength of her own muscles.
"Maybe we can get Kirk to baby-sit next time," he laughed, causing Lorelai to join in until neither of them could draw in a deep breath. When they finally settled down, she laid her head on his shoulder, content to stay there instead of seeking a bed.
"Are we bad parents if we fall asleep and don't call to check on Will?" she asked sleepily.
"He'll understand," Luke murmured and promptly fell asleep next to his wife.