Lorelai edged her way past the crowd in the middle of the diner, ignoring the few disgruntled shouts that came her way. When she finally managed to get more than a foot past the doorway, she stopped, and turned to Rory.
"What the hell is going on here?" she asked.
Rory shrugged. "There's a crowd."
"Wonderful deductive skills. Now I know why we're paying the big bucks for Chilton."
Rory rolled her eyes. "Well, I don't know. How should I know? You don't know. So why would you automatically assume that I know something when you don't know -"
"Okay." Lorelai held up a hand to silence her daughter. "I think we're getting nowhere here. You don't know what's going on. I don't know what's going on." She looked around the diner. "And we don't have a table."
"Ooh, there's one!"
Lorelai looked over to where Rory was pointing excitedly, and frowned. "Where? I don't see it."
"Over there. Behind Miss Patty. You just have to squint a little, and kind of lean ..."
"Oh, yeah!" Lorelai smiled as she leaned across the man hovering next to her. "I see it. Let's go!"
Ignoring the shouts as they pushed past, Lorelai sank into a seat in the corner of the diner, jealously guarding the available table space. She had seen the diner crowded before, but this was verging on the ridiculous.
"So, what'll it be?" Luke was at the table almost as soon as they sat down, order pad in hand. His voice was raised slightly to make himself heard over the low din of conversation, and he already looked exhausted.
Lorelai smiled up at him. "Coffee, blueberry pancakes, and an explanation, please."
Luke glanced over at Rory, who nodded. "I'll have the same."
Luke rolled his eyes. "It's some crazy idea of Taylor's. Some show to raise funds for something or other, I don't know."
Lorelai frowned. "Show? What show?"
Rory leaned forward and nudged her. "Oh, the show! The talent show. You remember. Taylor was talking about it at the last town meeting."
Lorelai thought for a minute, then shook her head. "Nope, not ringing any bells."
Rory sighed. "The town meeting? A couple of weeks ago. They're raising money for the high school."
"Still not with you."
"Taylor started talking about school pride, and town pride, and something about using Woodbridge as cleaning products?"
"Andrew and Gypsy had that big fight?"
"You had ice cream?"
"Ooh, ice cream! I remember." Lorelai smiled, and then wrinkled her brow in confusion. "I thought Taylor forgot about that already."
"Taylor, forget about a town event? And Miss Patty let an opportunity for public performance slip away?"
Lorelai rolled her eyes. "No, I suppose not." She looked up at Luke, who was still watching her and Rory, and he nodded.
"Pancakes. Coming right up."
"So, we're having a talent show?" Lorelai asked Rory, leaning forward. "And all these people are, what, protesting it?"
Rory appeared to think for a minute. "I think they're all in here planning it."
Lorelai frowned. "Like, they want to participate?"
Rory shrugged. "Who knows?"
Luke came back with their coffee, and Lorelai smiled up at him. "So, what are you doing?"
"For the talent show."
Luke let out a sound that Lorelai thought was almost a laugh. "Yeah. Right. I'm participating in a talent show. And next year I'll help them recreate the battle of Stars Hollow."
"Aw, come on, Luke, it'll be fun!" Lorelai's grin widened, and she glanced at Rory, who joined in.
"Yeah, come on. Talent show. What's not to love?"
Luke looked like he had quite a few answers ready, but he was interrupted by Miss Patty, who turned around behind him to face Lorelai and Rory.
"Oh good, you girls remembered about the show. You're going to be in it, then?"
Lorelai's grin froze in place as she exchanged glances with Rory. Beside her, Luke looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.
"Um," she started. She looked to Rory for help, but none came. "Maybe. We'll see."
Miss Patty didn't seem overly satisfied with the answer, but just then Babette tapped her on the shoulder, and Lorelai breathed a sigh of relief as her attention was directed elsewhere.
"Aw, come on," Luke teased, his voice low enough that Miss Patty wouldn't overhear. "It'll be fun. What's not to love?"
"We meant for you. You'd have fun." Lorelai took a sip of her coffee as Luke raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah," Rory agreed. "And we'd have fun. Watching."
"And laughing," Lorelai added.
"Not on stage."
Luke shook his head. "There's no way I'm going to be in a talent show."
"Fine." Lorelai shrugged. "Then you can join us in the spectating."
"I'm looking forward to it." Luke shook his head. "I'll go get your pancakes."
"All right, so we've got the Sedtler party arriving this afternoon, so that's eleven rooms we need cleaned and made up by two at the latest, and we'll have to rearrange the dining room after ..." Lorelai trailed off as she arrived at the desk, and looked up. She had expected to see Michel, patented bored look on his face, staring at her impatiently; but there were only a couple of guests, looking at her strangely as if she had been talking to herself.
Which, of course, she had been.
Checking her watch, Lorelai glanced around the lobby of the inn. "Michel?" she called out.
"Oh, Lorelai," Michel said, coming in from one of the rooms. "I didn't hear you come in, I was just practising."
Lorelai glanced at him as she rose to the bait. "Practising?"
"Yes, practising. For the talent show. I am going to be performing an individual jazz dance."
Lorelai stood for a moment as she processed the information. Michel was flicking through the reservations book as if nothing was the matter, and he was lacking the characteristic eyebrow raise that usually told her he was joking.
"You're going to be in the Stars Hollow talent show?" she asked finally.
Michel barely glanced up. "Yes, I told you. I am -"
"Going to be performing an individual jazz dance, I got it." Michel nodded, and it took Lorelai a moment to remember what she had been doing before his announcement. "Okay, then. The Sedtlers are coming this afternoon, so -"
"We need to have the rooms ready, I'm on it."
"And have the dining room arranged."
Lorelai nodded. She opened her mouth to speak again, though she wasn't sure exactly what she was going to say; really? was just about the only thing that came to mind. Eventually, she shut it again, and moved into the kitchen before she could change her mind.
The sight of Sookie throwing a ladle into the air, and almost catching it, didn't help settle her mood.
"Sookie?" she asked, as the sous chef behind her moved away from the falling object. "Was something wrong with the ladle?"
"What?" Sookie turned to face her, almost forcing a pot off the stove. "Oh, no. I was just trying to see if I could add a little flair to it, is all."
"Add flair to what?" Lorelai grabbed the pot of coffee as she spoke; she had a feeling it was going to be a very coffee morning.
"To my cooking, of course."
"Sookie, why do need to add flair to your cooking? You're in the kitchen. Unless we start organising tours, nobody's going to see you."
"Well, not here, but in my performance -"
Lorelai let out a breath. "What performance?"
"My talent show performance."
"You're performing in the talent show?"
Sookie smiled. "Well, yeah. I thought it'd be fun."
"You're cooking in the talent show."
Sookie didn't miss a beat. "Yeah. Why not? I mean, it's my talent."
"But you can't ..." Lorelai thought for a minute, and sighed. "You know what, Sookie? I think that's a great idea. Just make sure you have a couple of fire extinguishers handy, okay?"
Sookie laughed. "Oh, you know I always do. So, what's your talent?"
Lorelai stared at her for a second. "My talent?"
"For the show."
"Oh, you know, I don't really think -"
"Lorelai, come on. You have to do something. That old bridge isn't going to fix itself."
"I thought the money was for the high school."
"Oh." Sookie waved a hand dismissively, barely missing the coffee pot. Lorelai snatched it up, refilling her mug before putting it back. "Well, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that you should do something. It'll be fun!"
Lorelai smiled, but she was still unconvinced. "Okay," she said noncommittally. "I'll think about it."
"You do that," Sookie said, turning back to the stove. "And see if you can get Luke to do something, too."
Lorelai didn't bother to answer that; if there was no way she was entering, nothing short of Taylor finally coming good on his threat to make participation in town events mandatory was going to convince Luke to do the same. Instead, she finished her coffee, mentally running through the list of things she had to make sure were done before lunchtime.
Rory smiled as she got off the bus, stepping onto the sidewalk as Dean got up from the bench where he had been waiting. She kissed him quickly, and took his hand as they started away from the bus stop.
"How was school?" he asked, glancing over at her.
Rory shrugged. "It was okay. I got an A on my english paper, but Paris made us spend the entire lunchtime planning the next edition of the Franklin, so I'm really hungry."
Dean laughed. "You missed lunch? You must be starving."
"Hey." Rory smacked him playfully. "I don't eat that much."
Dean shook his head, but he looked like he was trying to keep from laughing. "No, of course you don't."
"But if you wanted to come grab a burger ..."
"Can't," Dean said. "I've got to get home and pack."
Rory stopped and turned to face him. "Pack?" she asked.
"Yeah." Dean looked at her. "For my trip. I'm going out of town with my family ..."
"Oh!" Rory said. "Right. Of course. I forgot. Do you have to do it right now?"
"Pretty much," he said. "We're leaving tomorrow."
"Oh." Rory bit her lip. "So I guess that means you'll be out of town for the talent show, huh?"
"Looks like it."
"Oh." Rory stepped forward again, her hand breaking away from Dean's grip. "Okay. Well, I guess I won't see you, then."
"I guess not," Dean agreed slowly. "Well, anyway, I'd better go."
"Yeah." Rory stopped again, and forced a smile. "I guess you'd better. I'll see you when you get back?"
"Yeah, I'll see you then." Dean paused for a minute before he left, and Rory stared after him until he turned a corner. After a minute, she shook her head, rearranged the strap of her backpack, and closed the distance to Luke's.
The diner was less crowded than it had been that morning, but still far from empty. Rory looked around, smiling at Luke as she sat down at a table by the window.
"Hey, Luke," she said as he came over. "Mom's not here yet?"
Luke shook his head. "Not yet. Can I get you anything?"
"Just coffee," she replied. Luke nodded, and Rory pulled out a book as he left.
A minute later, she looked up as Jess came over.
"Thanks," she said, smiling at him.
"So, I guess the diner's been busy today," she offered.
He shrugged. "I guess." He looked over toward the other tables, but didn't leave.
Rory nodded. "So, are you doing anything?"
"What, you mean right now?"
"No," she said. "I mean, for the talent show. Are you going to be in it?"
He laughed. "Yeah, right. It's not really my thing."
"What, you mean like actually participating in town events?"
"Something like that."
She took a sip of her coffee. Jess was still standing beside her, and she put her book down.
"You never know," she said. "You might actually like it. I've seen you do magic, right? You could do a magic show or something."
"A magic show?" he asked. He sounded unconvinced.
"Yeah." She shrugged. "You know. Rabbits, hats, an assistant in a sparkly dress. It could be fun."
He appeared to think for a minute. "You want the job?" he asked finally.
"The assistant in a sparkly dress. I just figured, since you sounded so excited about it, you were offering."
"Oh, no." Rory shook her head. "I can't."
Jess looked at her. "Dean?"
"So, what, you two are doing something together for the show?"
"Well, no," she said. "He's not going to be here."
"So, what's the problem, then?" he asked.
"He's my boyfriend."
Jess raised an eyebrow. "I know."
"So, I can't"
Rory paused. "Just ... because," she said finally.
"Oh," he said. "Because. Well, I'm totally convinced."
"I'm not trying to convince you of anything," she said.
"You're trying to convince me to do the show," he countered.
"Well, you should do the show."
"Hey, it was your idea," he reminded her. "Not mine."
He was still looking at her, and Rory matched his gaze. Eventually, she sighed. "Fine," she agreed. "I'll do it."
Jess smiled. "Great. Shall we?"
"Shall we what?"
"Why would we go upstairs?" she asked.
"So we can practise?"
"Oh." Rory paused. Finally, she picked up her book and backpack. "Fine. Okay. Let's go upstairs."
Lorelai glanced at Luke as she slid onto a stool at the counter, smiling as he sighed irritably. He poured her a cup, and she picked it up gratefully.
"So that's it, is it?" he asked as she drank. "I don't get a hello any more? I just get orders?"
Lorelai grinned at him as she sat her cup on the bench. "Hello, Luke," she said, as brightly as she could manage. "May I please have some coffee?"
Luke grunted. "You have coffee. And was that really so hard?"
Lorelai shrugged. "So, where's Rory?"
"I don't know," he said. "She was in here before. I think maybe she went upstairs with Jess."
Lorelai froze, coffee cup halfway to her lips. "Rory's upstairs with Jess?"
Luke shrugged. "Yeah."
"Yeah." He looked up from making a fresh pot of coffee. "Why?"
She paused. "No reason," she said finally. "I'm just thought we were going to meet here, is all."
"Well, I can go get her, if you want," he offered, and Lorelai shook her head.
"No," she said. "It's okay. I'm sure she'll be down soon, anyway."
"I'm sure she will," Luke echoed.
Lorelai nodded as he went to take a couple of orders over to one of the tables. There were a million reasons why Rory could have gone upstairs with Jess, she told herself. And it was no big deal. In fact, it probably didn't even bear thinking about.
She was so intent on not thinking about Rory and Jess alone in Luke's apartment that she didn't notice Taylor until he sat down beside her.
"Lorelai," he said, too cheerfully. "I noticed you and Rory haven't yet signed up for the talent show."
Lorelai tried not to let out too heavy a sigh. Plastering a smile to her face, she turned to Taylor.
"No," she agreed. "We haven't."
"May I ask why that is?"
And if I said no? "I guess we just haven't got around to it," she said instead.
"Well, how about now? If you and Rory are indeed intending to participate, I can go add your names to my list right now. It's really no problem."
Lorelai winced. Well, that was just great. She had danced around the issue, and now Taylor was mentally adding her to a list. Where the hell was Rory, anyway?
"Sure," she said finally, cringing even as she spoke. "Me and Rory. Count us in."
"Great!" Taylor smiled, and - thankfully - got up from where he sat. "Make sure you let Miss Patty know A.S.A.P. what you'll be performing, and don't forget that the show is on next Saturday -"
"Your burger," Luke interrupted, sliding a plate across the counter to Lorelai. She looked up at him in surprise, but he raised an eyebrow, and she smiled. Taylor, stopped mid-sentence, stood beside her for a moment before apparently deciding that it probably wasn't worthwhile to try and resurrect the conversation, and returning to his table. Picking up her entirely unexpected burger, Lorelai mouthed a silent thank you at Luke, who smiled in response.
Lorelai was halfway through the burger when Rory and Jess came downstairs, and she realised she'd almost forgot about them, after all. She shot Rory a questioning look, but Rory merely shrugged and sat down beside her.
"You ate without me," Rory accused.
"Hey," Lorelai protested. "I didn't order this. And besides, you were busy. With Jess. Alone. Upstairs."
Rory rolled her eyes, and picked up the burger as Lorelai sat it down. "It was nothing," she said.
"Uh huh," Lorelai said, unconvinced.
Rory finished swallowing, and shook her head. "Really, it was nothing."
"Yeah, all right," Lorelai said, getting up as Rory finished the last of the burger. "Come on. You done?"
"So," Lorelai said, shrugging off her jacket as Rory closed the door behind them. "Babes in Toyland? Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!?"
"Barbarella?" suggested Rory.
"Really." Lorelai smiled. "Olivia Newton-John on roller skates. I loved this movie before you were even born."
"And if it came down to a contest between me and the movie?"
Lorelai pretended to think for a minute while Rory stuck out her tongue. "Well, Olivia Newton-John has the cute flicky hair. But I can borrow your shoes, so you win."
"Gee, thanks," Rory said, but she was smiling.
"You're completely welcome." Lorelai sat down on the couch, then looked up at Rory. "You're going to hate me," she confessed.
Rory frowned. "Why? Are you going to sing all the songs again? Because you always do."
"No," Lorelai said. "I mean, yes, but that's not why you're going to hate me."
"Well, then, why am I going to hate you?"
"Well, when I was in the diner, and you weren't there, I kind of got cornered by Taylor. And he started talking about the Talent Show, and I said that we'd sign up later -"
"So basically, you lied," Rory interjected.
"Basically, yes. But then he said that if we were going to do it, he could sign me up right then, and I was all confused, and you were gone, and so ... I kind of signed us up for the show."
Rory didn't say anything, and Lorelai tried to force a smile. "But, it's okay. Because, yes, it's dumb and everything, but everyone else seems really excited about it, so I thought maybe if we did something together - something really corny, you know, like a mother-daughter thing - it wouldn't be too bad." She paused. "I know. I was weak."
Rory shook her head. "It's not that," she said slowly. "I mean, yes, it does sound incredibly lame, but I kind of already agreed to be in the show with somebody else."
"Oh." Lorelai sat for a minute, letting the news sink in.
"Yeah. I'm really sorry. I didn't know you were going cornered like that, and I just figured you wouldn't want to do anything, and then Jess -"
"Jess?" Lorelai asked. "You're doing something with Jess?"
"Well, sort of. See, I told him that he should be more involved in town events, and there was something about a hat, and I just ... agreed." She looked at Lorelai. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, no." Lorelai shook her head. "Don't worry about it, really. I'll just get out of it. It's no problem."
"Really?" Rory asked.
"Really," Lorelai assured her. "Now. You get snacks, I'll set up the video. And there will be lots of singing."
"I need coffee."
Luke shook his head as he poured. "Bad day?"
"Weird day," Lorelai said. "Sookie can't see anything wrong with the idea of performance cooking -"
"Yeah. I know. And Michel keeps practising his dance routine in the lobby, which ..."
"Not good?" Luke asked.
"People can see him in the lobby," she said, by way of explanation. "And then I had to go and tell Taylor that I'll be in the show, which is bad enough, because I really don't want to be in the show, but now Rory is doing something with Jess -"
"Jess?" Luke raised his eyebrows. "Jess is going to be in the show?"
"I know! It's like everyone in town has gone mad, but I haven't, and yet still, somehow, I got roped into this, and I don't even have Rory to back me up, and I have to tell Taylor that I can't do it, and he's going to look at me and give me a big lecture about town pride and civic responsibility, and ..." She shook her head. "I need coffee. And then I need to find Taylor."
Luke nodded. "Good luck with that."
"Yeah," Lorelai said into her coffee cup, as Luke walked away. "Thanks."
She was halfway through her coffee, and already wishing for a second, when Miss Patty approached her.
"Lorelai," she said, smiling in a way that made Lorelai's stomach clench instinctively. "Taylor told me you signed up for the show."
Lorelai put her cup down. "Yeah, about that -"
"I think it's just wonderful. And I heard that you're all alone -"
"How did you hear that?"
"- and that you still haven't picked a talent -"
"Which I really need to talk to you about."
"- which works out perfectly, because Kirk -"
"- needs someone to help with his mime -"
"Interpretive theatre," Kirk interrupted, and Lorelai turned, swivelling around in her chair to see him standing behind her.
"Interpretive theatre," Miss Patty corrected. "And since you're free -"
"Actually, Patty, I'm not free," Lorelai said, finally managing to get a word in. "It's just that, when I told Taylor I'd do the show, I thought I'd be doing it with Rory, and since she's busy, I thought maybe I could maybe just make costumes or something. I mean, there are already a lot of people in the show -"
"Oh, honey," Miss Patty said. "You have to be in the show."
"And I'm happy to include you in my performance," Kirk added.
"No buts, honey. You need an act, and Kirk needs a partner, so -"
"Actually, I need Lorelai."
Lorelai looked up, her mouth falling open slightly as she saw Luke. Kirk scowled, and walked away.
"You need Lorelai?" Miss Patty asked.
"I need Lorelai," he repeated. His gaze met Lorelai's, and he paused for a minute. "I mean, I need her for an act. In the show."
Miss Patty looked from Luke to Lorelai, her smile returning in full force. "Well, then, that's a different story," she said smoothly. She winked at Luke, and Lorelai cringed. "You need Lorelai."
"I do." He was avoiding Lorelai's gaze, now, and Lorelai looked determinedly at her coffee cup. When Miss Patty left, she looked up, and smiled hesitantly.
"Sorry," he said, after a moment's silence. "You just kind of looked like you needed help there, and I didn't want you to have to end up doing interpretive theatre with Kirk ..."
"No," Lorelai said, nodding. "Thank you. I think if you'd come in any later, I'd be in white pace paint, miming my way out of a box."
Luke smiled, and Lorelai held his gaze for a second longer than was really comfortable. "So," she said.
"I guess we're both going to be in the show."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Luke shook his head. "It's not your fault."
"So, I guess we should come up with an act?"
"Right," she agreed. "An act. Definitely."
Luke nodded; neither of them said anything. After a minute, he opened his mouth, but shut it again as Jess stepped into the diner from the stairs.
"I should get you more coffee," he said.
"Yes," Lorelai said. "Coffee. Absolutely." Luke turned, and she shook her head. "Wait, no. Um, I should probably get home ..."
"Right," Luke agreed.
"Right." Lorelai stood up, a little uncomfortably. "But, I'll see you tomorrow, and we can come up with an act then."
"Sure. Tomorrow's good."
Lorelai laughed. "Okay," she said again, wishing she could form any other words. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yeah," Luke agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow."