"It's a madhouse."

"A madhouse?"

"A madhouse," Rory confirmed, and looked around them.

Lorelai, bracing herself, did the same. Stars Hollow wasn't exactly sane at the best of times, and this ... was not them. Just from the chaos around them, she could count two bruised egos, one black eye (Andrew's - Gypsy, it seemed, had a mean left hook, though he was loudly blaming a doorknob), and, oh, an entire population gone completely crazy.

Except her and Rory, of course.

"So -"

"Are those bongo drums?" Rory interrupted, and Lorelai glanced over. Through the window to Doose's market, she could see Taylor banging on something that -

"Yep," she confirmed. "Those are bongo drums."

"He does know people can see him, right?"

"And hear him," Lorelai said, wincing.

Rory shuddered, and Lorelai slid an arm around her shoulders protectively, steering her away from the market. No seventeen-year-old should have to bear witness to that.

The other side of the square wasn't much better. Miss Patty, as always, had left the door to her studio open, and was yelling instructions at a group of girls dressed as what Lorelai could only assume were radishes. In the middle of the square, Kirk's hands were pressed up against an imaginary wall, and the illusion shattered as someone hurled an epithet at him from across the street.

"It's not mime!" Kirk yelled back, and turned to see Lorelai and Rory. Lorelai - barely - resisted the urge to hide behind her daughter. "It's interpretive theatre," he explained mournfully, and Lorelai nodded, keeping her expression carefully neutral.

"Of course it is," she said, and dragged Rory away before she could be pulled even further into the conversation.

"Wow," Rory said, and Lorelai let out a breath.

"Yeah," she agreed. "So, anyway, I was thinking -"

"Lorelai!"

Lorelai stopped as she heard Babette's voice from the next corner, and, after a cursory glance to make sure Babette wasn't in the middle of rehearsing anything, waited for her to catch up.

"Hey, Babette," she said, and Babette waved as she leaned over, trying to catch her breath.

"Hey, Lorelai," she said after a minute. "Rory. Hey, I heard you're doing something with that Jess."

"Yes," Rory said, looking to Lorelai for help. Lorelai ignored the wide, panicked stare; she wasn't any happier about Rory performing with Jess than Babette was. "Jess and I are performing together."

"Well, you just make sure he keeps his hands to himself. Guys like him, boy, have I met a few - and Lorelai! Miss Patty tells me you and Luke are hooking up, too."

"Well, I wouldn't say we're hooking up," Lorelai said. She glanced at Rory, who was looking studiously elsewhere. Touché. "But, yes, we are going to be in the talent show."

"Just the two of you, eh?," Babette asked. "Well, you know what they say about -"

"Hey, what about you?" Lorelai interrupted frantically. "Are you going to be in the show?"

"Oh, yeah," Babette said, thankfully switching topics. "I'm accompanying Morey on the piano. You know, he plays, I sing. I thought I'd add a little something for the fellas, too."

"Well," Lorelai said, trying hard not to picture Babette's 'little something.' "Isn't that nice. You know -"

"I'd love to catch up later, sugar," Babette interrupted her, "but I really got to get going. I only came out to get some things from the market, then I've got to get right back to practising. Morey's waiting, and all."

"Aw, shoot," Lorelai said, hoping she didn't sound too relieved. "Well, later, then."

"Yeah," Babette agreed. "And tell Luke hi for me, if you know what I mean."

"I'm sure I don't," Lorelai said quietly as Babette left, and let out a breath. "Well," she said, turning to Rory, "that was ..."

"Yeah," Rory said. "Anyway, what were you saying?"

"What was I saying about what?"

"I don't know. You were saying something about, you were thinking ..."

"Oh, yeah," Lorelai said, suddenly remembering her train of thought. "I was trying to think about plays I could do with Luke, and I thought maybe you could help me. You know, since you're so brainy and all."

"I am brainy," Rory agreed. "So what kind of play did you want to do?"

"I don't know," she said. "That's where you come in."

"Well, that's not really very helpful."

"I wasn't trying to be."

"Of course you weren't." Rory rolled her eyes. "Well, what about Shakespeare?"

"Shakespeare?"

"Yeah, you know. Dead guy, lots of plays ..."

"No, I mean, Shakespeare?"

"What do you have against Shakespeare?" Rory looked personally offended by the remark, and Lorelai patted her arm.

"I have nothing against Shakespeare. It's just, isn't his stuff a little heavy for a Stars Hollow talent show?"

"Actually," Rory said, brightening, "that's a common misconception. Shakespeare's plays were really intended for public consumption by all types of people, not just -"

"Yeah, okay," Lorelai said. She could see how this could go on for a while if she allowed Rory to keep going, and she really needed coffee. "He's a common man, Joe six pack kind of guy. Got it."

"And I'm not suggesting you put on Henry the Sixth or Richard the Third -"

"No plays with numbers in them, got it."

"But you could do one of the comedies, maybe."

"Uh huh," Lorelai said. "I'm still going to need a little more help."

"Well -"

"Rory!"

Lane's voice rang out from behind them, and Lorelai and Rory turned almost in unison.

"Lane," Rory said, rushing forward to meet her. "What's up?"

"You will never believe this," Lane said, grabbing hold of Rory. "My mom is making me participate in the talent show."

"Mrs Kim is making you participate?" Rory asked.

Lane nodded.

"In the talent show," Lorelai continued sceptically. "Where people are on stage, performing ..."

"Yes," Lane said, and there was a note of hysteria in her voice. "She said it would be a good opportunity for me to learn a new skill. I think she's planning on inviting every single Korean male under the age of twenty she knows, to show how well-rounded I am or something."

"Well," Rory said, "That doesn't sound so bad."

"She's making me play the tambourine," Lane explained. "The Christian tambourine."

Rory looked confused. "How do you play a Christian tambourine?"

Lane threw her hands up in the air in a gesture of exasperation. "I don't know! Mrs Kim knows! Mrs Kim knows everything."

"Does the tambourine have to be Christian?" Lorelai wondered aloud. "Like, is there some sot of tambourine christening ceremony that has to be performed before -"

Lane glared at her, and she broke off.

"Okay," she said. "Just wondering."

"I don't know," Lane said again, looking apologetic. "I don't know anything, but she's making me go up there, and Rory, I swear, if I have to do this, I can never show my face at Stars Hollow High again. Maybe not even in Woodbridge."

"Okay," Rory said, and glanced at Lorelai. "Is it okay if I -"

"Go," Lorelai assured her. "You're clearly needed."

"Okay," Rory said, turning back to Lane. "Come on. I'm sure we can figure something out."

"Wait," Lorelai called as they started to leave. "What about my play?"

"What about it?" Rory asked.

"What am I going to do?"

"Well ..." Rory appeared to think for a minute. "What about - no, too dry. Or there's - but that doesn't really have a good two-person scene - or -"

"Kid, come on," Lorelai said. "The talent show's going to be over before you decide on something."

Rory gave her a reproachful look. "I'm trying to help you, you know."

Lorelai tried to look contrite. "I know."

"Good." Rory paused again, and then her face lit up. "I know! As You like it."

"As You Like It?"

"As You Like It," Rory confirmed. "Trust me. There's a great scene in it that I think will be perfect, and there's a copy of the play in my room if you need one."

Lorelai raised an eyebrow.

"Of course you need one. Well, then, it's under my bed, and it's a big old book with all of his plays in it, you can't miss it. Now I've really got to go and -"

"Go," Lorelai urged her. "Help Lane. Avert the major high school popularity crisis. I'll be at Luke's."

-

"Looks like you revised your policy about talent show participants."

Luke looked confused for a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah. I figured if I banned everyone in the show, I'd end up going out of business."

"That would be bad," Lorelai agreed, taking a seat at the counter.

"Doesn't mean I'm happy about it."

"Of course not." She reached over the counter to liberate a chocolate-covered doughnut from the display case, and Luke looked at her sharply.

"Are you okay there?" he asked.

"Fine," she said, studying the doughnut. Maybe she wanted one with sprinkles. "Coffee, please?"

"What, you mean you're not going to just help yourself?"

"You get mad when I go behind the counter."

"Yes, I do." He looked meaningfully at the doughnut.

"This wasn't behind the counter," she pointed out. Still, it might be best if she didn't try to exchange it.

He shook his head, but poured her a cup of coffee anyway, and she beamed at him.

"Oh," she said, waving at Luke as his attention was caught by something on the other side of the diner. "About the play, I was thinking -"

"Luke," someone called out behind her, and Lorelai rolled her eyes. Was it too much to ask to have the man's undivided attention?

"Just a sec," Luke said, and moved past her, order pad in hand.

Lorelai sighed, and looked down at at her doughnut. To dunk or not to dunk? Maybe she would be better off with sprinkles, after all. Or a danish. She should probably ask Luke.

"You were saying?" he asked a minute later, and she glanced up.

"Do you have any danishes?"

"What?"

"Danishes," she repeated. "I'm just not really sure if I'm in a doughnut kind of mood."

Luke looked at her for a moment, as if he wasn't quite sure if she was serious.

"What?" she asked. "Everybody always says breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

"No danishes," he said. "And I think they mean you should occasionally have fruit or cereal or, you know, something actually resembling real food."

She snorted, and bit indelicately into her doughnut. "So, about -"

"I wanted blueberry pancakes," someone else called, and for a moment, Lorelai thought Luke was going to throw everybody out again. Then he turned around, and she shrugged into her coffee.

"The play," Luke said when he returned a few minutes later, and she looked at him blankly. He returned the stare. "You were saying earlier, about the play?"

"Oh, right," she said. She hadn't finished her coffee yet; her brain wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. "I was talking to Rory earlier, and she suggested -"

"Luke," Kirk said, coming up beside her, and Lorelai nearly threw her hands up in frustration. "Do you have anything white I could use to paint my face? Preferably something non-toxic." He glanced at Lorelai, and frowned. "It's not a mime."

"I never said it was," she agreed.

Her coffee and doughnut were both finished by the time Luke came back again, and he leaned against the counter, looking exhausted. She contemplated asking for a refill, but reconsidered when she caught his look.

"You know," she said, "this would be a lot easier to talk about somewhere else."

"I'm working," he said.

"Yes, I can see that. I'm just saying, maybe if you weren't working, we could -"

She was interrupted by a loud crash from upstairs, and Luke looked over at her.

"Yeah," he said. "And where am I going to find -"

There was a second crash, and she raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"Jess," he explained. "He's practising for the talent show, doing God knows what."

Lorelai nodded. "It's nice that he's participating," she said finally.

"Yeah." Luke was almost smiling, which was quite a feat given the chaos in the diner. "It really is."

They looked at each other at the same time, and Luke strode over to the stairs.

"Jess!" he called, and there was a pause, then an answering call from the apartment. "Get down here!"

Jess emerged sullenly from upstairs a minute later, and Luke turned back to Lorelai.

"So," she said. "My place?"

-

"I'm never leaving my house again," Lorelai said, slamming the door shut behind her for dramatic impact. Luke's expression wavered somewhere between amusement and sheer terror, and for a moment, she seriously considered locking the front door.

"Did I really see Taylor with the -"

"Yep," she said. "Rory and I saw him on our way in. What about -"

"With the -"

"Unbelievable. And Miss Patty?"

"Yeah," he scoffed, but he sounded slightly uncomfortable. "Asking us all that stuff about romantic scenes -"

"And offering to practice with you if I somehow fell sick," Lorelai added, and Luke paled. "Do you really think Andrew's going to get a restraining order against Gypsy?"

"Only if it doesn't interfere with the show," he said. "Otherwise I think Taylor would kill them both."

"Well, I don't see how it could possibly interfere with them being on stage together." She shared an amused look with Luke, and stepped away from the door. "Anyway, I'd better look for Rory's copy of the play. She suggested As You Like It, but if you had something else in mind -"

"That sounds fine," he said, raising his voice slightly as she ducked into Rory's room. It took her a minute to find the book, and when she came out, Luke was holding up a pale blue slip. "This yours?" he asked, smirking.

"Rory's," she said, He dropped the slip as if it had suddenly caught fire, and she had to try to to laugh. "So, shall we?"

"We shall," he said, and gestured awkwardly towards the couch. She sat down, hiding a smile.

A few minutes passed as she flipped through the pages of the book, idly skimming over the play for a decent two-person scene. One of Luke's hands was stretched out over the back of the couch, tapping an uneven beat, and she tried not to let it distract her. Finally, she smiled, and looked up, handing the book over to Luke.

"What am I supposed to be looking at?" he asked a second later.

"Our scene."

"This is it?"

"This is it."

"And what exactly is it?"

Lorelai sighed, and reached for the book again. "This - you - is Orlando, who's in love with Rosalind. And Rosalind is in love with Orlando."

"That doesn't sound very dramatic."

"Aha!" she said. "But he doesn't know that Rosalind is Rosalind."

"How could he not know that she's her?"

"Because," Lorelai said, "she's in disguise."

"Disguised as what?"

"Ganymede."

"What's a Ganymede?"

"He's a boy."

Luke frowned a little. "Why is she dressed like a boy?"

Lorelai waved a hand. "I forget that part. Anyway, the important thing is, he's in love with Rosalind, and she's in love with him, only she can't tell him she's her, so instead, she pretends to be a guy, and gets him to pretend she's really her, even though he thinks she isn't her, so he can practice telling her how in love with her he is, even though he's actually telling her, but he doesn't know it."

Luke stared at her for a moment, blankly. "Huh?"

Lorelai sighed. "Never mind. You're Orlando, and I'm Rosalind, and I'm dressed up like a boy, and you're telling me how much you love me."

"While you're dressed like a boy?"

"Yep."

"And this is Shakespeare?"

Lorelai shrugged. "Says so on the book."

"Okay." Luke was silent for a minute, and then held up a hand. "How come you know all of this, anyway? You barely glanced at that thing."

"HBO," she answered. "Kenneth Branagh did a film version."

"Of course."

"We were trying to watch all the Branaghs - Rory's idea, of course - but I fell asleep somewhere through one of boring ones. I remember this one, though. It had ninjas."

Luke looked sceptical. "The play has ninjas?"

"Nope. Only the film."

"Really."

"And sumo wrestlers."

"Okay, now you're just messing with me."

"Swear to God. Okay, one sumo wrestler, but come on. How can you not love a movie with ninjas and sumo wrestlers?"

"I have no idea," he said dryly.

"So," she said, ignoring his lack of enthusiasm. "Do you want to get started?"

He shrugged. "Whatever you like."

"Unless you want to do the bit with the ninjas instead."

Luke held her gaze steadily. "No ninjas."

"Fine," she said, pouting. "No ninjas."

-

"This really isn't working."

"You're telling me." Lane's voice was muffled from inside the closet, and Rory sighed.

"Not this. I mean ... this. You being in the closet, and me having to talk to you from out here."

There was a pause, and the closet door creaked open. "Do you want to come in?" Lane asked. "We could probably fit, if we squished a little."

"No," Rory said, and pulled the door open the rest of the way. "I want you to come out."

"If I come out there, I'll be in the same room as the tambourine."

"I know."

"If I'm in the same room as the tambourine, I'll have to look at the tambourine, and if I look at the tambourine, that means I'm acknowledging its existence. And if I acknowledge its existence, that's as good as giving up."

"You're not giving up."

"I can't let my mother win." Lane's voice was high, laced with a note of hysteria, and Rory cringed.

"Well, why don't we think about this?" she asked. "While we're both outside the closet."

"Fine," Lane said, and Rory helped her up, shutting the closet door behind her just in case.

"So," she said.

"So," Lane echoed.

"What would you want to do?"

"Huh?"

"If you could choose your own talent. What would you want to do for the show?"

"Oh." Lane looked thoughtful for a minute. "I don't know."

"Oh."

"Is nothing an option?"

"Nothing is probably an option."

"Because I'd rather do nothing than play the tambourine. Unaccompanied. Playing only church-approved, Mrs Kim-approved songs."

"Fair enough," Rory said. She chewed her lip for a moment. "You could try to convince your mom that talent shows are the work of the devil."

"Always an option," Lane agreed. "I bet if I showed her Kirk's mime, she'd probably let me pull my act."

"Probably," Rory said. "But don't call it a mime in front of Kirk. He's kind of sensitive about that."

"Noted."

There was more silence as Lane played with her hair nervously, and Rory glanced towards the door. "I should probably ... it's just that I promised Jess I'd practise our act with him this morning."

"You're going to the diner?"

"That's the plan."

"Can I come?" Lane looked suddenly hopeful. "Please, you have got to get me out of this house and away from that tambourine."

"It's probably going to be pretty boring."

"More boring than this?"

"Good point." Rory laughed nervously, though she had no idea what was making her hesitate; sure, Lane didn't particularly like Jess, but it had been Lane's idea. Besides, it wasn't like she wanted to be alone with Jess.

In fact, this was probably a great idea.

"Sure," she said, more firmly. "Come on. Let's go."

-

Rory expected the diner to be busy when they got there, but only a couple of tables were occupied, the rest sitting neglected with empty plates still piled up. She glanced around, searching for Luke, but instead she saw Jess, looking bored as he leaned against the counter.

"Wow," she said, sitting down at one of the cleaner tables. Jess approached them as Lane sat down across from her, and she looked up at him. "Where did everybody go?"

He shrugged. "Beats me. You want some coffee?"

"Yes, please," she said. Lane shook her head.

Jess returned a minute later, and glanced sullenly at the people nearest them as he filled her cup. "You about done there?" he asked them abruptly.

Rory shrugged at Lane as the people left, but a quick look at Jess told her he probably didn't want any tips about providing good customer service. He shoved the meagre tip into his pocket, but made no move to clear the table.

"So," he said. "You ready to practise?"

"Um," she said, gesturing towards the couple at the last occupied table. "What about -"

"Hey," Jess said, moving towards them. "We're closing. Get out."

"He has a bright future ahead of him," Lane whispered. Rory smiled, but raised the cup to her lips to hide it as Jess came back.

"Problem solved," he said.

She nodded, and stood up, finishing her coffee. "Okay. Um, do you want to practise the bit with the ribbons?"

"What's the bit with the ribbons?" Lane asked, leaning forward.

Rory glanced back at her. "You'll see."

She turned back around, and Jess took her hand, drawing it up level with her shoulder. His movements were faster than she was used to, almost perfunctory, and she wondered if it had anything to do with their audience.

Lane clapped as he drew the ribbon out from her collar, presenting it with a flourish. "So how does it work?" she asked.

Jess shrugged. "Trade secret."

"Gotcha," she said. She smiled at Rory, but Rory couldn't quite match her expression; as glad as she thought she'd be for the third party presence, having Lane there was making her a little uncomfortable.

When Rory turned back to Jess, he was waving the ribbon over his arm, and she watched as he pulled an apple out from behind it.

"I thought we could use a bird or something instead, for the show," he said. "What do you think?"

"Um," she said. "Maybe we'd better stick to apples, for now. I'm not a big fan of birds."

"Noted," he said, and smiled in a way that was only partly mocking.

"So how do you do that one?" Lane asked behind her, and Rory almost jumped as she turned around. "No, wait, never mind. Trade secret, I know."

"Yeah," Rory said, and glanced at Jess. "Hey, Lane, when does your mom get home?"

"Soon," Lane said, looking unconcerned.

Rory bit her lip. "Won't she expect you to be practising when she gets there?"

Lane made a face, but stood up slowly. "Damn it. Fine, I'll look at the stupid tambourine. But I am not playing in the show."

"Fair enough," Rory said.

"The work of the devil?" Lane asked, as she moved towards the door.

"The work of the devil," Rory confirmed, and shared a smile with Lane as she left.

There was silence for a minute after the door closed behind Lane, and then Jess cleared his throat.

"So," he said. "You want to go upstairs?"

"What about the diner?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Cesar can handle it."

She nodded, and followed him up to Luke's apartment. It was getting less awkward being there, but she still felt a little weird about it, like she was doing something she shouldn't. She glanced at Jess, and tried really hard to push the feeling away.

"So," he said. "I've been working on that trick."

"What trick?" she asked, frowning in confusion.

"You know, the cutting you in half thing."

She laughed, and stopped shot when Jess didn't laugh with her. "Wait, you're serious?"

"Sure," he said, and gestured behind him. What looked like a half-finished torture chamber sat over by the bed.

"What, that thing?" she asked, taking a wary step back from it.

He smirked. "It's safer than it looks."

"It looks like it's going to kill me."

"It isn't."

"How can you be sure?" she asked, feeling the anxiety twist in the pit of her stomach. "Have you tested it? Did you get someone who knows about these things to come help you? I mean, I'm no expert, but it really seems like the kind of thing you shouldn't just try at home, you know? That's why they have all those warnings on TV shows and commercials, the ones that say 'don't try this at home.' What if I get in there and -"

"Rory," Jess said, taking a step towards her. "Relax. Yes, I had help. Yes, I know what I'm doing."

"I still don't think -"

"Do you trust me?" he asked, and she looked at him. His voice had gone kind of quiet, like he was asking her a real question, and not just about the magic show.

She swallowed.

"Do you trust me?" he repeated, and stepped forward again.

"Yes," she said, and glanced away. "Jess, I trust you -"

She didn't see the kiss coming. It caught her off guard, her mouth still partway open, and she froze, feeling Jess' hand settle low on her hip. A moment later, once her brain had caught up with what was happening, she stepped back, and pushed him away.

"I have to go," she said, not trusting herself to meet his eyes. "I - I have to go. I'll see you later, or something."

She was still breathing heavily as she shut the apartment door behind her, and she practically ran down the stairs before Jess could come after her.

-

"I feel stupid."

"Yeah, well, it's not going to get any less stupid, so suck it up."

"How am I supposed to take this guy seriously?" Luke asked, setting aside the book. "I mean, this is the girl he supposedly loves, and he can't tell it's her when he's standing two feet away from her?"

"You're supposed to suspend your disbelief," Lorelai said. "Besides, maybe she was ugly."

"Then why the hell was he in love with her?"

She shrugged. "Come on, maybe you'll feel less stupid in costume."

"We have to wear costumes?" he asked.

She smiled, picking up her measuring tape. "Stupid ones. Now raise your arms."

He looked hesitant, but he did so, and she wrapped the measuring tape around his waist. She could feel him stiffen under her touch, and when she looked up, her face was only inches from his.

A moment later, the door opened behind them, and she stepped back hurriedly as Rory came into the living room.

"Oh my god," Rory said. her face was flushed, and she was shaking. "Oh my god."

"Hey," Lorelai said, moving towards her. "You're home early. Is everything okay?"

Rory looked like she barely heard the question. "You'll never believe what just happened. It just - oh my god."

"Slow down," Lorelai said. "What's going on?"

Rory looked at her. "The stage collapsed."

Behind her, Lorelai could hear Luke step forward; she'd almost forgotten he was there.

"What do you mean the stage collapsed?" he asked.

"I mean, it collapsed," Rory said. "A whole part of it just fell down."

"Oh my god," Lorelai said. "Is everyone all right?"

Rory waved a hand. "Yeah, everyone's fine. Except Kirk. I think he's trapped. But he's yelling pretty loudly, so I think he's okay."

Luke was already moving towards the door, and Lorelai followed him. "Where are you going?" she asked.

"I'm going to see if they need help."

"Oh," she said. "Good idea."

She followed him out, and he turned to look at her.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"I'm going with you," she said.

"You're going to help repair the stage?"

"Of course not," she said, waving a hand.

Luke was still looking at her, evidently waiting for an explanation.

"Come on," she said. "A whole stage just collapsed on top of Kirk."

"And?"

"And there's no way I'm missing it," she said. "Now, come on. Hurry!"