Dinner for Five
Emily made a last pass through the dining room triple checking that everything was perfectly in order. She adjusted the centerpiece a fraction of an inch closer to Richard's end of the table and stepped back to make sure it was indeed in the center this time. Lorelai had been coming on her own to Friday night dinner for several weeks. She had even brought Luke a few times and things had gone well. The conversation was a bit stilted perhaps but so far there hadn't been any drama. Tonight the table was set for five because Luke's daughter April was visiting. Since all signs pointed to Luke and Lorelai marrying someday, even if they hadn't made it official yet, that meant Luke and April would be family too. Emily was determined that she would not give herself or her daughter any excuse to break apart the fragile bond that had taken so many years to form, not again.
With one last glance at the table, she briskly strode into the living room. Finding it empty, she turned on her heel and called out as she approached the bottom of the stairs, "Richard, please, they'll be here any minute."
Her husband appeared jogging jauntily down the stairs and answered as he put the finishing touches on his steel grey and blue bow tie, "I'm here. No need to shout."
Emily's hands quickly replaced his as she straightened the tie and smiled up at him. After fixing the tie she refolded his matching pocket handkerchief and began brushing at the lapels of his grey suit jacket.
He reached up and stilled her hands. "Emily, stop fussing. Everything will be fine," he reassured her looking down into her eyes and holding her hands to his chest. "You look lovely, by the way," he added with a satisfied grin as she looked down and away from him at the unexpected compliment. "I don't tell you that often enough. An oversight I am determined to rectify."
"Oh, Richard," she replied glancing back up at him. Clearly she had meant to admonish him but she was too moved by his words to carry off the right tone of voice. Instead it came out much softer than she had intended.
Their guests arrived moments later and were ushered into the living room where drinks had gone smoothly the adults taking a much appreciated back seat in the conversation to April's animated description of six weeks at science camp. The topic carried them happily through the salad course as she described physics classes and chemistry experiments led by Nobel Laureates. Richard alone kept pace with her asking relevant questions while Lorelai, Emily, and Luke were reduced to nodding and murmuring suitably impressed responses.
The maid appeared with the main course and Richard said "Well, this camp will certainly be a feather in your cap when applying to colleges, April. Are you considering any in particular? I'm a Yale man myself. No finer education in the world."
"Isn't it a bit early for that? She's only in junior high?" Luke questioned, his fork frozen halfway to his mouth.
"Actually, Dad," April chimed in, "I've been planning for college for years. All the course work I take now will lead directly into the honors classes I want to take in high school that will hopefully get me into a decent college." She turned back to Richard. "Yes, Mr. Gilmore, I do have Yale on my short list, along with Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. Thought I'd keep the California option open."
Lorelai smiled at the deer in the headlights look on Luke's face and patted his arm gently. "Don't worry. You'll survive. Four years and counting to Senior Year, that's when the fun really starts."
Luke slowly lowered his fork to his plate and reached for his wine glass. "Thanks… a lot."
Lorelai patted his arm again then looked to her mother in an effort to change to subject. "So, no plans for a vacation this year?" she asked. "Don't you always go to Cape Cod for the summer?"
Emily paused to formulate an answer when her husband saved her the need. "As a matter of fact we have spent some time at the Cape."
Lorelai's head snapped in her father's direction. "You've been here for dinner every Friday all summer. What do you do, weekend in Hartford? Isn't that a little backward?"
Emily answered eyes on her plate as she cut her roast beef, "We come back to Hartford for a few days each week so your father can keep tabs on his business."
Sensing that there was more her mother wasn't saying, Lorelai instead turned her attention back to her father. "Really, Dad? Things busier than usual this year?"
Richard glanced up and from across the table. His wife was giving him a look that clearly said answer carefully. "Off and on," he replied with easy nonchalance. The last thing Emily would want their daughter to know was that they had been coming back each week mainly for these dinners.
Lorelai looked back to her mother, not giving up. "Well it's too bad you can't really relax and enjoy the summer."
"I've been enjoying my summer very much, haven't you Richard?" she answered making a clear effort to sound cheerful.
Richard knew that much was riding on his answer. "I have indeed, but perhaps the three of you would like to come out and join us next weekend. I think I could safely stay away from the office for a week."
April quickly latched onto the idea. "Oh, Dad, can we? I've never stayed in Cape Cod, have you?"
Other reactions around the table were less enthusiastic. Emily was stunned, but covered rather well by continuing to concentrate on her dinner. Luke gazed open mouthed at his daughter's reply and Lorelai had been caught chewing and sat silently trying to swallow the lump of carrot that had gotten lodged in her throat.
April gazed at her father waiting for an answer.
"No, but …" Luke looked from Richard to Emily to Lorelai seeking help in any corner. Finding none, he finally addressed Richard, "I … we… wouldn't want to impose."
Emily recovered quickly, her ingrained manners kicking in full force. "Don't be silly. We have guest rooms and I've just had the house we bought last year completely redone. We'd love to have you."
Lorelai reached for her water glass, still trying to keep from choking, her eyes threatening to water.
"It's really a terrific house, and it has quite a good size swimming pool. I seem to recall hearing that you're on a swim team, aren't you April?" Richard asked, clearly enjoying his spur of the moment idea.
"Please, Dad," April appealed, her eyes big and shiny. "It would be great to get some training in before I go back home and I really love the beach."
Luke unable to think of a way out acquiesced reluctantly. "I guess I could put Cesar in charge for a few days."
Emily's gaze was drawn to her daughter as she coughed silently and brought her napkin to her mouth. "Lorelai, are you okay?"
Lorelai's coughs began to sound like coughs. Luke turned and patted her on the back. Finally she got enough air into her lungs to reply. "Yeah… fine," she nodded and dabbed at the tears in the corner of her eyes. "Carrot went down the wrong way."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Richard asked with concern.
Lorelai nodded as she took a tentative sip of water, then she placed the glass down on the table. "Death by carrot, boy that would look bad in the obituary."
"Lorelai, that is not something you joke about," Emily chastised. "Just last month a member of the DAR lost her second cousin to a choking accident."
"That wasn't the same at all," Richard corrected. "The man was over eighty and had already had two strokes." He looked to Luke and Lorelai excitedly, "Do you think you think you both could get away from work for a day or so? It really is a shame to drive all that way for only a day. You should come out on Thursday afternoon and stay through Sunday."
Lorelai looked at Luke. She hoped he would have some sort of objection, but he just shrugged and nodded. She couldn't think of a good reason not to go and she didn't want to offer a lame excuse that her mother would certainly see though. They'd reached a sort of undeclared peace these last couple of months and not stressing every time she heard from her mother was nice. No reason to start something now. "Uh… I guess so... yeah. I'll have to let Sookie and Michel know, but it should be okay."
"Well, that's settled then," Richard declared as he put down his knife and fork and the maid began clearing the dinner dishes from the table.
"Cool," April added with a big smile.
Notes: Very special thanks to UnaVitaSegreta and Melanie for their tireless encouragement, feedback, suggestions, ideas and overall wonderfulness during the creation of this story. I'm sure they're both quite sick of all things Cape Cod related at this point, but this story would not be without them. Thanks to Melanie for her beta/proof reading skills as well. Any remaining mistakes are all my own doing. A big thank yo to Cira too, for your encouragement and feedback. I wish our time zones were more in synch so we could chat more often.