A/N: Today is the 1 year anniversary of the inception of Good at Dating. In keeping with that, here it is, chapter 100, and the final chapter of Middle Management. I would like to thank you all sincerely for your kind words of support, your glowing praise and you're humbling loyalty to this story. I appreciate you all, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in May, Lorelai stood in front of the mirror in their bedroom and turned from side to side, checking her reflection from all angles. She tugged at the skirt of her new blue dress and smiled as she remembered dragging Luke grumbling and complaining to the boutique in Boston where she and Sookie had spied it in the window.
When she stopped on the sidewalk and pointed to it, the look of annoyance on his face melted into a slow smile as he said, "Oh yeah," and pulled her into the store. He stood off to the side, his suit jacket straining at the shoulders as he crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the sales assistant to remove the correct size from the display in the window. Lorelai grinned as she sauntered by him on her way to the fitting room, dress in hand, and teased him about the faint blush that rose in his cheeks when he looked away from the stripped mannequin. The blush was gone, however, when she stepped out of the room to model it for him, replaced by an arrogant smile as his eyes raked over the neckline and he nodded once and said, "We're gonna be late for the lunch thing."
"Wanna be later?" she asked with a cheeky wink.
"We're not missing this," he told her. "But tonight, I think there will be many much celebratory kisses," he promised as he brushed his knuckles against her cheek, using the silly phrase she had coined the night before.
Lorelai's smile softened as the memory faded and she turned to the side, checking her reflection critically. She smoothed the front of the dress over her stomach, and frowned as she scanned her reflection. She saw a pair of dark trousers appear in the frame just before she felt his hands resting lightly on her shoulders. Luke kissed her temple and murmured, "Not yet."
"But it is rounder," she said with a nod.
"Yes," he answered nuzzling her ear as he wrapped his arms around her, smoothing his hands over the slightly convex curve of her firm stomach. "You look incredible," he said softly.
Lorelai smiled as she looked at his hands, sprinkled with dark hair, strong and tan against his snowy white shirt, and marveled at how amazingly sexy they were. These were hands that she knew well. These were the same hands that for years have poured her coffee and served her burgers. The hands that have held her, comforted her, aroused her and pleasured her countless times. Hands that had cradled tiny babies with infinite delicacy seemingly a moment ago, and that, just that week, had begun carving tiny flowers into wood, crafting the headboard for a third crib. Lorelai smiled, knowing that if she lifted one of those hands, she would see the jagged cut on his index finger where the small chisel had slipped, she would feel the rough calluses she caught him surreptitiously rubbing a little sandpaper over to smooth, and she would smell the faint aroma of fresh wood shavings that had become a part of his skin. The scent of Luke was an intoxicating mixture created by the pungent smell of coffee, offset by overly sweet baby lotion, mingled the musky tang of aftershave, and yes, just the faintest hint of meat. She turned in his arms, stroking her fingertips along his jawline as she smiled up at him and said, "You need to finish getting ready, we're going to be late."
"Okay by me," he answered with a playful leer.
Lorelai kissed him, trailing her fingers through his freshly trimmed hair as she said, "Poor Lulu, sitting at the back of the church waiting to get married, but she can't because the best man can't keep his paws to himself."
"You said that if I wore a tuxedo, I'd get lucky," he reminded her.
"Babe, you got lucky before the bag was even unzipped this morning," she said with a laugh.
Luke smiled and said, "Let's hear it for the hormones."
"Let's hear it for the lack of morning sickness," she corrected, and then quickly turned to rap her knuckles against the solid wood of his dresser.
Luke scowled at her and said, "We're not supposed to talk about that."
Lorelai nodded as he released her and reached for the vest that hung on a hanger at the top of the door. "That's right, Mister ThereIsNoSuchThingasFate has changed his tune," she said in a sing song tone.
"I'll take whatever I can get as far as luck this time," Luke said, always well aware that this pregnancy was not far enough along to be a sure thing in his mind.
"And yet, someone has already started a crib," she teased as she watched him shrug into the vest.
"Shh. Let's stop talking about it," he said quickly as he ducked his chin and started fumbling with the buttons.
Lorelai batted his hands away and began fastening them herself. She smiled up at him brightly and said, "Hiya, handsome."
"Flirt," he said gruffly.
"Hottie," she teased.
"Lunatic," he countered.
"Crazy about you," she said as she pushed the last button through its hole and then ran her hands appreciatively over the vest.
"Weddings make you sappy," he said affectionately.
"And babies. This baby is making me very sappy," she said as she placed her hand over her stomach.
Luke brushed her hair back over her shoulder and shook his head pityingly as he said, "Blaming it on the poor baby, you should be ashamed."
"You caught me," Lorelai said with a shrug. "You gonna tell?" she asked as she reached for the knit shawl she had chosen to ward off the spring chill.
"Renting a billboard. A big picture of you with the word 'sap' and an arrow," Luke answered as he took his tuxedo jacket from the hanger.
"In Vermont?" she asked with a smile.
"Where it could only add to the natural beauty of the area," Luke said with a nod.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" she asked as she trailed her fingers along the open collar of his tuxedo shirt, tickling the hollow of his throat, and watching as his adam's apple bobbed.
"I'll put it on when we get there," he said in a low voice.
Lorelai stared at his throat and whispered, "I want to bite," and then clicked her teeth together.
"Later," Luke said as he took her hand in his and pulled her to the door. "We have to get out of here before it's too late," he said as he opened it and stepped out into the hallway.
"They're downstairs, dressed and ready to go," Lorelai told him.
Luke nodded and said, "Okay, let's get this over with," as he headed for the stairs.
"That's what you said on our wedding day, wasn't it?" she asked.
"Yep," he answered.
"Romantic devil," she teased as she nudged his shoulder from behind.
Luke stopped on the landing, looked up with those killer blue eyes as she stood on the step above him and said, "I just couldn't wait to be married to you."
Lorelai laughed as she shook her head and said, "So lucky. You are getting so lucky it'll make your eyes pop out of your head."
Luke shrugged and said, "It's the truth, but I'm open to the luck."
"Open to the what?" she asked quickly, her eyes wide.
"Aw, geez," Luke groaned as he turned and continued down the stairs.
"What letter did that word start with?" she asked as she followed him doggedly.
"Stop," he growled.
"Was it an 'f'? Because it kind of sounded like it might have been," she teased, her heels clicking as she followed him to the living room. "What are you open to, Babe?" she asked with a wide smile.
"Marriage counseling," Luke retorted as they stepped into the living room. He turned and had to school himself not to react when he saw Rory and Jess sitting too close together on the couch, while Jake and Josh systematically unloaded the contents of the toy box under the coffee table. "Do you not see what's happening here?" he snarled at his nephew.
"Yes, they are playing very nicely with each other, you should be proud, Uncle Luke," Jess said drolly.
Lorelai's brow creased as she tried to wrap her head around the picture that they made on the couch. "Uh, Jess, if you're gonna be, uh, doing that," she said as she gestured between him and Rory. "Do you think you can drop the 'Uncle' thing? I feel like we should have banjo accompaniment," she joked with a nervous smile.
Rory frowned at her mother and said, "You said that you and Luke were okay with me and Jess going to the wedding, you know, as a couple."
"I am," Lorelai said quickly. She glanced at Jess and then back at Rory as she said in a more sincere tone, "I am, we are, really. It's just new, so, you know," she trailed off with a shrug.
Jess looked over at Rory out of the corner of his eye and murmured, "No dancing with your hands in my back pockets."
Lorelai turned to look at Luke, who was picking up toys and tossing them back into the box, which the boys were unloading again as fast as they could. "Babe, losing battle, cut your losses and fall back," she told him.
Luke shot each of the boys a playful scowl, which melted into a smile when Josh held out a small plastic Elmo figurine and said, "Da!"
Luke took the figurine and said, "Daddy doesn't like the annoying red furry guy, but thank you," he said pointedly.
"Tank!" Jake echoed.
"Oh my God, that's the cutest thing," Rory said with a laugh.
Lorelai rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah, we can barely get 'Ma' and 'Da' out of them, but 'peas,' tank,' and 'no,' come out just fine."
"It's important to be polite," Luke told them solemnly. He wrapped and arm around each boy and said, "Maybe if I knock their heads together, they'll be more willing to talk," as he lifted them up, smiling at their squeals of approval. "Ready to go see Kirk?" he asked them.
"Kik," Jake said happily as he started to look around the room for Kirk.
"Kik!" Josh demanded, pressing his hand to Luke's face and pushing it away.
"Rejected for Kirk, how sad," Lorelai said with a laugh as she took Josh from him. "Why so mean to Daddy?" she asked him and then pursed her lips. Josh leaned forward allowing her to kiss him, and then smiled at her.
"Momma's boy," Luke grumbled. He looked at Jake and said, "You and me, we're men's men." He looked down and saw that Jake had Rory's old My Little Pony clutched in his hand and said, "Okay, you and me, we need to talk," as he tried to remove it. As soon as he freed the tiny pink and purple horse, Jake began to fuss, shaking his head adamantly as he reached for it desperately.
"Give it up," Rory advised with a smirk as she stood up. "You know not the power of the pony."
"Fine," Luke muttered as he gave the pony back to Jake, who immediately clutched it to his chest, his expression stormy as he scowled at his father.
"I'll get the prissy pram," Jess said with a laugh as he went to haul the stroller from the hall closet.
They wrangled the twins into jackets, and loaded them into the stroller. Luke jerked his head toward the back door and said, "I'll meet you out front."
Jess eyed Lorelai and Rory warily and then said, "I'll help you," as he hurried after Luke.
"Big chicken," Lorelai said with a smirk. She turned back to Rory and said, "Your boyfriend is a big chicken."
"Looks that way," Rory said with a smile.
Lorelai frowned as she asked, "Is he your boyfriend now?"
"We prefer the term 'kissing cousins' actually," Rory said smartly.
"Gah!" Lorelai exclaimed as she covered her face with her hands.
"Mom," Rory started in a worried tone.
Lorelai looked up with a smile and said, "Just teasing you, Kid," as she wrapped her arm around Rory's waist and they started for the front door. "You're good though, right?" she asked.
"I'm good," Rory answered. "And, I think we're going to be a good thing," she said as she nodded to Jess and Luke walking side by side down the driveway.
Lorelai nodded as she pulled the door closed behind them and said, "If there is any truth in that whole genetics thing, then yeah, you will be."
As they walked toward the church, Rory and Jess hung back, strolling slowly behind Lorelai, Luke and the boys, their hands brushing occasionally. Rory glanced over at him and asked, "You ready for our debut?"
"Wasn't planning on doing that curtsey thing," Jess answered, giving her a sidelong glance.
"No," Rory agreed. "Your skirt isn't big enough to do it justice," she told him. They walked along quietly for a moment before she said, "You do look nice."
Jess gave her a crooked smile as he looked over at her a little shyly and said, "You look beautiful."
Color tinged Rory's cheeks as she looked down and then quickly back up at him and said with a pleased smile, "Flattery will get you everywhere, my friend." Their hands brushed again, but this time, Jess wrapped his fingers around hers, giving them a slight squeeze as their hands swung between them.
The church was packed when they got there. Lorelai left the stroller parked in the vestibule and she and Rory carried the boys in to find a seat while Luke reluctantly went to find Kirk. As she scanned the rows of people, Lorelai spotted Babette as she tried to wave to them over the crowd, but lost sight of her. A moment later, Morey popped up, his hand beckoning to them far above the masses. Lorelai led the way, smiling and exchanging greetings as they moved up the aisle. When they reach the pew, she saw that it was empty, save for Emily and Richard, sitting stoically at the other end of the bench. "Hi, dolls! We figured ya might be runnin' a bit behind, so we saved ya some spots," she said in her raspy voice.
"Thanks, Babette," Lorelai said as she nodded for Rory and Jess to precede her into the row behind Babette's. She smiled when she saw Jake practically launch himself from Rory's arms to his grandmother's waiting embrace and said to Babette, "It took us a while to get everyone ready."
Babette smiled and winked as she nudged Lorelai in the ribs and said, "I bet it did. Looks good, huh?"
Lorelai laughed and said, "Looks very good, but sadly, it's these guys that eat up the pre-party primping time. Isn't that right, Pretty Boy?" she asked Josh.
Josh smiled and spotting Babette, leaned in, offering himself to her for the taking. "Aw, you come with me, you gorgeous thing, you," Babette cooed as she reached for him. She settled Josh on her hip and said, "I meant to tell ya the other day when I saw ya, they're really starting to look more like you now," she said as she reared back to look at Josh.
"You think?" Lorelai asked, wrinkling her nose as she looked at Josh closely.
"Well, not Josh as much as Jakey," Babette conceded.
"Jake? Really?" Lorelai asked incredulously.
"You probably don't see it as much, seein' as how you look at 'em every day," Babette said with a nod. "Hey, Patty!" she screeched down the row to where Patty sat fanning herself between Taylor and a very pregnant looking Gypsy. When Patty looked up, she smiled as she spotted Lorelai and waggled her fingers. "Which one you think looks more like Lorelai?" Babette demanded, her voice carrying over the polite hum of the assembled guests.
Patty turned in her seat, smiling at Richard and Emily as she glanced at Jake and then back down the row at Josh. "Oh, it's definitely Jacob. He has his mother's eyes," she said with a nod. "But Josh, he has your personality, dear," she called to Lorelai. She turned back to Jake and said, "You, my sweet boy, are a lovable crank, like your father."
"Oh!" Emily said, and caught Jake as he suddenly lunged forward. "I think he wants you," Emily said to Patty.
"All the boys do, dear," Patty said as she closed her fan. She tapped it against Taylor's shoulder as she said, "Hold this," and reached back to take Jake from Emily.
Babette nodded to the pew and said, "Go ahead, sit down, Sugah. I got this one," she said as she beamed at Josh.
"And that will be the last we see of them all day," Lorelai muttered as she sat down next to Jess. She leaned forward, holding the back of the seat in front of them as she said, "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Glad that you could come," she added with a smile.
Emily leaned forward too and said, "Well, we had to come, Lorelai, your father hosted the bachelor night. Although, how that came about, I'll never know," she said as she rolled her eyes. "Don't they have any ushers for this ceremony?" she hissed. "This is bedlam," she said with shocked disbelief.
Lorelai shrugged and said, "That's Kirk and Lulu. You can bet that the reception will be timed and orchestrated with Swiss precision, though," she said with a smile.
Emily shook her head and sat back again, only to lean forward a moment later. "How are you feeling?" she asked Lorelai.
Lorelai smiled and said, "I feel great. You should see my date, he's very handsome."
Emily nodded as a door at the side of the vestibule opened and said, "I believe I'm about to be able to judge that for myself."
They watched as two men, who assumedly were a couple of Kirk's brothers filed out, followed by Luke, who was busily shooting the cuffs of his tuxedo shirt out from under his jacket, and avoiding looking at the congregation. A moment later, Reverend Skinner appeared with his hand firmly clamped onto the shoulder of one extremely pasty Kirk Gleason. "Uh oh," Lorelai murmured.
Josh smiled at her over Babette's shoulder and whispered back, "Ut oh."
Lorelai smiled at him and whispered, "That's right, uh oh." She turned to Jess and said, "Five bucks says he doesn't even make it to the vows."
Jess snorted and said, "No way, sucker bet."
"We're here, we're here!" Sookie said as she wriggled into the pew next to Lorelai and sat down with a huff.
"Breathe, or we may have more than one fainter on our hands," Lorelai said as she waved to Jackson and Davy.
"Someone fainted and I missed it?" Sookie asked in an injured tone as she looked around.
"Not yet, keep an eye on the groom, though," Lorelai said as she nodded to Kirk.
Sookie gasped when she saw him and said, "Oh! Poor Kirk!" She smirked at Lorelai and said, "I hope that Luke has good reflexes."
"Kik!" Josh cried happily as he climbed onto Morey's lap and spotted Kirk standing next to Luke. "Kik!" he called again, waving both arms.
"Kirk is busy, Sweetie," Sookie murmured to Josh. She glanced over at Lorelai and said with a giggle, "Busy trying not to pass out."
"Shh," Lorelai said with a giggle of her own. "That would be awful. Poor Lulu," she said sadly.
Kirk leaned slightly toward Luke and murmured something which earned him a swift elbow to the ribs, and caused Kirk to stand up a little straighter. "That's right, Luke, whip that boy into shape," Sookie muttered as she stifled a laugh.
"Okay, never refer to my husband, Kirk and whips all in the same sentence again," Lorelai said darkly as the music changed and the processional began.
They watched as two of Lulu's cousins glided down the aisle in pink chiffon bridesmaids gowns with the traditional butt bow. Lorelai tried to hide her smirk as she watched them pass, and out of the corner of her eye, saw Luke gazing at her intently. She turned to look at him and saw him swallow hard as his eyes stayed locked on her. Lorelai smiled at him warmly, knowing that he was getting a little choked up, and winked saucily. Luke smiled that smile he saved just for her, the one that crinkled his eyes, and flashed a shy dimple. The one that still made her heart turn over in her chest. She felt a blush warming her cheeks as she heard Sookie say in a low voice, "Oh. My. God. No way," she whispered.
"What?" Lorelai asked, snapping out of her Luke induced trance.
"Look at who the maid of honor is," Sookie said as she nodded to the doorway.
"Matron," Lorelai corrected automatically as Kirk's mother started slowly down the aisle, her pink dress setting off her gunmetal grey hair beautifully, while the butt bow at the back of her dress proved to be a wholly inadequate distraction. As she took her place on the other side of the altar, she turned to fix Kirk with a steely glare. He immediately stood up ramrod straight and clasped his hands coolly in front of him as he turned his attention to the double doors at the back of the church, his shoulders back, his chin up, essentially, a whole new man. A small burst of laughter erupted before Lorelai could capture it with her hand. She nudged Sookie gently and pointed subtly at Kirks' mother as she whispered, "That's Luke's date!" causing them both to dissolve into giggles.
"Girls, really," Emily admonished in a harsh whisper.
Lorelai leaned over and whispered what she had just said to Sookie into Jess' ear and than said, "Pass it on," as she gestured to Rory.
She watched the smiles bloom as the observation carried down the length of the pew, and then turned to catch Luke's quizzical look as he noticed the entire row grinning at him madly. As the organist laid into Lohengrin, the congregation rose and turned to find Lulu poised and resplendent on her father's arm. "Oh!" Sookie cried as she began waving her hand madly in front of her eyes.
"Lulu," Lorelai sighed as she pressed her balled fingers to her lips.
"Kleenex, Kleenex," Rory hissed as she started digging in her bag for the small package of tissues that she had grabbed, just in case. She passed them to Jess, who looked at them with a perplexed frown before she grabbed his arm and whispered, "Two pregnant women, one pew. You wanna hang onto those any longer?" she asked with a nod at Lorelai and Sookie.
Jess quickly handed the package to Lorelai as if it was a hot potato, and turned with the rest of the crowd as Lulu passed them on her way to meet her groom. When Reverend Skinner motioned for them to be seated, Jess sank down onto the pew with an already exhausted sigh. He looked over at Rory and said dryly, "You had so better be worth this."
Rory smiled brilliantly and tugged his hand down onto the seat between them as she said, "I totally am."
Emily caught the movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned her head sharply as she saw Rory lace her fingers through Jess' but kept them resting on the bench. She leaned back, glaring at Lorelai's profile until she was sure that her gaze would burn holes into her daughter's skin.
As Lorelai listened to Reverend Skinner greet the assembled guests, she suddenly began to feel hot. She lifted her hand and brushed her hair back from her neck, tucking a hunk of it behind her ear, and letting her fingers trail along her neck as she debated asking Patty if she could borrow her fan. She looked over at Patty to see that Jake had called dibs on the fan and was happily gnawing away at it. She looked down at the back of the pew, hoping for a stray bulletin or something to move the air, when she discovered the source of the unnatural heat. She shook her head in shock as she noticed Emily's glare, and leaned back as she mouthed, "What?" to her mother.
Emily lowered her head and dropped her eyes to the space between Rory and Jess meaningfully as she once again returned her glare to Lorelai. "Stop that," Lorelai mouthed. "Later," she promised without making a sound.
Emily pursed her lips tightly and turned her attention back to the ceremony as Rory and Jess sat oblivious to the entire exchange. Lorelai did the same, smiling as she realized the Reverend Skinner seemed to be speaking unnaturally fast. She looked over at Sookie, who nodded and whispered, "Fainter pace."
There was a collective sigh of relief when after the vows were spoken, Kirk placed a chaste kiss on Lulu's lips and then smiled exultantly when he realized that he had made it to the finish line. Jubilant, he grabbed Lulu and bent her over backwards, planting one on her that make even Miss Patty murmur admiringly, "Oh my."
Lorelai smiled as she watched Luke turn away, squeezing his eyes shut like a small boy at the lavish display of affection, and made a mental note to make his toes tingle later. They stood for the recessional, and Lorelai gave Luke a lurid wink and a 'thumbs up' as he passed by with Mrs. Gleason on his arm. The assembled guests filed into the aisles amidst a hum of self congratulations at having successfully seen another Stars Hollow couple married off. Lorelai was swept off in the crowd, separated from the others as she looked around frantically, trying to spot whom might be holding the twins. She turned her head from side to side, trying to see over the milling crowd, and ran straight into a solid wall of chest as Luke fought his way upstream. "Are you lost?" Luke asked in an amused voice.
Lorelai placed her hands on his lapels to steady herself on her heels and then said, "I'm not, but your sons have been abducted."
Luke craned is neck as they let the guests stream around them. "I see one," he told her. "Hard to tell which from here, but Andrew has him," he reported as he nodded to the side aisle.
"Okay, must be Jake because there's Josh," she said as she pointed above the crowd to point out Josh riding atop Morey's shoulders.
Luke blinked and asked, "Wow, how'd we miss that?"
"We weren't looking up," she told him as she took his hand. "Let's wait outside," she suggested, and led him to the front of the church.
When they stepped out into the bright spring sunlight, Luke shielded his eyes with his hand and said, "Well, he made it."
"It was touch and go for a minute though," Lorelai said with a laugh. She smiled up at him and touched the bright pink rose on his lapel and said, "Pretty pink flower." When Luke reached up and began to unpin the boutonnière, Lorelai stopped him and said, "Not until after pictures."
"You're getting too much pleasure from this," he grumbled.
"You enjoy pleasuring me," she answered with a smug smile.
Luke smirked as he raised one eyebrow and said, "This would not be my first choice of how to do it."
"You wanna do it?" she asked innocently as she waved to people passing by.
"Yes," he answered as he caught her by the waist and pulled her a little closer. "Crowded," he said with a sly smile.
"Yes," she said as she hooked one hand behind his shoulder and hung onto him. She looked over at Kirk and Lulu standing on the sidewalk smiling, shaking hands and receiving kisses of congratulations and said, "She looks so happy."
Luke nodded and said, "Too pretty for that freak, but she seems to want him."
"She's a breathtaking bride," Lorelai said admiringly.
Luke nodded and said, "Yes, but I've seen prettier," as he turned to look at her.
"Really?" she asked coquettishly.
"Marry me," he whispered in her ear.
"Alrighty," she said with a wide smile as she leaned into him. "I saw you getting all verklempt up there," she teased.
"All I could see was you," he said in a low voice.
"I am going to rock your world," she promised softly.
"You already do," he said with a pleased smile as he rubbed soft circles on the back of her dress.
"We got separated!" Babette screeched as they approached.
"Mam!" Josh said as he reached down for her.
"Sure, you couldn't wait to ditch me before," Lorelai reminded him as she reached up to take him from Morey's shoulders.
"Aw, he's fickle," Babette said with a wave of her hand.
"Got a heck of a grip," Morey said as he straightened his ever present sunglasses.
"Pitcher," Luke said as Josh reached out to gingerly touch the rose on his father's lapel. "Careful," Luke warned as he caught Josh's hand and gave his fingers an absent kiss before looking around for Andrew and Jake.
"Oh my God, I could gobble him up!" Babette said as she stared up at Luke.
"He's pretty cute," Luke answered distractedly as he scanned the crowd, causing Lorelai and Babette to giggle. "What?" he demanded.
"I think she meant you, Babe, but you're both pretty cute," Lorelai said with a grin.
"Cute, hell," Babette hissed. "He should come with a warnin' label. One look and boom! You're pregnant!" she said loudly.
"Ah, geez," Luke groaned as he took Josh from Lorelai's arms. "I'm goin' to find Jake," he muttered as he moved away, weaving his way through the crowd. Lorelai smiled when she heard him asked Josh, "Who the hell are all these people, anyway?"
"Seriously, Doll, how are you feelin'?" Babette asked.
"I feel good," Lorelai said with a nod, not wanting to get into specifics because she shared Luke's somewhat superstitious views on the subject. At this point, Lorelai regretted the giddy outburst in the diner, wishing that she had told Luke in private, so that they could keep the news just to themselves for a while. "Hey, Gypsy is huge," Lorelai said wide eyed. "Are they sure it's not twins?" she asked Babette as a diversion.
"Poor thing," Babette said as she shook her head. "They say it's just one, but judgin' by her ankles, that's gonna be one hell of a baby," she said as she held her arms out broadly.
"They have to have miscalculated her due date," Lorelai murmured as she spotted her mother approaching, her lips drawn in a grim line of determination.
"She looks like she could blow at any time," Babette said with a nod.
"Yeah, no kidding. Hey, you know, speaking of bun bakers, I'm gonna go find Sookie," she said as she gestured vaguely over her shoulder and turned to flee.
"Lorelai Victoria! Don't you dare try to walk away from me," Emily called after her.
Lorelai groaned and closed her eyes as she turned back to face her mother. She smiled brightly and said, "Hi Mom. Wow, nice wedding, huh? Lulu looked so beautiful, and the bridesmaid's dresses, wow!" she rambled, ending with a nervous laugh.
Emily stared at her incredulously and demanded, "Are Rory and Jess dating?"
Lorelai took a deep breath and then said, "Well, you know, that depends on how you define dating. I mean, does he pick her up at the house, and take her to the movies and kiss her goodnight at the door, dating? Or the whole talk on the phone until 3am spilling our innermost secrets kind of dating," she hedged.
"Well?" Emily demanded, placing her hand on her hip as she waited for a real answer.
"Well, um, yes, I guess. I don't really know," Lorelai answered hesitantly.
"What do you mean you don't know, you're her mother!" Emily exclaimed.
Lorelai took Emily's arm and said, "Let's go stake out a good table," as she pulled her away from the crowd.
"Do you approve of this? Does Luke? They're practically brother and sister," Emily hissed.
"Mom, please," Lorelai muttered as she glanced over her shoulder to be sure that no one had heard.
"I demand to know what is happening, Lorelai," Emily said imperiously.
"I'll tell you, if you'll just calm down," Lorelai said through gritted teeth.
"How long has this been going on?" Emily asked. "What could she possibly be thinking?" Emily cried.
Lorelai dropped her mother's arm and leaned in close as she said in a low voice, "She might be thinking that he's good for her. She might be thinking that he's a guy who already loves her for who she is and what she wants to be, not who she is when she's with him or what everyone expects her to be," she hissed. She sighed as she looked down at her too high heels and said, "I'm not really sure, but that would be my guess." She nodded to the gazebo and said, "Let's go sit down."
Emily paused, realizing that she must be upsetting Lorelai, and got a grip on her emotions. "Yes, let's sit down," she said in a calmer tone.
When they reached the gazebo, Lorelai sat on one of the worn wooden benches and watched as Emily pulled a tissue from her bag and carefully dusted the seat before she took her place next to Lorelai. "I'll tell you what I know, but I want you to be quiet and listen," Lorelai said firmly. When Emily pressed her lips together and nodded, Lorelai took a deep breath and said, "A couple of months ago, when I was in Boston, Jess came to Luke and told him that he was leaving Stars Hollow. When Luke pressed him on the reason why, it eventually came out that Rory had kissed Jess, and he figured that he had to leave town or Luke was going to kill him," she said with a wry smile.
"Now, I don't know what happened, or what spurred the whole chain of events, but I do know this, Rory and Jess are very close, very good friends. I don't think that either of them particularly welcomed this new, uh, dynamic that evolved between them," Lorelai told Emily frankly. "When I got home from Boston, I went to New Haven to spend a day with Rory, and eventually I got her to talk to me about it. They are both very aware of how people will perceive their relationship, but the fact of the matter is that up until a little over four years ago, we didn't even know that Jess existed. We have all come to think of Jess as family, and he is Luke's family," she conceded. "But, he's really not Rory's," she said gently.
"This is the first time that they have been out together as a couple," she explained. "They aren't trying to hide it, but they don't want to flaunt it, or have a lot of attention drawn to them," she said sternly. "They have been talking for the last couple of months, giving themselves time and space to get past whatever happened with Logan and Cara, and to figure out this new thing that is happening between them," she said with a nod.
"And you and Luke approve of this?" Emily asked in a bewildered tone.
Lorelai smiled uncomfortably and said, "We don't disapprove." She chuckled a little and said, "Now I know how Rory felt when Luke and I started dating. He was already so much a part of our lives, and then, all of a sudden, there he was; cooking dinner in our kitchen, sharing Christmas with us, going to Friday night dinner," she said as she gestured to Emily. "Here was this guy who used to unofficially keep an eye on her for me while she did her homework in the diner after school, slip her free pieces of pie, and talk to her about the books she was reading, and then bam! He turns into the guy who's kissing her mother goodnight at the door," she said with a rueful smile.
"Yes," Emily said softly as she nodded her understanding.
"We're not real comfortable with it," Lorelai admitted with a grimace. "It's weird for us. We refer to them as the kids, like they're both our kids, and in a way, they are," she admitted. "But, Mom, they're not kids. They're adults, with adult thoughts and adult feelings," she said with a shrug. "They're trying to sort out their feelings in an adult way, because they are both very much aware of the ramifications if it doesn't work out," she said earnestly. "If they had rushed headlong into this, and were making out under every lamp post in town, it would be a different story," she said with a laugh. "If we thought it was a case of hormones run amok, we'd be screaming at the tops of our lungs, but it's not," she finished softly. "It's more than that, and how do you stop that?" she asked helplessly. "Why would you want to?"
Emily looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap and quietly asked, "Why indeed?" She cleared her throat softly and said, "They do care for each other a great deal."
"They are good friends," Lorelai said softly.
Emily smiled as she glanced over at Lorelai and said, "That's a good place to start, isn't it?"
"It is," Lorelai agreed.
"He wants to stay here, she wants to go," Emily said worriedly.
Lorelai nodded and said, "Yeah, I think about that too. But, they have a little time to figure that out."
Emily was quiet as she turned and watched the wedding guests meandering their way over to the square. She saw Luke in his rented tuxedo carrying Josh and fighting to keep the little boy's hands off it the pink rose pinned to his coat. Walking next to him was Richard, tall and distinguished in his suit, taking small cautious steps behind Jake as he toddled across the grass. She saw Sookie walking with Jackson, who had Davy on his shoulders, the toddler clinging tightly to his father's forehead as Sookie's hand rested on her rounded stomach. She turned her head to the right and smiled as she saw Andrew doggedly trying to follow Gypsy as she waddled to the closest table and collapsed heavily into a chair. Her attention was caught by a burst of raucous laughter and she immediately smiled as she said Patty holding forth in the center of a knot of townspeople that Emily recognized from various functions. And straggling behind, walking slowly together, close but not quite touching, were Rory and Jess. She watched her granddaughter tilt her head as she thought about whatever it was he had murmured to her and then replied to him with a sassy smile. Even from a distance, she saw the slow smile that lit his eyes before it curved his mouth and knew that somehow as wrong as it might seem on the surface, perhaps deep down, it was right.
She turned back to Lorelai and said confidently, "He won't hold her back."
Lorelai shook her head and said, "No, he won't. And maybe, just maybe, she can make him feel strong enough to go," she added with a smile.
Emily nodded and said, "If anyone can, it would be Rory."
"Well, isn't this a picture?" Richard called as he swung Jake up into his arms and smiled at Emily and Lorelai. "I ask you, my boy, have you ever seen two more bewitching creatures?" he asked Luke.
Luke smiled at Lorelai and said, "Not since Endora lifted the spell." He climbed the steps of the gazebo and said with a shrug, "Of course, I may have been the other Darren then, you never know." He set Josh down on his feet and asked, "Okay, ladies' man, which one are you calling dibs on?"
"I get the redhead," Richard said quickly.
"I wasn't asking you," Luke called back to him. He squatted down to be sure that the zipper on Josh's jacket was pulled up high enough and said, "We may have to arm wrestle for the one in the blue dress." Josh walked over to Emily and buried his face in her lap, but looked up at his mother flirtatiously.
"Oh man, what's a girl to do?" Lorelai asked with a laugh.
"I called dibs on that one," Richard said to Josh as he sat down next to Emily.
Luke stood up and hooked a thumb over his shoulder and said, "I have to go take the stupid pictures."
Lorelai smiled as she stood up and reached to adjust his tie. "Be sure to keep that sneer on your face, we'll see if it actually can freeze that way," she teased.
"I'm starving," Luke said as he rubbed his hand over his vest.
Emily laughed and said, "You know, I don't think I have ever heard Luke actually say that he was hungry."
"He's sympathy eating," Lorelai said with a smirk. "Usually he just eats when he's told to," she said as she pecked a kiss to his lips and then carefully wiped the gloss away with the pad of her thumb.
Luke licked his lips and then said, "Strawberry? Way to be a tease."
Lorelai laughed and said, "Go smile pretty, Burger Boy, and I'll see what I can do to snag you a snack."
Luke nodded and gave her arm a gentle squeeze as he said, "I'll be right back."
Two hours later, the buffet had been demolished, the cake had just been cut and smooshed, Babette and Morey volunteered to take the twins home with them, and Lorelai and Rory sat at a table with their heads together, trying to make a list of every wedding cliché that had worked its way into Lulu's special day. They heard a faint squeal of feedback from a microphone and looked up just as Luke cleared his throat nervously and said, "Excuse me. Uh, I'm told that as Best Man I have to give a toast, and if you don't mind, I'd just as soon get it over with," he said with a nervous laugh.
Lorelai sat back with a grin and said, "Oh, he's a charmer alright, my man."
Luke grimaced a little as the guests chuckled and then said somewhat shyly, "First of all, um, I know that Lorelai likes me to say these things only to her, but today, I don't think she'll mind if I tell you that you look beautiful, Lulu." He paused for a moment while there was a round of wolf whistles and applause from the guests. Luke nodded and said, "You're a sweet girl, and why you let this pinhead within a hundred miles of you, I'll never know, but there you go. I will tell you that if he doesn't do everything humanly possible to make you happy, then you come and see me, and I will personally break in his body." He looked at Kirk sternly and asked, "You got me?"
Kirk chuckled as he propped his elbow on the back of his chair and with a wave of his hand said to the crowd, "He's kidding, we're really good friends."
"I'm not kidding, Kirk," Luke said quickly.
When the guests laughed again, he started to feel a little more at ease. He reached up and smoothed his hand nervously over the back of his hair as he avoided looking at Lorelai and said, "I was reminded recently that in the big picture, I haven't been married very long, so I'm probably not the best person to be giving advice. I will tell you what a very wise woman once told me," he said with a nod. "Marriage is hard, no matter how much you love each other. Lots and lots of work," he said with a chuckle as he glanced quickly at Lorelai and then looked away. "I'll be the first to admit, that I don't always manage it very well, but I am trying," he said with a shrug. "All I can tell you is that it's a little easier if you marry your best friend," he said as his eyes finally met Lorelai's. "Easier if you can make each other laugh, even when you're mad, if you can share a smile, even when you feel like crying, and if you can find that person that you're willing to work with for the rest of your life, then you have a reason to get up in the morning, because they're counting on you to hold up your end of the bargain, just like you're counting on them," he said, his voice dropping a little lower.
He took a deep breath and turned to look at Lulu and Kirk as he said, "Lorelai told me when we got married, that it was just the beginning of our middle together. I didn't really understand what she meant, because you know she is, and it has taken me a while to figure it all out, because you know how I am," he said with a chuckle. He smiled as he looked down at Lorelai and said, "She was right. Please raise your glasses to Kirk and Lulu, I hope that your middle is long and happy," he said simply.
"To Kirk and Lulu!" the crowd echoed.
Rory snatched a napkin from the table, turned to Lorelai with a smile and said, "Wipe your eyes, Weepy McWeeperson."
"He's so damn sweet sometimes," Lorelai said with a watery smile.
"Gives me a toothache," Jess said with a smirk.
"Hush you," Rory admonished with a swipe of her hand.
Jess shook his head and said, "I'll let you have your sobfest, I'm gonna go get us some fresh drinks. Sprite and Cranberry, Lorelai?" he asked.
"Please," she said in a choked voice.
"Geez," Jess muttered as he stood up and made his way to the bar. As he waited in line, Luke turned away from the front of the line holding a bottle of beer and a glass of Sprite with cranberry juice. Jess jerked his chin at it and said, "One less glass for me to carry. Nice speech, your wife is in tears," he reported.
Luke smirked and said, "Not much of a novelty these days."
"So I see," Jess answered.
Luke shifted from one foot to the other as he asked, "How's the date going?"
Jess chuckled and said, "Well, considering that we're spending the evening with her mother, her insanely overprotective step-father, her baby brothers and her grandparents all watching us like hawks, I'd say it's going fairly well."
"Sorry," Luke said with a grimace.
Jess shook his head as the line moved forward again and said, "Don't be. If it were any other guy, I'd be right there with you."
Luke nodded and bumped Jess lightly on the arm with his beer bottle and said, "That's why it's not some other guy."
Jess nodded and said, "Well, I got that goin' for me, which is nice, I think."
"Doesn't mean I won't beat you to a bloody pulp," Luke warned.
"Got it," Jess confirmed.
"The only difference is the same goes for her too," Luke said with a shrug.
"You'll beat her?" Jess asked with raised eyebrows.
Luke shook his head and said, "Nah, can't hit girls. I'll think of something else, though."
"I appreciate that," Jess said as he nodded slowly.
Luke jerked his head toward the DJ set up and said, "I gotta go take care of something."
Jess smirked and said, "And I have a powerful thirst."
Luke shook his head as he turned toward the table where Lane and Zach had a small mountain of audio equipment set up and hurried over to them. He set the drinks down on the table as he conferred with Lane. She handed him a couple of CDs that she chose from the rack and waited patiently as he scanned the contents. He pointed to a song on the back of one of the cases and then spoke into Lane's ear. She smiled and then nodded enthusiastically as she turned to search through the racks again. She pulled another case out and held it up with a triumphant smile.
Luke nodded as he picked up their drinks and finally made his way over to the table. He was just sitting down as Mrs. Gleason was finishing up her toast by giving Lulu exact instructions as to how much starch she should use on Kirk's underwear. His eyes widened as he finally tuned in and then whispered to Lorelai, "Is she talking about what I think she's talking about?"
Lorelai nodded as she shushed him and said, "The care and feeding of Kirk."
Mrs. Gleason took a deep breath and delivered the final instruction of, "And make sure he eats his crusts, there are children starving in Africa."
There was a smattering of polite applause as she returned to the table she shared with the newlyweds. Lorelai turned to her mother excitedly and asked, "Did you get it?"
Emily smiled with glee as she said excitedly, "My Gregg is rusty, but I believe I captured most of it," as she nodded to the cocktail napkin she had been busily writing on. She held it up to show them a series of symbols written in a precise hand.
Lorelai thrust a fist into the air as she called, "Score! I'll expect a full transcript typed and emailed to me," she added sternly.
"I think I may have to ask for a copy of the video," Emily said with a satisfied smile as she tucked the napkin carefully into her handbag.
Luke leaned over to Richard and asked, "Did she take notes on Mrs. Gleason's speech?"
Richard clapped Luke on the back and said, "Don't worry, she got yours too, son."
"Great," Luke grumbled as he took a sip of his beer. He nudged Lorelai and asked, "Can I lose the tie now?"
"Yes, you may disrobe," Lorelai said with a grin. "Oh!" she cried as she jostled Rory's arm and pointed to something on another table.
Luke quickly unhooked the bow tie and then opened the top two studs on the tuxedo shirt. As he shrugged out of his jacket, the rose pinned to his lapel caught his eye and he quickly removed it. Twirling the boutonnière between his fingers he leaned closer to Lorelai as she and Rory added another item to their growing list of clichés. "Hey," he said in a low voice. When Lorelai looked over at him he held the flower up and said, "Be my girl?"
She smiled radiantly and said, "Sure," as she reached for the rose. Luke moved his hand away, pulling the rose from her reach as he shook his head mutely. When she cocked her head at him, he smiled and tucked it into her hair just over her ear. Lorelai reached up to touch it gingerly and said, "I don't know if it will stay."
"I'll keep an eye on it," he told her softly.
Lorelai smiled as the opening bars of an old Anne Murray song began to play over the sound system. Her eyes widened as she watched Lulu lead Kirk to the center of the dance floor and said, "Oh no, number thirty seven, Rory."
She turned and tapped her fingernail on the list they had been making, only to hear her husband say a minute later, "It's a nice song," as Anne asked if they could share that dance for the rest of her life.
Lorelai turned to him incredulously and said, "It's cheesy."
"Says the sappiest in all the land," he countered.
Lorelai leaned over and kissed him softly as she whispered, "I think you've got me beat."
"Next few songs are ours," he told her. "I have an in with the DJ."
Lorelai nodded and said, "Threatened her job, huh?"
Luke smiled and said, "Didn't have to."
Lorelai's smile widened as she said, "Okay, but we can't stay too long, Babette and Morey are probably worn out."
"Just a dance or two," Luke said with a shrug.
"As long as I can dance barefoot," she qualified.
"That's fine with me, they're your toes," he answered as he sat back and waited for the first dance to end.
As the guests applauded the couple of the day, Luke saw Lane look over at their table and nod. He stood up, offered Lorelai his hand, and asked, "May I?" Lorelai placed her fingers daintily in his palm as Nat King Cole began to croon, 'The Very Thought of You,' and followed him onto the dance floor.
Richard smiled at Emily and said, "Excellent song. Shall we?"
"If you'd like," Emily said demurely as she allowed him to help her from her chair and took his arm as he escorted her from the table. Once they were on the floor, Richard pulled her close, and Emily pressed her cheek against his shoulder with a contented smile.
Jess looked over and watched Rory watching the couples moving easily around the dance floor with a smile. He rubbed his palms on the front of his pants nervously and said softly, "I'm not good at that, but we could try if you wanted."
Rory turned to him, her smile warm as she reached for his hand under the table and said, "That's okay; let's just let them show us how it's done."
Luke held Lorelai close, the scent of her shampoo teasing him as he led her easily, humming softly along with the song. "You know all of the good songs," she said with a sigh, toying with the ends of his hair as she stroked his neck.
"Caroline," he said softly.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"My mother's name, Caroline," he said in a deep voice.
Lorelai nodded and said, "Yes, that's a very good name for a girl."
"Caroline Emily. If it's a girl," Luke added quickly.
Lorelai snuggled a little closer to him and said, "A little soon to take bets on it, but I have a good feeling."
"Me too," he said with quiet confidence.
The song segued into '(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons' and they continued to dance without missing a beat. Lorelai smiled as she spied her parents dancing on the other side of the floor, and then turned her head to see Jackson and Sookie swaying slowly without moving their feet, Jackson bent over to accommodate the roundness of her belly.
Lorelai saw one of Lulu's cousin's kids lead her father by the hand to the dance floor, and nodded for Luke to take a look. They turned their heads to watch as the little girl of no more than five waited patiently for her father to come to a stop before she stepped up onto his shoes, her white patent Mary Janes small specs against his shiny wingtips. "Oh," Lorelai sighed softly as she glanced over at Richard for a moment and then back at the couple that had captured their attention. She watched Luke as he took in the little girl's glossy brown hair, which had been carefully curled into ringlets, that danced over her shoulders. Sensing her gaze, he looked back at Lorelai with a small smile, blushing slightly in the cool spring air. As the song began to slow to an end, Luke wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her easily as he whispered, "Step up on my shoes."
"I'll crush you," Lorelai protested as she touched her toes to the tops of his shoes.
"I'll manage," he assured her. "The next song is just for you. Step up on my shoes," he said soft and low in her ear. As he lowered her to the tops of his shoes, still holding her weight in his arms, Luke smiled and said, "I need the practice," as the opening strains of 'You're Havin' My Baby,' echoed across the square mingling with the sound of Lorelai's gleeful laughter.
Somewhere in the Middle - The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return.