A/N: I switched around my carefully planned rotation because this story is eating away at me. Your reactions to it are so interesting, and all of the feedback I've gotten is so wonderful, thank you! Here's yet another thank you to all of you for reading, reviewing, and caring enough to rant when you review. It shows I'm doing something right! And thank you to R.M. Jackson for letting me escape from Starbucks while I was writing this chapter, just to avoid the guy who was about to sing a drinking song. Oh, and the beta was appreciated too.


"No."

"Mom, I need Luke's coffee. I'd hate for you to realize how much I needed it after I shrivel up and blow away, because then you'd live the rest of your life, hating yourself for being in a stupid fight with Luke!"

"Rory, no. I'm not going to make up with him. He hurt me, Rory. Things just don't work out in that way. You can't just randomly appear after a fight and expect everything to be the way it was before it happened. We'll get coffee at Weston's like we do every other time."

"What makes this time different from the other times?" Rory asked. "Every other time you bust your way through the door, pout, and bat your eyelashes and he's eating out of the palm of your hand! I have a Chemistry exam today. I need my coffee. If we can get Weston's coffee, which is clearly a sign of your transition into 'post fight' mode why can't you go by the rest of your normal 'post fight' routine?"

Lorelai and Rory stood across the street from Luke's diner. Rory stared longingly into the window, begging her mother to give up whatever animosity she had toward Luke, while Lorelai tried desperately to ignore the guilty feeling in the pit of her stomach. Somehow, she knew that this fight wouldn't be a fight where she and Luke could go on with their friendship as if everything was normal. No matter how many times she apologized, Lorelai knew that because they got their love lives involved in this spat, things would be different.

The throbbing in her forehead refused to cease as she stood and watched the activity in the diner from far away. She stared into the window and watched as Luke walked back and forth, serving his customers that came for the breakfast rush. She stared into the window and watched as Luke and Kirk fought back and forth regarding Kirk's breakfast order. It was pancake day for Kirk, Lorelai mused. He was probably debating whether to ask for chocolate chip, blueberry, or blueberry chocolate chip.

As she watched, and tuned out Rory's pleas to go across the street and break the ice, Lorelai realized that she was just as much to blame as Luke was. Lorelai felt terrible for treating Luke the way she had, and it wasn't the need for coffee that swayed her opinion. Lorelai's thoughts were interrupted as her daughter pulled her toward the small bakery across the street.

"Mom, I'm sorry that you and Luke got in a fight, but I'm sixteen years old and going through coffee withdrawal symptoms. You don't want me to search for other alternatives, I'm sure, so let's head to Weston's and get ourselves the second best cup of coffee in Stars Hollow."

Lorelai allowed Rory to pull her toward Weston's but made her disapproval known. "Rory, hon, I don't want to go to Weston's, but I don't want to go to Luke's either."

"Well, missy, you need to make a decision. Is it going to be awkward Lorelai trying to awkwardly make up with Luke, causing Rory to awkwardly walk into Chilton late? Or is it going to be caffeinated Lorelai and caffeinated Rory discussing how to make things better with Luke when you two are ready? The second seems like a win-win situation to me, but hey, who am I to judge?"

Groaning, Lorelai started the walk to Weston's. If it involved a plan to make things better with Luke, even if they were only a little better, she was all for it. Rory was awfully forceful in the 'getting Lorelai and Luke to make up' department.

"Is the coffee at Luke's that good that you're willing to scheme and pull us together again?"

"My motives may be selfish, but yes," Rory replied. "Do I have to do my best Vanna White impression to get you to go in?"

"I have forgotten how good Luke's coffee is," she said after a dramatic pause.

"Then you and Luke need to make up. Pronto."

Lorelai bit her lower lip. She wished it was that simple, but of course, she failed to mention the biggest obstacle in the Luke and Lorelai reunion. She hadn't talked to Rory about Christopher yet. She wasn't sure whether there was anything to talk about at all. He had left so quickly after they agreed to give it another go that she was still processing.

The pounding headache that Lorelai had tried to ignore grew stronger. Rory chose a table at Weston's, and took her yellow backpack off, dropping it beside her chair. Lorelai seated herself across from Rory, drumming her fingertips against the table's cool surface. Spacing out would be the best idea at the moment. She had to figure out what to say about Christopher to Rory.

As Rory chatted, borderline ranted, about Lorelai and Luke, Lorelai couldn't help but drifting off. She stared at one of the cakes in the display case. Focusing in on its detailed decorations, she tried to tune Rory out and think about the situation for herself.

On one hand, she had Luke. Luke was more important to her than she gave him credit for sometimes. After fixing many a leaky faucet or a broken window, Luke had become more than just the guy who owned the diner. Lorelai couldn't deny that. Luke was one of her closest friends; she knew that she could trust Luke with any problem or concern that she had.

The fight between the two had caused Lorelai to look at their friendship in a new way. Could they be something more than friends? Were they holding feelings for each other besides feelings of friendship? She was almost scared to venture into that territory because Luke meant so much to her. And the reaction she got in the diner when she attempted to flirt with Luke was clearly not one of romantic reciprocation.

And then there was Christopher. He was the guy who always seemed to show up at the most inconvenient time in her life. Or was it sheer convenience instead? He was always the one to stroke Lorelai's ego, making her feel totally and completely loved. Until he took off, leaving her and Rory with no number to contact him.

Lorelai's fight with Luke made Christopher seem like an angel. And that made her feel uncomfortable. But at this point, she had convinced herself that Christopher was always there. Because he was always there, it had to be a sign, right? A sign that he was right for her? After all, he did show up at those times for a reason.

She hated having to justify a relationship in her mind. But it was all she ever knew. Sometimes Lorelai thought about having a relationship that she didn't need to justify with anyone, even herself. Because it had become so familiar to her, she started to doubt the existence of a relationship that didn't need justification.

"Mom? Are you listening to a word that I'm saying?" Rory grunted, interrupting Lorelai's train of thought once again.

"Sorry, sweets, what did you say?"

Rory crossed her arms. "Okay, I'm going to give you the 'See Spot Run' version, because I'm going to miss my bus if I don't."

"Lay it on me."

"Luke is clearly someone you don't want to leave hanging. He's just not. You and Luke have a chemistry, and that's why you get along so well the majority of the time. And when you don't get along, it's fierce. Have you ever considered the idea that you insult him, and he insults you, because you two care about each other and you know you're going to be forgiven?" Rory continued.

"I kissed Christopher," Lorelai blurted out.

Rory dramatically slid her arm across the table, flopping her head on top of it. "You are a one woman soap opera. You know that? This was already complicated, but now it's getting to the point where you're trying to find your left shoe after a team icebreaker, and you have the same shoes as about four other people."

"I kissed Christopher," Lorelai repeated.

"Thank you, Repeat, we didn't need to hear it again," Rory snapped.

"What's wrong with you?"

Rory rolled her eyes. "You're making a mistake. You're using Dad to get over whatever feelings you had for Luke."

"I'm not using him!"

Rory sighed and rubbed her temples. "Okay, maybe that comment was a little out of line."

"A little? Remember when you tried to learn to write with your left hand in case your right one got frostbitten in the snow? That comment you just made was more out of line than your coloring skills in your quest to become ambidextrous."

"I'm sorry," Rory said softly. "I just think you're making a mistake in cutting Luke off for good. And if you're going to start things up with Dad, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. I'd hate to see you get hurt."

Lorelai nodded. "Catch your bus before you become awkward Rory."

"You're going to have to justify this with me later," Rory said, pointing to her mother. "It will be a miracle if I don't change my major to Psychology to accommodate you."

"Hey, be nice to Mommy. Sorry I was so crabby."

"Forgiven," Rory replied. "So are you going to be around tonight? Dean's got plans for our three month anniversary, and I was hoping you could turn my hair from drab to fab in 15 minutes."

Lorelai took a sip of her coffee. It was sweeter than Luke's. She tried to ignore it, but the taste of the coffee was almost taunting her. She shouldn't have been so hard on Luke. She swallowed, mentally reprimanding herself for gulping the coffee and causing swollen taste buds on her tongue. She sighed. She deserved it. "Of course. We'll get you some of that Herbal Essences shampoo and you'll have quite the shower experience."

"Mom," Rory said with a laugh. "Seriously, would you help me?"

"I can do that. I'm heading out to the festival tonight after I see that you and Dean are going to have a lovely time on your three month anniversary date."

"That should be fun. Are you going to try to talk to Luke?"

"Never say never," Lorelai grumbled, finishing off her coffee.

"All right, I have to go. I'm trying to avoid awkward Rory as long as possible," Rory said, picking up her backpack. "Don't think I won't remember to discuss this later."

"Aye aye, captain!" Lorelai said. Watching as Rory left, Lorelai reached for her purse. She opened the phone and rolled her eyes. She placed assorted items on the table before pulling out a torn piece of paper with a telephone number on it.

"Hello?"

"I gave you twenty four whole hours, and I haven't heard from you. Please don't tell me you've joined the circus," Lorelai teased.

"Nope, I didn't join the circus, but I did marry the bearded lady after a drunken encounter in Vegas."

Lorelai giggled. "How's the annulment process going on that one?"

"She still wants me. It's kind of a complicated thing we've got going. But seriously, who wouldn't want a handsome, clean shaven devil like myself. Opposites attract, you know."

"That's what Paula Abdul said when she was feeling up an animated cat," Lorelai said with a nod.

Christopher chuckled. "That video always creeped me out. Anyway, what possessed you to call me? Besides your need to mock the only video that I can think of that has a cat as the love interest, of course?"

"I don't know," Lorelai said with a heavy sigh. "Just wondering when I can see you again."

"Ugh, Lor, I have business meetings all this week."

Lorelai toyed with her napkin, trying to cover up the disappointment she felt. "Oh, that sucks."

"But I'll check my schedule and see where I can escape for awhile to see you."

She smiled. "That would be nice."

"I have to go, someone's on the other line. But we'll chat soon, okay?"

Lorelai scooped the random items off the table and dropped them back into her purse. "Okay, well, make sure the bearded lady knows there's going to be a chick fight over you if you don't settle this soon."

"I should have gotten a pre-nup," Chris said with a sigh. "See ya."

"Bye," she said, closing her phone and putting it into her purse. She paid for the coffees that she and Rory consumed, and she started toward the inn. The phone conversation didn't give her the warm and fuzzy feeling she had hoped for. She instead felt like she wasn't a priority in Christopher's life. He couldn't be avoiding her, could he?

Of course, she was being judgmental. Chris had obviously expressed his desire to start things up again, and she took his words as genuine and true. He meant every word he said, didn't he? Regardless, after she put her feelings and her heart on the line for him, he was gone once again. At least she knew where to reach him. He still sounded interested, she told herself. Lorelai rubbed her hands up and down the sleeves of her jacket, trying to keep warm as she walked. She was being too much of a worrywart.

She looked over at the town square, which was being decorated for the festival. Maybe it would snow later. The festival was always so pretty when it snowed. She stopped and abandoned her thought process as she heard whispers from Babette and Patty on the street corner. She stopped and joined them for a moment, hoping that she could have a pick-me-up for the morning.

"Oh, hiya Lorelai," Babette whispered.

"Hi doll," Patty said, blushing.

"What's going on?" Lorelai queried.

Babette and Patty exchanged a nervous glance. Lorelai stood between the two women and tried to stare at what they were so obviously staring at. She found herself transfixed by the sight of Luke talking to a woman standing in the middle of the diner.

"That's Rachel," Patty started. "She's Luke's high school sweetheart."

"She's one of those 'anywhere but here' gals. She just keeps packin' up and leavin' every time Luke thinks she's gonna stay for good. She's broken his heart a couple of times, but you know the heart doesn't always heal," Babette added.

Patty nodded. "He was the first girl Luke ever loved. It was so obvious."

"So what's she doing back here?" Lorelai asked, feeling herself getting defensive. She was jealous of this Rachel person, and she was still angry at Luke. Something about this situation was entirely twisted.

"I think she wants to settle down," Patty whispered. "It's been awhile since those two tried it, this time could be the last time."

"Oh, I'd love to see Luke settle down. He's got such a sweet ass, and it's goin' to waste. What a shame," Babette said, shaking her head.

Lorelai gave a polite smile and started walking toward the inn. "Thanks for the update, ladies. I'll talk to you later."

"Bye, Lorelai," Patty said, her eyes still glued to the scene playing out in the diner.

"We'll keep you updated, dollface," Babette added, also continuing to stare into the window of the diner.

Lorelai crossed her arms and put her head down as she walked. This couldn't be happening. She was getting angry over an ex girlfriend of Luke's. Or a current girlfriend. Or a love interest. Whoever Rachel was, Lorelai found herself resenting her already. And yet she was trying to start things up with Christopher again, and she was in a similar situation.

Why was she getting so defensive over the idea of Luke finding happiness? It wouldn't take anything away from their friendship. She groaned. Of course, the friendship she was thinking of happened to be the friendship that was currently in a rough spot because she had been stupid.

Lorelai stormed into the door of the inn and tossed her things behind the desk. She rolled up her sleeves, forced her way into the kitchen, and began to scrub the dirty dishes. It was her only form of stress relief at the moment. Grabbing the dishwashing liquid, she squeezed the half-empty bottle so hard that the plastic crinkled in her hands. She left the now warped bottle of detergent on the side of the sink and began to scrub.

Why was this Rachel person here? What were her motives? Had Cupid finally decided to play tennis with her love life? Why was she involving Luke in a thought process that related to her love life?

She felt a hand on her shoulder, causing her to drop a fork back into the sink. As she wiped the bubbles off her forehead, she turned around. Sookie looked extremely concerned.

"Step away from the dishes," Sookie said, offering her friend a hand towel. "Freak out number two. What the heck is going on here?"

"Rachel's what's going on here," Lorelai muttered.

Sookie raised her eyebrows. "Rachel? The only Rachel I know is… no. Rachel with the… and she… Luke's Rachel?"

"The one and only," Lorelai grumbled in response. "Why does this bother me so much?"

"I don't know," Sookie replied. "I was going to ask you the same thing. Why DOES it bother you?"

Lorelai dried her hands off. She placed the towel on the nearby towel rack and sighed. "I really have no idea. I… heard that she kind of has a tendency to get up and skedaddle every time she gets scared of commitment."

"Lorelai, you were just like her with Max," Sookie reasoned. "And besides. You had her pegged as the Wicked witch of the West before you even heard anything about her."

"I did not," Lorelai protested.

Sookie rolled her eyes. "It's true, Lorelai. Now get out of my kitchen until you decide that de nile isn't just a river in Egypt."

"But…"

Sookie pointed to the door. "No buts, missy. We'll talk after the festival tonight, after you've had some thinking time."

Lorelai groaned and muttered something unintelligible under her breath as she walked out of the kitchen. She tried to focus on her work, but the Luke and Rachel scenario took over. Lorelai knew that Sookie was probably right. She shouldn't judge Rachel before she knew her. The day dragged on, but Lorelai needed it to. She wanted to make sure she thought about her situation before she went ahead and apologized to Luke.

As she walked through the town square at the festival that night, coffee in hand, she passed Luke sitting on a bench by himself. She seated herself next to him and sipped her coffee without a word. She looked at him, and then at her coffee, and then back at him. He turned to look back, but she turned her head away. Lorelai cleared her throat. "So, uh, that's Rachel?"

"That's Rachel."

"She's… back permanently?"

Luke shifted in his seat. "That's what she's telling me."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

Lorelai took another sip of her coffee as she searched for the words to say. "You know, Luke, I'm really happy for you."

He turned to her, raising his eyebrows. "You are?"

She nodded. "I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you in the diner yesterday. You're my best friend, Luke, I wouldn't intentionally hurt you. You mean so much more to me than just a customer-proprietor relationship, and trivializing that was rude, and I hope you'll forgive me."

"It's okay," Luke said. "I'm sorry too."

She smiled at him, and he smiled back at her. She was getting the tingly feeling again, and she suppressed it as she did before. She cleared her throat once more and turned to Luke. "So, uh, Chris and I are going to try it again."

"Really?" Luke asked.

He sounded surprised, but Lorelai had expected it. It was everyone's reaction, after all. She nodded. "Yeah. So I guess we both found someone, huh?"

"I guess so," he replied, standing up as Rachel approached the pair. He turned to Lorelai, who stood up as she saw him look at her. "Lorelai, this is Rachel, Rachel this is Lorelai."

Rachel smiled, extending her hand. "Nice to meet you. Luke tells me that you come into the diner a lot? From what it sounds like, you two are really good friends, huh?"

Lorelai shook Rachel's hand, awkwardly standing across from the pair. This was surely going to go down in history as one of the most uncomfortable moments of her life. "It's nice to meet you too. And yeah, I'm a regular. If Luke's was on the stock market, I'd singlehandedly keep shareholders happy with all the coffee I order."

Rachel giggled. "He does make good coffee, doesn't he?"

"The best," Lorelai agreed.

The three stood for a moment, staring at each other without speaking. After a brief pause, Rachel pointed to the gazebo. "I want to go get some pictures of the gazebo," she said. "It was nice to meet you."

Lorelai smiled. "You too," she said as she watched Rachel make her timely exit. She finished her coffee and tossed it into the trash barrel next to her. Lorelai could sense that Luke was upset. She flashed him a smile and put her hand on his knee. "You okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah, why?"

"It's just that you seem… less than thrilled with her arrival. Is everything okay between you two?"

"Everything's fine. I'm just being cautious. Wouldn't you be a little defensive if someone got up and left you every time… oh," Luke paused, realizing what was about to come out of his mouth. "Sorry, I forgot you were kinda going through the same thing."

They shared an awkward laugh. "It's okay." She hoped that she sounded convincing, because she wasn't convincing herself.