Author's Note: Thank you everyone for all the fabulous reviews - they motivated me to keep going and to get this final scene to you as fast as possible. None of this would have been possible without the help of my brilliant beta reader, Jewels12. Thank you so much for the support, suggestions, editing and encouragement. Thank you also for putting up with my own incessent babbling and for convincing me that this final chapter did indeed live up to expectations.
Please enjoy this final instalment of "Stolen Hearts"
Rory grinned as she watched her mother enter Luke's diner. Glancing down at the long list in her hand, she sighed and turned towards her own destination.
The small market, called Doose's, had green awnings and large windows. The outdoor stalls between the entrance and exit were piled high with fresh fruits and veggies. She glanced at the vegetables, grimacing slightly at the sight. 'There's one thing that's not on my list,' she thought brightly.
She entered the market and was forced to veer left immediately to avoid being smacked in the face with a stray arm. Two heavier set women and a grim-faced man were arguing animatedly.
Rory bit her lip to keep from laughing as she caught part of their conversation.
"But, Taylor," one of the women was saying, "You can't ban couples from the Firelight Festival. They have as much right to be there as anyone else!"
"Patty," Taylor began calmly, "That's --"
The other woman interrupted him, in the raspiest, loudest voice Rory had ever heard. "Yeah Taylah! It just ain't right. The Firelight Festival is supposed to be roman'ic. How can it be roman'ic if there ain't any couples there?"
"Precisely my point ,ladies." They both stared at him blankly as he continued, "The Firelight Festival has become a sickening display of couples making out in the town square. I won't stand for it any longer. As town selectman --"
"Awww, Taylor," the woman named Patty shook her head, her eye's narrowed. "You're just jealous 'cause you don't have anyone to go with. I know just how you feel, hunny. Reminds me of that time I was dating Lester Dimples and he stood me up..." She gazed off into the distance, a playful smile dancing across her overly made-up lips.
"Patty, I hardly think --"
"I don't care what you say, Taylah, I'm comin' to the festival and I'm bringin' my Morey!"
"Babette! You can't do this!"
"Forget it, shugah, Morey's comin' and that's final. Go get a life or somethin'." Babette and Patty headed toward the exit as Taylor shouted after them.
"This isn't the end of this conversation ladies. We'll discuss it further at this week's Town Meeting. I could have you thrown off council for this!" By this time, the women were already across the street gossiping in front of the news stand.
Taylor aimed a disapproving look in their direction and turned back to his register.
Rory darted down an aisle, waiting until she was out of sight before dissolving into a fit of giggles. Lane was right, the people in this town were nuts! She couldn't wait to tell her mother about the floor show she'd witnessed and the town meeting that was coming up. She was certain her mother would be keen to attend.
She took a deep breath to calm herself before grabbing a basket and heading off in search of the many items on her list.
Desperate for coffee, Lorelai tore open the door to 'Luke's Diner' and looked around. All the tables were full of people eating and talking. Noticing that there was no one behind the counter, Lorelai frowned, and began frantically looking around for someone that could provide her with her 'fix'.
She was almost ready to steal an abandoned, half-empty coffee cup from a nearby table when she saw a man wearing a backwards baseball cap rush past in a blur of plaid. He had a plate of delicious looking pancakes in one hand and a coffee carafe in the other. Deciding he was the one she needed, she made a beeline for him, pausing just long enough to appreciate the view as he leaned over a table to place the food in front of a customer.
Luke was just asking the customer if he'd like a refill on his tea when Lorelai breezed over, "Please, I need some of that," she gestured to the coffee, her eyes wild.
He glanced at her, irritated by the interruption. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait your turn. We're kind of busy right now. Why don't you find a seat?"
He headed to the next table and to his utter annoyance, the woman followed him, chattering away. "Please, you don't understand. If I don't get coffee in me RIGHT this minute I'm going pass out, or start seizing, or something." Luke glared at her as he continued his rounds, hoping she'd take a hint. Instead, she continued to follow him, the pitch of her voice raising slightly as she carried on with her ridiculous tirade, "You see, I usually live off the stuff, but I just moved here with my daughter. We have no coffee in the house so I haven't had any since we left the inn yesterday. I can't function without my coffee and I've already gone almost 24 hours without it. I've never done that before, well at least not since I was, like, five; so something really serious could happen. I'm telling you, if I don't get some caffeine in my system ASAP I'm going to die! Did you hear me? I'm going to--"
Luke turned to face her, "God you're annoying! Sit down, and for heaven's sake, shut up! There's a free table over there, I'll get to you, when I get to you." He gestured to the table in the corner by the door and turned back to his current customer.
"When's your birthday?" Luke sighed as he realized she was still right behind him. He was really starting to loose his patience. The morning had been crazy, and to top it off he'd had to deal with Taylor trying to post his insipid 'No Couples at Firelight' flyers on the diner window and now this annoying woman wouldn't leave him alone.
He was almost ready to give in and pour her a cup of coffee, just to get her to shut up, when Andrew signalled that he was ready to pay. Luke headed over to him, the woman hot on his heels. "Why won't you tell me your birthday? What? Are you like ashamed of your age or something? 'Cause you're not that old." She paused and gave him a quick once over. She grinned. "In fact, you look downright young and spry. So I don't understand why you won't tell me when your birthday is."
"Has anyone ever told you you're insufferable? If they haven't, they should have." Luke handed Andrew his change and turned to face her, "Don't you have an off button somewhere?"
For the first time since she had entered the diner, Luke looked at the woman properly. He took a sharp breath as he realized she was the woman he'd spotted after lunch the day before. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about her since she'd driven off, and here she was, standing in his diner. She was even more beautiful in person and he could see now that her eyes were blue. He smiled slightly; he'd been hoping they'd be blue! He stared at her for another moment, wondering how someone so beautiful, could be so exasperating.
The bell above the door jingled and Luke snapped out of his reverie in time to spot Babette and Miss Patty snagging the seat by the window. Seeing that they were deep in conversation and didn't need him right away, he turned back to the woman who was now babbling on about someone named 'Michelle'.
"November," he stated plainly. She finally stopped talking and looked at him quizzically. "You asked me my birthday, I'm answering."
Her eyes lit up. He was fascinated by the way they sparkled when she got excited. "Finally! What day?"
"The eighth." He'd barely even uttered the words before she abandoned him to sit on a stool by the counter. Taking advantage of his sudden lack of noisy shadow, he headed over to see what Babette and Miss Patty wanted. As he jotted down their lunch orders, he could see the woman flipping through the newspaper.
"Hey, you got a pen?" she asked as Luke walked past her on his way to the kitchen. Deciding it was best to just give in, he silently handed the crazy lady his pen and wondered what on earth she was up to.
He stepped out of the kitchen in time to see the woman tear out part of the paper. She held it out for him, and, not knowing what else to do, he took it. He looked down at the piece of paper in his hand. It was the horoscope for Scoripo, but she'd added to it. He looked at it closely and could see that she'd written 'You will meet an annoying woman today. Give her coffee and she'll go away.'
He set the horoscope down on the counter beside her and tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his smile as he grabbed a mug and the coffee pot.
Lorelai's face brightened as she gasped, "You're giving me coffee!"
"I'm giving you decaf. The way you talk it's evident you don't need caffeine."
Lorelai covered the top of her mug so he wouldn't be able to fill it, "Who are you? Richard Simmons? Were you not listening? I die without the caffeine. Die, as in, this pretty face goes bye-bye."
Luke sighed and grabbed the other pot. She beamed as he started to fill her cup. "It's about time!" she hung her nose over the mug and sniffed it. "Oh, sweet caffeine, how I've missed you."
"You want anything else or should I leave you two alone?" She grinned at him flirtatiously. "We're done, coffee is my fond but fickle friend. It won't last." As if to prove her point, she picked up her mug and downed it. "More coffee please. Oh! And an order of fries! Wait! Make that a double order with a side of pancakes!"
Luke wrinkled his nose. "Disgusting! Do you always eat like that?"
"I have a highly refined pallet, my friend." She pounded the counter with her fist and demanded, "More coffee!"
Luke reluctantly poured her another cup, seriously beginning to worry about this woman's health; physical and otherwise. He wrote down her order, and as he took it to Caesar, he heard her call after him.
"For the record, you make a damn good cup of coffee... I'm Lorelai Gilmore, by the way," she added as he came back with a cloth to wipe down the counter. The lunch crowd was thinning and Luke was grateful for the reprieve.
"Luke Danes. I'm the proprietor." He took the hand she offered. As their hands touched he felt a jolt, almost like an electrical shock, that coursed through his entire body. For the briefest of moments, their eyes met and Luke felt as though he were free-falling. She let go of his hand and the moment ended. Luke started to turn away, hoping she couldn't hear the rapid beating of his heart.
"Luke," she said softly, stopping him mid-turn. He turned back, noticing a slight flush on her cheeks. He wondered if she'd felt the same thing he had.
"Yeah?" She really was beautifu,l he marvelled.
"Hold onto this." She slid the horoscope back across the counter. "Put it in your wallet and carry it around with you. One day it will bring you luck!"
Luke took it, not quite sure how to respond. After a slightly awkward moment of silence, he put the paper safely in the pocket of his shirt. "I'll have to put it in my wallet later." He paused as Caesar called up the next order. "Better get back to work."
Lorelai watched him walk away, her own heart beating faster than normal. 'What was that?' she wondered as she took another sip from her mug.
Man, he really did make an excellent cup of coffee.
Laden with bags, Rory entered the diner and promptly collapsed on the chair next to her mother. Lorelai was already on her 5th cup of coffee and had relocated herself to a table after her food arrived. She'd eaten her way through half the pancakes and a good portion of the fries, so she slid both plates across the table toward Rory.
"Luke! Come meet Rory." Luke was busy with a customer and waved her off with his hand.
"Did you see that? The service around here is abominable," she said loudly for Luke's benefit.
"Do you happen to have a single, patient bone in your body?" There was a touch of warmth in the glare he gave Lorelai before holding out his hand, "You must be Rory. Welcome."
Rory shook his hand, "I hope my mother wasn't too unreasonable."
"Unreasonable? Try impossible!" She noticed he was smiling even as he scowled at Lorelai, who was desperately reaching for another pancake. Rory moved them out of her reach and smiled at Luke. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't leave her alone like that when she doesn't have caffeine in her system. It tends to make her a little loopy."
"You'd be loopy too if you'd been deprived of caffeine for two whole days and locked in a closet."
"It has NOT been two days, Mom." Rory chastised at the same time Luke exclaimed, "You were locked in a closet?"
Rory answered for her mother, who had managed to snatch a pancake and was currently preoccupied with chewing. "She was. Yesterday."
"Oh! You're the 'damsel' Kirk had to come rescue."
"Torture, more like," Lorelai swallowed and chased her pancake with the last of her coffee. "Wait a second, you know Kirk?"
Luke made a face, "Unfortunately. I gather the rescue didn't quite go as he planned?"
Rory giggled, remembering Kirk trapped under the splintered door. They still hadn't figured out how he'd managed to get his hand stuck in the handle like that. "You gather correctly. Let's put it this way: now we have to find someone to come fix the closet."
"And the porch rail!" Lorelai piped in.
"And the screens and back stairs!"
Luke cut in, "You living in a condemned building or something?"
"Nope. We're Crap-Shacking it up!" Lorelai sing-songed.
"I don't even understand what you just said."
"What she means to say," Rory started, giving her mother a stern look, "is that we've named our house the Crap Shack because there are some things that need to be repaired."
Luke was impressed; he wasn't aware that twelve year olds could be so mature. He glanced at Lorelai who still making up lyrics to 'Crap-Shacking' and thought perhaps he knew part of the reason why this particular twelve year old was so grown up.
He thought about their new house. It sounded like it could fall down at any moment. He'd barely known them for five minutes but for some reason he felt like he needed, no, wanted, to take care of them in some way.
"Hey," he looked at Lorelai, "if you want, I could come by and take a look at the porch and the closet. I'm pretty handy and I come with my own tools."
Lorelai looked awed. "Our very own handyman. What do you think Rory, should we keep him?"
Rory nodded, her mouth now full of the last bite of pancakes and fries.
"Okay, I'll swing by on Saturday." Luke cleared their plates and turned to Rory. "Do you want something else to eat since someone ate more than her half?"
"No, I'm okay, Luke, thanks."
"I'll have pie."
"I'm not giving you pie."
"But Luke, I need dessert."
"Eat an apple."
"I don't eat fruit."
"There's fruit in pie."
"Yes, but that's different. It doesn't taste like fruit."
Luke sighed. "Fine, two pies coming right up!"
"And a coffee to go."
"Another one? You've already had five."
"Five is nothing. In fact, give me a super, gigundo, gigantic sized, coffee to go."
"That's not even a proper word, let alone the size of any cup that I have."
"Well it should be!"
Luke shook his head. "Is she always this impossible?"
Rory nodded. "She has her moments, but mostly I love her anyway"
"Mostly?" Lorelai was indignant.
Luke walked away to get their pie, surprised at how much he enjoyed listening to them banter back and forth.
He slipped a few fresh apple slices into the pie container hoping maybe they'd be eaten, though somehow he doubted it. He contemplated making Lorelai's coffee with half decaf but he had a suspicion that she would know, so he decided not to try.
As he watched them walk away from the diner and climb into the jeep, keeping up a steady stream of banter the whole way, he couldn't help but marvel at how enamoured he was with both of them.
He glanced around the diner noting that there were no customers at the moment. He took the horoscope out of his pocket, and traced his fingers over Lorelai's words, a warm smile teasing his lips.
He spotted Kirk coming across the town square toward the diner and groaned. He quickly removed his wallet, took one last glance at the horoscope, and slit it inside behind his driver's license.
As he waited for Kirk's eminent arrival, he cleared a few tables and thought of Lorelai. Despite her annoying prattle and her heathen pallet, he had really enjoyed having her in the diner.
Kirk bounded into the diner, mercifully silent, and sat down to examine the menu.
Luke turned toward the kitchen and spotted the specials board which still had Rachel's handwriting on it. He almost dropped the plates he was carrying as it suddenly dawned on him that it was no longer Rachel who held his heart.
In that moment, he realized that nothing would ever be the same again. He smiled, thinking, 'I can live with that'.