A/N: I did it! This fic is finally finished! Before I start with the party hats, the confetti and the strippers, I need to thank all my lovely reviewers, and everyone who listened to me complaining and stressing. You guys rock!
Hartford Union Station was relatively quiet at four in the afternoon. Cleaners tried their best to make the place tidy before the evening rush, and bored-looking tellers filed their nails as they kept one eye on the travellers camped out on the uncomfortable wooden seats. Lorelai bypassed the trains and headed for the bus schedules. Thomas and Friends weren't going to be in their budget today. Glancing up at the board, she scanned the departures, trying to decide where to go. It was a daunting prospect. She dismissed the out-of-state cities - New York, Chicago, Boston, Buffalo - until her eyes found one close enough to be in her budget. Litchfield, CT it would be.
She clumsily moved all her belongings to the ticket counter. "Uh, one youth and one child for Litchfield please."
The girl behind the counter seemed put out to have to deal with a customer. "How old are 'ya?"
"Seventeen," Lorelai squeaked out, hoping she wouldn't get charged an adult fare.
"'Kay. That's $4.85 for you. And your... sister... under five?"
Lorelai almost snorted, and looked at Rory - who was so obviously under five the question was ridiculous. "Yeah. She is."
"She'll be free, but if the bus is full, 'ya hafta hold her on 'ya knee. Got it?"
She nodded at the girl, and exchanged her money for two tickets. She trudged to collapse on an empty bench, momentarily losing her balance and slipping off the seat, before righting herself, glancing around to check nobody had noticed her clumsiness. She rummaged around in her bag until she found a bottle of formula - it would have to be cold, but that couldn't be helped - and pulled a just-rousing Rory into her lap to feed.
As Rory ate, Lorelai surveyed the concourse, sighing at the salivation that occurred when she noticed a pretzel cart not far from her. It seemed unfair the number of people who were walking past her with food in their hands. But Lorelai scolded herself, reminding that she needed to save her money for more important things - diapers, food for Rory, summer clothing for the baby. She closed her eyes to block out the vision of pretzels, donuts and coffee trailing past her bench, and concentrated on the suckling sound coming from her daughter.
They had been travelling for almost half an hour when Rory started crying. Nothing seemed to calm her down. Lorelai tried singing 'The Wheels on the Bus' over and over and over until she felt like Shari Lewis. She tried pointing out things through the window. She tried giving her some chocolate she charmed from the man across the aisle. She checked her diaper. Other passengers started staring at the two when Rory's cries became louder, rising to a crescendo as they saw the first signs of a small town. Lorelai cringed as she heard the mutterings coming from all around her.
"Please, Rory, honey. Calm down for Mommy," she frantically whispered. She pulled a pacifier out of the diaper bag, and thrust it into the Rory's mouth. Almost immediately, it was spit out again, much to Lorelai's frustration, and the screaming continued.
The bus slowed and came to a halt. One woman near the front left the bus as the driver meandered down the aisle. Nobody was surprised when he came to a stop next to Lorelai's seat. He looked at her apologetically. "I've had complaints," he sighed.
"I know," Lorelai cried. "She's never like this. Normally she the most placid kid you've met in your life. I swear. She's Rachel Penmark before all the murder and stuff. She'd fit right in at the Little House on the Prairie. If she were a gymnast, her name would be Nadia."
The bus driver, with the nametag of Simon, shook his head and lowered his voice. "I'm sorry kid. It's policy - anyone who disrupts other passengers has to be evicted."
Lorelai looked up at him with big blue eyes. "You're kicking me off in the middle of God knows where with a seven-month-old?"
Simon tried to avoid her gaze, knowing if he looked at her he wouldn't be able to hurt her in any way. "I'm sorry." He nodded his head towards the luggage hold beneath the bus. "I'll get your bags out." And with that, he left her to collect up her coat, purse, diaper bag and baby.
She kept her eyes on the floor as she made her way to the front of the bus, careful not to notice the judging stares of the other passengers.
On the sidewalk, Simon was slamming the luggage door closed. "That was it, right?" He pointed to the stroller and knapsack on the ground.
Lorelai nodded silently, and looked around her. "Um... where are we?" She jiggled Rory on her hip, without any success in calming the crying.
"Stars Hollow," he replied, as he started to climb back into the bus. "Only about ten minutes 'til Litchfield. Maybe five dollars for a cab? Or there'll be another bus at 6:20." With that, the doors closed between them, and the bus pulled away from the curb.
It was eerie - the very second the bus pulled away, Rory stopped crying, and smiled. Lorelai looked at her suspiciously. "It's almost like you did that on purpose, Chim-Chim," she laughed, the stress of the bus melting away.
She took in her surroundings slowly. Behind her was a small park with a children's playground, and in front of her was a pretty town square, complete with newly painted gazebo, and strategically placed trees dotting the area. The square was surrounded by small, unobtrusive stores, all in that style that screamed small town New England. Clumps of daffodils were scattered everywhere, and even in the early evening fading light, it seemed brighter and calmer than she had ever seen Hartford. She thought about the picture of the white picket fence house that has been in her wish box - she could really picture that house being in this town.
"Well, honey, I guess this is as good a place as Litchfield. Should we stay here?"
"Ba-ya," Rory babbled.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'."
Lorelai looked around for any sign of a motel, inn, B&B... anything. But she couldn't see anything. "Well... your dad would be really proud, because at this rate, we might end up sleeping on a park bench. That's been his dream for years. Admittedly, it was supposed to be in Paris, not a tiny Northern Connecticut town, but I think this would count. Do you? So... considering I was completely against doing the whole bench thing before you came around, we should probably find somewhere to stay. After all, we two are much more Holly Golightly than Annie Johnson."
She loaded her belongings into the stroller, keeping Rory on her hip, and made her way over to where a yellow sign in the window proclaimed 'Weston's Bakery'. She arrived at the door just as an elderly woman was clearing a table in the window. Hesitantly, she pushed open the door. The bakery was empty except for the woman.
"Evening, dear," she called as she made her way back to behind the counter. "What can I get you?"
Lorelai bit her lip momentarily. "Actually I just need directions. We need somewhere to stay. And a job after that. Are there any hotels or anything around here?"
"What's your name, hon?"
"Lorelai, ma'am. And that one's Rory."
"I'm Fran. Take a seat. You new in town, or just passing through?" Fran reached into the cabinet and pulled out two sugar cookies, and took them to the table along with a pen and paper. She gave a cookie to each of the girls and took a seat opposite them.
"I guess we're new to town." The statement hit her as she said it. "Wow. We're new to town. I hadn't really thought this far ahead - all I was focused on was leaving Hartford."
"So you're from Hartford?"
Lorelai nodded, and watched as Rory sucked on the cookie. Fran, on the other side of the table, was busy drawing a map.
"Here's where we are." Fran pointed on the map. "And if you go down here, and round into Oak, there is The Independence Inn. Ask for Mia. She'll look after you."
Lorelai stood up and pocketed the map. "Thanks Fran." She headed to the door.
"Here." Fran handed her a paper bag with more cookies in it.
"Oh that's really not necessary."
"Don't be silly. We need to fatten you girls up - skinny as a rake you are."
Lorelai hesitated before smiling and taking the bag. She wasn't used to people being this nice - especially without wanting something in return. She considered that this might be a really nice place to live. "Thank you," she whispered, resulting in a friendly smile from her benefactor.
"Any time. I'll see you around town."
As the door closed behind Lorelai and Rory, Fran picked up the phone and dialled a familiar number. "Yes, can I speak to Mia please?"
Lorelai approached the front desk of The Independence Inn with apprehension. The bellboys chatting in the corner kept glancing at her, judging. She felt out-of-place. It was a new feeling - she was so used to belonging in the high class Hartford society, that to not belong in a place like this was ... weird. She suddenly had great sympathy for Sabra Tanner in Sorority Girl. The woman behind the desk was opening mail and sorting it into piles. She looked up with an undisguised sneer when she noticed Lorelai standing before her.
Lorelai bit her lip under the scrutinizing gaze. "Uh... is Mia available?"
"And who may I say is enquiring?"
"Um... Lorelai Gilmore?"
"Take a seat Miss Gilmore, and I will see if she is taking callers."
Lorelai felt like she was cluttering up the foyer as she primly took a seat on a long couch. She had just pulled Rory out of the stroller and into her lap, where she instantly snuggled into her mother sleepily, having just woken up from a nap which lasted the time from Westons to the inn, when a petite woman sat down next to her.
"Lorelai?" she questioned.
Lorelai spun around to face the woman, shocked with how quickly she was being attended to. "You must be Mia," she smiled. "Fran in the bakery said that I should come to you for somewhere to stay...? The cheapest room you've got?" She heard how everything was coming out as a question, and tried to stop it. "Until I find a job, we're kinda broke."
Mia nodded sympathetically.
Lorelai thought for a moment as she looked around the grand foyer. One look down at Rory, and she knew what she needed to ask. "Actually, Mia..." She looked the older woman in the eye. "I need a job. I'm willing to do anything. Anything. Please." Again, she bit her lip - hard - waiting for Mia's answer. She was fully prepared to hear her say 'no'. In her mind, she tried to think of her other options. Could she afford to stay at the inn while she looked for a job? Should she take a cab to Litchfield, where a larger town would surely have more jobs? If she couldn't find work, how long would it take before she was forced to return to Hartford? Her mind was whirring at such a rate, that she almost didn't hear Mia's answer.
"Come with me. We'll see what we can do."
Lorelai felt the emotion sweep over her. Happy tears stung the corner of her eyes as she watched Mia take hold of her knapsack, and indicate she should follow back to her office.
Perched precariously on the edge of Mia's guest chair, Lorelai jiggled Rory on her lap.
"What job experience do you have?" Mia asked, glancing down at the papers in front of her.
Lorelai reddened. "None," she answered in a low voice.
"I had a call from Fran earlier, and she said she had a good feeling about you, so I'll give you a chance. I have a position open for a maid if you think you can handle that. Since you don't have any experience, it would be on a trial basis. Do you think you can handle that?"
Lorelai nodded sagely, hope filling her slowly. "I'll be the best maid you've had. I promise."
Mia chuckled. "We'll see, shall we?"
Rory had just fallen asleep in the inn's Portacrib, and Lorelai fell, exhausted, on her new bed. She studied the worn pink bedspread that adorned the bed, and traced her fingers over the delicate quilting. Beyond the plain white pillow was peeling, slightly yellowed wallpaper. Mia had promised that if they stayed for any prolonged period, they would replace it with something new - maybe something more girlie. The room had an open claw-foot bath which sat on the other side of the bed, and a separate toilet and basin in the very small adjoining room. But the modest accommodation didn't seem to matter. Lorelai Gilmore, brought up in luxury, used to having all the finer things in life, suddenly didn't care that she was now at the bottom of the food chain.
It was hard to describe, but as she surveyed her new domain, a new feeling overcame her. It was a feeling of calm and happiness that she couldn't remember feeling in over a year. But now she had finally done it - she had escaped. She had taken the jump. A jump that most people she knew wouldn't have the courage to take, especially not with a seven-month-old baby. She knew that living without the security of her parents would be the hardest thing ever - possibly harder than giving birth had been. Possibly even worse than finding out that Mork and Mindy was being cancelled. But she wasn't scared. This was the best decision she could have made. She knew that to watch Rory grow up in that house would break her heart.
As Lorelai climbed under the bedspread, she exhaled deeply, relaxation sweeping over her. This was right. This could end up being home.