Summary: Joyce accepts an invitation to dinner from a new friend.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. These lovely ladies and their friends belong to Amy Palladino and Joss Whedon.

Spoilers: None, really; it's set in my own little fantasy world.

A/N: Thanks once again to Zigpal and Lilly for making this all possible.

A/N2: This was a Valentine's challenge from Tim…but it's not his fault it barely registered a G rating. The muse has an appointment with her therapist this week.

Feedback: You bet. The muse loves all comments.

Archiving: By permission only.

"I can't believe you would do this!" Lorelai's voice was angry and strident as it filtered into the dining room through the partially closed doors.

Joyce studiously examined the slowly congealing remains of the Salisbury steak on her plate and tried to pretend she wasn't hearing the supposedly private conversation happening in the hallway. She'd been warned to expect a show with dinner; she simply hadn't expected it to be this volatile.

"What? What do you think I've done, Lorelai?" Emily Gilmore's answering shout was just as strident as her daughter's. It must be a hereditary trait.

"So…Mrs. Summers, Grandma said you run an art gallery in California?" Rory's soft question snapped Joyce's attention away from the shouting match.

She looked up from her plate and smiled at the obviously embarrassed girl across the table. "Yes, I do. In Sunnydale, California." Pausing, Joyce wondered how to describe the unique nature of the town. She settled on a vague, "It's a very beautiful town, Rory. Probably very much like your Stars Hollow."

"Really? I didn't think anyplace was like Stars Hollow. I mean, I guess there are lots of small towns in America, but Stars Hollow seems one of a kind." Rory's lightening-speed ramble was cute; it reminded Joyce of Willow. "Does Sunnydale have town meetings or movie nights? Mom and I usually…"

Their conversation was cut off by a new, even louder, comment from the hallway. "It's like you're auctioning me off, Mother! Do you carry a photo of me in your purse like Miss Patty and show it to every man, woman, or child you meet? 'Hey, look at this. It's my poor, lonely, very single daughter. Why don't you come to dinner on Friday and I'll introduce you?'"

Joyce gave up even the pretense of good manners and tilted her head in an effort not to miss a second of the Lorelai and Emily Show.

It didn't disappoint her efforts. "Well, I've gone through all the eligible men we know!" Emily shouted back.

A choked sound came from Rory's side of the table. "Oh my God," she moaned, head lowered until it almost brushed the table.

At another time, Joyce might have tried to comfort Rory. Not now, though. This was far too interesting to risk missing a single word. She made a soft shushing sound and concentrated intently.

"You told Thomas that Rory was in and out of mental institutions and then you deliberately got drunk when we went out with that nice young man from your Father's office." Emily was tiring. Her voice was losing volume, if not steam. "I don't understand you, Lorelai. I never have. You should be married and providing Rory with a stable family life!"

Ouch. Joyce winced at that comment. Someone must have forgotten to tell Emily that marriage and stability didn't necessarily go together. Then she reconsidered. Maybe that wasn't a good idea. If the topic came up, Emily might find out about her less than stellar marriage and she'd be out of the running for Lorelai's hand.

Almost laughing aloud at her own tongue in cheek thoughts, Joyce nearly missed the machine-gun clatter of heels as they marched closer to the dining room. She managed to get control over her mirth mere seconds before the door flew open and Emily strode inside. "Well, it looks like Elsa has things under control," she announced in a tight, clipped tone.

Joyce shared a disbelieving look with Rory. Did Emily really think anyone believed her cover story of checking on the maid? "That's good." Keeping her smile bland with effort, Joyce stood and moved away from the table. "Thank you so much for inviting me to dinner, Emily. It was as wonderful as you promised." Where else could you watch dinner theater for free?

"Well, Richard and I enjoyed meeting you at the Women in Art Symposium, Joyce. And when we heard you were in town…" Emily held out both hands. "How could we not invite you over for a family dinner?"

Clasping the offered hands briefly, Joyce glanced over and caught Lorelai rolling her eyes at the scene. "Thank you again, Emily. Please tell Richard I'm sorry to have missed him. If you're ever in Sunnydale…" She let that trail off, sending a mental prayer to the PtB that it never happened.

"Mother." Lorelai's face was a perfectly blank mask as she interrupted. "I really need to get Rory home. She was whining earlier about a big test she needs to study for."

As if pulled around by a puppet master, Emily said, "Lorelai, you should have told me sooner. Here I am rambling on while my granddaughter has important schoolwork to do. I do not understand you, Lorelai."

"So you keep telling me, Mother." Lorelai's smile was more of a grimace. "Come on, kid, grab your bags and let's hit the road before she changes her mind and we're forced to stay here for breakfast. I bet the new maid makes omelets like she makes steak and I'll be so heavy I won't ever be able to stand up again."

"And you'd make me push you around in a wheelchair as punishment, wouldn't you? Back and forth to Luke's four times a day for coffee." Rory grinned and pointed at Lorelai. "And you'd love it. Admit it. Come on, I dare you to be honest about your desire to be a pampered princess, waited on by your devoted slave of a daughter.

Watching the byplay silently, Joyce followed the Gilmore women out of the dining room and took her purse and coat from the much-maligned Elsa. "Thank you," she murmured.

"Why, yes, yes, I would. Can you just see Kirk's face when I upstaged his newest story about his mother with tales of how I became an invalid?" Lorelai asked as she opened the front door and stepped onto the patio. "Goodnight, Mother. Thank you so much for another lovely Friday dinner. I can't imagine how I went without them all those years."

Joyce saw Emily's face tighten and jumped in before another argument – this one openly public – could start up. "Yes, goodnight, Emily."

It was enough to derail her hostess. "You are very welcome, Joyce. As I said before, you are always welcome here whenever you are in town." Emily stood at the doorway until Joyce joined Lorelai and Rory on the porch and then closed the door behind them.

"Wasn't that fun?" Lorelai asked with an impish grin. "Dinner with the Gilmore Girls. What else would you want to do with your Friday nights?"

Chuckling, Joyce poked her in the side as she walked past. "You are so bad, honey." As soon as the words were out, Joyce knew she'd made a mistake. She grimaced and raised her eyes to Lorelai's. "Oops. Did I say that out loud?"

It wasn't Lorelai who answered. "Yes, you did," Rory grumbled. "You just called my mom 'honey.' You two know each other, don't you? This was some sick idea she came up with, wasn't it? Some new way to torment Grandma?" Her stern demeanor wavered for a moment. "Why didn't you tell me? That was plain mean, Mom!"

When she phrased it like that… Trying not to laugh again, Joyce answered. "It was your mom's idea, yes. She said she wanted to introduce me to her family formally – even though I'd met both of your grandparents last year in Los Angeles. I'm sorry if you were embarrassed. I wasn't aware of her plans for the fireworks over the entre. For some reason, I kept envisioning a simple announcement that we were seeing each other."

"Why would I do that? This was way more fun." Lorelai was still enjoying herself. Almost skipping the last few steps to her Jeep, she said, "I thought Emily's head was going to explode when I accused her of setting me up." She spun abruptly and threw herself at Joyce.

Not expecting the embrace, Joyce staggered back a step.

"Thank you for the best Valentine's present ever, Joyce." As quickly as she'd arrived, Lorelai pulled away and bounced to the Jeep. "Now, if you'll follow us back home, I have your present all wrapped and waiting."

As Joyce obligingly hurried to her rental car, she heard Rory comment, "Why couldn't you be like normal women, Mom, and ask for flowers or candy? You love candy. Big chocolate hearts and cupids and Sweettarts…"