Disclaimer: The life of a non- Gilmore Girls affiliate can be pretty hard knock. I would know.
Hey, Readers!! I'm a couple of days late with this story. I gave myself a 3-week window to write this, and then of course, didn't start on it until the last minute. And then to shake things up even more, I came down with writer's block about a fifth of the way in. Grrrr!
This story is complete….takes place S1…AU, in that it follows no events on the actual show…spans approximately two weeks…Rated M for graphic content toward the end; the rest is pretty mild.
The title is The One Who Mows, but you'll notice that there's no lawn mower anywhere in the story. On the show, Lorelai told Luke once that Max (her fiancé at the time) wasn't a mower. Luke, on the other hand, is a mower. The title is sort of a metaphor. The story focuses on Luke, though Max is in the picture. He and Lorelai are dating. I feel like there is something I wanted to say to prepare you all for the story, but I'm drawing a blank right now lol. *Shrugs* Must not have been too important.
Enjoy the read!
The One Who Mows
Luke made his way to the fishing hole.
It was early morning and the streets of Stars Hollow weren't completely empty. At 5 a.m, there were already a few early birds dispersed. Only exercisers. The town didn't come to life until six, so the real crowds hadn't begun filing out yet.
Luke had placed a sign in his diner window. It told customers that he'd be opening an hour later than normal. He knew there would be unhappy townsmen. An unhappy Kirk. But for the past couple of days, his mind had been on the old fishing hole. With almost a week to go before having a morning off, he made the decision to just close up shop for a while and do what he had missed.
At the hole, he copped a squat, got his line in the water, and relaxed as he sipped on hot tea from a thermos. The time, of course, went by way too fast, and by 6:30, he was tossing his catch back into the water and packing up.
He made his way back toward the center of town. As he walked through the brush with both hands full of fishing gear, he ducked beneath the 80-year-old oak tree and got the toe of his boot stuck in a burrow. Down, he went. He was on the ground before he knew what had happened.
All equipment left his hands, and he cursed at the circumstance. As he sat there, his eyes went to his ankle. There was pain. A lot of pain. That pain got silence, and more curse words went, again, toward the damned circumstance.
He tried to move. Tried to stand. A sudden sharp pain told him not to do it again. More profanity. He looked up. Looked around. His fall had landed him below the vegetation. He could see the townspeople out and about. In the distance, he could even see a couple of them peering into his diner even though the Open at 7am sign was staring them right in the face. Unfortunately for him, none of those early risers could see him.
Profanity, profanity, profanity.
He knew he'd have to call for help. Like a lamb. Or a damsel. He struggled with that decision. He couldn't move, and unless he wanted to sit there forever, he'd have no choice, but still he struggled. Time ticked away and began to approach the beginning of forever.
He tried again to stand several times. Failed several times. Eventually, he just sat and watched as people passed within feet of him. 6:30 drifted to 7. He saw the line form at his door, and he wondered just how long before one of the leeches noticed that something obviously wasn't right. Fifteen more minutes fell away and he felt the urge to scream. Not to gain attention but to yell. At all the people in the steadily growing line. Given his predicament, he wasn't exactly thrilled to see that their main concern was getting some eggs and pancakes.
Useless bunch of people. All of them.
Luke looked down at his ankle once more. The pain still didn't register past his ever-growing annoyance. When he looked up, he saw Kirk break away from the sidewalk diner-crowd. He had spent close to an hour pressing his face into the glass. He, now, appeared lost. Luke watched him from yards away as he slowly moved in his direction while looking around frantically.
Luke studied him carefully. Like a prey-seeking animal. It took minutes for Kirk to get as close as Luke hoped he would get. Without taking the chance that he would retreat, Luke gripped the pebble he held between his fingers and tossed it through the air.
It hit Kirk in the chest. He clutched the area immediately and gasped like he'd been shot. "Ahhh!" he screamed.
"For the love of god," Luke muttered. He had thrown the tiny rock in a way that wouldn't have caused much pain at all.
Kirk was about to bolt. Was about to seek shelter. It was clear in his eyes and obvious as hell in his stance. Realizing he didn't have much choice, Luke called out to him before he could follow through with his plans to get out of dodge.
Kirk froze and looked around. "Luke? Is that you?"
Sigh. "Yes, Kirk. It's me." He watched as Kirk looked everywhere except where he was. "Over here. In the bushes," he volunteered.
Kirk looked over. Slowly walked over. "What are you doing over there?"
The hour that Luke had spent sitting helplessly on the ground didn't do much to steel his patience. "Just come over here and help me up, will you?"
Kirk picked up the pace. "Help you? What do you mean help you? Are you trapped?" He moved aside hanging limbs and climbed over shrubbery to get to Luke.
Luke rolled his eyes, waved him nearer. "Here. Give me your arm," he instructed. Kirk did as asked. He scanned Luke's body as Luke struggled to get to his feet. The problem area became clear.
"You can't move your leg?"
Grunt. Struggle. Failure. "Kirk, will you stop moving? If I press on your arm, and you let your arm be weighted down, what good will that do?"
"You're heavy," he complained.
"I've barely put any pressure on you!"
"Well…I can anticipate the heaviness. And it's uncomfortable."
"The heaviness you anticipate is uncomfortable?"
"Are you going to try to help me up or not?"
"How much do you weigh?"
"I'm 133. I don't do well with strenuous activity, and while you're not fat, you weigh a lot more than I do. And I think that if I try to lift you, I may get a hernia. Hernias are uncomfortable."
"Hernias are uncomfortable…"
"What exactly in your opinion isn't uncomfortable?"
"A lot of stuff."
"Except for heaviness and hernias."
"And too tight underwear."
"Underwear, yes. They cut funny."
Luke pressed his fingers to his temples. "Go."
"Go. Go. Go away now. Please."
"But you're on the ground."
"Go away, Kirk."
"And leave you on the ground?"
Luke looked up. "Get someone. Anyone. This grass is wet, which means my pants are wet, which means I'm wet, which means I'm cranky. I'm cranky, and I'm sitting on the damn damp grass talking to you about your tighty whiteys. I want you to go. Go get anyone. Anyone comfortable. Anyone who can help me. Just go find anyone. Quickly."
Kirk nodded dutifully. "I'm on it."
He turned and ran. Only a few steps. Turned back. "Luke, how long do you think it'll be before the diner is open? I'm really hung--"
"Kirk!" Luke yelled loud enough for his voice to ring across the square.
Kirk was gone in a flash.
Luke hobbled into his kitchen.
He got a glass of milk and leaned onto the door of the fridge as he drank up. He limped to the sink, washed his glass out, and that same limp took him to the living room where he snagged his cap.
He was on his way to shut off the TV when a knock on the front door got his attention.
"Who is it?" he yelled.
"Avon! New month, new catalogue. Spend 25 bucks, get a free toiletry case. Definitely solves the problem of what to do with that cute little nail file of yours."
Luke frowned at the distance to the door. "Great," he muttered. "Hold on, Lorelai. I'm coming." He finished the journey to the TV, then carefully made his way to the door. One painful step at a time. He pulled it open and hopped back as he tried to avoid putting any more weight on his throbbing tape-covered ankle.
Lorelai immediately looked down at his injury. "Wow. Guess you really aren't faking."
"Swiss army knife."
"Uh, cold steel push dagger."
"Oh. Thought we were playing a Jack the Ripper style name game here. My fault."
Luke rolled his eyes. "It wasn't a nail file. It was a Swiss army knife," he clarified.
"With a nail file."
"Among other things."
She smiled. "Those other things sat among a nail file."
"Why me?" he muttered.
"Not here to judge," she said with her hands held up innocently. "I'm sure even Paul Bunyan cared deeply about his paraffin hand treatment."
Luke would have turned to leave at that very moment if he could. Instead, he stood by the door with one foot off the ground. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Lorelai sighed and took in his bandaged ankle. "Just came to check on you. Heard you had quite a morning."
"That's an understatement if I ever heard one." He hopped back a little more. Grabbed his trophy shelf for balance.
Lorelai came inside and pushed the door closed. "I'm sorry. I would've been here sooner, but I didn't hear about it until Kirk barreled into the inn about an hour ago making it seem like you'd been attacked by a pack of hungry wolves."
He nodded. "And it only took you an hour to come make sure that I was okay. Thanks."
Lorelai smiled broadly. "Well, I figured once the wolves got a taste of your vegan-like insides, they'd have skipped out on that meal anyway, so what was the rush?"
"Right," he agreed drably. He shook his head. "You didn't have to come, you know."
She placed her purse by the door. "Well, it was slow at the inn, so I figured I'd swing by. See if you were any worse for the wear."
"I'm okay. Just some pain. Some inconvenience." He pointed down his body. "As you can see."
She looked down and scanned his ankle with concern. "Yeah, that's one hell of an inconvenience you got there." She met his eyes. "Does it hurt?"
"Definitely doesn't feel good."
"I'll be okay. Just gotta take it easy for a while."
Lorelai nodded. "You want to sit?"
"Offering me a seat in my own place?"
She smiled. "Well, you look like you're trying to avoid putting any weight on your foot. You may want to get a jumpstart on that taking it easy thing."
Luke looked over toward the couch. That few feet looked like a few hundred feet. "Um, in a minute," he told Lorelai.
"It hurts that bad?"
He shook his head casually. "No. I just like to stand here sometimes."
She laughed. "Liar. Jim Carrey's got nothing on you, does he?"
He rolled his eyes. "Just give me a minute, okay?"
Lorelai pointed toward the living room. "Want me to grab those for you?" she asked of the crutches that leaned against the wall by the window.
He hopped backward and leaned more of his weight against the shelf. He responded with reluctance. "If you don't mind."
Lorelai walked over and retrieved them. "You know, usually when they give you these things, they're meant to be in the same location that you are."
He took them from her and muttered a "thanks". With the help of the crutches, he was in the kitchen in a few seconds. He sat down in a chair and sighed deeply. "Tired of this damn thing," he said while making room for his swollen foot.
Lorelai, who had followed him into the kitchen, pulled out a chair and sat down too. "How long until you're all better?"
"Hm. Could be worse."
"Could be better, too."
"Half full glass, Luke. Start searching for it."
He grimaced at his leg. "How the hell am I going to deal with this thing for two weeks? I have responsibilities, and this isn't going to make anything any easier."
"Guess you mean the diner."
"Of course the diner. It's gonna be two weeks of wobbling all over the place."
"Not if you use your crutches, Tough Guy. With your crutches, it's two weeks of hopping all over the place. Much safer. And why on God's green earth with Taylor approved grass heights would you consider working when your ankle's all screwed up?"
"I can work just fine, Lorelai. Like I told you before, I just have to be sure I take it easy."
Lorelai shook her head, looked away. "I'd like to see that in a doctor's note."
"Well, I don't have one, so I guess my word is going to have to be enough. I'll manage."
"I broke my leg once, and I was completely useless. Couldn't do anything. Couldn't go anywhere. Couldn't even make it up the stairs of my own house. I was the couch spud for weeks."
"I vaguely remember that."
"And let me tell ya, being glued to the couch without free will is no picnic, Yogi."
"Worse for me since couch life never thrilled me much anyway."
She smiled a little. "Just be careful is all I'm saying."
"I know to be careful, Lorelai."
"Use your crutches."
"Are you lecturing me?"
Her smile spread as she looked down to the table. "Rest. Stay off of it as much as possible."
"Should I be calling you Dr. Gilmore now or will Mom suffice?"
She regarded him. "Just be grateful that I care enough to waste my breath on you. If only I was there with you this morning to point out the crater-sized rabbit hole that took you down, Mr. Magoo, you wouldn't be in this dilemma."
Luke rolled his eyes. "I'd rather be taken down by a thousand rabbit holes than have you tagging along, yammering on and on about nothing during a peaceful fishing trip."
"You don't mean that."
"You think so, do you?"
"Man, this is getting ugly."
"By offering you sound advice?"
"By mocking me and referencing a blind-as-a-bat cartoon character when I'm in pain. Where's the friendship?"
"Right here. It's what kept me from asking if you yelled the courtesy 'timbeeeer' before the ground welcomed your face."
Luke glared at her. "Is that supposed to be funny?"
She grinned. "Apparently not."
He shook his head and looked away. "Guess you get your jollies stepping on small kittens too."
"Only the strays. Can't take the chance they'll go back and summon the litter, you know."
Luke looked exhausted. "Well, this conversation has really been pleasant. Really. But I need to get to work, so…" He stopped on a suggestive note.
"So, you're kicking me out, huh?"
"To put it plainly, yes I am."
Lorelai stood. "Well, as much as that hurts my feelings, I'll let you off the hook this time because I need to get back to work anyway. Michel is holding down the fort."
He nodded. "So you better get back before there's no fort left."
"Precisely." She smiled and moved to help him stand but ended up backing away when the assistance wasn't necessary.
"Thanks," Luke said anyway.
Lorelai nodded. "Are you going to work like that?" she asked.
Luke looked down at his grey T-shirt and thin, dark cotton pants. One leg was rolled up. It rested above the tape. "Yeah, why?"
"Just isn't the uniform."
"What uniform? There is no uniform."
She gave him an incredulous stare. "Flannel, jeans. Just saying, you may be sent home and written up for breaking code."
He grabbed both crutches and positioned them under his arms. "I'm sure, under the circumstances, the boss will understand," he replied acerbically.
"It's pretty slow down there right now."
"Of course it's slow. Lunch just ended. Since I only have one functioning leg, I figured it'd be best to go down when it's not complete pandemonium."
He moved across the apartment. Lorelai fell in behind him. "An okay idea."
"Just an okay idea? What would be a better idea in your always humble opinion?"
She smiled. "Staying out of the diner altogether. 'Danger, Will Robinson', comes to mind."
Luke made it into his bedroom and he turned to face her. She almost ran into him but stopped in the nick of time. He met her eyes, perturbed. "And what exactly do you propose I do? Sit up here and rot?"
"Well, I'm guessing your shelf-life is a lot longer than two weeks, so rotting probably won't be a part of the equation, but I do think it's a good idea to take some time off. I mean, how much help can you be with a crutch in each hand and only one leg to stand on? Think about it."
He turned again. "I have thought about it. And I'm going to work. End of story."
"You sound like you're being stubborn."
"Nope. Just logical." When he was in front of his nightstand, he lowered himself to the edge of the bed. He picked up a bottle of lotion and flipped the cap.
"Logic isn't factoring into your argument much," she disputed.
He squeezed a dollop of lotion in his palm and set the bottle down. "You're wasting your breath, Lorelai," he revealed calmly as he moisturized his arms.
She sighed. "Figures." Her eyes moved around his bedroom space.
"What do you care anyway?"
She continued to scan. "What do I care, he asks," she narrated wryly.
"Yeah. I did ask."
She rolled her eyes to him. He was already looking at her. "You're right. I don't care. I've known you for 4 plus years now, and I don't give a rat's ass about your well-being," she finished with annoyance. "Get a clue, Luke."
He looked away, unmoved. "Well, I'm touched. But I'll go crazy in this apartment, and while I'm sure you'd love some company in that area, I'm quite fond of my sanity, so I'm gonna do everything in my power to keep it."
She looked around again. "So, it's about you being alone up here?" she asked incredulously.
He regarded her. "No. It's about me wanting to work."
"Because there are ways of getting around loneliness, Luke. You don't have to risk further shattering your already shattered limb for some company."
"Did you not hear what I just said?"
"I heard you fine."
"Doesn't sound like it. Next thing you know, you'll be offering me a spot on your couch."
She cocked her head. "Why would I do that?"
"To provide escape from all this loneliness," he mocked.
Lorelai pointed at him. "See. You admit it."
"I'm not about to continue to defend myself on this."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, you know. Hell, if it weren't for Rory, I'd have spent the past 16 years with an Elvis Presley theme song calling me a lonesome crybaby. Talk about uncool."
Luke cracked his neck. Looked high for strength. "I have to be downstairs in a minute." He took one of his crutches to stand and blindly reached for the other. It fell.
Lorelai walked over. Kneeled. And stayed that way until he met her eyes. Her hand rested on the crutch. "I wouldn't mind," she told him. "If you came to stay with me for a while, I wouldn't mind at all."
"I know you said it as a joke or maybe to shine light on how I was being the crazy, overprotective friend. I don't know. But you could crash at the crap shack. With me and Rory."
He looked at her strangely, gauging her gravity. "You're serious," he finally determined.
"Of course, I'm serious."
He sighed, reached his hand out for the crutch, and she passed it to him. "Lorelai, that's not even remotely necessary."
"It'd be fun."
"It'd be pointless."
"My couch is majorly uncomfortable, but I'll be there to annoy you to sleep every night until you're back on your feet."
"Is that supposed to be some kind of persuasive tactic?"
"The best I've got."
"You really need to consider revisiting the drawing board."
She stood. "Look, I know you've got a lot of--" She glanced into the bathroom and her eyes went narrow. "Where the hell is your toilet?"
Luke got his crutches positioned and then stood. "It's gone," he said simply.
She watched in disbelief as he moved passed her casually. "Gone? What'd it do, pack up and move away? It needed a change of scenery?"
He kept moving. "Wanted to get one with a smaller tank, so I took it out last night. Was gonna go pick up a new one today and finish the work, but…" He paused, hopped along, "…plans changed."
"You were gonna do it yourself, then?"
"You're not going to be able to do that for a while," she pointed out.
"Thanks for stating the obvious."
"Well, are you going to pay someone to finish up? Because you kind of need a toilet."
"You're just full of good advice today, aren't you? And no, I'm not paying to do something I'm fully capable of doing myself. It's a waste of money."
"Right now, you're not capable. That's the problem."
"So, you just don't have a toilet?"
"Of course I have a toilet."
Lorelai hurried behind him and stepped in front of the door, which he was just about to open to leave. He looked at her impatiently. "If you don't have a toilet where the toilet is supposed to be, then you don't have a toilet!" she exclaimed.
"I have one downstairs, Lorelai."
"In the diner?" she asked, aghast. "That's for public use."
"So?! The public toilet can't be your toilet, Luke. It's the toilet you use when you can't hold it long enough to use your own."
"This conversation is going to an awkward place."
She stepped to the side to keep him from moving around her. "Your leg is injured. You can barely stand. And you're telling me that not only are you going to go up and down that narrow, dangerous staircase of yours to go work in the diner, but you're also going to brave Mt. Niesen every time you have to use the restroom?!"
Luke dropped his head exhaustedly. "It's not as bad as you're making it sound."
"Stay with me."
He lifted his eyes to her. "That's an extreme solution."
"There's nothing extreme about it," she insisted. "Stay with me. At my house, there's a safe, accessible toilet. And Rory and I are really good company."
He rolled his eyes. "I know you are. That's not the point."
"Well, make it the point."
"Pack. Pack up now and I'll take you there and let you get settled. I have to go back to the inn, but I'll only be at work for another two or three hours. And Rory is coming home late today, so she'll be there a little after me, and then--"
Lorelai froze mid-sentence. Luke's eyes didn't waver. "Um…what…"
"Isn't there a Max?" he asked uniformly.
She blinked. "Yeah. There is," she finally answered. Her expression read puzzlement. "But how did you--"
"Just heard it somewhere."
"Name and everything, huh?" she asked slowly.
He took a deep breath. "Yeah, name and everything. Thrilling, I know. Look--"
She cut him off. "Max isn't an issue. You're a friend, and you need help. I'm offering my help. Simple as that."
Luke appeared so incredibly defeated. "Lorelai, please."
"Why?" she asked pleadingly.
"Because it'll be weird!"
"To who, Rory?" she asked passively. "Have you met Rory? She'll want you there more than me! Especially when she hears about the whole outhouse option."
He nodded. "Well, okay, Rory'll be okay with it. That's good." He gave her a pointed look. "What about Max?"
Lorelai shook her head a bit. "It's so weird to hear you say his name. I mean, I didn't even know that you knew about…and now…" She rambled on, more to herself.
"Sorry." She met his eyes. "Luke, I am asking you to stay at my house. You are my friend and I'm asking you this as my friend," she stressed. "This is between you and me. And Rory, in that she's a part of every decision I make because she's my kid. As the askee, it's not your job to consider anything or worry about anything. I, the asker, will handle everything on my end. All I need from you is agreement. Now…" She took a heavy breath. "Will you let me put you up for a while?"
"It's. not. necessary."
"I think it is."
His lips twisted, his eyes rolled, his leg begged him to move or sit do something besides just stand there. "You really can't just be like everyone else and offer a 'get well soon' and a sympathetic arm rub, can you?" he griped.
She smiled. Reached out and touched his arm softly. Her caress caused so much awareness in his body. "Get well soon, Luke," she offered. Her hand ended up on his shoulder, and she got his eyes to meet hers again. "Now, pack your crap and get in the car," she ended.
Luke turned away from her eye contact. "Jeez."
Lorelai smiled and followed behind him. "Suitcase in the closet?"
"He's there now."
Sookie leaned against the front desk of the inn where Lorelai stood working. "What's he doing?" she delved.
Lorelai thumbed through the large rolodex. "I dunno. Watching TV; playing solitaire; going through my underwear drawer, beats me," she answered glibly.
Sookie moved in further. "Ah, man, you think he really is checking out your underwear?"
Lorelai chuckled and looked up. "Well, I hope not. All the really enticing ones are in the laundry room, so he may get the wrong impression when he only finds the once a month panties."
"What would the wrong impression be?"
"That I'm a granny panty girl."
Sookie giggled. "You are so not a granny panty girl."
Lorelai gave a thoughtful look. "I'm having a little trouble translating that into something akin to a compliment."
"But it was," she assured.
"May as well have giggled and called me a slut, Sook."
"Okay, off the subject of your undergarments now."
They shared a smile like only best friends could.
"I can't believe Luke is staying at your place," Sookie said thoughtfully.
Lorelai was back to focusing on the task in front of her. "No big deal."
"Have you thought about how Max will take it?"
"He'll take it fine because it's not much to take."
"What will happen when he stays over?"
She shrugged carelessly. "Well, I'm guessing there won't be many sleepovers given the circumstances."
"But what if he wants to?"
She chuckled. "Doubt he will."
"But what if he does? You know that thing about guys and peeing on trees to mark their territory."
"Not in the figurative sense."
"Max isn't like that. He doesn't pee on trees figuratively or literally. He's a good guy. Secure. And he's potty trained."
"Yeah, until he comes over and sees someone else sitting on his potty. Then, it's tree peeing time."
Lorelai looked at her. "And the someone is…?"
"Luke's on Max's potty?"
"And the potty represents…?"
Lorelai's eyes narrowed. "I'm a potty…"
"And Luke would be sitting on me?"
"That's disgusting, Sookie."
Bigger grin. "Not the way I'm looking at it."
Lorelai shook her head, laughed. "Please don't share that perspective. Whatever it may be!"
Sookie laughed too. "As you wish." She pointed behind her. "Better get back to the kitchen. Got some mixin' and blendin' to do."
Lorelai picked up the receiver. "Okay. I'm going to call the printer service place since the copier's making those ugly, black lines again, and then I'll follow you in. It's about time for my half-hourly coffee break anyway."
Sookie nodded. "Okay, Hon. I'll see you in a minute."
Later that night, Lorelai came down the staircase of her home. They'd just finished dinner in the Gilmore home. Her attention went immediately to the couch, and when she didn't see Luke there, she descended faster.
"Danes?" she called.
"Kitchen," he answered.
She rushed in. Stopped near him and dropped her jaw. "Why are you up?"
"I'm not going to sit around like a lump the whole time I'm here, Lorelai. Get used to it. You may as well get all of your complaining and scolding out too because I'm not going to listen to it every day."
She closed her mouth. Relaxed her stance and leaned on the counter as he rinsed out his plate. "How do you know I wasn't going to commend your valiant walking efforts?"
"Because you haven't done it once all day. It's just nag, nag, nag, nag, nag."
Again, her mouth dropped. "I am so not a nagger!"
"And there was certainly no need to say it five times, mister. That was just insulting!"
He smiled a little. "Would once have been better?"
"You ride me every day about coffee intake. Is what you do nagging?"
"I tell you what's best for you."
She gestured toward him. "Exactly what I've been doing all day. But you know what the difference is?"
"I'm a woman, and you're a man."
"Wow. I once was blind, but now I see," he stated dryly.
"Why is it that when we, women, share our abundant knowledge we get labeled naggers and pests but when guys do it, their words of advice are so very necessary? Huh? Is it because we don't have bass voices to make it seem graver? I mean, what is it, Luke? Why is everything I say considered balderdash? If I went out and had a sex change operation, would I be more credible to you and your look-what-I-can-do-standing-up gender?"
Luke had stopped and was looking at her in stunned silence. "Uh…"
Rory came out of her bedroom. "Hey," she greeted. "What's with all the fuss?" She went to the cabinet with the cookies.
Lorelai turned her solemn expression into a wide, bright smile as she faced her daughter. "Just giving Luke a little brush-up on Rosie the Riveter."
Rory pulled down a box of Nillas. She raised her eyebrows. "Oh?" she asked intrigued.
"Yeah, apparently Luke feels that where you and I are right now," she said pointing to their current location in the kitchen, "Is where we should stay. Forever. Forget about that career in journalism. He's going to put up an electric fence to cover the exits tomorrow."
Luke turned suddenly while gripping the sink. He was careful not to put weight on his leg. He looked as if he had stopped breathing at Lorelai's words. "I didn't…I would never…Rory--" Snickers from Lorelai made him focus on her. "Why would you say that to her? I didn't say any of that!"
"Oh, don't backtrack now, Luke," she teased. "Do another chorus of how it's a Man's Woooorld," she ended in song.
Rory spoke solemnly. "Luke, I had no idea you felt that way. It's really quite upsetting. And here I was…looking up to you. I can't believe it."
Luke's mouth remained opened as he looked across the kitchen at Rory. He tried to get words out, but they wouldn't come. He just kept shaking his head.
Lorelai laid her hand on arm and leaned up to see his face. "Luke?" She paused. "Are you breathing?" she asked.
He looked at her. "Will you tell her that this is your idea of a joke?" he asked tightly.
Lorelai's eyes flashed to Rory. She fought a smile because she could see Luke wasn't laughing. "Um, she knows it's a joke," she said. "She knew the second I said it."
Rory chuckled. "It's true, Luke. I'm Lorelai Gilmore's never-failing bs detector. Nothing gets past me."
Luke rolled his eyes to the floor and the color slowly returned to his face.
Lorelai relaxed. Rubbed across Luke's shoulder apologetically while she turned eyes to Rory. "Okay, Babe, no more joshing Luke on anything that could risk sullying your opinion of him. He might end up beating mommy with one of these crutches if it happens again."
Rory nodded. "Jeez, Luke, you're batting a thousand tonight."
He looked up, panicked. Lorelai stepped in front of him, in his line of sight. "Joking. Relax," she said before he could go pale again.
Rory giggled. "Two weeks of this? This is going to be awesome!" She walked toward her bedroom. "Gonna go study. Love you, Mom."
"Love you too, Sweetie," she said, eyes on Luke.
She stopped before going into her room. Her smile was huge. "And I love you too, Luke. And so does Mom. Just keep that in mind the rest of your stay. Because I know tonight was just the tip of the iceberg."
Luke's mind was still reeling but he definitely caught the part about the love. Rory loved him. He didn't care what kind of love it was. It was still love. She threw her mom in the mix too, but he didn't focus on that. It was like someone signing up for a task and then volunteering his or her oblivious buddy to carry out the same duty. The friend could secretly want to kill the happy joiner. So, no, he didn't focus on that part. But Rory's personal declaration made him tingle all over as he responded with a barely lucid, "Thanks, Rory."
Rory's smile remained as she disappeared into her bedroom and closed the door.
Lorelai stepped back a little, out of his personal space. She smiled cautiously. "Boy, aren't we a couple of funny girls, huh? We should take our act on the road."
Luke got his crutches in place. "Yeah, you two make quite a pair," he said in sarcasm.
"I'm sorry, Luke."
He squinted. "Damn. Looked like you actually meant that," he said lightheartedly.
She laughed. "Well, make no mistake about it, I have an entire list of ways to torture you silly for my own sick pleasure—"
"I believe that."
"—but," she continued on with a smile, "I think I jumped straight to end of week 1 material. Day 1 is just supposed to be to make Luke redden and divert. Not make Luke have a coronary."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, end of week 1 is definitely a more appropriate time for that." With Lorelai's excited nod and smile, he mumbled, "You're sick."
She poked him above his navel. "And you're staying. Right?" He looked at her confusedly. "I didn't scare you off, did I?"
He smiled, then. "Not yet. Give it time."
She raised her arms triumphantly and then turned. "Finished in here?"
He started toward the living room. "Yeah. Thanks for dinner."
Lorelai, who was now at the cookie cabinet, nodded happily. "Anytime."
"Just wish you didn't have to spend an extra ten minutes on the phone with the pizza guy trying to convince him that the medium veggie pizza wasn't some kind of prank."
"Well, hey, nothing better than converting a nonbeliever." She pointed at him. "We really did have a square in the house."
Luke smiled. Exited the kitchen. "I'm going to turn in."
"Oh, no you're not, mister. You don't have work tomorrow. No going to bed super early. We're going to watch a movie. I'll be in in a second."
"What? What if I don't want to watch a movie?" he yelled back.
"Well, we're gonna. Welcome to the house of subjugation."
"Fine. I'll probably fall asleep anyway."
"Aw, don't think that way, Luke. At least wait until you've heard the title first. Jeez." She grabbed a bag of chocolate chip cookies and left the kitchen, turning off lights along the way.
Luke was sitting on the couch. Lorelai, dressed for work, approached with a huge ziplock bag. "I've already iced," he told her.
"You're supposed to ice all the time, Luke. Man, even I know that."
"I think you should probably be offended by that comment."
Lorelai stopped in front of him. She nodded and juggled the cold bag from one hand to the other. "Yeah, I did get myself pretty good just then, didn't I?"
"Glad to see you're an equal opportunity insulter." He frowned. "Hey, what are you doing?"
Lorelai had set the bag of ice on the coffee table. She was in the process of squeezing more pillows beneath the high stack of pillows already positioned under his foot.
She didn't answer him until she was satisfied with the result. She stood, sighed, smiled at his foot that was now waist high. "There. The higher the better." She looked up at his face. "Comfortable?"
Luke threw a scowl down at his foot, which looked taller than the lamp on the other end of the couch. "Do I look comfortable?" he complained. "One more pillow and I'll know what it feels like to get caught up in a fold-away bed."
Lorelai carefully placed the bag on his foot. "Perfect." She stepped back. "Now, don't move until the ice melts."
"Or until you can't feel anything below your waist. That should be sufficient."
"Wait 'til I bring out the sledgehammer."
She smiled. Picked up the remote and handed it to him. "I have to get to work, so here's the deal. Find something good to watch. Something really really good and really really long. Anything but sports. My TV's allergic. And by the time that really really good, really really long, non-sporty program is over, I'll be back here to check on you. And I'll bring lunch. Sound good?"
"I don't need you to bring me anything to eat, Lorelai."
"Why? I'd be happy to. I love food. I love to carry food. Me in the presence of food spell happy times."
Luke sighed. Dropped his head back onto the arm of the sofa. "I'll take care of myself. Just go to work and do whatever it is you need to do."
"But what will you eat?"
"Let me worry about that."
Her eyes lit up. "Oh, wait, you have pizza left over from last night! You can eat that."
Luke nodded like he was on board. "Perfect."
"Unless you don't want it."
She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "You did complain about it being a little too greasy last night."
"It was fine."
"So, I could swing by the diner and get Caesar to make you a roast beef or tuna--"
"Lorelai?" he interrupted.
"You're driving me crazy."
She paused. Considered. Appeared dissatisfied. "Am I really?"
He smiled. "Little bit."
He held up both hands. "Definitely pleading the fifth on that one."
She chuckled. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'll leave." She scanned both him and the area making sure everything was satisfactory. She found that it could be better. But she had to get to work, and she figured Luke was thoroughly annoyed with her, so she left it as it was. "Call if you need anything. I'll be home--"
"Don't say for lunch."
"—eventually," she ended with a coy smile. Luke nodded, smiled fully. More at her than with her. She backed away. "See ya," she said while going for breezy.
"Yeah. See ya," Luke parroted.
Lorelai moved around the couch toward the door. "Take it easy, and stay out of my underwear drawer."
That got Luke's smile to disappear. "What?"
She grabbed her jacket and purse. "At least until I do laundry."
He sat up more. "What the hell are you--"
"Bye, Luke!" She left the house on that note.
Luke wasn't a TV guy. Never had been a TV guy. Lorelai loved it with passion, which he knew. That was the reason she'd slapped the remote control in his palm before leaving. When she was gone, he flipped through channels for a while before hitting the power button.
He laid there bored out of his mind for a long while. The bag of ice Lorelai had placed over his foot did a respectable job of numbing his entire leg, as she had hoped.
He stared at the ceiling. Wondered what in the hell had happened to get him here. Didn't wonder long, though. There was no point in it. He never had to waste time wondering when he already knew. It was the desire. Always, always, always the desire. Desire to be anywhere she was. Desire to be near anyplace she was even thinking of being. Nothing had to come of it. Nothing probably ever would was his newest frame of mind.
But yet, he gave into her, went soft for her, turned into a hopeless sucker if she blinked those deep, blue eyes in his direction too many times. As much as he wished it wasn't the case, it was. He'd never been the type to lose himself over a woman, and Lorelai had him in a state of delirium every day.
And she had someone! Definitely couldn't forget that fact of life. She always had someone. And he continued on doing everything in his power to keep her happy. Keep her satisfied. And for what? For friendship? To have her reward him with breathtaking smiles?
And as he sat there thinking of both, he was mighty content to carry on as he always had. Her friendship was so important to him. And he found her joy uplifting. When she smiled, everyone around her smiled.
For the rest of his days knowing her, he knew he'd find himself in the very position he was on this day. Somewhere unnecessary doing something unnecessary because in her eyes…it was necessary.
Screw the Maxes in her life. Sure, they got a part of her that he probably never would. But he liked to think that on some level, he got a special part of her as well. He knew her heart, knew her moods, and she could talk to him. She'd do it sometimes, too. Softly, vulnerably. She'd start on something small and comical and end on something grander; something with way less jokes. And he could tell by the look in her eyes that she was sharing something personal with him. She'd keep turning the wheel until they hit a full circle back into the land of comedy, but he always cherished those talks.
Though he didn't feel the need to compete with Max, he found that he could possibly be, maybe almost a little…important to Lorelai, too. In a different way. Perhaps.
Luke grew tired of staring at the ceiling.
Decided to move. Do. He wasn't used to sitting around helplessly while counting the tick tocks from an unseen clock. He'd already determined that the battery in that clock needed to be changed. The ticks were weak, and the tocks were far and in-between.
He moved both feet to the floor carefully and then picked up the ice bag, which had fallen.
With restless eyes, he looked around the room at various things. Looked upstairs. He knew he'd avoid the upstairs. Not only was the climb unappealing, but he didn't want to make Lorelai even suspect that he was rifling through her personal things.
He stood. Tested the strength of his ankle and regretted it instantly. He held back a moan as he grasped the sofa arm for balance. He got his crutches in place and hopped toward the kitchen. He hoped that Lorelai at least had a screwdriver and something that could pass as a hammer in there somewhere. It was time to do.
Lorelai came inside of her house and closed the door.
"Hellooooo! Rory! Luke! I'm home!" She hung her things by the door. "And I brought Luke's!" She heard laughter.
"Kitchen, Mom!" yelled Rory.
Lorelai's wide, curious eyes were taking in the scene before she made it in there. She stopped in the doorway. "Hey."
"Hi," they said in unison.
Lorelai smiled at Rory then leaned to the side to catch a glimpse of Luke. He was behind the refrigerator. He stuck his head around and nodded at her. "How was work?"
Lorelai looked between them confusedly. "Good."
"What are you doing to the fridge?" she asked him.
"You have a leak, so I'm trying to see what's causing it."
"Yeah, Mom, I think the days of us tying sponges on our feet and pretending to be Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi are done with. You know how Luke is about boring old safety."
Luke ducked back behind the refrigerator. "Rory said it's been leaking for almost a month."
Lorelai walked over and set the food bags to the table. "Something like that," she answered. She glanced down at Rory's multiple notebooks that she worked in. In the kitchen with noise. "Homework?"
Rory looked up at her and nodded happily. "Mmhm. I wanted to keep Luke company, so I decided to study out here a little bit."
"You never wanna keep me company!" Lorelai exclaimed.
"I learned my lesson a long time ago with that, Mom."
"Wha--no fair! I mean, I know about my occasional chatterbox tendencies--"
"Excuse me? Occasional?"
"Even I know that's not true," Luke monotonously chimed in.
"You mean frequent, obnoxious, and if ever tolerated, fully capable of chipping away at my IQ, sticking me with the Kelly Bundys of the world."
"Or the Barney Fifes. Unless you want Barney Fife for a daughter, you'll respect the study decisions."
"You got that right. Thanks for the support, Luke."
"Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute here! What's with the gang-up?"
"Who's ganging up? I'm not ganging. Luke, are you ganging?"
Rory stage-whispered over to him. "Think she's losing it?"
Luke smiled. "I've been arguing that point for years."
Lorelai placed her hands on her hips. "Okay, though I am dying laughing on the inside—hardy, har, har—I'd be much obliged if this comes to an end. Now."
Luke chuckled then. "Seemed to be so much fun when I was on the receiving end last night. What happened?"
"I dish, baby," she answered unabashedly. "That's what I do."
He rolled his eyes. "Don't call me that."
Lorelai looked down at Rory. "He doesn't want to be called baby. What does that leave?"
Rory grinned. Turned focus to Luke. "Wow, Mom, that's a tough one."
Luke looked between them uneasily. "Oh, no."
Lorelai looked back to him too. Matching grin. "Isn't it, though, Rory?"
"But if I had to think really hard….I guess there's always, uh…Pookie?"
"Good one! If I hit the Thinking Man pose I could probably contribute a…Sweet Cheeks."
"Ooh, Huggy Bear."
Luke's chin fell to his chest.
"Love Muffin," Rory sing-songed.
"Suga Honey yum yum."
"Enough!" Luke snapped.
"Bursting from flattery there, Luke?" Lorelai teased. Rory giggled.
Luke released a curt breath. "How quickly the tables turn in this house."
Lorelai moved around the table and over to him. "The more you get teased, the more adored you are," she said sweetly.
"Well, try to hate me a little more, will ya?"
She smiled. "So, you're fixing the fridge."
"Almost done, actually."
"Great. Wonderful." She looked down at the foot that he kept gingerly on the floor with no weight on it. "How's everything?"
"Ankle was good when you called here twice from work asking about the ankle," he mentioned with a sarcastic smile.
She held up her hands. "To be fair, I didn't ask just now. You volunteered."
"Because I knew what you meant."
"She's obsessive, I know, but her intentions are good. I remember when I was four, and I got my first splinter, she sung Lionel Ritchie to my finger for a straight hour. But not before cleaning it, putting a band-aid on it, and drawing little horns on the sides of the band-aid just in case the tiny wood chip got bold and wanted to return to wreak more havoc."
Luke smiled at Rory. "And the fake horns would do what, exactly?"
"Scare it off, of course," Lorelai answered.
"Ah. Makes perfect sense," he replied dryly.
Lorelai looked around Luke and watched as he checked a long tube-like object. "Luke, not to sound completely ungrateful here, but why are you fixing our fridge?"
He glanced at her. "And not to sound completely like a smartass, but it needed to be looked at. What, are you worried I don't know what I'm doing?"
"No, I know you know what you're doing. But this isn't the reason you're here. I didn't ask you to come here to be my live-in handyman."
"It's no big deal."
"Not the point."
"What can I say? I got bored."
"When I get bored, I watch TV."
"Well, I don't."
"You fix refrigerators?"
"Refrigerators, leaking pipes, table legs, picture frames that a person walking by with large crutches might knock over and break accidentally. Did you notice that the porch light wasn't flickering anymore?"
She looked at him for a long moment. "You fixed all of that?"
"Oh my god, what kind of houseguest are you?"
Luke sighed tiredly and gestured for her to back away. She did. He carefully moved the fridge back in place. "Did I step on someone's toes?"
Lorelai looked down at his one good foot, which was not near hers. "No, I think you're good."
He turned. "With the fridge and the porch light," he clarified. "Did I intrude on anything?"
She was confused. "Like what?"
Luke glanced over at Rory and saw her with her head down in her book. He told himself that the curve of her lips was not a smirk. He tried not to get flustered. "Is someone else supposed to be helping you out with this, Lorelai? A repairman or a…I don't know…anybody else."
"Well, I don't have the money for a repairman right now. Figured I'd better take care of all the frivolous expenses first. Food, electricity, mortgage. You know. The luxuries in life."
Luke's hand went to eyes in resignation.
"Max, Mom. He means Max." Both looked at Rory. Luke was the only one that appeared unsettled.
They met eyes again. "Max?" she asked him.
He shrugged. Hoped that shrug said 'yeah, him. Whoever'. Knew it only showed his discomfort, though. Followed that awkward shrug with actual words. "Is he?" he asked. "Max. Is he supposed to be helping you with this stuff…since he's, you know?"
She looked at him for only a second longer before she lowered her eyes to the floor. She took a breath. A steadying breath, oddly enough. Looked at him again with a smile of amusement. "Max isn't that kind of guy."
Confusing stare. "What kind of guy?"
A simple stare that met his. "A, uh, fix-it…guy."
She nodded. "Yeah, so um…"
Luke tossed another quick look to Rory who was still looking in her book but the smirk was now unmistakable.
"What kind of guy is he, then?" he asked curiously.
It startled Rory, and she looked up. It confused Luke and surprised, even, her. Nothing was funny at all. She'd just had a realization that talking to Luke about Max was about as fun as skinny diving into molten lava.
The laughter faded. She responded to his question. Let her eyes dart around as she did so. "He's just Max, you know? Crazy smart, bookish. He reads Proust. Has a nice collection of intimidating, expensive books at his place. He's, uh, good with words. Recites poetry. He has a gym membership and he actually goes, so he's, um, okay to look at. He's a teacher at Chilton and all of his students love him. His hair--"
Lorelai looked over and responded to Rory's silent question of 'what are you doing?' with silence. She hesitated, turned back and met Luke's eyes. They looked hard, guarded.
"Sorry," she offered.
He shook his head after a brief silence. "S'okay. Least if I wanted to put a personal ad in the paper, I've got all the info I need."
Lorelai smiled. Almost went into the idiotic laughter again. "I babble when I…" She shifted uncomfortably. Lifted her brows at him. "Well, you know me." Hand in her hair. "And now you, um, know Max. Basically, he's not the handy type."
Luke nodded in understanding.
The kitchen went quiet. Eyes bounced around.
"So, you brought dinner," Rory suddenly remarked. "What'd you get?"
Relief was in Lorelai's eyes as she walked over to the table. "Oh yeah. I got our usual. Burgers, fries, onion rings; even got Caesar to add some chicken tenders." She began pulling things from the bag and smiled at Rory's pleased expression. She looked up at Luke. "And for you, I got a salad and a grilled chicken. You good with that?"
Luke finished with the fridge and grabbed his crutches. "Yeah, thanks."
She nodded and smiled. "Shall we?" she asked still looking at Luke.
"Let's dig in," Rory answered happily while stacking her schoolwork to one side.
Lorelai's brows lifted at Luke. He looked at the table. "Sure, let me go wash up and I'll be right out."
That hypnotizing blue finally left him. "Kay, hurry. We'll try to wait for you."
That brought amusement. "Yeah, let's see how that goes," he mumbled as he left the kitchen.
Lorelai came down the stairs freshly showered. She wore a long-sleeved pajama set.
Her focus went to the couch where Luke sat. Suddenly gleeful, she hopped off the final step and skipped over to him. He was upright with his foot extended on the coffee table. The mountain of pillows under that foot would have blocked the TV had he been watching it. Instead, though, his eyes were closed and his head was tossed back onto the couch. Lorelai would have thought he was sleeping if it wasn't for his other knee bouncing up and down restlessly.
She dropped down next to him. The entire side of her body was mashed against the side of his. She smiled and looked into his face. He opened his eyes only to give her a momentary glower and then closed them back.
"Hi, Lorelai," he followed listlessly as if her proximity meant nothing to him.
Her eyes traveled over his stubble-covered jaw and neck. "What are you thinking about so hard?"
"What makes you think I'm thinking of anything?"
"Just looks it. You appear very solemn, very unapproachable," she said while eyeing him critically.
"Well, you just approached me, so it doesn't seem to be too effective."
She smiled. "Are you bored?"
She glanced ahead to the TV then turned focus on him again. "When you said you're not a TV guy, you really meant that, didn't you? I never saw anyone avoid looking at the boob tube as much as you do. It's really weird."
"And maybe it's weird to me how you do nothing but watch TV. Have you ever thought about that?"
"I don't understand," she replied slowly.
She smiled and studied his closed eyes. "Do you know how many women would kill for your eyelashes?"
He didn't move. Didn't flinch. Even when a question rang through his head suddenly at a great volume. 'Is she just sitting there staring at me?'
It shouldn't have been surprising given the person in question. Lorelai Gilmore could get away with almost anything with him and never have to explain herself once. At least as far as she was concerned.
Exhibit A was her proximity. She may as well have been sitting in his lap with the feelings she caused to stir within him. And with her, it was just business as normal.
He sighed. "I guess in your world, that's a compliment. So, thanks."
"It was actually just an observation, but you're welcome."
"Make a more manly observation next time, will you?"
Her eyes moved below his chin. "That's a really fine adam's apple you got there. Looks like it could chop down a cherry tree and guzzle a six pack at the same time."
He smiled. "Thanks. Much better."
Her eyes moved back to his lids. "I've actually always wondered what your parents looked like," she revealed quietly.
Luke opened his eyes and looked into eyes that were already fixed on him. There was quiet for a moment. "What?" he asked with an edge of distrust.
Even when that wall didn't need to be there, it was there when it came to his mom and dad.
Lorelai kept her eyes on his. Allowed him to see the sincerity there. "I've created images of them in my head. Just using pieces of you." She moved away from him and coldness rush to replace the warmth of her body. She slid away, propped her knee between them as she faced him on the seat.
"I don't know how close I've come, but I've thought about it a lot," she revealed with a quiet and childlike kind of giddiness. Her eyes lit up. Her lips curled. She tilted her head, held her hands up as if she was framing his face. "You've got your mother's eyes." She dropped her hands, tilted her head the other way. "Father's cheekbones. His chin too. Your mother's nose. I can bet that's your mother's nose."
Luke smiled without even knowing he had. He only knew of it when Lorelai's smile spread. She gestured toward his eyes. "And even though an amateur may suggest your Maybelline eyelashes are another gift from your mom, I think it was passed down by your dad."
She relaxed, added a sense of finality. They held contact and smiles grew wider.
She was so happy to see him let her into the sanctified place where he held his parents' memory. So happy to see him smiling with her.
"Say something," she ordered affectionately as she applied a spirited push to his leg. She gasped as she realized that was the leg with the injured ankle. "Ooh, sorry," she said with a flinch and then a soothing rub above his knee. Then, she was grinning again. "Say something," she re-urged and removed her hand.
Luke wished she would stop smiling so he could stop. "You're wrong," he revealed.
"What, now you're three?" She chuckled. Luke fought a losing battle with the corners of his mouth. "For your information, I've got my mom's cheekbones," he told her.
She nodded as she seemed to study that area of his face for further observation. "Okay," she conceded. "But I got everything else right, didn't I?"
He wanted nothing more than to tell her 'no'. Unfortunately, he couldn't.
"Yes," he said grudgingly. "Every other guess," he emphasized, "was right."
Lorelai threw her arms into the air triumphantly and got an earful of Luke's laughter. She danced and gloated a bit and then brought her arms down, pointing at his face along the way. "And your smile is from your dad. No doubt about it. Only a guy can pass down a smile that dangerous."
Luke felt twenty feet tall in that moment. There was definitely no chance of his lips turning down after that.
Lorelai laughed at him. The growth of his smile told her he was flattered. Embarrassed. She had flattered and embarrassed Luke.
It was fun.
"When you have a kid, if he doesn't get any other feature from you, I can guarantee he'll get that smile of yours. That's one heck of a dominant trait, buddy."
"Okay," he said to stop her.
"Even if he was born without a rear-end and with a misshapen head like a Conehead from outer space, he'll still have your smile and will still be able to do some damage."
"Okay," he said again.
"No matter how gorgeous and strong-gene'd your chosen tramp is, if nothing else, the smile will come from the Danes side." She could go on all night.
He chuckled, caught off guard by her sentiment toward his future sweetheart. "Tramp?" he asked. "What makes you think she'd be a tramp?"
She shrugged. "Who knows what your type is?"
"So, naturally, you'd think I'd go for the 'Pretty Woman' woman…"
She smiled, satisfied with herself. "At least you won't have to worry about teaching her any new tricks."
"You need help."
Lorelai snickered and returned to her initial position against him. "Lukey and the Tramp. The sequel that shows you that dogs aren't the only ones who get on all fours and pant over a big bone."
Luke dropped his head back again. "Jeez," he muttered with an instant skin flush.
She looked over at him. "Want to hear what the trilogy would be about?"
Luke brought his head up, faced her. "No. I don't," he answered.
Lorelai smiled. It receded when Luke sighed and she felt his warm breath on her face. She really looked, then. Really noticed how close he was. How close they were. If she had a piece of biscotti and she put one end of the biscotti in her mouth, she'd only have to move in half an inch before the other end would be in his.
Her eyes moved to his eyes. He was looking at the hair that framed her face. Very serene, unrushed sweep of her hair. She kept her eyes on his for strained seconds. Her head was almost a complete blank, but her heart seemed to respond some kind of way with its increasingly loud thump, thump, thump. Even took away the sound of the television.
She wondered what could be going through his mind as he stroked her hair with a gaze.
She opened her mouth. Parted her lips. And his eyes went from the hair near her ear to her eyes. She closed her mouth, swallowed, and again her lips parted.
Both their eyes dropped suddenly when Rory's voice called out for Lorelai.
She turned slowly to face the direction of Rory's room. "Uh, y-yeah?"
"PHONE!" Rory shrieked from her comfortable study spot on her mattress.
For a moment, Lorelai seriously couldn't remember what the hell a phone was. She shook away that disorient. "Who is it?" she asked.
"Who else? Max. Let me know when you've got it!"
Luke took a breath, turned focus on the television as Lorelai left his side. Again, left coldness. She whispered a profane word under her breath before standing. A word that he didn't really know she had in her vocabulary.
He didn't look over at her.
Heard the beep on the phone as she clicked the talk button.
All of a sudden, he was a TV guy. The TV was the most happenin' thing in the room.
Name called, he looked over at the end of the staircase where Lorelai stood. "Yeah?" he answered casually.
She held the phone to her chest. "I'm going to go take this," she said.
He nodded. Whatever. "That's fine."
She held his gaze. Looked sympathetic. He hoped it wasn't for his benefit because he definitely didn't need the pity. He knew she'd take the call even before the call came in. Whatever happened between them was always accidental. Always regretted. He was damn near to the point when he could laugh about it.
"Find something good to watch," she said with one of her smiles.
He smiled back. "Back to ceiling-watching it is," he quipped.
She waved away his silliness and started up the stairs. The phone went back to her ear.
Luke took his pain meds from the side table and stood. He got his crutches and went in search of water. The pain in his ankle was starting to get a little too severe, so it was time to numb it.
Figured he could go ahead and tackle the pain that was easy to control.
Luke was sitting on Lorelai's back porch steps with pieces to a ten-year-old radio scattered around him. That's where he was when he heard Lorelai call out to him.
"Luke? Luke, are you here?"
He announced his location. Soon heard her high heels on the old wooden porch behind him.
"Hey," she said.
He tossed his head up in greeting. Went back to what he was doing. "You're home early," he mentioned.
She stepped over the metal and rubber parts carefully. "Yeah, I know," she muttered in distraction. Finally around the maze of parts, she descended the stairs and looked down at what Luke had in his hands. "That's my old radio," she pointed out. "Where'd you find that?"
She took her gaze to his lowered eyes. "You were in the attic? How'd you get up there?"
"How else? I climbed."
She looked down at his foot. Still bandaged. Less swollen. But still an injury, nonetheless. "Jeez, Luke, you're not going to be satisfied until you break your neck, are you?"
"Relax. Everything turned out okay. Even managed to clean out some of those disgusting, thick cobwebs you have up there." He blew some dust out of a groove in the device. "When I'm back on two fully working legs, I can go back up and clean it out if you want," he offered while focusing on the wires in his hand.
"Well, it needs cleaning out, but it's not your job to clean it out."
"I'm sure you have a point in there somewhere." He reached behind him for a screwdriver.
She watched him all focused. All helpful. Not looking for anything in return. Never looking for anything in return. She sighed and folded her arms. Watched him work for a long minute. "Rory goes to school, I go to work, and you turn into Dora the Explorer around this place, don't you?"
He frowned with eyes on his task. "Who the hell is that?"
Lorelai looked down at her feet. "Luke, Max is coming over tonight." She glanced at him and saw that he didn't even pause in his work. Wondered why that bothered her more than relieved her. "Um he's…coming over, and I thought I should let you know so that you're not…blindsided, I guess. I always give Rory a heads up when we're having company, too. Sort of a crapshack rule. All crapshack tenants get notified of visitors."
He nodded once. "Thanks."
"No problem." She stood there for a beat. "Well, I better get going. Gotta get back."
He looked up. "To work?" She nodded. Bemusement was in his features. "You came home just to tell me that?"
Eyes shifting. "Well, no. I also wanted to make sure you didn't, uh, need anything." He stared at her. She gestured at him awkwardly. "So…do you need anything?"
Pause. Continuous stare. "No," he answered.
Nod. "Okay, then." She moved past him on the steps. "I'll see you later."
"Same here," he responded with a headshake at her behavior.
He returned to work on the radio.
Dinner was good.
Luke cooked. He cooked food that he had Caesar buy and bring to the house. The call had been made a few hours before Lorelai dropped in with the news about Max. The groceries were dropped off a short time after she left.
At first he was going to forget about it. Cooking for Rory and Lorelai was one thing. Cooking for the girls and the boyfriend was another. But still, he followed through with his plans.
Lorelai had been surprised and pleased to come home to a house smelling of Italian. Rory drooled at the mouth. It was comical, and he was happy as hell that he'd decided to make the meal.
Afterwards, Luke sat on the couch. Dreamed of solitude. Of his sweet office-apartment above the diner. Rory came from the kitchen and sat with him a while. She made conversation, kept him company as her mom kept Max company in the kitchen.
Luke had cooked, Max agreed to clean.
Rory told Luke how much she loved having him around, made him laugh when she told him of her desire to keep him broken and dependent. All was said while Lorelai and Max were holed up in the kitchen. It was clear to Luke what was she was doing, but he appreciated it just the same. He knew from not only this day, but from others, that she really did seem to enjoy having him around. He never understood why since he felt like a killjoy every time he opened his mouth. Same with Lorelai. But he just resigned himself to believe that the Gilmore girls were just a strange pair. Much to his benefit.
Rory retired to her room when Lorelai and Max came from the kitchen.
Luke's office-apartment grew sweeter and sweeter as Max climbed the stairs to Lorelai's bedroom. Again, he asked himself what the hell he was doing in that house. He didn't have to be there. Being subjected.
His peripheral vision caught Max's ascent. He heard him say a courteous 'goodnight' and he chose to stare at the TV as if he actually cared about the goddamn programming.
Lorelai didn't follow him. His peripheral vision didn't catch a second ascent.
The couch dipped next to him after Max had disappeared.
She wasn't touching him with her body as she had the night before. Not at first. After a prolonged quiet, she slid over. Almost seemed it was just to bug him. She looked over at him and stared at him as he stared at the television.
"You're not watching TV, Luke, so kill the charade."
"Can I help you?" he asked curtly.
She started to say something, stopped. Came back with a whispered voice. "I didn't ask him to spend the night. He just…wanted to."
Luke steeled himself, looked over at her. That biscotti distance. "Why are we having this conversation?" he asked without emotion.
Her eyes searched his. A passing expression on her faced unnerved him. Was she seriously hurt by that question he had every right to ask? "It's…not a conversation; I was just saying," she answered with a defensive note to her soft words.
Luke sighed. Glanced up the staircase. He talked to her, then, like a friend giving advice. "That's your boyfriend. Of course he's going to want to spend the night, Lorelai. I don't blame him. What, with a strange man sleeping under the same roof as you and everything."
"You think he's jealous?"
"He's something," he replied dismissively. He turned away. Wanted to remain turned away but her closeness almost demanded face-to-face interaction. He turned back and watched as she considered his words.
He wanted to tell her to back away from his space. Back away and stop acting like he was her best girlfriend. He was a guy, and she treated him like he was a harmless female friend.
"I want you to stay, okay?"
"What?" was his grouchy reply.
"I don't want you to feel put out. I want you to stay until you're 100 percent better. Like we agreed on. I'll be hurt if you don't."
He bit back a bitter laugh. "You'll be hurt?" he asked problematically. She nodded anyway. "Lord forbid you're actually hurt by my leaving. But you want me to sit in this house and put up with this for the next week and a half," he said pointing between her and her bedroom. "Would you want to be in my position? Do you have any idea how uncomfortable this is?"
Even with all of that substantial logic that she should and could side with him on, her response remained, "I just want you to stay." And then she was hugging one of his arms tightly.
Luke glanced up the staircase. "Lorelai!" he exclaimed quietly. "Let…me…" He struggled to get his arm back for only a moment before he realized that she was fighting with him and starting to giggle as if he was playing a game with her.
The woman really did need professional help.
He settled down and shook his head. Felt warmth. Such a strong inviting warmth. It spread over him as she leaned onto him further. When he turned to face her now, all he got was the top of her head. He let her stay that way, and she did. For a minute longer, which was much too long considering where she was supposed to be at that moment.
"You should go upstairs," he told her.
"Are you mad at me?"
He rolled his eyes. "Go upstairs, Lorelai."
"You'll be here tomorrow, right?"
"Until I'm 100 percent better. That was the deal, wasn't it?"
"It was," she answered.
"Well, okay, then."
She was slow to back away. When she did, she promised that the next night she'd watch a movie with him. Spend some kind of time with him. Because when she'd invited him to stay, she'd offered him fun. And she was fairly certain that being locked upstairs with her boyfriend was not fun for him. It wouldn't be fun for any guest.
Luke waited until she was gone, and then he sat there another minute or two. A short time later, he stood up and exited the house. Went to the porch and lowered himself to the steps. Just took in the black night.
He sat until every light in the house was out. He sat until he was certain that every eye in the house was closed. He sat until all movement that wasn't a toss or a turn had ceased.
He just sat.
Lorelai and Rory dragged themselves through the door of their house.
Rory greeted Luke with a chipper 'hi' and headed into her bedroom so she could change to meet Lane. Lorelai's 'hi' wasn't nearly as chipper. She didn't share half of Rory's ability to stomach Friday night dinners with the Gilmores.
She sat next to Luke and didn't bother to comment on his foot, which was on the floor instead of propped up somewhere.
"Tired?" he asked knowingly.
"So, same old, same old, huh?"
"The Gilmores like their patterns." She was on the recliner. She leaned toward where he sat on the couch and extended a plate. "Here. Brought you dinner."
He looked down at the exquisitely wrapped plate in surprise. "You did what?"
She shook it at him. "Dinner. For you."
He took it from her. "Thanks," he said, still in shock. He lifted the corner, peered inside and placed it on the table. "How'd you manage to get out with this?"
She leaned back in the chair and toed her shoes from her feet. "Just shoved bits of my food into a napkin when Emily wasn't looking," she joked lightly.
He nodded, smiled. "I see." His eyes dropped from her face to her fancy dress. "Well, thanks," he said again. He caught himself before his eyes drifted down to her exposed legs.
Lorelai pulled herself from the chair and moved next to him on the sofa. She settled herself, looked down to his foot. "Feeling okay?"
He tried not to concentrate on her shoulder pressing against his. It wasn't exactly a feeling he could get used to. Felt new each time. He nodded his head at her question. "Better."
She smiled. "So, here's the deal. Rory's going to go do it up with Lane for a couple of hours. That leaves you and me. That means movie time, right?"
"If you want."
"Unless you have plans."
"To do what?"
"I dunno. To build a bookshelf or an arc or something. Whatever's next on your list of man-chores."
He rolled his eyes. "I don't have any plans."
Rory came out of the room. "I'm gone, Mom. I'll be back by midnight probably. Page me if you need anything."
"Sure thing, Hon." She turned and looked back at Rory over the couch. "Say bye to Luke!"
Rory stopped. "I don't need you to tell me to say bye to Luke. Of course I was going to say bye to Luke." Her delicate frown turned around as she moved her eyes over. "Bye, Luke. Try not to let Mom drive you crazy. She's pretty good at that."
"Don't I know it," he replied.
"Why do you two seem to come together so easily when it's go gang up on me?"
Luke tossed his hand up over his head. "Bye, Rory. Be safe!"
"But have fun!" Lorelai chimed in.
Luke shook his head. "Yeah, because that is the most important thing," he snubbed.
"Live la vida loca, I always say. It's about the only thing Ricky Martin did right in his career."
"Right," Luke drug out.
Rory laughed. "Fun and safety. Got it. I'll see you guys later."
The door opened and closed. Lorelai stood up. "I'm going to go upstairs and change. Eat your food. It's probably the most expensive chicken you'll ever have in your life, I know, but it's good and cooked some way with very little fat, so I'm sure you'll like it. When I come back down, we'll start our night. What do you say?"
He nodded. "Okay."
She bounded up the stairs. "Love that excitement!" she called back down.
Luke smiled and watched her until she was out of sight. There was a knock on the door, and Luke stood to answer.
"Got it!" he yelled up to her.
"Rory must've forgotten her key!"
"Well, I'll let her in," he responded as he limped to the foyer sans crutches.
"I love when she has those scatterbrain moments," Lorelai mused loudly. "Makes me feel like, just for a second, I'm actually brighter than my tenth grade kid. Too bad the damn thing doesn't last long, though."
Luke laughed. He was laughing as he pulled the door open. All delight faded faster than a cheap pair of Black Wash jeans when he saw Max standing there.
Max smiled and greeted.
Luke greeted too and turned away—mood suddenly as sour as a thousand Lemonheads. He called for Lorelai as he limped his way back to his squatting quarters.
Max came inside and closed the door, though no invitation had been extended.
"Is it Rory?" Lorelai yelled down with exaggerated volume.
Luke dropped down to the couch. "Nope."
"What?" she called.
"It's not Rory!" he said louder.
"Then, who is it?" she followed.
Luke looked back at Max. Used that look to ask him why he felt he needed a spokesperson. Since he'd taken the liberty of inviting himself in, Luke thought, surely he wasn't too shy to yell up a staircase.
He cleared his throat and did just that.
Both men saw Lorelai hurry out to the banister in the middle of changing. She wore a slip and some shorts. Luke looked away. Max looked at Luke to make sure that he had looked away.
"Max." She was surprised.
Luke was satisfied with the surprise. He knew better than to expect the much more preferable sound of anger.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
Luke leaned back comfortably. Half-listened to Max's lame excuse for popping up out of nowhere. One that would surely inspire an 'ah, you're so sweet' or something equally disgusting but in Lorelai form.
There was no doubt in Luke's mind that the real reason for Max's sudden appearance had less to do with romance and every bit to do with the man lounging on the couch like a king in his own castle. He found it amusing.
Words were spoken around Luke. A few were spoken to him. And by ten thirty, two men and a little lady all were nestled together like one big, distortedly weird family watching Demolition Man.
Lorelai had refused to leave. Max was unhappy with slinking away like the uninvited guest he was. So, Luke got caught up in a compromise. Because apparently, he was just that lucky.
Luke was on couch.
Max was in the recliner.
Lorelai was on the floor between them both.
Luke found only one moment enjoyable. And that happened before they'd even settled themselves. Max noticed the TV stand that no longer had an old phone book propping it up. It was now fixed. Even re-polished. He figured it was new. He asked about it, reminded Lorelai of how he'd promised to pull an old stand from his storage to give to her. Lorelai assured him that it was the same piece of furniture, told him of how it'd become one of Luke's projects. Max nodded receptively and even commented on her expansion of details.
He covered it well, but a man could always tell when another man's ego was bruised, so Luke noticed. His enjoyment was minimal. Because mostly, he just felt sorry for the guy who couldn't even do light maintenance.
They wrapped up conversation and watched the movie in silence. Both men knew how strange that was with Lorelai present. The silence was stiff at first, and then just became the accepted mood for the evening.
Max fell asleep at the hour mark.
Silence went away.
"Is this what you had in mind?"
Lorelai was startled. Her head swung around to Luke. She turned back to Max and finally noticed his deep breathing. She'd been drowning in her own head for the past hour. "No," she answered Luke in a whisper. She turned her body to face him. "So not what I had in mind!"
Luke didn't bother to whisper. He just talked low.
"Protective guy you got yourself there."
"He doesn't usually act this way. I don't know what this is about, but--" She threw another glance to Max, then returned attention to Luke, "—coming over without calling? Did you see that?" she exclaimed.
Luke's lips turned up a little at her quiet hysterics. He wondered how much of that was for show and how much was her own infamous panic. "Of course I saw it. I opened the door to it."
She gave him a look that almost broke his heart. "I keep messing up, don't I?"
"What do you mean?"
"This is supposed to be fun! I'm supposed to be taking care of you and showing what an exceptional friend I can be, but I keep putting you in these positions that I know you hate."
"I don't hate anything," he tried to appease.
Lorelai turned, got on her knees and leaned in toward him. "You haven't said two words to Max!"
"That's not true."
"True. Very true. We spent an entire dinner together, and you answered him with nods and grunts. I wasn't down here when you opened the door tonight, but something tells me the caveman language was in full effect then, too!" He rolled his eyes, and she reached out and grasped his chin. His startled eyes went back to her beautiful and amused face. "Just admit it! You hate it. And you hate Max by extension." She released him.
"I don't hate Max."
"It was never my intention to force you into being a soc."
"Good. 'Cause it'll never happen."
"I know. It was only supposed to be you, me, and Rory. You like Rory and me, right?"
"Wouldn't be here if I didn't."
"See, I had a plan."
"And Max ruined that plan," Luke contributed.
"He didn't…ruin the plan. He just wasn't supposed to be quite as big a part of the plan as he currently is."
"So, he ruined the plan."
"He didn't ruin the plan. He just changed the plan."
Luke smiled. "And ruined it."
"There was no ruining."
"Look around." She frowned at him, making it clear it wasn't going to happen. He went on anyway. "There's you and there's me. Rory isn't here, but guess who is. Know what this looks like to me?"
"If you say the word 'ruin', I'm going to sit on your ankle."
He smiled. There was a moment of quiet that they both furtively used to check on Max's breathing.
Luke was the one to speak again.
"You know, there may come a time when he's around all the time."
"Because suddenly I'm dating God?"
"No. Because you're not going to be single forever. Somebody's gonna be worthy enough. Eventually. Right?"
Lorelai suddenly appeared restless, annoyed. Like she was hearing a holy roller preach, preach, preach about her wild and sinful ways. "What's your point?"
"Well, it may be him. He may have to be a part of every single plan you think up." He paused and watched as she considered that. "Think you can handle that?"
Her eyes went to his. "I can handle anything," she said stubbornly.
He nodded. Of course, she would say that. He thought of her wedding, then. Saw her walking down the aisle and saw her passed off to someone. He wondered if he'd even attend.
"Well, if you see Max being that guy that gets to be involved in all the plans, then…" He took interest in his hands. "…I could, I guess, make an attempt to be better. I'll try to throw an actual word in after every two or three grunts when he talks to me."
She laughed. He smiled and kept looking at his hands.
More silence. The laughter had eased tenseness. Lorelai leaned down on the seat next to him. The tightness of that space had her pressing against his thigh. "You would do that for me, wouldn't you?" she asked softly while looking up at him. "Get along with Max?"
"Why not? Guess it wouldn't kill me." He smiled.
Lorelai studied him. Smiled too. "You're a good guy, Luke, you know that?"
He shrugged. His eyes went to the sleeping man to his left. "For what it's worth, I think Max is nice."
"Thank you. And he is."
"Rory likes him?"
"Rory likes him."
"Big plus, then."
"I couldn't agree more."
Eye contact. "Think there's a future?"
Eye contact. "Anything's possible." He looked away. "Never say never, right?" she added in an even quieter voice.
Lorelai's hand was balled tight on the cushion. She released that fist and scratched lightly at his thigh with the nail of her pinky finger. Gained his attention again. "I really appreciate everything you've done around here."
"No problem. I don't mind."
"That's what I know."
Luke looked at the TV stand. At Max. He felt pity all over again. "Tell me one thing."
His expression read depletion. "At least tell me he knows how to change the water bottle."
Lorelai picked up her mug and sipped.
Sookie picked up hers and sipped.
They sat in the dining room of the Independence with scones between them. It wasn't uncommon for them to take a break, put everything on pause, and meet up for a little girl talk and stress relief. For ten minutes usually. Fifteen if Michel got caught up on a call and couldn't stomp his way to their table with his loud, catty complaints about one thing after another.
Lorelai's subject of late had been Luke. Home life for her now was all about Luke.
"He sits out on the front porch. Every night that Max stays over, he goes out there until like midnight."
"Well, it's obvious he's uncomfortable." Sip. "I just wish he wouldn't do that. It makes me feel like crap."
"Are you and Max…you know, loud?"
Lorelai gave her a look of exasperation. "Yeah, we both make that charming grunting noise like the principal in Forrest Gump. It's a real neighborhood pleaser." Sookie smiled. Lorelai got serious. "We never do anything when Rory's in the house," she told her in confidence.
"Oh. Makes sense."
"And we've done even less than that now that Luke's been there." She cringed a little. "He sleeps right below my bedroom. I can barely kiss Max goodnight with that thought going through my head."
"How do you know he goes out there?"
"Saw him do it Friday night after I got Max to bed. Saturday and Sunday, same thing."
Sookie's brows lifted. "Max has been staying over a lot lately."
Lorelai almost choked on her coffee, she tried to talk so quickly. "That's another thing! What's with the sudden clinginess? What does he think is going to happen if he's not there?"
"What any guy would think probably."
Lorelai looked into her mug. "It doesn't take a lot for me to push a guy away. You know that about me."
"Yeah," Sookie chimed in sadly.
"I wish Max did."
"He just likes you, that's all. Doesn't want to take the chance of losing you," Sookie soothed.
Lorelai stared across the table at her. She was in her own world for a minute. "I'm going to have to leave this place at four today just so I can spend some alone time with Luke. Gotta squeeze it in while Max is at school. How crazy is that?"
"Hm?" she asked nonchalantly as she took a drink of coffee.
Sookie smiled wide and allowed it to fade out. "You and Luke seem to be getting closer," she noted.
"What do you mean 'closer'? I've always liked to spend time with him."
"Outside of the diner?"
Lorelai scoffed. "Like he ever leaves that place."
"Well, I think this is good. You two together. It's nice."
Lorelai reached for a scone. She smiled at Sookie's words. Was oblivious to Sookie's strong regard. "It is nice. It's nice having him around. You should see all the things he's fixed since he's been there. I feel like I'm living with Ty and the crew."
"And you two talk?"
"Luke never talks."
"Well, he talks to me," she revealed with self-satisfaction.
Sookie laughed. "Guess you're special, then."
"Mmhm. And there's not even any paste involved."
Sookie saw Michel walking over out of the corner of her eye. "If you'd like, I could set him up and make him sprain the other ankle. Keep him there longer for ya."
Lorelai smiled and picked off pieces of the bread. "Doesn't sound like too bad an idea, actually. I'll let you know what I decide."
Michel arrived then. Lorelai shared a look with Sookie.
"Here we go," she mumbled.
Lorelai laid in the bed for half an hour with her back turned to Max. She listened to his breathing get long and deep. Almost had the sound of that lulling her to sleep, but she sustained. She climbed from beneath the covers and exited the bedroom. It was late so she knew Rory was sleeping. She focused on an empty couch, an empty living room as she tiptoed down the stairs. Luke was gone. Outside, she knew.
She walked to the front door and saw him through the glass. Sitting comfortably on the top step like he was just out there getting fresh air. Slowly, she backed away. Went to sit on the sofa and waited for him to come back in. She didn't touch a lamp or the television. Decided to wait for Luke in the mood he had created. It wasn't long at all before that stillness had her laying her head down. That led to closed eyes, which soon led to sleep.
She woke abruptly. The sound of Rory's voice in her ear was to blame. That and tiny hands shaking her from a good sleep. It was light outside.
"What?" she asked alertly.
Rory leaned in. "Why are you down here?"
Lorelai sat up. Pushed a blanket off of her as she did so. She looked around. Saw Luke in the recliner chair sleeping at an awkward angle. She was on the couch and had just risen from a stretched out position that she had not fallen asleep in. She figured Luke must have tugged and pulled on her sleeping body to get her there. She knew she'd have to thank him later. His neck would no doubt be sore enough for the both of them. The blanket was another thing he was responsible for. She slid it away and put her feet on the floor.
"I must have fallen asleep," she answered Rory hoarsely.
"Well, I can see that," she said in a whispered voice. Her eyes were wide and concerned.
Lorelai's sleepy eyes roamed the room. "What time is it?" she asked, moving to whisper as well.
Rory was still in her PJ's. "It's early." She saw Lorelai's eyes go up the staircase. "And Max is gone, by the way," she volunteered.
Lorelai looked at her in question, her sleepy eyes now not so sleepy. "He's gone? When did he leave?"
"A few minutes ago!"
Rory's eyes flashed to Luke. "Well, when he came to my door telling me he was taking off, I wasn't really sure. But now that I'm out here…" She gave her mom a pointed look.
Whatever accusation Rory was in the process of making got sidestepped. It wasn't Lorelai's primary concern. She stood and faced her daughter who had been shaking her and talking to her from behind the couch.
"So, he left without saying anything? Was he mad?"
Rory folded her arms. "He was pleasant."
Frown. "What do you mean 'pleasant'? Pleasant how?"
"Pleasant in a way that indicated that, yeah, he was pretty upset!"
Rory's eyes widened. "Mom!" She pointed at Luke. "Look where you are! Why are you down here?"
"I fell asleep! I told you that!"
"Fell asleep doing what?"
Lorelai responded to Rory's manic tone. "What's your problem?" Lorelai's hands went up. "Why the hell is everyone so mad at me all of a sudden? I didn't do anything! I just woke up two freaking seconds ago!"
Rory calmed down. "Mom, this doesn't look good." Lorelai got ready to speak, and Rory cut her off. "I'm on your side! You know I'm on your side no matter what. But unless you got lost on your way to the bathroom, I don't see how you could have gone to sleep with Max and woken up with Luke." Lorelai shook her head disbelievingly but allowed Rory to complete her thought. "I mean, Max probably has it in his head that you waited until he was asleep and snuck out of bed to come down here! Think about it."
Lorelai's disbelief changed over to rejection. She continued to shake her head. And only spoke when she was almost to the point of whiplash. "That's crazy," she disputed tiredly. At least it was in the way it was construed.
Whispers took them through that entire exchange.
Luke stirred when Lorelai lifted her hands and slapped them to her thighs.
"Morning," he greeted.
The Gilmore girls turned to him with awareness.
"Um, good morning." "Morning, Luke."
He sat up, hand on neck. He had taken that painful bullet, alright. "What's going on?" he asked casually with a sleep-filled voice.
There was a bit of nervousness before there were two matching smiles and a twin pitch of "Nothing."
Luke nodded. He stood up, stretched, and applied bearable pressure to his ankle before half-walking, half-limping to the bathroom.
The door closed, and Lorelai and Rory both sighed and looked at one another. Gaze on gaze. Rory broke it when, in a tiny, unaffected voice, she told her mom that she was going to go get ready for school. Lorelai nodded. Rory smiled and turned away.
She didn't want to see Max hurt. Never wanted to see anyone hurt. But with that smile, she assured her mom that regardless of what, she was always in her corner.
Lorelai called Max before his classes started. Got his voicemail. She left a message, and he called her back while in the Teacher's Lounge. She answered. Apologized. Even though she felt he owed her an apology for leaving like he had, she apologized and made peace.
She heard his kindness and sincerity when he accepted.
Back on track.
She and Luke were on her porch around 5pm when Max pulled up. Lorelai was laughing. She held an old-style radio in her hands that had an antennae that extended way into the air. We Didn't Start the Fire could be heard halfway across the yard as she and Luke argued back and forth on the words that Billy Joel sang.
At first it was misunderstandings of the lyrics, which led to discussed meanings that made no sense at all, and that veered off into the musician's personal life, which was even worse. Lorelai of course had that wheel, and she became increasingly persistent on keeping the frustrated redness in Luke's face.
Max walked up. Lorelai greeted him with such a pre-existing happiness. "Hey!" She clutched the radio and held it up to Max. "Look what Luke fixed for me! This thing hasn't worked in ages, and he took it all apart and put it back together again. Neat, huh?"
Max agreed on the neatness. Lorelai went back to bopping her head after inviting Max to sit. She didn't seem to notice that there wasn't really a place for him to do that.
Luke excused himself. Went inside the house. Though not a fan of vibes, he wasn't above picking up on them. And that vibe pointed to him as a third wheel. He went away and didn't come back until Max had gone away. He was surprised to see him gone, as each night seem to feature him in all of his uncompromising presence.
He lowered himself back beside Lorelai.
"Hey, what do you think of having quesadillas tonight?"
The radio was at her feet. Her eyes were fixed across the yard, and she looked at Luke as she answered, "Okay."
He nodded. "If you're good with it, then I know Rory is, too. So, quesadillas it is." He looked down and pulled at the wrapping on his leg. "Where'd Max go?" he asked as an afterthought.
The question made Lorelai feel the shock even more. It showed in her face. She didn't answer right away. She just stared at Luke's profile, waited for him to look at her just so he could see that all wasn't right. She wasn't feeling as normal and carefree as he was. Finally, he looked over. The words seemed to explode from her.
"He dumped me!"
Eyebrows creased. "What?"
"Max just dumped me!"
Shock led him down the road of investigative reporting. "When? Where? H-how?"
She looked at him like he was crazy. "What do you mean 'when'?! When you got up and left! You left me out here to get dumped!"
Luke rolled his eyes. "Wait, why did he break up with you?" he asked with composure. He refused to use the word 'dump' like he was on 90210 somewhere.
Lorelai dropped her head, raised her head, worked to process, tried to think and piece together her feelings and emotions. 'How do I feel? What am I feeling? Should I be crying?'
"He said he wants to…" She closed her eyes and tried to stop the flow questions that made her unable to think. "…Um, said he wants to see other people or…he was already seeing other people or…he thought we should both realize there were other people to see or...I can't even remember what he said!"
"Okay. Just try to calm down."
She looked down. Was quiet for a moment as she tried to think. "He said we had to be sure," she revealed. She looked up at him as the words became even clearer than that. "No, that he was sure. He said he was sure. He said he wanted to be sure that I was sure. I'm the problem."
"I'm sure he didn't put it like that."
Her mind cleared more and more. "He said I pull away at times. I'm not always with him." She got loud. "It's barely been three months! How with him am I supposed to be? I do a good job. I think I do a really good job in this relationship!" She stared at the ground as she went over things in her head. She didn't even seem to notice Luke shifting toward her uncomfortably to try to ease her with some kind of human closeness. "Even when he did that showing up out of the blue thing and staying over every. single. night, I was such a good sport."
He nodded supportively. "You were."
The confiding came to an abrupt end, and there was just quiet. Luke tossed glances at her in her silence. He kept hoping that she wasn't going to start crying.
When her hands went to cover her eyes, he froze in panic. But much to his relief, she removed her hands soon after and revealed still dry eyes. She stared across the yard and spoke in a meek tone. "I think I'm gonna go inside and wait for Rory. I could really use a little girl talk right now."
Luke nodded his head. "Okay. That's fine."
She threw her hand to the rail and used it to pull herself up. She turned toward Luke. "Thanks for listening. I can always count on you," she said in gratitude. She leaned low, moved in to the side of his face and kissed him on the cheek.
She stood up casually and went into the house.
Luke thought his heart rhythm would never slow down after that. Though it took several minutes and many deep breaths, it eventually did.
Lorelai made it upstairs and flung herself across her bed. Even with thoughts of Max running through her head, she couldn't get past the pounding in her chest. The thump, thump, thump was back big time. She tried to calm it. After several minutes had passed unsuccessfully, she gave up the effort.
Dinner was quiet but nice. The girls and Luke ate in the living room. Afterwards, Lorelai retired upstairs and took what seemed to be an hour-long soak in the tub. Luke didn't bother her. Given the day she'd had, he didn't disturb her at all.
Eleven o'clock came, and Luke stood at the door fastening his jacket.
He was going for a walk.
He felt restless and cooped up. He needed to get out. Also, all he'd wanted to do was put as much pressure on his ankle as he could. He found himself walking around the yard during the day like someone looking for lost change.
An hour before midnight, he knew the streets would be empty and just asking to be strolled upon. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been out so late. For almost two weeks, he hadn't had to worry about the diner at all, so he'd gotten slightly used to running on a different time schedule. Eleven o'clock was perfect for walking.
He opened the door and slipped out. He didn't see Lorelai coming down the staircase at that very moment, so he was startled when the door was pulled open a second after he'd taken his hand from the knob.
"Jeez!" he exclaimed, hand over heart.
Her eyes were wide and worried. "Hey. Where you going?"
"Just going for a walk." He scanned her outfit. Drawstring pants, a form-fitting short-sleeved shirt, a long shapeless robe that hung open, and lastly, her ridiculous Betty Boop bedroom shoes, which transcended gaudy. Luke now knew the character by name thanks to Lorelai. She'd filled him in on all there was to know about the wonder that was Betty Boop. And unfortunately for him, things Lorelai said rarely went in one ear and out the other.
"You're going for a walk this late at night?"
"Yeah," he answered easily. "Don't worry, I'll be fine," he said, already knowing where she was going next.
She looked down at his ankle, which she didn't have much reason to worry about anymore. "I know you'll be okay. I just…" Her lip went out. "I don't want to sit here by myself."
"You're not by yourself. Rory's here."
He sighed. "I'm not going to be gone all night, you know." Her lip went out further. He rolled his eyes. "Either way, I'm going out for a while. So, I guess if you want to go, you can go throw some shoes on and--"
"Okay, wait here!" She turned and jetted back through the house before Luke could make out what she'd said.
Ten minutes later, they were walking through town together.
"It's spooky out here," Lorelai commented while looking around.
"It's just quiet."
"And spooky. Not a soul around."
"Kinda nice. Don't have to run into people every two seconds, being forced to make small talk."
"That's true. Though it feels a little strange not having to do that." She looked around. "Maybe we can pretend to run into a few people. That way it's not so weird."
"Yeah, that'll wipe out all weirdness all right."
Lorelai tugged on his sleeve and pointed ahead of them. "Hey, there's Miss Patty!" she exclaimed.
Luke actually looked through the darkness. Didn't see anyone. "Where?"
"There!" she said directing his attention to the wide and empty sidewalk ahead.
He looked down at her with concern. Her eyes remained face-forward. She smiled brightly and waved her hand so fast it created a blur. "Hey, Miss Patty! How are you this fine evening?"
Luke rolled his eyes and mumbled how she would someday be locked away in a padded room.
"You sure look lovely tonight! What? Oh, these old things?" she asked as she pulled on her drawstring pants. "Just something I threw on!" she declared with a grin.
Luke dropped his chin to his chest.
"Hey, do both of those two strapping young men there belong to you? Yeah? Oh, my, Patty! You sure get naughty at nightfall, don't you?" She giggled. "What's that you say? At once? Really? Wow. So, tell me…how exactly would that work? Mmhm. Mmhm. Ooh, Mama, that's gonna leave a mark in the morning!"
"Next time I try to slip out of the house alone, for the love of god, just let me slip out alone."
She smiled. "Jeez, Luke. I've already been dumped once today. Don't you go kicking me to the curb, too."
He shook his head. "Stop talking to imaginary people, and I'll see what I can do."
"Deal. Even though ultimatums make me want to rage against the machine, I'll let you have this one. Only because I can't handle being shunned by you. I know my limits."
"Yeah, I can tell by all that lovely lassitude that your soul was reached just now."
He smiled. Lifted a finger and pointed ahead to the diner. "Gonna stop in for a second."
He took out his key as they approached. "Because I haven't been here in almost two weeks, and it probably couldn't hurt to check up on my livelihood. You mind?"
She stopped next to him as he worked the lock. "If I say no, could I persuade you to put on a pot of coffee when we get there?"
"I didn't say I was coming in here to work," he muttered distractedly as he pushed the door open.
The lingering smell of burgers and onion rings hit them immediately. Luke breathed it in—the smell of home that he didn't think he'd ever get the chance to be away from.
"See, same old diner," Lorelai said from the side of him.
"Yeah. Place doesn't change all that much."
"Not a bad thing."
Luke turned and hit the lights. They sputtered on.
Lorelai reached behind him and flipped them back off. "What are you doing?" she asked suddenly. He looked down at her. She motioned around them. "You're disturbing the town," she explained. She lowered her voice to a whisper. "It's sleeping." Voice back to normal. "There are no lights on in this entire town right now. You want to be the one to mess that up for everybody?"
Luke sighed. Walked away from her. As usual, he acceded to her lunacy. "Lights are on at your place," he reminded idly.
Lorelai closed the diner door, which still sat open. "Well, I'm the exception. Everyone knows about my aversion to orthodoxy. Besides, I'm in a small corner of town. You're right in the middle of everything."
"As usual, your logic is lost on me," he stated in nonchalance.
He walked to the end of the counter and scoped everything out. Lights from the square poured in through the blinds, which Caesar had failed to close. But he couldn't complain. Everything was spotless and Caesar had even left full shakers on the tables.
Lorelai had been looking around, too. She saw everything Luke did. "I told you Caesar was taking care of old Trusty, here," she said as she patted the countertop.
"I believed you."
She passed by him. "And yet, here we are," she said, brushing her arm against him as she kept moving. She crossed in back of him to get to the other side of the counter.
Luke's eyes were on the back of her head, and when she whirled around to face him suddenly, like she was an ice skater in the Olympics, he was looking at her face. A joyful smile lit it better than the lights outdoors.
"Why are you behind my counter?" he groused. He leaned forward, arms on the countertop. "Rules don't change just because it's after hours, you know."
"Well, Mel, rules are made to be broken."
"Only hooligans believe that."
She chuckled. "Okay, Taylor."
Luke lowered his head. "Ah, jeez. I take it all back."
She laughed. "I think I've found a secret weapon now." He lifted his head again. Was smiling. Lorelai twirled in place. And he watched her twirl and giggle for many seconds.
"What exactly are you doing?" he asked, unable to locate his grumpy voice. He only sounded amused, which he was. And tolerant, which he always was, but it was usually hidden so much better.
"I'm spinning," she answered. "Now, if someone ever asks me that age-old question: Where have you spun in this town?, I'll be able to tell them 'Behind Luke's Counter' and mean it."
"I see." He slowly rose from the counter while trying to rid himself of his smile. "Well, I think you've spun enough for bragging rights' sake. Now, stop before you fall and crack your head open." He walked over, his steps indolent.
"Almost done." She giggled more.
When close enough, he reached in and stilled her with his hand on her midsection. "No, you're done now," he told her.
She laid her hands on his arms, looked up at him, laughed, then almost tipped over from her spinning craze. "Whoa!"
"Great. Now, you're drunk." He righted her with his hand firm on the side of her stomach. Her back was to the diner's windows and Luke's was to the storage room.
She smiled up at him. Gave a soft "thanks, you're a lifesaver," as their eyes remained locked. Her slightly exaggerated dizziness caused movement that put her back toward the counter and Luke's toward the coffee machine.
"See, if I hadn't stopped you when I did, you'd be on the floor right now," he scolded. His hand slid closer to her hip before he removed it.
"Like I said," she half-whispered, "You're a lifesaver."
She never took her eyes from his, and that was a major reason Luke placed his hand back on her hip. He rubbed across her with a bare touch, squeezed her gently when she didn't object to that, put his other hand to her opposite hip and pulled her closer to him when she still didn't deny him. He gave their bodies the biscotti distance and smashed the biscotti into crumbs when he went for broke and pushed her against the counter using his body.
He bent his head down and captured her lips. Seemed to take her kiss. He kissed her with a heat, a fire. Felt his mouth blaze to life each time her tongue met his. He was relentless with her. Kissed her like he had to convince her to participate. He didn't feel her grip his face. Didn't feel her arms slide over his shoulders to hug him by the neck. His heart pounded loudly in his ears as he concentrated on the kiss. Her moan came through to him. Finally. It beat out the beat of his heart. The moan was followed by another. Another. His senses opened up, and he soon realized that Lorelai didn't need to be convinced to do anything. She was into it. Into more than he was, if that was even possible.
Luke wrapped one arm around her waist as tight as he could and gripped the counter with his free hand to keep from landing both his weight and hers on his weaker foot. They kissed and kissed and kissed.
Kissed past the point of swollen lips.
When they finally took a breather, that time was spent with his mouth on her neck. Lorelai clung to him and pulled at him. He felt he'd stepped into a dream by the way she clutched him so desperately. She breathed out heavy breaths that shook. Like she was cold when all she felt was heat.
Luke was equally hot. Hot everywhere. Especially in the one spot where his blood pumped the hardest. He couldn't help but grind that part of his body against Lorelai. All it did was create stimulation and make him crazy. He worked on her neck and didn't think about the likelihood of creating a hundred hickeys on her lavender scented skin. She didn't seem too concerned.
She put her mouth at his ear and whispered his name. Whispered it over and over and over and made Luke weak at the knees. She told him how badly she wanted him. By the time she got to that part, her hands were undoing his pants nice and slow.
She pulled back and looked into his eyes. Desire. Of course, desire. That satisfied her enough to continue. She continued with his clothes and he started in with hers. Stopped only to share hungry kisses.
Slight steps toward the upstairs area suggested that they both considered changing location. But the bulk of the clothes—all the clothes that were going to be shed in the end—happened there in the diner. Near the end of the counter.
Lorelai hit a 180. She turned. Luke turned her. Partly both occurred as mutual pants took up breathing air. Naked bodies rubbed. Her back with his front. In the next second, she felt his fingers. Felt the gentle touch as he mapped out location and tested readiness. She moaned softly and lowered her head. She knew he'd be satisfied with what he found. If her brain wasn't in such a liquid state, she may have even been embarrassed by how ready she was.
The touch of his fingers ceased. The sound of his breathing ceased. Lorelai threw her own loud breathing on pause as soon as she felt him. They greeted that moment with utter silence. Luke didn't enter. He held his tip against her. Seconds turned into more seconds.
Lorelai held still. Waiting. Shivering.
She looked over her shoulder at him. He brought his hand to the side of her breast and rubbed down her side. She took her cue from him and pushed backward. Covered his head. He steadied himself behind her. She pushed more. Turned back around and pushed until euphoria surrounded her.
Luke helped with the rest of the journey. He got inside. Held Lorelai's hips and watched as she made slow, lazy circles with her ass fully against him. With her cheeks flush with his thighs. She finally pulled away, and easy strokes started them off. The heavy breathing started once again. Luke felt himself straining early. He loved the way she felt. Hated the way she felt. Too good. A little too damn good.
She moaned and gripped the countertop. His strokes intensified. Lorelai welcomed the faster pace. She felt him go deeper and deeper before he was thrusting his full length into her. She grappled with strength. Felt the ground move beneath her feet when he took her by the hips and pulled her to him repeatedly.
He fucked her.
She came hard in the middle of that. Eyes tight, squeezed shut to the point of stars, she almost started to cry at how good it felt. She dealt with Luke's thrusts for as long as she could before she reached back and touched the side of his hip as a signal to go easier. Just for a second. He did. Lorelai listened to his uneven breathing as he held back for her. She didn't let too much time pass before she built speed back up. Let him penetrate her with everything he had.
Her strength really escaped her that time. Had Luke slowing on his own. She shook her head weakly in protest. Told him to keep going. Keep going. For the love of god, keep going.
She pressed her lips tight. Moaned into high heaven. Luke gave her warning. A warning that she didn't pay a lot of attention to since she was so close to seeing yet another happy ending. Whimpers replaced moans when she found herself suddenly pushing back against air. She looked back at him and saw his features as he orgasmed. Lip between her teeth, she still bumped against him lightly while watching him during his intimate and blissful moment. He met her eyes. Looked down. Put his manhood back inside of her. She gasped and kept her eyes on him for as long as she could. Until the feeling led her somewhere else.
He was softer but still hard. Weaker but still strong. They found the previous pace in no time, and she picked up where she'd left off. That climax made her shake. Made her smile. Thrusting continued. Luke slid out, more than pulled out. Nature had to force him to stop.
Lorelai kept her weak body in place. She felt soft kisses to her back. She moaned in acknowledgement. The kissing continued across her wet skin. Strong, gentle hands pulled at her stomach and she stood upright. Turned. She faced him with a beatific expression painted across her face.
He pulled her to him and kissed her deeply. Lorelai hugged his neck. Happy and willing. Once again, he was pressing her to the counter with his body while hugging her waist securely with one arm.
He pulled his lips away from hers to look at her. And they breathed. "Tell me this was a good thing."
"It was a great thing," she promised in a whisper. She was distracted now. She answered him without hesitation and was in the process of bringing his face back to her lips. Had started that before he'd even spoken. She kissed his cheek. Kissed her way down to his jaw. And then kissed her way around to his ear. "Such a great thing," she whispered to him again.
Tongue. Tongue all in his ear.
She found that Luke was ticklish. He leaned his head away with a sudden, light laugh. Rubbed away the lingering sensation with desperation. For a moment, he looked like a kid.
It broke the moment in the greatest way.
Lorelai smiled at him in a way that said she loved that she'd unearthed something so pure about him. It was beautiful to see. She made a note to revisit that area in a few days when his guard was down.
She draped her arms over his shoulders and touched her lips to his. "You know, now I have two things I can brag about doing behind the counter."
He glared at her. "Not if you value your future in this diner, you don't."
She smiled. "Okay, I just have the one thing, then."
"Good answer." He kissed her lips and ended up staring into her eyes. Lorelai could see that he was about to get serious on her. "Are you sure this was okay?" he whispered in concern.
"Luke. This was amazing. This," she said referring to her and him, "is going to be amazing." Her voice softened. "Because you are amazing. Okay?" He nodded. "I'm ecstatic about this."
He nodded again, moved his hand up and stroked a lock of her hair. "And Rory will be okay with it?" he asked quietly.
"Rory will be…fine with it," she answered in a slight show of uncertainty. "She'll no doubt be concerned about me and timing," she said honestly. "But once she sees that I'm okay, she'll be over the moon. I promise."
"Okay," he replied, feeling assured. He continued to stroke her hair thoughtfully. "But if she's not, let me know. I don't want you to try to hide that from me." He met her eyes. "Rory's important."
Lorelai smiled at him with affection. Began to softly stroke the back of his hair. "I know she is," she agreed. More than anything, she loved that he knew that she was.
Luke sighed. "Guess we better get dressed and break out the disinfectant."
She laughed. "It'd be interesting if we didn't."
He leaned down and kissed her. Kissed her with tongue. Pulled away and had her nibbling on his lip. He smiled until she backed away. Loved that she seemed to be so into him. Into the idea of them. He squeezed her hip as he stared at her. "Don't wake up tomorrow and regret this, okay? I don't think I could take it."
She nodded her understanding. Spoke seriously. "Don't worry, I couldn't either. So, I think we're good."
He smiled. "Let's get dressed and get out of here."
"Okay." She started moving away. "With any luck, we'll make it back undetected."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the town. We may run into Reverend Skinner or somebody. And if we do, he's gonna wanna know what we're doing coming from the diner so late at night."
"What are the chances of the Reverend being out roaming the town at midnight?" he asked.
"Well, I don't know. What were the chances of Miss Patty roaming around town at midnight? But there she was."
Luke rolled his eyes and started gathering his things. He remembered her earlier conversation with the imaginary Miss Patty and suddenly realized that the Reverend would probably come from the same piece of thin air she had.
"You better get your story straight, Luke. Because my story's going to involve you and a failed kidnapping plot." She picked up her clothes from the floor and held them out to him. "See, pajamas!" She smiled proudly. "This'll be good in proving that you snuck in my house and stole me while I was sleeping."
"Didn't know you could steal a person," he deadpanned.
"You can. You did! All I can say is, you better hope he doesn't have any holy water with him, or you're toast."
"And wait until we come across Mrs. Kim. She'll probably just skip the holy water and beat you across the head with her bible…"