A/N- Firstly, sorry. I meant to have this posted by Tuesday or Wednesday, but I'm back at university for another semester of having a tiny Korean woman who makes Lane look like an Amazon beat musical knowledge into my brain, and things got a little busy. Throw in the fact that this is one of those episodes which is deviating pretty dramatically from the original (meaning I have to think harder- horrors!), and you get a slower update than I had hoped. I'm going to try really, really hard to have a new chapter of this posted every other week from here on out, but I can't make promises, as my schedule is very fluid.
Secondly... Wow. This fic hasn't gotten a huge response, but the response it has gotten has been so enthusiastic that I feel like I've gotten a hundred gazillion reviews. Thank you all for your interest/reviews/favorites/other general support-like actions; it means so much to me because I took a gamble on this story and the interest it's garnered makes it really worth it!
Thirdly, Rory is going to be referred to as Lorelai a large amount of the time (at least at the beginning... make of that what you will...), but when she and Lorelai the Second are in the same room, we're reverting to Rory so that it's possible to keep it all straight. Speaking as a girl who inherited her mother's name (no, I'm not kidding at all), it can get rather confusing.
Episode 1x02: The Mythical Lorelai Gilmore
"And no one sings me lullabies,
And no one makes me close my eyes,
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky."
Lane was stubborn enough that she would never, ever admit that her mother was actually right about something. Strictly speaking, though, the Bible wasn't composed of her mother's words. Admitting that John the Apostle had some very good points wasn't technically conceding a victory to Mama Kim. All was still right in her world.
A soft rapping at her window made Lane look up. A grin crossed her face as she saw Jess kneeling on the little strip of roof outside her second-story bedroom, holding a bag in his left hand and looking at her expectantly.
She ran across the room and threw up the window. "Did you get them?" she asked excitedly.
Jess nodded. "XTC, Apple Venus, Volume 2. Nico, Chelsea Girl. The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed. Led Zeppelin IV." Reaching into the bag, he pulled out the CDs one by one as he named them.
"Where's Dookie?" Lane asked.
Jess raised an eyebrow. "I flat-out refuse to touch that so-called album with a ten-foot pole."
"Oh, come on, Jess!" she protested. "You have got to get over this whole allergic-to-the-mainstream thing you've got going on. It's really not attractive on you. Green Day isn't strictly my taste either, but if you're gonna build a comprehensive collection of mankind's entire recorded history of musical expression, sometimes you have to include the things you don't personally enjoy."
"Fine," Jess agreed with a long-suffering sigh. "I'll pick it up for you on Monday. But you owe me a copy of Hatful of Hollow for this."
"I'll fire up the CD burner."
Footsteps could be heard on the stairs at that moment, and the distinctive call of "Lane!" signaled the approach of Mrs. Kim.
"I'm gone!" Jess hissed, and he vanished from sight around the corner of the house, while Lane pulled the window closed and returned quickly to the Fourth Gospel.
Lorelai sat in the gazebo watching rehearsal at Miss Patty's, the general comings and goings of the townspeople, and the Banyan boys chasing a terrified Kirk around the square, waving glow-sticks and calling taunts after Stars Hollow's very own unique answer to the stereotypical village idiot. A smile graced her face as she watched her town go about its business.
This place had been her home for fifteen years. She had grown up here. She'd experienced the hardest times, the highest joys, and the greatest heartbreak of her life here. This town had folded her in like a warm safety net waiting to catch her in her most desperate time, and born witness to her life. Here were her neighbors, here were her friends, here was her family, her true family. And soon enough, here her daughter would be, too.
She turned her head to see Rory standing at the top of the gazebo steps, wearing her Chilton uniform and looking more beautiful and grown-up than ever.
"Hey, Sweetie," she said warmly to her daughter.
"Mom, what were you thinking, bringing me here?"
That little angel-face twisted up in a grimace. "I hate it here. I don't want to live here."
"What? Why?" Lorelai asked in disbelief.
Rory frowned, looking disturbingly like Emily when she did so. "These people are all insane," she said, sounding as much like Emily as she looked. "No one here has any sense of taste or decorum! People are running about like animals and some awful man in a disgusting pilled-up cardigan practically assaulted me. Oh, and that coffee you've been raving about for years? It tastes weak and chemical!"
"Rory, what on earth-?"
"My name is not Rory, it's Lorelai!"
The ringing of the phone jolted her awake. Lorelai shot upright, clutching her chest and breathing as hard as if she had been running. Sweat poured off of her and she felt almost feverish. It took her several seconds to recognize the sound of the telephone for what it was. By the time she did, it was on the fourth and final ring before the machine would pick up, and she lunged for it, throwing herself right off the bed in the act. She groaned in pain, bringing the phone up to her ear.
"Hello?" she answered.
"Lorelai, where are you?" Sookie's breathless voice asked on the other end of the line.
Lorelai's head dropped tiredly back against the floor with a heavy thud. "Having horrible nightmares," she responded dully.
"Why aren't you at work?"
"Because it's a quarter to six?" Lorelai suggested sarcastically.
"No it's not!" Sookie said. "It's almost ten-thirty!"
Lorelai shook her head. "It can't be. I set my alarm for a quarter to six, so if it hasn't gone off yet, it-"
"Lorelai! It is ten twenty-four!" Sookie said.
Struggling into a sitting position with much flailing of arms, Lorelai managed to reach up to grab her fuzzy blue alarm clock. "Oh my god, it's ten twenty-four!" she cried, suddenly panicked. "How the hell did this happen?"
"Look, don't worry about it. Michel's got the desk covered, and it's a pretty slow day."
"Ugh," Lorelai groaned, feeling her heart rate slowly returning to normal. "Sorry, Sook. Look, just give me time to get dressed and pick up my stuff from the dry cleaner and I'll be in by noon. I'm sorry. I hate my stupid alarm clock..."
"I told you that was a really bad impulse buy," Sookie said with a little giggle. "I'm just glad it was alarm clock failure. I kept picturing you lying at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck because you were trying to go down them and put your shoes on at the same time again."
"Once. I did that once!" Lorelai protested.
"It only takes once," Sookie said solemnly.
Lorelai shook her head tiredly. "Stairs then shoes from now on, I promise. Sorry for worrying you. I'll be there in an hour and a half."
Lorelai hung up and with another heavy groan, she dropped her head back against the bedframe at her back. "That is the last time I ever buy anything because it's furry," she said to herself.
Chemistry was the one and only class that Lane had with Jess this semester, and she was very glad of that. Not the fact that she only had one class with her oldest friend, but the fact that she had the hardest- and most snooze-worthy- subject known to man with possibly the smartest person she had ever met. Instant study buddy. Not that Jess wouldn't have helped her with her homework anyway, but it was just that much easier when he happened to be in the same class, because then she didn't run the risk of being partnered up with some loser like Chuck Presby for lab exams.
Unless, of course, Jess happened to be MIA. Such as right now. The process of testing solutions of various metals to see what color they turned the flames of a bunsen burner would have been significantly improved with Jess there making sarcastic comments and using way too much of the copper solution because it was the prettiest color (not that he would admit that was why he was doing it). Unfortunately, Jess was not present.
Lane glared at Chuck Presby, who was inching steadily around the shared table away from his equally dim-witted lab partner in an attempt to get a look at her paper.
And suddenly, Jess was present, just like that. He slid in through the door without a sound, snatched a pair of lab goggles and put them on with a lassaiz faire that suggested they were the height of male fashion rather than the dorkiest eyewear since the invention of Groucho glasses, and slipped over to Lane's table on near-silent feet.
"Where have you been?" Lane hissed. "Class started 15 minutes ago! I had to lie to Miss Winston and tell her you went to the nurse's office. I've been completely freaking out!"
"Chill," he said easily. "Just a little detour. Thanks for covering for me."
Lane knew that tone of voice. Jess was a good-hearted guy, much like his uncle, but he did have a tendency toward restlessness. When Jess got bored, it rarely ended quietly. If ever Lane had needed proof of God's existence, she had gotten it in the form of her mother miraculously never hearing about any of Jess's minor infractions. It would undoubtedly have been the end of their association if she had gotten wind of the time Jess taped strips of black paper over the outsides of every ground-floor window of Stars Hollow Middle School to simulate prison bars, or the Great Lilac Beheading Of '95.
"Jess," she said warningly.
He grinned at her. "Don't worry. It's nothing bad, I promise."
"I'll believe it when I see it," she replied.
Forty minutes after Sookie's wakeup call, Lorelai was showered and dressed. Sort of. All of her good business suits were at the dry cleaner's, and the rest of her professional-looking clothes that didn't require such careful handling were either in the laundry machine or really needed to be. She was left with the little black skirt that was a bit too short because she'd bought it when she was seventeen and easily three inches shorter but which she couldn't bring herself to get rid of, and a pink satin blouse with short sleeves that was a little tighter than she would ordinarily put on for work but which was still perfectly decent for daytime wear.
She glanced at the clock. Well, she was already so ridiculously late to work that there didn't seem to be much point in rushing. Lunch at Luke's seemed like a good idea. She headed out of the house and set off in the direction of the town square.
As she passed the dance studio, Miss Patty was busy directing a class of eight- and nine-year-olds wielding tasseled batons.
"Visualize, ladies! It's the Thanksgiving Day parade, you're standing on Fifth Avenue, there's a hundred beautiful boys marching in place behind you, and there you are! You are out in front with your fabulous legs and your perfect tush, and your baton is on fire and the crowd goes nuts!" Abandoning her own baton, Patty declared abruptly, "Okay, cookie time."
She caught sight of Lorelai making her beeline for Luke's and called, "Lorelai, hi!"
"Hey Patty," Lorelai called back, pausing in her pursuit of caffeine for just a moment.
Patty sashayed down the steps to meet her. "So, tell me, dear," she said eagerly, "Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
"Well, that you've been given custody of your daughter, of course!" Patty exclaimed. Leaning in conspiratorially, she added, "I had it from Jackson Belleville, who says he heard it from Sookie on Friday, so I assume it's the truth, but I wanted to hear it from the source. Is Lorelai coming to live with you?"
Lorelai forced up a bright smile, the funk her disturbing dream and her late start had put her in still hanging over her. "Yes, I've been granted custody," she said.
"She must be delighted!" Patty said warmly.
"I haven't actually talked to her yet," Lorelai said cautiously. "It's still so fresh..."
Patty waved a hand airily. "Oh, I'm sure she's absolutely ecstatic about it," she said, brushing off the hesitation she must have sensed in Lorelai. "She was always such a sweet girl. I remember when she used to visit for a month or two during the summers..." A reminiscent smile spread over her face. "Always so nice to everyone, such an absolute doll. But she hasn't visited Stars Hollow in... what is it? Two, three years?"
"Not since she was thirteen," Lorelai confirmed. "My parents wanted her to see Europe. And given the choice between Stars Hollow and Paris-" She trailed away.
Not noticing- or more likely overlooking- Lorelai's wistful, worried expression, Patty grinned. "Given the choice, what teenage girl wouldn't choose Paris?" she finished for her. "Ah, I understand. France is a country for the young."
Lorelai nodded. "And Liam Neeson."
"Naturally. But she'll be here now, and that's what counts." Again, Patty looked at her with a dreamy, contented expression. "I'm so glad Lorelai will be back in the Hollow. Such a sweet girl... what was that darling nickname you used to have for her?"
"Rory. We used to call her Rory."
Patty nodded. "Yes, that's right."
"Nobody but me has called her Rory for years, though."
"Hm. Shame. It seemed to suit her."
Lorelai couldn't help but agree.
A pair of tiny ballerinas, totally without clothing, went shrieking past the open doors of the studio. The noise caused Miss Patty to turn, and upon spying her nude charges, she threw up her hands in frustration. "Naked girls? Oh no no no, that won't do!" she exclaimed, rushing up the steps. She tossed a brief, "Bye, Lorelai!" over her shoulder before hurrying in the direction the mini majorettes had gone.
With a shake of her head, Lorelai turned and resumed her journey to Luke's.
When she reached her destination, Lorelai spotted Luke at the counter attempting to repair his toaster. She headed for him, feeling a desperate need for a decent sparring match with Luke. Patty's subtle but direct assurances had not done much to alleviate her somber mood, but Lorelai had found that trading barbs with Luke was a surefire route to All Is Right In The World.
She all but fell onto a stool and laid her head on the counter with a mournful groan.
"Get your face off the counter," Luke said dryly. "People eat there."
"I would if I could, but I am having the weirdest morning ever and if I move, my head may explode." She flopped her head to one side so that she could catch a glimpse of him. "Coffee?" she asked plaintively.
"There's no coffee," he said.
"That's not funny!" she said, sitting up rapidly enough to make her dizzy.
He raised his eyebrow. "Now was that so hard?" he asked, indicating her upright position with a tilt of his head.
"You should never joke about coffee, Luke," she said solemnly. "It makes me do crazy things, take risks with my health..."
He shrugged. "I can give you herbal tea."
"This is not an herbal tea morning. This is a coffee morning!" she protested, slapping a hand on the counter.
"Every morning for you is a coffee morning."
"This is a jumbo coffee morning! I need coffee in an IV."
Keeping his head carefully turned away, he replied gruffly, "I can give you tea and a balance bar."
"Please, please tell me you're kidding!"
There was a long hesitation, during which Lorelai became very afraid Luke wasn't messing with her this time. Then he made the mistake of glancing up and meeting her eyes and she could actually see his resolve draining away. "I'm kidding," he said on a sigh.
She groaned inwardly. This was the third attempt this week. "You're sick."
"You're a sadist. You're a fiend!" Luke returned from the kitchen, where he had retreated to retrieve the coffee pot he had hidden away, and Lorelai immediately changed her tune. "You're pretty," she said flirtatiously.
"For here or to go?" he asked dryly.
"To go," she responded immediately.
Luke sighed again. "You wanna know what this stuff does to your central nervous system?"
"Ooh, do you have a chart? 'Cause I love charts!"
He rolled his eyes. "Forget it. Kill yourself." Sliding the freshly poured coffee across the counter to her, he asked, "So what happened this morning that was so awful?"
Lorelai wasn't sure how much to tell him. She had a habit of keeping her darkest fears and concerns carefully tucked away in her own mind (or, more recently, confided only to Chanda), but at the same time... it was Luke. "I overslept," she said. "And... I had this weird dream."
"The Kirk vs. Muhammad Ali one again?" Luke guessed.
She shook her head. "No. It was about Ro- Lorelai. I dunno, it's all fuzzy now. But whatever it was, it's put me in a funk."
Luke's expression, which had previously been his trademark stone wall of gruff indifference, faded into a sympathetic grimace. "Dreams can do that," he said.
"And no amount of banging my head on the wall seems to help."
"Try an anvil, I've heard they work wonders."
Lorelai smiled. She still felt the dark cloud of unarticulated worry hovering around the edges of her thoughts, like a heavy weight sitting in her chest, but Luke's dry sarcasm once again proved a temporary fix for all her woes. Or maybe it was the coffee. Sometimes it was hard to tell. Whatever the cause, she felt a little better.
He indicated the door with a jerk of his chin. "Go on, take your death juice and go to work. Sookie's probably having some kind of meltdown that you're not there." She wasn't sure, but she thought that just maybe, he was smiling a little bit as well.
"More than likely," Lorelai agreed, thinking back on her friend's almost-panic-attack on the phone that morning. "Thanks, Luke."
She slid a dollar across the counter at him and headed for the door.
"Next time, you're getting tea!" he called to her retreating form.
"No tip for you!" she cried in a blatantly false, vaguely Baltic accent.
She should have expected it. She really, really should have. But the pandemonium reigning when Lane arrived in the cafeteria for lunch was a complete surprise. A huge crowd of students were clustered in the center of the open space, forming a tidy little semi-circle that was collectively giggling and pointing at whatever it was they had surrounded.
"What did you do?" she asked immediately, not even bothering to look at Jess, who was tailing behind her.
"What makes you think I did anything?" he asked pleasantly.
Before either of them could say another word, Principal Merton emerged apparently out of nowhere. "Mr. Mariano," he intoned dryly. "Would you be so kind as to join me in my office?"
"Sure thing, Mr. Merton," Jess responded in an equally sarcastic voice.
Lane watched for a moment as her best friend was all but led away by the elbow, then made her way to the crowd of students and peered over Jill Allen's shoulder to examine Jess's handiwork. She couldn't restrain a laugh of her own. Jess had chalked down an outline of a body, CSI-style, complete with a red-painted rolling pin standing in as the blunt-trauma murder weapon, and surrounded the whole area with police tape.
Principal Merton sank heavily into his desk chair with a resigned sigh. "Mr. Mariano, I thought we had finished with these juvenile pranks of yours after that conversation you and I had when you were in middle school."
"The prison-bar incident of '97," Jess agreed mildly, bearing an expression of great benevolent wisdom on his young face. "I remember."
"I want to remind you of the same thing I told you then. You're a bright young man, Jess. You have a great deal of potential and an impressive future ahead of you. I don't want to see you spoil that future if one of these stunts of yours gets out of hand. I understand wanting to create a bit of a stir now and then. That's natural at your age, and we live in a very small community with very little to engage someone of your interests and talent. However, this cannot continue, Jess. I'm going to have to issue you three weeks' detention."
There was a long silence during which Jess stared at the principal, and he stared back.
Then, Jess responded, "Tell me, what rules have I broken?"
"Answer me that, Principal Merton. What rules have I actually broken?"
"None, as such."
Jess nodded. "Exactly. There is nothing in the Stars Hollow High code of conduct that forbids anything I have ever done. I have obeyed the letter of the law. I'll be the first person to admit that I'm not exactly sticking to the spirit, but not once have I ever broken any school rules. Well, admittedly, you might be able to call speaking out to Ms. Traister last week insubordination, but I've apologized and served my time, and she and I have come to an understanding."
Principal Merton pursed his lips. "Your logic is, as usual, irrefutable, but I think you are failing to understand the larger lesson here, Mr. Mariano."
Jess frowned, but said nothing.
"I would like to arrange a meeting with your guardian."
That prompted an immediate reaction. "Do we really have to get Luke involved?" he asked, sitting forward in his chair with a worried look on his face.
"Yes, I think we do," Principal Merton said firmly. "There are some options I would like to discuss with him."
"Like what?" Jess asked incredulously.
"That is between your uncle and myself."
Jess heaved a heavy sigh. "Set it up," he said tiredly. "You won't be able to reach him on the home phone until after seven, at the latest, but you can leave a message on the machine." At the principal's raised eyebrow, Jess said, "I won't erase it. Scouts honor." He held up the traditional three-finger salute with an air of utmost irony.
"Lorelai! Lorelai, come here for a moment!" The voice of Emily Gilmore echoed through the confines of the expansive mansion on Tower Avenue.
Lorelai Gilmore the Third didn't initially hear her grandmother calling, so wrapped up was she in the thick book she had perched on her chest as she reclined on her bed. After the third time her name rang up the hallway, she tucked the silken bookmark into place and closed the leather-bound tome with a regretful sigh. "Just a moment!" she called out, rolling over uncomfortably and swinging her gangly teenager's legs off the edge of her bed, landing with a thunk on the hardwood floor. She was still in her Chilton uniform, having been too absorbed in The Three Musketeers when she arrived home to bother changing.
She skittered down the hallway to the stairs, then slowed to an easy and sedate stride, descending with more ladylike grace than she had shown in her awkward tumble off her bed.
"What is it?" she asked, finding her grandmother waiting for her in the sitting room.
Emily patted the settee, indicating that Lorelai ought to join her. "Take a seat, dear," she said. Lorelai noted that she had the Lorelai Face on, the expression that only came across her face after dealing with her mother, Lorelai the Second.
Lorelai obliged. "Is something wrong?" she asked hesitantly.
Emily sighed. "I spoke with your mother on the phone yesterday," she said.
Yep. Definitely the Lorelai Face.
"As I'm sure you recall, your mother recently filed an appeal against your current custody arrangements."
And suddenly Lorelai wasn't just feeling the usual worry over the Lorelai Face, she was suddenly very apprehensive about whatever it was her grandmother was about to tell her. "Yes, I knew that. What about it?"
Emily pursed her lips. "It seems that the court has evaluated her situation and yours, and elected to grant your mother full custody of you."
Lorelai's eyes widened. "What?" she breathed out.
Emily shook her head, restraining her own thoughts on the matter. To be perfectly frank, she had been furious when the notice from the judge's office had been phoned in, and she had been still more furious when she spoke with her on the phone the previous afternoon. For her granddaughter's sake, however, she would do her best to be calm. It had been made clear to her that she and Richard had as little choice in this matter as Lorelai had been given ten years previously. The law had spoken, and unless Rory herself put up any strenuous objections, that was that. She was not at all pleased about it, and there had been quite a long, loud "discussion" with Judge Bryant after she had been notified of the court's decision, but she had been told in strictest terms that this was not something she could fight.
And so, Emily Gilmore was trying something different: she was trying to make the best of it.
For the past decade, she had made raising Lorelai properly her first priority. If she did say so herself, she had succeeded rather magnificently. Lorelai was a sweet-tempered, compliant creature, wholly different from her vibrant and incorrigible mother. Emily was confident that ten years of her own good influence could not be undone by the three years Lorelai would have to work on her before she went off to school. It wasn't an ideal situation, but her granddaughter was an intelligent, level-headed girl of good breeding. Even under her mother's unruly influence, her good sense would serve her well.
"I'm afraid that's the fact of the matter," Emily said coolly. "I received notification from the district courts office."
Lorelai's expression was hard to read. "Grandpa said her appeal wasn't a big deal," she said quietly, an almost accusatory tone in her voice. "You said this wasn't the first time she tried to get custody of me."
"It isn't," Emily confirmed. "But apparently her financial situation has improved significantly since the last time Child Protective Services reviewed her." She had to physically restrain herself from clucking her tongue disparagingly.
Lorelai fidgeted with her hands in her lap and chewed her lips thoughtfully for a long moment, a rather unattractive habit that Emily had tried to correct the way she had her granddaughter's formerly atrocious posture, but her efforts in this particular instance had been in vain. Finally, she turned those vividly blue eyes back to her grandmother and asked, "Am I going to have to change schools?"
"Heavens, no! Lorelai, your mother is many things, among them flighty and irresponsible, but she is certainly not foolhardy. She knows very well your educational aspirations, and I am sure that she will respect that. She knows how important Chilton is for you to get into a good university."
Lorelai nodded in acceptance of her grandmother's reassurance, and sat in quiet thoughtfulness for another several moments.
"Okay," she said quietly, after some time. "I guess... it is what it is, right?"
Emily sniffed in dissatisfaction. "So it would appear," she said coolly.
"When do I have to move?"
"Is Mom coming over before then?"
"Yes. She said she was planning on dropping by this afternoon."
Lorelai got to her feet decisively. "I have so much work to do! I have to get my things organized," she said, obviously full of some kind of powerful emotion but just unwilling to let her grandmother see it that she managed to pull up a smile from somewhere.
As Lorelai all but ran for the stairs, Emily was once again struck by the contrast to her mother. Lorelai the Second had been full of fire and vinegar more often than not, and when she was, she'd never had any problem letting everyone know it. Lorelai the Third, by contrast, was much more adept at keeping her violent spurts of emotion (if, indeed, she had any; sometimes it was hard to tell with that girl), so compliant and calm. It was like night and day with all the differences in raising the pair of them.
The feel-good attitude Luke had provided her with lasted only as long as the coffee he had sent her to work with. After it had faded, she did her best to ignore the funny churning in her head and heart. She was being ridiculous. She knew she was being ridiculous... maybe. No, she was. Still, she couldn't seem to convince herself to really believe that. Her worries were unfounded. But try telling that to her subconscious. She held out as long as she could, but eventually she knew that she wasn't going to be able to focus on her work until she talked this out with someone.
Lorelai slipped into the kitchen around three o'clock. She almost addressed Sookie immediately, but found herself getting drawn into watching her latest argument with the produce guy.
"They're smaller than the last batch," Sookie declared, holding up a peach.
"No, they're not," Jackson replied tiredly.
"Smaller means watery, no good peach taste," she said cautioningly.
"No, there's plenty of peach taste because they're, you know, peaches," Jackson shot back.
"What about the ones at the bottom?" she wondered aloud.
Jackson threw up his hands and rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Oh, great," he said. "No, be sure to check 'em all. Thaaaat's it. Give every last one of 'em a nice good squeeze! You wouldn't want to actually leave me one that I can sell to somebody else! No, wait a minute, you missed one. Now, I'm not gonna tell you which one it is, I'm just gonna let your impeccably good radar- There it is!"
Sookie had single-mindedly ignored him throughout this monologue, studying the peach she had retrieved from the crate intently.
At this point, Lorelai decided it was time to speak up. "Hey, Sook? You got a minute?"
"Not really," her distracted chef replied. "I'm going to have to re-evaluate the entire dinner menu because the entire plan was built to revolve around ducks with my fabulous peach glazing, only someone didn't see fit to bring me any decent peaches I can actually use to make the glaze!"
"Hey!" Jackson cried, affronted.
Lorelai's face fell. "Oh. Okay. I'll leave you to it," she said, backing away from the scene.
Sookie looked up and spotted the deeply-etched worry lines wrinkling up her friend's brow, and reevaluated her short-term priorities. "Honey, what is it?" she asked.
Lorelai shook her head. "Not important. I'm being silly."
Sookie grabbed her hand and pulled her to a corner of the kitchen out of earshot of Jackson and the rest of her staff. "Anything that has you looking like that isn't silliness, Lorelai," she said firmly. "What's bothering you?"
"I just... I'm worried about bringing Rory to live here."
Sookie's eyebrows shot up. "But you've been over the moon all weekend! What's happened?"
"I know, I know. But she hasn't been to the Hollow in years! When she was a little kid, she still loved coming here. Stars Hollow was like a fairytale escape from all the boring Hartford stuff. But as she's gotten older, she's started to like the boring Hartford stuff more."
"Sweetie, she's gonna love living here full-time," she tried to reassure her.
"But what if she doesn't?"
"She will," Sookie said firmly. "You're being paranoid. I promise, she'll love being back here. This is home, no matter where she's been living."
Lorelai thought about that. When she had first stumbled into Stars Hollow, quite by chance all those years ago, it had instantly felt like home to her. Rory had said things along those lines when she visited as a young girl as well. This place might not be Rory's permanent address- yet, anyway- but Sookie had a point. It did seem to be her "heart home" as much as it was to Lorelai herself.
"Thanks, Sookie," she said warmly. "I'll let you get back to the ducks, okay?"
Sookie was hardly paying attention, having already returned her attention to Jackson and his sub-standard peaches. She only had time to give Lorelai a half-wave as she started rolling a piece of watery fruit across the floor.
Much as Luke's coffee and gruff attempts at reassurance had earlier, Lorelai felt that Sookie's advice had loosened a tangle or two in the tight knot of worry that was sitting in her chest. Feeling that she would be able to fully concentrate on her job again, Lorelai left the kitchen with a lighter heart.
"DuGrey home, Oppressed One speaking."
"Tristan? It's me."
"Hey, Lore. What's up?"
Lorelai lay flat across the width of her bed, staring at her open closet doors and the careful system of organization she had perfected over the years. "I don't think I can hang out tonight," she said shortly.
"Something came up."
"Can't you get out of it?" he pleaded.
"Don't think so."
Tristan DuGrey was, in effect, Lorelai's best friend. They had gone through elementary school together, and the close social ties between their grandparents had resulted in both of them attending the same middle school, and now Chilton. She had been his comfort and his confidante when the stifling coldness of his home life was driving him to the point of insanity, and he had been her solace when she was missing her mother so much it hurt. He was her secret-keeper, she was his pressure-valve. Sometimes, Lorelai thought there might be more than friendship between them, especially lately, but she couldn't be entirely sure.
"What is this thing that you can't get out of?" he asked.
She sighed. "My mom is coming to dinner."
"On a Monday?" he asked, clearly surprised. He knew the every-other-Tuesday routine as well as she did. He had been the voice on the phone talking her back to quietude after her mother went back to Stars Hollow more times than she could count.
"What's up with that?" he asked.
Lorelai rolled onto her back, head sticking past the end of the bed on one side, feet dangling off on the other. "It's... complicated."
"As if there's anything in your life that isn't," he teased gently.
She couldn't help but smile, picturing his brown eyes softening as they tended to when he was poking fun at her. Her expression faded quickly back into pensiveness, however. "The court gave my mom custody of me," she confided softly.
"I didn't think so. So you'll be moving?"
"I'm not changing schools or anything," she reassured, hearing that worry coming probably before he could even think of it himself. "No matter what, I'm staying at Chilton. I guess I'll just have to drive a little further to get there."
Tristan chuckled low. "God, I bet you'll take the bus to school and everything!"
"Delightfully plebian, isn't it?"
"Eh, it'll be good for you," Tristan joked, before both of them lapsed into thoughtful silence.
"I used to wish this would happen," Lorelai said quietly, after several quiet moments had passed between them. "It was all I could think about when I was little. She would come up to the door and tell me it was just gonna be her and me the way it used to be when I was younger, and then she'd sweep me up and take me back to Stars Hollow. But now... I don't know. I feel like I'm grown up now, you know? It's like at this point it's just..."
"How'd you know?"
"Mother's going through one of her parenting phases again."
"Health kick again?"
"No. Designated family hour, this time."
"I can handle it, I'm tough."
"No you're not. You cried like a baby when I kicked you in the shin that one time."
"I was ten!"
"You still cried."
"Not the point of this conversation."
Lorelai sighed. "I guess not."
Tristan allowed them to fall into silence for a few minutes, then said, "You'll be okay. You've got a cool head, you know? And I've never met your mom, but from the way you used to talk about her, she sounds pretty awesome."
"So everyone claims," Lorelai replied.
"I gotta go," Tristan said. "I'll let Madeleine and Jake know you can't make it tonight."
Lorelai hung up, and cradled the phone to her chest, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling.
It was nearly seven by the time the phone rang in Lorelai's little office at the Independence Inn. Absently, she reached for the receiver. "Independence Inn, this is Lorelai Gilmore speaking. How may I help you?" she recited politely, barely paying attention as she tried to wade through the apparently endless mound of memos, invoices, and reports she had to sort through, sign, or respond to.
"Lorelai Gilmore, where in God's name are you?"
She winced at the shrill tone in her mother's voice that surely meant she was furious. "Gee, I dunno Mom. You tell me, since you're the one who called. I couldn't possibly be at the Inn, now could I?" she spat out.
"You told me you were coming to Hartford to have dinner with us and discuss arrangements at 6:30. It is now a quarter to 7 and you apparently haven't even left work yet!"
Lorelai's stomach dropped and she was sure that for a moment her heart froze in place. "Shit!"
"There's no need for language like that!" Emily spat out. Lorelai couldn't even muster up an apology for her outburst before she was off again. "What in God's name are you doing, telling Lorelai you will be at a certain place at a certain time and then not following through? Especially now!" Lorelai could practically hear her mother's eyes roll through the phone. "Oh, never mind. It's exactly like you. God knows, being responsible for your daughter's sake couldn't possibly be a thought to cross your head."
It was an invitation to yet another famous Emily/Lorelai sparring match, but Lorelai had been working very hard at living up to something Chanda had told her a few weeks previously: "You do not have to attend every argument you're invited to." She was pretty sure it was the only way she was ever going to be able to deal with her mother.
"Apparently not," she muttered petulantly. "Listen, I will be right there, Mom. I'm walking out the door right now, I'll see you by 7:15."
But Emily's protest was cut off as Lorelai slammed the phone back down on the cradle. With one strappy little heel on and the other awkwardly slipped under her toes from where she'd had it kicked partially off under the desk, purse dangling from one finger and her jacket snatched absentmindedly from the back of her chair, she rushed to the door of her office.
"Michel, cover the desk until Tobin gets in!" she shouted, not even looking at the Frenchman as she shot out the door, trying in vain to get her toes back into her shoes.
She all but crashed into the driver's seat of the Jeep, and she had the engine on and the vehicle in gear before she had even fully closed the door. She peeled out of the parking lot. She made good time out of Stars Hollow, but as she turned onto the highway she saw the numbers on her dashboard clock inching ever closer to seven p.m., and panic began to set in. Her foot weighed on the accelerator.
"Gotta have driving music," she said aloud, and began flipping through the increasingly pathetic offerings on the radio stations before realizing she would have to settle for the 80's hair metal station with a DJ who seemed to almost have some knowledge of the genre, as it was the best she was going to get on this particular night. Mötley Crüe, she could handle. Jimmy Buffet, not so much.
The familiar chorus of Too Young To Fall In Love kept her mentally occupied as she flew down the highway. Just mentally occupied enough to avoid noticing her speedometer approaching 80, but not quite mentally occupied enough to avoid noticing the flashing red and blue lights in her rearview.
Lorelai uttered her second four-letter word of the evening.
It was a great deal closer to 7:45 by the time Lorelai finally reached the Gilmore mansion. She pulled up outside the house and killed the engine, her eyes drawn automatically back to the speeding ticket, written up in blue ink, sitting accusingly in the passenger seat. For a moment, Lorelai felt like screaming. But no, she couldn't lose it right now. Rory was inside waiting for her, and she'd already let her down enough by being so late. She didn't need to be a basket case now that she finally had managed to arrive.
She stared straight ahead for a few seconds, breathing deeply through her nose, then got out of the car and headed for the front door. She steeled herself a second time, and knocked.
Emily answered almost immediately.
"Come inside," she said stiffly.
Lorelai felt her hackles raising automatically.
"Let me take your coat," Emily said, and the disapproval was practically visible in the air around her. Lorelai shrugged out of her light autumn jacket and handed it mutely to her mother.
"You missed dinner, I'm afraid. Your father had business to attend to before he goes to bed, and we simply couldn't keep waiting on you."
"I can just grab something later," Lorelai replied tersely.
Emily pursed her lips. "Lorelai is in the sitting room," she said, gesturing to her daughter to precede her into the room where a surely disappointed blue-eyed fifteen-year-old was waiting for them. At that particularly cheery thought, Lorelai balked.
One thing Lorelai was very proud of was that, other than her greatest failure in not being able to keep her daughter safe in Stars Hollow and away from the cold world of the Hartford elite, she had never let her daughter down. She was always where she said she would be, when she said she would be (which was a great deal more than could be said of Rory's father), she did her best to cooperate with her parents for Rory's sake, she came through as far as birthday presents and the occasional day trips she had been allowed were concerned. But tonight, on this most important of nights, when she would tell her little girl the wonderful news that they were finally going to get to be a real family the way they had always been meant to be, she had disappointed her.
As loathe as Lorelai was to go into that sitting room and face the quietly sad look that Rory alone could give, she had kept her daughter waiting on her for more than an hour. She couldn't bring herself to make her wait any longer.
Entering the sitting room, she saw that her predictions had been correct. Rory was sitting on one of those stupid matching settees, dressed up very tidily in a pretty blue sweater, her hands folded quietly in her lap and eyes cast downwards, most of her face obscured by those new, fancy bangs.
"Hey, Sweets," Lorelai said, trying to paint on an apologetic smile. "Sorry I kept you guys waiting so long. Apparently the Hartford police don't take too kindly to mothers breaking the sound barrier trying to get here on time."
Rory looked up and gave her a small smile, the temperature of which could have frozen magma. "It's okay," she said, and it felt like a knife to Lorelai's gut to see how much her daughter wanted to mean that.
"No it's not, but it's sweet that you're trying," Lorelai said, trying to smooth over the hurt feelings with a small measure of lighthearted honesty. She sat down next to Rory while Emily took up residence on the opposite side of the coffee table. "Anyway, the reason I was coming over here tonight-"
"I know," Rory interrupted. "Grandma told me."
Lorelai's eyes widened and she shot an accusing look in her mother's direction. "Mom!" she exclaimed. "I asked you specifically to let me tell her!"
"I thought it would be better coming from me," Emily said primly. "There's no need to just spring things like that on her, Lorelai."
"She is sitting right here," Rory reminded them.
Lorelai took a steadying breath as she turned back to her daughter. "Well, what do you think about this? I know it's got to be a big change for you..."
Rory's eyes skittered away from her mother's to focus somewhere over her left shoulder as she said, "I think it's good. Uh, great."
Not buying it for a second, Lorelai said, "Nuh-uh, kiddo. Try again. I can tell when you're lying." Rory's eyes moved back to hers and she opened her mouth with an obviously defensive look on her face, prepared to refute Lorelai's statement, but Lorelai preempted her. "It's fine if you're not totally okay with this. Talk to me, Sweets."
Rory must have been in a vindictive mood, ready to punish her mother for being late, or perhaps Lorelai brought out some hidden impulsive traits in her daughter, because for once she spoke without her usual diplomacy. Her desire to keep the peace was overridden by a jumbled mess of complicated emotion. "No, I'm not okay with it. I don't want to commute to school, and I'm not crazy about being so far away from my friends, and moving is such a hassle, and I just redecorated my room, and Stars Hollow is boring!"
Lorelai felt just a little bit kicked in the gut. Her dream from the night before, which had faded to hazy memory, was suddenly back and present full-force in her mind.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," she said through numb lips.
It was obvious that Rory's uncharacteristic outburst had startled even herself. "It's just... all kind of fast, you know?" She offered the words like a band-aid.
"I can understand that," Lorelai said. "I'm still having trouble processing it all, and I've had a whole weekend to think about it."
The blue-eyed girl nodded, frowning thoughtfully. "I don't really know how to feel."
"We used to talk about this, remember?" Lorelai said cajolingly, hating that she sounded a little desperate, breathlessly trying to convince her daughter that this was a good thing without sounding like she was having to convince her because Emily was right there.
"Yes, we did," Rory said. "A long time ago. We haven't really talked about it at all lately."
Lorelai nodded. "I know. Mommy had some serious growing up of her own to do."
Rory touched her hand gently. It was the first time they'd had any physical contact since Lorelai had walked into the room. "I guess that's good, right?" she said, frowning.
"Yeah. Things haven't been right for a long time," Lorelai said. She sighed. "I don't know what I can say, kid. There's not much I can say about the commute or the distance from your friends, and I agree: moving is a hassle. Unfortunately, nothing I can do to change that. But I tell you what, we can decorate your old room back home any way you want. And... give Stars Hollow a chance. You loved the town so much when you were young."
Rory didn't seem ready to respond to that last statement, so she addressed another issue. "Grandma and I talked it over and we thought you could take some of my stuff to the house in Stars Hollow tonight so that there's less to move on Saturday," Rory said. "Less of a hassle, right?"
"Yeah. Less of a hassle."
Lorelai looked intently at her daughter. She couldn't tell what Rory was trying to tell her by saying that. Rory was usually a pretty tough read, but she was even more inscrutable than ever at this moment. She took a moment to shoot a glance at Emily, who had been remarkably silent throughout this exchange, her mouth screwed up as if she were sucking on a lemon. As their eyes met, she got to her feet.
"I think perhaps you had better go. Lorelai has school in the morning, and I personally would like to turn in a little early."
It was as obvious a dismissal as Lorelai had ever heard. "Alright," she said, too drained to put up a fight about it.
"What, no hissy fit?" Emily asked caustically.
"Contrary to popular belief, I can behave like an adult sometimes," Lorelai replied crossly. "I've had the longest day of my life today and I don't really feel like going fifteen rounds with you right now, even if I haven't had more than five minutes to talk things over with my daughter yet. I'm sure you're mad at me for a variety of reasons, and maybe some of them are even justified, but I'm not going to fight with you over them right now."
Emily nodded curtly. "I'll have Wilhelmina assist you in carrying Lorelai's things to your car," she said coolly.
"Thank you," Lorelai replied. She glanced at Rory. "Hug?" she asked.
A little smile crossed Rory's lips. "Hug," she confirmed.
The two girls shared a tight embrace, and for a minute Lorelai felt like her worries were unfounded. But Rory pulled away a little too quickly, and avoided her eyes a little too intently for everything to be alright just yet.
Lorelai pressed the traffic ticket up against the cool surface of the refrigerator and slapped a magnet shaped like a rose in the middle of it. "Shitty end to a shitty day," she muttered.
By the time she had gotten back from Hartford, it was well after 8:30. Nowhere near her usual bedtime, but Lorelai was exhausted, physically and mentally, and she had managed to work herself into an emotional froth all over again. It had been easy to bury down most of her inner turmoil while she was at her parents' house, talking to her daughter. She was used to putting on a brave face for Rory's sake. But once she was out of her child's presence, everything in her that was terrifying her came bubbling up to the surface, compounded by Rory's looks and words and behavior over the course of their... the only word Lorelai could think to call it was "interview," as if her own daughter were some distant monarch who deigned to look down on her when it pleased her. Not so much because of any haughty mannerisms that Lorelai the Third (God, even that name sounded like some kind of royal title!) had picked up while living in Hartford, but just because of the tension and awkwardness of the encounter. It was a feeling that had been growing steadily in the undercurrent of their conversations for several years now, and it had peaked tonight.
All of this was churning around inside her. Standing there, staring unseeingly at the traffic ticket she still held pinned to the fridge despite the magnet holding it in place, she did her best to sort through her individual thoughts and emotions the way Chanda had taught her, so she could keep her head straight rather than get bogged down in an indecipherable tangle of emotions the way she had more than once over the years. It didn't really help, but she wasn't really trying. She didn't have the energy for self-analysis right now.
This once, she decided, it might be better to just not think for awhile. Just blank out for awhile and not worry about any of it until she had put a little distance between herself and the maelstrom in her head. In a few hours, or more likely tomorrow morning once she'd had some sleep, she'd be able to put all this in perspective.
She returned to the car and started unloading the boxes and bags Rory had sent home with her in the Jeep. There were more than just a few of them. God, Rory had a lot of stuff! "Maybe she is my daughter after all," Lorelai thought aloud, briefly humorous.
Eventually she got it all unloaded and stacked up in the kitchen several rows deep. She brushed imaginary dust from her palms with a quick slap and looked around in brief satisfaction. Then she pushed open the door to Rory's room, and the satisfaction immediately dried up and blew away.
It is a fact of life in the western world that people in general simply have too much stuff and some of the stuff has to go somewhere. There has to be a spillover point for all the detritus of living. Your dresser drawer breaks and although your friend builds you a new one to match, the old one has to be put somewhere until trash day, and if trash day comes around and you happen to forget... Or perhaps you redecorated your bathroom, and the old cracked vanity that Kirk wanted to buy from you needed a place to stay until he came buy to pick it up, only he never did. Or maybe you volunteered to help organize the March Madness festival two years ago and all the extra colored streamers and a bag full of basketballs and one lonely child-sized basketball hoop find their way to your house with nowhere to go... Your old sewing machine, which you always meant to give to your daughter after you replaced it with a better model, needs somewhere to sit until your daughter comes to take possession of it...
It happens all too often, when a room in a house goes unused for a year or two. That empty, unused room gets to feel loved and important by becoming the stopping point for the flotsam and jetsam that we fail to handle more appropriately.
This was what had become of Rory's room. After nearly three years of being unoccupied, the random bits and pieces of Lorelai's life had somehow floated in there. There was hardly a foot of free space in the whole room.
Lorelai stood aghast, staring at the barely-visible floor, the dust-coated coverlet on the little twin bed. Suddenly, the room seemed symbolic of her relationship with her daughter Had she been subconsciously pushing Rory away, filling that space in her own life with nonsense and cobwebs? Was that why her firstborn seemed like a distant stranger? Had she done this?
A bitter taste filled her mouth and a dizzying mix of panic and resigned frustration filled her up. Lorelai fell on the mess in the little corner room, grabbing onto the broken maple-wood drawer that Luke had replaced, heaving it across the floor despite its weight, desperately pulling it through the kitchen and out the back door. She hurled it off the porch and into the backyard with a grunt of exertion, where the already badly damaged wood splintered into a dozen pieces. But Lorelai didn't even see the impact because she had already turned back inside. A bag containing twelve pairs of worn-out shoes were the next to go, landing on top of the splintered drawer. Lorelai moved with frenetic energy, trying to outrun the emotional upheaval that had been chasing her down all day, following up the shoes with the separate pieces of the old vanity.
Next, she laid hands on an ancient, horrible coatrack her mother had given her some years ago. It was too heavy for her, but adrenaline was shooting through Lorelai's veins and she managed to tilt the thing enough to drag it across the floor. She felt a vindictive kind of triumph.
Moving backwards as she heaved the coatrack after her, Lorelai didn't see the bag of basketballs in her path until she stepped on one of them and slipped, crashing to the floor with the coatrack landing across her tangled-up legs. She let out a cry more of surprise than pain, and found herself somewhat trapped by the heavy object. After a moment of claustrophobic wriggling, she freed herself and scooted on her knees to the kitchen, unexpected hot tears running down her cheeks.
She seized the phone and dialed the first number that came to mind. After three rings, she got a machine message: "Hello, you have reached the office of Dr. Chanda Fleming. Our normal office hours are Monday thru Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you are calling outside these hours, you may leave a message or-"
Lorelai hung up with unnatural violence and let out a disappointed moan, and wondered if she was having a panic attack. It was a tremendous part of her personal mythology that she was Wonder Woman, able to take any blow and keep on pushing forward, but right now she felt about twelve years old and definitely not super-strong. It had been the crappiest day in the history of crappy days, and every single insecurity she had ever had about herself was raging right across the surface of her awareness rather than remaining safely in their usual lock-box deep in her psyche.
Before she could think too hard about what she was doing, she dialed again, working hard to regulate her breathing before her call was answered.
Luke was in the midst of closing down the diner when the phone rang. He almost didn't answer, but thought perhaps it might be one of his delivery guys calling about a change of schedule. "Luke's," he barked into the receiver.
"Hey, Luke," came Lorelai's voice over the other end of the line.
He stopped his attempt to one-handedly fill the salt shakers. "Lorelai?" he asked, concerned. Her voice sounded odd and uncertain.
"Yeah, hi," she said, sounding distracted. "I, um, I was wondering if you would... if I could... get your help with some stuff."
No quip, no 'actually I was thinking last week would be convenient,' sarcasm. Something really was up with her. "What do you need?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'm trying to move some stuff and I can't do it by myself," she said.
"I'll be there in a few minutes," he responded immediately.
He hung up and took the stairs two at a time up to the apartment over the diner. Jess was sitting at the little kitchen table flipping through a chemistry textbook, but he looked up when his uncle entered the apartment.
"Lorelai needs my help with some stuff," he said. "Think you can finish closing before you get back to that?"
"What's left to do?"
"I just need you to mop and finish up with the salt."
Jess nodded. "Sure, no problem," he said easily.
Luke offered him a quick smile, then headed right back down the stairs and out through the darkened diner, heading for the little house on Lilac Street.
Lorelai was sitting at the kitchen table playing idly with her fingers when Luke arrived. She looked up and gave him a wan smile. "Thanks for coming on such short notice," she said. Luke noticed in stunned amazement that her eyes were tinged a little red, as if she had been crying before he got there. Her hair looked a little frazzled as well.
"You look like hell," he said without thinking.
"Just what every girl wants to hear," she said, smirking. But her animation didn't last long. She seemed quiet and drained and tired and very young.
He wondered if she had called because she really needed help with something, or if she had just needed someone around and didn't know how to ask. But if that was the case, he had no idea why she would call him, of all people. They were friends, true, but usually their non-diner-related interactions consisted of him being baffled by the challenges of being parents to a teenage boy and Lorelai offering him her always helpful advice. The idea of her turning to him to be her confidante was a complete reversal of roles. He was sure if she ever talked to anyone about stuff, it was Sookie. But... she had called.
"So, um, I just kind of have... a lot of stuff in Rory's room that I need to move," she said.
Okay, so maybe she did have a practical reason for calling him over here. He felt ridiculous for thinking maybe she had just wanted him for the company. After all these years of their unorthodox friendship, he ought to know by now that she wasn't gonna look to him as anything more than her coffee provider and quasi-father to Jess.
He peered into the room and felt his eyes involuntarily widen. "Jeez," he muttered. "You're not kidding." Observing that a truly horrifying coatrack was tipped over across the middle of the floor, complete with several deep gouges in the wood where it seemed to have been dragged, he couldn't help but ask, "What happened here?"
She got up and came to join him in the doorway. "Minor moving accident," she explained.
"And on that note... what do you say we start with my mother's most recent Christmas monstrosity?" she suggested, gesturing to the coatrack.
Luke easily acquiesced, and the pair of them spent the next hour in relative silence as they cleared the little bedroom out. Most of the junk went up to the attic, some of it went in the trash, and the sparkly blue Christmas garland ended up on the sofa because neither of them could figure out what to do with it. He didn't ask her why a bunch of old shoes and a pile of broken wood were lying in the yard for him to retrieve; she didn't complain when he insisted on organizing the things they took up to the attic instead of just stuffing it up there and leaving it where it lay.
The more time passed with Lorelai silent, or nearly so, the more concerned he became. Something really was bothering her. Luke wasn't a touchy-feely guy by nature, but he resolved to try to talk to her about whatever was on her mind. Aside from Jess, Lorelai was the only person he really felt comfortable talking with about serious things. He hoped she felt equally comfortable with him, at least enough to know that she could come to him about things, whether she actually did or not.
By the time ten-thirty rolled around, they had completed their task and Lorelai flopped tiredly into a chair at the kitchen table.
He took a seat next to her. "What's going on?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you."
"What about me?"
He rolled his eyes. Typical Lorelai, making it as hard as possible to get to the point. "You've hardly said more than two sentences all night."
"So, usually I'm trying desperately to shut you up so I can get a word in edgewise."
"I'd think you'd welcome the change."
"Not the point," he said, feeling a combination of annoyance at the runaround and relief that she sounded a little more like herself. "What's bothering you?"
She sighed, staring at her hand tracing circles on the tabletop, letting silence descend for a minute before she spoke. "I think I kind of lost it tonight," she said with a low, humorless chuckle. "I haven't felt this out of control in years."
"Yeah?" he prompted gently.
"I went to see Rory tonight," she said. "She isn't entirely happy about moving to Stars Hollow."
"What? No way!"
She shrugged. "She's fifteen. She doesn't want to live so far away from all her friends. It's normal, I guess, but it really just hit me hard."
"You've wanted this for a long time," he said.
Lorelai tilted her head in acknowledgement, still not really meeting his eyes. "Yes. I have," she agreed. "But you know what I realized tonight? I realized that in all those dreams I've had over the years, of Rory coming back to me, she's still five years old. I've had this idea in my head that someday I would get her back and we'd just... pick up where we left off. But we can't do that, can we? She's changed. I've changed. We're not the same people we were ten years ago. She isn't a little girl who still thinks her mother's perfect, and I'm not... well, I'm really not the same girl I was. I've been hanging onto some fantasy in my mind of who she would be and who I would be when that day finally came. I've been imagining some mythical Lorelai Gilmore who wasn't her or me the way we are now."
Luke nodded in understanding. "Nothing in life ever turns out the way we imagined," he said.
"Probably not. But it just really threw me to realize that it wasn't ever going to be like I wanted."
"Doesn't mean it can't still be good."
She smiled. It wasn't her usual ten-zillion-gigawatt smile, it was something softer and more about warmth than sparkle, but she looked calm and happy again. "No, it doesn't," she agreed.
"I should head back," he said gruffly. "Jess was closing down when I left."
She nodded her understanding. "Say hi for me."
Luke got to his feet and headed for the door, leaving her still sitting there at the kitchen table. Before he left the room, however, she called out to him and he paused, glancing over his shoulder at her.
"Thanks, Luke," she said.
He nodded, and headed out the door.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Devil Take The Hindmost:
"The Lorelais First Day In Stars Hollow"
Jess and Lane make an effort to make Rory feel welcome in Stars Hollow, while Luke has a surprising meeting with Jess's principal.