Lorelai parked the Jeep a block away from the diner and then sat there for a few minutes, nervously chewing on a fingernail as she watched various townspeople going about their daily routines. None of them knew how much anxiety was attached to the simple act of walking into Luke's today.
She didn't think she'd made too big of a fool of herself. She hoped not, anyway. There didn't seem to be any gaps in her memory of the evening. Some of it was cringe-inducing. Like the crying, for example. Some of it was even kind of funny, like when he picked her up and flew her into the truck.
And some of it, she thought, rubbing a hand over her forehead, was downright sobering, like when she admitted to Hank that she knew she was in love with Luke.
She drew in a shaky breath as she remembered the kiss. That poetry-inspiring, soul-warming, total knockout of a kiss. How was it possible that they could share something like that and yet they were still dancing around each other the way they were? Did it not feel that way to him? Was he that hung up on Nicole?
Her mouth puckered as though she was biting down on a Sour Patch Kid. Thinking about his feelings for Nicole was more than she could handle this morning.
She'd awakened today to a more manageable hangover than what she probably deserved. Extra Strength Tylenol and a prolonged stay in the shower had made her feel nearly human. Luckily Sookie had insisted she not come in until later this morning, assuming she'd be out celebrating her birthday until the wee hours. She had appreciated the extra time to get herself together. By the time she came downstairs, Rory was gone but had left her a note, saying that she hoped she felt better and that Luke had called, asking her to please come to the diner for breakfast, no matter when that turned out to be.
She sighed and closed her eyes, drawing in some courage. She grabbed the keys from the ignition and her purse and pushed herself out into the street, barely wincing as the bright sunlight danced off the side view mirror and into her eyes.
Once on the sidewalk she started the slow crawl to Luke's, taking her time by looking into all of the shop windows along the way. She knew she was dawdling, but it was the best she could hope for today.
Miss Patty came up beside her, a Doose's Market bag on her arm. "Hello, Lorelai. How are you, dear?"
"I'm fine, Patty." Lorelai could feel that the smile on her face was a rather grim one.
Patty began to look a little agonized. "Lorelai, I think we should talk," she said, humbly.
"What about?" Lorelai wondered. Patty continued to stare so long at her khaki pants and denim jacket without answering that Lorelai finally looked herself over, afraid that she'd spilled something down her outfit and just didn't know it.
Patty looked up, seeming more determined as she met her eyes. "Come with me," she commanded, and walked a little bit farther down the street to her studio.
"Let's go back here," Patty suggested, once they'd stepped inside the quiet building. She led Lorelai into the small closet-sized room in the back that served as her office.
"Have a seat, dear," she said, and Lorelai pulled in a folding chair that had been leaning up against the wall. She settled into it and watched Patty curiously.
Patty eased down into her chair and fluttered her hands about the bright purple scarf she wore. She sighed and looked unhappily down at her desk. "I really don't know how to go about telling you this," she admitted.
Lorelai was getting a distinctly déjà-vu feeling about this. "If this is about Nicole, don't worry. I already know."
Patty's head jumped up. "Who's Nicole?" she asked, puzzled.
"Uh, no one," Lorelai said, waving her hand to chase away the name. "Never mind. What is it, then?"
Patty bit her lip and then seemed to make a decision. "It's about you and Luke, and the April Fool's joke you thought you'd play on all of us."
It took a few moments for Lorelai to comprehend what Patty had just said. She gasped, her eyes bugging out and her mouth dropping open. "You knew?" she squealed, when her voice returned.
"Yes, sweetheart. We knew."
She was slowly shaking her head. "How?"
Patty sighed, turning her palms up. "Kirk."
"Kirk?" Lorelai frowned. "How in the hell did Kirk know?"
"Apparently he was down at the lake when you two were planning it out."
Lorelai shook her head vigorously. "There was no one there! We made sure!"
Patty looked at her levelly. "He was in the trash bin."
"Why would Kirk …" Her voice trailed off as Patty gave her a look. "You're right, I don't want to know," she said in defeat. She tipped herself back in the chair, looking up at the ceiling.
"You knew the whole time?" she asked, quietly.
Patty nodded her head. "Kirk told Taylor, because you know he tells Taylor everything, and Gypsy overheard, and from there it just spread like wildfire. We didn't mean any harm, Lorelai. You have to believe that. We just thought it'd serve you right if we gave you a little taste of your own medicine."
She felt like she was still catching up. "So who all knew?"
"Everyone," Patty said.
"Everyone," Patty confirmed again.
She was getting a really bad feeling about this. "Sookie?"
"Yes," Patty nodded. "Sookie knew."
She swallowed hard. "Rory?" she almost whispered.
"Yes, dear, Rory knew. We had to have Rory with us or it would have never worked."
"Rory knew," she repeated to herself.
"Lorelai," Patty said, looking ashamed, "you have to believe me when I say we truly meant no harm with this. None of us ever thought that you and Luke would keep up this pretense for even two minutes, let alone for two weeks. We thought it would just be a good joke to pull on you."
"Right," Lorelai said, still feeling dazed. "Just a joke. Funny," she mumbled, trying to laugh.
Patty shook her head. "I've been watching you look so unhappy for the last few days, and I just knew I had to bring this to an end. I'm so sorry, Lorelai. Can you forgive me and everybody else?"
Different images flashed through her head. She saw Luke helping Rory cook in their kitchen. She remembered sitting next to him in her parents' dining room, his hand barely grazing hers. She felt the sugar crystals on her lips from the elephant ear they'd shared She swore she could still taste the cinnamon on her tongue.
"There's nothing to forgive," Lorelai said, trying to pull herself away from those memories. "I tried to trick you, and you tricked me instead. All's fair in love and April Fool's Day, right?" She didn't groan until after she heard what she'd said.
"Thank you for understanding, Lorelai." Patty pulled herself up and came around the desk. Lorelai stood up and Patty gave her a big hug. "You know, you're still a lucky, lucky girl. Getting Luke Danes to kiss you and take you out for two weeks? We should all pull April Fool's jokes like that!"
"Yeah. Lucky," she parroted, the words trying to stick in her throat.
"You'll tell Luke?" Patty asked.
"I'll tell him," she stoically agreed.
This time when she got back out on the sidewalk her feet dragged even more. She didn't want to hear Luke's reaction when he found out the last two unbelievably complicated weeks had been for nothing. She didn't want to see his joy when he found out he didn't have to be her boyfriend anymore.
No matter how slowly she walked, Stars Hollow was only so big, and eventually she reached the diner. It took every bit of fortitude she had to pull open the door. The bells chimed out, hurting her head.
"There you are!" Luke put the coffeepot down on an empty table and came over to her. He put his hand under her chin and looked into her face, examining her closely. "Are you OK? I have to admit, you're kind of a funny drunk, but I still worried about you all night. You want some coffee?"
"Sure," she said. "I mean, when would I ever turn down coffee?" He patted her shoulder and went back to pick up the pot. She walked dazedly over to the counter and eased herself up onto a stool.
He quickly poured her a mug and sat it in front of her. She cradled it in her hands while he leaned his elbows on the counter, watching her.
"Are you hungry? I was planning on making you this stuffed French toast recipe for your birthday, but then you didn't come in. Do you want it today?" He suddenly looked concerned. "Or are you too queasy? Do you just want pancakes? Or maybe some plain toast? Just say the word."
There was nothing wrong with eating breakfast before she told him, she decided. She was going to tell him. It'd just be better with a little food in her stomach first. That's all.
"French toast sounds great."
"Yeah?" He smiled, those sincere blue eyes of his just lighting up at her. "I'll go get it started, then." He put his hands on top of hers holding the mug, his thumbs briefly smoothing over the insides of her wrists. "Be right back."
She watched him walk away towards the kitchen and she felt miserable. She knew she wouldn't be able to take a bite of the food with the pressure of what she needed to tell him filling her up.
"Luke, wait." The words were out now. She had to continue. "There's something I need to tell you first."
He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her. "What?"
She hooked her feet over the top rung of the stool and hunched her shoulders over, staring down at the dark brew in front of her. "I just found out something."
He came back and stood in front of her again, his arms now crossed over his chest. He was silent, waiting for her to continue.
"It's … It's about the joke we've been playing," she ventured.
He looked at her closely. "Go on."
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "It turns out we haven't been the ones playing the joke." Her eyes flew back open and she saw he was now scowling at her.
"What's that mean?" he asked, curtly.
"It means the joke's been on us." He was staring at her very hard. "Patty just told me that everybody knew about it."
He was starting to look angry. He gave a snort and flung his head back. "No they didn't. That's not possible."
"Yeah, they did. Kirk overheard us."
He laughed in disbelief. "He did not!"
Lorelai nodded quickly. "He was at the lake when we were planning it out. He heard us. He was in the dumpster."
"Why would Kirk …" he started, but quickly stopped. The muscle in his jaw jumped and he looked down at the floor, fighting for control. "He heard us?"
She nodded again.
He was starting to pace back and forth behind the counter. "And he told everybody?"
She continued to nod.
"I'll kill him!" He smacked his hands down on the counter. "I swear, this time, I'm really gonna kill him!"
"Oh, now, Luke," she said, trying to pacify him. "I doubt that he meant for it to get spread around the way it did."
He suddenly froze as an idea hit him. He pointed at Lorelai in triumph. "That's why he was acting so weird, wasn't it? And I know, it's seems redundant to say that Kirk was acting weird! But that's why he was scared to be around me, wasn't it? He knew I'd kill him when I found out!" He shook his head, thinking about it. "But it did get me two Kirk-free weeks. I guess there's a silver lining to this whole crazy scheme of yours after all."
"That's right!" Lorelai started to bob her head in agreement. "See? There was some good to it, wasn't there?"
She watched his face. She could tell when all of the pieces fell into place for him.
"Everybody knew?" he asked her grimly.
"Rory?" He looked at her sharply. "Rory knew?"
Lorelai looked down at her coffee again. She nodded. "Patty says she did."
He shook his head and then clasped his hands together over his hat. "So all of this; all of this crap we've been through these past weeks ― Do you mean to tell me that none of it was necessary? She knew?"
There was really nothing she could say to blunt it. "Yeah," she said quietly.
He just stood for a moment, his eyes focused on nothing. "Everything," he finally muttered. "That night, at your house. The thing about me moving in. She just did that to see us squirm?"
Lorelai hadn't even thought about that. "I guess so," she said gloomily.
He started stomping around again in agitation. "She really is your daughter, isn't she?"
"Hey!" Lorelai protested.
"Only, she's even more dangerous, because she's all sweet! You'd never suspect her of being so devious! And here you thought Jess was a bad influence on her!"
"Luke!" she said, irritated.
"Ah, geez," he muttered. He stood still, rubbing at his face. Finally he straightened, throwing back his shoulders. "But it's all over now, right? All of the crazy pretend stuff with us, that's all done, right? We're back to it just being you and me for real now, right?"
"Right," she said, thickly.
"Thank God," he said, making it genuinely sound like a prayer.
She tried her best to smile, even though she was watching her worst fears come true before her. "Yep, it's all over. You're free of me."
He took one more deep breath, but when he looked at her next he seemed relaxed and free of any anger. "Not quite," he pointed out. "Don't forget I'm taking you out tomorrow night. I still owe you a birthday dinner."
For a split second her heart seized with hope. His eyes were bright and shining at her and for a moment she thought it all could be real. But then she remembered the fervent 'thank God' he'd uttered just a few seconds before.
"Oh, that's OK. You don't have to," she said by rote.
"But I want to," he insisted. "I promised to make it up to you, and I always keep my promises." He gave her a smile so charming that it knocked the breath out of her. In fact, it knocked her off the stool. She found herself standing, inching away from his relieved happiness at being free of her.
"Don't you want breakfast?" he frowned. "You didn't even drink your coffee!"
"I need to go," she said, truthfully.
He quickly moved around the counter to her. "Are you sure you're OK?" His eyes darkened with concern for her.
"I should just get to work," she said, trying to sound normal.
Normal, however, hadn't caught up to them yet. Automatically they both moved to give each other a parting kiss. At the same time, they both realized that was no longer something appropriate for them to do. They both shied back, embarrassed.
"Sorry," she said, feeling the hot blush rushing up her neck and spreading over her cheeks.
He put his hands on his hips and chuckled as he thought about it. "No, you know what? This is a good day!" He reached out and put his hand on the back of her head, drawing her to him and pressing a friendly kiss to her forehead. "I'll see you later, OK?"
"Sure. See you later." She walked blindly towards the door, but paused just before she opened it. "Hey, Luke?"
"What?" He stopped from clearing her spot at the counter and looked over at her.
She had to swallow hard before the words would come out. "I had a really good time pretending to be your girlfriend. It ― it was fun. If you ever need a recommendation, just let me know."
He looked at her appraisingly for a moment, his head held like he was expecting her to say something more. "I'll keep that in mind," he finally said, a thoughtful look on his face.
She nodded, and then flinched as the bells over the door made her head hurt again as she walked out.
Lorelai pulled the Jeep around to the back of the Independence Inn, scanning over the cars already parked there and noting which staff members were working. She walked into the kitchen, not looking forward to talking to Sookie. Maybe she should have tried to delay it for awhile.
"Hey there, Miss Sleepyhead!" Sookie called out to her instantly. "Did you have fun with your guy last night?"
"Sookie, we both know he's not my guy," she replied, going straight for the truth.
"Why? What's going on?" Sookie put down the bright yellow bowl of batter she was stirring.
"I know," Lorelai said.
"Know what?" Sookie's head tilted in confusion.
"I know that you know that the whole thing was a joke."
"Oh, Lorelai. Oh, Sweetie." Sookie hurried over to her and laid a hand on hers. "How'd you find out?"
"Miss Patty spilled the beans."
"Oh, Lorelai," Sookie said again, looking stricken. "Before you get all mad at me, let me explain. I thought it sounded like a really funny joke, turning the tables on you. I never dreamed that you and Luke wouldn't see through what we were doing. None of us thought that it would go on this long. But man, when you guys commit to a gag, you don't let go!" She looked hopefully at Lorelai. "Besides, it wasn't that bad, was it?"
"No, it wasn't that bad," Lorelai said dully. "And I'm not really that mad at you."
"Well, I have to tell you," Sookie said, looking roguish now, "I had an ulterior motive. I was really hoping that you being around Luke this much might have some unintended consequences. I thought maybe you might finally admit to some not-so-friendly feelings about him after this much time together."
She drew in a breath and let it sigh out of her. "He's dating someone else, Sook."
Sookie looked baffled. "Who is?"
"Luke. He's dating someone else."
"No!" Sookie said, sounding like she thought it was a joke. "Who?" she demanded.
"Remember that skinny little lawyer that comes to see Taylor from time to time? Her. Nicole," she added, the bitterness she felt coating the woman's name.
"But how did he …" Sookie shook her head, trying to figure it out. "I mean, you guys were going out all the time."
"We worked it out," Lorelai said, not wanting her to know how pathetic it really had been.
Sookie looked at her closely. "You got caught up in this, didn't you?" Sometimes Sookie was able to read her better than anyone. "Oh, Sweet Potato, I'm so sorry."
"Nah, I'm fine," Lorelai fibbed, trying to deflect her sympathy. "I just drank way too much last night. I need some hangover foods, that's all. I'm having a hard time dealing with the after-effects of birthday shots and finding out that the last two weeks of my life didn't really exist."
Sookie nodded, pacified, glad to be able to offer something she excelled in. "I'll fix up some stuff and send it to your office."
"Great. Thanks," Lorelai said, and took a few steps out of the kitchen. Something was nagging her, though, and she needed to know. "By the way, did Michel know? Was he in on it, too?"
Sookie looked up from where she was already starting to slice some homemade bread for toast. "Michel?" she scoffed. "You know Michel. I tried to explain it to him, but he went all haughty Frenchman on me and refused to listen. So no, I doubt that he ever understood what was really going on."
"Yeah. That sounds like Michel," she said, hiding her relief, and went on to her office feeling just a little bit less bruised than she had.
By four o'clock she was ready to pack it in. Her headache was back and she couldn't shake the feeling that everyone was looking at her and talking about her. She figured that Rory was home by now and she really wanted to talk to her before she and Jess left to drive to a concert in Bridgeport.
Home felt like sanctuary when she walked in. She settled onto the couch gratefully, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
She sensed Rory creeping in and standing next to the couch. With a sense of inevitability she opened her eyes.
"Am I grounded until I'm 30?" Rory asked meekly.
She grabbed one of the couch pillows and squished it against her middle. "Hard to go to college when you're grounded."
"There are classes online," Rory offered.
"You're not grounded," Lorelai said.
Rory found a little space to sit down on the couch, at the end of her mother's out-stretched legs. "I never thought that this little joke would turn into such a huge thing, Mom. Please believe me. I was kind of mad at you, knowing that you were going to try and fool me, too, so I went along with it. But I never dreamed that you and Luke wouldn't back off right away. And then, it kind of seemed like you were having a good time with him, so I didn't think it was really so awful. But I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
"I bequeath the title of All-Powerful Prankster to you. I am no longer worthy."
Rory looked worried. "You were in seriously bad shape last night. Did you guys really have a fight?"
"It all just came crashing down on us, I think. But it's all over now," she shrugged. "We'll deal."
"Are you going to be OK, going to Hartford tonight without me?"
"Took the coward's way out of that." Lorelai smiled, pleased, and let her eyes close for a moment of gloating. "Called Grandpa's secretary this afternoon and asked her to please relay the message to both Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore that I was ill and would not be attending dinner tonight." She pointed a stern finger at Rory. "And next week, you get to tell them about your little prank. You can be the one to tell them they're not getting a son-in-law after all."
Rory fidgeted uncomfortably. "Um, yeah. Hey, Mom, about that …"
"No." Lorelai's feet dropped to the floor as she sat bolt upright. "No way." Sucker-punched again. "Not the grandparents, too?"
"Yeah," Rory admitted.
"Oh, my God," Lorelai mumbled. "You are kidding me. They knew? The prenup; the champagne toasts; that was all a set-up?"
"Yeah," Rory said again. "But what about Grandma, huh?" she asked, trying to be upbeat. "Who knew she was such a good actress, huh?"
Lorelai groaned in despair and leaned back against the couch again, her hands pressed over her eyes.
"Am I grounded now?" Rory asked after a few moments of silence.
"No," Lorelai grumbled. "I'm totally mortified, but even I can see the humor in it."
"It was kind of nice, having Luke around, wasn't it?" Rory asked timidly after a bit.
"Yeah." She squeezed her eyes shut tight, and she could feel her lips getting ready to do that ridiculous trembling thing that would give her away. "Yeah, it was nice."
"Mom?" She felt Rory's hand on her knee. "You're OK, aren't you?"
"Of course I am." Lorelai did her best to scoff. She swallowed kind of hard, not looking at Rory. "I just need some wallowing time, I think."
"Wallowing?" She could hear the concern ramp up about three levels in Rory's voice. "The need to wallow would indicate that you feel something more than just distress at a joke gone bad. It would indicate that you've got some heartstrings attached here."
She clutched the pillow harder than ever. "I know what really went on," she tried to explain. "But the play-acting started to feel pretty real, and I guess I just need a little time to say goodbye to that." She saw the worry in Rory's face and guessed that her next move would be insisting to stay home and wallow with her. "I think I need a night alone to stuff my face with lots of junk and put this all in perspective. You understand, right?" Rory didn't need to know that the play-acting had stopped on her end. It was painful enough the way it was.
"I guess," Rory agreed unhappily.
A knock at the door made Rory give one last-ditch attempt. "Just say the word and I'll tell Jess I'm staying here tonight. I'll run to Doose's and get us ice cream."
Lorelai just shook her head. "I'll feel better knowing you're having a good time." There was another rap at the door. "Go let him in," Lorelai encouraged her.
She could hear their soft mumblings in the entry, and then the even softer rustlings as they kissed, mindful of her in the next room. She realized the pillow was going to be ruined if she didn't stop squeezing it so hard. It was already showing signs of living the rest of its life in a perpetual hourglass shape.
"I'll just be a minute," Rory said, rushing to her room.
"Hi," Jess said, coming to a stop a few feet away from the couch.
"Hi," she said back, making an effort to sit upright and look at him. "I'm afraid you're not going to have a nice drive to Bridgeport, after all. It looks like rain again."
"It's gettin' colder, too," Jess said. "Windy."
"That's April for you," Lorelai commented. "Fickle."
"Yeah." He fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket and then stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Listen," he shrugged, "that whole joke thing? I didn't want to be a part of it, you know?"
"Sure. I know," she assured him.
"But I have to admit, you and Luke being together wasn't as crazy as I thought it would be." He scowled even harder, but since she knew him a little bit better now, she understood that the way he was biting his lip just meant he was apprehensive about what he was going to say. "I think you're actually, well, kinda good for him."
Her desire to do a happy dance tripped over her knowledge that any benefits Jess had seen were probably due to Luke's feelings about Nicole, not her. "Thanks," she said, her voice lacking any enthusiasm.
Rory plopped down on the couch beside her again. "You're sure you don't want me to stay?"
Lorelai saw Jess' head jerk up as he sensed their plans being hijacked.
"Go," she said, giving them the best smile she was currently capable of bestowing. "Get out of here already. I vant to be alone!" she exclaimed dramatically.
"Call me if you need me," Rory requested. "And splurge for the good stuff," she said softer, as she leaned over to hug her mother.
Lorelai listened as the sounds of Jess' car faded away down the street. She listened to the sounds of her own breathing and the creaks of her old house as the spring winds whipped by. Eventually her ears picked out a clock ticking somewhere in the empty house, even though she wasn't even aware that they still had a clock that ticked. She sat there for a long time, trying to let her mind go blank.
Eventually she pulled herself up and shuffled to the kitchen, looking through the cupboards for suitable wallowing food. For some reason they seemed to have an abundance of things that would be deemed healthy and a decided lack of anything crammed full of transfats and artificial dyes and flavorings. She instantly made a new rule for their household: One shelf would be set aside for all things needed for wallowing in an emergency. Who wanted to go to the market when you needed to wallow in heartbreak?
She put herself on automatic pilot and soon found herself in Doose's, the basket over her arm filled with a nice selection of spray cheese, Hershey's kisses and Twinkies, plus more choices from all of the major junk food groups. She paid and took her bag to the Jeep.
For a moment she looked longingly at the diner. Normally a trip inside would help to ease her unhappiness. Now the cause of her unhappiness was actually inside, and she felt banished from making a pilgrimage through the door in the hopes of being healed.
She felt isolated and cold. It had started to drizzle and her cute denim jacket was no match for the stiff April gusts. She drove home quickly, not looking back at the coffee cup logo.
She changed into sweats and then sat out her purchases on the counter, where she discovered that she wasn't really in the mood for anything she bought. She didn't know what she wanted, but it wasn't this. She was cold and shivering. She wanted something hot. Something like …
Coffee! Of course! She filled the coffeemaker quickly. While she impatiently waited on it to brew she tore open the crackers and coated several of them in the spray cheese, crunching them as the coffee aroma started to soothe her spirits.
She wanted the coffee but she needed something to make it more wallow-worthy. The solution came to her instantly and she squatted down to a lower cabinet, rooting around until she unearthed a bottle of whiskey.
Perfect. She grabbed a mug and poured in some coffee, then added a healthy dose of the whiskey. She paused, then poured in an added splash for good measure. She had no Cool Whip or spray whipped cream or chocolate syrup, and she made another mental note to always have those supplies on hand. She tucked the crackers and cheese and kisses under her arms and headed for the living room.
In a moment she'd found the old VHS tape and had pushed it into the player. She got comfy on the couch, tucking the fleecy throw around her as she worked the remote. She sipped at her coffee as she hoped that the misty water-colored memories would indeed help her to forget why she felt so sad.
The list was getting too long for her to remember. She really needed to start writing this all down. Then she could send Rory out to get everything when she got home.
She had failed as a mother. How could she be a good role model for Rory when they didn't even have the ingredients needed for s'mores in the house?
Katie and Hubbell had been on pause for a long time while she had gone on a floating quest for s'mores. Sookie had given them a s'mores maker kit last Christmas and they had used it only once. Now she was dying for s'mores. Unfortunately she had none of the ingredients needed, but she was resourceful, even after several mugs of the wallowing coffee. Pop Tarts could substitute for the graham crackers, chocolate kisses for the candy bars. And miracle of miracles, she'd unearthed an opened bag of stuck-together marshmallows.
Now if she could just get the candle-lighting torch to ignite so she could start the can of Sterno, she'd be all set. She clicked the trigger on the lighter over and over, getting more frustrated each time it failed to fire.
A knock at the door made her frown. She'd thought about ordering some food, but she hadn't, had she? Ooh, maybe her powers of mind control were expanding, and Pete had felt her need for a pizza. Maybe he'd sent one over. Maybe she no longer needed to use the phone at all!
She wrapped the throw around her and shuffled to the door, letting it trail out behind her like a royal robe. In her hand she still clutched the lighter like a scepter, continuing to click the trigger as she answered the door.
A very, very handsome man stood before her. She had to blink and refocus several times before she realized it was Luke. He had on the black sweater she thought she remembered buying for him a long time ago. He had on nice, dark jeans and a brown leather jacket that she thought was new. Date clothes, she realized, the hurt spreading throughout her chest. Looked like he wasn't wasting any time starting his open life with Nicole.
She had to blink again at the bouquet of daisies in his hand. They were vibrant and colorful and looked like Easter eggs had exploded over them. For some reason they looked really familiar, but she couldn't place why.
She staggered backwards and his hand that wasn't holding the flowers reached out and grabbed her.
"Are you sick?" he asked, those worry lines back on his forehead.
"I'm fine," she slurred, turning and throwing her trailing material behind her again as she went back to the living room.
He shut the door and followed her. "I saw you in the street," he explained. "You didn't come into the diner, and it looked like you'd been to Doose's. I thought maybe that meant you weren't going to Hartford after all. I thought maybe I'd better check on you."
She landed ungracefully on the couch and instantly started trying to light the torch again.
"What is all this?" Luke asked, looking around at the s'mores maker and all of the foodstuffs scattered around.
"I'm wallowing," Lorelai explained, as patiently as possible. Click, click, click-click, went the trigger on the lighter.
"Wallowing?" Luke's face was streaked with misgiving. "What is that, some sort of female thing?"
That made her giggle. "Yes, it's definitely a female thing." She laughed harder and a few tears slid out, following the trail of those she'd shed earlier in the evening. It was weird how tears were a by-product of both laughing and crying. Her fingers convulsively kept clicking on the trigger as she tried to swallow down the tears.
Luke sat down on the couch beside her. He laid the flowers down on the coffee table and then turned towards her, reaching out to touch her arm. "What's going on here?"
She leaned towards him, feeling bad about his cluelessness. "I want s'mores," she explained, her breath puffing out over him.
His eyes opened wide in surprise. He reached over and grabbed her coffee mug, bringing it up to his nose. He sat it down quickly and then cradled his head in his hands.
"I don't believe this," he muttered. "You're drunk again?"
She tilted her head and ran her tongue experimentally over her teeth. "Maybe just a teensy bit." She waved a hand back and forth. "More like, just kinda fuzzy." Click, click. Click, click, click-click went the lighter.
Luke grabbed the lighter out of her hand. "I don't think that you and an open flame are a good idea right now."
"Whatever," she ground out, feeling unfairly chastised. She found the remote and started the movie again, forcing herself to stare at the people on the screen.
"Lorelai," he said, quietly. "Talk to me, here. What is this? What's going on with you?"
She sighed. "I'm wallowing," she explained, still patient.
"I don't know what that means," he said. "You need to tell me what that means."
"Wallowing is what you do when you get dumped," she said, her eyes filling up again.
He sat back against the couch, his face hardening. "You got dumped?" he asked, his voice harsh.
"Yes," she said, her voice wispy. The tears were trickling down her cheeks, now.
"I ― I didn't know that you ―" he cut himself off. His hands grasped his knees. "Who? Who dumped you?"
Geez, he was dense! She leaned over, sniffling, and poked him in the chest. She sat back, feeling fulfilled.
His face was a mass of confusion when he turned to her. "I don't understand. Do you mean me?"
She scoffed and rolled her eyes heavenward. "Of course you!" She blotted her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Have I been dating anyone else?"
"I haven't been dating you," he argued. "And I certainly didn't dump you."
"Yes, you did," she nodded petulantly. The tears were coming faster now. "You dumped me for someone else!"
"Lorelai, I most certainly did not …" His building defense suddenly petered out. He looked around with new understanding. He cleared his throat, apparently while debating what to say next.
"So this," his hands indicated the debris on the coffee table, "is about me?" As she nodded, his hand came over and wiped under her eye. "These tears?" he asked, his voice husky. "They're about me?"
"Yes," she said, her voice resonating with sadness.
He took a long moment, his thumb continuing to swipe over her cheek tenderly. "Please don't cry anymore," he requested, and pulled her over so that her face was resting against his chest. "I don't want you to cry anymore. Especially not about me."
"Okey-dokey," she agreed, soaking down into the soft sweater covering his chest. She liked this, very much. She liked the softness, and the warmth, and the strength. She wouldn't mind staying like this for a very long time.
Finally he pulled back, his hand caressing her face and coming to rest under her chin. He encouraged her to look up at him. "I'm going to take care of some things, OK? You just watch your movie for a little bit." He kissed her forehead and then picked up the lighter, the coffee mug and the flowers and disappeared towards the kitchen.
"I don't know why you complain every Thanksgiving that I don't have any vases," she heard him yell after a few minutes. "You don't have any, either!"
"Yes I do!" she yelled back.
"Where are they, then?"
She waved her arm vaguely, even though she knew he couldn't see her. "Up in the thing. You know. Up there. Somewhere."
"That's very helpful." He came back in with the flowers in the striped pitcher she normally used for margaritas. They looked very festive. He sat the flowers in the center of the table and she stared at them, smiling docilely.
He made a couple of trips, carrying everything back to the kitchen. She could hear him moving about, cleaning up and putting things away. At one point she thought she even heard him in Rory's room.
He finally came over to her, carrying a glass of water and her bottle of Tylenol. "Let's do some preventative maintenance here," he suggested, shaking two pills into her hand. She took them and he watched in approval as she drank some of the water.
"OK, now. Up you go." He pulled her up and unwrapped the throw from her. She shivered, suddenly cold after being tucked up in her cocoon. He placed the pillows on one end for her head and arranged the throw as a blanket. He turned off the lights on either end of the couch.
"Once I'm gone, I want you to come here to the couch and go to sleep. Can you do that?"
She nodded seriously.
"And then tomorrow morning, I want you to come to the diner. No drinking," he warned her. "No mimosas, no screwdrivers, no bloody marys. You come to the diner and see me. Can you remember that?"
He seemed to be very close to her. He was looking at her, so earnestly, so warmly, and wow, did he smell good, and her body's reaction to all of that goodness made his words just sort of fizzle somewhere up above her head.
"Lorelai? What did I just say?"
"Um …" she frowned up at him, swaying a little bit, trying to recapture whatever he'd just told her.
He sighed. "OK. Let's try this." He pulled her along with him until they were at the desk. He shoved through the piles of bills and coupons there until he found a pen. He took her right hand in his and wrote something on it.
"Tickles!" she giggled, trying to pull away.
"Just a minute," he protested, holding her hand tightly. "There."
She held her hand up and saw that he'd written 'DINER BREAKFAST' on it in bright sparkly purple ink. Meanwhile he was writing on her left hand. 'NO DRINKING!' he inked on that one.
She splayed her hands and looked at them in admiration. "Marking your territory?" she asked, remembering from somewhere that she like to tease him.
"Yes I am," he agreed. "Now I need you to walk me to the door."
He kept his arm around her shoulders until they reached the door. He opened it and stepped out, turning back to her once he was officially out on the porch.
His hands went to her shoulders and then slowly slid up her neck to her face. One hand slid into her curls on the back of her head, his fingers rubbing against her scalp, making sparks ignite and travel down her spinal cord.
"I'm going to answer your question about what I think about your kisses, but to do it, I need you to stay on that side of the threshold, OK?"
She looked down at her striped socks, and at his feet in dark brown shoes, and at the divider between them. "OK," she said, not really comprehending.
The gentle hand on the back of her head suddenly pulled her towards him insistently and his mouth was on hers, kissing her with no reservations. He kissed her like there were no barriers between them at all. He kissed her like it was a foregone conclusion that she belonged to him. She got her arms around his neck and managed to pull herself further up on him, wanting him to know that she heartily agreed. Her feet slid over onto his side of the doorway.
"No," his voice rasped out. He pulled away and carefully pushed her hips back over the threshold. "See, that's the thing with kissing you. I can't do it unless I'm already out the door. Otherwise I'd never leave. Do you understand? There's no comparison between you and anybody. You win," he murmured, and leaned forward and captured her mouth again.
"Yay, me," she said, gasping for breath as they broke apart again. "But you can stay. You don't have to leave."
"Yeah, I do," he chuckled ruefully, holding her tight. "Here I've already broken my own rule. I was only going to kiss you once, and I've already done it twice." He swallowed a breath and leaned towards her, looking pained. He kissed her mouth again, quickly, then pulled back to look at her, his eyes half-lidded. Breathing harder, he stroked her face, and then kissed her again, lingering this time. The third time he came back, drinking her in, his hand finding its way down along her neck, sliding along her collarbone underneath her sweater, finally rubbing against the hollow of her throat as she practically swooned against him.
"See? I need to go," he said, shaking his head.
"No," she argued, reaching for him again.
"Yes," he said. "I need to go while I still have a little willpower left." He kissed her chin, both cheeks, her forehead again, sighing as he did so. He brought up her right hand, with the reminder to come to the diner. "I'll see you in the morning," he said, showing her the message. Then he opened her palm and kissed it.
"Don't go," she whimpered, her eyes closing.
"Go lay down on the couch," he urged her. "The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner it'll be morning."
"Like Christmas?" she asked, perking up.
He laughed. "Yeah, just like Christmas. Go on, now."
He watched as she settled herself on the couch. He leaned in, pushing in the button on the center of the doorknob so that it would lock behind him.
"Sweet dreams," she heard him call out. Her eyes slid shut, while a smile broke out on her well-kissed mouth.
The first thing she saw when her eyes opened was the bouquet of bright daisies in her margarita pitcher. Her fingers instantly went to her lips and she traced over them experimentally, making herself shiver. Maybe it hadn't been a dream.
The next thing she became aware of was that someone was sitting in the chair, watching her. She swung her feet to the floor, her heart leaping in fear.
"Rory," she breathed out through her dry mouth. It took a few seconds before the ache in her head caught up to her. She rubbed her forehead and pushed back her hair.
Rory did not look happy. Her hands were clasped over her stomach and she looked disapprovingly at Lorelai.
"Would you like to explain to me why every bottle of booze in this house was in my closet?" Rory asked, her voice frosty. "Even the bottle of cooking sherry that Sookie brought over for the chicken that the one time and the NyQuil was in there. What in the world did you do last night?"
Lorelai stared at her daughter, not at all sure what the answer was to her question. Then she saw the purple ink on her hand. It knocked everything else completely out of her head.
"I've got to go to the diner," she said, sounding astonished. "I've got to go right now!" She turned her hand and showed Rory, hoping to underscore her point.
"Fine." Rory sighed and came over to give her mother a hand up off the couch. "But I think you should shower first."
"Shower first," Lorelai agreed, and let Rory help her navigate over to the stairs, hoping that the soap and water wouldn't completely wash off the words he'd marked on her.
Lorelai had rushed through every aspect of getting ready to get here. She'd pulled her hair back into a careless ponytail and put on the first pair of jeans she'd touched. She'd barely put on any makeup at all, so anxious was she to get to the diner. But now that she was here, now that her feet in her faded pink sneakers were touching the steps, she found that she lacked the courage to actually step inside. It was Rory who nudged her through the door; Rory who led them over to a table.
"Coffee, girls?" Caesar asked that before they even sat down at the table, as he passed by them on the way to the counter.
"Yes, please," Rory answered immediately.
"Oh, god, yes," Lorelai moaned over the nagging ache in her head.
"No coffee for her!"
Luke laid down the law from where he was busy back behind the counter.
She and Rory both turned disbelieving eyes to him. "Luke," she said, sounding pitiful, "I really need the coffee!"
"Rory can have coffee. Not you."
She would have glared at him, but it hurt. "Luke!"
"Here." He brought her out a mug. "Drink this instead."
She looked at it suspiciously. "Why?"
"It's just peppermint tea," he told her, exasperated already. He leaned a little closer; spoke more directly into her ear. "It'll help your head, help to settle your stomach." His expression turned somewhat grimmer. "I like the taste of peppermint a whole lot better than garlic or tequila or whiskey." His eyes went to her mouth and her heart fluttered. "Maybe it doesn't quite beat cinnamon and sugar, but it's close."
She collapsed onto a chair, the strength in her legs dissipated by his words. Rory sat down calmly, Luke went back behind the counter, and she sipped at her tea. Luke was right, she found. It soothed her throat and calmed her mind. She took measured breaths and tried to compose herself.
She jumped in her seat, banging her leg against the table. Luke had called out her name from his spot back behind the counter. She turned around in her chair to see him. What had she done now to irritate him?
"Lorelai," he said again, seeing that he had her attention. Everyone's attention, for that matter. He folded his arms across his chest and looked down at his feet, shaking his head the tiniest bit. He looked up again in a moment, a half-smile on his face that seemed to say, Oh, what the hell. He reached up and took off his cap, laying it on the counter behind him, one hand smoothing down his hair. He backed up against the far workspace, took a running step and then vaulted himself up and over the counter where fortunately no one was eating at the moment, landing smoothly between two stools.
She was on her feet by then, and had staggered to the center of the room, staring at him in wonder.
"Lorelai," he said, walking towards her. "I can't live like this anymore."
She kept trying to swallow but couldn't. She wasn't sure if she was even breathing.
"Please, Lorelai." He was smiling now, just at her, acting as though they weren't surrounded by half the town. He slowly walked towards her, confidence in his step. "I can't stand us being apart."
"Luke." She was breathing now, she realized, but the air was catching in the back of throat and somewhere tight down inside her lungs, and she wasn't at all positive she could get actual words out. "Are you sure?"
He was close enough now that she could see his eyes, dark and blue and warm, looking only into hers. He was close enough that she started to sway into him, his pull on her completely melting her, and she leaned against him, her arms going up around his neck.
"Are you?" he asked against her ear.
"Yes," she breathed out, the words only for him. "I love you, Luke."
"I love you, too." She felt him smile, his face pressed up against her. "That's what I've been trying to tell you for two days. I've just been having a hard time finding you sober."
"But ―" she began, a horrible thought in her head.
"That's what Thursday night was about," he cut her off, knowing what she was going to say. "I needed to take care of that first."
"Why didn't you tell me?" she cried out, smacking his arm, thinking of all of the unnecessary pain she'd been through.
"I thought I did!" he said, annoyed.
"You're fighting already?" Jess asked, rolling his eyes as he walked over to where Rory was on her feet, a hand clamped over her mouth as she watched a repeat of the show from April 1st.
"Not fighting," Luke said, firmly, his arms anchoring her to him.
"Not fighting at all," Lorelai insisted, having trouble with the whole getting air into her lungs things again.
They looked at each other and they drew closer and closer, dying to kiss each other.
"You two do realize it's not April Fool's Day anymore, right?" Miss Patty called out.
"That's right! You do this and we're holdin' ya to it!" Babette yelled.
"This is no joke," Luke muttered, and finally captured Lorelai's lips under his.
People cheered and clapped and there were even a few whistles, making them break apart. Lorelai's face was glowing and even Luke looked happier than anyone could ever remember.
"Come on," he said, taking her hand. They dodged their way through the cheering diners.
"Where are we going?" Lorelai asked, as Luke pushed her through the curtain.
"Back here," he said, turning her around to face him. He kissed her hungrily, walking her backwards as they kissed.
"Where?" she asked, pulling her mouth away for just a moment.
"Storeroom," he muttered, keeping words to a minimum.
She felt him pull down the zipper on her jacket and push it off her arms. "See?" she laughed, pulling away again. "I knew you'd be good at that part, too."
He swung her in through the door and closed it by pushing her up against it. His face came down to hers, the need on it almost looking like pain.
"Why are we back here?" she asked, teasing him, because yes, she loved to tease him. She was going to love to do everything to him.
"Because I need to prove to you that I am neither shy nor passive," he retorted.
"Ah. That hurt, didn't it?" she asked, sounding smug.
He looked like he was going to say something but he kissed her instead, and by the time they broke apart she was seeing stars and no longer had any words at her disposal.
He drew a breath and came in for another kiss. "I may not even be a gentleman," he told her in warning, and she laughed, molding herself against him.
"That," she said, daring him, her eyes sparkling with happiness, "you might just have to prove."
Seven months later …
"You realize how screwed up this is, right?" Lorelai asked, peering through the truck's windshield into the darkness. "It's your birthday. I'm supposed to be whisking you away to some fabulous, mysterious destination, not the other way around."
"It is my birthday," Luke agreed. "That means I get to do anything I want today."
Lorelai waggled her eyebrows naughtily at him. "In that case, we should have just stayed home."
He smiled at that. Home. It wasn't truly his home yet, even though more and more of his stuff had migrated there and he spent fewer and fewer nights with Jess above the diner. Rory hadn't needed to worry about him moving in before she left for Yale after all, even though he'd been sorely tempted. By the time Lorelai had returned from the trip to Europe he was practically a zombie. He didn't know it was possible to miss someone so much. Emily's comments about how he'd wanted to eat Lorelai up nearly came true, so starved was he for her company again. He was afraid that his neediness was going to scare her off. Instead, it turned out that she'd missed him just as much.
"You already gave me the wind chimes this morning," he said, trying to hide how much he truly loved them. "How could anything be better than that?"
"Oh, I have plans!" she warned him. "You just wait."
He put out his hand and found hers. She squeezed his fingers through his glove and leaned up against him. She no longer sat over on the passenger side.
"Did Jess get that report for his Psych class done?" she asked. "He was balking about doing it; said it was a load of crap."
"Crap or not, it's done," Luke reported. "I think he pulled an all-nighter doing it, though. He was up when I got there this morning, and from the empty energy drinks scattered about, I don't think he'd gone to bed."
"Good," Lorelai nodded, satisfied.
He swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat. He didn't know what he would have done with Jess if Lorelai hadn't have been there. When they found out that Jess wasn't going to graduate from high school, it had been Lorelai who'd gone to bat for him. She'd worked her magic on the principal, finally getting him to agree to let Jess finish up in summer school. Then she'd turned on Jess, opening her own life to him, making him see that it would be worth it to get the diploma and go on to college. She was the one who made him finally see that he could beat the system. She was the one who convinced him that the best revenge was living well. She was the one who showed him that real satisfaction came from triumphing over all those who insisted 'you can't.'
He didn't know what would have happened when Jimmy Mariano blew through town, having suddenly developed an interest in the son he'd abandoned 18 years ago, if Rory and Lorelai hadn't already have helped him build a solid wall around Jess. His father's visit made Jess curious, and some day, Luke was sure that Jess would want to see him again. But Jess was able to shrug off the potential disruption, finishing school and signing up for classes at the community college in Hartford.
He had to smile a little bit, just thinking about it. Lorelai bragged just as much about Jess' grades as she did about Rory's at Yale.
"Oh, you stinker!" Luke made a turn into a town and Lorelai sat up straight, finally placing where they were. "You drove this far out of the way, just to bring us into the other side of Litchfield!"
"Yep," he grinned.
She turned to him, eagerly. "Are we going where I think we are?"
"Yep," he agreed again.
"Luke." He saw her push her hair back behind her ear and then let her finger hold the strand there, her one little tell of nervousness. "Are you sure that's where you want to go tonight?"
"I'm positive," he said. He put his hand down on her leg, rubbing it affectionately. "It still kills me, thinking about you there all alone on your birthday. Maybe we can go celebrate there tonight, and it'll push away those bad memories."
He heard her little exhale of relief. "OK. As long as you're sure."
He found a place to park and they walked to the entry. It was a weeknight, so there wasn't much of a crowd. He hung up their coats, making sure their gloves were tucked into the pockets.
They crossed the lobby, nodding at the hostess. As soon as they entered the bar, Lorelai spotted Hank.
He felt her wanting to run over to greet him, but she stopped, looking back over her shoulder at him. "Is it OK if I …?" she nodded over towards the bartender.
"Lorelai, you don't ever have to ask me that," he promised her.
She grinned at him and flew across the room. Hank stepped out from behind the bar to meet her.
"Lorelai!" he said, swinging her around in a hug. He put her down and looked her over. "Happiness agrees with you, I see."
"Yes, it does," she smiled back at him.
Luke came up, and Hank offered his hand. "Good to see you, Luke."
"You too," Luke said, taking his hand.
"I'm sorry I never got over to the Independence Inn to visit," Hank commented. "Maybe I can still bring Ian over sometime."
"Well, that would be difficult," Lorelai said, with nearly Luke's deadpan delivery, "seeing that it burned down."
Hank sucked in a stunned breath. "Oh, no! Oh, I'm so sorry! Are you all right?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I am. Better than all right, actually. I miss the old place, because it was my home for a long time. But we're making a new place, one that's going to be ours, and it's going to be great. It'll be ready in the spring," she told him, smiling proudly. "I'll invite you to the grand opening."
"I'll look forward to that," Hank told her. "Let me know if you need a bartender," he added, winking.
Luke steered her to a small table by the fireplace. A server soon came over with menus and Lorelai eagerly picked one up, anxious to see if anything on it had changed. As usual, she was hungry.
Out of the corner of his eye, Luke watched her as she scanned the pages. He was glad she was distracted. Her obsession with getting something to eat made her oblivious to the fact that even now Hank was preparing the bottle of champagne that he'd called and requested earlier today. For sure she wouldn't notice Rory and Jess and her parents being whisked through the lobby to their table in the dining room.
She hadn't even noticed how many times his fingers had nervously traced over the outline of the ring box that was tucked away inside his suit pocket.
He was pretty sure he was going to get everything he wanted for his birthday. And that was no joke.