Author's Notes: No, Sandra Bullock and Betty White aren't in this. It's Luke and Lorelai and another one of my favorite episodes, "Rory's Birthday Parties." Funny how adding in one small word can bring about such a big change – especially when that word is 'yes.' Hope you enjoy!

(Oh, and since this is based on an actual episode, some of the dialogue is taken directly from the show. So if a line seems more clever or funny than usual, assume that's where it came from!)

The October sun set in a blaze of orange fire just as Lorelai Gilmore bounced across the street to the diner. A breeze blew the first leaves of autumn past her pant legs, catching the plastic garment bag full of tulle she carried and whipping it out behind her before she could get it under control. Snickering at the mere thought of the over-the-top dresses stuffed inside the bag, Lorelai climbed the steps and hurried into Luke's.

She was riding a shopping high. The fact that she was this stoked after spending an afternoon with Emily Gilmore was so surreal that she almost believed that the perfume she'd sniffed at the cosmetics counter had been laced with something illegal. She couldn't believe that she felt bubbly and happy and – possibly for the first time ever – optimistic about her future relationship with her mother. She almost felt like Alice, sliding through the rabbit hole into an alternate universe she'd never suspected existed.

For just an instant her joyous mood evaporated. A quick glance around the diner showed her that Rory wasn't there yet. Lorelai had been eagerly anticipating regaling Rory with tales of the un-Emily she'd been shopping with today. Who better to tell than her best pal Rory, who would understand immediately what a freaky afternoon it had turned out to be.

Lorelai pushed against the door to close it and looked to Luke. He was leaning against the back counter, writing something down on the pad that never seemed to leave his hand. Funny how he always seemed to have something that kept his eyes down and his hands busy when she was around.

"She's not here yet," he told her in a monotone, apparently knowing what she was getting ready to ask of him.

"All right." Lorelai sat down on a stool, manhandling the frothy garment bag until it behaved and let itself be punched down in front of her. She was still in a good mood. Practically effervescent. Even a typically morose Luke couldn't steal that feeling away from her. "You'll have to entertain me until she arrives," she told him. "OK, Burger Boy, dance!"

For once those dark sea-blue eyes of his, framed by those so-unfairly long, yet manly lashes looked up from the order pad. He kept his face completely impassive and didn't even pause to consider what he said.

"Will you marry me?"

Time stopped. Lorelai felt like a brick wall had crashed down on top of her. Her brain refused to accept the words her ears insisted she'd just heard. Surely he hadn't truly said what she'd thought he'd said. Had he?

She stared mutely at him, standing there so serious and calm in front of her. It was crazy. She knew it was crazy. And yet, deep down inside of her, fireworks were starting to ignite in celebration. For just a moment the blood racing through her heart slowed and she acknowledged the pure delight that had erupted at just hearing those words.

Her mouth was in the process of dropping open in shock. She was preparing to stutter out 'Wha…?' And then she saw it. Just the teensiest, smallest, most smug look ever creeping around that smart mouth of his. Even though he was trying to carefully keep his eyes lowered, she could see the barest hint of satisfaction beginning to gleam in them.

Well. She couldn't have that. No way was Luke Danes putting one over on her, the self-proclaimed Queen of the Smart Alecks.

Lorelai took a deep breath and shook her hair back over her shoulders. She raised her chin and looked straight back at him.

"Yes," she replied, her voice resonant and sure.

Now it was Luke's turn to be stunned. His mouth fell open and the order pad and pencil landed on the counter with a clatter as his grip loosened. "Wh-What?" he stammered out.

"I said 'yes,'" Lorelai repeated proudly.

He licked his lips nervously and looked around the diner. He appeared flustered and irritated at the same time, which, Lorelai realized, was often the way he looked when she was present.

"Look, you know I was just trying to find something to shut you up," he groused, sounding annoyed.

"Too late now, buddy. You asked and I accepted. You can't renege on the deal now."

Luke rolled his eyes. "You know I was just joking around."

"Too bad," Lorelai retorted, completely unsympathetic. "You back out now and I'll sue you for breach of promise. I've been waiting on a proposal for years. I figure this is my chance and I'm not wasting it."

Lorelai's voice had gotten louder and more animated as she teased him. Other diners were starting to pay attention. They put down their coffee cups and stopped dunking their fries in ketchup and tilted their heads to listen.

"You're making a scene," Luke hissed at her, well aware of their audience. "Stop it!"

"Hang on now, Burger Boy!" Lorelai hopped up from the stool, letting the garment bag slither to the floor. She moved her hands Vanna White-like, showcasing her own body. "You're making it sound like any normal guy wouldn't love to have a chance at all of this loveliness."

"Yep, you're right." Sensing a way out, Luke jumped on her statement. "You are far too special for the likes of somebody like me," he said, trying to drown out the sarcasm with pretended humbleness.

"Are you kidding?" Lorelai stopped still, her hands on her hips. "You're the ideal choice, Luke." She raised her hands and began ticking off the reasons why. "One. You're a successful business owner and an established part of the town. Heck, you even feed the great majority of it! Two. You're a phenomenal cook and you make a dynamite cup of coffee to boot! And trust me, the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach. Three. You already know about my kid, and you like her! Four. Now, I'm not sure about this part, but I think that if you ever shed some of those layers of clothing, and shaved, and lost the hat, you'd be a hottie, which of course is one of my requirements for a future mate." Lorelai's hands went back to her hips and she beamed at him triumphantly, although one tiny part of her was a little concerned that she was able to list his good points so quickly. "Face it, Luke, you're a catch. I could do a lot worse."

Every bit of humor and good nature had vaporized out of Luke. "Lorelai, come on!" he snapped at her. "Haven't you had enough of this?"

"Never!" Lorelai grinned, totally enjoying his discomfort. She stuck up her left hand and wiggled her fingers. "Hey, where's my ring?" she demanded.

He looked heavenward. "Will you please stop this?" he begged.

She pretended to look shocked. "You asked me without having a ring ready? Luke! No fling without the bling, baby!"

Still grinning, she began to sashay behind the counter.

"Don't," Luke warned, putting up his hands. His jaw tensed in that way she knew meant he was reaching his limit.

"You must have something back here we can use," she observed, bending her knees to look through the shelves under the counter.

Luke snorted and made a grab for her. She neatly sidestepped him and pivoted beyond his reach, laughing at his building frustration.

"Oh, hey, this will do," Lorelai said, spying a white plastic band from the neck of a water bottle. She was reaching for it when his arms circled around her from behind.

"Lorelai, I'm warning you," he growled, his arms tightening their grip. "You can't be back here."

She couldn't remember the last time she'd had so much fun. She snatched up the plastic ring and tried to plant her feet against his assault, only to find that her feet weren't completely touching the floor any longer.

"Luke!" she shrieked, laughing. "Put me down!" She jammed the plastic band on her finger and then tried to loosen his hands of steel clasped around her waist. Tears were starting to squeeze from her eyes, she was laughing so hard.

"Are you done?" he demanded.

Lorelai waved her left hand up where he could see it. "Now that I've got my lovely 100% recyclable ring? Never! Nice to know you'll be able to carry me over the threshold, though," she added, squirming in his arms.

"Lorelai!" He gave her a squeeze out of pure frustration at her antics, and tried again to wrestle her out from behind the counter.

The door to the diner opened and a glum Rory stepped inside. She stopped immediately, her gaze arrested by the sight of Luke holding her mother behind the counter. "Uh…Mom?"

They both froze. Lorelai was panting for breath and behind her she could feel Luke's chest heaving as well. Suddenly she registered their positions from Rory's point of view. She felt his arms banded around her, his hands clasped firmly, intimately even, over her stomach. She felt how tightly she was pressed back against him, so close that there were no secrets left between them. She gulped in a quick, shuddering breath of awareness.

Abruptly, Luke let her go. She staggered and reached for the stability of the counter to steady herself.

"What's going on?" Rory asked warily.

Through years of practice, Lorelai regrouped immediately, shaking off the sensory overload she'd just experienced. "Hey, Kid!" she greeted her daughter merrily. She threw her arm around Luke's neck and brought his head over next to hers. "I finally caught you a daddy!" She proudly displayed her ring to Rory while Luke fumed next to her.

"Well, it's about time," Rory said blandly and shuffled towards a table, dragging her yellow backpack behind her.

Lorelai turned to Luke, grinning broadly while she patted his glaring face. "Bring us over some coffee, would you, Lover?"

She ignored his dark mutterings, scooped up the deflated garment bag and quickly joined the downcast Rory at the table. "Hey, what's with the face?" she asked her daughter.

"I've now used the word 'suck' so many times it's lost all meaning," Rory said tiredly. "Coffee," she implored.

"It's coming," Lorelai assured her. "But in the meantime maybe this will cheer you up." She started to unzip the bag, fighting against the overflowing tulle striving to break free.

"What is that?" Rory looked suspiciously at the blue netting foaming out of the zippered enclosure.

"These are our party dresses!"

"So…it's a Halloween party?" Rory obviously didn't see the humor in it.

"No, listen. I spent three hours today shopping with your grandmother and it's a whole afternoon of 'Who are you buying that for, Mom? Have you met Rory?' But then I talked and she listened and she ended up buying something I think you're actually going to like."

"Really?" Rory was still skeptical.

"Really." Lorelai wanted Rory to share in the remarkable buoyancy brought on by a kinder and gentler Emily Gilmore. "Of course, she insisted on buying us these dresses, but I think I can turn them into something that's more us."

"Wow." Rory eyed her mother carefully. "I've never seen you so cheery after spending time with Grandma."

"Well, it's been a long time since we spent time together and didn't end up fighting. It was refreshing. It wasn't exactly fun but at least I didn't end up with that shooting pain in my eye like I usually do."

"That's great," Rory said slowly, and sat up a little straighter in her chair.

"Yeah," Lorelai agreed happily, just as Luke brought over their coffee.

"Oh, hey, Luke, what with all of the engagement excitement before, I forgot to mention Rory's birthday party on Saturday night. Don't forget," Lorelai told him.

"You don't have to invite me," Luke said, dipping his head uneasily.

"Don't be silly. We want you there," Lorelai insisted.

"Absolutely," Rory chimed in. "You wouldn't want to miss it. Mom's known for her blowouts."

"Oh, yeah." Lorelai looked up from a quick gulp of coffee, looking pleased. "The best one was your eighth birthday."

Rory nodded enthusiastically. "The cops shut us down."

"The cops shut down an eight-year-old's birthday party?" Luke asked in disbelief.

"And arrested the clown," Lorelai added, grinning in satisfaction.

"I don't want to hear any more of this," Luke groaned and walked away from their table.

Lorelai watched him walk away for maybe longer than she should have, remembering with a bit of longing the way his arms had felt clasped around her. She shook that memory out of her head and turned again to Rory, beginning again the discussion of how to remake their dresses into Lorelai Gilmore originals.

After stuffing their faces with burgers and even treating themselves to the first pumpkin pie of the season, Lorelai sent Rory to the door while she went to the cash register to settle their tab and nettle Luke some more. She wasn't totally convinced that Rory was only fretting about a low score on a French test, but she remembered ups and downs of high school, and Chilton was high school on steroids. She felt confident that whatever it was, Rory would tell her if it was unbearable. In the meantime she had her new fiancé to bedevil.

"So, 7:00 Saturday," she stated, pulling some bills of her wallet.

"OK," he said, still sounding abashed. "I mean, if you're sure."

"Luke, please." She shook her head sternly at him. "It wouldn't be right, you not being there. You're going to be her stepdaddy, after all."

He pressed his lips together. "You're not going to let that drop, are you?"

"Too much fun." She grinned at him, then leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Tell you what. Why don't you come on over after you close up here tonight?"

"What? Why?" He looked at her warily.

"Because now that we're officially engaged"— she waved her 'ring' at him – "we can drop this whole 'chaste' thing and finally sleep together." She gave him a conspiratorial nod. "I'll let you know when the kid's asleep."

He slammed the drawer shut on the cash register and looked at her grimly, refusing to answer.

She pretended to take his silence another way. "Hey, if you want to wait until the wedding night, that's OK, too. It's so old-fashioned it's cool. Very retro."

"Go home, Lorelai," he requested wearily.

"Goodnight, Babe." She winked at him, loaded up the bag of dresses over her arm, and went to join Rory. "See you tomorrow!"

"That's what I'm afraid of," she heard him mutter, which insured that she was laughing when they walked out the door.

On Friday morning Lorelai was later getting to the diner than what she'd intended. Getting up before 4 to cuddle with her birthday girl and recite once again the story of her entrance into the world was a tradition she cherished, but it played havoc with her morning schedule. Plus, she'd had a project to finish before she left the house.

Lorelai patted the bulky outline of something stashed in the canvas bag slung over her shoulder with satisfaction while sliding into a seat at the counter.

"Hey, what's with the balloons?" she called out to Luke.

He glanced at her briefly before continuing to refill the coffeemaker. "Gee, I don't know. Surely no one's having a birthday today or anything like that."

"Luke!" Lorelai was genuinely touched. "You did that for Rory?" When he shrugged in an attempt to play it off as nothing, she smiled fondly at his plaid back. "Admit it. You're just an old softie, aren't you?"

"That's what Rory said," Luke told her, bringing over a mug and filling it with what was left from an earlier pot of coffee. He put down the now-empty carafe and leaned his elbows on the counter, fixing Lorelai with a glare. "And then she called me Daddy."

Lorelai snorted a laugh into her coffee cup and had to grab a napkin.

"She's every bit as bad as you are," Luke told her glumly.

"Thank you!" Lorelai replied with pride.

"Glad you think that's a compliment," he grumbled, picking up the pot and heading for the kitchen.

"Oh, wait!" Lorelai fumbled in her bag and drew out a large binder. "I need to go over some things with you."

"What's that?" Luke looked at the stuffed notebook covered with lace and glitter, completely mystified.

"It's all ideas for our wedding. I need you to help me pick out what we want."

Luke gave out a long-suffering sigh. "You're going to milk this for everything you can, aren't you?"

"Yep," Lorelai confirmed happily. She held up her left hand. "I glammed up the ring some, too. It looks more like me now, don't you think?" She'd glued rhinestones of various sizes to the plastic band. She'd had to put on a Band-Aid underneath it, because the tiny little serrations had been poking into her skin. But it was oh, so worth it, seeing the irritation on Luke's face.

By now everyone in town had heard about Luke's proposal. Miss Patty and Babette were sitting on the stools on either side of her before she even had the binder open.

"Ooh, Doll, what'cha got there?" Babette asked, hoisting herself up a little higher to see over Lorelai's shoulder.

"Wedding ideas," Lorelai said, grinning at her neighbor. "Wanna help us pick out Luke's tux?" She flipped to the page where she'd pasted about a dozen hot guys modeling tuxedos of all styles and colors.

"Oh, Sweetheart, do you have to ask?" Miss Patty chastised her with a throaty chuckle. She leaned over and perused the smoldering hunks. "About the only thing better would be having Luke actually try them on for us. You'll let us tag along when you go to the shop, right?"

"We will not!" Luke exploded, forgetting for a moment that there actually wasn't a tux to be rented.

All three ladies looked at him, trying to hold in their glee with varying success. Luke's face steamed under his whiskers before he turned and stalked into the kitchen.

"Can't ya just see 'im in this one?" Babette asked, pointing to one being modeled by a debonair James Bond-type. "Just imagine having it all tailored for 'im, so it fits over those broad shoulders of his." Her hands traced a silhouette in the air in front of her.

"Um," Lorelai and Patty both murmured in agreement, following her hands.

"But you need something blue," Patty mentioned. She tapped against another picture, where the fake groom was sporting a gorgeous silvery-blue tie. "Something to bring out that shade in his eyes."

"Yeah," Lorelai said dreamily as the vision took shape in her head.

"Bachelor buttons!" Babette cackled. "Use bachelor buttons in your flowers. Those on his lapel should do the trick!"

"Perfect!" Patty agreed.

"Well, I haven't gotten to the flowers yet." Lorelai frowned and flipped the binder to where pages of bouquets were stashed.

"Ya want roses, don't cha? It don't seem like a weddin' without roses," Babette pointed out.

"Maybe," Lorelai said doubtfully, studying a nosegay made up of all daisies.

"I don't know about that," Patty said, shaking her head. "My marriages where I carried roses didn't last as long as the others. For the second one to Sinjin I wore red roses in my hair and that one was a mistake from the time I said 'I do.'"

"Maybe if they weren't red," Babette speculated.

"What else do you still need to decide, dear?" Patty asked.

Lorelai raised her voice because she was pretty sure Luke was still listening to them, even if he was hiding in the back. "Taylor says we can get a permit in 10 business days or less to get married in the gazebo. And Patty, it's still OK to use the dance studio for the reception, right?"

"As long as I get to lambada with the groom, it's all yours," Patty purred agreeably.

Lorelai turned to Babette, patting her knee. "And Morey's going to walk me down the aisle."

"He'll be bawlin' his eyes out, but he'd be thrilled to do it, Sugah!" Babette threw an eager arm around Lorelai's shoulders, squeezing tightly. "You girls have always been family to us!"

"Sookie is making the cake and the food." Lorelai got herself squared away again on her stool, after being almost dislodged by Babette's hug. "So I think we're about set."

"And Rabbi Barans is doing the ceremony," Kirk suddenly intoned from behind them.

"What?" Lorelai spun around to face Kirk. "What do you mean?"

"They decided that last night," Kirk informed her.

Lorelai looked perplexed. "But we're not Jewish, Kirk."

He nodded seriously. "I know that. But Reverend Skinner and Rabbi Barans did 'Rock-Paper-Scissors,' and Reverend Skinner had paper, and Rabbi Barans had rock, and since paper covers rock, well..." Kirk started to fidget and appeared less sure of his news the more shocked Lorelai looked. "So that meant he won, and the rabbi…lost."

"Neither of them wanted to marry us?" She couldn't help but feel hurt. "Luke!" she called out, as her intended marched an omelet and two slices of toast over to a table. "They don't think we should get married!"

"Get in line," Luke snapped, not stopping.

"I, however, think it's a great idea," Kirk offered solicitously. He sidled closer and handed over a business card. "I am prepared to present you with a full array of wedding services. Programs, photography, music suitable for dancing – I could even get ordained and do the ceremony myself, if you'd agree to cover the postage. I'm sure we can come to an agreement."

"I'll keep you in mind, Kirk." She dropped his card into her bag with a sigh.

Babette was rifling through the homemade bridal guide. "Where's the dresses, Sugah?"

"Here." Lorelai tried to call back her enthusiasm. She listened to Patty and Babette exclaim over the dresses, but it didn't seem as much fun as it had.

"This one," Luke said from out of nowhere. Somehow he'd snuck up behind her, reached over her shoulder and was tapping an index finger against a wedding gown Lorelai had tucked down in the right-hand corner.

Lorelai glanced up at him, trying to squash down a wave of delight tickling through her. "Why that one?"

It was a legitimate question. All of the other creations on the page were fantasies for either the bride or the groom, with plunging necklines and skintight, creamy sheaths, or strapless, sparkly gowns made for a princess. The one Luke had indicated was bucking the trend. The bodice was fitted elegantly to the model and although it had a deep V-neck, it wasn't immodest. The skirt flared slightly over the hips. The shoulders, arms, and a stand-up collar were covered with delicate, see-through lace. It was a beautiful, romantic gown, a throwback to an era when Audrey Hepburn was in vogue.

"Don't know. It just –" Luke shrugged defensively, possibly all at once realizing he'd once again put himself in harm's way. "It just looks like you, I guess. I mean, you'd look good –" He clamped his mouth closed over whatever traitorous words were ready to spill out. "Maybe I've just seen you in something that looked like that before," he suggested sullenly before taking off again for the sanctuary of the kitchen.

"Oh," Lorelai whispered to herself, looking down at the picture of the dark-haired bride, more pleased than she had any right to be. The fact that this was indeed the gown she would have picked out for herself was something he didn't need to know.

"Lorelai, I think you're missing the most important thing," Miss Patty said, tearing her away from her perfect dress. "Where are you going for the honeymoon?"

"Gawd, yes!" Babette clutched at her arm. "Tell me you're goin' someplace hot and tropical!"

"And bringing us back plenty of pictures of that man in swim trunks!" Patty begged.

"You know I will," Lorelai said, ready to play along once again. She gave Patty a knowing wink and turned to the hot and tropical section of the binder.

"OK," Sookie said, obviously striving to sound calm. "Don't panic."

"Good opening line," Lorelai praised her, steeling herself. "What's wrong?"

Because seriously, what else could go wrong? She'd already sworn in front of her parents twice, served her mother wine in a glass pilfered from a Holiday Inn, and gotten the gloomy report on the state of her chimney from her father. Not to mention she'd eaten a piece of her daughter's face. What else could happen?

"We're out of ice," Sookie reported glumly.

"How could we be out of ice? We had a ton of ice," Lorelai insisted. "It was like a penguin habitat in there."

"I don't know how it happened, I just know it happened and somehow we have to deal with it."

Lorelai stifled a sigh. She hated it when Sookie was logical. But Lorelai had survived 16 years of being the one who always had to deal with whatever problems life threw at her and Rory. So if ice needed to be fetched, she knew she would be the one doing the fetching.

She grabbed her keys and headed for the door, calculating how quickly she could race into town and get back to the party. Before she could reach for the handle the door swung open and Luke appeared, an extra-large bag of ice grasped in each hand.

"Oh! Oh my God!" Lorelai squealed. "You're a vision!" She turned and yelled back over her shoulder. "Sookie! We have ice!"

Sookie leaned out of the kitchen to confirm the good news. "Hallelujah!" she chortled before disappearing again.

"How did you know?" Lorelai asked, amazement dripping off each word. She approached Luke, giddy with the serendipity of it.

"Well, a good rule of thumb is you can never have too much ice," Luke said, beaming back at her happiness.

"Ah, you're the best," Lorelai decreed, walking up and throwing her arms around him in an impromptu hug.

Luke's arms closed around her and the weight from the bags of ice plowed into her back and plastered her against his chest. The cold ice, his warm chest, and the delightful combination of Downey fabric softener and whatever he'd been cooking earlier came together into another overload for Lorelai's senses. She buried her face into his neck and dug her fingers into his back, trying to keep herself from taking a bite out of him.

Her eyes popped open when she realized that molesting the diner man wouldn't be the most appropriate thing to do at her daughter's birthday party. She pushed herself away from the miracle man at her door, and as she did so, she became aware of someone watching her.

"Oh, hi, Mom." Lorelai winced at how flustered she sounded and at the look on her mother's face. "This is my friend, Luke," she explained, still sounding like she'd just been caught climbing out of her bedroom window.

"How are you doing?" Luke nodded at Emily, shifting the ice around.

"Fine, thank you," Emily replied with extreme politeness, her eyes continuing to examine them sharply. Her mouth was pursed up in that 'I just tasted a lemon but I'm too well-bred to mention it to you' sort of way that made Lorelai squeamish.

"Well, I'd better get these in the freezer before they melt," Luke suggested, motioning with the bags of ice.

"Not very likely in here," Lorelai told him under her breath, catching his eye.

Luke's mouth twitched and he gave her a small nod, letting her know he got the joke and the undercurrents in the room. Lorelai patted his arm and went off into the living room to join the party.

For the rest of the night, though, while she served cake and chatted and picked up empty glasses, she kept remembering that moment of understanding between them and how nice it had been to have somebody on her wavelength. She amused herself by imagining Luke at the Gilmore's party last night. She wondered what he would have thought of her mother's insistence on individual bags of cheese and the candles all being a careful 6 inches apart. She wondered if he would have said something scathing to shut up Mitzi. She wondered if he would have found a way to shield Rory from Emily's wrath.

A phantom smile played over her mouth as she pictured the dumbfounded look on Mitzi's face if a suited and groomed Luke Danes would have appeared and wrapped his arms around her.

And most of all she wondered at herself, for thinking how much more she would have enjoyed that party if he would have been there, sharing secret smiles of understanding and hearing his sarcastic impressions of the other partygoers. Just having his companionship would have been enough to make the night bearable.

His arms wrapped around her? That would have just been an extra perk.

The party was progressing as normally as possible. Most of the time Lorelai was able to forget that her parents were in attendance until she spied her father's head rising up above most of the other guests, or caught a glimpse of Emily, her mouth still pursed up in a sour smile.

She'd been listening to Patty and Babette reminisce about Rory growing up when she saw her mother stealthily start up the stairs. Normally Lorelai had a very laid-back attitude about her house and what was off-limits to visitors, but that happy-go-lucky vibe didn't extend to her mother. She got up and cautiously followed her up the stairs.

"I made that," she said, seeing Emily picking up the corner of the quilt on her bed.

"Did you?"

"Out of Rory's old baby clothes."

"How nice." Emily smiled, but couldn't resist a dig. "I hope you washed them first."

"Oh rats." Lorelai slowly snapped her fingers while entering the room. "I knew I forgot something."

"That's quite an assortment of characters you got down there," Emily mentioned, still appraising the cluttered room.

"They're great people," Lorelai stated sincerely.

"This Patricia…"

"Miss Patty."

"She teaches dance?"

"Among other things."

Emily nodded, putting her hands into her pockets. "And the short blonde and the tall fellow…"

"Babette and Morey. They live next door." Lorelai pointed out the window. "They've been incredible neighbors. They love Rory to death."

While wandering around the room, Emily zeroed in on a picture on Lorelai's dresser. "What's this?" She stepped over and picked it up.

"Well, that's me, Mom."

"I know it's you. You're in a cast!"

"Yeah, that was about 3 years ago. I broke my leg in yoga class. Turns out I'm too competitive for yoga." Lorelai smiled grimly at the memory. "But I took the smug, blonde, pretzel chick down with me."

"I didn't know you'd broken your leg," Emily said faintly, putting the picture back down.

Lorelai recognized the look on her mother's face. It was the look all mothers got when they found out that their kids had faced illness or danger or bullying headmasters on their own, and she rushed to reassure her.

"Hey, Mom, it was no big deal. I mean, if I'd been really sick, you would have known."

"Would I? Would I really, Lorelai?" Emily took a breath, pulled back her shoulders and turned to face Lorelai. "Just the way you'd keep me informed if you were getting married?"

Lorelai's forehead wrinkled as she heard her mother's voice launch into attack mode, wondering what had triggered that. "Well of course, Mom. Of course you'd know that."

Emily gave her an icy glare. "You have the nerve to stand there and say that to me? After insulting me and introducing me to 'your friend' Luke? Just how stupid do you think I am, Lorelai?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?" Lorelai tried to joke, but one steely gaze from Emily sobered her instantly. "Mom, Luke is my friend. I don't know why you'd think otherwise."

"Do you think your friends don't talk?" Emily huffed with indignation. "Do you think I haven't been told by practically everyone downstairs that you and the Ice Man are getting married?"

"Damn." Lorelai squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her forehead, blindsided by her own stupidity once again. "Mom, that's a joke. It's just a joke."

"Oh, I forgot. Everything's a joke to you." Emily angrily marched across the room and picked up the wedding notebook from its resting spot on top of the sewing machine. "You've certainly gone to a lot of trouble for a joke."

"It is a joke! This is your daughter, Henny Youngman, remember?"

Emily dropped the binder and turned stern eyes on Lorelai. "Even with the way that man looks at you, you turn it into a joke."

An icy tendril of apprehension spiraled around her spine. "What do you mean? How does he look at me?"

"Like you're a Porterhouse steak. And you liked it. You liked that he looked at you like that."

Lorelai gasped for breath and sanity. "Mom. He's a friend. That's it. A friend who feeds me and keeps me in coffee. Everything else is just a joke."

"I'm warning you, Lorelai. You treat that man like a joke and you'll push him out of your life, too." Emily regally walked to the door. "Be sure to send us an invitation," she haughtily requested, pausing briefly. "We'd like to at least be able to send you and your 'friend' a gift." She disappeared down the hall.

It took a few minutes for Lorelai to compose herself and rejoin the party downstairs. She hated that the promising détente with her mother had been blown apart again. She hated feeling that once again she'd done something wrong when she hadn't. But more than that, she feared that her mother was right about Luke. She had made him into a joke. And she was filled with trepidation that she might have indeed finally pushed him too far.

"Next year, we are going to a McDonald's with one of those slides and that's it," Lorelai decided, squirting soap into the sink so she could start washing up the piles of dirty dishes.

"The party was a hit," Sookie argued.

"And we'll be eating onion dip for breakfast for a week," Lorelai pointed out.

"You know, you mix that dip with some ground turkey and some garlic and it's really not too bad," Sookie suggested.

"Hey, I'm not looking for a recipe."

"Ooh, reflex, sorry," Sookie said with a giggle. She looked around at the destruction in the kitchen. "OK, I'm gonna go check the living room."

Lorelai plunged her hands down into the soapy water, trying to drown her misgivings about the night. Her parents had said goodbye without any apparent rancor, and her father had even given Rory yet another check for Fez. So maybe her mother had gotten over her snit about not being told about her fake engagement. She'd also looked for Luke in every room, but he'd already called it a night and left for the diner. She'd have to fix things with him tomorrow. If there was, in fact, anything to fix. Well, she was a great fixer. She'd make sure he knew that although she loved joking with him, she never thought that he was a joke. Darn her mother anyway, for putting that idea into her head.

Movement caught her eye. She looked out the window into the dark backyard, and there was her daughter standing with a boy. And not just any boy. A beautiful, gorgeous boy. Exactly what every 16-year-old girl would want. He was tall – impossibly tall – and had a wave of gleaming brown hair flopping across his forehead. And the way he was looking at Rory - not like she was a Porterhouse steak. No. But a hamburger, for sure. A Big Mac, maybe.

The giant-sized interloper handed Rory a clumsily-wrapped present. She opened it, obviously excited. Lorelai couldn't see what it was, but the boy put in on Rory's wrist, so she guessed it was a bracelet. He held Rory's hand and Rory blinded him with a charming, girlish smile and turned partially away, looking shy and so very pleased.

Breathlessly, Lorelai clutched a dishcloth to her chest and turned away from the window, not wanting to see anymore. Her heart pounded and for some reason she looked at the piece of plastic junk on her own finger, the ugly thing that she'd had to place there herself.

She realized all at once that this was a facet of life she couldn't help Rory with at all. Somehow she'd missed all of the sweet, boy/girl stuff of growing up. She'd catapulted herself straight into a world of diapers and vaccinations and colic, with barely a glance at the proms and date nights and homecoming dances the other girls wanted. She didn't have a clue what it was like to be a normal 16-year-old girl.

And just like her own mother, Lorelai suddenly understood that she didn't really know her daughter at all.

Through the window of the diner the next morning, she could see him already hard at work. In just the few moments she'd spent standing outside she'd seen him bus three tables and take orders at two others. He sprinted back into the kitchen and she stood there a little longer, shivering a bit in the cool October dawn. He looked like a serious and stable business owner, with no time for frivolous, joke-playing women such as herself.

Lorelai gave herself a shake and headed inside. She slowly made her way up to the counter and took a seat.

Luke appeared before her almost instantaneously. "Let's have it," he said wearily, motioning towards his own chest with a 'take your best shot' grimace on his face. "What is it today? A 2-for-1 honeymoon package in Phuket, Thailand? A deal for underwater wedding photography? Or –"

"No, Luke." She cut him off. "This is actually your lucky day. I'm here to break up with you." She worked the plastic band off of her finger and handed it to him, trying to smile.

He took the ring but looked like he wasn't quite sure how to react. He pushed his hat back a little farther on his forehead. "So you've changed your mind, huh?"

"Yep," Lorelai confirmed, still trying for lighthearted. "I just don't think it would have worked out between us."

Luke rubbed the ring absently between his fingers. "Let me guess. It's you, not me?" His voice sounded a little deeper and gruffer than usual.

Lorelai smiled sympathetically. "Sounds like you've been down this road before."

He smiled back gently. "A time or two," he agreed. To her surprise, instead of tossing the plastic band into the trash, he held open his shirt pocket and dropped it in there.

Whatever she was intending to say next caught in her throat. The idea that Luke had been in love 'a time or two,' and possibly had had his heart broken while she had been oblivious to it all destroyed her equilibrium.

She cleared her throat, trying her best to get back to her purpose of being here today. "Well," she said briskly, "I know that there are plenty of women out there who would love to be really engaged to a great guy like you, Luke. And when you meet her, that right woman, she is going to be one lucky gal." It was only as she said it that she appreciated just how true the statement was.

"Right," he muttered, not looking at her.

Lorelai pushed up from the counter, preparing to leave.

"You're not eating?" Luke was shocked. "You don't even want coffee?"

"Not today." Lorelai started to back towards the door, babbling all the way. "Thanks for coming to the party last night. That was great. You being there was…great. It wouldn't have felt right without you being there. It meant a lot to…to Rory." She had now added nodding madly to the babbling. "And thanks for bringing the ice. The ice was…great. Perfect. Just what we needed. So thanks. Thanks a lot." She'd never been so grateful to feel a door handle poking her in the back.

"You're welcome," she heard Luke say as she threw open the door and escaped.

She wasn't sure, because she was so anxious to get away from the awkwardness, but she almost thought he sounded sad.

It had been an odd, awkward day from start to finish. Lorelai had stayed away from the diner after her early morning visit, not feeling confident enough to face Luke again. And she'd felt isolated from Rory, too, not knowing how to broach the topic of the dreamy boy she'd spied outside the kitchen window. Just how long was she supposed to ignore the leather bracelet strapped around Rory's wrist? Was that in the Mom Code somewhere? She was glad that Rory had gone over to visit with Lane tonight because it was all so confusing.

Lorelai was thinking about cutting the day short and heading up to bed when someone knocked on the door. She opened it to find Luke standing there. At least, she thought it was Luke. He didn't have on his hat, and he'd shaved, and he had on a dark green shirt that was neatly tucked down inside his jeans instead of the ubiquitous flannel. And the look on his face was different too, and not just because there was no scruff. He looked… resolute.


"I didn't bring ice," he announced.

"Um, that's OK," Lorelai told him, trying to figure out what was going on. "I think there's still some left in the freezer, anyway." Luke didn't respond, so she kept talking. "And there's still a lot of onion dip. And some cake, too, I think." He still didn't say anything. "Do you want some?" she asked, increasingly confused. She had no idea why Luke was standing on her porch this late at night.

"No," he said shortly.

There was a long pause while they looked at each other, one of them feeling progressively desperate, the other growing more and more perplexed – the opposite, she realized, of what they normally were together.

Luke looked over his shoulder, toward Babette's. "Could I come in?" he asked.

"Oh, sure! Of course!" Lorelai opened the door further and stood aside, letting him in past her. She closed the door and they stood there again, continuing to stare at each other.

Finally Luke expelled a big breath. He looked down at the floor. "All that stuff you said the other night." He flailed his arms around at his side, as though illustrating the mountains of foolishness she normally spouted. "All of the stuff you said about me being a catch." He looked up quickly, just enough to look in her eyes for an instant. "Did you mean any of it?"

She caught the hopefulness in his voice; saw a snatch of it in his eyes, and it nearly broke her heart. "Of course I did, Luke. I meant every bit of it. I could add more, if you wanted. Do you – do you need a testimonial? Do you need me to write them down? Give you a letter of reference?"

He shook his head slowly. He wasn't quite looking at her, but he wasn't looking down at the floor, either. "So then maybe – maybe the idea of you and me…together…isn't completely crazy?"

"It's not crazy," Lorelai whispered. She had to whisper because her mouth was shaking itself into a tremulous smile and those same damn fireworks she'd felt for a split second the other night when she'd almost believed he'd proposed to her were shooting off inside of her again. "It's not crazy at all."

Luke was nodding his head very seriously, almost as though they were negotiating a business deal. "So if I were to propose that we'd go on a date -"

"I'd say yes," Lorelai answered, before he could finish the question.

His broad but tense shoulders visibly relaxed. "Maybe Wednesday night? Maybe we could go to dinner, see a movie?"

"I'd like that immensely."

"Good," he said, and then gave her a look and a smile that she felt all the way to her toes.

"Do you like steak?" she asked him breathlessly.

"Uh…" He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling. "Sure, I guess. Sometimes, anyway."

"Good," she said, still dazzled somewhat by the smile. "Maybe we could get some, then. Steak, I mean."

"OK," he laughed at her.

"Do you want to come in? Watch some TV?" She gestured towards the living room.

He glanced into the room but then shook his head. "It's late. I should probably just head back."

"Oh, OK," Lorelai said, not trying to hide her disappointment.

Luke walked over to the door, but then he just stood there, making no move to open it. After a few stressed moments of indecision, he spun around again to face her.

"You know, during the whole time when you were my fiancée, I didn't get to kiss you." The moody, sarcastic guy she thought she knew had been replaced by a confident and sexy boyfriend with a killer smile that kept throwing her for a loop. "I was kind of hoping, since we're dating now, that maybe we could fix that oversight."

"Well, usually I don't kiss goodnight until after the first date, but considering the circumstances, maybe I can make an exception. Seeing as how you're such a catch and all," she teased him, taking a step closer. Suddenly she thought about Rory and her mystery boy, and Lorelai charmingly held out her hand to Luke.

He grasped it at once, his thumb rubbing over her knuckles. Then he brought it up to his lips and kissed it before sandwiching it between both of his.

Lorelai looked away almost shyly. She wasn't sure if she dared let him see how much of her heart she was already willing to give away.

One of his hands released hers and gently caught her chin, bringing her face back to him. He bent slowly towards her, stopping just a millimeter short of her lips.

"It's OK?" he asked, so close that his breath puffed against her lips.

"So OK," she murmured, putting her free hand behind his neck and pulling him in the rest of the way.

He kissed her softly and sweetly, his lips holding hers in place while she tensed against the shock of pure want that shot through her. She sighed and held him close, knowing that she could wait this time for all that was to come.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he promised, holding her tight for one more moment.

Lorelai chuckled. "The last time I said that to you, you said that's what you were afraid of."

Luke shook his head, grinning mischievously. "I might have fibbed a little bit."

"Yeah?" she questioned, already pleased.

"Yeah," he confirmed. "It's the days I don't see you that I hate, Lorelai."

"Me too," she admitted, and put her hand on his chest, intending to lean in for another kiss. Instead she felt something in his shirt pocket and looked at him quizzically, almost positive of what it was.

He looked down and shook his head, and then looked at her, resigned. "It's the ring," he confessed. "I kept it because…Well, maybe someday..."

She allowed all of the remaining fireworks to shoot off, not knowing how dazzling it made her smile and how many sparkles danced in her eyes. "Someday," she repeated back to him, the happiness bubbling over. "Maybe I'll save the wedding ideas notebook, too."

"Especially the one dress," he reminded her. "You'd look beautiful in that." And then he kissed her again, not as softly or sweetly this time.

The kiss was interrupted by the door opening and catching Luke in the back.

Rory halted in the middle of the threshold, stunned. "Uh…Mom?"

"Hey, Kid!" Shakily, Lorelai tried to tamp down the hormones and get back into Mom-Mode.

"We're not engaged," Luke explained, every bit as flustered as Lorelai.

"But we are dating," Lorelai added, grinning like a fool.

Rory calmly looked at both of them, taking in their shining eyes and the way they couldn't stop leaning against each other.

"Well, it's about time," Rory said as matter-of-factly as she could, and then headed diplomatically to her room, not letting the new couple see the pleased smile breaking out on her face.