A/N:

I lied. You'll see why. Two more chapters to go, making it a nice and even 20. I appreciate all the feedback everyone's been giving, and taking the time to say what you like, what you don't, and for being patient. With the lack of new eps I haven't really been in a GG state of mind so it's taken a few extra cranks to get the writing going. But I've been productive in other areas! I repainted an old mirror, built a cabinet, ended world hunger....no, wait, sorry. All I've been doing is playing the Two Towers on Playstation.

Sorry this is short. There was another scene but my beta reader convinced me the story would work better without it, so it was cut. Next chapter will have more weight to it.

Disclaimer (since I've forgotten this since ch. 1): Gilmore Girls is property of the WB and Amy Sherman-Palladino and a lot of other legal jargon. Rory, Lorelai, Luke, and all the rest ain't mine. But Legolas is mine. Or Aragorn. Can't decide. Brain overloaded with hormones!

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Ch. 18:  The Soap Opera That Rinses Clean With No Sticky Residue

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Jay had told Lorelai she was breaking up with Luke that night. In fact, Jay had acted out her whole 'the best way to phrase it' speech she'd made to Lorelai. When Lorelai walked into Luke's for her nightly cup of coffee, she tried to pretend like she knew nothing. Which, considering the fact that Lorelai had actually played the part of everyone's favorite flannel man during Jay's practice speech, was sort of a stretch. It was late, and there were only four other people in the diner, and Luke was refilling the coffee cup for one of them.

He didn't look sad, or heartbroken, or angry, or relieved, or anything. He looked like Luke, and Luke was never one to wear his expressions where others could see them.

Lorelai was not that kind of person. When Luke looked up and saw her, she couldn't keep the hopefulness from flashing across her face. But she did do her best to remove it within a second or so. Well, not so much remove it as duck her head and try to cover her face with her hair.

Obviously, she had no future in acting, no matter how much her life seemed to resemble a soap opera. So Lorelai gave up trying and just slid into a seat at the counter.

"Coffee?" Luke asked when he came back there.

Lorelai nodded. Luke was offering her coffee. Without telling her how it would one day kill her. There was weirdness afoot.

Her mug was filled with her drug of choice and she absently thanked him. He nodded, put the pot back, and both pretended like it was an ordinary day. But Lorelai had learned moments before that she was no good at acting, and pretending was like acting, so she clattered her spoon on the counter and got Luke's attention.

"You okay?" she asked him, and with that one statement he knew that she knew.

Luke wanted to tell her it was none of her business. He settled for, "Yeah."

Lorelai nodded and drank her coffee.

Thirty minutes, four cups of coffee, two pieces of cherry pie, and zero conversation later, Lorelai's cell phone rang. Luke scowled. Lorelai scowled right back.

"It's the future, so get used to it." She dug it out of her purse and answered.

"Hey, Lorelai. It's me. Jay. I shouldn't say 'me' because hell I could be anybody calling you."

"Hi…you," Lorelai finally came up with. She didn't want to say Jay's name; who knew how Luke would react.

"You're probably wondering why I'm calling."

"Well, that thought did cross my mind but then it went away as I started thinking about cows." The annoyed expression on Luke's face became one of mild but accustomed curiosity.

"Cows?" Even Jay's voice had curiosity. What, didn't anyone else think about cows?

Lorelai attempted to shed light on her cow-obsessed brain. "Yeah. It always amazes me how they can balance those rotund bodies on spindly legs."

Jay laughed. "Wait'll you see one jump. Funniest thing you'll ever see. But, let's get down to business."

"Business?" Maybe Jay was running a drug empire Lorelai wasn't aware of.

"Not really business. I've just always wanted to say that. But the point is: nothing's happening."

"What? How do you know? Are you psychic?"

"No. Miss Patty lent me her binoculars. Walk to the east window and wave."

Lorelai walked to the window. In the gazebo, she could see a shadowy figure.  "This is bordering on creepy," she informed Jay.

"Hey, I just want everything to turn out good. Like a Brady Bunch episode."

Before Lorelai could reply, she spotted another shadowy figure behind the first.  "Someone's behind you!" she warned Jay.

Then the second shadowy figure waved. Over the phone, she could hear, "Hi, Mom!"

"Rory?" Lorelai asked.

"Yeah. We bumped into each other at the market earlier and I brought her up to date. Then we came up with a plan." Jay lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "A devious plan."

Lorelai didn't like the sound of that. "Devious? What the hell are you guys doing?"

"We're going to see a movie."

"That's your devious plan?"

"Okay, so we were stretching the definition of devious—"

"Like Anna Nicole stretches pantyhose."

"We'll just be off, seeing the movie. So you know, Rory won't be home for at least two hours. Actually, we might just see the Two Towers again, as I have a mad crush on Merry-" Lorelai heard an excited squeal that sounded suspiciously like her daughter- "...so that's more like three hours."

"Two hours and fifty-nine minutes," Lorelai corrected, a little surprised that she remembered that. And who the hell gets a crush on Merry? He screams like a girl. Lorelai had a sudden realization that Kirk also screams like a girl. Suddenly, the world was making a little more sense.

"Maybe we'll get ice cream later, too."

Lorelai heard another Rory-squeal. Damn Jay. First she nabbed Luke, and now she was working on Rory. Although she did give up Luke. Only he wasn't cooperating with their plan. So really, damn Luke.

"Okay, well have fun then."

"We will. Oh, and Lorelai?"

"Yeah?"

"Sponge-worthy."

Jay hung up before Lorelai could respond to that. When she went back to the counter, the sponge-worthy man was still glowering at her.

"No cell phones."

"No customers," Lorelai pointed out. She was the only one in there.

"It bothers me," Luke clarified.

Luke had given her a good jumping off point. She jumped. "Maybe that's not what's really bothering you."

Luke sighed and gave up. "She told you, didn't she."

"Yeah." Lorelai played with the rim of her coffee cup for a while. "So what do you think?"

Luke put the towel he'd been wiping the counter with down. "What, suddenly I get a say in all this?"

Lorelai felt her stomach drop, and not in that romantic way, but in that I-left-the-house-with-no-pants-on way. The last time Luke had used that tone of voice had been in Jay's kitchen on Super Bowl Sunday. And the time before that had been when he was mad at her last summer. Lorelai was not a fan of that tone.

"Of course you get a say."

"Then I say no. Or maybe later. But not tonight, and not tomorrow, and not in the immediate future am I gonna discuss anything with you unless it's about coffee or pie or hamburger or other diner things."

He stalked over to the tables and started flipping the chairs. Maybe it was a message for Lorelai to leave, since he was closing. If it was, she ignored it. She also ignored the way Luke was using way more force than necessary with the chairs.

She swiveled in the stool to face him. "So, what does that mean? We're not even friends anymore?"

Luke dropped another chair onto a table. "No."

Lorelai tried not to roll her eyes. "No as in 'we're no longer friends' or no in that it doesn't mean we're not friends?"

He actually looked a little confused by all the negatives in the sentence. Then he clarified. "We're friends."

"Jeez, try not to sound so thrilled about it." Lorelai picked up her mug, only to discover she'd finished all her coffee. There was no way in hell she'd ask him for a refill with the spectacular mood he was in. Might as well just go on pressing the issue now, instead of irritating him little by little, day by day. She couldn't live long without coffee, after all. "So are you still friends with Jay?"

By the way his shoulders tensed, Lorelai could tell he didn't want to answer her. But she also knew that he was quite aware of her unbelievable persistence, and when his shoulders relaxed again, it meant he'd rather give in now than suffer through the Lorelai Gilmore interrogation process.

"Yeah, she did that 'let's still be friends' thing."

"Oh. Good. 'Cause you know, that always works."

Luke banged the last chair on the table top. "Look, is there some kind of point you're trying to drive to? Because why don't you just get it out now and spare me some time."

Fine. He wanted blunt, she could give him blunt. "How come we're not making out and clawing at each other on the counter by now?"

Yep. Luke look like she'd hit him with a blunt object in the back of the head.

"I have my reasons," he finally said, after a long pause in which Lorelai was certain he'd been imagining that very scenario. Which only confused her even more. If he wanted it, then why wasn't he just doing it? That's how she did things. See, Want, Get. It was easy. The opposite of difficult, which Luke was being.

Maybe she could get him to elaborate. "Are you going to fill me in on them, or are they secret?"

There weren't any chairs left for him to flip, which left him with nothing to do but answer her question or ignore her. Just when Lorelai thought he'd be ignoring, he spoke up.

"I managed my life all by myself for years and I did fine, and now I have two women dictating to me. I don't need it, Lorelai, and I don't want it. So I'm sorry if I don't follow your orders, or Jay's orders."

Lorelai's face fell, and she was surprised to realize how close she was to tears. "Nobody's ordering you around."

"Both of you think this is all neat and tidy. Shuffling partners like it's some kind of square dance," Luke pointed out, and Lorelai bit back the urge to ask him why he knew about square dancing. "I like Jay. Hell, I love her, and maybe it's not the kind of love that keeps pulling my heart out, stomping on it, then putting it back, but she made me happy."

"I can make you happy," Lorelai said, and she hated the sound of her own voice. Timid and desperate and more than anything else, pathetic.

"I know you can," Luke admitted, and Lorelai wanted to ask what the problem was then. But Luke wasn't a man of many words that weren't part of angry rants, and he looked like he had more that he wanted to say, so she kept her mouth shut.

He ran his hand through his hair then readjusted his baseball hat. Finally, he came out with it. "But how many other guys did you make happy before you crushed them?"

Lorelai wasn't expecting that. "You want a number?"

Luke sighed. "No. That was rhetorical. Look what you did to Max. You're not safe."

Luke wasn't being vituperative. He was just pointing out the truth. And she knew it. Lorelai nodded. "I see your point. And I can't guarantee that I won't end up hurting you. But I think it's worth taking a chance. Don't you?"

Luke didn't say anything, and it was worse than any answer he could have given her.

Lorelai took a deep breath and was surprised to realize she could still breathe .Of course, it was all shaky and hitchy, but it was still fresh air. Unfortunately, she was breathing air that smelled like Luke because he was only ten inches away and he smelled good. She took a step back.

"Okay, well then, thanks for your honesty. I'll just be going now, because believe it or not, I don't feel like having coffee anymore, but you know, I'll probably be back here tomorrow. 'Cause I live here. Well, not here in this diner but I live in this town and I'll be bound to run into you from time to time. So that'll be fun." Lorelai took another breath because her words had come out in a rush. There was no Luke smell, and she was grateful.

Maybe, after a day or a week or some other unit of time, she would be able to look at him without her chest feeling like Dumbo had mistaken it for a stool. Maybe she'd get over him. After all, she'd kept her feelings hidden from even herself for so long, she could probably do it again. Lock them away somewhere and then lose the key. She was quite good at losing things. Remote controls, cordless telephones, sanity, and Luke.

Lorelai put her hand on the door, knowing the breakfasts and dinners to come would be some of the hardest. "Yeah, so I'll be seeing you." She opened the door. "Around," she clarified, because she wasn't 'seeing' Luke as in 'dating' Luke,  that was the whole problem. "Seeing you around," she repeated, and walked out the door.

Luke watched the door shut, saw her through the window as she disappeared into the night.  He turned his back, and almost dropped the cup he'd been holding when he saw Jess lurking in the doorway to the kitchen. Jess hadn't been upstairs earlier; he'd probably come in the back door. Luke made a mental note to lock it, in an effort to prevent future heart attack inducing situations.

"What are you doing here?"

Jess held up a plate. "Stealing pie."

Luke knew Jess had probably heard the whole thing, so he didn't bother asking him how long he'd been standing there. "Don't say anything. Just go."

Jess stabbed the pie with his fork and shoveled a huge bite into his mouth. Then he pointed the fork at Luke, and with a mouthful of half-masticated cherries said, "You're an idiot."

Then the damn kid had the nerve to disappear up the stairs before Luke had thought of something to say back to him. Luke decided that the next time the opportunity presented itself, he'd push Jess in the lake again.  

-end chapter 18-

Damn Luke wasn't being cooperative in this chapter. He kept denying me coffee until I agreed not to make him such a pushover. Bottom line: Blame Luke! Or El Nino, whichever you prefer.

And for my random meaning of life question from the previous chapter, give yourself a gold star if you said 42. Yay Douglas Adams! Too bad he's dead. And a gold star to you if you actually took the time to write an insightful belief. Go you for being deep!

Random observation: Boromir's cloak looks like they made it out of drapes. (Sorry- I got the extended edition DVD for Christmas so I'm all in LotR mode. My favorite part is when Legolas walks on the snow. He's like an elfy Jesus.)