Author's note: I'm a huge fan of Lorelai and Luke, and particularly like the kind of father-daughter bond that has developed between Luke and Rory. This fanfic will delve into the relationships between all of these three characters and is set when Rory is 10.
As I'm an Aussie, I'm aware we spell some of our words differently to American English. I've done my best to change the spellings to US throughout, but please don't hold it against me if I happen to use the occasional 's' in place of a 'z' or something like that! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the fic (even if you think it sucks!), so please review.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Gilmore Girls and (sadly!) do not own any of the characters. I am simply borrowing them for fun :)
Lorelai bit down on her lower lip, watching her daughter apprehensively as she hung up the phone.
"How's your dad, kid?" she asked, the cheer in her voice disguising the uneasy feeling in her stomach.
"Fine," Rory answered glumly, her eyes downcast.
"He still in Chicago?"
"Yeah," Rory murmured, still refusing to meet her mother's eyes.
"Anything you wanna talk about sweetie?" Lorelai asked, having deduced enough from Rory's side of the 20-minute phone conversation to realize Christopher had let her daughter down. Again.
"No," came the hushed response.
"Girl of few words, huh?"
Lorelai knew better than to press her 10-year-old for information before she'd had a chance to absorb the blow that so often came following a phone call with her father. She watched as Rory slipped past her on her way to the porch swing, her shoulders slumped ever-so-slightly.
Running a hand through her hair, Lorelai sighed and wondered what Christopher had done this time to elicit such a response from her normally chirpy daughter. Cancelled a visit? Told Rory he was hitting the road on his motorbike again and didn't know when he'd next be able to call?
It was always the same with Christopher. He'd get her hopes up time and time again only to bring them crashing down, leaving Lorelai to pick up the pieces.
Lorelai left Rory to her own thoughts for a while, finally pushing up from the dining chair and making her way to the front porch wearily. Rory sat slouched on the swing, her feet kicking back and forth as the swing rocked slowly. Silently, Lorelai dropped down into the space beside her, drawing Rory's shoulders to her and stroking her hair softly.
"Hey," she whispered, letting her daughter bury into the warmth of her chest.
Rory let out a muffled sob, clutching at Lorelai's shirt and finally letting the tears flow hot and fast.
"Ssshhh, it's okay baby," Lorelai soothed, wishing there was something she could do to ease her daughter's pain. "I'm here. Mommy's got you."
They continued to rock back and forth, the swinging motion and whispered words of love eventually lulling Rory into a sense of calm. Stroking her daughter's back soothingly, Lorelai drew her head back and said softly, "So, wanna tell me what's going on? Maybe I can help."
Rory locked her blue orbs on Lorelai, her cheeks plastered with tear stains as she whispered meekly, "He's not coming." Ignoring the mix of heartbreak and anger warring inside her, Lorelai simply drew her daughter to her once again, uttering a quiet "I'm so sorry baby."
Rory had been looking forward to Christopher's visit for weeks. She'd excitedly told her school friends about his promise to visit Stars Hollow and was ecstatic at the thought of showing him around the town and through the house they'd purchased since vacating the potting shed. Most of all, she was looking forward to having him join in her school's Daddy Daughter Dance as well as the classroom activities scheduled in the lead-up to Father's Day.
Knowing his track record for failing to show up, Lorelai had urged Christopher not to get Rory's hopes up unless he was 100 per cent sure he could follow through on his promise.
I promise I'll be there Lor. It's gonna be different this time. I mean it; I've changed.
Christopher's false words echoed around her head, prompting the anger to bubble up inside her once again. Why did he continue to do this? How could he have such a blatant disregard for his daughter's feelings? Why did she let him do this to Rory time and time again?
Huddled in Lorelai's arms, Rory began to recount the phone conversation, a hiccup escaping every now and again as her tears slowly dissipated.
Lorelai wanted to kill Christopher for being so careless. For shelving his responsibilities, for depriving Rory of the father figure she so desperately wanted and for spurting lines about them all being together as a family one day. It was never going to happen. While Lorelai had stopped being a child the moment the strip turned pink, she wasn't convinced Christopher would ever grow up.
After a half hour spent soothing her daughter as she voiced her disappointment and frustration, Lorelai leaned forward on the swing, grasping Rory's arm as she said, "You know what? I think you could do with some cheering up. How about we walk into town and splurge on a slice of cake at Weston's? Or some ice cream with colored sprinkles!"
Rory shook her head but Lorelai could see the light had returned to her eyes somewhat. "Coffee at Luke's?" she asked with a sly smile, knowing her mother would shoot her down in an instant.
"Nice try, Gilmore. But no matter how upset you are, I'm not budging on the no coffee rule. You know the drill…you've still got a few more years to wait before you're allowed to turn into a caffeine fiend like me."
Rory giggled as her mother tickled her belly.
"We can go to Luke's but how about a donut or some pie instead?" Lorelai countered.
Rory smiled and clambered to her feet, extending her hand to Lorelai and pulling her down the porch steps.
The afternoon rush was in full swing when the Gilmores entered the packed diner.
Luke was nowhere to be seen as they stepped over the threshold, locating the only free table by the window. Sinking into a seat, Lorelai asked, "What's it gonna be sweet cheeks? Donut, Danish or pie?"
Rory deliberated for a few moments before answering with a smile, "Pie please. It looks like Luke has apple today."
Not a moment later, Luke emerged from the kitchen, his arms laden with plates and his trademark backwards baseball cap affixed to his head. After delivering the dishes, he collected the coffee pot and a mug from behind the counter and weaved his way amongst the crowd to their table.
"Hey, how's it going?" he grunted, nodding his head to acknowledge their presence.
"Oh, you know, fine. We're just making the most of a little mommy-daughter time while I've got a day off from the inn aren't we Ror?" Lorelai replied, giving Rory's hand a gentle squeeze across the table.
She smiled as she spoke but Luke couldn't help but notice it didn't quite reach her eyes. It also didn't escape his attention that she'd refrained from teasingly calling him Duke when he'd approached. Normally, the nickname drove him mental, but the absence of her usual banter had him worried.
"Everything okay?" he asked, studying Lorelai's face for any hint of despondency.
"Yep, fine," Lorelai assured him. "Just looking to order some pie for my number one girl here."
Though unconvinced, Luke nodded and wrote the order down on his notepad. "Coffee, I take it?" he asked, raising the pot he'd placed on the table.
"Thought you'd never ask," Lorelai answered, pushing the empty mug toward him.
"Pie for you too?"
"No thanks, coffee will be fine."
As Luke returned to the kitchen, Lorelai mentally calculated the cost of the order, assuring herself the little amount they'd ordered wouldn't eat into the weekly budget she'd set aside. While she'd recently been promoted to Assistant Manager at the Inn, much of the increased pay packet so far had gone toward medical bills after Rory sprained her wrist during a particularly animated ballet lesson at Miss Patty's. Her wrist had recovered quickly, but she'd needed an x-ray to be sure it wasn't broken and that combined with the doctor's visit turned out to be a fairly costly exercise, especially when Lorelai had only just gotten back on her feet after covering the costs of moving house.
Lorelai knew some of their financial pressure would be alleviated as she settled into the Assistant Manager role, but she was ever cautious of living within her means and not splurging too much on luxuries to be sure she could manage should Rory require another doctor's visit or should she need to hire a tradesperson if something unexpectedly broke at the Crap Shack.
Lorelai sipped her coffee in silence, finally steeling herself to broach the subject of Christopher's cancelled visit with her daughter once again. "So, I was thinking about the Father's Day activities at your school and I had an idea," Lorelai explained slowly. Rory's ears perked up, her eyes meeting Lorelai's with interest.
"Why don't I go in your dad's place instead? I can do all the activities just as well as he can and it'll be just like we always say…you and me against the world. We can show them our girl power!"
The edges of Rory's mouth turned up slightly, but the half smile was soon replaced with a worried frown as she began to wring her hands, fidgeting slightly.
"Thanks Mom, that's a really nice idea but I don't think it will work," she said softly, her eyes focused on her hands.
"Oh yeah? I don't see why not. Mr Kim is going to be working away that week so Lane's uncle is going with her. And Andrew is going to be there with Holly from your class. He's not even related to her so it won't matter if it's not solely dads in attendance."
Rory sighed. "Andrew's only going because Holly and Lisa are twins. Their dad will be there for all the activities…it's just that he couldn't dance with them both at the same time. Andrew's his best friend so he's helping out with the Daddy Daughter Dance," Rory explained.
"Well that's okay honey. The point I was trying to make is that not everyone will be dancing with their dad, so you won't have to feel out of place."
Rory didn't say anything for a few moments, unsure of how to phrase her thoughts without hurting her mom's feelings.
"I know…it's just that…umm…well…Lane's uncle and Andrew…they're not real dads but….well…they're not, you know…um….girls," Rory finished lamely, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment. "It's the Daddy Daughter Dance so it kind of needs to be a boy. But maybe I can just pretend I need to go to the bathroom when it's on. Mrs. Foster probably wouldn't notice I was gone. And you and I can do all the other activities together."
Lorelai felt her stomach clench at Rory's words. The last thing she wanted was for her daughter to feel embarrassed or ostracized.
"Oh hon, I understand if you don't want me to dance with you, but I also don't want you to feel like you're missing out. I know how much this dance means to you. You've been practicing so much at home."
Rory's eyes welled with moisture and she looked down quickly in the hope Lorelai wouldn't see the tears returning. She'd never heard her mother say anything negative about her father, but Rory could sense her disappointment each time he called to say he'd have to cancel another visit or to apologize for forgetting her birthday. She didn't want Lorelai to know just how sad she was that her dad couldn't be there.
Before they could say another word, Luke appeared from the table beside them, coffee pot and pie in hand. He seemed to realize something was upsetting the Gilmores, and took a moment to tell Rory a story about Kirk being chased up a tree by a barking cocker spaniel while out delivering catalogues. Lorelai was grateful for the distraction, silently thanking Luke for lightening the mood and making her little girl giggle.
After Luke returned to the counter, Lorelai sipped her coffee in silence, watching Rory as she devoured her slice of pie. She had a sneaking suspicion the flower-shaped sprinkle of cinnamon sugar adorning the top of the pastry hadn't been carefully sprinkled onto every pie-loving customer's order today. She'd felt a rush of gratitude toward Luke when he'd placed the plate in front of Rory. Her daughter's eyes had lit up and she'd smiled her million-watt smile for the first time since her phone call with her father. It didn't take much to please her.
After finishing her pie, Rory noticed Lane and Mrs Kim out in the square and asked Lorelai if she could pop outside to say hello. Lorelai nodded, reminded her to look for cars when crossing the street and watched her through the giant glass window as she made her way toward her best friend.
Lorelai felt Luke's presence behind her rather than heard him and glanced up to see him gazing after Rory as she neared the gazebo.
"On the house," he grunted, placing a donut with pink icing and sprinkles on the table in front of her. "Rough day, huh?" he added in a low voice.
Clutching her coffee mug in both hands, she let out a shaky sigh and gave a half smile. It wasn't often she showed weakness, but for a brief moment, Luke recognized a hint of vulnerability in her eyes. Less than a second later, her fierce resolve had returned, masking any chinks in her perfectly constructed suit of armor.
"How'd you know?"
Luke simply gave a shrug of his shoulders and turned his gaze back to Rory. "She okay?"
"Yeah, she will be."
Luke cocked an eyebrow, encouraging her to go on.
Luke gave a grunt of acknowledgement, the muscle in his jaw twitching as she mentioned the name of Rory's noticeably absent father. Despite having never met him, he wasn't particularly fond of the guy.
"He…uh...was supposed to be coming to visit Rory next week for Father's Day. The school has all these activities planned and she asked him to come weeks ago. He promised he'd be there but he called this morning to say he can't make it."
"Oh, I'm sorry. That's really rough. Did he at least have a good reason?"
Lorelai gave a wry smile. "He told Rory he scored free tickets to some sporting game and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Can you believe that?" she asked incredulously.
Luke clenched his fists by his sides. He wanted nothing more than to find Christopher and put his head through a wall.
"That piece of scum!" Luke fumed. "You know it's just as well he didn't step foot in Stars Hollow because I swear to God, if I'd laid eyes on that jerk, he sure as hell wouldn't be around to tell the tale once I was finished with him."
Realizing he'd let his anger get the better of him, Luke looked down at Lorelai and began to apologize for his outburst.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry Lorelai. I know he's Rory's father. That was really inappropria…"
"No need to apologize," Lorelai said, cutting him off. "You're preaching to the choir. Believe me, I have a few choice words I'd like to say to Christopher at the moment and they're not very ladylike."
At Luke's smirk, Lorelai gave a brief smile, comforted at the thought there was somebody, hell anybody, on her side.
"You know the worst part of it all?" Lorelai confided quietly, staring into her coffee cup. "It makes me realize I'll never be enough for her, you know? I can pick her up, dust her off and tell her how much I love her every time he breaks another promise, but I'll never be everything she needs. She deserves so much more Luke. I'm doing all I can just to keep a roof over our heads, let alone be both a mom and a dad to her. It's not enough, it will never be enough."
Luke sensed she wasn't done with her confession, so he simply placed a reassuring hand on her arm and waited patiently for her to continue.
Sucking in a rattled breath, she said, "In the past, I've been able to step in wherever Christopher couldn't; you know, fill those shoes. And today I offered to take his place in the Daddy Daughter Dance at her school but she told me I couldn't do it because all the other kids were dancing with dads or uncles or whatever and it would be weird to have her mom up dancing because I'm a girl. She's been practicing for weeks and is unbelievably excited, but today she asked if she could hide out in the bathroom while it was on, rather than dancing with me. I get it you know? I'm not upset with her for thinking that, but I guess it's just really hit home that I will never be all she needs. My love for her isn't enough. The opportunities I can provide her aren't enough. No matter how hard I try, I will never be enough." Lorelai's voice shook as she finished speaking, but she refused to let the tears pooling in her eyes escape down her cheeks.
"Lorelai…," Luke began, but was cut off by a teenage Caesar screaming from the kitchen for Luke to help.
Luke tried to wave him off but after hearing his panicked babbling about a pressure cooker being ready to explode, Luke was forced to turn on his heel, Lorelai urging him to go.
By the time Luke had managed the kitchen crisis and calmed Caesar down sufficiently, Rory had returned to the table where her mother was seated. He watched as Lorelai plastered a false smile on her face, her shoulders back in her usual fearless pose, listening to Rory babble on animatedly about her catch-up with Lane minutes before.
As he quickly tended to the various requests for coffee refills around the busy diner, Luke tried to collect his thoughts and quickly formulate some kind of response that he could say to Lorelai to show he cared without alerting Rory to their previous conversation. Before he could form the words, Lorelai and Rory rose from their chairs and approached the counter where Caesar was manning the register. Trying desperately to extract himself from a conversation with Babette about Taylor's latest ridiculous law, Luke watched as Rory stood on her tiptoes and handed over a few dollar bills from her mom's purse.
His eyes caught Lorelai's from across the room, silently pleading with his friend to understand how highly he thought of her as a parent.
Lorelai gestured to the donut display, silently mouthing 'thank you' as she followed her daughter out of the diner.
He hadn't seen her all day.
It wasn't that unusual. As a single mother with mortgage repayments, she didn't have much spare cash to spend, so she ate at the inn more often than she dined elsewhere, treating herself to his coffee a few times per week and even the occasional burger with Rory when funds allowed.
Hell, he would have let them eat at the diner for free every day if he thought she would accept it. As it was, it was hard enough to get her to accept a muffin or a coffee on the house. Yesterday had been a rare exception. He didn't push the issue; she liked to pay her own way and he respected that — admired it, even. He just wished she'd accept help a little more often.
Each time the bells on the door rang to signal a new arrival, his eyes would dart to the entryway, searching for her raven hair and laughing blue eyes. By the time the dinner rush rolled around, he was convinced she wasn't coming. She rarely ate out late on a weeknight, conscious that Rory needed to get to bed early in readiness for school the following morning. The Gilmore girls didn't do so well with early morning starts.
After working his way around the room topping up cups of coffee, Luke spared a quick glance at his watch. 7.50pm. Casting an eye around the busy diner, he noticed everyone had been served and was enjoying their meal. If he was quick, he could make it to Lorelai's house and back before the post-dinner coffee and dessert crowd filed in. He dumped the rag he was holding and poked his head into the kitchen, letting Caesar know he was heading out and would be back shortly.
Bypassing the beat-up old truck he'd inherited from his dad, Luke set off toward the Crap Shack on foot, anxiously going over what he wanted to say in his mind while also questioning his sanity. Was he really doing this?
Looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was around, Luke silently walked over to Taylor's perfectly manicured lawn, stealthily plucking a fragrant rose from his front garden. Knowing Taylor, he probably has CCTV footage of me doing that and I'll never hear the end of it, he thought with a grimace. Picking up the pace, he jogged the couple of blocks to the Gilmore residence, pleased to see the lights were on inside.
Lorelai heard a knock on the door right as the timer buzzed on the oven announcing the Tater Tots were ready. Eager to see who was at the door, Rory jumped from her seat at the kitchen table and headed for the foyer.
"You know the drill babe," she heard Lorelai call from the kitchen. "Safety first my precious one. Only open the door if it's someone we know and trust. Or The Bangles. Or someone that's exceptionally good looking."
Rolling her eyes at her mother's antics, Rory peeked outside finding Luke waiting patiently on the front porch. She opened the door to him, a shy grin adorning her face as they exchanged greetings.
"Are you here to see my mom? She's almost finished in the kitchen," Rory explained.
"Actually, I'm here to see you if you've got a minute?"
Rory nodded, encouraging Luke to go on.
After pulling the Tater Tots from the oven and setting them on the counter top, Lorelai poked her head into the foyer to check on Rory and see who their guest was. She spied Luke pulling a beautiful pink rose from behind his back, then crouching slightly at the knees to meet Rory's eye height.
"So, I…uh…I heard there's a special dance happening at your school next week. Is that right?" Lorelai heard him ask, his voice soft.
Rory nodded, her brow creased in confusion.
"Right. Yeah. Well, um…I wanted to ask you — and you can, you know, say no if that's what you want because I'm not the best dancer in the world — but I wondered if you would do me the honor of being my dance partner?"
Taking a silent step into the foyer, Lorelai felt a fluttering sensation in her stomach, moisture pooling in her eyes as she watched her friend offer the rose to Rory.
Noticing the movement, Luke's eyes locked on Lorelai's for a moment, holding her shocked gaze briefly before giving her a fleeting smile and turning his attention back to the youngest Gilmore.
"Really?" Rory asked disbelievingly, her small hand reaching out to accept the flower.
"Really," Luke confirmed. "Although I should warn you, there's a good chance I may have two left feet so I can't guarantee I'll be a star performer. You might need to give me some tips."
Rory's grin spread from ear to ear. Shyness gone, she lunged at his waist, her arms outstretched as she squealed delightedly and said, "I would LOVE to be your dance partner Luke! Thank you for asking me!"
Lorelai felt like her heart would explode as she watched Luke return Rory's hug, patting her on the back a little awkwardly. Pulling away, Rory bounced up and down on her feet in delight and began to babble about the dance and how she'd have to teach Luke the steps. Catching sight of her mother, she started talking a mile a minute, making sure Lorelai had heard what happened. Lorelai oohed and ahhed appropriately, stroking her daughter's hair as she steered her shoulders toward the kitchen, encouraging her to get started on the Tater Tots before they got cold.
Turning her attention to Luke, she once again felt the tears welling in her eyes, and quickly forced down the lump that was fast forming in her throat.
"Luke, I…thank you," she breathed, her voice shaky for the second time in two days.
Shrugging, Luke looked down at his feet and murmured, "Don't mention it. Couldn't have her spending all that time practicing for nothing."
"No, really," Lorelai pressed. "You have no idea what that means to me. And to Rory."
"Actually, the whole squealing in the ear thing kinda gave her thoughts away," Luke chuckled, pleased to have been the cause of her happiness.
Lorelai laughed, bestowing him with a genuine smile. "If you think that's bad, wait until she's put you through your paces at the rehearsal."
Luke just smiled, unsure of what to say next.
"So, umm…I know you're more of a celery stick kinda guy but wanna join us? We were just about to devour the Tater Tots and watch an episode of Friends before Rory heads to bed."
"I um…thanks, but I actually need to get back. I left Caesar in charge so if yesterday's pressure cooker incident is anything to go by, then the diner's probably on fire by now," Luke said with a rueful smile.
"Oh, sure, of course. You should definitely get back. I can't see smoke on the skyline yet, so with any luck you should make it there in time to douse the flames before it gets too out of control."
Holding one another's gaze, neither made a move to leave until Rory appeared in the foyer, a bowl of Tater Tots clasped in her hands.
"You gonna watch Friends with us Luke?" she asked excitedly.
Tearing his eyes from Lorelai's he turned to Rory and shook his head. "I'd love to Squirt but unfortunately, I've gotta get back to the diner to finish my shift. Maybe I could take a rain check though?"
Rory nodded vigorously, adding, "Yeah, maybe you could come around one night so I can show you the dance and we could watch an episode then."
"If your mom's okay with that, then I think it sounds like a plan," he agreed with a smile.
Full of excitement, Rory bounced off into the lounge room, preparing to hit play on the video.
"Well I guess I better…" Luke trailed off, gesturing in the direction of the diner.
"Yeah, I guess so. Thanks again Luke, that was really sweet of you," Lorelai added, following him out onto the porch as he descended the stairs. She watched his muscular form as he retreated across the lawn into the night. When he reached the perimeter of light shining from her porch, he turned back to face her, softly calling her name.
Without a word, their eyes connected. He looked down at his shoes briefly before returning his gaze to hers and uttering, "About the other day…at the diner? For what it's worth, I think you're more than enough."
A moment later, he turned on his heel and strode back toward the diner.