My contribution to the A Gilmore Christmas Advent Calendar by alspancakeworld on Tumblr.

In memory of my own late father. 1949-2005.

Not the daughter you wanted. Not the father I needed. But we loved each other the best we could. Merry Christmas.

I've been in a crappy mood all day. Most people that frequent the diner would think that isn't unusual, since my tolerance for bullshit is generally hovering around non-existent. But today especially sucks, because it is two weeks until Christmas, both of my parents are in the ground, and my sister called this morning, right on schedule, begging for money. I give in, like I always do, because I want to make sure Jess has warm clothes and something to eat, and she swears to me that she'll take care of it. I don't know how many times I've threatened to call child protective services on her, but she tells me they're fine. I have to believe it, because the alternative makes me feel so much guilt I want to stab myself.

It's cold and snowing, and while I generally don't mind that aspect of winter, today it's just another tick in a long list of things I can't stand. I throw myself into work for the early dinner rush. I'm the only one working tonight. I don't expect it to be very busy because of the cold, not to mention more than half of the town is doing a variety of Christmas-themed activities, from the annoying bell ringing idiots to the insane Christmas pageant people.

Thanks for Christmas

I'm taking care of some tables by the window when I notice that Lorelai has walked in, stirring feelings of elation and irritation inside of me simultaneously. I'm always happy to see her, but then, it hasn't been that long since I saw her down the street, kissing some guy that looked like he had a giant stick up his ass. I know that she doesn't owe me anything. I haven't given her any indication we have more than a diner-customer-and-sometimes-friend relationship. I feel guilty for being irritated that she might be seeing someone, and the whole self-loathing cycle just grinds into my already sour mood. I'm walking back from the tables by the window with the coffee pot, already anticipating from the look on her face that she needs some.

"Rory coming?" I ask, pouring the coffee, hoping she'll say yes, because it will give me more to focus on than just her.

"No," she says shortly.

My mood is downgraded into suspicious concern. "She on a date?" I ask, sensing her displeasure at wherever Rory is.

"No," Lorelai says, and I am increasingly worried about the lack of words pouring out of her mouth. Typically, she walks in with her lips flapping and it takes me a good 30 seconds for my brain to catch up.

"Good," I say, trying to get her to open up a little. "So you've forbid her to see the bag boy."

"I'd really rather not talk about it right now," she says wearily.

"Just tell me you forbid her to see the bag boy."

"I did not forbid her to see the bag boy," she replies.

"Are you crazy?" I demand, only exaggerating a little. Rory has dreams of Harvard and I can tell that kid barely dreams of Jeannie.

"Well, he looks like he's moving up to produce, so he's suddenly become quite a catch," she says sarcastically. Finally, I'd managed to crack open her monosyllabic shell. God, the work.

"That kid is trouble," I reply instead.

"Can I order please?" Lorelai asks, sounding frustrated.

I'm not ready to let her retreat just yet. "First time I looked at him, I thought he was trouble," I declare, and she rolls her eyes at me.

"Excuse me?" she says, "I'm the one who told you I thought he was trouble, and you told me you thought I was crazy."

I nod. "You are crazy. And he is trouble."

"He is not trouble!" she cries, tossing her hands up. "He's 6'2", he's beautiful, and he's completely in love with my daughter."

"Trouble," I repeat.

There's a beat where she kind of sags a little in defeat. "Big time," she agrees, sighing.

Figuring it's time to let up a bit, I nod. "I'll get your burger," I say, and start to turn toward the kitchen.

"Wait," she says, and I stop mid step, turning toward her again. "Can I see a menu?" she asks.

"You need to see a menu?" I ask in disbelief.

"Yes." She nods decisively.

"You come here everyday," I protest. Day in, day out, she and Rory order the same things practically on a schedule.

"I know, but I usually order the same thing, and tonight I'm in the mood for something a little different."

"A menu?" I repeat, incredulous.

"Piece of paper, list of food offered." The sarcasm is back, and I feel victorious for distracting her from her somber mood.

"Okay. Here." I hand her a menu, and she stares at it, as if not even seeing anything. "It's not in Japanese," I say impatiently.

She looks up at me. "Don't you have any kind of holiday special? Something festive?"

I never order anything special because it's just going to end up spoiling and hurting my margins. This town doesn't exactly have refined tastes. "I just got some Grey Poupon," I offer, "It's French."

"Tonight's my parents' big Christmas celebration," she says wistfully, and I know she's finally confessing to the reason behind her charming mood. "There's good food, these amazing apple tarts, big tree. It's the only holiday I actually enjoy going over there for and this year, I'm uninvited."

"Why the hell would anyone celebrate Christmas two weeks early?" I say immediately, and she looks a little offended.

"Did you even hear the part about me being uninvited?" she asks, looking hurt.

"To your parents' fake Christmas party?" I say.


"I did hear that," I confirm.

"Do you care?"

Good god, Lorelai, I think to myself. "Obviously you do."

"Yes, I do, and I don't know why."

I sigh, feeling like I am being transported from my diner to the set of Cheers. "You liked going…" I start, waving my hand in circles, getting ready to psychoanalyze her once again. No wonder she's never gone to therapy. She has me.

"I did," she agrees.

"Rory's there without you…" I continue, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes.

She nods. "She is."

"You and Rory aren't getting along right now and you feel bad at being separated during a time you usually share together," I finish up, knowing I speak too much from experience. Although it's been so long since Liz and I have gotten along I've almost forgotten what that's like.

"Wow," she says, looking somewhat impressed.

"Did I mention you come here every damn day?" I look at her and she hands over the menu, still looking a little dejected.

"I'll have a burger," she says listlessly.

"Coming right up," I reply, and head to the kitchen.

I toss the beef patty onto the grill and grab the buns from the bag in the shelf above my head. I hate seeing Lorelai giving Charlie Brown a run for his money. I almost wish I do have some kind of festive special to offer her, something that might cheer her up for a little while. But I don't even know what constitutes festive in a diner. Pancakes shaped like Rudolph? Burgers that look like Santa Claus? The moment I think it, the idea forms in my head and I groan as I reach for the cream cheese, because I know I am going to look like a complete idiot. Only Lorelai Gilmore could reduce me to becoming this sentimental schmuck. I hope she appreciates it.

Thank you for the love and happiness that's snowing down, all around

I slide the plate in front of her, and her expression makes all of the inevitable mocking completely worth it. She is lit from within.

"What did you do?" she asks, sounding a mix of surprised and pleased.

"You wanted something festive," I reply gruffly.

"You made me a Santa burger," she points out.

"It's no big deal," I insist, waving a hand dismissively.

"He has a hat and everything," she says, giving me the first genuine smile I've seen on her all night.

"Yeah, I just cut a piece of wonder bread, you know, poured a little ketchup, piped on a little cream cheese." I wave my hand again, trying to downplay it, but I'm secretly pleased my lame attempt at festive holiday cheer has made her smile this brightly.

"No one has ever made me something quite this disgusting before. I thank you." She smiles again, and admires her burger for a moment.

I'm surprised that she doesn't begin to mock me mercilessly, so I just mutter a quick "You're welcome." Her phone rings, and in order to balance out the Norman Rockwell moment, I point emphatically to the No Cell Phones sign.

"What?" she gasps, incredulous.

"Outside," I bark.

"Are you kidding? It's like the North Pole out there," she says, lifting up her coat on the stool beside her to locate her bag.

"Hey, this sign isn't just a decoration," I say.

"Honey, nothing in here is a decoration," she says irritably, bringing to mind all of the times she's tried to convince me to update the decor in here.

"It disturbs the other customers," I reply.

"Oh, really?" she says sarcastically. "Maybe we should take a vote." Lorelai raises her voice to address everyone else in the diner. "Who thinks we shouldn't use cell phones in here?" Nearly everyone in the diner raises their hands. I don't bother to tell her that my early dinner crowd is made up almost entirely of Blue Plate Specials, I merely enjoy the shocked look on her face. "Well, screw democracy," she grumbles. The phone goes silent and she huffs. "Perfect, now I have to check my voice mail."

Before I can reply, a bunch of lunatics burst into my diner, singing loudly, and momentarily distracting me from Lorelai and her lack of phone etiquette. They are led by Taylor Doose, another eventuality that I've come to expect. Any loud, unwelcome intrusion into my diner is almost always his doing.

"Whoa, what's going on?" I ask, even though I don't think I want to know.

"Well, we were caroling around town and we got a bit chilly, and we thought maybe we could trade you a song for some hot chocolate," he says magnanimously.

"You want free hot chocolate?" I ask, irritatedly cutting to the chase.

"No, no, we'll sing for it, any tune you like," he says, his chest still puffed out like he was offering me a favor. Like hearing Taylor warble Silent Night could ever be valuable in an exchange of goods and services.

I cross my arms in front of me. "And then I give you free hot chocolate," I say again, and he deflates a little.

"Yeah," Taylor admits.

"Tell you what, you can have your hot chocolate, and pay for it, then go next door and sing for the marshmallows," I reply flippantly, knowing full well that Taylor would never accept minstrels in his own place of business.

"Oh my god!" Lorelai gasps, and suddenly Taylor's presence is gone from my radar. Lorelai's hand is pressed to her mouth, and I know whatever message she just got on her voicemail wasn't a happy one. Panic bubbles within me, as I begin to imagine all the horrible things that could have happened on the icy highway with Rory driving the Jeep alone. I just put snow tires on it and checked the oil, so I know that it's at least drivable, but it only takes one jackass on the road to cause an accident.

"These are your neighbors, Luke!" Taylor continues scolding, but I've already turned away from him.

"Shut up, Taylor," I snap. "What's going on?" I ask Lorelai. She still looks stricken.

"My father's in the hospital," she says weakly, and my heart falls to my stomach.

"What?" I ask, trying to get a sense of how serious it is. I blink back some incredibly vivid flashbacks, trying to keep my focus on her and not on fathers and hospitals and all that entails.

"Yeah, he collapsed or something. I don't know. I need a cab. I need to call a cab. Where's the phone? I need— Can anyone give me—" She looks down. "I'm holding a phone."

"Whoa, calm down," I say, knowing immediately it's the wrong thing to say but seeing Lorelai like this is freaking me out. Her jacket falls to the floor and I bend to pick it up.

"No, I can't calm down," she begins to babble, clearly losing it. "I need a cab. What's the number? God, it's something-cabs, cabs-something-something. 1-800-cabs? Can somebody tell me the damn number of the cab guy?" she yells, nearly hysterical.

"I'll drive you," I say decisively, and although she visibly relaxes a bit, she tries to refuse.

"But there's food and there's people and there's a burger with a face…"

She hasn't even finished talking before I've turned to face everyone else in the diner. "Okay, everybody out!" I start shouting. "We're closed, let's go. Food's on me." I turn to Lorelai. "Put on your coat and get your stuff." I shove the keys into Taylor's chest, and he stares at me, baffled and speechless for once. "Taylor, have your hot chocolate then lock up." I gesture to Lorelai, still standing there, looking lost. "Come on, my truck's out back."

"Luke, I'm—" she says, unable to finish her thought. I know what's she's thinking. She's scared, hopeful, nervous, and worried, but she can't vocalize all the myriad emotions roiling around inside of her. But I know, I've see that look in the mirror too many times not to recognize it.

"I know," I say. "Let's go."

Thank you for the winter friendliness that's snowing down, all around the world

We're silent as we begin driving toward Hartford. She listens to the message several times, and even makes me listen to it. Grandpa's in the hospital, please come, Rory's voice says shakily over the crackly reception. Her voice on the message sounds far away, but I know it's just that she's trying to keep her voice steady for her mom. My comprehensive knowledge of the Gilmore girls comes from not only seeing them every damn day in my diner, but from being roped in to their frequent shenanigans.

The first time I met Lorelai, she annoyed me. Of course I noticed that she was beautiful, but on the heels of another one of Rachel's departures, it irritated rather than titillated. Of course this woman, with cascades of brown curls, bright red lips, and piercing blue eyes, thought that because she talked fast and flipped her hair, she could get whatever she wanted from me. Whatever assumptions I made about her, however, disappeared the moment she thrust that crumpled piece of newspaper at me. It made me smile despite myself. I didn't even really expect to see her again, but again she came, a smaller version of herself in tow.

Gradually, we became somewhat friendly. She would ask questions that demanded responses, and unlike the usual small talk I was accustomed to with running the diner, she would ask these gently probing questions meant to draw me out of my shell. I pretended it was nothing, but she managed to get these tidbits out of me that I was amazed I'd divulged at all. At first, it made me resentful, but with each visit from these girls, I warmed to them more and more.

But I didn't fall in love with Lorelai until the first time I saw her vulnerability peek through. I don't know if she knew I was watching, but one time Rory's deadbeat father cancelled on them at the last minute, and I saw the wounded look in her eyes as she spoke to him over the phone. Minutes later, she stiffened her spine, pasted a warm smile on her face, and lied outright to Rory about why her father wasn't coming this time. But that look in her eyes, when she realized that once again she would have to bear the brunt of disappointment, captured me in a way that I didn't expect or want.

"Look!" Lorelai says, pointing at the cars passing us on the highway and jolting me out of my memory.

"Relax," I reply, keeping my hands firmly on the wheel and carefully maneuvering the truck on the roads. You never know when you'll hit a patch of black ice, and I don't want to be responsible for sending another Gilmore to the emergency room tonight.

"We're being passed by senior citizens," she whined.

"I'm going as fast as I can," I reply evenly.

"Bye, Grandma, bye," she says, waving her phone around.

"There's ice on the road," I remind her. "Those people aren't being safe."

"Well, maybe they're not being safe but at least they're getting somewhere," she huffs.

I hear her punching in the number to her voice mail again, and sigh. "You checked it five times already, I've listened to it twice, it's not changing."

"'Grandpa's in the hospital, please come.' No details, no info. Who taught her to leave a message like that?" she gripes.

"I'm sure she was in a hurry," I say. And she probably hung up before she could burst into tears.

"A person needs details. Why is he in the hospital? How bad is it? What are the circumstances involving him being in the hospital? These are simple questions!" she rails.

"We'll be there very soon and you'll know everything," I say, trying to reassure her.

"What if he's dead?"

"He's not dead," I say firmly.

"How do you know?"

"I know." I know because when your dad is dead, the phone call is very different.

"Oh, you're the psychic now?" she says snippily. "You're suddenly getting visions while you're driving 20 miles per hour in the oldest truck known to man?" She pauses, and collects herself. "I'm sorry, you're killing yourself to get me there and I'm yelling at you. I don't mean it."

"I know." I remember saying much worse when my dad was in the hospital.

She pauses for a moment, and when she speaks again, her voice sounds sad. "I feel like this is one of those moments when I should be remembering all the great times I had with my dad, you know? The time he took me shopping for a Barbie or to the circus or fishing, and my mind is a complete blank."

"Well, I'm sure it happened," I say gently.

"No, it didn't," she replies, shaking her head. "We never did any of that. He went to work, he came home, he read the paper, he went to bed, I snuck out the window. Simple." She sounds like a combination of angry and sad, and I don't think she wants my input so I stay quiet. "He was a very by-the-numbers guy. I was never very good with numbers."

I'm not sure what else to say to that. Lorelai and I had very different experiences with our fathers. "I'm sure he loves you."

She turns her head to look at me. "You know, my dad is not a bad guy."

I should be surprised by the way Lorelai's thought process skips around, but I've gotten used to it by now. "I'm sure he's not," is what I say.

"He lived his life the way he thought he was supposed to. He followed the rules taught to him by his non-fishing-non-Barbie-buying dad. He worked hard. He bought a nice house. He provided for my mom. All he asked in return was for his daughter to wear white dresses and go to cotillion and want the same life that he had." Her breath hitches almost imperceptibly, but I notice. I notice everything when it comes to Lorelai. "What a disappointment it must have been for him to get me."

I feel the pain behind her words. "I can't imagine anyone seeing you as a disappointment," I say, just thinking of all that Lorelai has accomplished as a young, single mom. Obviously, I'm biased, because of how I feel, but I think pretty much anyone in Stars Hollow would agree with me.

"I bet you'd buy a Barbie for your daughter," she says wistfully.

"Yeah, well, I'd probably give her the cash to buy it herself and meet her by the baseball cards," I joke, trying to bring a little levity to the situation.

"Hmm," Lorelai says softly. "You'll make a great dad."

Her words make my heart leap in my chest. I want to propose to her right that minute, offer to father any children she wants to have, make love to her every night until we are old with broken hips and dentures, but instead all I can say is, "You make a great mom."

She sighs, and says, "Yeah, it's just the, uh, daughter part I don't have down yet."

She looks dejected and miserable, and once again, I want to see her spirits rise. "Okay, hold on," I say. "That Camaro is dust." It's a compulsion, but once again I'm rewarded by the barest glimmer of a smile.

It's nearer, children's eyes shine clearer now

As they decorate the trees, all across the seven seas

We get to the hospital and ask the person at the first desk we come across where Richard Gilmore should be. Since we don't know why he is there, they find it difficult to help us. Eventually, they send us toward the ER/cardiac unit, with some vague directions about lines and desks and hallways.

"Okay, we're supposed to follow the blue line, around the corner, and then we should be—" I say, and we turn to see a dead end.

"Where's the scarecrow when you need him?" Lorelai says in exasperation, flinging her hands to her sides.

"Okay, we have to ask someone else," I say, but Lorelai cuts me off.

"No! No! We just have to pick one!" she shouts, gesturing madly down two separate hallways.

"Ah, well, can't just wander around here aimlessly," I tell her, trying to be the reasonable one.

"Luke, listen to me," she says, clearly losing her mind. "Somewhere in this hospital are my mother and my father. Now, I know I don't get along with them, but there has to be some sort of intuition, some sort of blood bond that will somehow lead me to them!"

"That's crazy," I reply, thinking of all the times I got lost in this hospital trying to find my own dad, with whom I was, without a doubt, more closely connected to than Lorelai is to her parents.

Suddenly, from down one of the many halls, we hear a woman's voice that sounds like a carefully cultivated mix of furious and haughty, and I know it has to be Lorelai's mother. "My great uncle founded this hospital—" we hear, and Lorelai immediately snaps to attention.

"And that's Emily," she says, and we both take off in the direction of the voice.

"You insensitive paper peddler! His portrait is hanging in the lobby, go look. It's right above the sign that says Founder!" she screeches.

Lorelai and I rush around the corner to see Mrs. Gilmore berating a woman wearing hospital scrubs. "Mom!" Lorelai cries.

"Lorelai," Mrs. Gilmore says, eyes widened in shock.

"What's going on? How is he?" Lorelai cuts through the nurse's station like she owns it, and I follow behind her. One of the nurses gives me a dirty look, but I half shrug and keep going.

"You came," her mother says, as if Lorelai hadn't just asked her a question.

"Well, of course I came," she replies. "How's Dad?"

Mrs. Gilmore huffs. "That's what I've been trying to find out but this woman keeps pestering me with idiotic questions like 'what's the number of my insurance policy and how long have we had it'."

The nurse addresses Lorelai. "I need to get this information."

"You need to get sensitivity training!" Mrs. Gilmore barks, with no sense of irony.

"Well," Lorelai says to the nurse, "what if I fill out this information and you can go find someone who can tell us how my dad is?"

"I'm not supposed to—" the nurse begins to protest.

"Or, I could go and you can stay here and continue to discuss this with my mother," Lorelai replies, clearly knowing which way this is going to go.

With only a tiny hesitation, the nurse replies, "I'll go."

"Thank you," Lorelai says, and the nurse disappears through the double doors. She turns to face her mother, and I realize briefly I've never seen two women more evenly matched.

"You got rid of her," Mrs. Gilmore replies in awe.

"Yes, so tell me what happened."

"That's amazing," she continues, once again not listening to her daughter. I'm starting to get an idea of how their entire relationship functions, and how Lorelai is not exaggerating when she vents over some pie and coffee after those Friday night dinners she now goes to.

"Mom, please," Lorelai presses, clearly frustrated.

"I don't know what happened," she finally responds, her attention now fully on Lorelai. "He was hot and he went to turn down the thermostat and then—" Mrs. Gilmore notices me finally, and I offer a tentative smile. "Were you on a date?" she asks suddenly.

"What?" Lorelai says, as surprised as I am by the sudden inquisition.

"You have an escort," Mrs. Gilmore says.

"No, it's Luke, Mom," Lorelai says.

I hope I don't visibly flinch. "Which is her way of saying we weren't on a date," I say.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that," Lorelai says to me, which barely cushions the blow.

"Well, how am I supposed to know you weren't on a date? It's Friday night, and you show up here with a man!" The way she says it, it sounds like even if we had been on a date, then it would automatically be sordid.

"With Luke, Mom," Lorelai says again, the emphasis sounding like it would be nonsense for anyone to consider us romantically involved.

"It's not insane to assume a date was involved," Mrs. Gilmore says, not letting up.

"You're right, okay, it's entirely possible that I was out on a date," Lorelai replies, annoyed.

"Just not with me," I cut in.

"I was eating at Luke's when I got the message," Lorelai barrels on. "He gave me a ride, end of story. Is Dr. Reynolds here?" I'm half amused by her attempt to deflect her mother's attention off of us and our non-date.

"Yes, Joshua got here a while ago. He was supposed to come back the minute he knew something but he hasn't been back yet," Mrs. Gilmore says in frustration.

"Well, let's go find him."

"You can't find him! You can't find anyone! Everyone just keeps disappearing behind those doors!" Mrs. Gilmore cries dramatically.

"Well, come on, let's go," Lorelai says, and turns to charge through the double doors, once again like she owns the hospital.

"I didn't know you could do that," Mrs. Gilmore replies in wonder as she follows Lorelai.

"I'll wait here," I say out loud, pretty much to myself. I sit down in the stiff chairs that face the nurse's station, ready to wait for whatever I'm needed for. I've barely sat down when Rory walks up to me, her arms full of newspapers.

"Luke!" she says, surprised, as she comes up the hallway.

"I gave your mom a ride," I tell her, wanting to head off whatever she might overhear Mrs. Gilmore say later. "We weren't on a date."

"Oh, okay," Rory says, without further questioning.

"She and your grandmother just went back to see if they can find a doctor."

"Did they find out anything else about Grandpa?" she asks, sitting down in the chair beside me.

"I don't think so, but give your mom a couple of minutes back there, I bet she finds something out." I don't want to say it out loud, but I know that once Lorelai gets her mind set on something she either annoys or flirts her way into getting what she wants. I should know, I'm her primary target.

"Thanks for bringing her," she says quietly.

"You're welcome." I tap my knuckles against her knee. "Hey, you okay?"

"I don't want him to die," she admits, and her voice reverts to that little girl voice I remember so well. It hasn't been that long since she was inviting me to caterpillar funerals and twirling around with fairy wings on her back.

"Well, you tell him that when you see him, okay? People like to hear that."

Right then, she looks past me and cries "Mom!" I turn back toward the double doors as Rory jumps to her feet, and runs to her mother, encircling her in a fierce hug.

"Hey, you!" Lorelai says, winding her own arms around Rory tightly. "Hi!"

Rory pulls away. "It was horrible!" she says, eyes wide. "It happened so fast!"

Lorelai still has a hand on Rory, and I'm just watching as Rory seems to visibly relax in her mother's presence. "They're about to bring him out of the big test room any minute so just hang in there."

"Where's Grandma?"

"Kicking some patient out of the room with the good view."


"I hope they get him unhooked fast, otherwise he's going without the life support machine," Lorelai says with a forced chuckle.

"So how long before they bring him back?" Rory asks, barely even blinking at the behavior of her grandmother.

"Very soon," Lorelai says reassuringly.

"I'd like to do something," Rory says, looking thoughtful.

Lorelai looks perplexed. "Like, uh, rollerblade?"

"Like get some coffee or make phone calls or do something that isn't standing here waiting," Rory replies, gesturing with nervous energy.

"Okay, go for it. Well, as partial as I am to the phone, I'm voting for the 'get coffee' idea."

Rory seems cheered at the idea that her grandfather seems to be fine and that she has a task at hand. "Okay, good." She turns to me. "Luke? Tea?"

"Ah, peppermint preferably," I reply, touched that she remembered.

"I'll be right back," she says.

"Hey," Lorelai calls Rory back just before she walks away. She steps closer, and I can just barely hear her whisper, "He's gonna be fine."

Rory looks sad. "I was just getting to know him."

"I know."

"I don't want him to—"

Lorelai shakes her head. "He's not. Go, get your coffee." We watch Rory disappear around the corner and she flops onto the chair beside me that Rory had been in minutes before. "Oh man," she sighs heavily.

"You're very brave for her," I say, trying to sound encouraging.

"Yeah, well, it's my turn. God, this sucks."

"Hey, come on," I say. "You gotta think positive here. Bright side, good thoughts. Rainbows, unicorns, little cute… furry… okay, I'm out," I finish lamely.

"Thank god," she murmurs. Before I can say anything else, Mrs. Gilmore rushes back through the doors, and stops in front of us.

"Alright, we've secured him the room, but the pillows are completely unacceptable. I'm gonna see if I can find him some down ones and some slippers. I'll be right back."

"We'll be right here," Lorelai offers, although Mrs. Gilmore isn't even listening to us as she whooshes past. Or at least, I don't think she is, because at that moment, a patient on a gurney is wheeled past, and I get hit with that sick person hospital smell, and have to take a deep breath to ward off the flashbacks. "Geez, are you okay?" Lorelai asks, as I cover my face with the back of my hand.

"Yeah," I say, trying to swallow the bile threatening to rise. "I'm just not real big on hospitals. You know, the smell, people being wheeled by with tubes sticking out of them, you know, drainage, fluids, gaping holes—"

"Okay, listen," Lorelai says softly. "Why don't you go home?"

I look at her. "You want me to go?" The idea of leaving her here hadn't even occurred to me.

"You don't look so good," Lorelai says.

I scoff. "Thanks."

"That's not what I meant," she backpedals. "You know you always look good."

"Yeah?" I ask, a slight smile curling my lips. Good, huh?

"I mean you always look healthy," she says, looking slightly embarrassed.


"But you don't look so healthy now. Now you look—"

"Unhealthy," I supply.


"Okay," I repeat, unable to stop from smiling a little at her discomfort.

"Oh, so what?" she grumbles. "So I said you look good. We're not in 5th grade. 'You look good', big deal." She huffs. "Stop staring at me."

The smell hits me before I see the next patient being wheeled by, and I can't stop myself from muttering "Oh, geez."

"See?" Lorelai retorts. "That's what you get for being cocky."

The next gurney that wheels past has Mr. Gilmore on it, looking pale and lethargic. Lorelai jumps to her feet and I follow her immediately. "Uh, how is he?" she asks, worriedly. The two of us walk behind the gurney, following them down the hall into an area with patient rooms.

"He's a little groggy right now," the orderly replies.

"What's going on? How are the tests?" she continues, practically jogging alongside.

"The doctor will have to tell you that, I'm just the transport guy."

"When is the doctor coming out?"

"I'm not sure but you can go in with your dad until he gets here." The orderly wheels Mr. Gilmore into a room.

"Thanks," she says, but doesn't follow.

"Go ahead, I'm good," I say, but she still doesn't move.

"That's okay, uh, I'm gonna go find my mom and Rory and tell them he's back up."

"I can tell them when they get here," I point out. Behind Lorelai, I see Mrs. Gilmore opening the stairwell door.

"That's okay, uh, I think they'd like to know now." She turns and nearly slams into her mother. "Ah!" she cries in surprise.

"Lorelai, you almost ran me over," her mother reprimands.

"Well, good thing we're in a hospital," she quips.

"Where were you going?"

"To find you, they just brought Dad up."

"When?" Mrs. Gilmore demands.

"Just now."

"Well, how is he? Did you talk to him?"

"No, not yet. I was coming to find you."

"Well, come on," Mrs. Gilmore says.

"You go ahead, Mom, I'm gonna go find Rory."

"Fine," Mrs. Gilmore replies tersely, disappearing into the room.

"Okay," Lorelai sighs, and she stands in the hallway nervously.

"You know, I could look for Rory," I offer, starting to see what's going on here.

"No, that's okay. I'll do it," she insists.

"I thought so." I turn around to see Rory walking up behind us. "Hey, look. It's Rory."

"The coffee machine was jammed, so I got us some chicken soup and some Pez," Rory says, holding up her bounty, the newspapers still jammed underneath her arm.

"I was just coming to look for you," Lorelai says, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes.

"Why, is everything okay?" Rory asks, eyes wide.

"They just brought Grandpa back up. He's in room 202."

"Well, come on," Rory says cheerily, urging her mother to follow her.

"You… go ahead. I just — I have to make a call." I narrow my eyes at Lorelai. I know she's lying.

But Rory doesn't notice. "Well, hurry up," she says, and disappears through the same door Emily did.

"I'll meet you there," Lorelai calls after her. She shifts her weight from foot to foot and I step a little closer.

"So who are you gonna go find now?" I ask her.

"Stop," Lorelai snaps.

"How about Jimmy Hoffa?" I say. "That'll keep you busy for awhile."

"I said stop," she says again, looking pained.

I jerk my thumb in the direction that both Mrs. Gilmore and Rory went. "You can't avoid going into that room forever."

"I'm not avoiding anything. I'm going to find coffee." She starts walking backwards away from me.

"The machine's jammed," I remind her.

"Well, there are other machines."

"Admit you're afraid," I say.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," she insists.

"The truth hurts."

"No, you know what hurts? Having a screwdriver jammed in the side of your head."

"What?" I ask. She points behind me, and like an idiot, I turn, to see exactly what she just described. My stomach turns. "Oh my god!" I groan, turning on my heel, trying to burn the image out of my head.

Lorelai disappears down the hall and I wander to over to sit in the chairs outside Mr. Gilmore's room. I'm not sure what I'm waiting for. Lorelai told me I could go, but I still feel like I should stay. I don't know why. I hate hospitals. I hate what they represent, about how the last thing my Dad saw was the four walls of his room. I'm not sure how long I'm sitting there, hunched over with my head down, when Rory comes back out of her grandfather's room.

I don't even realize she's there until she speaks. "Where's Mom?"

"Looking for coffee," I reply.

"What are you doing?"

"Staring at my shoes."

"Okay," Rory says, and I can hear a hint of laughter in her voice, although she's too nice to show it. "Carry on." She stands there for a minute, then she walks off in the same direction that her mother went. I look up, but at that moment another patient is wheeled by and I have to look down again, willing the nausea to pass.

The last time I was in this hospital was the day that my Dad passed. We had just celebrated Thanksgiving the week before, and the next morning he stumbled into the kitchen and told me it was time. I blanketed myself in denial. I told myself that he would make it past Christmas. Instead, a week later on November 30, 1989, I sat in a chair beside the bed and watched helplessly as he struggled for air.

Liz didn't make it in time.

It's nearer, yule log fires burn clearer now

I start staring at the ceiling in order to change things up a bit, but when I hear the door to Mr. Gilmore's room open, I straighten up.

"Oh, hello," Mrs. Gilmore says, as she steps out of the room.

"Hi," I say, silently berating myself for not being more of a people person.

She gestures toward the empty chair beside me. "If you don't mind, I think I need to just—"

"Oh, sure. Sit, please. How is he?" I feel like I've already redeemed myself from my social inadequacies.

"Oh, you know… he's— I don't know." She's holding a tie in her hand, and running it between her fingers repeatedly, like it's a child's favorite toy or a talisman, something that she can draw strength from.

"It's a nice tie," I say, trying not to be awkward.

"It's Brooks Brothers," she says.

I nod, pretending I know what that is. "Ah."

"It was bothering him tonight. I told him not to loosen it. I wanted him to look nice for our guests, so he didn't. And then, well… The paramedics took it off him on the way here. I just haven't been able to put it down yet." She sniffles and looks away. "I must sound crazy."

"I've kept my father's entire store just the way he left it," I say, trying to reassure her, although I don't know how my complete lack of forward momentum would ever console anyone.

"Really?" Mrs. Gilmore asks, and to my surprise, she sounds interested.

"Well, I turned it into a diner, but I kept all his stuff on the walls, his pictures in the office, even the 'Hardware' sign."

"I'm sure he would've appreciated having his life's work being honored like that," she says, smiling slightly.

"He would've called me a damn fool," I retort. I know he would have, because he told me to sell the building and I refused, and those were his exact words. You're a damn fool, Lucas, he said. This, coming from the man who wasted no time in getting rid of every possession that reminded him of my mother, but never really moving on.

"Oh. Well," Mrs. Gilmore replies, slightly taken aback. She swallows, and takes a moment before speaking. "I don't know what Lorelai's told you about her father. I can certainly imagine, but he's a very good man." She sounds choked up, and I'm surprised to see this kind of vulnerability from her, after all Lorelai has told me, after what I've witnessed tonight with my own eyes. "He always did the right thing for his family," she says thickly.

"That's what she told me," I reply honestly.

She nods silently, and then takes a deep breath. "So what exactly is going on between the two of you?" she asks, and I shouldn't be surprised we are back to this, but I am.

"Nothing," I say, and she gives me that look, like she knows I'm bullshitting her. "Really," I say, holding my hands out in front of me, "We're friends, that's it."

"You're idiots, the both of you," she sighs, and I have no idea what she means by that. But I can't dwell on it, because Lorelai and Rory both walk up to us at that moment. "There you are, where have you been?" Mrs. Gilmore demands.

"Coffee hunt," Lorelai replies glibly. I see no coffee cup in her hands, but I say nothing. "So what's going on?"

"Your mother called me an idiot," I offer.

"Wow, you must have sucked up good," she says.

"Well, I'm going to go wash my face," Mrs. Gilmore says, and she puts a hand on Rory's shoulder, a silent command for her to follow. For a moment, I wonder if that is code for something, but I decide not to worry about it, because Lorelai is standing in front of her father's room, hesitating.

"So whatcha gonna do?" I ask gently. She stands there, looking at me, like she really can't figure it out. I nod toward Mr. Gilmore's room, a silent encouragement.

"Okay, well, I'm just gonna…" she says slowly, pointing toward the door, dragging her feet.

"I'll be here," I say, trying to give her an extra push to go in. She takes in a deep breath before she turns the knob to open the door and disappears inside. I know that seeing her father is going to be emotional for her, and I want to give her a few minutes of space. I head down the hall looking for some coffee. The machine may be busted, but I peek inside a couple of open doors. Finally, I see a half-full pot of coffee, so I duck in and pour her a mug from the carafe. There isn't anything to put in it, so I have to give it to her black, but I know she'll drink it anyway.

"Emily, I promise, it'll be routine testing and observation, but I'm very optimistic we're just crossing T's and dotting I's at this point," I hear a man's voice say as I start back toward Mr. Gilmore's room. I follow the sound of the voices back to where I started, and get back to where the chairs are just in time to see Lorelai step out of the room, looking like she's about to crack apart into pieces.

"I heard, everything's okay," I say, walking over to her.

"Yeah, yeah," she says. "They're going to keep him overnight, but — but's he's going to be fine." Her face crumples and she starts to cry, which makes me uncomfortable, but somehow she falls into my arms and that feels right.

"Hey," I say, trying to soothe her, rubbing my free hand over her back as she sobs on my shoulder. "Okay, see, here's where the guy is supposed to give the girl his handkerchief but I don't have one. And plus, I find the practice a little revolting, so…"

"No, I'm okay," she says, pulling away, sniffling and wiping the tears from her eyes.

"You sure?" I ask, wanting to make sure. Almost wishing she were still pressed to me.

"Yeah," she nods.

"Alright." I remember the coffee in my hand. "Oh hey, I got this for you."

"Ah, where'd you get that?" she asks, still sniffing and trying to pull herself together.

"Nurse's lounge," I say.

"Uh-huh," she replies, a touch of disbelief in her tone.

"What? You're not the only one who can flirt," I say conspiratorially, and she laughs. "The door was open," I admit.

"Thank you," she says, taking a gulp from the cup, and although I can still see unshed tears in her eyes, she does look a little better.

"Anything else I can do?" Hold you some more?

She looks up at me gratefully. "Could you take Rory home?" she asks.

"Yeah, sure," I say, nodding. "What about you?"

"I'm gonna stick around here for awhile and make sure everything's settled, you know. You take her and I'll drive the Jeep back."

"Okay," I agree, and although I hate the idea of leaving her here, I have to agree that Rory needs to get home and get some rest.

At that moment, Rory comes back out of Mr. Gilmore's room. "He's gonna be fine," she says, and the relief in her voice is palpable.

"Yeah, yeah. I think it was those financial papers that really did the trick." They titter over some private joke, and then she turns to include me in their conversation. "So, um, Luke's gonna take you home, okay? I'm gonna hang out here for awhile."

"I'll stay, too," she says immediately.

"No, go. Call Dean. Talk mushy to each other and then spend an hour arguing over who's going to hang up first."

"You are gross," says Rory, and I have to agree, although I admire the ease with which Lorelai can tease her daughter about this kind of thing.

"I'll call you later," Lorelai says to Rory.

"Okay, well, tell him goodbye for me. And tell Grandpa I'll come back tomorrow." Rory hands her mother the keys to the Jeep, and gives her a kiss on the cheek.

"Okay, I will. Bye."


I give Lorelai a little wave as Rory and I start walking back towards the entrance in the labyrinth of hallways. "Okay," I say, "walk fast and look straight ahead."

Rory is too polite to make comments about how slowly I drive us back home. The silence feels like it's pressing in on us a little, because while Rory is not as vivacious as her mother, she is still exceptionally chatty. "How are you doing?" I ask, chancing a glance over at her. She's staring out the window, looking pensive.

"I'm okay," she replies eventually. She shifts a little against the vinyl seats. "Thanks for bringing Mom," she says quietly.

"Of course," I reply. "You already thanked for me that," I add.

"It just means a lot," she says. When I glance her way again, she's looking at me with a slight smile. I smile back, and we're quiet for the duration of the drive.

In the winter's frosty air, sing with us and we can share our

Thanks for Christmas

I close a little earlier than normal the next night. More than half of the town is busy with the rehearsal for the Christmas pageant, and there's a game on tonight, so I've already closed down the grill and I'm wiping up the tables. I haven't locked the door because sometimes Lorelai will come in late, just as I'm closing, demanding the dregs from the pot of coffee. She doesn't know that I make a pot fresh near the end of the day, hoping she'll stop by. She likes it strong, so I brew it to her taste, which is convenient because it still tastes like it's been out for hours. If she's ever noticed, she's never let on.

My wish is granted when I hear the bell ringing above the door, and I look up from wiping off a table. "Hello!" she says cheerily. She's holding a gift bag in her hand.

"Hey," I greet her. "How's your dad?"

"Better. Though he says that life is not life unless it includes a steak." I chuckle. "How come you're not out with everybody?"

"I had some things to do," I say, which isn't a complete lie, because I do need to finish closing up before I can go relax in front of the game with a beer.

"Right. Anyway, um, this is for you." She hands me the bag. It has a snowman on it, although it's not as cutesy as I would expect from her so I assume it was recycled from last year. The woman doesn't throw away anything.

I peek inside. "What's it for?"

She shrugs. "Just thank you, Christmas, whatever."

"Christmas isn't for two weeks," I say, tossing the rag onto a table.

"Do we really have to do this again?" she gripes, and I place the bag on the table, pulling out the tissue paper. I lift out a blue baseball cap. I pull off the hat I'm already wearing and bend the bill slightly on the new one. "I just thought, you know, god forbid something happens to that one, you might need a spare. Here." She holds out her hands for it, and I hand it to her. She puts it on me, with the bill facing the front, and grimaces. "Does that look wrong," she says, and I laugh slightly at her expression. She turns the hat around to the way I typically wear it. "There!" she says happily, and I grin back at her. Before I can thank her, her attention is pulled toward the goings-on outside. "Oh, hey, turn out the lights," she says, going over to the window.

"For what? It's not the real procession, it's just the rehearsal," I point out, although I'm halfway across the room to the light switch anyway.

"So?" She pulls up the blinds to get a better view. "It's pretty."

"And why do they need to rehearse it?" I ask. "It's the same thing every year."

"Come on, Luke. Please?" I flick off the lights and walk over to stand beside her at the window. "It's hard to imagine living somewhere else, isn't it?" she says, almost dreamily. I find it slightly odd for her to be saying that, since she did live somewhere else, for nearly two decades of her life, while I've lived in this town since I was only a whispered conversation between my parents.

"Thanks for the hat," I tell her.

"You're welcome. Look's good on you."

I smile, as the compliment once again slips past her internal censor. "Good, how?" I murmur, turning to look at her.

"Just watch the procession," she replies dryly, rolling her eyes. There are a few beats of silence between us as we watch the rehearsal, and I am about to offer her a cup of coffee when she turns to face me suddenly. "I'm sorry if I offended you," she blurts.

"What?" I ask, and reach up to touch the hat on my head. "The hat is great, I like it," I assure her, but she shakes her head quickly, her hair swishing back and forth.

"No, no, about the date," she says, and she looks up at me, her forehead creased with a concerned frown. "About you and me, being on a date or not being on one. To my mother, when she asked if we were on a date and I said we weren't, but I didn't mean to imply that I wouldn't ever date you. Because I don't think you are undateable or anything! I'm sure you're very dateable. You look dateable." She pauses to take in a breath, her eyes still on mine.

"Uh," I reply, and inwardly kick myself at my lack of eloquence.

"Just please, don't be offended, okay?" She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes.

"Not offended," I manage to reply.

Her shoulder falls slightly, and her smile turns into one of relief. She nods, looking down at the floor. "Well, I'm going to go," she says, and adjusts her jacket slightly. As she takes a step toward the door, I grab her hand. She stumbles slightly, and I catch her other elbow to steady her.

"I look dateable?" I ask gruffly, and her head snaps up, startled.

"Y-yes," she whispers, her lips parted. I feel my dick twitch slightly at the way she is looking at me, and I know I have crossed the line. I can't go back now, consequences be damned. Maybe it will be a Christmas miracle, two weeks early.

"Good enough for you?" I ask, my hand traveling past her elbow to her arm, resting just below her shoulder.

"Yes," she breathes, and I bend my head down to press my lips to hers.

Thank you for the love and happiness that's snowing down, all around

The moment our lips touch, it is explosive, and yet warm and safe. I wrap my arms around her tightly, tilting my head to deepen the kiss, and she responds instinctively, opening her mouth to me and letting our tongues crash together. I can feel her hands on my back, with one reaching up into my hair, knocking the cap right off. We stumble around, one of the tables skidding against the linoleum, and a chair or two falling with a crash. I want to devour her, and I am already pushing against her jacket, trying to get as little between us as possible. I am about to have her right there in the diner, except at that moment there is a large thud against the diner windows, and we both jerk apart. I turn to see what caused the noise, only to see Kirk pressed up against the glass, both palms flat against the window.

"Get out of here!" I yell, waving my arms, and, disappointed, he slinks off, turning back once to make sure that Lorelai and I haven't gotten back to business before he disappears into the crowd across the street.

"I should go," Lorelai says quietly, but we stand there, staring at each other, neither of us making a move.

"Okay," I reply, just as quietly.

"Rory," she explains with a shrug, still not moving.

"Okay," I repeat. The seconds tick by, both of us frozen. "Can I take you to dinner tomorrow?" I blurt out, trying to put an end to our standstill.

A huge smile spreads across her face. "Okay," she says, and I smile back. Still standing in the darkened diner, a few feet apart, grinning like idiots. But then her grin disappears, and it's like she's remembered something. "Shit," she murmurs, and I get a flash of fear. "I— I'm seeing someone," she admits, and I remember Mr. Stick-up-his-ass.

"Oh," is all I can say. I can taste the disappointment in my mouth.

"Listen," she says, and although I want to tell her to just go, I don't. "I'm going to go home, but we'll talk tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay," I say.

"Just… Tomorrow," she says, and after a flash of a smile, she's gone. I don't watch her walk away. Instead, I flip the lock, and pour the coffee down the drain. I'll wash the pot out tomorrow. Right now, I just want to go upstairs.

Thank you for the winter friendliness that's snowing down, all around the world

I have to admit that I'm surprised to see Lorelai fairly early the next morning. I expected her to avoid the diner for a few days until the night before had a chance to recede into a fuzzy memory, and that we would go on as before, pretending the kiss had never happened. But no; instead, she comes in and sits down at the counter right in front of me. When I push the mug in front of her and fill it with coffee, she wraps her hands around it and looks up at me. "If you still want to have dinner tonight, I'm free," she says quietly, and I'm stopped in my tracks.

"What?" I ask, thinking I must have misheard. Or at least, misunderstood.

"I'm free," she says again, and looks at me directly in the eyes. "Free as a bird. Free and clear. Ain't got no strings, and the rest of it."

I face her fully, and bend forward so I can lower my voice. "Do you mean…?"

"Yes," she says, unequivocally.

"But, are you sure?" I ask, completely taken off guard. "Are you sure this isn't… too fast for you?"

"Luke," she says softly, and I can see warmth in her eyes. She smiles. "It wasn't even a debate," she says, and I can't help but return her smile.

I clear my throat. I need to make sure she's not just saying it, that it's really true. She left here pretty late last night, and it's barely 8 in the morning. "So, what, did you leave a message on his machine or something?"

She scoffs. "Please, Luke, what kind of person do you think I am?" Then she rolled her eyes, and looked away. "He was unexpectedly awake later than usual last night grading papers," she admits. I snort, and she giggles a little.

"Okay, so, tonight," I say, just making sure one final time.

"Tonight," she agrees. "Eight? I have some work to do at the Inn today that will keep me a little later than usual."

"Eight sounds good," I say. She leans over her cup toward me, and I lean in a little more.

"I told Rory we might be having dinner tonight," she says, and jerks her chin like I should get what she's implying. That she told Rory that we were going on a date.

"Ah," I say, and more than anything, this tells me that Lorelai is sure about us after all. "What did she… say?"

Lorelai shrugs. "She wasn't surprised."

"She wasn't…" I say, trailing off. Then I decide to let it go. Babette or Patty have probably been birdies in her ear for years. They've certainly been a pain in my ass about it.

Once Lorelai finishes her coffee, she smiles and waves, and with a casual "see you later!" she's out the door. Everything already feels different.

Not long after Lorelai's departure, I need to rush upstairs to get something out of the safe, so I'm surprised that in the few minutes that I'm up there, there's a knock at the door. "Come in," I call back, twisting the lock closed again and getting to my feet.

Rory is standing there, looking pensive and worried. "Hey," she says nervously, shifting her weight from foot to foot, an exact replica of how her mother looked when she was waffling over going into Mr. Gilmore's hospital room just days before.

"Rory," I say. "Was I expecting you? Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," she says. "Can we… talk?"

"Sure," I say, frowning slightly. Despite how much our lives have intertwined since her mother started frequenting the diner, we've never just talked. "Sit down," I say, gesturing to the kitchen table. I toss the empty zippered bag I use to transport cash on the table and pull out a chair. She sits gingerly, her hands clasped together and her head bowed. "What's going on?" I say, finally.

"Mom told me that you guys are going on a date tonight," she says, and I close my eyes. Oh no.

"Are you… upset about that?" I ask, my tongue feeling too thick for my throat. This is awkward and uncomfortable and I really don't want to be talking to Rory about this, but I can't send her away or tell her to talk to her mom. She came to me for a reason, so I wait for her to respond.

There are a few long moments of silence. I open my eyes, making sure she hasn't left, and finally she kind of shakes her head. "No, I just… wanted to make sure."

"Make sure?" I echo.

"Yeah, it's just that…" She pauses, then lets out a big sigh. She looks up, and I see her blue eyes are wide with worry. "Grandpa was just in the hospital, and you know that my Dad hasn't really… been around," she begins, and I just listen, waiting for her to get to the point. "I just… don't know if I could handle losing you, too," she says.

"Why would you lose me?" I ask softly, touched that she considers me as important as her dad or her grandfather.

She shrugs. "I mean, it's bad enough that Mom dated my teacher and now they're broken up. What if you guys…?" She stops talking, and her head falls forward again, her eyes returning to her clasped hands.

"Rory," I say, waiting for her to look up again. When she finally does, I continue. "Even if your mom and I don't work out, I will always be here for you. And her. Okay?"

"Are you sure?" Her words begin to tumble out in a rush. "Because I've heard that it's hard if you're dating someone and things go badly, and then you don't want to have to see that person anymore—"

"Rory," I say again, and I can't help but smile a little, because she is so sweet and young, and I wish I could be that young again. "Your mom and I are friends first. No matter what. Okay? I promise."

"Okay," she says, and she chances a slight smile.

It's dawning, Santa's reindeer yawning now

All their festive work is done, filling houses up with fun

I send her home with cookies and a to-go cup of coffee, feeling a warm fuzzy feeling in my chest that I haven't felt in a long time, maybe ever before in my life. It's almost like I'm Ebenezer Scrooge, finally seeing the joy of Christmas after being blind to it for a long time, although the feeling makes me uneasy at first and I make sure to snipe at Taylor at least once to balance the scales.

The rest of the day passes in a kind of blur. Customers have to struggle to get my attention, and after I break a third plate, I call in Caesar early to finish out the day. Then I'm upstairs, trying to figure out what the hell to wear, where the hell am I going to take her, and how the hell this even happened.

I'm pawing through the back of my closet when I come across an old leather jacket that belonged to my Dad. I swallow hard, remembering that he bought it the last Christmas we were together. It was unseasonably cold that year, so he bought this jacket, the fleece lining meant to keep him warm. We didn't know it then, but he'd be gone in less than a year, the cancer already eating away at him, making his strong body more susceptible to the New England winter.

I sit down hard on the edge of my bed, holding the jacket and inhaling the familiar scent. Spending the evening with Lorelai and Rory in the hospital the other evening has been weighing on me, all the memories of Dad that I try not to think about flooding in. I sometimes wonder what he would have thought about Lorelai, about how I take care of them. He always thought family was important.

I slip the jacket on over my sweater. When I pull the truck up outside of Lorelai's house, she's already waiting on the steps, holding a mug of coffee, bundled in a black coat with a bright blue scarf that matches her eyes. When she slides into the cab beside me, her fingers immediately begin to caress the cool leather.

"Classy," she says. "I like the look." I simply smile at her, and we're off, leaving tire tracks through the snow in our wake.

It's dawning, here is Christmas morning now

Greatest day of all the year, listen out and you will hear our

Thanks for Christmas

"You're just in time!" Lorelai squeals happily, yanking on my arm and pulling me into the house. I nearly drop all the bags in my hands, but, like magic, Rory appears at my side and takes most of them, disappearing into the kitchen. Lorelai cranes her neck in the direction Rory went, then moves to her tiptoes to give me a kiss. "Hey," she says, in that playful sexy voice I've gotten to know and love in the two weeks that we've been together.

"Hey," I reply. She steps back, and then we go into the kitchen, where Rory has already unpacked most of what I brought.

"You know, when Mom suggested burgers and fries as a new Christmas Eve tradition, I was skeptical, but I peeked inside one of the boxes and you did not disappoint, Sir Luke!" Rory says, an onion ring already in her hand.

Lorelai turns on her heel to look at me, her eyebrow raised, then she rushes over to lift the lid on one of the takeout containers. "Oh my god!" she says, and when she looks up, she has a huge smile on her face. I can't help but smile back, shoving my hands into my back pockets, waiting for her to open the other one. "Did you get one, too?" she asks Rory, opening boxes at random, finding the cheese fries and the onions rings.

"How do you know that's yours?" Rory retorts, and Lorelai shoots her a look.

"I'm the girlfriend, of course I get the Santa Burger," she says flippantly. She opens the box I've been waiting for her to open, and she throws her head back with laughter. "Ohhh, yes," she says, and tilts the box so that Rory can see. They both giggle. "See? Santa is mine. Mr. Elf is all yours, little girl."

"What's the green stuff?" Rory asks, crinkling her nose slightly.

"Uh, it's cream cheese," I say, before Lorelai can answer with something gross. "I just put a few drops of food coloring in it."

"Oh." Rory looks at it a moment, then swipes her finger through it, lifting the taste to her mouth. She smacks her lips a few times, then shrugs. "It's not bad," she says. She falls into a chair and places her Elf burger and one of the chili fries boxes in front of her. "Shouldn't you have Mrs. Claus?" Rory asks, stabbing her fries with a fork. "What's Luke going to eat?"

"Luke is going to eat a very festive turkey sandwich on whole wheat," I say, which happens to be in the bag that I am still holding. I set it down, and Lorelai pulls up her own chair.

"Okay," Lorelai says, squishing her Santa together to make a very unappetizing mess, "so after we eat, I thought we could catch the next showing of the A Christmas Story marathon, and we'll finish the night with It's a Wonderful Life as usual, but first, I found the most amazing thing to ever air on television during the holidays." Lorelai wipes her hands and reaches over to the counter to pulls out a VHS tape with ON THE 2ND DAY OF CHRISTMAS scrawled in red ink on the label. "This is a Lifetime movie about a pickpocket and a mall security guard who fall in love at Christmas."

"Perfect," Rory mumbles through a mouthful of food. Once she swallows, she adds, "Where did you find that?"

"I apparently just recorded a ton of TV movies a couple of years ago and I was sorting through them and came across this gem. The security guard is a real cutie, I think that actor is going to go places." I clear my throat, and Lorelai looks over adoringly. "Doesn't hold a candle to you, babe," she says generously.

"So do you do this every Christmas Eve?" I ask, arranging my sandwich in the box and grabbing some french fries from Lorelai's overstuffed plate. "Watch movies all night?"

"Pretty much," Rory says. She gets up to go to the fridge, and pours us all a glass of eggnog that I hope to god was purchased recently. I pick up my cup and take a hesitant sniff, and Lorelai shoots me a dirty look. "When we first started, I think we just watched the cartoon ones, but It's a Wonderful Life has been part of the line-up for as long as I can remember."

"It's a classic," Lorelai agrees. "That tradition predates Rory. My parents used to travel during the holidays and when I got old enough to be left behind with a maid or nanny, I used to plop down with leftovers in the den and watch TV all night."

"What kind of traditions do you have, Luke?" Rory asks. I'm surprised at the inclusion.

"I don't really have any," I say, shrugging.

"What about kid-Luke? Did he have any fun Christmas rituals?" Rory presses, and I am touched by her curiosity.

"Well," I say, trying to think. It's been a forever since I spent any time thinking about my childhood Christmases. "My dad wasn't the most, ah, demonstrative person ever. He was pretty quiet and stoic," I begin.

"I see the family resemblance," Lorelai interjects, grinning.

"But he loved Christmas," I continue, and I feel slightly wistful. "He would always get up before everyone else, banging around in the kitchen, singing Silver Bells in that deep baritone of his. There would be bacon sizzling on the stove and he'd fry up eggs to go with them. Liz and I would get up and see all the stuff under the tree, dumping out our stockings while my mom made hot cocoa on the stove. Then we'd go to church and walk back home through town, looking at the decorations in the square." I sigh, staring at the half eaten sandwich in my hands. "After my mom died, my dad attempted going through the motions, but it wasn't the same. Liz got annoyed with the early wake ups, and we didn't make the cocoa anymore."

When I look up, both Rory and Lorelai are staring at their own food, looking sad. "Hey," I say, and reach over to squeeze Lorelai's arm. They both look up, and I smile softly. "It was a long time ago. I'm ready to make some new traditions." Lorelai returns the smile, and does that little head ducking thing she does when she wants to shift from sentimental to silly.

"So, it's a love story between a security guard and a kleptomaniac?" Rory says, breaking the somber mood.

"No, a pickpocket," Lorelai clarifies, and the subject is officially changed.

It's such a shame it's only one day every year

By the time we've made it through all three movies, it's pretty late. Rory stretches her arms behind her head and yawns loudly. "I'm going to bed," she says sleepily as the credits roll. She pushes herself upright, and almost staggers to her room. "Don't stay up too late, guys," she calls back to us, disappearing down the hall and into her bedroom.

"I guess I should go," I say quietly, but Lorelai snuggles closer.

"Actually," she says, nuzzling her head underneath my chin. "Rory and I talked it over, and we think you should spend the night."

"Spend the…" I say, pulling back to look into her eyes. She's sleepy, too, but I don't know if her heavy lids are from tiredness alone or if the Irish coffee I made her has anything to do with it.

Her fingers entangle with mine, and she looks up at me with earnestness. "We agreed. You are an official Gilmore. Plus, Rory has already put in her order for breakfast."

I shake my head slightly, unbelieving. "I don't know if I… I mean, this is your thing, I don't want to…"

"Please?" she asks sweetly, squeezing my hands slightly.

"I didn't come prepared," I say, gesturing towards my clothes.

"Funny you should mention that," she says, then gets up. Crouching down to her hands and knees, she grabs a flat rectangular box and pulls it out from beneath the tree. It's not wrapped, just taped shut. "I bought you some pajamas," she says, smiling as she gets back to her feet. "And there's an extra toothbrush and duplicates of the toiletries you have in your bathroom at the apartment. A Luke sleepover kit, if you will." She shakes the box at me, but starts backing up toward the stairs. "Everything you need, if you come unwrap it."

"It's hardly wrapped," I point out, getting to my feet and following her. "You just taped the box closed."

"I didn't say this what was needed unwrapping," she says mischievously, then runs up the stairs. I'm hot on her heels, being mindful to keep my steps as light as possible so as not to disturb Rory. When we get to her room, she tosses the box on the bed and turns to face me.

"Are you sure?" I ask, already feeling my pulse throbbing all over my body. I step closer, and she begins unbuttoning her pajama top, and I see a peek of red lace inside.

"I'm sure," she says, and I lean forward to kiss her. She pulls me to her, grabbing my shirt in her fist. It's all still so new. She's been in my bed twice since that night we first kissed, and the shock of it all hasn't worn off yet. She gently spins us around and pushes me to sit on the bed, standing in between my knees. I go to rest my hands on her hips but she evades my grasp, stepping backwards.

"What are you…" I ask, and she closes her bedroom door and flicks the lock.

"Just in case," she shrugs. Then, she stands in the middle of the room, holding my gaze, while she slowly unbuttons the rest of her shirt. I swallow hard as she reveals the rest of her lingerie. It's all lace, and I can see her rosy pink nipple right through it, already erect and tempting. She pushes down the drawstring pants, and her sex is covered in matching lace, also transparent. Her pajamas are now in a pile on the floor, and she steps out of them, and comes closer. Her chest is hitching slightly, and she looks a little nervous. This is the first time I've watched her undress. Both times before, we were impatient, not even bothering with the lights as we stumbled towards my bed, getting each other naked as quickly as possible. "So," she asks quietly, and I can tell she's waiting for my approval, which both excites and mystifies me. She doesn't need my approval, even though she would have it, whether naked or fully-clothed.

"You're beautiful," I say, and my voice sounds full of wonder. She smiles softly, and looks down, but I reach over and slide my hands up the sides of her legs toward her delicious ass. My fingers slip underneath the lace of her panties, and I'm uncomfortably hard inside the tight material of my jeans. I pull her closer, and press my lips to her stomach, just above her navel, inhaling the sweet scent of her skin. Her fingers slip underneath my hat and she gingerly removes it, placing it on her night stand almost reverently. I look up at her, and there's something new between us. I don't know if it's because it is Christmas, or because earlier I shared memories about my family, but there's nothing about this that is merely carnal.

She pushes me down so that I'm laying back against the bed, and I watch silently as she unbuckles my belt, and removes my jeans. She pulls them down and over my feet, slipping my socks off at the same time. I start to unbutton my flannel shirt, and soon her fingers join mine, and we work together pushing the buttons through the worn holes, and I slip my arms out of the sleeves as she pushes up the cotton shirt I'm wearing underneath it. She takes a moment to just slide her warm hands around my skin, until her eye catches something on my shoulder. "You have a tattoo?" she asks, her voice husky, and I can tell she is just as aroused as I am.

"Yeah," I say, as she climbs up on top of me, her hands drifting to caress the ink-stained skin.

"Tell me later?" she asks, looking down at me with a curtain of curly hair framing her face.

"Anything," I say, which is the most truthful I've ever been in my life. She bends down, and kisses me again, and I reach up to hug her body to me, splaying my hand across her back. I feel the clasp of her bra with my fingertips, and toy with it a moment before undoing it. It falls between us and I toss it aside, needing to feel her skin. She grinds her body against mine and I feel like I'm floating, an otherworldly pleasure being here with her, the cool air of the night against our heated skin, and the friction of our movement both a delight and a torment.

My hand placed gently on the back of her neck, I carefully roll her over to her back, taking the time to places kisses alongside her cheek and neck, nuzzling her ear. She slides upward so her head is resting on the pillow, and I pull the blankets up to cover us. I lose track of time as we kiss languorously, hands wandering and bodies writhing. I am aware of her pushing down my boxers, and I tug at her panties, but from our position she needs to help push them down her legs to the foot of the bed. Then she's wrapped around me, her legs circling my hips and her warmth enveloping me, and it feels like we are just a throbbing mass of heartbeats and passion. I'm completely lost in her.

"Love," I murmur, and I barely know what I'm saying.

"Yes," she breathes, and it takes me a second to realize what just transpired between us. But before I can pause to take stock of the shift that just happened, her body squeezes me and she arches her back in a gasp, and I know she's just come, which takes over any reasoning processes I might have been having as I follow her over the edge. We're panting and sweaty, and she's clinging to me. I roll to the side, slipping out of her as we go, unconcerned about cleaning up right now.

"Lorelai?" I say in a whisper, not daring to open my eyes yet.

"Hmm?" she murmurs.

I hesitate. I want to be clear, but I don't know if this is too soon. I feel her hands caressing my face, and when I open my eyes she's gazing into mine, our noses practically touching. "Luke?" she asks, looking somewhat worried.

"Love," I finally say, unable to add in the other words.

She smiles. "Me, too," she says, and tucks her body against mine.

Three hundred and sixty-four days full of doubts and fear

You've been saving your love up, let it out, ''cause Christmas is here

When I wake up the next morning, it takes me a moment to realize that Lorelai is pressed up against me, and that we are still naked. She feels so warm and soft, for the first time in my memory I do not want to get out of bed. My bleary eyes can make out 7:50 on the alarm clock beside the bed, and I know that getting breakfast started now is probably the best course of action when dealing with two early morning Gilmores.

I slide out from under the covers, being careful not to wake her. She sighs slightly, and rolls onto her stomach, her hair covering her face. The box she teased me with the night before is lying on the floor beside the bed, and I open it carefully. I'm expecting some kind of crazy elf pajamas, something garish and loud and mockable, but I'm pleased to see she picked a dark blue thermal top with simple flannel drawstring pants. As she said, all the toiletries I use are nestled into the box, so after I put on the pajamas, I duck into the bathroom to brush my teeth. I'm about to slip out the door and go down the stairs, when I hear Lorelai tonelessly sing "Silver bells…", her voice muffled by the pillow.

I smile, and pad down the stairs, turning on the coffee maker and mixing the pancake batter. About 30 minutes later, Lorelai shuffles downstairs, clad in pajamas closer to what I expected to find for myself; little dancing Christmas trees and gingerbread girls, dotted with glittery snowflakes. Her hair is pulled back, and she looks at me with a sleepy grin.

"Barefoot and in the kitchen," she teases quietly, trying to keep her voice low in case Rory is still asleep. "Just need to get you pregnant," she says, and sidles up beside me, looping her arm around my waist.

"I think you have to be the one to cover that part," I say, and she chuckles against my shoulder.

"Maybe next Christmas," she replies, and immediately stiffens. "Um, I mean, that is—"

"Don't worry about it," I say, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. "A conversation for another day."

"Okay," she says, snuggling in closer. It may not be bacon and eggs and hot cocoa, but the scent of pancakes and coffee fill the air and I couldn't be happier.

Thank you for the love and happiness that's snowing down, all around

Thanks for Christmas