A/N: I wrote this over a month ago, and I'm only brave enough to post it now. Thanks to Skinfull for the beta and encouraging me to make this oneshot into a 3 chapter story. Stay tuned!
Also a reminder that you can find me on tumblr at meags09, where I frequently post snippets of future fics and reblog lots of great LL gifs. I'm always up to chat about Gilmore, writing, or the best order at Starbucks.
Lorelai was completely and utterly miserable. She stared blankly in front of her, not seeing anything. Sookie had insisted she take a personal day, so she'd gone through the motions, pretending to shop and do things that normally would have made her happy. Her shopping bags rested on one of the cafe chairs inside the Starbucks she was in, and she absently sipped at her coffee even though she could barely taste it. She didn't even know what was inside her shopping bags, she'd just tossed a few things at the cashier and handed her credit card over.
She had been on autopilot ever since she had woken up that fateful morning in Christopher's bed. And then she'd had to tell Luke what she'd done, and later he'd told her that they simply weren't meant to be. If she thought she'd been heartbroken before, it was nothing compared to how she felt now.
She didn't even know why she'd bothered to come inside the Starbucks. She typically stayed away from the chain, preferring smaller coffee shops with quirk and charm, but it was a step removed from her former life, and so it carried no painful reminders of the past. Setting down the cup, she stared at her hands a moment. Without the engagement ring, her hand felt naked. Everything felt wrong. She wished she was in a horrible nightmare and that soon she would wake up with Luke, warm beside her in their bed, snoring deeply. She missed the snoring. She missed the way he didn't rinse the hairs out of the sink after shaving. She even missed tripping over his boots in the foyer.
But before she could let the self pity wash over her any further, a blonde head did a double take in front of her. "Lorelai?" the woman asked, quizzically. Her head snapped up, and she looked right into the eyes of Nicole Leahy.
"N-N-Nicole!" she said, surprised. She knew that Nicole worked around New York, but had definitely not expected to run into her in one of the hundreds of Starbucks in the city. "Hello!"
"How are you?" she asked politely.
"Fine!" Lorelai said, flashing a large fake smile. "Never better! Bobby Darin could have written a song about how great I am. How are you?"
"Great," she replied, her eyebrows raised at Lorelai's over-the-top cheerfulness. "Getting married again," she said demurely, flashing a huge engagement ring.
Lorelai paled. Her lip quivered. She tried in vain to pull herself together. "Congratulations," she choked out.
"Lorelai?" Nicole said again, tilting her head. Lorelai shook her head, desperately trying to compose herself. Nicole sat down across from her at the small table, and reached for her hand. "Are you okay?"
Lorelai barked out a short laugh, although it almost sounded like a sob. With a shaking hand, she wiped furiously at her eyes. "It's nothing, I'll be fine," she replied shakily.
"Hey, I know we were never friends, but you are obviously not fine. Is it—" she paused "—Rory? That's your daughter's name, right?"
Despite herself, Lorelai smiled. Even though they had practically been rivals, Nicole still had remembered her daughter's name. "No, no, Rory's fine. She's going to graduate from Yale next Spring," she said, a hint of pride in her bright eyes.
"That's wonderful," Nicole said warmly. She pulled her hand back and took a sip from her cup. "You must be so proud of her."
"I am," Lorelai said, and then she sniffled. Changing the subject to Rory was helping her calm down, and she desperately didn't want to cry in front of Nicole.
"So, either you just get really emotional at the thought of weddings, or something is going on. If you want to talk or something, I'm here. I don't have anything to do with Stars Hollow anymore, I'd be like an impartial third party."
Lorelai raised her eyebrow. "I thought you were one of Taylor's lawyers?" she asked.
"Oh!" Nicole laughed. Lorelai took a moment to see her — really see her — and discovered that she had a nice laugh. She seemed really… nice. For so long she had wondered what on earth Luke saw in her, but for a moment, she finally saw it. "No, once the Soda Shoppe was completed, I actually switched firms. We thought that it would be best for everyone, conflicts of interests and all." Lorelai nodded. She assumed the timing had coincided with her marriage to Luke. She really didn't want to bring him up, so she didn't ask.
"I don't know if I can," she said instead. "Talk about it, I mean." She took a deep breath, and gazed at her left hand again.
"Were you married?" Nicole asked softly.
Lorelai looked up at her, and saw sympathy. She felt the pressure building behind her eyes again. "Engaged," she whispered. Lorelai blinked, and a few tears rolled down her cheeks. "I… I messed it up," she said, her eyes falling down again.
"Do I know the guy?" Lorelai looked up, and the look on her face said it all. Nicole's eyes widened. "Oh," she said, her cheeks growing pink. Nicole took a large sip from her cup, and then looked at Lorelai again, a look of contemplation on her face. "We need something stronger than coffee," she said, and stood up. She waited by the table, looking down at Lorelai.
Lorelai was speechless. What, was she going to get drunk with Nicole and talk about Luke? In what world was that a good idea? But the thought of going back home, back to the house they'd renovated and the bed they'd shared was too much. So she grabbed her bags and walked to Nicole's sensible luxury sedan, and got inside.
"This is a nice place," Lorelai said nervously, looking around. The bar was dark even though though it was still mid-afternoon. Dim lamps hung above the tables, and jazz music was playing. There were a few people in the bar, mostly overly-coiffed young people in designer suits. It wasn't really her style of bar, but it wasn't seedy or overly boisterous. A tall lanky guy dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt came up to their table, and nodded toward Nicole as if he knew her.
"Hey Danny," she said. "Two manhattans." She looked over at Lorelai, who nodded in agreement. "Make them doubles," she added. The waiter walked away without having said a word.
"Chatty guy, that Danny," said Lorelai.
Nicole smiled wanly. "He's had a tough life," she said. "He filed for emancipation a few years ago. Parents were addicts. I helped him pro bono."
"Oh," replied Lorelai, in shock. She realized again how little she knew about Nicole.
"It was Luke, actually, that encouraged me to take his case." Nicole looked away and smiled in remembrance. Lorelai felt her heart clench at the sound of his name. She wondered if it would ever get easier, if she would ever be able to say his name and smile. If she would ever hear his name again without seeing the look of pure betrayal on his face when she'd told him about Christopher, or the passive, unconcerned look when they'd unexpectedly met in the frozen food aisle. Nicole cleared her throat, and it brought Lorelai back to the present. "So, do you want to talk about it?"
Danny reappeared, and plunked their drinks in front of them unceremoniously before disappearing once again. Lorelai picked up her glass and took a gulp. "I think I need to be drunk first," she replied, with a sad smile.
Nicole smirked in return. She lifted her glass in Lorelai's direction. "To getting drunk," she said, and took a drink. They chit-chatted about their respective jobs, with Nicole giving a basic rundown of a few recent cases she had undertaken, and Lorelai talking about the Dragonfly and some of the events they'd held recently, studiously avoiding the man that linked them.
By the time Lorelai was on her third double Manhattan, her vision was slightly blurry and the words began to pour of her. "I cheated on him," she confessed suddenly, and Nicole's eyebrows shot up. "He wasn't in it, and I was heartbroken. So I slept with Rory's dad, Christopher."
Nicole's mouth dropped open, and she went to speak several times before she was able to form words. "I don't understand," she said. "I mean, the reason things didn't work out between him and me was because he was too in love with you to even pretend to make our relationship work." Lorelai snorted. "It's true," Nicole said defensively, "anytime you needed anything, he went running. Fix the porch, fix the garbage disposal, Lorelai needs a ride, Lorelai needs more coffee. Lorelai needs $30,000."
"I guess he told you about that," Lorelai said, slightly embarrassed.
"No, he didn't." Lorelai had been playing with the stem of her glass, and looked up curiously. "I found out during the divorce," she said. "You know, splitting of assets and all. There was a marked difference between his assets in the first set of paperwork and the second."
"Ah," Lorelai nodded in understanding.
"So, what happened?" Nicole asked, her tone softening. "Was he not what you wanted?"
"He was everything I wanted," Lorelai said sadly. She took another drink, the acidic taste of the alcohol burning her tongue. She pushed aside the glass. "Even things I didn't know I wanted."
"So, what happened?"
Lorelai paused, trying to think through the alcoholic haze she was in. "He has a daughter," she finally replied. "April. She's 13."
"Thirteen?" Nicole asked incredulously. "Has he been hiding her away or something?"
"No, he just found out less than a year ago." Lorelai looked around the bar. "Can we order some food?" she asked. "I don't think I can drink any more and I need something to do with my hands."
"Sure," Nicole said, her obvious curiosity on hold for the moment. She flagged down Danny again, and ordered some appetizers. After he'd left, she turned back to Lorelai, who was digging at her cuticles. "So, he has a daughter?"
"Yeah," Lorelai sighed. Then she laughed bitterly. "And he found out and then he didn't tell me for two months. We were engaged! I thought I deserved to know about something like this."
"That's Luke," Nicole said pointedly. "He doesn't tell anything to anyone."
"But I thought we were different," she said. A lone tear rolled down her face, but she didn't look up. "He didn't even want me to meet her. He completely shut me out."
The two women sat in silence for awhile, until Danny returned with the food. He placed two plates in front of them, and Lorelai perked up a little.
Nicole waited for a moment, taking small sips from her drink, not sure what to say. She let Lorelai eat for several long moments. Finally, she set her drink down and picked up a french fry. "Luke did the same thing to me," she said, after wiping her mouth with a napkin. Lorelai's head snapped up abruptly.
"He had another secret kid?" she asked skeptically, after swallowing the food in her mouth.
"No, he shut me out," Nicole replied.
Lorelai looked at her carefully, then nodded. "Yeah," she said softly. "So I guess we weren't meant to be either."
"Look," Nicole said, after she finished chewing, "I don't know if you are or not. I just know that our situations are scarily similar. I mean, things were great, we got married on a whim under maybe not the best circumstances, but then he just completely walled me off. I couldn't figure a way back in. And then he found out I was sleeping with a colleague, and there was no going back after that."
"The sock man," Lorelai replied, nodding.
"The sock man?" Nicole asked, puzzled.
"Yeah, Luke called him the sock man. Because one day after he spent the night at your town house he ended up wearing some other guy's socks." It was Nicole's turn to snort.
"I guess by that point I was so tired of it, I was looking to get caught. I wasn't very careful." Nicole gazed over at Lorelai. "My heart was broken, and I wasn't thinking very clearly. I really, really wanted to be with him. I wanted it to work."
"Did you love him?" Lorelai asked, not entirely sure she wanted to hear the answer.
Nicole paused, looking thoughtful. "I wanted to," she said. "He's really a good guy, deep down in there."
"I know," Lorelai whispered. She let her head drop into her hands, and she took a deep breath. She didn't want to cry here, in this strange bar in New York, across the table from Luke's ex-wife. The only thing she truly wanted was a way to go back in time, but even then she didn't know how far back to go. To before she went to Chris' place? To before she suggested to postpone the wedding? To before he found out about April? To before she proposed? Before the vow renewal and the first break up? Everything was so broken, she didn't even know when the first fracture had been.
"So he had a daughter and shut you out, so you went to another man?"
"Not exactly," Lorelai said hesitantly, dropping her hands to her lap. "When I found out about April, he kept saying it was all too much, with the wedding and everything. So I suggested we postpone the wedding, never dreaming he would actually take me up on it."
"But he did," said Nicole knowingly.
"He did." Lorelai sighed deeply. "And then he kept pulling away. We renovated my house to live there together but he never moved in. After we postponed the wedding, we didn't set a new date. We stopped—" Lorelai stopped abruptly, and her cheeks burned.
"You stopped having sex?" Nicole asked bluntly. Lorelai nodded, feeling deeply embarrassed. "And then you cheated?"
"No." She swallowed, and took another drink from her cocktail, bracing against the sweet burn, her throat dry from all the talking. "Eventually, I had enough. His kid's mother didn't want me around because engaged isn't married, and she wanted to protect her kid. Which, I get, I really do, but then I told Luke we had to get married." She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, and another tear trickled down. "I said now or never. And he… he let me walk away."
"I'm confused," Nicole said. "When did the cheating happen?"
Lorelai looked up, her face the picture of misery. "That night. After I said now or never, and he didn't respond. I left and went to Boston, and spent the night with Chris. I mean, I didn't intend to sleep with him, but I definitely didn't discourage him."
"You're being too hard on yourself," Nicole replied. "You thought it was over. And you were clearly not thinking straight. Were you drunk?"
"Yes," Lorelai said. "I swear, any time there is Christopher is involved, Cuervo isn't too far behind."
"Did you explain that to him?"
"Not really," Lorelai replied. She picked up a french fry and chewed on it, thinking over their last few conversations. "I told him it was over, that I slept with Christopher, and then the next time I saw him, he acted like he was completely fine and over it. Like, he wasn't even sad." Her lip quivered again as she recalled their conversation in the market. "He said we weren't right together. That I belonged with Christopher, and we should stop fighting it."
"Maybe I'm just trying to justify my actions after the fact," Nicole said, and the change of direction surprised Lorelai, "but it wasn't just my fault. I mean, maybe I went about it wrong, and I have to admit that I wanted to hurt him because he hurt me. I just felt so unwanted that when Elliot kissed me, it was like a lightbulb went off. I mean, I don't think I'm Gisele Bundchen, but I'm not a dog. I've certainly never had a problem getting a date. But I couldn't even get my husband to come home at night."
"Elliot?" Lorelai questioned.
"Yes, Elliot was the infamous 'Sock man'," Nicole said wryly. "And it didn't last between us. I don't think the ink was even dry on the divorce papers before we stopped seeing each other. It was a fling, but it gave me some perspective."
"Yeah. I realized that I didn't have to settle or make do with someone who didn't really want me. I mean, I'm surprised he never called out your name in his sleep or anything. It was so obvious."
"I didn't think so," Lorelai said glumly. "I thought he was completely repulsed by me until he invited me to his sister's wedding, and even then he had to yell at me and kiss me before I really got it."
"Hey, I'm really sorry," Nicole said quietly. "I know I wasn't really nice to you when I was married to Luke. I mean, can you blame me? I was married and the only woman that my husband could see was you." Lorelai nodded, her gaze falling to her lap. "But, I thought if he ever got off his ass and made a move, I — well, I thought if anyone could make it, you two could."
Lorelai looked up and gave her a watery smile. She didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve the honest, heartfelt sympathy from this woman. Even if they had more in common than she'd previously thought.
"I'm sorry, too," she said. "That it didn't work out between you two."
"It's okay," Nicole said. "Luke and I, we had a good time when we dated. But we weren't forever material. John, my fiance, he and I are so much better as a couple. Luke hated all of the fancy parties and social events I have to do for my work. He doesn't even really like lawyers."
Lorelai laughed, wiping a stray tear from her cheek. "No, no, he doesn't."
"And I wasn't really into the outdoorsy stuff or the small town thing. I mean, sure, Stars Hollow is nice to visit, but I like more options for the day-to-day. Besides, how many unicorn-centric stores does one town need?" Lorelai and Nicole smiled at each other.
"I didn't think this would help, and maybe I have no answers yet, but I do feel a little better," Lorelai admitted. She picked up a mushroom cap, eyed it suspiciously, then popped it into her mouth. "This is good," she mumbled.
"My only advice is this," Nicole said, still smiling. "Don't settle." Lorelai looked at her in confusion. "What I mean is, even if things never work out between you and Luke, don't settle for second best. Date, build your career, focus on your daughter. Don't just commit to the next guy that shows up, if you aren't truly invested."
"But what if I never meet anyone I want to marry more than Luke?" she asked, and her voice cracked slightly.
"Would it be so bad?" she asked, tilting her head to the side. "I think pretending for the rest of your life would be worse. And that's why I'm glad things didn't work out with Luke. We were just pretending." Nicole checked her watch. "I'm really sorry, but I have to meet John for dinner in about 30 minutes, although he may be a little upset with me since I've already snacked. Are you okay to drive?"
Lorelai considered this. After two and a half strong cocktails and only a small amount of food, she shouldn't risk it. "How about you drive me to where my car is and I'll find a hotel?"
"Sure," Nicole said.
Nicole dropped her off across the street from where the Starbucks was located. Her Jeep was in a nearby parking garage and would be fine until the morning. "There's a Hilton on the corner," Nicole said, pointing toward the structure. She paused, looking at Lorelai in the passenger seat. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked, her voice warm.
"I hope so," Lorelai replied honestly. She held the styrofoam container with their leftovers from the bar, and climbed out of the seat. She grabbed her shopping bags and stood shakily on the sidewalk. Nicole reached across the console and held out a business card. Lorelai took it, giving her a puzzled look.
"Just in case you need someone to talk to," she said. "Bye Lorelai."
"Bye Nicole," she said, watching her pull back onto the city streets and drive away.
Lorelai started to walk toward the hotel slowly. Balancing her bags and her food, she reached for her phone in her purse. She dialed the Inn.
"Hey, Sook," she said when her friend answered.
"Hey, sweetie! How was your day of shopping in the city?"
"Um, good. Unexpectedly so." Lorelai paused a moment, wondering how much she should say. "I, uh, am a little tired though so I'm going to spend the night at a hotel instead of driving back tonight. I just wanted to let you know, I'll be in late tomorrow."
"Oh sure, no problem," Sookie replied, sounded distracted. "I said stir counterclockwise!" she shouted, and Lorelai winced. "Sorry, hon," she spoke into the phone. "We're prepping for dinner."
"I won't keep you," Lorelai replied quickly. "I'll see you tomorrow." She snapped the phone shut and kept walking, her whole body feeling lighter. She didn't know how she would even begin to heal from this, but she had renewed hope that she could. That the blame didn't fall on her shoulders alone.