Dear Emily and Richard: We don't belong here, we're going somewhere else. I'll call you when we get there. Love, Lorelai.
There wasn't one defining incident that made Lorelai choose to run.
There'd been a lifetime of disapproving glares, unfair expectations, and constant disapproval, all leading to the moment when she placed her infant daughter in her crib and grabbed her duffle bag. She tossed it on the bed, and began jamming as much as she could inside, wrinkles be damned. It was easy to travel light, since there were so few possessions in her room that she considered truly hers. The awful twinsets and brocade jackets could stay; the Bangles t-shirt her friend had smuggled in for her was shoved in. She stuffed in all the diapers she could fit and some of the less frilly baby clothes.
Tossing the strap over her shoulder, she picked up Rory, swinging her around to rest on her left hip. God, she was such an easy baby. How did she get so lucky? Rory's big blue eyes looked up at her, complete trust and adoration in them. She didn't want to see that spark snuffed out of her. She wanted her own spark to return, and to be finally be freed from this purgatory. She was done deferring to her mother's decisions about her own child, like she was some kind of moron who didn't know how to handle a baby.
With Rory safely tucked against her, she began to creep quietly down the stairs, pausing every few minutes to make sure no one could hear her. As she entered the foyer, she spotted her mother's purse on the table. Lorelai snorted to herself. The maid that didn't put that away would be fired, for sure. With another furtive glance, Lorelai quietly opened the bag, and extracted her mother's wallet. She pulled out several twenty dollar bills, then quietly placed it back where it was. The maid was already going to be fired, she reasoned to herself. What was one more transgression?
She stopped in front of the heavy front door, twisting her head back to look at the stroller, which was parked in its usual spot by the stairs. It would be helpful to have it, but at the same time she wasn't sure if she could fit the giant thing on a bus. After a few seconds of debate, she decided to take it anyway. If nothing else, she could leave it behind, just like everything else. She settled Rory into the seat, buckling her in as if by rote, then pushed it out the door.
They were halfway down the driveway before Rory made a peep. "Mama?" she chirped, the word curling up at the end like a question.
"Shh, baby," she whispered, bending over the stroller's canopy to catch a glimpse of her daughter. "Mama is taking you away from all this. You and me, we're going to have a great life. I promise." With determination, she squared her shoulders and began walking at a brisk pace, the duffle bag slapping against her backside with every step, the stroller's wheels crunching on the pavement.
Union Station was a fairly long walk from the gated community that her parents lived in, and she passed by so many stately homes she was beginning to think she would never make her way out. She'd taken Rory for some leisurely strolls around the neighborhood before, winding in and out of the curved roads, and dipping in and around various culs-de-sac, but she'd never left her own neighborhood by foot. Even when she had been sneaking out at night, in her previous life as a non-mother, there was always an expensive car at the ready to whisk her away.
Nearly 45 minutes later, she could see the bus station's historic brownstone walls through the trees lining the streets. She picked up the pace a little, hurrying along the sidewalk. She didn't know how long she had before her parents even noticed she was missing. If they didn't see the note until after their function, she'd have even longer, but that was no guarantee. Her mother had an eagle eye to spot even the tiniest change in her environment, and she gave her mere seconds upon entering the dining room to discover it.
She pushed the stroller up to the ticket window, huffing a bit from exertion. "When's the next bus?" she asked the woman behind the plexiglass.
"Fifteen minutes," she replied, looking bored.
Lorelai was relieved. She didn't want to have to wait too long to leave Hartford. "Where does it go?"
"South," was the terse reply.
Lorelai stamped her foot impatiently. "I mean, what town is the furthest stop?"
"Uhh..." The woman turned around, her finger tip sliding down a list that was taped to the wall behind her. "The 19 goes to Stars Hollow," she replied.
"Stars Hollow? That sounds pretty." She looked down at Rory, who by now had stuck her thumb in her mouth. She gave the baby's shoes a squeeze, and turned back to the ticket booth. "We'll go there."
The woman hesitated. "Do your parents know where you are?" she asked.
"I'm 18," she lied. "I'm an adult." Shaking her head, the woman printed out the ticket and took Lorelai's money. Lorelai pushed the stroller toward the passenger loading area with one hand, while the other gripped the duffle bag strap and the bus ticket. With a wince, she realized suddenly that even if the driver allowed the stroller on, there was no way she could carry her bag, her baby, and the stroller. She pushed it toward one of the benches, where she dropped her duffle to dig around inside, looking for a piece of paper. She found a beat up copy of Pet Sematary, the only paperback she had taken with her, and ripped one of the blank pages out. Using the pink glittery pen she managed to find in her coat pocket, she scribbled "FREE STROLLER" on the page and secured it beneath the straps after lifting Rory out. She hoped that it would be found by someone who really needed it.
Never one to fuss, Rory settled comfortably against Lorelai's shoulder as they waited for the 19 to arrive. The late September air was cool as afternoon turned to dusk, and a light drizzle began to fall, but the dank awning covering the bench kept them dry. Lorelai lowered herself to it, and they sat quietly until the growl of the bus engine coming into the station signaled its arrival.
Lorelai stood up as the bus groaned and screeched to a stop in front of her. She waited patiently as all the passengers disembarked, and then she carefully went up the metal stairs, trembling slightly as she handed her ticket to the driver. He didn't even look at her as he stamped it, and she moved down the narrow aisles to find a seat.
She stared out the window quietly, watching the headlights from oncoming cars as they lumbered down the highway, veered into exits, and continually screeched to a halt at every stop along the way. She didn't know how far Stars Hollow was from Hartford, but it took over an hour to get there by bus. It was dark out, even though they had left during the dinner hour. The monotonous thump and bump of the bus had lulled Rory to sleep, and she curled up against her mother's chest for the duration of the ride.
Lorelai began to think that they would be on the bus forever, when it wheezed and sputtered to a stop again, and the driver yelled, "Final stop! Stars Hollow!" She grabbed her bag, slid along the seat toward the aisle, then gingerly walked toward the steps to exit the bus, careful not to jostle the sleeping baby.
After the bus pulled away in a puff of exhaust, Lorelai looked around to take stock of her new surroundings. The street was lined with quaint storefronts and colorful awnings, although most of them appeared to be dark and closed up tight for the evening. There were lights strung up around the gazebo in the center of the square, giving it a fairy-tale glow. With Rory's head tucked into the crook of her neck, she took it all in, feeling her spirits rise. She'd only just arrived, and she was already taken by the place. Shaking her head, she tried to snap out of her daze. Practicality called, after all; she needed to find a place to stay the night, so she could begin planning her next move. She couldn't stand in the middle of the sidewalk with stars in her eyes all night. To her left, she spotted a light on in a barn-like structure further along the sidewalk. After ensuring that Rory was still firmly in her grasp, she adjusted the strap of her duffle bag, and headed towards it.
"Hello?" she called, nearing the steps at its entrance. A plump woman with fiery red hair and bright red lipstick poked her head out of the large open door. She had a cigarette holder in her right hand, and took a generous puff before leveling her gaze at the young woman holding a baby.
"Hello, dear," the woman cooed in a husky, sonorous alto. "Are you lost?"
"Well, sort of," Lorelai began haltingly. "I, um, I'm leaving a bad situation and I need a place to stay for the night. I can pay," she added quickly. "I need like a hotel room or something." She felt vulnerable under the stare that the woman gave her, evaluating and direct. She felt herself cowering slightly, which irritated her a little, because Lorelai Gilmore was a lot of things but a coward wasn't one of them. She attempted to straighten her shoulders under the load of sleeping baby.
"The only game in town is the Independence Inn," the woman replied.
"Which direction is it?" she asked.
"It's a bit far to walk," she said, looking at Rory. She clucked. "Especially with such a fragile load."
"Is there a taxi?" Lorelai asked.
The woman pursed her lips. "Hang on a minute, sweetheart." She disappeared inside, and Lorelai waited. She really hoped the woman wasn't calling the cops, but she had to have faith; it was all she had at the moment. Several minutes passed before the woman returned. "I called a friend of mine," she said. "He'll take you to the Inn."
"He?" She gulped, her mind racing with horrible scenarios.
The woman noticed her apprehension, and laughed indulgently. "Oh honey, Bill wouldn't hurt a fly. He has a daughter about your age. Come to think of it, Liz has a baby, too. Maybe if she ever comes back home you could meet her. Sweet girl. Little spacey, but sweet."
Lorelai was about to reply when she heard the rattling of an engine. She turned, and a dark green truck pulled in right beside the building. She saw a tall man, with short grey hair and a trim beard, step out of the truck. He wore a green army jacket and jeans, and Lorelai breathed a sigh of relief. He definitely looked like a dad. She half expected to see Alex Keaton show up at any moment.
"Hey, Patty," he called. "This her?"
"Sure is, honey," she replied.
Bill walked around the truck and stopped short when he saw Rory. "You didn't tell me she had a baby," he said accusingly.
"Does it matter?" Patty asked pointedly.
Bill flushed slightly. "Well, I don't have a car seat thing," he replied.
"The poor girl was planning to walk all the way to the Inn," she said. "Are you going to take her, or do I need to call someone else?"
He rolled his eyes, then opened the passenger door. Lorelai climbed in carefully, trying not to disturb the sleeping infant. Bill tugged at the strap of her bag, then set it down on the floor by her feet. He helped her get the seat belt around the both of them, and then he shut the door.
As he got into the driver's side and started the engine again, Lorelai waved to Patty. She nodded, and smiled sweetly, taking another long drag on her cigarette before she disappeared inside the building.
As Lorelai looked around, she noticed a sign. "Miss Patty's School of Dance," she read out loud. She smiled slightly. That woman hadn't looked at all like what she expected a dance teacher to look like, but she liked the idea of being able to be anything you want, even if you didn't look the part. She was a teenage mother, after all. No one thought she was suitable at first glance, especially her mother. And she was going to prove everyone wrong.
She settled into the seat as they began moving. She noticed that Bill was driving incredibly slowly, probably to offset the less than desirable accommodations for Rory.
"How old is your baby?" he asked, his voice gruff but still friendly.
"She'll be a year old next month," she replied.
He grunted noncommittally. "My grandson just turned a year old."
"Yeah, um, Patty mentioned you had a daughter. Liz?"
"She doesn't live around here?"
"No, she lives in New York. We keep trying to get her to come home but she won't listen. She's just…" He shook his head, as if he couldn't believe he was talking about it. Lorelai waited for him to continue, but he didn't. The rest of the drive was silent.
Rory was stirring by the time the truck pulled up outside a sprawling white building, the grounds surrounding it landscaped to perfection. "Hey, baby girl," she whispered. Rory yawned in response.
Bill opened the driver's side door and dropped to the ground, looping easily around to the passenger door to help Lorelai down, the baby still firmly tucked into her embrace. He swung her duffle bag over his shoulder and gestured for her to walk up the whitewashed steps ahead of him. She climbed them carefully, Rory's eyes wide open now but still calmly laying against her mother's shoulders, taking in her surroundings with quiet censure.
Bill walked up to the front desk and spoke quietly to the person there, while Lorelai stood around trying not to look to conspicuous. The inn's foyer and main sitting room were ornate, with dark blue walls and cherry wood furniture. The lighting was soft and inviting, and she began to worry that she wouldn't be able to afford a room for the night. She'd probably have to beg for a job first. She had just under thirty dollars left from the money she'd taken from her mother's purse, and maybe an extra fifty from her own savings. Plenty for a Motel 6, but this was plainly not one of those.
"This is Lorelai," she heard Bill say, and turned around to face the direction of his voice, urging herself to stay calm.
"Hello, dear," said a tall woman, as she walked up to them. Her greying hair was cut short, and she carried herself with elegance and grace. "I'll take this," she said to Bill, and he handed over the duffle, slipping it over her shoulder with ease. "Say hello to Lucas for me, would you?" she added.
"Will do," Bill replied. "Night, Mia."
Mia turned her attention to the girl holding a baby in front of her. "My name is Mia Bass," she said warmly, resting a hand on Lorelai's shoulder. "I own the Independence Inn. Why don't we go into the dining room and chat?"
Lorelai followed her into the spacious room and sat down carefully at the table that Mia gestured toward. Mia placed the bag next to Lorelai's feet and moved to sit across from her. A waiter came by and Mia ordered some coffee and asked for some soda crackers for the baby. Only a moment later, packages of crackers were set in front of her and Mia picked up the steaming carafe and poured some coffee into her cup. "Would you like some coffee?" Mia asked politely.
"Yes, please," Lorelai said. Rory twisted around in her mother's lap to face toward the table as Lorelai unwrapped the crackers from their cellophane packaging.
"So what are your plans, dear?" Mia asked, as Lorelai handed a cracker to Rory.
"I'm here for a job, any job," she said quickly. She thought a moment. "And a place to stay. I have some money, but it's going to be tight."
Mia took a long sip from her coffee cup, her eyes appraising the teen in front of her. "Can you make a bed?"
"Um, yes?" Lorelai said hesitantly.
Mia smiled. "Why don't we try it out for two weeks, and see how it goes? I always need maids. Such high turn around for those positions."
"Oh, I know all about that," Lorelai mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Oh, well, my mom has always had a hard time hanging on to help," she said vaguely.
"Yeah." Lorelai didn't want to explain. She didn't want this kindly woman to send her back. She figured once she discovered the truth, her great escape was as good as over.
"More!" Rory cried excitedly, reaching her hand out for another cracker. Lorelai handed one to her, and she bit into it enthusiastically.
"She's adorable," Mia said warmly. "And she talks really well for such a young child."
"I know, she's amazing," Lorelai said proudly. "She turns one on October 8th."
"Ok, so here's what I propose." Mia stood up, and reached for the carafe. "More coffee?"
"Yes, please," she said, holding out her mug.
Mia poured the steaming liquid. "You can stay with me, in my spare room, for a few days. But that's not a viable long-term solution, so I'll have the potting shed out back fixed up for you. It's not much, but you'll be warm and dry, and it'll be a short walk to work in the morning."
"What should I do with Rory?" she asked.
Mia sat down, considering. "Well, I can watch her for a few days, but I know the Kims run a nursery school out of their church. I can find out how much it is and if they have any openings."
Lorelai felt her heart soaring. This was going to work! "Mia, I am so grateful to you, I can't even express…"
"Don't even mention it," she said, waving her hand. "Now, I need to take care of a few things, so you two finish eating and I'll take you to my house."
Lorelai looked at the soda crackers in front of her, wanting to ask for more but already feeling completely indebted to Mia's kindness. Mia noticed where Lorelai's eyes fell, and chuckled warmly. She reached over to a nearby waiter's station and grabbed a menu.
"Anything you like, dear. On me." Lorelai eagerly took the menu and began looking through the crisp typed pages, eventually choosing some gourmet mac and cheese.
"This is my kind of place," she said.
"Well, we cater to a lot of middle class tourists," Mia replied, shrugging slightly. "We like to balance out the foie gras with a fancier version of American classics."
Lorelai and Rory shared the meal, Rory enthusiastically smacking her lips with each bite. She adored the zest for life that Rory had, and every time Rory looked up at her with a wide smile she couldn't help but feel she had made the right choice. For the first time in her entire life, she was paving her own way, and it felt really, really good.
Later that night, Lorelai and Rory were tucked into a twin bed in Mia's guest room. The older woman had apologized profusely about her lack of having a crib, but Lorelai was almost glad she didn't have one. She tucked the baby into her side, and listened to the soft deep breaths coming from her little girl, her tiny fist clutching the shirt that Mia had lent Lorelai to sleep in. She was awake most of the night, staring at the ceiling. She knew she was lucky. She hadn't taken the time to really think through her plan, because she knew if she had, she'd have never left. But now, in the dark, all of the possibilities rushed through her head, making her feel sick to her stomach.
After the restless night, Mia knocked softly on her door in the early morning. Lorelai dressed and gratefully accepted the breakfast that Mia offered them, and then they left for the Independence Inn.
The Inn was only a few miles from the one-story house Mia called home. Typically, Mia drove to work, but she shared Bill's concerns about the lack of proper seating for Rory, so until she was able to procure a car seat, she insisted they do the short distance on foot.
"Does she walk yet?" Mia asked, looking over at Rory, who had popped a thumb in her mouth and was gazing around at the trees and scant buildings with interest.
"No, she hasn't really had much opportunity to try," Lorelai said, hoisting the baby up into her arms. "My parents had her watched by nannies day in and out while I was in school, and whenever I tried to take her somewhere, they kept coming up with reasons why I couldn't. Behold, the only kid who has never been to a park."
"We have a park in town," Mia said, as they began walking along the road, "It's across from the hardware store."
"Is that near the ballet school?" Lorelai asked.
"Yes, right across from it," she said, smiling. "I take it you have met Patricia LaCosta?"
"Is that Miss Patty?"
"Yes, the one and the same."
"She's the one that called, um, Bill?"
"Ah yes, Bill Danes owns the hardware store. He has a daughter about your age, with her own child."
"Lizzie," Lorelai stated.
Mia looked over in surprise and chuckled. "Boy, you are going to fit in very well here in Stars Hollow." Lorelai smiled brightly, feeling very much the same sentiment.
Once they arrived, Mia showed her the cleaning supply room, warmly greeting the woman already inside. She rifled through a closet and produced a pressed maid's uniform, still in its dry cleaning bag. "This should fit you, dear," she said, laying the uniform down on a table. "I'll get Nancy here to show you the ropes today. You should be able to shadow her for a couple of rooms and then maybe try it on your own."
"What about Rory?" Lorelai asked, her gaze going from Nancy back to Mia.
"Hand her to me," Mia said, holding out her arms to take the little girl. "Come to me, sweet pea?"
Rory easily moved from one set of arms to the other, and removed her thumb from her mouth with a pop. "Cracker?" she asked, and both Lorelai and Mia laughed.
"You got it, sweetie," Mia replied. She turned to Lorelai. "I'm going to take her around the Inn but mostly I'll be doing paperwork in my office. Is she old enough to color? I might have some crayons in the dining room."
"Um, I don't know," Lorelai said. "My mother probably thinks coloring is one of the seven deadly sins of childhood. It never came up."
"Well, we'll give it a shot. What do you think, Rory?" Mia turned to address her, but Rory stuck her thumb back in her mouth instead. After entrusting Lorelai to Nancy's tutelage, Mia disappeared down the hallway.
"Hi," Nancy said, sticking out her hand toward Lorelai, who took it nervously. "I'm head of housekeeping. What your name?"
"Lorelai," she replied.
"Great, so Lorelai, I'm going to give you the rundown here." Nancy began detailing everything Lorelai needed to know, about how to stock her housekeeping cart at the beginning of her shift, and then demonstrated where to put things away at the end. Once the cart was ready, she led Lorelai down to a guest room, where she demonstrated how to clean it, explaining everything as she went. Lorelai was slightly overwhelmed from all of the things she would need to remember, but she found that as Nancy urged her to try on her own, it all came back to her easily. She felt so confident, that when Nancy asked if she'd be willing to try it solo, she agreed.
After she finished cleaning room 12, Lorelai went downstairs. She'd missed Rory, and they'd been apart only for a few hours. But when she got to Mia's office, the room was empty. She wandered over to the front desk. "Hey, Louise," she called, getting the woman's attention. "Where's Mia?"
"Oh, she went out back to see how the potting shed was coming along," she replied. Then the phone rang, and her attention was pulled from Lorelai. Thinking that it probably wouldn't be that difficult to find, she wandered to the grounds behind the Inn. As she walked, she saw a few figures in the distance. One appeared to be Mia, and with her were two men, their backs facing her. When she was close enough, she could see one was Bill, and the other appeared to be a young man that resembled the other, except he wore a backwards baseball cap and a flannel shirt. Rory was sitting in the grass, pulling up wildflowers in her chubby fists.
"We need to strengthen the walls," Bill was saying. "That storm is on its way and it won't be the last one."
"Hey everyone," Lorelai said, and all three adults turned to face her.
Rory's face lit up and she cried "Mama!" She held up her arms, wanting to be picked up. Lorelai scooped her up into her arms and buried her face into her neck, blowing raspberries and making the baby giggle.
"So, what's going on?" Lorelai asked the others.
"I've enlisted some help to fix up the potting shed for you and Rory," Mia replied. "It doesn't look like much, but Bill and Lucas are going to make it livable."
"Lucas?" Lorelai asked, her eyes flicking over to the man she didn't recognize. He looked up and met her eyes, and nodded once.
"Lorelai," Bill said, walking over, "this is my son, Lucas. He helps me out at the store." He clapped the young man on the back. "Taught him everything I know."
"Well, great," Lorelai said, looking at each person. "When can we move in?"
Bill stood back, appraising the small shed thoughtfully. "Maybe 2 or 3 days? But you shouldn't move in until after the storm."
"What storm?" Lorelai asked, a niggle of worry settling in her gut.
"Hurricane Gloria is supposed to hit over the weekend," Bill replied, looking unreasonably calm despite the words he'd just uttered.
"Hurricane?" Lorelai repeated, the worry growing.
"We'll have to board up the windows, just in case," Mia said. "You'll all stay at the Inn," she said to Bill. "We have lots of empty guest rooms and it'll be helpful to have us all in one spot. Besides," she added, winking at Lorelai, "it helps to have strapping men around to move fallen trees."
"Sure, no problem," Bill replied, chuckling a little. "We'll be back tomorrow evening after I close the store to get started."
"I really appreciate you doing this," Mia said as the four of them began to walk back toward the inn.
"Yeah," Lorelai agreed. "Thanks."
"No big deal," Bill said. Lorelai glanced over at Lucas, who had his hands in his pockets and hadn't yet said a word. When they reached the back entrance of the Independence, Bill and Lucas continued walking, going around the building towards the parking lot. "Bye, Mia!" Bill called, his hand up in a half wave.
"Bye, Mia," Lucas echoed, imitating his dad's wave.
"He speaks," Lorelai said, after they were out of earshot. Mia chuckled next to her, and opened the door, holding it for Lorelai to walk through.
"He's a quiet one, that's for sure," she said. "Big heart though, just like his dad." They began walking towards Mia's office. "So how was your first day?" she asked, and Lorelai began to tell her about all she had done that day, while Mia nodded encouragingly.