Tossing the box cutter on the warped work table, Luke began unpacking another shipment of tools. It was a mindless task, one that he'd completed thousands of times before. He hated doing it, because he was often left alone with his thoughts, and that was never a good thing these days. But before he'd even grasped the first item, he heard the front door burst open, slamming against the wall with a bang. He jumped from the sudden sound, then stood still, waiting to hear if there would be more unexpected noises.
His father's greeting carried from the front of the store. "Hey, Lorelai! Where's that baby of yours?"
"Oh," he heard her reply, sounding breathless, "she's with Mia. I had an appointment. Is Luke here?"
Luke wiped the packing dust from his hands onto his shirt and walked out to the front. "Hey," he called over to her. She rushed over to him and grabbed his arm tightly.
"We need to talk," she hissed. "Privately." Bewildered and taken aback by her panicked appearance, he gestured up the stairs near the back of the shop. She dropped his arm and bounded up the steps.
She walked inside the office and rounded on him. "Were you serious?" she demanded.
"About what?" he asked.
"About your offer. To, you know, get married?"
He paused a moment as he attempted to breathe. "Yes," he said slowly.
"Oh good, because I did the stupidest thing today and if you changed your mind I was going to be in such a tight spot, like seriously, epic catastrophe."
"What did you do?" Luke asked apprehensively.
"So, remember that nursery school for Rory?" Luke nodded. "Well, I get there today to go over the paperwork and she is all "so, where is Mr. Gilmore?" and I'm like, Mr. Gilmore's my father, and then, oh god." Lorelai stopped and pressed a hand to her chest, heaving with anxiety.
"And then what?" he asked.
Lorelai closed her eyes tightly. "She began to say something like, they don't allow kids that don't come from sturdy two-parent households, like we're in the middle ages or something. So, I freaked. I mean, you know how important this is for me, so I can keep my job."
Luke grabbed her hands. "What did you do, Lorelai? I'm dying here."
"I told her I was engaged. She asked about the ring, and I said it was getting cleaned and I should have it back in a couple of days." Opening her eyes to look at Luke again, she bit her bottom lip before continuing. "So if you're serious about this, my ring size is a seven and a half."
He stared at her a moment. He couldn't believe this was happening. When he had extended the offer, he knew there was such a small chance of her accepting it that now that she was, he didn't even know what to say. Finally, he quirked his lips in a little smile, and said, "Okay."
Lorelai let out a long relieved breath. "Oh thank god!" she cried, jumping up and throwing her arms around him. He hugged her back, still feeling overwhelmed.
Stepping back, she looked guilty again. "What?" he asked suspiciously.
"There's more," she said, wringing her hands. He waited. "I told her the wedding was in two weeks."
"Dad?" Luke said, watching his father counting the register at the end of the night.
"Yeah, son?" he asked, closing the till.
"I have something I need to tell you." Bill stopped what he was doing and gave his son his full attention, leaning against the counter. It wasn't going to be easy, but he needed to be forthright. He took a deep breath and said quickly, "I proposed to Lorelai."
Bill's eyes widened. "You did what now?" he asked in disbelief. "Lucas, you hardly know her."
"Don't try to talk me out of it," he said. "She has a baby and she needs the help. And we get along great. She needs me."
Bill exhaled slowly. "This is about Rachel, isn't it?"
"This has nothing to do with Rachel," Luke said firmly. "It's the right thing to do."
"So I'm assuming she said yes otherwise you wouldn't have brought it up."
"Not right away, but something came up and so we decided to do it. Get married," he said, trying to stand tall in front of his father, demonstrating that he was set in making this decision.
"Something came up?" Bill repeated, an eyebrow raised. He crossed his hands in front of his chest and eyed his son speculatively.
"She said that Mrs. Kim over at the nursery school was going to give Rory's space away to another kid, one in a traditional two-parent household, and she freaked out and told them we were engaged."
"Ah," Bill replied, the pieces beginning to fall into place. "You know we could probably figure something out without having to resort to marriage."
"Like what?" Luke asked, spreading his arms wide, beginning to get agitated. "All the other nursery schools are a bus drive away. Lorelai starts work before dawn. She's already planning to start work and then take Rory to the school on her morning break."
"You could have offered to drive Rory to school instead of marrying her mother," Bill persisted.
"But what if I get held up here and can't go pick her up? She can't afford the fees for late pick up. Besides, it'll be great. You'll have another grandbaby around."
"Lucas, I don't know. You seem to be rushing into this without even thinking…" He shook his head, pressing his index finger against his temple. Stubbornness was clearly a Danes family trait.
"My mind's made up, Dad. Besides, she accepted. I can't just rescind my proposal," Luke pointed out.
The two men gazed at each other, each trying to hold on to their position with stubborn fortitude. Finally, Bill sighed and tossed his hands up. "I guess we need to go ring shopping, then."
Lorelai hadn't heard from Luke since the day she had accepted his proposal. It was now Wednesday, and she was on pins and needles, hoping that that he hadn't changed his mind, that he had the ring he had promised to get. She needed that ring when she dropped Rory off for her first day of school the next day, or else the plan would fall to pieces before it had even begun.
She was unpacking her few meager possessions into the potting shed while Mia took Rory to the Stars Hollow bookstore for story time. Mia had them found a twin bed and some old sheets in storage, and some locals had scrounged together a clean mattress and a chest of drawers. She'd also received donations of baby clothes and she added that to the small stash of toys that Rory was quickly accumulating. She was sorting through the clothes, putting aside the items she knew would already be too small, when there was a soft knock at the door.
"Are you busy?" Luke asked, poking his head inside. Lorelai stood up, dusting off the thighs of her jeans.
"Nope, just unpacking," she said. She looked around. "I guess this won't be home for long," she said, realization coming across her face. She turned back to Luke. "I'm assuming that you won't want to move in here?"
He chuckled. "Not so much, but I have ideas about that." He cleared his throat. "I uh, wanted to show you something."
"Oh?" Lorelai asked, her curiosity piqued. She really hoped it was the ring. "Let me see," she said.
"Can we do this outside?" he asked. She tilted her head questioningly. "I just, let me at least do this the right way," he grumbled, looking sheepish.
"Okay, sure," she said, smiling a little bit. She slipped on her tennis shoes and shrugged on her coat. They walked together toward the pond, stepping over fallen branches that hadn't yet been cleaned up from Gloria. When they reached a small grassy area, Luke fumbled into his pocket and removed a ring box. Lorelai felt her heartbeat quicken. Even when Christopher had proposed, it had been a halfhearted 'Why not?' There hadn't been a ring. Now, there was a ring.
He dropped to one knee, and opened the jewelry box. He thrust it toward her, and she noticed an imperceptible shake in his arm as he held it out toward her. "Lorelai," he began, trying to sound confident, but all of a sudden looking extremely nervous, "will you marry me?"
Lorelai felt unexpectedly emotional. She inhaled sharply, before smiling shakily. "Yes," she said, surprised at how breathy her voice was. He grinned, looking relieved. His hand still shaking slightly, he freed the ring from its velvet case and slipped it onto her finger. She held it up in front of her and Luke got to his feet.
"Is it okay?" he asked nervously.
"It's beautiful," she replied. "You have great taste."
He shrugged. "The lady at the store helped. We got matching wedding bands at the same time."
"We?" she asked.
"Dad went with me."
"Ah. So, what did he say when you told him?"
Luke exhaled loudly. "He wanted to be sure I wasn't rushing into anything."
Lorelai nodded. "Did you explain?"
"I did. You know how parents are," he said, waving it off, "concerned over everything."
"Sure," Lorelai said, and she felt a weird niggling in the back of her mind. She hadn't planned on telling her parents about this at all. She was still concerned that if they knew where she was that they would make her come home. Instead, she admired her ring a bit more, watching as the sunlight made the small diamond sparkle.
"We should probably talk specifics," he said, clenching and unclenching his fists nervously. "Are you going to want a big wedding thing?"
"Wedding thing?" Lorelai repeated, smirking.
"You know," he said, gesturing widely. "A big party with bridesmaids and flowers and cakes and stuff."
"Well, a huge yes to cake," Lorelai said. "But I was thinking we would just have a small ceremony. I don't exactly have money for a giant spectacle." He nodded, scuffing his boot along the ground.
"I can take care of the church and the minister part," he said. "We've already got the rings. I have a suit–" he rolled his eyes at the word "–and I guess you can get your dress? Maybe Mia has some ideas."
"Yeah, okay," Lorelai said. "Remember, I said two weeks, so it should be before the end of the month."
"Got it," he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets. They stared at each other in an awkward silence.
"Well, I'm going to get back to unpacking," Lorelai said eventually, breaking the silence.
"Yeah, okay," he replied, nodding. They began walking back toward the potting shed, and saw Mia carrying Rory as they approached the small structure.
"Mama!" Rory cried, and Lorelai saw she was hugging a book to her chest. Lorelai looked over at Mia who grinned sheepishly.
"She looked up at me with those blue eyes and I just couldn't say no," she explained. Mia looked over at Luke, curious. "Lucas? To what do we owe the pleasure?" she asked. Lorelai gulped, and shared a glance with Luke.
"Uh, Luke proposed to me," Lorelai said, lifting up her hand to show Mia the sparkling jewelry.
"What?" she gasped. She thrust Rory into Luke's arms unexpectedly, then grabbed Lorelai's hand to look more closely at the ring.
Luke looked startled to have a baby suddenly in his arms, but Rory was nonplussed. "Book?" she said, holding it up to his face.
"Inside, right now," Mia ordered, and Lorelai and Luke shuffled into the potting shed, Rory still in Luke's arms. "Sit down," she continued, and Lorelai and Luke sat on the twin bed, side by side. Rory dropped the book, slipped down to the floor and crawled toward her small pile of toys, picking up the Chrissy doll immediately.
"So what's this about?" Mia asked, her eyes going back and forth.
"I know it's a little weird," Lorelai began hesitantly, her eyes darting between Luke and Mia, "but uh, you know, love happens in weird places."
"Love?" repeated Mia skeptically.
"Yeah, like the hurricane made us realize how short life is and…" she sighed heavily then tossed her hands in the air. "It was his idea," she said, pointing her finger at Luke.
"Lucas?" Mia prompted.
"Listen," he said, looking to Lorelai, who nodded supportively, "I mean, you know how Liz is struggling to make ends meet with a baby and with Jimmy off in California doing god knows what, and I can't marry her, not that she wants anyone's help anyway, but I thought it would help Lorelai to have someone she can share the load with." He sighed. "So I asked her, and she said yes. So we're getting married."
"Don't you want to date for a bit first?" Mia asked, frowning slightly.
"It's not like that," Lorelai insisted. "This is platonic. Right?" she nudged Luke, who nodded.
"What, like a business partnership?" Mia asked in disbelief.
"No, like friends," Lorelai replied. "We're sure, Mia. This is a good idea. It'll give Rory some stability. And it'll be good to have someone to help me out."
Mia looked at them both, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Fine," she replied. She turned to Luke. "What does Bill say?" she asked.
"He's fine with it," Luke replied easily, and Lorelai tried to hide her smirk. "He helped me buy the rings."
"Well, alright then," Mia said. She shook her head. "Kids these days," she muttered, and Lorelai giggled a little.
The next day, Lorelai was finishing up her work day when Mia called her over. "Lucas is on the phone for you," she said. Puzzled, Lorelai walked into Mia's office and picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" she said.
"I've run into a bit of a problem," he greeted her.
"A problem?" she asked. "What kind of problem?"
"Do you think your parents will sign off on our marriage?" he asked.
"No chance in hell," she replied bluntly.
"That's what I figured," he said. "You haven't talked about them much, but I was getting that sort of vibe from you."
"Hee!" Lorelai giggled. "You said vibe!"
"Ah, geez," he groaned.
"So does that mean we can't get married?" Lorelai asked, her visions of Rory continuing to attend the Kim's nursery school disappearing in a cloud of smoke and disapproval.
"You need to be 18," he said, sounding discouraged.
"There's gotta be a loophole," she said. "Maybe Mia can pretend to be my mom."
"They check birth certificates," he replied glumly.
"What about Vegas?" she asked.
"Lorelai," he replied, starting to sound annoyed.
"Don't give up," she begged. "I can't lose this job, and that means Rory needs to go to school. If I have to go back to Hartford with my tail between my legs, it'll kill me."
She heard him exhale forcefully on the other end of the line. "I'll think of something," he said finally, and Lorelai silently began praying for a miracle.
"Okay," she said. "I've got to do a few things to finish up here. Can you come over tonight? We'll make a plan."
"I'm going to call the county clerk and see if they have any ideas," he replied.
When they hung up, Lorelai swallowed hard. She'd come so far already, it was too early for everything to fall apart. She resolved to push the matter out of her mind until that evening, hopefully by then they would have an idea of what they could do to forestall Rory getting kicked out of school on her very first day.
Rory was already asleep by the time Luke knocked at the door of the potting shed. Lorelai shrugged into her coat and stepped outside. "Sorry I'm getting here so late," Luke apologized.
"It's fine," Lorelai said, waving off his apologies.
"I did bring this," he said, and handed her a paper cup.
She sniffed it, and smiled slightly. "Hot cocoa?"
He smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. "There was a fundraiser for the bridge. I passed it on my way here, so I stopped and got one for you."
"You're turning out to be quite the fiancé," Lorelai said, taking a sip of her chocolatey drink.
"I try," Luke replied, ducking his head shyly, but Lorelai could see the traces of a smug smile.
"So, did you find us a loophole?" Lorelai asked, warming her hands against the warm cup.
Luke began to nod, leaning against the side of the potting shed. "Yes. Mrs. Lanahan told me that since you've been pregnant recently, we can get married in Maryland without too much trouble."
"Maryland?" Lorelai asked. "How far away is that?"
"Four to five hours drive," Luke replied. "There is a waiting period though, so we'd have to get the license and hang around for a couple of days."
"Okay," Lorelai said. "Well, if that's what it takes. Did you tell your dad already?"
"Not yet," he said. "I thought maybe you, Rory, and Mia could come over for dinner tomorrow night, and we can figure out transportation and all of that. Maryland doesn't require witnesses, but I think they would at least like to be there, and we have family friends that we are pretty close to." He snorted slightly. "If I could track down Liz, I would invite her, too, but the last number we had for her went out of service weeks ago."
Lorelai rested a hand on his arm in sympathy. "I'm sorry things are weird with your sister," she said softly. He looked up, and smiled sadly.
"It is what it is," he replied simply.
Lorelai buckled Rory into the new car seat that Mia had purchased for them, insisting that it was an early birthday gift for Rory and refusing to accept any payment. She shielded Rory from the night air, since the month of October had brought cooler temperatures along with it. She hadn't thought to grab any mittens or hats when she had left Hartford, and as she worried about where she was going to find the money to procure those things, it once again hit her how unprepared she had been to take her child out into the world on her own.
Lorelai was lost in thought as they drove toward Plum street. Mia glanced over a few times, concerned over how the normally talkative girl had clammed up, unable to get more than a few words out of her. As they pulled up in the driveway of the Danes' two-story home, she gently touched Lorelai's arm. "Everything okay?" she asked gently.
"Everything's fine," Lorelai said, shooting her a bright smile. "Just a little tired. I worked hard this week."
"I have to agree with that," Mia chuckled. "I think Donna is starting to think you're a show off."
"I'm just doing my job," Lorelai said, a little defensively.
"I know, dear." Mia patted her arm. "Let's go inside, shall we?"
The house was a little run-down, obviously showing its age, but was clean and tidy. Lorelai stepped through the front door, holding Rory, who had one hand tangled in her mother's hair and the other stuffed into her mouth. Bill stepped through an archway to the right, and smiled warmly at the trio.
"Welcome!" he said. He ushered them into the dining room. "You're in for a treat. Lucas has been in the kitchen all day."
"Ooh, exciting!" Lorelai said, feeling her stomach rumble. "I was hoping I would get to try some of his cooking."
"Hey," she heard Luke say, and she looked up to see him standing in the doorway. She could see a countertop behind him, and assumed the kitchen lay beyond.
"What's for dinner?" Lorelai asked. She set Rory into the highchair that was in the room. "Is this new?" she asked, looking up at Bill.
"Uh, yeah," he said, looking a little sheepish. "Since you're marrying my son, I thought it might come in handy."
"Thank you," Lorelai said, feeling touched.
"I'm making lasagna and garlic bread," Luke replied. "Got a little tossed salad in there, too." Lorelai wrinkled her nose at the word salad, but Luke only raised his eyebrows before turning to go back into the kitchen.
"Glass of wine, Mia?" Bill asked, holding up a bottle.
"Please," Mia replied, taking a seat across from Lorelai and Rory. The table was a long farmhouse style, with bench seats instead of individual chairs. The wood looked like it had been distressed, and she noticed some carvings on the side.
"This is a really nice table," she observed, smoothing her hands along some of the carvings. They appeared to be just designs, not words or pictures.
"Lucas and I made it a few summers ago," he said, and Lorelai looked up in surprise.
"You made a table?" she replied in disbelief and a little bit of awe.
"Yeah, it came out pretty well," he said humbly. He poured the wine for Mia and another for himself. He looked over at Lorelai. "How old are you?" he asked.
"Seventeen," she said, cringing a little. She always felt a little awkward when people realized how young she was to have had a baby.
Bill debated silently, glancing at Mia before returning his gaze to Lorelai. "Do you… want any?" he asked hesitantly.
"No, thank you," Lorelai said, trying to brush past the awkwardness of it all. Luke walked in at that moment with the pan of hot bubbling cheese and pasta, setting it on a towel in the center of the table. Bill went into the kitchen, and returned with the bread and the salad, and then Luke and his father began to serve them all. They even had a small child's place setting for Rory prepared, with a tiny spoon and fork and a little bowl.
"Do you want some wine, Lucas?" Bill asked, and Luke glanced over at Lorelai quickly before shaking his head no. Lorelai felt warmed by that small gesture of solidarity.
They dug into their food, Lorelai praising the deliciousness until Luke began to blush. They avoided the topic of the upcoming nuptials during dinner, with Mia asking about the hardware store and Bill asking about the inn in return. It wasn't until they were settled with bowls of vanilla ice cream for dessert that Bill broached the topic.
"So, you're getting married," he stated, looking back and forth between the two.
"Yes," Lorelai said, unsure where the conversation was going from there.
"And there's no way we can talk you out of it?" he asked.
"No, sir," Lorelai said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
Bill sighed. "Okay, so what did you need to talk to us about?"
"Well," Luke began, looking over at Lorelai, who nodded encouragingly. "You can't get married in the state of Connecticut unless you're 18."
"And, as we established earlier, I'm not," Lorelai added.
"But in Maryland, as long as Lorelai has a doctor's note saying she was pregnant recently, we can still get married. But there is a 48-hour waiting period so we'll have to spend the weekend up in Maryland." Bill and Mia shared a glance, but did not interject. "So, we wanted to know if you both wanted to be there, or not," Luke finished lamely.
Bill pressed his fingers into his temples. "Are you guys really sure about this? I know I sound like a broken record, but I know we can figure out something."
"We're sure," Lorelai said. "I… I really want this," she admitted. "I mean, at first I thought there was no way, but being a single parent is hard. I'm worried about how I'm going to provide for Rory, how I'm going to juggle working and taking care of her. Going back to my parents is non-negotiable," she said, staving off any objections to that nature. She sighed. "I know it's not entirely conventional, but I think we can make it work."
The room fell silent, the only sounds coming from Rory, who was attempting to eat her rapidly melting ice cream with her tiny fork.
"We'll be there," Mia said finally, looking around the table at everyone gathered there. "Obviously not this weekend," she said, contemplating. "When do you plan to go?"
"We'll drive up the 11th," Luke said, pulling out a piece of paper with hand scribbled notes on it. "Lorelai and I will get our license before the clerk's office closes, so the earlier we can get there, the better. And then Sunday evening we'll get married. I've already called a justice of the peace who's agreed to marry us."
"I would have thought a minister would be more willing," Bill remarked.
"Sundays are kind of their big day," Luke replied, smirking.
"Right," Bill said.
"So, then we'd drive home and be married," Luke said, shoving the paper back into his pocket.
"And then what?" asked Mia.
"I still haven't found a place for us to live yet," Luke said, looking toward Lorelai. "I've got a few possibilities, but one of them has already fallen through. Margaret at the bank approved me for a loan so I'm trying to find something within the range she approved me for."
"She approved a loan?" Bill asked, eyes widened. "Why don't I know about this?" he asked, almost to himself.
Luke shrugged. "I was busy yesterday."
"Mama!" Rory cried, her chin dripping with melting ice cream.
Lorelai looked at her, and giggled. "Let me clean you up," she said, dabbing her napkin into her water glass, and trying to get rid of the mess. Luke swung his leg around the bench and got up.
"Here," he said, unbuckling Rory from the seat and picking her up. "We can clean her up in the bathroom," he said, and Lorelai followed him down the hall. As they walked away, Bill and Mia shared a surprised look.
"Did you see that?" Mia asked quietly.
"I'm just as surprised as you are," he replied, craning his neck to look down the hallway.