Epilogue: September 2009
The Dragonfly Inn was on the outskirts of Stars Hollow, and it was a very pretty property. The building had to be at least a century old, if not older. It was a bit smaller than the Independence Inn on the other side of town, but the Dragonfly made her think of quaint bed and breakfasts that she read about in books.
The taxi driver, a local named Kirk who didn't hesitate to give her a complete rundown of the town, its inhabitants, and the latest gossip, offered to carry her large checked bag inside. She let him carry it up the stairs, but rolled it in herself.
The lobby was small, but welcoming. The front desk, made of some sort of reclaimed wood, stood off to one side. A woman stood behind the counter, her dark hair hanging loose in cascading waves. She absently hummed beneath her breath as she sorted through the bills in her hands. Her smile was as welcoming as the lobby as she looked up.
"Hi! Welcome to the Dragonfly. I'm Lorelai." Lorelai put the mail down and turned to the computer. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Not exactly." She worried her lip. "You're Lorelai Gilmore?"
"Last time I looked in the mirror! I figured tomorrow, I'd be Marilyn Monroe." Lorelai winked at her, and the nerves in her stomach unknotted. "You're in luck, because we just had a cancellation. How many nights do you want to-"
"I'm looking for Luke Danes," she blurted.
Lorelai's fingers froze over the keyboard. She took a closer look at her, recognition dawning. "I suppose you are," she said. "One sec, OK?" She pulled her cellphone out of her skirt pocket.
She watched as Lorelai took a few steps away, murmuring into her phone. It took no more than a minute before Lorelai was turning back to her. Lorelai came around the desk, taking her arm as she gently led her to one of the couches.
"He's on the way with the kids," she said. "They just got out of school. He'll be here in a few minutes."
"Oh." Not sure what else to do, she toyed with the tag on her luggage. "How many kids do you have?"
"Three. Our oldest got out of Harvard a couple years ago and is working as an assistant editor with Condé Nast. The others are in elementary school."
Siblings were a complete mystery to her, but she knew social niceties enough to nod. "That's nice."
She watched as Lorelai went back behind the desk, fingers flying over the computer before taking a key off a board. She waved a bellhop over, pointed to the bag and gave a room before walking back across the lobby.
"Here." Lorelai handed the key over.
She stared at it in shock. "I can stay?"
Lorelai's smile was gentle. "I was your age when I left home. I didn't know where to go. Someone handed me a room key. Just do the same thing for someone else some day."
Her hand clutched the key like a lifeline. "Thank you."
Their attention was pulled to the sound of pounding feet. The front door burst open, revealing a little girl who was almost the spitting image of her mother. She bounced up and down eagerly.
"Did Michel bring the dogs today?" she asked eagerly.
"No, he did not," Lorelai replied firmly.
"Room 4, Lydia," Michel called out from Lorelai's office.
"Michel!" Lorelai yelled as Lydia squealed with joy and took off toward the stairs just as Luke walked in.
"Where's Liam?" Lorelai asked.
"Stables," Luke told Lorelai before turning his attention to her. Her palms went damp as he approached her.
He was her salvation.
"April?" he asked.
April Nardini nodded, managing a weak smile. "Hi."
She was one of the last people he ever expected to see.
Luke hadn't quite believed it when Lorelai called and told him that April was sitting in the lobby of the Dragonfly, looking like she had nowhere to go.
He loathed entertainment gossip, but Lorelai and Rory ate it up like there was no tomorrow. With Rory working at Condé Nast, they had a primary source for getting the latest scoop. It had been through Rory that they found out that April Nardini had filed for emancipation the day after her 16th birthday. He had no doubt that April had experienced a miserable childhood. He wondered if she ever learned who her birth father was.
He had enough parenting experience under his belt now that handling an anxious teen should be a breeze, but he still wasn't quite sure how to manage this. Some tiny part of him, a part that was still battered from the events from 16 years earlier, worried that Anna would make his life hell as a result of April showing up. He acknowledged the thought, then quickly dismiss it. April was a kid in need, and he would help her the way he couldn't all those years before.
But for now, he needed details. He gestured to the chair caddy-corner to the couch, and April nodded.
"I guess you heard," she said as he sat.
"Bits and pieces." His smile was wry. "I really don't keep track of your mother."
"Well, that makes two of us."
Luke shook his head, not bothering to fight the grin. April giggled, just a bit before sobering.
"I just wanted to thank you," she told him. "I didn't know about the trust. I saved money where I could, and I knew I had a Coogan account I could tap to pay the lawyer once the emancipation went through. When the emancipation went through, there was another lawyer at the courthouse. I thought he dealt with my Coogan account, but then he said he represented you and told me about the trust. The money in my Coogan was enough to break free, but this … I can lead my own life. So, I don't know, I just booked a plane ticket and well …" April dragged in a breath. "Do you mind if I hug you?"
Before he could reply, she launched herself into his arms. Her thin shoulders shook as she sobbed into the flannel shirt he wore. He looked over his shoulder at Lorelai, who had tears in her own eyes.
He patted April's back. "It'll be all right," he soothed. "Everything's going to be fine."
And he was right.
Coda: November 2009
It never got easier.
Luke tilted his face to the sky. Twenty years. It should be easier, and for the most part, the pain was buried. But every year, on a particular day, it came rushing back. The grief and the guilt.
This year, the anniversary of his father's death fell on the same day as an off-season event where retired players were invited back to Fenway Park with their families so they could spend time with fans willing to donate a hefty amount to charity. He really wasn't that fond of these types of events, but the children had begged to go.
They had been in the stadium less than five minutes before Lydia was pulling Luke toward the gates leading to the field, the protective covering pulled back for the evening.
Lydia ran out ahead of him to the mound, bouncing on it with all the energy her 5-year-old self could muster. "This is where you played, Daddy!"
"Yeah, it is." Luke headed to one of the dugouts and found a basket filled with baseballs sitting outside it. He selected a couple then joined his sports-crazy daughter on the mound. There were other players milling about, and somewhere in the crowds was Lorelai, their studious 7-year-old son Liam, … and April Nardini.
April had decided to stay in Stars Hollow. She wound up enrolling at Chilton, based on Rory's recommendation. Rory had managed to graduate from Chilton after all, aided by a little bit of luck that had happened two weeks after he and Lorelai got engaged. They kept the engagement under wraps as the three of them debated over what to do. Then fate intervened when Anna's godfather died of a heart attack. With that last barrier gone, they announced their wedding, and Rory remained at Chilton.
They stayed in the Crap Shack, enlarging it to add two more bedrooms as first Liam, then Lydia came along. Alliteration was strong in the family, and Rory fondly called them the four Ls and a Rory (though Lorelai often reminded Rory that she, too, had an L-name.) The year before Lydia was born, the Dragonfly Inn opened as a combined investment among Lorelai, Sookie, Luke, Michel, and Sookie's produce guy that she married not long before Liam's birth. Luke spent his retirement doing odd jobs for the inn, taking care of the children, and helping Cesar every so often in the diner.
And now, with Rory off on her own, April had moved into her room.
They hadn't heard a single peep from Anna, and April never talked about her other than to admit during Thanksgiving that this was the first time she had ever really felt like part of a family.
Luke's attention swung back to Lydia, who looked very much like her mother in peak coffee-demanding mode. He dropped to his knees, hugging her from behind. "Hey, do you want to do what I did before games?"
Lydia craned her neck to look at him. "What's that?"
"So, a lot of players do things for good luck to make sure things go well during the game. Mine was to write my dad's initials in the dirt."
"Because, I'd like to think he's in heaven watching me."
Lydia looked up at the sky, a clear blue with just a couple of feathery clouds. "Is Grandad in heaven watching us right now?"
"I think so."
Lydia mulled this, then nodded. "I wanna do it."
"OK. Just draw in the dirt." Luke took Lydia's index finger, and together they drew a W, then a D on the mound.
Lydia lingered after Luke removed his hand. "Can I tell Grandad something else?"
Painstakingly, Lydia drew a heart next to the initials. "I said I loved him. Would he have loved me, Daddy?"
Luke pressed a kiss to the side of her head, trying his very best not to cry. Oh, what the hell, this was a crying moment. "Yeah," he said, his voice thick with tears as he absently rocked her back and forth in his arms. "He would have loved you very much." He lingered on the mound with Lydia, silently echoing her words of love, and knowing that his father would have cherished them all.
Author's note: It is finished! I hope you have enjoyed this story! There is no planned sequel. Instead, I am turning my attention to a the sequel to "A Special Kind of Crazy" and finishing "How to Train Your Dragonfly."
There are a lot of thanks to give. First and foremost is junienmomo for the original inspiration, and Meags09 for hosting the ficathon that led to junienmomo's story. Many thanks to all of those I have hashed out plot points with over the past 17 months, including JumpingCattleHockey, nojamhands, Meags09, Previously Anonymous, and Anglophile79. And, especially, thanks to all of you for reading and your words of encouragement.