A/N: Thank you to Domenica Marie for planting the seed, and special thanks to all who stuck through it all. I'm going to go pet a cute and fluffy bunny now... Smooches!
Up A Creek or Down the Lazy River
As she peeped through the curtains watching the moving man in a grey work shirt load a pink toy box into the small box truck, she couldn't help thinking that it was a little sad that all of Christopher and Gigi's lives were packed up in such a small container. She saw Christopher talking to the men as they placed the last few boxes in the back, and then she saw him pluck something out of one of the boxes. He stood back, balling the fabric in his hands as the driver walked to the cab and his helper closed and locked the cargo door. She looked down at the portable phone in her hand; her thumb hovered over the 'talk' button, poised for action. When she looked up again, she saw Lorelai step out onto the porch, her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach. Christopher walked slowly up the steps, said something to her, and handed her the balled up cotton as he kissed her gently on the cheek.
Tears sprung to her eyes as she watched Lorelai twist the material around her hands, her eyes following Christopher as he walked to his car. He pulled out without looking back again and the moving van rumbled after him, leaving only the mid-day silence in their wake. Babette wiped a tear from her eye as Lorelai slowly turned and walked back into the house. She looked down at the phone again, and then placed it gently back on its cradle before sinking down onto the couch. Poor girl. Another one gone, she thought sadly. Well, this one wasn't right; a blind bat coulda saw that. But still. Poor girl. She glanced over at the phone again and sighed heavily as she reached for it and began to dial.
Synchronicity. Lorelai stared down at the album cover design on the t-shirt. She ran her fingers over the cotton worn thin from twenty two years of washing and wearing. Was it all a coincidence of events? Me, Christopher, Luke? Was it all just a part of some great cosmic scheme? If I was meant to be with Christopher, wouldn't it have happened long ago? If I was meant to be with Luke, wouldn't the cosmos have just left us alone? What if I'm just meant to be alone? Is that what you're trying to tell me? Was that the lesson I was supposed to learn?
Luke stared up at the ceiling as Doula's cries woke her sleeping parents. He hadn't been sleeping. Not in days. Beagles, hens and roosters. Throw in that ostrich and we can really have a throw down, he thought with a sigh. Thank God April wasn't here to hear the Stars Hollow guide to animal husbandry, he told himself. That would have meant another six hours parked in front of the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or something. Luke pushed the covers back, about to get up to comfort his crying niece himself when he heard Liz mutter, "Hey."
"Huh?" T.J. muttered as if he hadn't heard the baby squalling in the portable crib right next to them
"It's your turn," Liz reminded him.
"Hey, aren't we supposed to let her just cry to toughen her up and whatnot? Isn't that the latest parenting theory?" he asked.
"You only believe in that theory when it's your turn," Liz pointed out.
"All right, all right. I just don't want her getting too soft. She's got a wrestling future to think of," T.J. said as he rolled off of the bed. Luke sighed and pulled the covers back up. "Hey, there, little girl. How are you? How are you?" T.J. whispered loudly as he lifted Doula from the crib. "Oh," he sighed softly as the baby snuggled into him.
They were quiet for a moment and then Liz asked T.J., "Do you think Luke is lonely? I mean for real."
Luke's eyes opened a little wider as he heard his name, and then frowned as T.J. answered, "He does look a little lonely around the eyes." Just around the eyes, you dipshit? You think? Luke mocked silently. Try every single part of me. My daughter is thousands of miles away, I've lost the only woman I ever really loved, and you think maybe my eyes are a little lonely? Geez, what a putz.
"I think he's lovesick over Lorelai," Liz said softly.
"Oh, boy," T.J. groaned.
"T.J., I'm serious," Liz whispered.
"I just think that he might be better off lonely," T.J. hissed in response. What do you know about better off? Look at you, you have everything, Luke thought bitterly.
"I think they belong together," Liz insisted. We do. We do. You don't know how hard it was not to drop that coffee pot and go running out of the diner the minute East Side Tillie started shooting her mouth off. I wanted to so badly, Luke told her silently as he rolled over, trying to get comfortable in April's bed. Jess' bed. The bed that they used before they left. I wanted to run to her. Run and run like I haven't run in years.T.J. paused and then said, "That's not what you said when they broke up. I always thought what you said then made a lot of sense, about them being in two different space-time continuums, something like that."
Luke draped his arm over his forehead as he heard Liz say solemnly, "It's all about the wormholes."
"Between the dimensions?" T.J. asked.
"Yep, all they've got to do is find the right wormhole," Liz said quietly.
T.J. shook his head and whispered, "I don't know."
Finally. Something we can agree on. I don't know either, T.J., Luke thought with a sigh. Is there a wormhole big enough to get through all of it? Will she be on the other side. She married him. Not six months after she walked away from me, she married him. How could she marry him? Luke squeezed his eyes shut. She couldn't have done that if she still loved me. Hell, I barely worked myself up to a date in six months, and even then it was only because I saw her. With him.
At least you got married. At least you had a kid. Their words echoed through his mind, taunting him, haunting him. Well, now we're even. We both have kids, we both got married, and now we're both divorced. Or about to be divorced, if what everyone is saying is true. He rubbed his hand over his face and then blinked up at the ceiling, knowing that there was no way he would sleep that night. I should get up and walk the floor with Doula. I should get up and go beat down her door. I should grab her and kiss her and tell her everything I want to tell her. But I won't. T.J. isn't the dipshit. I am. He has everything he set out to have. Hell, even Kirk has managed to hang onto Lulu longer than I had Lorelai. I'm the loser. I'm the moron.
It probably didn't matter, he told himself. She hadn't been around. At all.
What a week. What a month. What a year, Lorelai thought tiredly as Paul Anka led her through the quiet streets of Stars Hollow. They had been making the same circuit each night, weaving their way up and down the fruit streets, wandering into the square, sitting in the gazebo staring up at the darkened windows above the diner. She didn't dare come near here during the day. She couldn't trust herself. And she didn't know what to say. I'm not married. I still love you. Probably not a good place to start.
She had thought about just dropping in for coffee. She figured she could make some idle chit chat about her dad's recovery. Maybe tell him about her mom, and the maids, and the nurse, and the chef. He'd be amused. He'd know exactly what she was talking about. The problem was, that wasn't what she wanted to talk about. Each day, she rolled out of bed, exhausted from the lack of sleep, worn out by her late night jaunts with Paul Anka, numb with fear and uncertainty. She knew she couldn't trust her sleep deprived brain to keep a lid on it all until she sorted it out, so she stayed away.
The days went by, and soon it was a week. A week of concerned phone calls from Rory. A week of increasingly panicked demands from her mother. All week long, she pretended she didn't see the worry in Sookie's eyes. All week long, she buried herself at the inn or at her parents' house, avoiding the sympathetic murmurs of her friends, and hiding from the man in the black hat. I hate that hat.
Oddly, it wasn't thoughts of Luke that kept her from sleeping that night. It was the fact that she found Christopher's travel toothbrush in the back of a drawer, and realized that she hadn't thought of him since the truck pulled away. How sad is that? Shouldn't I feel more than that, she wondered. But, she searched her memory and realized that she truly hadn't. Every day was consumed with Luke. Thinking about Luke. Pondering the possibility of Luke. Weighing the probability of Luke. Wondering what could possibly say to Luke. Trying to avoid Luke or anything that reminded her of Luke, which in and of itself, reminded her of Luke. A vicious circle for a vicious trollop, she thought with a smirk. She stood up and Paul Anka rose, looking up at her tiredly. "Come on, we'll try again," she told him as she walked down the gazebo steps and headed for home.
I'm giving her until next Sunday, and then that's it, Luke told himself as he wiped down the counter, preparing to close. What are you gonna do? Demand that she talk to you? Demand that she want you again? Face it, she doesn't. She would have done something by now. You would have heard something by now. He circled the diner, placing the chairs on top of the tables. This is a hell of a wormhole, he thought with a snort.
It's my own damn fault. I don't know why I listen to them. Like Liz knows anything about fixing a broken relationship. She just gets left behind with nothing to fix, he thought derisively. It's obvious she doesn't even want it to be fixed. He pushed it all from his mind, focusing on the tasks at hand, losing himself in the routine. After turning out the lights, he trudged up the steps, heading for the only bright spot in his week. He tossed his keys onto the table and pulled a bottle of beer from the fridge before dropping down into his chair with the phone. Luke fidgeted with the bottle cap as he listened to the phone ring on the other end.
"Hey," he said as he heard April's greeting.
"Hi Dad," April said, trying to force a little enthusiasm into her voice.
"How's it going?"
"Um, well, it's going," April said dryly.
"Come on, it can't be that bad. Tell me about the school," he prompted. Luke sat back and listened as April haltingly began describing her new school, the house Anna had rented for them, and the rocks she had unearthed at a dry creek bed.
By the time she got around to asking about him, her natural cheerfulness had been restored. "So, tell me, how's everyone there?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," Luke said as he picked at the label on his bottle.
"There is no usual in Stars Hollow. I want all of the gossip. Spill," she commanded.
"Well, Kirk is Kirk, but I'm used to that. I only wanted to strangle him three times this week, so it was a good week," Luke said with a low chuckle.
"And Lane? Is she huge?" April asked.
"Oh God, enormous. Just when you think she can't get any bigger, wow. Um, Zach is gonna start working in the diner more. Lane needs to be off of her feet more," Luke reported.
"That's good. She probably needs to rest more."
"Yeah, well I try not to ask too many questions. It's safer that way."
"Good thinking," April agreed.
"Liz and T.J. were here for a couple of days. They had rice moths in their house. Freaked them out."
April frowned and said, "Rice moths aren't much of a problem. I bet they were more freaked out by T.J."
"Probably," Luke said with a nod. "It was fun to have Doula around though; she's getting so big already."
"Send pictures," April said quickly.
"Liz said she had a bunch ready to mail to you," Luke answered.
"Dad, we really need to get you hooked up for email. It would be so much easier," April told him.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'll check into that," he promised.
Luke could practically hear her rolling her eyes as she said, "That's what you always say."
"Well, I have more of a reason to get it now."
"So, did you and T.J, have fun? Lots of male bonding time?" she teased.
"You know, they're a little different, but I really think that they work well together," April told him.
"It's kind of nice, you know? Oh! Big news. Bad news," she corrected. "Gabrielle Wilder emailed me. Her parents are getting a divorce," she said in a low voice.
"Aw, that's too bad," Luke answered.
"Well, you know, they didn't really get along all that well. It seemed like they were always doing their own things," April said philosophically.
"Well, it's still hard," Luke said sympathetically.
"Gabby's actually pretty pumped. Apparently the rush to buy her affections is already on," April said dryly. "I mean, she just had Christmas, and her mom came home with a new iPod for her. For no reason!" she added indignantly.
"Yeah, but April, come on. An iPod isn't really gonna make her feel better about stuff," Luke cajoled.
"I guess not," she conceded. "Of course, you could load it up with all sorts of bitter, 'I hate my life' music and really milk it. I'm starting to think that I didn't play this whole moving thing very well."
"April," Luke growled into the phone.
"I'm just kidding. You know, you really need to lighten up," April told him.
Luke rubbed his stomach as he sat back in his chair and stretched his legs out. "Not much chance of that happening now," he said gruffly.
There was a brief pause and then April asked, "How are you?"
"Dad," April said knowingly.
"I'm fine. Really."
"I worry about you."
"Worry about me?" Luke asked with a laugh. "I think you have that backwards. I'm supposed to worry about you."
"I'm serious. You're all alone now," she said mournfully.
"I'm not alone. I have Liz and T.J. and your little cousin," he said as he looked around the empty apartment.
"It's not the same," she insisted.
"No, but really, it's not all that much different. You didn't really live here," he pointed out.
"But I was there. A lot. Especially after…"
The words hung in the air between them. "I'm fine, April. You don't need to worry about me," Luke said at last.
"I love you, Dad," April said softly.
Luke's smile lit his face as he said, "I love you too, Sweetie. I'll talk to you next Sunday?"
"Call before then if you need me," April said in a rush.
"I will," he promised.
"Night, April," Luke said quietly before disconnecting. He sat with the phone cradled in one hand and his beer in the other, staring at the big empty bed on the other side of the apartment. T.J. is right, that mattress sucks, he thought as he ran his thumb over the keypad on the phone. But once, it wasn't so bad.
Luke glanced at his watch and set the phone aside as he drained the rest of his beer. At least on Sundays I can sleep, he told himself as he turned on the TV.
Lorelai bent down as she worked her feet into a pair of ancient tennis shoes. Paul Anka sat nearby, looking dolefully at the leash on the step next to her. "I'm sorry, but this is what you have to do if you're gonna be the man in my life," Lorelai told him. He turned his baleful gaze to the clock on the DVD player as if he felt the need to remind her that it wasn't even five AM yet. When he turned back, Lorelai looked him in the eye and whispered, "I'm sorry. It'll get better, right? It has to get better."
Paul Anka sat docilely as she clipped the leash to his collar and then pulled her coat on. Lorelai pulled a pink stocking cap from the pocket and tugged it down over her bed tousled hair. "The walking helps. Gotta keep moving," she told him as she opened the front door. Paul Anka trotted out onto the porch and stood staring at the steps as she pulled the door closed behind them. Lorelai shoved her fingers into her matching pink gloves, lopped the handle of his leash over her wrist and then lifted Paul Anka to carry him down the stairs.
By the time they reach Plum Street, Lorelai was worlds away, replaying the scotch induced conversation she and her mother had shared the night before. Of course, by the time the dawn broke, Emily was back to being Emily, and Lorelai wondered how she ever could have mistaken her mother's tipsy ramblings for some sort of break through. Independent, Lorelai thought with a snort. Alone, she corrected. I've been alone most of my life in one way or another. Alone in that big house with people who didn't understand me and never really wanted to know me. Alone with a baby to take care, a child to raise, a young woman to guide; with no help from her father. Alone in a relationship with a man who stopped seeing me, stopped hearing me, and didn't even realize it until I was already gone. Alone in a sham of a marriage to a man who could never be enough to make me feel sure of him; trapped in a mistake I thought I should live rather than admit. I should be used to it by now. It shouldn't feel so wrong.
The icy wind bit into her skin as she turned the corner, heading for the square. She walked slowly, letting Paul Anka lead the way, barely even glancing up to cross the street. She told herself that the tears were just because of the wind. She told herself that she'd be warm again once they got home. She told herself that she could sleep once she was sure that he was. I need to know that he's there, where he's supposed to be, that's all. Lorelai looked up as Paul Anka came to a stop in front of the diner. She glanced at the dim light he always left lit above the back counter, and decided that the shelter from the wind provided by the recessed entrance would be better than sitting out in the gazebo.
As she lowered herself to the top step, Lorelai smirked at her own ability to justify anything. She pulled her legs up and bent her body over them, huddling into a ball as the harsh wind sliced through her pajama bottoms. She closed her eyes, her breath warming her cold legs through the fabric as she felt her shoulders relax for the first time in ages.
Lorelai jumped when the door opened and Luke demanded, "What the hell do you think you're doing? You'll freeze to death out here!"
"I was just sitting down for a minute," Lorelai said as she whipped her head around to look at him.
"Get in here," he ordered. "You don't even have any real clothes on."
Lorelai shook her head stubbornly and said, "I hate that hat."
"That hat! I hate it," she said, stubbornly turning away from him and staring at her toes again.
"Well, it's a hat. There's not much to love or hate about it," he answered impatiently.
"It's horrible. It's ugly and dark, and it doesn't match your eyes," she said mulishly.
"Well, that wasn't what I was going for that day," he snapped. "Are you coming in here or not?"
Lorelai shook her head and said, "I did it on purpose. I needed it to be over. Once and for all."
"What?" Luke breathed, his eyes widening as he realized exactly where she was going.
"I wanted to hurt you. I wanted you to hate me, because loving you hurt too damn much," she said as she squeezed her eyes shut.
"Lorelai, please come inside," Luke said desperately.
"And I did. I do. I loved you, Luke. I love you still, and I don't know what to do about it," Lorelai said in a tear choked voice. "I want it to go away, but it won't. I want it to stop hurting, but it won't. I want, so much, to go back in time, do it all over again. I'd make you let me in. I'd make you let me be a part of your life. I could have done it. I could always make you do things you didn't want to do," she insisted as a sob caught in her throat.
Luke pulled the diner door closed behind him and squatted down. "Lorelai, please," he said in a voice raw with emotion. His hands curled around her arms, but she shook him off.
"Please don't. Please don't touch me," she whispered. Luke removed his hands, but stayed where he was, his breath warm and stirring her hair against her cold neck. "I don't sleep anymore. Remember how I loved to sleep? I can't. I haven't really slept since you… Since then," she confessed. "I just walk. Poor Paul Anka, he's worn out," she said sadly. "I'm so tired. I can't run anymore, I'm too tired to run," she whispered. Lorelai cleared her throat and looked straight ahead, wishing she had chosen the safety of the gazebo. "I did it on purpose, Luke. I did it to hurt you. I wanted to hurt you as much as you hurt me," she confessed. "I wanted it to be over. I needed it to be over because I couldn't keep hanging on, hoping it would get better."
Luke rocked back on his heels and dropped back onto his ass, pressing the heels of his hands to his brow. "Lorelai, it doesn't…" he began.
"Please, just let me say it," she said firmly. Lorelai took a deep breath and said in a rush. "I'm not married. I was never married. Not really. We were in Paris to drop Gigi off with Sherry. Chris kept on saying how it was meant to be, that we were meant to be. I knew he was wrong. I knew it wouldn't work. But I wanted it to work. I wanted it so badly," she said softly.
Luke sucked in a lungful of the frosty early morning air, trying to wrap his head around what she was telling him.
"I found out a few weeks ago. That it wasn't real. I found out that we weren't really married, and you know what I felt? I felt relieved," she told him. "It didn't last, of course. After the relief, I just felt scared. I convinced myself that we should do it anyway. My mother was planning this huge party. Four hundred Cornish game hens. I hate Cornish game hens," she murmured.
"But, you see, I told myself that I didn't. For months I questioned every decision I had ever made. I wondered if I ever really like Pop Tarts," she said with a bitter laugh. "You know what? I do. But for the longest time I thought maybe I just did the things that I did, or liked the things that I liked because everyone said that I shouldn't, but that's not true. I was right. Everyone else was wrong," she said as she lifted her chin a bit higher.
She shivered as another icy blast of wind whipped around the corner. Paul Anka whimpered, and Lorelai pulled him closer to her side, stroking his scraggly fur with her gloved hand. "I was right in the way that I chose to raise Rory. I was right when I decided to stay here, in Stars Hollow. I was right when I knew that we'd be good friends, and I was right to fall in love with you. The only thing that I did wrong was letting you push me away. I was wrong to keep my mouth shut. I was wrong to go to him. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I never should have let it go that far," she said sincerely.
"I'm not sure that you could have stopped it," Luke said quietly.
"I could have tried. I could have made you see reason, made you see me," she told him.
"Maybe," he whispered. "I was too scared to see anything, do anything. I was scared of everything and everyone. April, Anna, but mostly of you. Scared of losing you, scared of keeping you," he said in a deep raspy voice. "I screwed it all up. I screwed everything up so bad."
Lorelai nodded as she stared straight ahead. She swallowed hard and whispered, "So, I'm a kayak."
Luke blinked in confusion. "A kayak?"
Lorelai nodded again. "That's what my mother says. A kayak. I have paddles on both ends and I don't need anyone else."
"Okay," Luke said softly. His brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what she was trying to say.
"Kayaks don't need another person to paddle. Canoes do. They need two people paddling to steer it," she murmured.
"Well, actually, one person can paddle a…" Luke stopped speaking she turned her head and shot him a look. "Doesn't matter. You're a kayak."
Lorelai nodded slowly and looked at him sitting up against the diner door with his knees bent. "All I ever wanted was to be a canoe with you, but I couldn't. You stopped paddling. I just couldn't keep paddling in circles," she said softly as she stood up.
Luke watched as Paul Anka danced around, wrapping the leash around her legs in excited anticipation of going home to his warm bed. "Lorelai," he called after her.
Lorelai pulled her coat closed a little tighter and said, "Go inside, Luke. It's cold out here."
Luke stood up, watching as she stepped off of the curb, her arms wrapped around her waist and her shoulders hunched. "Oh no," he said under his breath. He jogged down the steps and out into the street. Paul Anka turned as he reached for her arm, and Lorelai gasped in surprise as he turned her to face him. "I still love you too," he said breathlessly.
Lorelai rubbed her wind chapped lips together as she swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. "I guess we're both in a hell of a mess, then," she said with a weak smile.
"Goodnight, Luke," she said softly.
"Good morning, Lorelai," he said with a shy smile as his fingers slid from her arm.
I've been banished from my own diner by a short order cook that keeps bananas in the refrigerator and a twenty-one year old punk who thinks my name is Dude, Luke thought as he pulled to a stop behind her Jeep. He stepped out of the truck and looked up at the house he had more sweat equity in than she had paid off of the mortgage. It didn't take much, an armload of plates, a spilled pitcher of water and a shattered coffee pot. I've done worse, he mused. When his marching orders came through, Luke escaped through the back door and headed for his truck. He had stopped as he reached for the door handle and dashed back through the door and up the stairs. Ten minutes later, he was on the road. And, here he was, an hour later, wondering what he was going to say to her.
A thousand words flitted through his head as he drove to Woodbury and back. Dozens of speeches were rehearsed and discarded before he pulled into the Dragonfly's parking lot. A few choice words sprung to mind as he stared Michel down, but only a simple 'thank you' was uttered when Sookie told him that Lorelai had not come in that morning. Now, he stood frozen on her front lawn, looking at the sad red ribbon he had tied to his offering. A moment of doubt flashed through his mind as she opened the door and stepped outside, just as she had that horrible morning. Luke approached the porch cautiously, every single word he had ever known suddenly escaping him as he looked up at her.
"Hey," he managed to breathe.
"Hey," she answered as she tucked her hair behind her ears. She looked down at the ground, trying not to stare at the bright blue cap on top of his head.
Luke wet his lips and looked away for a moment scanning the yard until he spotted the chuppah he had built for her so long ago. He inhaled deeply and then said, "I don't know what to do either. I'm not really sure how to fix this. I'm sorry that I hurt you so badly. That's the last thing I ever wanted to do."
"I know," she told him.
"I brought you this," he said as he held out his hand, offering her a canoe paddle tied with a red satin bow. "I don't know if you still want it. Maybe I should have gotten you the kayak one. But, um, if you decide that you do, uh, want this one, I have the other one," he said softly.
When Lorelai took the paddle from him she whispered, "Thank you."
"I promise not to drop it again," he told her earnestly.
Lorelai looked up from the paddle and into the deep blue eyes that fixed on her so intently. "I like your hat," she whispered.
Luke's lips curved into a smile as he said, "Thanks, me too." He shifted slightly, leaning a little closer to her as he said in a low voice, "I love you, Lorelai. I always will."
"That makes two of us." Lorelai's lips quirked as she looked down at the paddle in her hand. "We may be up a creek," she murmured wryly.
"But we have paddles," he finished for her.
Lorelai stepped toward him and Luke stepped back. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Will you just stand still?" she asked with a sly smile.
"Uh, yeah, but watch where you're pointing the thing," Luke said as he took the paddle from her hand and tossed it down onto the lawn.
"Oh, sorry," she giggled as he pulled her closer to him. Lorelai sighed as she felt the brushed cotton of his flannel under her fingertips. "Standing still?" she asked as she looked up at him.
"Perfectly," Luke whispered as he lowered his lips to hers.