A/N: I was asked if I could cover another episode for the CWS. Silly me, I said yes, and was given Road Trip to Harvard. I'm not really sure where this is gonna go, but we all know how it will end, so getting there is really the entire battle. This will probably only be two chapters, and I'm telling you now, there will be no smut. Still with me? Well, grab the tunes and hop in then. No road maps allowed.

How Do You Bounce Back From That?

Lorelai hung back in the doorway watching as Rory tentatively hovered in the doorway to the lecture hall. She smiled as her daughter's head swiveled from side to side, trying desperately to absorb the discussion and debate swirling all around her. She glanced up and down at the hallway and then set out in search of the ladies' room. A few minutes later, she wandered back down the hall on her way back toward the classroom, scanning the pictures that lined the wall. She paused, studying the pictures of Harvard's past valedictorians. Lorelai's eyes were quickly drawn to the pictures dated 1986-1990, the years that she should have been setting the world of academia on its ear. Instead, she had been putting drops in Rory's ears and whispering sweet goodnights into them while her little girl snuggled against her. A slightly sagging mattress keeping them close, a squeaky old bed frame that announced every shift of their weight, a tiny converted potting shed wallpapered with tiny flowers that didn't move, dance, grow larger or try to mock the decisions she had made for the last seventeen years.

Lorelai stared hard at the pictures, trying to imagine her own face superimposed over Erika Hilson Palmer's, but doing so would mean that there would have been no Rory, and that thought was inconceivable. "I never would have worn that turtleneck," she murmured to herself. Lorelai felt a little sad as she scanned the names affixed to each picture, taking in the brainiacs that should have gone before her and those who would have come after, wondering if she would have fit in here; knowing it didn't really matter. She gasped softly and then grinned as she spotted the name of the top geek of 1985.

She pulled her cell phone from her purse and quickly dialed with her thumb. When she heard him answer, Lorelai smiled and asked, "What year would you have graduated college?"

"What? Who is this?" Luke demanded, clearly annoyed.

"It's Lorelai. What year would you have graduated from college?" she asked again.

"I only went for a year," Luke answered. "Community college. In Hartford."

"I know that, but if you had gone off to school, what year should you have graduated?" she asked impatiently.

"Uh, 1986, I guess."

"Hah! The Harvard valedictorian from 1985 was Thomas Danes," she told him with a grin.

Luke chuckled. "Harvard? I can tell you that apple didn't fall off my family tree. I'm the Einstein of the clan."

"Pretty funny, though, huh?" Lorelai said with a laugh.

"How're you doin'?" Luke asked quietly, his voice low and sympathetic.

"I'm fine. I'm good," Lorelai said quickly. She tucked her hair behind her ear as her eyes darted toward the classroom.

"You are?"

"Yeah, well, uh, I've gotta go," she said, unable to handle his gently worried probing. Lorelai squeezed her eyes shut and realized that she could take it from just about anyone, but not from Luke. "I'm, uh, driving, or about to drive," she babbled. "Just wanted to tell you that," she said, her voice high and squeaky with forced brightness.

"Okay, well, um…" Luke said in a bewildered tone. "Be careful," he cautioned at last.

"Bye," Lorelai said as she quickly closed her phone. She hurried down the hall following the sound of her daughter's voice to the open doorway. She watched proudly as her little girl sat in that wood paneled classroom and debated relativism with the rest of the class. Rory turned and spotted her, a giddy smile plastered to her face. She slipped out of the seat she had taken and dashed up the steps to Lorelai.

"Did you see me?" Rory asked, practically dancing in place as they stepped back into the hallway.

"Yes," Lorelai answered as they started for the doors.

"I was in college."

"It was amazing!" Lorelai enthused.

"Did I look like I belonged?" Rory asked anxiously.

"Completely. You're a natural."

"I can't even believe how it happened. I just sort of got swept up and then the teacher asked a question, and before I knew it…"

"You were blowing them away," Lorelai said with a nod.

"Well, I don't know if I was blowing them away but suddenly I was talking and I couldn't stop."

"I know that feeling."

Rory turned and grinned at Lorelai. "College is gonna be amazing." Lorelai stopped and took one last glimpse of Erika Hilson Palmer, Harvard Class of 1990 as Rory rushed ahead. "I can't wait. I love college. I love Harvard. I love fatalism," she gushed.

"Was it fate?" she asked Erika softly.

As they walked back to the car, Lorelai smiled indulgently as Rory rambled on and on about fatalism, stoicism and relativism. Ten minutes later, Lorelai shook her head as she pulled her seatbelt across her chest and snapped it into place. She turned to Rory and said, "Here's what fate has in store for us today!" She dropped her voice and gripped the steering wheel hard as she formulated a plan. "First, we're going to go eat, and I mean eat like we have never eaten before. I want us to be so stuffed that by the time we get back to the Cheshire Cat, we can fall directly into carbo comas before the wallpaper can strangle us or Sammy the cat that ate Portsmouth can steal our breath," she said with a nod.

"Steal our breath?" Rory asked, perplexed.

"Cats do that," Lorelai said knowledgably.

"Sammy doesn't move, so I think we're safe."

"He's just lulling us into a false sense of security. Remember Drew Barrymore in Stephen King's Cat's Eye, baby," she said darkly as she started the engine.

"But the cat saved her, it was the troll that wanted her breath," Rory pointed out.

"Either way, we're keeping our breath," Lorelai said as she pulled out of the parking spot. "We suck it up, stay one more night, and then tomorrow we get to drive all the way home. The good news is that we will get to sleep in our own beds in our own rooms, sans homicidal wallpaper. The bad news is that fate has deemed the day after tomorrow Friday, which means we get to go to Friday night dinner. Oh joy," she deadpanned.

"It'll be fine," Rory said quietly.

"Yeah, no problem," Lorelai scoffed. "My mother won't have anything to say about the fact that I won't be marrying Max in a few days."

"Maybe you just have cold feet. I mean, everyone gets cold feet just before they get married, right?" Rory tried hesitantly.

"It's not just cold feet, Rory."

"But…"

"And I just keep hearing Luke in my head, you know?" Lorelai went on, ignoring her daughter's well intentioned protests.

"Luke?"

"Coupons and kids and where are you gonna live? Will I quit my job," Lorelai said, shaking her head as she unconsciously pressed the accelerator harder as she turned onto the entrance ramp.

"Easy, Speed Racer," Rory said as she clung to the door handle.

"Sorry," Lorelai said sheepishly as she let off of the gas a bit.

"Well, you guys sorted all of that out. You made those decisions," Rory said encouragingly.

Lorelai shook her head as she merged into traffic. "No, Rory. We didn't. We didn't plan a life together, we planned my life and I tried to shoehorn Max into it. I cleaned out half of my closet, that's all."

"But he was okay with that. Talk to him about it."

"I don't want to talk about it. I don't want his clothes in my closet," Lorelai said adamantly. "They wouldn't fit anyway, we were gonna have to buy an armoire. I don't want an armoire."

"But armoires are nice," Rory said desperately.

"An armoire won't fit in my room. I tried to picture it, Rory. I tried to see how it would work, but I can't. I measured and measured, every which way, but I can't see it there. I can't see him there. I can't see us together. Not for the long haul," Lorelai tried to explain.

"No?"

"I tried. I really tried to. I really wanted it all to work," Lorelai said as she looked over at Rory earnestly.

"I know," Rory assured her. She turned to watch the signs along the side of the road flashing by. "You did the right thing," she said at last.

"Really?" Lorelai asked hopefully.

Rory nodded as she turned back to her mother. She shrugged and smiled sadly as she said, "It wasn't right. It just wasn't meant to be."

"No. He is the perfect guy. He's just not the perfect guy for me," Lorelai said sadly.

They drove on, each lost in their own thoughts. As they approached Amesbury, Rory gasped and pointed to a sign on the side of the road. Lorelai smiled as she saw what had captured her daughter's attention. "Now, that's fate. I found a coupon in the stuff LaDonn left in the room."

"It was meant to be," Rory said with an enthusiastic nod.

"Mmm, BBQ burger," Lorelai said as she signaled for the exit.

"Super melt," Rory moaned.

"Those waffle-y fries with the cheese."

"Oh man," Rory moaned.

"And topping it all off with Friendly's ice cream," Lorelai said with a grin.

"Fribbles and a Jim Dandy sundae," Rory agreed.

"We may sleep there tonight," Lorelai said as she scanned the area, looking for the restaurant.

"I can honestly say that just the thought of Friendly's is enough to take my breath away," Rory said as she pointed to left.

"Better than a hundred pound cat," Lorelai muttered under her breath.

It was another restless night in a room where the flora was so sinister, so threatening, that Lorelai knew that she'd never sleep. She listened to Rory's deep, even breathing and tried to let it soothe her. She stared down the foil enhanced flowers on the wall across from the bed, but knew she was no match for them. Lifting the covers, she slipped from the bed and padded to the door, snagging her bag by its long strap as she eased from the room.

Careful not to make a sound, she crept down the dimly lit steps, circumventing Sammy the Smotherer, and tiptoeing into the parlor where she flopped down into a chintz covered over-stuffed chair. Lorelai pulled her phone from her bag and drew her knees up to her chest as she dialed. She listened as the phone rang and rang, and when the answering machine kicked on, realized that Sookie was probably staying at Jackson's that night. She a long sigh, she closed the phone and let her head fall back against the cushion. She blinked up at the ceiling, rubbing her sock clad toes with one hand and clutching the phone in the other. She squeezed her eyes shut and flipped the phone open with her thumb, dialing the familiar number by touch.

When the next answering machine picked up, she waited for the tone. "Hi. It's me. I'm sorry. Um, I don't know if you're there or not, but I just needed to call again to tell you, um… I'm sorry, I really am. I never meant for this to happen. I never meant to hurt you, or even embarrass you. I hope that you know that, and I…" she trailed off searching for the right words. "I know I'll probably never talk to you again, and I get that, I totally do, but I wanted you to know that I do think that you are a great guy, Max Medina. I really do. And, I hope that you believe me when I tell you, uh, again, that this was nothing about you. I know it's a cliché, but it's true. It wasn't you, it's me. I'm just not, I'm not quite ready. I thought I was. I wanted to be, but I'm not," she confessed.

"And, well, to be perfectly honest, I don't think that I'm the right girl for you," she said as she rubbed her forehead. "You need someone a little more, uh, perfect, like you. I'm not perfect. I guess no one knows better than you how many millions of miles away from perfect I am," she added with a rueful laugh. "And, you're just not the guy for me. I wanted you to be, but you're not. "I'm a parallelogram and you're a square. Not like a square like you're a nerd or uptight or something, but the three papers, that was a little…" she cut herself off. "I mean like the straight lines, perfectly perfect in your right angles. I'm afraid my angles are more than a little skewed."

Lorelai took a deep shuddering breath and quietly said, "I am sorry, Max. I want you to be happy. I hope that you'll be happy," before hanging up.

She sniffled softly in the darkened parlor, and then plucked a tissue from the box on the end table currently being overpowered by a needlepoint cover. Lorelai wiped her eyes and nose and then balled the tissue tightly in her fist. She tried to chase thoughts of Max from her mind by replaying their Harvard adventure minute by minute. She chewed the inside of her cheek as she conjured up the picture of Erika Hilson Palmer once more, mentally cataloguing the perfectly straight honey blonde hair and single strand of pearls. And there, in the fussy, floral parlor of the Cheshire Cat, she exhaled long and slow, letting go of what might have been. She stared out of the front window, trying to make out the dark shapes beyond the pane of glass and decided then and there that she had no regrets and nothing but the future to look forward to. Lorelai realized that perhaps her life hadn't turned out the way she, or Max, or Rory, or even her parents, had expected it to, but there was no reason to think that was bad. It was good. As a matter of fact, it was pretty damn good.

"See, Erika? I don't need to be valedictorian," she whispered to the silent room. "My future's so bright, I've gotta wear shades."

Lorelai glanced down at the phone in her hand, and knew that there was one more call she needed to make before she went back to their room. Holding the phone pressed firmly to her ear, she smiled when she heard his deep, rusty voice say, "Hello?"

"Don't feel sorry for me, okay?" she asked softly.

"What?" Luke asked groggily.

"Please, Luke. Don't feel sorry for me. There's nothing to feel sorry about. I made a bad decision, and now I'm trying to fix it before it's too late," she said firmly. "But it's right. What I'm doing is right."

"Uh, okay," Luke answered as he stood scratching his head. He smoothed his sleep rumpled hair into place and glanced over at the clock. He cleared his throat and then said in his usual gruff tone. "I won't feel sorry for you."

"Thank you," Lorelai said with a relieved smile. "Goodnight," she whispered into the phone.

"Goodnight," Luke said softly. He stood in his darkened apartment holding the receiver even after she had hung up. He looked down at it and smiled slightly as he placed it back on the cradle. Then Luke Danes climbed back into his bed and sighed into his pillow, hoping he would be able to continue the first good night's sleep he had in months.

As they neared Stars Hollow the following day Rory asked, "You know what I love most about Harvard?"

"No, what?" Lorelai asked with a patient smile.

"They don't sell giant foam fingers."

"No, they've got class out the wazoo," Lorelai agreed. "Hey did I tell you the name of the Harvard Valedictorian from 1985?" she asked suddenly.

"Uh, no," Rory said with a confused smile.

"Thomas Danes!" Lorelai answered with a laugh.

"Like Luke?"

"Spelled the same way," Lorelai confirmed.

"Maybe he's a relative," Rory speculated.

Lorelai shook her head and said, "No, I called Luke and asked him. He said he's the Einstein of the family."

Rory chuckled. "Well, you know, Luke isn't dumb."

"No, no, that's not what I was trying to imply," Lorelai said quickly.

"Luke's actually very well read," Rory said with a thoughtful nod. "You'd be surprised."

"No, I wouldn't," Lorelai insisted.

Rory turned toward Lorelai and started listing a few of the books she and Luke had apparently both read and at some point or another, managed to actually discuss. She smiled fondly as she finished by saying, "But in the end, Luke said that Holden Caulfield just needed to suck it up, go to military school and let them straighten his worthless butt out for him."

Lorelai grinned and said, "Sounds about right." She smiled as they passed the Stars Hollow sign and said, "Home."

"Feel like we've been gone a long time."

Lorelai nodded. "You know what's weird? Every time I leave town, even for just a little while, I always expect everything to look different."

"And it never does."

"It never does," Lorelai confirmed with a small satisfied smile.

She drove around the town square, drinking in the sights of Stars Hollow as if confirming her own hypothesis, and then, finding everything just as she left it, steered the car toward home. She waved to Miss Patty as they passed, but frowned when she saw the older woman dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. Only slightly more disturbing was the sight of Kirk standing outside of the diner with his arms akimbo, calling after the Jeep, offering a hug.

"Patty's good," Lorelai murmured as they realized that the news had been effectively spread.

"The best," Rory confirmed with a nod.

"I think I may try to keep a low profile for a day or two, let things calm down," Lorelai said as she turned on their street.

"Probably a good plan. Consolation hugs from Kirk," Rory said with a shudder.

"I know," Lorelai commiserated. She pulled into their driveway and asked, "So, what about dinner?"

"It should probably be something healthy since we've been eating junk the whole trip."

Lorelai scoffed. "We had lettuce on our burgers last night."

"You picked it off," Rory reminded her as Lorelai turned off the engine.

"But it left its essence."

"There was lettuce essence on our burgers?"

"Definitely."

"And that satisfied our vegetable requirement?"

"For the week," Lorelai insisted as she pulled the keys from the ignition.

"We can't argue with cold hard facts," Rory said with a shrug.

The keys jingled in Lorelai's hand as she looked up at the house and caught sight of the chuppah placed carefully in front of the porch steps.

"What?" Rory asked as she turned, following her mother's gaze. "Oh, I forgot about that."

"Me too. Well, everything's the same," she said sadly.

Rory gave her mother a comforting pat on the shoulder and then they climbed from the Jeep. As Rory went to open the back, Lorelai walked over to the chuppah. She braced one hand on her hip and then stepped carefully under the golden archway Luke had made with his own two hands. She took in the swirls of leaves intertwined with clusters of grapes, and reached out, her eyes welling with tears as she brushed her fingertips over the goat she had named Gilbert in her head. With a quick shake of her head, Lorelai turned back to the car wiping the stray tears from her eyes as she tried to focus on moving forward.

Friday night, Lorelai was congratulating herself on the brilliant idea to have her film processed as slides. Not only did she successfully avoid spending the day in Stars Hollow, far away from the sympathetic gazes of well-meaning friends and neighbors, but by whiling away the afternoon in Woodbury she could distract herself from the daunting task of telling her parents that the wedding was off. The fact that she got to torment her mother with her on-going narration of each and every picture was just a very special added bonus.

She tried not to dwell on the fact that Emily had taken the news of her break up with Max well, too well in fact. She tried not to think about the mountain of gifts at the house that would need to be returned, choosing to focus instead on the mystery of what incredibly useless object of wealth and impeccable taste her mother would have selected for her. Most of all she tried not to think about what kind of reception she would have from her fellow townsfolk when she stepped foot into Luke's that night. They drove home from Hartford in silence as Lorelai steeled herself for the inevitable stares and whispers and instead formulated the questions she wanted to ask Luke about opening a business.

"Gotta wear shades," Lorelai reminded herself as she waved goodbye to Rory and Lane and walked toward the steps to the diner.

"Hey!" Luke called as the bells above the door chimed.

"Lewis and Clark have returned," Lorelai announced as she closed the door behind her.

Luke walked back behind the counter. "Oh yeah, which one are you?"

"I don't know. Which one had to paddle the canoe?"

"Coffee?"

"You have to ask?" Lorelai answered as she dropped her jacket and purse on an empty stool and then sat down.

Luke dropped the towel he had been using to wipe down tables onto the counter and turned to the coffee machine. As he reached for the pot and a to-go cup, he found himself reaching for the right words. "So, uh, sorry about what happened, you know, the wedding thing…"

"It's okay. I'm fine." Lorelai glanced around hoping the message was carrying to the other occupants of the room. "I want everyone to know that."

"Uh, I've been feeling like a jerk," Luke confessed.

"Why?"

"Well, the way I had to come down on Max. I don't know, I was being a, I don't know, what's that word you use, pickleschnitz?" he said as he placed a lid on the cup and handed it to her.

"Schnickelfritz?"

"Yeah, that's it."

Lorelai smiled and covered the top of the cup with her hand. "Luke, it's okay, you already apologized for all that."

"Well, I've been feeling kind of guilty," he admitted gruffly.

"Don't," she assured him. "You are great, Luke. Just making me that chuppah alone…"

"Oh, the chuppah!" Luke groaned as he hung his head and smacked his hand against the counter. "I left that stupid chuppah on your lawn!"

"Hey, it's okay," she said quickly.

"What an idiot!" he berated himself.

"Really, it's okay."

"Just this enormous reminder, just sitting on your lawn, mocking you," he rambled on.

"I didn't even see it mock, I promise."

"I'll take it down in the morning," he promised. "No, I'll take it down now. Hey, we're closing early," he announced to the other patrons. "Chew it or lose it! You have until Lorelai finishes her coffee!"

Lorelai glanced nervously over her shoulder as she saw all of the townies in the diner begin wolfing down their food without even chewing. "Hey, Luke, it's okay, really. I, uh, I think I'm gonna keep it," she said with a fond smile.

"What?"

"Yeah. It's beautiful, and you made it for me, and it doesn't have to be a wedding chuppah. It can just be a beautiful archway in our yard," she said softly. "I'll grow stuff on it," she added with a self-deprecating smile.

Luke glanced down at the counter top. "Well, okay. Um, I'll help you move it around the yard, wherever you want it to be," he said with a nod and a small pleased smile.

"Well, that'd be good."

Luke looked up and his eyes met hers. Just as it always sis, his heart skipped a beat. Taking a deep breath, he distracted himself by moving the towel from one spot on the counter to another as he asked, "So, where'd you guys go?"

"Well, we drove around a little, we hit a B&B, and we took a tour of Harvard."

"Harvard? Interesting," he said as he leaned against the back counter. "That explains the weird phone calls about possible relatives."

"Yeah," Lorelai said, her cheeks coloring slightly. "It was amazing. Seeing Rory there, in a dorm room, in a classroom. She fit," she said in a voice filled with pride and wonder.

Luke nodded. "Yeah, I can see her fitting there."

Lorelai smiled as she heard the warmth in his voice. "She was right at home."

Luke narrowed his eyes, looking at her closely as he leaned forward a little and asked, "So, how you taking that?"

"Taking what?"

"Seeing her fit?" he said, gesturing with the towel in his hand.

Lorelai smiled and sighed. "I loved it…and I hated it," she said honestly.

Luke laughed softly as he said, "That seems about right."

Comforted by his easy understanding and warmed by his intense blue eyes focused only on her, Lorelai looked down as she fiddled with the lid on her coffee cup and confided, "Man, these past few days, just so many thoughts about my life then, my life now, what I missed. Thoughts about what I'll never have, and what I want to have," she said with a slight nod.

Luke nodded and said quietly, "Yeah, that's a lot of thoughts."

Lorelai chuckled. "You're not kidding." Anxious to change the subject before she revealed too much, she plunged ahead with what she had intended to ask him about all along. "So can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah," he said, leaning forward as he gave her his undivided attention.

"Have you ever set up a line of credit at a bank?" she blurted.

Luke's eyebrows shot up. He shook his head as he said, "No."

"But you don't pay for everything with cash on hand, do you?" she persisted.

"What's all this about?" he asked suspiciously.

"I think it's time to make a move."

"Meaning?"

"I'm diving in. Sookie and I are finally gonna open that inn," she said resolutely.

"Yeah, I know," he answered with a quick nod.

"No, I mean now. We've been talking about it and dreaming about it and it's time to finally get going on it," she said adamantly.

"Well, if the time is right".

"It is," she said firmly. "Think I can hack being a business owner?" she asked challengingly.

"I think you can hack anything," he answered simply.

Lorelai's smile brightened as she asked, "Really?"

"Yeah. I mean, you know all the creative stuff to the job, and you can manage and uh, I've seen you try to add numbers, so I'd get an accountant first thing," he teased.

"Okay, yes," she conceded.

"So how far along are you?"

"This far," she admitted unashamedly.

Luke nodded and looked down as he trailed his fingers over the counter top. "Well, listen, um, you know, I'm no financial genius, but you know, we can sit down sometime, and you can pick my brain on the few things I do know about," he offered.

"Really?" she asked hopefully.

"Sure, I've been around some," he shrugged.

"Can I ask you stupid questions?" she asked, falling back into her old flirtatious tone.

"There's no such thing," Luke flirted right back.

Schooling her features Lorelai asked pleadingly, "How does ink come out of pens?"

"All right, there is such a thing," Luke said quickly. He fixed her with a stern look and asked, "But, um, you're going to avoid that when we sit down, right?"

"Right," she said as she stood up. She picked up her jacket an purse and looked up at him shyly. "Thank you," she said in a soft voice filled with emotion.

"Yeah. And let me know when you need help with the thing that's not a chuppah anymore," he said as he ducked his head.

"Tonight's good," Lorelai said as she looked around at the diner's who were shoving the remainder of their meals into their mouths even as they began to stand up.

"You sure?"

"I have some beer."

"I'll be over as soon as I close up," Luke said quickly.

"You're easy," Lorelai said with a grin.

"And cheap. Be over soon."

Lorelai sat on the front porch with a bottle of beer dangling from her fingers as she stared up at the chuppah gleaming in the glow of the porch light. She catalogued each cluster of grapes and marveled at the veins that showed in each carefully carved leaf. Lorelai rose from the step and walked down to the chuppah. She ran her hand along the spiraled pillars, smiling at the feel of the smooth wood against her palm.

"He must have worked on it all summer," Rory said from the doorway.

Lorelai glanced back in surprise and nodded. "Sweet, huh?"

"Not the word I usually pick for Luke, but yeah, it was really sweet," Rory agreed as she stifled a yawn. "I was just coming to tell you that I'm going to bed."

Lorelai nodded. "Hey, did I ever thank you for running away from home with me?" she asked softly.

"No need to thank me." Rory looked at the chuppah and asked, "Are you gonna have him take it down?"

Lorelai shook her head and said, "No, I think we'll just move it. Use it as an archway or something."

Rory nodded and said, "Good. I think it kind of fits in our yard."

"Yeah, me too," Lorelai agreed. She turned as she heard someone walking up the drive. "Hey, your beer is getting warm," she called out.

"Did you already drink half of it?" Luke asked as he emerged from the darkness into the pool of soft yellow light.

"Nah, I have my own," Lorelai said with a quick shake of her head. "I had to beat Rory off with a stick, though."

"Well, I often confuse bed time with Miller Time," Rory said as she waved to Luke.

"Hey, Rory. I heard you guys visited Harvard," Luke said as he returned her wave.

"It was great," Rory said with an excited nod.

"I heard that too."

"Well, I'm off to bed. Night, Mom. Night, Luke," she called as she stepped back into the house.

"Night, Rory," Lorelai and Luke called in unison.

"You owe me a Coke," Lorelai said quickly.

"You owe me a beer and that trumps a Coke," Luke retorted.

"You are right," Lorelai said as she walked back to the steps and retrieved his beer.

Luke twisted the cap off and dropped it into his jeans pocket. "Thanks."

"You collecting those?" she asked as she pointed to his pocket.

"Huh? Oh, no. I just didn't want to, you know, just toss it in your yard." He glanced up at the chuppah and said, "Well, do you want me to put it in back?"

"In back? No. I want it out here where I can see it," Lorelai said with a confused frown.

"Oh, well, I wasn't sure," he said uncomfortably.

Lorelai smiled. "Luke, look at it. It's beautiful, and you made it. Do you know how amazing that is?"

Luke lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "It's just a hobby."

"There's a goat, Luke. Nothing that has a goat is just a hobby."

"I just wanted you to have something nice," he said as he picked at a loose corner of the label with his thumbnail.

"Something beautiful," she corrected. Their eyes met for a moment, and Lorelai thanked the heavens above for the dim light as she felt a blush burn in her cheeks. "I, uh, named him. The goat. Gilbert."

Luke nodded. "Good name for a goat."

Lorelai cleared her throat softly and said, "I was thinking maybe over there," as she pointed toward the end of the porch.

"Good spot."

"I'm just full of the good tonight," she chuckled.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Luke asked quietly.

Lorelai sighed and averted her eyes as she reached out and gently stroked Gilbert's nose. "You know, I can fool myself about a lot of things," she said so softly he almost didn't hear her. "I can tell myself that a Pop Tart is a perfectly balanced breakfast for a growing girl, I can convince myself that it's perfectly fine that my daughter's first real exposure to Shakespeare came from Leonardo DiCaprio, and if I try hard enough, I can pretend that my mother has moved to Outer Mongolia, wherever that is," she said with a wry smile.

"Well, you can dream," Luke said with a soft chuckle.

"But I can't fool myself about this," she said as she shook her head sadly. "I wanted it so badly that I just grabbed it, you know? I wanted to have that someone I can count on, who will always be there for me and I'll always be there for him. And Max wanted that too," she added quickly. "He was there for me. He was here. But, it's just that, he didn't fit here," she said as she dared to glance over at Luke.

"Maybe he would have eventually," Luke said with a shrug.

"Ah, but then you get into the whole changing someone thing. I'd be trying to change him, he'd be trying to change me, and the next thing you know, we're eating French food every night," she said with a wry smile.

"God, no," Luke muttered under his breath.

Lorelai turned to look at him and said, "He didn't fit here," as she gestured to her house. "His clothes didn't fit in the closet, an armoire wouldn't fit in my room, he doesn't mow…" she trailed off. Lorelai hung her head and said, "I get too many magazines. I can't fit three newspapers a day into my recycle bin. I wouldn't even make him a set of keys," she confessed as she looked up at him. "I mean, I didn't do it on purpose, or maybe I did, I don't know. I just couldn't picture him living here in my house. Always being here in my space."

"That would be hard," Luke conceded.

"And this town. This town means so much to me. And to Rory. This is our home. The only home we've ever really had. I don't want to leave here, and he, well, he doesn't fit here either," Lorelai said quietly. "It sounds stupid, I know…"

"No, stupid would have been getting married and figuring this all out later."

"True," she said with a nod. "You only get married once, theoretically." When Luke smiled, recalling his own words, Lorelai reached out and ran her hand over Gilbert's muzzle once more. "I just want it to fit."

Luke nodded once. "So, over there?" he asked as he nodded to the spot she had indicated minutes before.

Lorelai stepped back as Luke set his beer on the bottom step and moved beneath the chuppah to lift it. She watched as he carefully moved it away from the steps and placed it where she had instructed. As he walked back over to her he brushed his hands over the back of his jeans and said, "I can move it tomorrow. You know, get it at the angle you want or whatever."

"Thanks, Luke. You're the best," Lorelai said as she handed him his half empty beer. "Another?" she asked, turning to the house.

"Nah, I'm good with this," Luke said as he followed her to the steps.

Lorelai nodded and sat down in the spot where she had perched on the top step. The bottle dangled from her hand as she leaned forward and hugged her knees. "You know, when Max's car broke down here last winter, I thought it was fate," she said, as she stared at the tips of his worn boots. "Of course, I tried to run from it, and then fate came back around, and I decided that maybe I should give in. You know, go with the flow," she said with a sheepish smile.

"Uh huh," Luke grunted as he took a long drink of his beer.

"I mean, let's face it, aside from the fitting thing, he was pretty much the perfect guy."

"Oh, I'm sure," Luke said dryly.

"Okay, the newspapers were a bit much," she said with a laugh.

"Ya think?"

"But sometimes I felt like, well, not that he ever really meant this, it's probably an occupational hazard," she rambled.

Luke shifted uncomfortably, frankly tired of the on-going 'Max is such a great guy' conversation. "What? He spouted Proust while dusting? I assume he dusts, since he doesn't mow."

Lorelai shook her head and said in all seriousness, "Sometimes, it seemed like he was talking to me like I was, you know, some sixteen year old that needed to be guided or something."

Luke snorted and stared over at her, incredulous. "You?"

Lorelai chuckled at his disbelief. "Like I said, I don't think he meant to.

"Because all of this, just what, happened?" Luke said as he jerked his head toward the house.

"Maybe I wasn't doing it right," Lorelai said with a rueful smile.

"Maybe he was an idiot," Luke grumbled, fixing her with a hard stare as he lifted his bottle again.

Lorelai smiled and said, "See, that's what I need."

"What?"

"I need a guy like you. Someone who gets me, who knows just what to ask, or when to back off. Someone who mows," she said as she bumped her shoulder against his.

"You have Little Pete," Luke said as he ducked his head.

"Little Pete is not like you. You always believe in me. And Rory. You're always there, but you're not all obnoxious about it, you know?" Lorelai mused aloud. "I mean, I know you like to complain about the food and the coffee and stuff, but I also know that if you didn't care about us, you wouldn't bother." Lorelai stared out at the darkened yard, lost in thought. "Yeah, I need a guy like you."

"Like me," Luke muttered as he dangled his bottle of beer between his knees.

Lorelai chewed her lip as she turned and squinted into the dark where her chuppah now rested. "Maybe not just like you," she said slowly.

"Well, you can find one without the hat, I'm sure," Luke said gruffly.

Lorelai turned to look at him and studied his profile intently until he finally turned toward her. "You fit," she whispered. "Maybe I need you."

Luke frowned as her words swirled in his head. "Me?"

"Maybe," Lorelai said in the barest whisper.

She leaned in a little and saw Luke's eyes drop to her mouth for a fraction of a second before they met hers again. And there, in the soft yellow glow of the porch light, she saw everything she needed to see. She pressed her lips softly to his, tasting the beer, savoring the soft sweetness of his bottom lip, closing her eyes and sinking into him as his stubble rasped her cheek and chin.

"Is it you?" Lorelai asked as she pulled back slightly.

Luke caught his upper lip in his teeth and closed his eyes as he tasted her on his lips. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and took a deep breath before shaking his head slowly. "It can't be me," he said, his voice betraying him slightly as he looked into her clear blue eyes.

Luke set his bottle down on the step and pressed his hands to his knees to push himself up off of the step. Lorelai's jaw dropped slightly as she watched him stand and walk to the bottom of the stairs. Luke ducked his head, scuffing the toe of his boot against a stepping stone as he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. He rubbed his thumb over the bottle cap, and knew that it would never be thrown away.

"Luke?" Lorelai called softly.

Luke simply shook his head again as he looked up. "I can't be your rebound, Lorelai," he said quietly and turned and walked away.