A/N: Okay, I'm running late, but I have a note! It's an author's note, and not a doctor's note, but there you go. This is the prologue to the auction story purchased by IkilledKenny after she sold a kidney or something to buy me. The story won't make the deadline in its entirety, but I at least wanted to get a start on it. My sincere thanks to IkilledKenny, and to everyone who participated in the auction.

This story will be a bit AU. At least, as AU as I ever get. I have taken the events of the last few episodes of season 4 and the first few of season 5 and changed things up a bit. I added a little here and took some away there. Let's see where we end up, shall we?

Prologue: The Sound of Silence

You know how in the movies there's always that moment of silence just before the bomb goes off when everything is silent and everyone moves in slow motion? The moment just hangs there, pulsing like the beat of your heart, daring you to exhale, waiting for you to let your guard down so that you can be blown to bits. You know its coming. You know that everything is about to change. The only question is; will you survive the fallout?

The silence roared in his ears.

Then it was drowned out by the pounding of his heart.

From somewhere in the deep recesses of his brain, the order came down to inhale. So, he did, pulling precious oxygen into his lungs as instinct kicked in.

And then the concussion vibrated through his body and rocked him back on his heels.

His knees were about to give out. Move, he ordered himself sternly.

It wouldn't take much, really. It was just a tiny step from there to here. From the sink to the table. From Nicole to Lorelai. Such a tiny step, a baby step. But it felt like a giant leap.

At last, Luke sank down into a chair, still staring straight ahead, the 'whoa' he had uttered still echoing off of the walls of his empty apartment. He forced himself to flex his fingers and drop the towel caught in their death grip onto the tabletop. The skin stretched taut across his knuckles, protesting each movement, begging for a tiny squirt of hand lotion that would never come. There was none to be had. All that was available to his dry, cracking skin was the harsh pumice-laced rasp of the bar of Lava soap resting on the lip of the sink, a stark reminder of a week spent trying to erase the dark, inky stain of failure.

He rubbed his palm over the tender flesh, trying to soothe it without benefit of aloe and lanolin, as his eyes fell to the ancient boom box. The moron on the tape still droned on and on about being open to love, communicating needs, and asking for the love that you deserve. Unable to work up the energy to press the 'stop' button, Luke simply dropped his hands to his lap and let his gaze follow them. The permanent ink was mostly gone, but remnants remained deeply embedded into the whorls of his thumb. He could make out the faint shadow of regret as he stared at his thumb. The heavy gloom of disappointment seeped into his pores, tainting his blood with a heavy dose of guilt, and infecting him with almost crippling remorse.

At least you got married. It makes me sad sometimes. Does it make you sad? I see Dr. Phil books in our future. Do you think I can do this? Lorelai's questions swirled in his head, floating aimlessly, drifting like burning debris caught on the breeze. He feared the moment they touched down, knowing how quickly those thoughts, if they settled, could ignite everything he had stored safely deep down inside of him.

Can I do this? he asked himself. Do I even want to? Luke reached out and punched the button to stop the tape. He shook his head as he stared at the cover of his You Deserve Love workbook as if he had never seen it before. Do I? Do I deserve love? Didn't Nicole? I couldn't give her that. What if I don't have anything to give?

"Lorelai," he spoke her name slowly, as if testing it out for the first time; letting the consonants roll off his tongue, tasting every vowel, savoring each melodic syllable.

He'd wanted her before. It seemed so long ago. A lifetime ago. A marriage ago. Only a year ago. Had it really been just a little over a year since he had finally let go of that last shred of hope? Okay, maybe not the last shred. He'd hung onto that, but he did let the rest of it go. He purposefully, resolutely turned his attentions from the woman he could never have to the one that he could. A sharp pain knifed into his gut as he purposefully and resolutely turned away from the cover of that stupid workbook. I did what I had to do. I couldn't just sit around waiting for her. I moved on, I lived my life, he told himself. It hadn't been as hard as he thought it would be. After all, you can't miss what you never really had, right?

Nicole was there. Nicole had wanted him. Why, he'd never really know, but she did. Truth be told, it felt good. Good to be wanted by an attractive, accomplished woman. Good to be able to make her laugh. Good to be the one she wanted to talk to at night. Good to hear his name whispered, breathless and needy, and know that, for once, he wasn't the one panting after what he couldn't have. He didn't have to, he had Nicole. For what that was worth.

Oh, he liked her well enough. Actually, he liked her a lot. But more than that, he liked that she liked him so much. And the funny thing was; he hardly ever asked himself why. He didn't care.

He never even bothered to try to figure out why an intelligent, educated, witty and worldly woman like Nicole would want a small town diner owner with nothing more than a high school diploma moldering in a box and nothing less than an full on addiction to flannel. Luke didn't sell himself short. He knew that he was a smart guy. He was well read, and kept up with current events. He cared about things; the environment, homelessness, plummeting literacy rates and baby seals getting clubbed over the head. Vain or not, Luke also knew that he was reasonably good looking. He may not be as young as he once was, but he took good care of his body and he knew that his natural aversion to shaving had an odd tendency to work to his advantage where women were concerned. And, there may have been a few women in his past that may have mentioned that he a certain kind of charm. Luke saw no reason not to use that if it suited his purposes. He could talk to people if he wanted to. He dealt with all kinds of people from all walks of life in his day to day business. And, contrary to popularly held beliefs, Luke Danes knew many, many polysyllabic words. He just didn't see the point in using more when one syllable would do. See? I could have used 'suffice' there, but 'do' would do, he thought with a smirk.

No, he just never bothered to wonder which words Nicole Leahy would use if asked what she saw in him. She saw something, and that was fine with him. Knowing would have given him some obligation to live up to those words, so he didn't ask. It just made it easier to want to be with her. It made it easier to pretend that it was more than it was. It made it easier to stay married rather than go through the hassle of a divorce.

But in a way, Nicole's adamant insistence in making their relationship work was exactly what made it harder to stay married to her. He'd liked dating her. He'd liked sleeping with her. He'd liked having someone check in with him. He didn't even mind checking in with her. He liked that he could make plans or say things like, 'Nicole and I saw that play last month,' or 'I took Nicole to that new restaurant in Woodbury'. Seems like a pretty stupid reason to stay married to someone. It seems more than a little odd when, for all intents and purposes, they had already gone through the hassle of getting a divorce. All he had to do was sign the papers in front of a notary and send them off to be filed. But, being with Nicole had proved to be better then being without Nicole, and she seemed to want to make it work, so he figured, why not, right?

Why. 'Why' was the correct question to have asked. I should have asked myself why, he chastised himself. I should have asked her, 'Why me?' I should have questioned the sanity of dating a woman that you were already legally married to, but no desire to be legally married to. I should have questioned the validity of that marriage in the first place, when I must have been clearly out of my mind at the time, he thought with a derisive snort. Why did I say 'I do'? Why did she? She wanted out as much as I did. Why did she come back? Why did I agree? And, why did I beat up that guy's car when I so clearly just don't really give a damn? Luke asked himself as he slumped in the chair. But he had never asked those questions. Maybe because he didn't want to know the answers, or maybe because he just didn't care.

Why do you care?

Because I don't want you to move.

Why? Why don't you want me to move?

I could ask Lorelai, he thought sadly. I had no trouble asking her why. Luke reached out and ran his hand over the cover of the workbook that came with the tapes. I asked her why she cared, and she gave me an answer. I asked her why she didn't want me to move, and her silence spoke volumes. And that was why I hadn't signed those papers. Why should I? Why would I willingly choose to be alone again? Why would I want to subject myself to spending night after night in an empty bed in an empty apartment?

Luke sighed and hung his head, ashamed that he had chosen to waste months of his life pretending to be something he was not, all to avoid being left alone with his own thoughts. He subjected Nicole to months of confusion and misunderstanding; clearly unwilling to commit himself to their relationship, but stubbornly refusing to let her go. And now, he was right back where he started, alone in his apartment, staring at his thumb.

But, something was different now. Lorelai. It could happen. They were older and wiser, or so he told himself. It was nicer than admitting that maybe it could happen because they had both failed again, and things were starting to look a little more desperate. He was free. She was free. And, if he was reading her right, and he had years of experience under his belt when it came to reading Lorelai Gilmore, she didn't seem particularly upset about the guy. The cats, yes, but not the guy, he thought, chuckling to himself.

Now all he had to do is figure out if he had the balls to do something about it. Now, all he had to do was figure out if he really wanted to. He looked down at the book for which he had willingly shelled out a hundred bucks. American, not Canadian. Don't you want the possibility of more? Come on Luke, it's time. Make a move, take a shot; entertain the possibility of a non-Unabomber existence. What do you say? A lifetime ago, she had prodded him about his single bed in his teeny tiny apartment. A failed marriage later, he looked across the room and saw that very same bed mocking him, passing judgment on him.

"I say that I'm not sure that I deserve love, but I want it," he answered her quietly as he fanned the pages of his workbook with the pad of his thumb. I want it. I want Lorelai, he thought as he closed his eyes and once again saw her beautiful face. I want to love Lorelai. I want Lorelai to love me.

He flexed his fingers again and then reached for the pad and pen he had used to scrawl his to-do list of preparations for Liz and T.J.'s wedding. At the bottom of the list he wrote in neat block letters, 'buy lotion', and then flipped to the next page. He pressed the button to rewind the cassette and then pressed play, hunching over the pad of paper as he set to work on repairing his damaged psyche and broke out the jackhammer in hopes of repaving his road.

Whatever the hell that meant…

Lorelai blinked at the shadows that danced on her ceiling wishing that she could place the blame for one more sleepless night on the sounds generated by a restless college student clattering around in the kitchen, but she knew that wasn't the problem. She tried to tell herself that it was just stress. The test run for the inn was just around the corner, Rory was in some weird, post-finals sleeping pattern, Cletus kept wowing them his Houdini imitation, Jackson was spending nights in his zucchini patch, and something happened last Saturday night. Bingo! We have a winner, folks. Last Saturday night. Last Saturday night, she danced with Luke. It shouldn't feel like a big deal, right? It was just a dance, after all. But, something happened as they circled that dance floor. Something good. I think, she told herself as she tugged the covers up once more, only to push them down a moment later. The problem was that she just couldn't put her finger on what it was.

Lorelai conveniently skipped right over the fact that she blushed in his arms when she felt his eyes focused solely on her, dark blue and intense. She glossed right over the memory of the warmth of his hand on her back. She completely ignored the super-instant-recall powers she had suddenly acquired for the express purpose of knowing exactly how her body felt when pressed against his. No, she didn't think about how broad and solid his chest was beneath the dark suit she had chosen for him long ago. She didn't dwell on how safe she felt in his strong arms. She didn't spend hours pondering how that scruffy stubble would feel against her skin, or if his lips were really as soft as they looked.

Instead, she focused on the movie they were supposed to see Sunday. Would it be an action movie, or a drama? Would he force her to sit through the latest Sci-Fi adventure, or would he give in and let her sucker him into a chick flick? Would he shush her if she talked? How long would he lecture her if she ate popcorn, nachos and Red Vines, or should she drop the nachos from the line-up in hopes that the rant would end before the previews started? Would he eat popcorn? With butter or without? Would she get her own bag, or would they share the big tub? When she reached for some popcorn, would he reach at the same time? If their hands brushed, accidentally of course, in the quest for buttery, salty goodness would he pull away? Would she? Once the popcorn was consumed, would he go for a refill, or would he try to hold her hand? He held her hand last Saturday night, when they danced. It felt good. She had wanted him to hold her hand as they walked home. She had wanted…

Lorelai heard the clatter of a lid being dropped into the kitchen sink, and tossed back the covers as she heaved herself from the bed. She padded down the hall to the steps and walked down them, careful not to trip in her sleep deprived state.

When she shuffled into the kitchen, Rory looked up as she drained a steaming pot of macaroni noodles. "Oh, hi! Great! I'm still on my finals sleep schedule, and, man, am I wired. What time is it? Like, 3:00 in the morning? I cannot tell anymore," she babbled, completely wired up. "Want some mac and cheese? I love mac and cheese when I can't sleep." She checked the refrigerator and smiled excitedly. "Cool. Individual cheese slices." Rory began dropping slices of cheese into the pot of steaming noodles. "So, I've been making out my résumé so I can try to get a summer job, because there is no way that I am going to swipe cafeteria cards again next year." Her train of thought was derailed by the buzz of the dryer. "My whites are done," she said as she hustled to grab her next load. Lorelai slipped into a chair and pressed her forehead to the cool tabletop. "Do you know that the best time to do your laundry at Yale is in the middle of the night? You have your pick of washers, the place has just been swept, and the trash is completely empty," she said enthusiastically as she swapped out her laundry. "So, what do you think? The Stars Hollow Gazette needs a facts checker, but Rob's Tire is offering way more money," she rambled as Lorelai stood up and walked over to the door. "I know that now is the time to suffer for my art, but I was so broke…" she trailed off as Lorelai locked the door and pulled it firmly closed between them.

Lorelai took a deep breath and said in a rush, "I think I'm dating Luke." She nodded once and then turned away from the door calling, "Great to have you home, hon," as she shuffled toward the steps.

"I slept with Dean," Rory called back from the other side of the locked door.

Lorelai froze in her tracks. There was a dull, muffled hum in her ears as the silence enshrouded her brain in a cushiony soft cloud of disbelief. She turned her head slowly and then waited for the rest of her body to catch up. Each step she took matched the cadence of her beating heart. Cautiously, she reached for the door as it were wired to blow. She turned the lock, the mechanism rattled like the click of a detonator in the silent room. When neither attempted to open the unlocked door, Lorelai closed her eyes to shield them from the glare of the blast she knew was about to come.

"You what?"

Rory placed the palm of her hand to the smooth wooden door and softly repeated, "I slept with Dean."

Lorelai closed her gaping mouth and swallowed hard as the realization that this was not just a bizarre dream sank in. "When?" she managed to squeak.

"Last Saturday night."

Last Saturday night. The words floated innocently through the door and then exploded into fragments, tearing Lorelai into tiny pieces like a thousand shards of shrapnel. Last Saturday night. Was it while Luke and I were dancing? Were you sleeping with a married man while I coaxed Luke into sharing a second turkey leg with me? Did you give your virginity to another woman's husband while I was hanging out with my good friend Luke? You remember Luke, the one whose wife cheated on him with the sock man. Instead, she said simply, "Oh, Rory."

"I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about it first. I - I know I promised I would, but I swear, I didn't know it was going to happen," Rory said in a rush. "I mean, I got stuck at this bar, and I didn't have a ride home, and I didn't have cab fare, and the ATM was in a really dicey area according to the waitress. I didn't know who to call, so I called Dean, and he came to get me and gave me a ride back to school."

Lorelai turned the knob and jerked the door open. "You didn't have cab fare, so you paid him back by…"

"No! It wasn't like that! We got back to Yale, and Jess was there, and he was saying all of these things, crazy things," Rory cried in frustration.

"Jess? Jess was there?"

"He just showed up, completely out of the blue! He was there waiting for me when Dean walked me to my door, and said he needed to talk to me. I thanked Dean for the ride home, and then, the next thing I know, Jess is asking me to quit school and run away with him. He was going on and on about how we were meant to be together, that I was all packed, that it was what I wanted, but it wasn't what I wanted. Not like that," Rory said plaintively.

Lorelai reached out and took Rory's hand, gently pulling her back into the kitchen. She led her to the table and urged her into the chair that she had just vacated. She pulled out another chair and sank down into it, running her hands through her lack-of-sleep tousled curls. "Okay, you're gonna need to go slower for me, kid. I'm having a hard time keeping up." She drew in a deep breath and then said, "You got stranded, called Dean to pick you up, but when you got home Jess was waiting for you. Have I got that straight?" When Rory nodded, Lorelai licked her lips and said, "And Jess wanted you to run away with him, but you didn't want to."

"Right. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn't want to," Rory told her.

Lorelai blinked rapidly as she held up one hand. "Wait. You didn't want to, uh, with Dean?"

"Not Dean, Jess," Rory said impatiently.

"You said you slept with Dean," Lorelai retorted.

"I did, but it was after Jess left."

"Oh my God," Lorelai muttered as she dropped her forehead into her hands.

"I just, I was so upset, and Dean, he stayed until he was sure that Jess was gone, just to be sure that I was okay," Rory explained. "And I, we, we didn't mean for it to happen, it just happened. And he, he was so nice to me, Mom. I know it's awful for you to find out like this, and I really wanted to tell you, really I did but everything's okay. I'm okay, and we were, you know, safe. So, all those Trojan Man jokes all these years really apparently stuck," she tried to joke. When she saw that Lorelai wasn't laughing she bit her lip and then said, "And I'm lucky, too, because Dean. He's… well, aren't you glad that it happened with someone who's good and really loves me?"

"He's married," Lorelai said, completely flummoxed by the justifications she heard flowing from her daughter's lips.

"I know," Rory whispered as she stared down at the table.

"He's married to someone else, not you," Lorelai said nonsensically.

"I know it not me! You don't have to keep saying it!" Rory snapped as she jumped up from her seat.

"Rory, I said it once," Lorelai said sadly.

"It feels like you're rubbing it in!"

"I'm not! I just want to be sure that you understand what you've done. This was your first time. This was not how your first time was supposed to be. I never, ever thought that your first time would be with a married guy."

"He's not a married guy, he's Dean! My Dean!" Rory blurted.

"Oh, Rory," Lorelai whispered. "He's not your Dean. He's Lindsay's Dean. You picked someone else. He married someone else. You picked the other guy who showed up at your door tonight, and he married Lindsay, not you," she pointed out bluntly.

Rory's eyes widened and then filled with tears as she stared back at her mother. "I know," she whispered brokenly.

"Oh, kid," Lorelai said as she pulled Rory into her arms. Her heart broke as a sob ripped through her baby's body. "Shh, it's okay. You'll be okay. Everybody makes mistakes," she comforted.

Rory took a deep, shuddering breath and whispered, "I don't know why I did it. I was confused. So confused."

"We'll figure it out." Lorelai's heart clenched as she kissed Rory's silky hair and then smoothed it as she had when she was just a toddler.

"Did you say you were dating Luke?" Rory asked, her voice muffled in her mother's neck.

"Shh," she whispered again, and wondered idly if a spritz of Bactine, a Band Aid and a kiss could possibly fix this.

Emily Gilmore sat in the lobby of the Grafton Hotel waiting for her husband of nearly forty years to pick her up for a weekend of emotional blackmail at Lorelai's new inn. She glanced over at the lobby bar, wishing that she could have just one nice, stiff drink to get her through what was bound to be an interminable weekend, but a lady never sits at a bar, much less by herself. That, and heaven forbid, someone she knows should walk through the door and find her tossing back her first martini at four fifteen in the afternoon. Oh, a martini would be so lovely, she thought, looking at the bar longingly.

With a sigh, Emily glanced down at her watch impatiently, and then returned to her intense scrutiny of the hotel lobby's opulent, if not a tad garish, décor. For over two weeks she has called this hotel home, only dashing back to the house to collect more belongings when she was sure that Richard would not be home. She had spent the previous afternoon staring into her large walk-in closet in the bedroom they had shared for thirty nine years, trying to decide what she should pack for what was sure to be a weekend of torment at her daughter's hands. Of course, she had packed for Richard too. She tried to tell herself that it was a matter of self-preservation. God only knows what the man would have chosen to wear if left to his own devices. She also knew that it was a lie. Richard had been dressing himself without her input for the past two weeks, but old habits die hard.

She had rifled through his dresser drawers, keeping an eagle eye out for any evidence of past indiscretions, and feeling a petty sense of triumph as she left each and every one in complete disarray. Not that Richard would notice. No, the only one who would pay any heed to the reckless ransacking would be the maid, Elsa. Was it still Elsa? No, Kiki, she recalled with a nod. "Shriva!" she murmured aloud, and then caught herself. She spared the occupants of the lobby a nervous glance to see if anyone had overheard the crazy lady on the settee talking to herself; but all she saw was the bell captain approaching.

"Mrs. Gilmore?" he inquired politely.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Gilmore has arrived and your luggage is in the trunk," he reported with a nod.

"Thank you," Emily said stiffly as she rose from the sofa and settled her purse strap on her shoulder. With her head held high, she followed the liveried bellman through the front door and stood back silently fuming as he opened the passenger door to Richard's Jaguar for her. She settled in the seat and turned to confront her husband as the door closed securely behind her.

Richard held up one hand to stop her, his head cocked toward the center console where his cell phone rested. "Wednesday should be fine, Floyd. If you'll have your girl set up the tee time, I'll handle the lunch reservations."

"Excellent!" Floyd boomed through the speaker. "I'll see to it today. This should prove to be a very advantageous deal, Richard. I have every faith in you. Give my love to Emily."

"I will," Richard responded before disconnecting the call. "Floyd sends his love," he said as he put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb without so much as a glance in her direction.

"Well, it's nice that someone does," Emily answered tartly. "And I find it so touching that Floyd Stiles has every faith in your abilities, Richard. He must be much relieved to have been born again."

"Don't start," Richard said in a warning tone.

"A man of such faith, well, he certainly is a man to be trusted and admired. I'm so happy that you two were able to kiss and make up," she said in a saccharine sweet tone.

"I did what I had to do," Richard said through clenched teeth.

"So I hear," she said as she pursed her lips and turned to watch the scenery fly past her window.

"And your fears have proven false. The rapprochement with Floyd has not had a negative impact on our relationship with Lorelai, nor with Rory," he said in a smug, self-satisfied tone.

"No thanks to you," Emily said under her breath.

Richard heaved a long-suffering sigh and then pressed the button to increase the volume on the car stereo. Emily turned to gape at him, stunned by his easy dismissal as a symphony of stringed instruments built to a stirring crescendo.

The music fell on deaf ears as she stared straight ahead, watching the road stretch endlessly in front of her. Her heart hammered in her chest, dwarfing the thundering timpani that pulsed through premium stereo speakers. Her face felt flushed and then she felt the blood drain from it entirely as she struggled to draw a shallow breath. For one frantic moment, she wondered if he'd even notice if she expired at that very moment. Of course he would, she admonished herself, you're sitting in his precious Jaguar. He'd have to move the body eventually. Where would his lunch dates sit?

The letter had taken her hours to compose. She worked harder on that letter than she had on most of her term papers. Of course, it was nowhere as easy to write as her term papers had been. She had avoided him all week, trying to sort out her thoughts and feelings about what had happened, and trying to be mature and responsible about what they had done. But she wanted him to know that she didn't regret it. Well, she regretted parts of it, but she didn't regret him. She knew that she would see him that day, and she wasn't wrong. What she was wrong about was his reaction to seeing her. He avoided eye contact. He went out of his way to keep from coming within ten yards of her. When she waved, he looked away as if he hadn't seen her, when she knew damn well he did. And that's when Rory Gilmore got angry.

She saw him walk through the back door holding one of the highly anticipated guest room doors and cornered him in the hall. "Hi," she said breathlessly.

Dean set the heavy door down and drew in a deep breath. "Hey. I, uh, I have to get this upstairs."

"Can't we talk?"

"What about?"

"What about?" she asked, her voice rising in disbelief.

"I don't mean what about," he said quickly. Dean lowered his voice and said, "I know what about, but I thought that the fact that you've been avoiding me kind of made the whole talking thing a little difficult to do. I left you three messages. You didn't answer any of them."

"I didn't know what to say, Dean. I didn't plan for that to happen, but I did ask you to come, remember? It's all my fault," she said plaintively.

Dean shook his head as he stared down into her bright blue eyes. "It's not your fault. I was there too. Right?" he asked, leaning in a little closer to her.

"Right," she answered, her brow puckering into a frown even as she leaned closer to him.

"It was both of us," he said in a low, raspy voice.

"Dean!" Tom barked from the entryway. Rory and Dean jumped apart, and her cheeks flamed as she heard Tom ask, "How we doing with those doors?"

"We're doing fine, Tom," Dean reassured his boss as he picked up the door again.

"Dean," Rory hissed as she pulled a folded envelope from the back pocket of her jeans. He turned to look at her over his shoulder, and she reached out, tucking it securely into his back pocket. "It may have been both of us, but one of us needs to do this," she said with a small, sad smile as she turned and fled.

"Rory! Oh, my God. You're missing everything," Lorelai called as she burst through the front door. She jogged up the stairs shouting, "Grab those CDs and head back to the inn before you miss the cross-dressing midgets. That's where the night is headed. Oh! Things are happening.. big things, wow things. I have so much to tell you." She carefully picked her way back down the steps in her high heels holding a box of Band-Aids aloft. "Let me just open with this little tidbit… Kirk running naked through the square. Of course, with all my careful planning and preparation, I forgot to bring Band-Aids and a camera. I have got to learn that, always, without fail, Kirk equals camera," she reminded herself. She looked up as a flash of pink caught her eye and saw Rory standing alone in the kitchen facing her. "Hey, what's going on?" she asked with a puzzled frown.

Rory nervously tucked her hair behind her ear and said, "Dean came over to borrow something," as Dean made his appearance, rumpled and disheveled from Rory's bedroom.

"Yeah," he said gruffly and then cleared his throat. "Thanks," he said as he turned to Rory.

"You're welcome."

"So, um, I should go. Um...bye, Lorelai," he called as he made a hasty exit via the kitchen door.

"Bye, Dean," Rory called, attempting a carefree tone and falling far short of the mark. As the door closed behind him, Rory turned back to her mother and said, "So, I'm almost done getting the CDs together. I picked a wide selection so we'd have choices, and then I picked a bunch that probably only you will like, but it's good to have options," she rambled nervously as Lorelai crept forward and peered into Rory's bedroom.

"So, what did he borrow?" she asked softly, stunned that her bright, brilliant daughter could make the same bad decision twice.

"Mom, it's not what it looks like," Rory began.

"It looks like you slept with him again. It looks like he's still married."

"You don't understand the situation."

"Is he still married?" Lorelai asked.

"Yes, but…"

"Then I understand the situation," Lorelai interrupted, hoping to cut off Rory's attempt at justification.

"It's not working out between them. They're not happy."

Lorelai closed her eyes, wising with all her heart that she wasn't really hearing what she was hearing, "Oh, Rory."

"He tried the best he could, but it didn't work. It's over."

Lorelai sighed. "He told you that?"

"Yes."

"He told you he's leaving her? He told you he's moving out, they're getting divorced, he's got a lawyer, they've divided up the monster-truck season tickets?"

"We didn't get around to discussing everything."

"You didn't get around to discussing everything?" Lorelai cried, incredulous.

"It was a crazy night."

"You, of all people! The girl who thinks everything through, the list maker; you didn't bother to discuss those things before jumping into bed with a married guy?"

"He's not a married guy. He's Dean! My Dean!"

"Didn't we just have this discussion the other night? He's not your Dean, Rory! He's Lindsay's Dean. You're the other woman!"

"I told you, it's over."

"It's not over until he's out of the house with the ring off."

"He took the ring off!"

"Oh, my God, I don't believe this!"

"He's in love with me, not Lindsay."

"Does Lindsay know that?"

"She's not good for him, okay? She lets him quit school and work himself to death and…"

Lorelai shook her head adamantly as she said, "No, Rory, uh-uh, you can't be one of those girls who blames the wife for forcing the husband to cheat."

"He wasn't cheating."

"He was cheating, Rory. He was cheating, and you were cheating with him. There's no other way to spin that, kid."

"I'm not spinning it, and I'm not a kid. I'm nineteen!"

"I didn't raise you to be like this. I didn't raise you to be the kind of girl who sleeps with someone else's husband."

"You slept with dad when he was with Sherry," Rory said spitefully.

"He wasn't married to Sherry," Lorelai argued.

"He was engaged, and she was pregnant."

"So, this is all my fault? I set one crappy example for you, and you have no choice but to follow in my footsteps?" Lorelai argued. When Rory turned and walked away, she followed in hot pursuit. "Rory, what are you going to do now? Huh? Is there a plan?"

"I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"I just want what's best for you, that's all," Lorelai tried to explain.

"I don't want to talk about it!" Rory shouted.

"I just don't want you to get hurt, Rory. What if he doesn't leave her? Now you're all emotionally involved."

"You're just mad because I didn't come running to you to discuss whether or not I was ready for this step. I decided it on my own," Rory said angrily.

"Well, obviously, you weren't ready for this step. The very fact that you chose another girl's guy to sleep with, not once, but twice, proves that!"

Rory stormed out of the house, but by the time she reached the front lawn, she didn't know where she should go or what she should do. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and quickly dialed Dean's number as the hot, fat tears fell from her eyes, splashing onto her hand as she covered her mouth. She held the phone to her ear just in time to hear Dean's wife answer his phone, and knew that once again, she had made a terrible mistake. She disconnected the call as she sank to her knees, hugging her stomach as she doubled over with the pain of her own stupidity.

Lorelai walked slowly down the porch steps and cautiously approached her daughter. She bet over and placed a gentle hand on Rory's shoulder and said, "Hey, let's just talk."

Rory shook her head and then violently shook Lorelai's hand from her shoulder. "No," she said stubbornly as she stood up and then ran back into the house, slamming the front door behind her.

"I'm going to Europe with Grandma," Rory said flatly.

"Rory, you can't go to Europe now," Lorelai protested.

"You're the one who thought I should go, remember? You and Henry James are right, I can't stay here. Not now."

"Sweets, I know it's hard, but it'll blow over."

"Everyone knows, Mom. Lindsay and her mother have made sure that everyone knows," Rory said angrily. "I can't stay here."

"You have to stay here! Yes, you made a mistake, but you have to face…"

"Three mistakes," Rory interjected.

"Three?" Lorelai asked.

"Yes, three," Rory said grimly. "I can't stay here. Say goodbye to Daisy Miller, she's being shipped off to Europe."

"I am not shipping you off! I'm the one who is trying to make you deal with what has happened!"

"We're leaving tonight," she said as she went to her room to pack.

"Rory, please talk to me," Lorelai called as she followed her, only to have the bedroom door closed in her face. And then the lock clicked into place. She stared at it in shock, and that's when the fury took over. "That's right, you're nineteen now. You're all grown up, and you can handle your own affairs. Sorry. That's a bad choice of words. You can handle your own life events," she yelled through the door.

"That's right, I can," Rory yelled. "You know what? This trip is perfect. It gives me to opportunity to finally get away from you!"

"I'm sorry, weren't you supposed to go through this phase like five years ago? 'Cause, I mean, seriously, at this point, storming into your room and blasting your goth rock - it's just gonna confuse your roommates," Lorelai called snidely.

"The limo will pick me up. You should get back to the inn," Rory said, and then turned her music up.

"Don't tell me what to do!" Lorelai yelled like a frustrated nineteen year old. "I'm the parent, you're the kid!"

The volume was lowered and the lock turned. Rory opened the door a crack and stared at her mother defiantly. "I'm not a kid anymore. I suggest that you try to live your own life and stop trying to live mine for me," she said in a cold, controlled tone. And then, she closed the door and turned the lock once more.

There's a little beauty in every explosion. The flames can be breathtaking, licking at the ebony of the night sky as they reach for the heavens, consuming everything they touch. They burn down to smoldering red-gold coals that glow for days and sometimes weeks afterward, just waiting for the opportunity to flare into blazing glory again. And yet, even in some of the most horrific holocausts there are always amazing stories of survival. Those brave souls that somehow manage to battle their way through the flames that pucker their delicate skin. Those hearty fools who somehow manage to crawl through thick, choking smoke; only to cough up sweet, pure oxygen the moment they drink it in.

But, you can get through it. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to find your way to safety. Perhaps, with the helping hand of someone who loves you, who values you, who wants you; no matter what you've been through. If you can do that, well then, you can make it through anything. Once you reach that spot, that oasis of safety and comfort far, far from the suffocating heat, the pummeling shockwaves, and the cloying odor that embeds itself in your hair, your skin and your nostrils; you can finally relax and breathe deep once more. Breathe it in, taste the honey laden air on your tongue, swallow it deep into you lungs; filling yourself with the sound of silence. And peace.

If you're lucky…

tbc