A/N: I figure that seven weeks from Mid-May would have put Luke back in the Hollow somewhere in the first week of July, so I beg your indulgence on this one. Wishing you all a safe and happy Fourth of July! Now go neck on a blanket somewhere!
Love, Stars Hollow Style
Luke dropped the cell phone into his shirt pocket and turned as he called, "Liz!"
"Yeah, bro?" Liz answered as she hobbled out from behind a display of leather thong necklaces with dangling amulets.
"I've gotta go."
"Yeah, I know, I know," Liz sighed, expecting to hear the same litany she had been hearing for the past six and a half weeks.
"No, I mean it. I'm leaving. Today," Luke stated firmly.
"Today? But it's the Fourth of July! This place will be packed!" T.J. protested as he came up beside Liz.
Luke grasped his sister's uninjured arm and guided her firmly but gently away from the putz she had married. "I just have to get back, okay?" he said in a low, urgent voice.
"Sure, okay, yeah," Liz said slowly.
"I'm sorry. I don't want to leave you in a bind, but…"
"No, I'm sorry," Liz said quickly, effectively silencing her big brother. "You're right, you need to get back. I've been a little selfish. I liked having you here," she admitted with a sheepish smile.
Luke gave her elbow a gentle squeeze as he smiled and said, "I liked spending time with you too."
"But, you should get back. It's time," she said with a nod. "I really appreciate you dropping everything and running to my rescue.. Again," she added helpless shrug.
"And if there's anything T.J. and I can ever do for you, you just ask. You hear me?"
"I hear ya."
"Anything," she reiterated.
"Well, there may be something," he said as he glanced at a display of gossamer thin necklaces.
"You remember those earrings you got me before?"
Liz nodded. "Yeah."
"You have a necklace that would match that?"
"Yeah, I think so," she said as she began to sort through the necklaces on display. "You give them to a girl?" she asked, hoping to sound casual.
"Anyone I know?"
"Oh, you know, it's just someone," Luke hedged.
Liz turned to look at him. "Dark hair, bright, blue eyes? You were just talking to her? I could tell, 'cause you grin a lot when you do."
Luke ducked his head as his cheeks flushed pink. "It's Lorelai," he admitted gruffly.
"It's Lorelai! Huzzah!" Liz cried joyfully.
"Huzzah!" T.J. echoed
"Huzzah!" the nearby faire folk called.
"I never got the whole 'huzzah' thing," Luke grumbled.
Liz beamed at him. "I am so happy for you. You've found your T.J.!"
Luke held up one hand to stop her. "Please don't put it like that."
"I've had dreams about you two being together, and my dreams always come true," she told him sincerely.
"Dream me a healthy spine, sweets," T.J. implored her.
Liz looked up at her gruff, grumbly big brother and said in an emotion choked voice, "You're not gonna be alone."
Luke couldn't help by smile, accepting her genuine happiness as best he could. "Yeah, yeah. The necklace," he prompted her.
Liz selected a necklace from a hook and held it up for his approval. "Perfect?"
"Perfect," he agreed.
Liz sighed as she dropped the necklace into a small drawstring bag. She held it out to him and smiled as she said, "So, go give it to her."
It was all he could do to keep the old truck within a decent approximation of the speed limit. He kept hearing the teasing lilt in Lorelai's voice that afternoon, he kept envisioning her enticing random guys into snuggling up with her on her blanket to watch the fireworks. He almost turned back to the fairgrounds in Maine when his wayward brain had conjured up an image of Taylor in his summer weight cardigan stretched out on the worn old quilt she carried down to the park each year. He almost rattled the nuts and bolts loose in the engine when he pressed the accelerator to the floorboard as he pictured that Jason schmuck cruising into town in his sleek little Mercedes. He could almost see the guy pulling a designer picnic hamper loaded with caviar and champagne from the passenger seat as he waved to capture Lorelai's attention as Luke revved the ancient Chevy up to ramming speed.
He knew that both scenarios were ridiculous. He knew that for the past six-plus weeks, he was the one she talked to every night before drifting of to sleep. But after eight long years, and two kisses nearly two months before; the idea of missing one more opportunity to be the guy stretched out on her blanket was almost too much for him to bear.
He knew she probably wouldn't be asking whoever passed by to join her on that blanket. He knew that the snuggling comment was just one more way she liked to get her little dig in on what she liked to call his 'Kiss and run.'" He knew that she wanted him to come home, had been wanting him to come home, she was waiting for him to come home. And there place on earth that he wanted to be more. So much so, that now that the wait was over, he simply couldn't get home fast enough.
The sun was setting as he entered Stars Hollow. He knew that the streets around the square would be blocked off and lined with booths selling misshapen pottery, crocheted Kleenex covers and macramé plant hangers; along with the usual assortment of grease laden crap designed to clog a ten year olds arteries. He wheeled his way up Plum and hooked a right on Poplar, cruising into the alley behind the diner and jerking to a stop, and practically yanking the key from the ignition.
His muscles protested as he tried to unfurl himself from the seat, his back knotted from the long ride. He got his feet under him, sucking in a deep breath of the sultry July air. He pulled off his flannel and slammed the door shut. Dropping his keys into the front pocket of his jeans, Luke raised his hands, lacing his fingers together before bending at the waist, stretching just as he used to before a race. He straightened and twisted from side to side, pushing his thumbs into the small of his back, and then started down the alley toward the square.
As the sun sank into the horizon, he trolled the food booths, starting with the disgusting wads of fried dough buried under powdered sugar and finishing with corn dogs on a stick that could give a guy an inferiority complex. When he came up empty, he stood on the sidewalk scanning the crowd gathered to listen to the band Taylor had trucked in from somewhere more sane, paying them a pittance to play an evening in Purgatory.
"Luke! You're back!" Babette screeched as she and Morey approached, pulling their cat wagon holding Nutmeg, a folded blanket and a small cooler.
"Hey, Babette. Hey, Morey," he greeted them.
"How's Liz? She getting' around okay?" Babette asked as they pulled to a stop next to him.
"Huh?" Luke grunted as he forced himself to stop searching the crowd scattered around the square. "Oh, fine. Better. They're doing much better."
"Those car accidents can really bang ya up, I should know," she answered, nodding furiously. "Of course, I guess it isn't really an accident when someone pushes ya from the car, but still, right?"
Luke scowled as he turned to look at her. "Pushes you from the car?"
"Long story, doll," she said dismissively. "You comin' down for the fireworks?"
"Uh, I don't know, I was, uh, have you seen Lorelai? Is she around? I had something that I, um, needed to give her," he said as he rubbing his chin, his eyes once again drawn to the clumps of citizens gathered around the gazebo.
"Yeah, I saw her with Sookie and Jackson and the baby. They may have already headed to the park to get a good spot, ya know? The good ones go fast. That's why Morey and me, we go down there first and set up camp. We like to be down close to the lake, that way when the boomers start boomin' we're right there. Boy, I love that! You like the boomers?" she asked him.
"The ones that ain't got no flash, but they have a big bang, kinda like me," she cackled. "I like to be down close. It feels like the sound goes right through ya, you know? Gets a girl's heart pumpin', don't it, Morey?" she asked as she gave her husband a nudge and a sly wink.
"Yep," Morey agreed with a slow nod.
"I see, well, okay, I'm just gonna," Luke said quickly, trailing off as he gestured to the closed diner. "I should check on things."
"Okay, doll. Happy fourth!" Babette said as she gave his arm a pat, her fingers squeezing his bare bicep a little. She giggled and said, "That'll get a girl's heart pumpin' too! See ya!"
Luke rolled his eyes and answered, "See ya, Babette. See ya, Morey."
He watched as they trundled on toward the lake and then turned, his gaze sweeping over the interior of the darkened diner. He waited until they turned a corner, and then took off heading around the opposite side of the block and then cutting down another alleyway just shy of the park. He grimaced when he surveyed groups of families and friends dotting the sloping grassy area that led down to the lake, wondering how he was ever going to find her when the entire damn town appeared to have left their padded cells for the night.
He slowed his steps as he followed a family loaded down with a red wagon filled with supplies and a stubborn stroller with kids attached to every available seat, bar and spoke along the path. He eyed the exhausted mother and the harried father warily as their brood babbled on in a cacophony of high-pitched excitement as they pointed to something of great interest on the lawn. And then, his gaze was drawn to Kirk weaving his way through the blankets spread on the ground, hawking glow in the dark necklaces, wands, and those headband things that lit up.
He felt a momentary pang of sympathy for the couple ahead of him as the pleading began, but then it was forgotten as he spied Lorelai sitting cross-legged on a small quilt wearing a light-up tiara, three necklaces, an armful of glowing neon bracelets, and waving a gaudy wand in front of her. He felt a fisson of electricity shoot through his veins straight to his gut. And like a moth to a flame, he veered off of the path, heedless of the picnic hampers and carefully placed blankets that stood between them.
He mumbled an apology when the toe of his boot caught a basket and toppled it. He merely grunted in response to the complaints of a young couple he roused from their make-out session by trampling their blanket. When he approached her from behind, he saw that Lorelai held a drowsy Davy Belleville in the crook of her arm with his chubby legs splayed across her lap, and his heart skipped a beat.
"Shoulda known," he said gruffly as he stood directly behind her. "You already found another guy to snuggle up with." He smiled as her head jerked up and she craned her neck, twisting at her waist to peer up at him in shock.
"I'm here, but it looks like I got here too late."
Lorelai's smile blossomed as she gazed up at him. "You're here," she said again as she shifted the sleepy baby, trying to figure out how she could stand to greet him the way she wanted to, but then gave up. "There may still be room for you," she told him as she tried to wiggle aside a bit.
"Good. Stay put," he said as he stepped onto the quilt.
Lorelai looked down at his dusty boot and then beamed back up at him. "Hey! Everyone knows you take your shoes off. Blanket rules," she teased. Luke groaned as he lowered himself to the quilt, his back pressing into her arm as he bent forward and unlaced his boots, leaving them at the edge of the blanket. "When did you get back?"
"Ten minutes ago," he answered as he turned and stretched his legs out in front of him.
"Didn't take you long to come looking for me, huh?" she said with a pleased smile.
"Didn't take you long to find a replacement," he retorted, nodding to Davy.
"Sookie and Jackson went to get us lemon shake-ups. Davy was sweet enough to stay to keep me company."
"I think so," she said as she smiled affectionately at the now sleeping boy in her arms. She turned to Luke and said in an embarrassingly breathy voice, "You're here," a faint blush of pleasure tingeing her cheeks.
He nodded, unable to resist returning her smile. "I declared my independence today."
Lorelai's smile outshone the glowing accessories that adorned her every appendage. "Good for you. How'd the redcoats take it?"
"They're sucking it up, like good soldiers."
"I'm happy to see you," she said softly, her bright blue eyes shining into his in the waning evening light.
"Luke! You're back!" Sookie cried as she wove her way through the blankets to get to them.
"Hey, Luke!" Jackson called as he followed Sookie to the larger quilt spread next to Lorelai's.
"Hey," Luke answered, reluctantly pulling his gaze from Lorelai's.
"When did you get back?" Sookie asked.
"A little while ago," Luke answered with a shrug, giving Lorelai a small secretive smile.
"They know," Lorelai whispered.
"Oh. Okay," he answered softly with a slight nod of acknowledgement.
"Is that okay?"
"And how was Maine? Was it beautiful?" Sookie asked as she crossed the blanket to hand Lorelai a huge plastic cup with a bright yellow plastic lemon on the lid.
"Uh, I guess," Luke answered, realizing that in the almost seven weeks he had been there, he had hardly even thought about his surroundings. The only thing he had been able to focus on was getting back home.
"I've always wanted to go up there. It's supposed to be all wild," Sookie said with a huge grin. "You know, nature."
"There is nature up there," Luke answered with a smirk.
"Hey, we should go to Maine," Jackson said enthusiastically as they settled on their blanket. "Maybe take Davy and go camping."
"Davy's a little young for camping," Sookie answered, rolling her eyes. She looked over at Lorelai and asked, "Do you want me to take him? Is he getting too heavy?"
Lorelai shrugged a little as she glanced down at the sleeping baby nestled against her. "I hear that its good when your left arm tingles."
Sookie laughed. "Hand him over," as she set her drink aside.
"Here," Luke said as he shifted onto his knees and reached for Davy, gently lifted him from Lorelai's arms.
"Thank you," Lorelai murmured, watching as Luke easily transferred him to Sookie's waiting arms.
Sookie smiled. "Thanks, Luke. Probably won't last long," she said softly as she finger combed Davy's damp hair. "The fireworks will probably scare him, but we figured it would be worth a shot."
"Yeah," Luke answered as he pushed himself back into position next to Lorelai. "The boomers."
"Right," Sookie agreed.
Lorelai smiled and asked, "You like the boomers?"
Luke shrugged and said, "I like fireworks. I'm a guy, we like anything you can set fire to and get away with it."
"Amen," Jackson concurred as he lifted his cup to toast Luke's sentiment.
"Almost time," Lorelai said with a nod.
She glanced down and tugged at the rumpled red and white stripped t-shirt she wore, scowling at the traces of powdered sugar that streaked the front. Self-consciously, she ran her hand over the long, messy ponytail that trailed down her back, and then began removing the glow necklaces and bracelets that she had indulged in, looping them over the handle of the stroller parked behind them. She settled back on the blanket, giving the legs of her short navy blue sailor shorts a tug, and her tiara slipped down onto her forehead.
When she reached up to remove it, Luke said, "Leave it," in a low voice.
"You like that?" she asked as she straightened the crown atop her head.
"It's you," he replied, a smile tugging at his lips.
Lorelai leaned back on her elbows, smiling up at him as she lifted her chin and inhaled deeply. "I love the smell of sparklers."
"Almost as good as napalm in the morning," Jackson answered, nodding along.
Luke tore his eyes from her prone body and squinted into the smoke filled haze that filled the still twilight air. "There goes the ozone," he commented gruffly. A smile warmed his face as a laugh bubbled up from the beautiful girl beside him.
Lorelai dropped onto her back and cradled her head in her interlaced hands as she stared up at the darkening sky. "Okay, I'm ready," she announced softly.
Luke drew his knees up and rested his forearms on them, letting his hands dangle down his shins. "Well, then, they should start," he said dryly.
"I think so."
"They're about to, here comes Taylor," Sookie said as she nodded to the bearded man shooing kids away from the footbridge.
"Every Fourth of July I have an almost uncontrollable urge to start calling him Eulalie McKechnie Shinn," Lorelai said with a grin.
"Okay," Luke said in a bewildered tone.
"You can be Tommy Djilas. Go set a firecracker off next to him," she urged.
"Ye gods," Sookie giggled.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Luke muttered.
"Great honk, it's The Music Man, Luke," she said in an exasperated tone. She turned to him and asked, "You know the numbers, right?"
"The numbers? From The Music Man?"
"For the fireworks. The ratings. One is an 'Ooh', two is an 'Ahh'," she prompted.
"Okay," he said slowly, as he shook his head at her.
"And a three is an 'Ooh-ahh.' Got it?"
"But we don't boo the boomers. I like the way the sound goes right through you," she told him solemnly.
"No booing the boomers," he repeated.
"Good," she said as she lowered her hands to her stomach, nudging him gently with her elbow.
There was a muffled 'thunk' and then a soft 'phssssst' as the first salvo was launched.
"Here we go!" Sookie said as she wriggled excitedly.
A burst of bright gold filled the sky, sizzling on the night air, and Lorelai sat straight up, he face lit by the sparks as she smiled broadly. "Two, she murmured.
"Ahh," Sookie and Jackson promptly replied.
As the next mortar was sent up with a whoosh, Lorelai turned to Luke and raised one eyebrow. "Ahh," he replied in a deadpan tone.
"Thank you," she sniffed, turning her attention back to the sky above them.
A double burst of red and white lit the night, and she called, "Three."
"Ooh-ahh," the three of them chanted in unison as Luke looked on with an amused smile.
"Are you in or you out?" Lorelai asked in pointedly.
"I'm in," he answered quietly. He moved a little closer to her, and Lorelai smiled as she leaned slightly back into his shoulder. "Ooh-ahh."
The next shell exploded in a loud boom that made everyone jump, and set forth a series of startled wails from the younger Stars Hollow residents.
"And that's our cue," Sookie said as she cradled Davy to her shoulder, shielding his head with her hand. "Shh, it's okay," she crooned. Another shell burst, and the accompanying noise reverberated through the park, pushing the protesters to take it to the next level.
"Aww," Lorelai cooed sympathetically as Davy filled his lungs and then let his displeasure be known. "But there are pretty ones, I promise," she told him.
"We'll watch them on the walk home," Sookie said as she scrambled to her knees, Passing Davy off to Jackson, who deftly loaded him into the stroller. She gathered their blanket and shoved it into the bottom of the stroller before collecting their cups and smiling wanly at the parade of wheeled conveyances hastily beating a path out of the park. "Have fun, you two," she said with a dimpled grin and then hurried to catch up to her retreating husband and son.
"Jackson's scared of them too," Lorelai whispered to Luke as she leaned back against him a little more, snapping his reserve like setting flame to a firecracker.
"Why am I not surprised," he answered as an explosion of color filled the sky. "What number was that?" he asked as she tipped her head back once more.
"Ooh," they breathed as he moved behind her a little more.
Luke dipped his head, breathing in the sweet scent of her as Lorelai waited breathlessly for the next round. A triple break of red, green and white burst above their heads as she pressed back into his shoulder a little harder. "Three," she whispered.
"Ooh-ahh," Luke replied dutifully. "You smell like cherries."
"Cherry Bomb. Lip gloss," she answered, tilting her head slightly. As his lips brushed her hair he knocked her tiara askew. Lorelai tossed the blinking crown carelessly onto the blanket. The crowd waited as the sound of three shells whizzing through the thick night air filled them with a hum of anticipation. She sat up a little straighter, and Luke followed, his breath tickling her neck as he wrapped one arm around her waist.
The first exploded in a hail of shimmering gold as the second burst forth in a bright purple shower. A loud boom echoed through the park as he pressed his lips to the soft skin just below her ear.
"Oh, I felt that," Lorelai breathed as she let her head fall back against his shoulder.
"I missed you," he murmured low and soft in her ear.
"Luke," Lorelai whispered as she tried to turn toward him.
"Watch the fireworks."
Lorelai looked up at the sky as another unfolded in a wide, brilliant umbrella of glistening white-hot sparks. "I missed you too," she whispered.
"Ahh," he mumbled against her neck.
"I want to kiss you again."
"Not yet. Too many people."
"And you think you can't see what you're doing?" she asked with a breathless laugh as two more lit the sky in rapid succession.
"They're all lookin' up." Two more shells punctuated the night with loud booms, and a delighted cackle rose up from the front of the crowd. "Goes right through ya," Luke whispered as he pressed a soft kiss to her jaw, taking advantage of the cover of darkness.
Lorelai turned her head and captured his lips with hers. "Yes, it does," she agreed as she pulled away, her eyes locked on his.
Luke swallowed hard and said in a raspy voice, "Waited a long time for that."
"Too long." Lorelai leaned in and he kissed her again, raising his hand to cradle her soft cheek and holding her in place.
"Get a room," someone shouted from behind them, and they jumped apart.
Lorelai glanced nervously over her shoulder as the fireworks lit the park, and saw a number of couples reluctantly disengaging all around them. She giggled and said, "Probably not us."
"Hang on," Luke told her as he pulled away. Lorelai grunted in protest, but them smiled as he moved behind her, bracketing her between his legs.
"Ahh," she purred softly as she leaned back against his chest.
"Definitely at least a three," he growled in her ear as she wriggled up against him, feeling his body light up like a Roman Candle.
"I'm a ten," she corrected him as she tipped her head back and beamed at the bright red sparks blossoming above them.
"I think you are."
"Watch the fireworks," she whispered as he nuzzled her ear.
"I am." Luke reached up and gently drew the elastic covered material that held her ponytail. He ran his hand the length of it, dragging the band down and freeing her humidity curled tresses.
"Oooh," Lorelai breathed as he wove his fingers into the tiny curls at the nape of her neck, and then pulled them slowly through to the ends. "You're making me crazy."
Luke smiled. "I've been going crazy for almost seven weeks."
"Seven weeks," Lorelai sighed as she looked up at the display above, trying not to think too hard about the display below. "I'm so glad you're home."
She smiled as he brushed a soft kiss to her temple and the sky filled with color from the grand finale. "Just like Love American Style," she murmured.
"Hmm?" Luke hummed distractedly.
"The fireworks. Just like that show, Love American Style," she said softly as the last embers faded to black.
"Yeah, well, I hope not really," Luke said with a chuckle as he gave her a little squeeze.
Lorelai watched as the crowd started gathering their belongings to head home, but remained contentedly where she was. "Truer than the red, white and bluuuuue!" she sang softly.
"Oh God," Luke groaned.
"I'll be Tina Louise and you can be Burgess Meredith."
"Okay, maybe not. I don't even know if they were in an episode together," she admitted.
"No, but you can bet I'll be researching it. This is important knowledge to have, my friend."
"Yes," he agreed dryly.
They sat quietly, watching from the safety of darkness as their friends and neighbors shuffled past. Luke ran his hand over her hair and then let his fingers tickle the side of her neck as he made his way down to her bare arm.
"So, how was Maine?" she asked softly as he caressed her skin in lazy circles.
"Hell on earth."
"Happy to be home?"
"Enjoy the fireworks?"
"Walk me home?"
"I planned on it."
Lorelai pulled away and turned to look at him. "I have sparklers at the house," she said as she smiled enticingly.
Luke smiled. "Well, what are we waiting for?"