Mrs. R.J. "Ride My Broomstick" Lupin (moonlite_fading) wrote in tasty_breeze,
Mrs. R.J. "Ride My Broomstick" Lupin
moonlite_fading
tasty_breeze

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Inching Closer; Pt. 2 - LL

Title: Inching Closer
Pairing: Luke/Lorelai (possible future Rory/Logan subplot)
Rating: PG-13, possible R for later chapters.
Genre: Romance/Angst
A/N: Yeah, I had this chapter up a while ago, but I changed a lot of it. I'm much happier with this version, but it's waiting to be beta'ed before I post it anywhere else and thanks to _lashingoutloud for the beta!.


Inching Closer
Chapter Two
Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

II.
Rory frowns, surveying her new home with her hands on her hips. After staying up until three AM, she has finally finished unpacking all of her belongings. She could have waited, but Rory has never been one to procrastinate the necessary. Besides, unpacking gave her something to focus on, a reason not to let her mind wander to the events of these past few days. Everything she worked for is suddenly trivial; thinking about it makes her realize how lost she really is.

Yet, now she has nothing to focus on, nothing to alleviate the pain but this pool house that, despite the presence of her belongings, still feels nothing like a home. This is the place for outcasts, for those that have been banished from their homes by their loved ones. She feels a wave of sympathy for her grandfather, realizing now just how lonely those months separated from Emily must have made him feel. She almost wishes she could have found her own place to live, somewhere far away from here. Sure, that would not be a home either, but at least it would be away from here, away from these lonely walls, the memories of her unattainable dreams. She had spent so much of her high school career in her grandparents’ house; every time she catches a glimpse of it through the window, she remembers the new emptiness inside her. If only she could go back in time and tell her sixteen-year-old self not to bother, not to push herself so hard, then maybe now she would not be suffocating on her failure.

Rory sighs and shakes her head, breaking free from her reverie. Instead, she yanks a random book off the shelf, not bothering to even consider the title, and slowly heads toward her bedroom. Why should I hurry? She questions herself. What do I have waiting for me? She considers all of this with little emotion; she is so tired of caring, has cried too much over these past few days. Things are not going to change, no matter how many tears she sheds. The bedroom is dark as Rory enters, and she leans against the wall for support, searching for the light switch. Without warning, her leg collides with a box and she yelps, hopping on one foot to rub the rapidly-forming bruise on her other leg. She inwardly curses herself for forgetting to lock this box up in her grandparents’ basement, afraid of the memories it carries. She opens the box, feeling rather than seeing the material of her Yale clothes and the many Chilton and Yale newspapers – every issue that contains an article written by her. Momentarily, she allows herself to be amazed; she can fit her past inside one bland cardboard box.

Knowing this box is here, knowing exactly what is in it, she cannot turn on the light. If she sees these things, she will have to put them away; she will have to deal with the intense pain that they will bring. She just wants to touch them, experience their magic once more.

Suddenly, her cell phone rings, shattering the silence, causing her to pull her hands out of the box guiltily. Rory turns on the light and heads toward her purse, leaning forward to lift the phone. However, she pauses as it rings in her hand, watching it, mesmerized. She knows who is on the other line; Logan is the only person that would call her at three AM. She does not want to talk to him, does not want to talk to anyone. He will ask how she is and she will have to lie, say she’s hanging in there. She does not want to lie. She does not need that on her conscience; there is plenty of guilt laced within her failure as is. So, she lets the phone ring again and again until it falls silent. She holds the power button until the screen blackens and then snaps it shut before throwing it back into her bag. Now that she has heard that phone ring, the silence begins to scare her.

“Baby,” she scolds, before walking over to her bed. But then she stops and turns around, her eyes finally falling upon it. She laughs at how innocent it seems, remembers the day she packed it almost two years ago. Her mother had taken a large marker and written “newspaper stuff” on the sides and told Rory to rub it for good luck. “Damn her,” Rory mutters before grabbing the blanket off the bed and heading back into the living room. She cannot bring herself to move the box and yet, she also cannot sleep with that box in there. It haunts her.

Instead, she turns out the lights, flops down on couch, and covers herself with the blanket. Sleep does not come for hours. It is too dark and too quiet and all she can see is her mother’s devastated face.


III.
A ringing startles Lorelai from her restless sleep. It takes her a moment to remember that she’s in Luke’s bed, and then it takes another few moments to realize that the ringing is coming from the television, not her phone. She falls back against the pillows and sighs, inwardly scolding herself for being so hopeful. Of course it had not been the phone ringing; of course Rory had not called. It is past three AM now and, well, Rory is certainly beyond the point of needing her for anything. After all, Rory has made that painfully obvious over these past few days.

Luke snorts in his sleep, and his slumbering presence suddenly steals Lorelai’s immediate attention. She turns onto her side and draws closer to him, watching the outline of his chest as it rises and falls with each steady breath. She uses his breathing as a ruler for her own, matching each of his shuddering snores with a deep inhalation of her own. Slow and steadily, she breathes – in, out, in, out – his breaths are too deep and too slow for her. She quickly finds herself panting and she allows for her own breathing pattern again, listening instead to her heart pounding in her ears as the uncanny silence overpowers even Luke’s loudest snores.

Restless, Lorelai curls up against Luke’s side and grasps his hand lightly within her own. His own grip is limp from slumber and she finds a sort of guilt-laced comfort from this unconscious embrace. She can only approach him for a certain reassurance in his waking hours – as a shoulder to cry on, a friendly ear to listen to a rant. However, the moment she craves it, that all-consuming desire to be physically comforted, to allow some of the burden of her own suffering onto his shoulders, she shies away. Lorelai imagines the look on his face, heavily laden with unbridled pity. She knows that it may all be her own perception; a projection of her own fears onto Luke, but this revelation does not stop her from shuddering involuntarily. She is unable to tolerate it, unable to even face the thought of being pitied. She has dealt with her own problems before and she will, without a doubt, sort out the Rory-Yale conflict, as well.

She remembers when she moved out her parents’ house, recalls the fear, pain, and, above all else, the utter loneliness she felt as she clutched a slumbering Rory to her chest. It had been difficult, but she had gone out on her own and had accomplished great things, created an envious life for herself and her daughter that would not exist, had it not been for this independence. She had only been able to begin cultivating the relationship she has (Had, she reminds herself sadly, had with Rory) once she moved away. Independence had been a blessing then and, again, it had liberated her when she opened her own inn, a success that would have never graced her life, had it not been for a daunting obstacle in her life. Time and time again she, alone, had turned conflict into success, impossible into the absolute possible. When Rory needed to go to Chilton, when the house needed to be exterminated, when her inn needed money, she had dealt with it all. Alone, no pity. I can do it, she assures herself.

As the thoughts race about in her mind, the finish line just out of reach, she drifts in and out of consciousness, clinging fruitlessly to the promises of the unconscious world. Yet, only twenty minutes – twenty agonizingly uncomfortable minutes – pass before Luke’s alarm shrieks, shattering the silence, and thus effectively snatching away any lingering possibility of sleep. For the first time ever, she sits up before Luke does, causing him to open a bleary eye questioningly.

“I wanted to get an early start on the morning,” she offers and immediately cringes, knowing how illogical that statement sounds. Luke knows as well as she does that it takes much cajoling and promises of gallons of coffee before Lorelai would willingly wake up before seven AM.

“Did you sleep at all?” he questions groggily.

“Yes.”

He lets out a groan as he slides out of bed. “I could’ve sworn I heard Miss Cleo in the background of my dreams, at one point.”

“Were they dirty dreams?” He ignores her comment, fixing her with a pointed look, instead. “Okay, I might’ve watched a few infomercials,” she supplies sheepishly.

“Lorelai, you know that, well… I’m here, if you… ya know, uh, need me.”

Lorelai nods. She does know this; in fact, it may be the only consistency in her life right now. But she declines, not wanting him to “fix” her, needing nothing more than his flannel and silent support. As he dresses, she stares at the back of his head, trying her best to telepathically express her desires without hurting Luke in the process. Shouldn’t we have some crazy heart-to-heart connection? Unfortunately, she realizes, that probably is not the case.

Donning his traditional flannel shirt and blue jeans, he grabs his hat from his the night table and throws it haphazardly onto his head. She watches, still lying against the pillows. He offers a lingering kiss and a dubious glance in her direction, before disappearing downstairs, but not without leaving behind promises of coffee and pancakes in his wake. Yet, she remains upstairs and it becomes absolutely vital to go to work, leaving with merely a hasty goodbye wave in Luke’s general direction.



IV.
A rapping on the glass door jolts Rory from her sleep. As she regains control over her breathing, she squints in the daylight, tangled in her blanket, momentarily blissfully ignorant to her surroundings. She attempts to extricate herself from the blanket and instead falls off the couch, still wrapped in the blanket, blinking rapidly and squinting at the apartment around her. All too soon, the memories flood her: Mitchum Huntzburger’s words, the arrest, dropping out of Yale, the look on her mother’s face…

“Ugh,” she mumbles as the knocking continues, wrapping the blanket more tightly around her body as she struggles to stand and then continues to stumble toward the door. Seven o’clock is much too early to wake up on a normal day, but it is especially early after a terrible night’s sleep. She’s surprised to see her grandmother standing at the door and rubs her bleary eyes before opening it and standing back, allowing Emily access to the living room.

“Good morning, Rory!” her grandmother chirps with far too much excitement for this early in the morning.

“Good morning, Grandma,” she mumbles in return.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I wake you? Well,” she continues without waiting for an answer, “your grandfather and I were hoping you would join us for breakfast.”

“Oh, well, I…” Rory falters. Her original plan had been to drive around the neighborhood and find a place that serves decent coffee and donuts, and then to hit the library for an all-day reading binge (something her mother would never allow her to do, she had realized with a painful sort of pleasure). “Sure,” she replies, biting back a sigh. Despite her original plan, she feels obligated to join them. After all, she is putting them out, letting her stay as they are. I’ll just have to do the coffee and donut search tomorrow.

“Wonderful! Why don’t you get dressed? I’ll wait here.”

“Oh Grandma, you don’t have to wait for me…”

“Nonesense, I can entertain myself for a few minutes!” Emily sits down on the couch, emphasizing her resolve. "Go on…”

“All right,” Rory replies, eyeing Emily dubiously for a moment before retreating to her bedroom.

Emily waits until she hears the click of the door to walk over to the bookcase and run her eyes up and down the shelves. She sighs, finding nothing of interest. There must be something… she mutters to herself, anything to clue her in on Rory’s sudden desire to drop out of college. Rory and Richard had been so secretive about the whole situation. She’s feeling overwhelmed, she needs some time off, that’s all. Just support our granddaughter, he’d insisted. Well, she is supporting the girl, but Emily is nothing if not curious, by nature. Rory’s sudden desire to drop out of college seems to have merely materialized out of thin air. She had seemed so happy in college this year, what with her marvelous grades and Logan, and all. Yes, Rory has so much determination; Emily imagines it would take a lot to affect Rory this deeply.

A rustling from within Rory’s bedroom surprises Emily out of her daze and she quickly returns to the couch. Rory appears a moment later wearing a purple blouse and blue jeans and Emily nods approvingly before rising. She grabs Rory’s elbow and says, “Come, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving!”

Rory nods and allows herself to be dragged out of the pool house. However, Emily stops and, after a moment, Rory does the same. “Rory, you do know that you can talk to me?”

She nods with a furrowed brow. “I know. Thank you, Grandma.”

“About anything, you know,” she continues. “You never have to feel nervous around me. I’m not judging.”

Rory smiles. “I know. Thank you.”

Emily stares at her granddaughter for another minute, but Rory seems unaware of the point she’s trying to make. Either that, or she’s blatantly ignoring me, she muses, thinking of Lorelai and how similar the two girls often can be. Oh, Lorelai, she thinks to herself, but refuses to allow her thoughts to go any further. Lorelai was, as usual, angry with she and Richard, and, yet again, Emily could not for the life of her understand why. Extricating Lorelai’s quirky stubbornness took a great deal of time and energy - two resources that she just did not have enough to spare at the moment. “Great, then, let’s go.”

Emily ushers Rory inside quickly, muttering that they shouldn’t keep Richard waiting much longer. Richard miraculously tears his eyes away from his newspaper, carefully placing it on the table when she and Rory enter. He smiles brilliantly at his granddaughter and chirps, “Well, good morning!”

Rory returns the smile, but with half the effort. “Good morning, Grandpa. What’s new in the world today?”

“Oh, you know, people die, countries fight…”

“Ah, so the usual.”

“Indeed.”

“Rory,” Emily interrupts, “what would you like to eat?”

“I…” Rory falters, looking down at the table for some sort of a hint as to something to choose. She is dismayed to find only coffee on the table, instead. She thinks of all of her options – waffles, omelets, toast, fruits… and the list goes on. Nothing seems to jump out at her. What’s wrong with me? She cannot seem to make a simple decision. She breathes deeply, attempting to fight off the wave of nausea that hits her, sending a prickly panic up and down her spine.

“Rory?” Richard questions, leaning forward. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she replies hurriedly. “Everything’s fine.”

“How about pancakes?” Emily offers gently, eyeing Rory dubiously in the process. “I just found a wonderful recipe for blueberry pancakes in an old charity cookbook we got at some occasion or another,” she supplies offhandedly.

“Oh, uh, that sounds wonderful. Thank you.”

“Wonderful. Sarah,” Emily calls into the kitchen, “bring out a stack of blueberry pancakes for my granddaughter, please!” She turns back to Rory. “You know, she’s not the brightest, but she makes marvelousbaked goods.”

“Oh, well… it sounds great!”

“Rory,” Richard begins, “I thought you could come into the office with me today.”

“Oh, uh… sure,” Rory agrees. Her plan was to get a job on her own, after today, of course. So much for spending the whole day reading, she thinks, frustrated. But again, she owes her grandfather. She cannot possibly tell him no. She just hopes he won’t go overboard on this job. She’s just looking for something temporary before she finds her new niche.

“I allowed my secretary an extra week of vacation now that you’re around.” He leaned in conspiringly. “You know, I trust you much more than I trust her.”

“Well, I appreciate that, Grandpa.”

“So, it’s settled. We’ll leave after breakfast.”

“Sounds great,” replies Rory, mustering up all the fake enthusiasm she can possibly endure.

The maid places a stack of pancakes in front of Rory, more than she could possibly eat in one sitting, despite her unnatural eating habits. Rory pours a hearty serving of maple syrup over the pancakes, watching as the syrup seeps across the plate. Suddenly realizing how famished she is, Rory takes a forkful of pancake and shoves it in her mouth. She chews for a long time before forcing herself to swallow. The pancakes are good, but they are not anywhere near as tasty as Luke’s. Thinking of Luke’s pancakes is making her think of home, the last thing she wants to think about at the moment. She doesn’t feel very hungry anymore.

Nothing is turning out as she had originally envisioned.


V.
Lorelai stands outside Luke’s, leaning against the wall as she stares down morosely at her cell phone. She sighs and closes her eyes, the words ‘Rory’s cell’ burning a glowing green behind her eyelids. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to call, but she just can’t bring herself to try. She cannot stand to hear the anger, the sadness, the defeat in her daughter’s voice, not to mention the blame that she knows will be placed upon herself. Rory needs to figure this out on her own, she has told herself time and time again. Nonetheless, Lorelai can’t quite let go, can’t stop herself from praying that her daughter call her and tell her it was all a mistake. It will not happen, she knows, but she is hoping for it, all the same.

With a groan, she snaps the cell phone shut and throws it into her purse. Standing here and staring at a phone isn’t going to change anything. Yet, she cannot quite move, knowing that, eventually, someone will notice her standing out here, but needing that push before she could make the plunge inside. News travels fast in this small, close-knit town; she has known that for ages and, normally, she appreciates this idiosyncrasy. However, now it merely means that the entire town knows that Rory has dropped out of Yale. Although only a day has passed, Lorelai is becoming increasingly frustrated by the abundance of sorrowful looks and offerings that Rory “will be okay,” being thrown in her direction. Why can’t they all just leave me alone? she wonders angrily.

The bells above the diner door jingle and Lorelai snaps her head to the side, watching as Luke takes a few long strides toward her. “What are you doing out here?”

She holds up her cell phone and smiles ruefully. “Trying to make a phone call.”

His tone softens immediately, the concern plainly written on his face as he takes her hand. “Any luck?”

“No.”

“Well, have you tried –?“

“It’s too soon,” she insists, ignoring the pained look that crosses Luke’s features before he successfully hides the hurt.

“Okay.”

“I will… call, that is. Soon.”

“Okay,” he repeats. “Wanna come inside?”

She nods. “Let me just –“ She gestures to her bag.

“Okay, I’ll be inside. Why don’t you head upstairs, we’ll have dinner?”

“Sounds perfect,” she tells him.

She watches him re-enter the diner and disappear behind the curtain leading to the stairs, before putting her cell phone away and taking a few deep, steadying breaths. Mustering up all of her resolve, she yanks the diner’s front door open, bells clattering loudly, and marches inside. She is relieved when none of the customers seem to pay her any notice, and heads straight for the stairs, forcing herself to focus on the loving man waiting for her upstairs.

Of course, the defeat, the knowledge that she has failed her daughter doesn’t leave her completely. She’s not sure it ever will.

When she enters his apartment, it’s dark, save the candles that he has aligned throughout the room. Soft music permeates and she grins, dropping her purse onto the side table and drifting toward Luke, who is standing at the stove. “You wonderful, wonderful man,” she sighs into his arms. “This is just what I needed today.”

“Good,” he replies, turning so that he can wrap his arms around her frame. “You’re tense.”

“Long day,” she moans, plopping down on a kitchen chair. Lorelai pushes away the salad that Luke had left hopefully in front of her. Remembering his earlier hurt, after he had tried to give her advice outside of the diner, she supplies, “You know, I kept waiting for Rory to call and she didn’t. Of course she won’t,” Lorelai replies off-handedly in between spoonfuls of chicken soup, “but I kept hoping she would. Hope is tricky, I guess.”

“She’ll come around,” Luke states confidently.

“You think so?”

“I know so. She’s Rory; she’ll get through this. She always does.”

“She does, doesn’t she?” asks Lorelai with little enthusiasm.

“She just needs your support.”

“Hah, right. I’m pretty sure that’s what got us into this situation in the first place.”

“Well,” he agrees with a frown, “maybe your silent support.”

She lifts her glass, a bit of wine dripping down her fingers as she swings it in the air, making a cumbersome toast. “To a new beginning!” Luke doesn’t lift his glass; just gives her a confused look that borders frustration. “To a Rory-less life.”

“Lorelai…”

“Cheers!”

“You’re stubborn, you know that?”

“Yes,” she replies haughtily before groaning. “Sorry to put a damper on this night. I mean, here you make this amazing dinner for me – by the way, this soup is great! You should totally serve it at the diner -” Luke makes a disbelieving noise - “And I totally just whine and ruin the whole night!”

“Lorelai,” he states firmly, “you’re not ruining anything. I’m here for you; I want to help. I want you to trust me,” he adds in a smaller, less confident voice.

Lorelai stares at Luke, overwhelmed yet again by his unwavering loyalty. He may be a closed book to her, but one thing she will never doubt is his dedication to her. Her own dedication, on the other hand, well, it confuses her. She wants to let him help, she really, truly does. But not now - not in this situation; it’s too complicated. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she grumbles instead.

He nods, but she notices the flash of disappointment in his eyes before it disappears. Of course, he wants to hash it out, put all the pieces of Rory’s life on the table and then fix it. He’s Luke – that’s what he does, and that’s why one of the many things she loves about him. But he’s being too idealistic; it cannot be fixed, not in the way he thinks. She’s finally come to terms with the fact that things will be as they are and there’s nothing either of them can do about it. She knows Luke will not feel the same way.

“So, how was your day?” she asks casually.

Luke collects their empty soup bowls and dishes food into serving pieces. “Oh, it was… you know, the usual.”

“So lots of yelling at Taylor, rolling eyes at Kirk, and avoiding Miss Patty?”

“Pretty much.”

“Interesting.”

Luke places the food onto the table and gives her a meaningful look. Lorelai raises her eyebrows, but says nothing as she ladles large helpings of mashed potatoes onto her plate, carefully sidestepping the vegetables in the process. He watches her as she does so, his plate remaining empty as he bites his lip anxiously.

“Uh…” She waves a hand in front of his face. “Luke?”

“Huh?” he asks, snapping out his daze.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, uh, I’m fine. Why?”

“Well, you looked like you’d gone a little space cadet-y on me just now.”

“Oh.” He clears his throat uncomfortably. “Sorry.”

“Something on your mind?”

“No, nothing.”

“Luke…”

“Fine, okay. I uh, the thing is… I went to a jewelry store today -” Lorelai raises her eyebrows at this, so Luke continues defensively - “just to look, I was gonna bring you with me next time! But… well, I found a ring and… I thought you’d, uh, really like it…” Luke fishes around in pocket for a moment before producing a black velvet box. He places it on the table and pushes it toward her. As soon as she picks the box up, he looks away, studying his plate sheepishly, instead.

“Luke…” she breathes, lifting the box with trembling hands. The hinges squeak as she opens it and is stunned to see the white gold shimmering in the candlelight. Three quarters of the ring are covered by small diamonds, and at the center, the two sides of the ring come together in a single teardrop-shaped diamond. “Wow.”

“If you don’t like it, we can exchange it,” he replies hastily.

“No! You touch this ring and you die, mister.”

He chuckles lightly, the tension slowly leaving his features. “I’ll remember that.”

Lorelai leans over and kisses Luke gratefully. “I love it.”

“Good.”

Lorelai studies the ring in the box for a minute, daring herself to touch it. It looks too perfect to be real, to be hers. Instead, she gently places the box on the table, no longer trusting her trembling hands with its precious load. I don’t deserve this, she thinks sadly, remembering all that she isn’t telling Luke. His voice cuts into her daze and she looks up at him, questioningly.

“Do you want me to put it on?” he repeats.

“Uh, well…” Suddenly, her breath freezes in her lungs and she quickly looks away from his hopeful eyes. “Luke…”

“What?” he asks sharply, defensively, in response to her hesitation.

“I really want to wear this. I mean, this is… it’s beautiful. But… Rory…”

“What about Rory?”

“Well, if I wear the engagement ring, people will find out that we’re, you know, engaged… and eventually Rory will find out!”

“So?”

“So, she can’t find out from someone else… it would be devastating!” Well, at least Lorelai wants to believe such, whether or not it’s the truth. The truth of the matter is she doesn’t know where her relationship with Rory stands, if her daughter even considers the possibility of its existence anymore.

“Are you planning on… ever telling her?”

“Of course,” she whispers, hurt by his implication. If she doesn’t tell Rory, she and Luke could never get married, and that is the last thing Lorelai wants. Isn’t it? she asks herself. Of course it is, she decides, yet her heart does not seem to want to cease its pounding in her chest. She can hardly concentrate on anything else.

“Well, when?”

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Not now. Things are so… rough, you know? Just please…” she begs in a hoarse whisper. “Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’ll tell her soon, I promise. I just need to wrap my mind around this whole new situation.”

“Yeah, okay,” Luke agrees a little less grudgingly than before.

Lorelai exhales shakily. She wants to touch him, to physically reassure him of her loyalty, but she’s afraid – afraid that he doesn’t quite believe her, afraid that she doesn’t quite believe herself. “Thank you,” she responds instead. “I would never do this to hurt you, you have to believe that.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, “I know.”

Yet, she can’t help but notice the way his eyes refuse to meet her own.
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