- Magic Mashed Potatoes
Emily hums to herself as she walks through throngs of undergrads and across the quad to her beloved granddaughter’s dorm. She almost feels guilty for being so cheerful while Rory is sick with a terrible cold, but she has a container full of soup and she’s going to nurse her grandbaby the way her own grandmother did when she was a little girl, an experience she was robbed of when Lorelai took the baby away to live in a shack.
She’s still humming when she knocks on Rory’s door and doesn’t stop humming or knocking until Rory answers in all of her bathrobe clad, fevered, red-nosed glory. Immediately, Emily frets over her, pulls her bathrobe tighter, strokes her hair, and sits her down at the small table by the kitchenette and starts talking about her own grandmother and Lorelai and the delicious country-style chicken noodle soup she brought to nurse her ailing Ivy League scholar back to health.
The soup has already been in the microwave for a minute and a half before she notices that Rory has been taking bites from a take-out container since she sat her down.
“What is that?” Emily asks, her face a flittering between confusion and heavily veiled irritation. “Is that mashed potatoes?”
“Magic mashed potatoes,” Rory answers with a happy sigh before taking another bite.
“What makes them magic?”
Rory shrugs. “’Cause they’re Luke’s, I guess.”
Emily reels. “Luke’s?? If your mother brought you food, she should have brought you real food. It’s a good thing I brought you this soup. Honestly, it’s a wonder neither of you has ever come down with scurvy. And is that all you’re eating, because all I see in there is mashed potatoes and maybe some carrots? And how is anything Luke makes magic?”
Rory narrows her eyes at her grandmother for a fraction of a second before turning back to her food. “Mom didn’t bring it to me, Luke did. Mom told him I was sick so he brought me my favorite comfort food, which is mashed potatoes.” She gestures to the other bags of take out on the counter by the microwave that Emily failed to notice. “He also brought soup and a salad and some sandwiches for Paris.”
“I didn’t know there was diner business to be had in New Haven,” Emily says, taking the seat in front of Rory, her voice edged with sliver of ice.
“Well, I hope he was tipped generously for delivering food so far.”
Rory fights the urge to roll her eyes. “We don’t pay for magic mashed potatoes, or anything else he brings when he comes to visit every month.”
Emily’s gaze turns from her sniffling granddaughter to the unreasonably offensive mashed potatoes to her hands. “I didn’t know mashed potatoes were your comfort food.”
“Well, they are. Ever since I got the chicken pox when I was nine. It was all I could eat.” She clears her throat and shifts in her seat. “Luke made it for me every day the whole time I was sick. He’d bring, like, a tub full every night and stay and help take care of me so Mom could eat and shower and stuff. He cuts up little pieces of chicken and carrots and hides it in the mashed potatoes because he worries I won’t get enough nutrients.” She crinkles her nose and smiles. “I think that’s what makes the stuff he does magic, the worrying and the caring.”
Emily sits there, staring at her hands, at the ceiling, at the beeping microwave, anywhere but at her sick granddaughter happily shoveling forkfuls of mashed potatoes gifted to her from a greasy spoon.
“Grandma, are you okay?”
“Yes, Rory, I’m fine.” She looks somewhere just behind Rory. “I should be asking you that question.”
“I’m already feeling a little better. I’m sure the soup tastes great! Paris and I will have some later, I promise.”
Emily smiles at Rory’s urge to please. “Do you have medicine? Do you need me to get you some? It’ll be no problem at all.”
“It’s okay. Luke got me some while he was here.”
“Of course he did.”
The next time Rory gets sick, her grandmother brings her mashed potatoes. The joy Rory feigns as she eats cuts at something deep inside Emily she would rather not name.
- “This week on This Old House.”
Rory’s room is small. Far too small for Emily’s taste. If she’d lived in the house in Hartford, then her room would be twice this size and would therefore have more than enough space for all of her books and more.
But Rory seems to love her room with her single bed and Harvard propaganda covered walls, so she does her best to accept it.
Emily really does like the bookcase Rory has. That’s what she finds herself drawn to when she walks into her granddaughter’s space, what she’s looking at right now while Rory puts her school books away for the weekend. The bookcase is sturdy and very well-built. The creation of an excellent craftsman.
“You okay there, Mom? Should we tell Dad you’re leaving him for a piece of furniture? Because the way you’re looking at that bookcase is not unlike the way I look at Hugh Jackman.”
“I’m just admiring it, Lorelai. It’s an excellent piece of workmanship.” She runs her hands over the side. “Oh! It has little fairies etched on here. How sweet!”
Lorelai smiles almost wistfully. “Yeah, Rory went through this fairy phase when she was ten or eleven. Everything was fairies. I never thought I’d actually hate Tinker Bell with the passion of a thousand suns, but here we are.”
Rory giggles. “You really like my bookcase that much, Grandma?”
“It’s so well crafted. You know, they just don’t make them like this anymore. You have to go to Amish country to get this kind of quality.” An idea pops into her head. “You know, Lorelai, you’re father needs another bookcase for his study. Do you remember where you got this one? Maybe I can find one suitable for what he needs.”
“It was a birthday present, Mom.”
“Oh, well, it’s a wonderful birthday present,” Emily says, pleased by the gifter’s taste. “Who gave it to you, Rory? Maybe they remember where they got it.”
“Luke gave it to me.” Rory answers, standing a little straighter, her chest puffing up with pride just a little, too. “Actually, he built it for me.”
“Luke? You’re telling me that Luke, burger flipping Luke, built this?”
Lorelai rolls her eyes. “I’m pretty sure that’s not his full name, but yeah, he did. He builds stuff sometimes.”
Emily stares at the bookcase, somehow unable to comprehend how Luke is able to do something other than flip and fry salty and starchy food.
“His grandpa was a carpenter and his dad owned the hardware store,” Rory explains, pride still dotting her words, as if it were her own family history she were recounting. “They taught him everything he knows. Well, except for the cooking; his grandma taught him how to do that. Anyways, he’s really good with tools and stuff like that. He built this bookcase, and my tire swing, and the chuppah, and he fixed our porch. He fixes stuff around the house all the time, actually.”
“The archway in the yard, Mom.”
Emily frowns. “I thought chuppahs were a Jewish thing. I think Sadie Birch get married under one when she married that Jewish fellow from Florida.” Her frown deepens. “Lorelai, why did Luke build you a chuppah?”
Lorelai crosses her arms and shifts on her feet. “It was a wedding present, Mom. For my wedding to Max. Luke saw it in a picture and thought that I should get married under something nice.”
“Well, why don’t you get rid of it? You don’t need a constant reminder of your failed engagement.”
“Because I like it. It’s pretty.”
Emily tries to count to ten. “You said he fixes things around the house? Lorelai, how much are you paying him to play handyman?”
Lorelai groans. “I don’t pay him, Mom.”
And this time Emily baulks. “And what does he get in return for his labor?”
“A lap dance. Maybe more if Rory isn’t home.”
Rory grimaces. “It’s really just little things, Grandma,” she adds helpfully. “Like fixing loose floorboards and leaky sinks. He worries about us and he just wants to make sure our house doesn’t turn into death trap.”
Emily accepts Rory’s explanation for the moment, pretends to understand to make the girl happy.
But she doesn’t see it. She can’t see it. An hour later, after escaping an invitation to Al’s Pancake World, she walks through the front yard to her car and looks at the house, at the carefully hung tire swing on the tree, at the dreamy expression on Lorelai’s face as she fiddles with the flowers growing on the delicately crafted archway, and just doesn’t see how this gruff man could create such lovely things. What sort of spell does he hold over her girls? What on earth could he possibly get out of it?
She thinks of the bookcase she just spent a full ten minutes admiring and finds that it’s become tainted somehow.
- Ties, Keychains, and Things left unsaid
When Rory is twelve Emily is allowed to take her to the mall to pick out Father’s Day presents for her father and grandfather. Lorelai brings the little girl to the house and sets rules for them to follow. “Don’t let her get something that costs more than a box of pizza, ask her for her opinion and let her say ‘no’ if she doesn’t like something, don’t let her have any coffee because she knows she’s not supposed to have any until she’s thirteen, and don’t treat her to anything that costs more than a box of pizza.”
Emily is sure there were some other rules in there too, but she just can’t remember them. She is spending the afternoon with her granddaughter, her beautiful and perfect grandbaby, and nothing is going ruin that. Nothing.
And nothing does, really. Rory, the angel that she is, behaves perfectly. She says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ with more sincerity than her grandmother can manage, she doesn’t wander off, or pout when starts to get bored in the shoe section. Although she does very politely refuse the $300 dress Emily wanted to get her, she does concede to the $50 dollar Mary-janes that really are much more practical anyways.
Rory takes her time picking out ties for Richard and Christopher and Emily takes great joy in watching her try to make her decision. She can see so much of Lorelai in her eyes and in the way she taps her fingers to her chin; the sight of her granddaughter precisely mimicking her mother bringing a flood of joy to her heart that, for a moment, makes her feel as if she could forgive Lorelai for every heartbreak she has ever caused because it gave them Rory.
Rory, finally, decides on a dark blue Thomas Mason bowtie for Richard and a burgundy tie from Drake’s for Christopher. She hovers over a hideous red and blue plaid tie she finds in the discount pile.
“Rory, do you want to get that tie, too? I’m sure your dad would get a kick out of such a silly tie,” Emily says playfully, eager to buy her granddaughter anything she wanted, even if it was something as atrocious as a plaid tie.
Rory fiddles with the ugly thing for a moment before breathing a defeated sigh and turning away from it all together. “It’s okay. I’m not gonna get it.”
Ten minutes later Emily is standing at the cash register carefully watching the cashier scan and box all of their purchases and she barely notices Rory finger what looks like a red piece of rubber.
“Do you want to add that to the order, Rory?”
Rory shuffles her feet just a little, another habit she picked up from her mother. “Actually, Grandma, I want to pay for it myself.”
“What is it? Can I see?”
It’s a rubber keychain in the shape of a red toolbox.
“Who is this for, Rory? You know, your dad and grandpa aren’t big handymen. Maybe the one shaped like a car would be better. Or the motorcycle one.”
She watches the little girl bite her lip and look down at her feet before taking a deep breath and saying, in a surprisingly strong voice, “I want to get this one and I want to pay for it myself. Please.”
Emily concedes and watches her pay the $3.50 for the silly rubber thing, smiling in amusement as Rory asks for it to be packaged into its own little box.
“So, who is that keychain for?” she asks, unbridled curiosity eating away at her as they wait for the valet to bring the car back around.
“It’s for a friend.”
“Is he a friend of your mother’s?”
“He’s my friend, too.”
“So, you got a friend a keychain.” She hears the car come down the ramp. “As a Father’s Day present?”
“He needs a new keychain and I thought he’d like this one.”
Rory’s answer isn’t a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, but Emily accepts it just the same.
Years later, Emily sees the silly red rubber toolbox, now faded and almost pink, dangling among Luke’s keys. She notes the keychain and his uniform of plaid flannel shirts, and absolutely refuses to connect the dots.
- Small Town Fairy Tales
Emily is quite pleased with herself when she walks out of Kim’s Antiques. She has spent the better part of the past month looking for the perfect table to replace the one in the foyer, and today she finally found it along with a charming little stained glass lam for the writing desk in the guest bedroom. She decides to get a cup of coffee and a nice little pastry to celebrate her victory.
But not at Luke’s.
Rory is at Yale and Lorelai is busy at the inn, she has absolutely no reason to step inside that grease pit.
Instead she decides to march the extra two blocks to a small café called Weston’s that she caught sight of the last time she drove through town. Inside, she finds a quaint little establishment run by a very nice woman who seems to be not much older than herself and a surprisingly vast selection of baked goods and pastries. The coffee’s not that bad either. Not as good as the French café a mile from the house, but still good. She indulges in a strawberry tart and a cappuccino and is about to take the lone empty seat by the window when she catches sight of Lorelai’s neighbor and the dance instructor and the photo album they have spread out over their small table. Specifically, she catches sight of the image of a certain little girl nestled among those of the town.
Emily approaches them and is only mildly surprised she can remember their names. She’s heard countless stories about them from the girls and she’s always found them to be charming in their eccentricity. Pleasant surprise is etched across Miss Patty’s wide smile as she and Babette greet her and invite her to join them on their jaunt down memory lane.
They’re kind enough to point out pictures of her girls and she looks on in masked wonder as she watches both Lorelai and Rory grow from picture to picture, holiday to holiday, and festival to festival. She sees pictures of them proudly standing on the front porch of their newly purchased house, of Rory riding her bike down the street, of Lorelai dancing in the snow. Evidently Rory went through some sort of fairy phase in her pre-teen years because she sees a more than a few pictures of her wearing fairy wings.
She thinks she can see why Lorelai loves Stars Hollow so much and even begins to recognize the townspeople that sometimes accompany her and Rory in the photos – Miss Patty, Babette, Babette’s husband, the Kims, and Kirk. Emily also recognizes a certain person in clad in plaid and an insufferable backwards baseball cap in several photos, usually caught in mid-action or reluctantly posing with her girls.
“Oh, this one’s one of my favorites!” Babette practically shouts, pointing carefully to the top left corner of the page and almost causing Emily and Miss Patty to spill their drinks. “Doesn’t it just make you melt into a puddle?”
Patty whole-heartedly agrees. “It really is just the sweetest thing.”
It’s a picture of Rory, looking about ten or eleven years old, and Luke, walking hand in hand across a rainy town square under a big black umbrella. Rory is dressed in a Hello Kitty raincoat with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, a pink book bag strapped to her back, and her hand comfortably in Luke’s grasp. What kills her, the thing that apparently turns Babette and Miss Patty into puddles of goo, is the look of pure adoration on both of their faces. Rory looks up at Luke like he’s her own personal white knight in plaid while Luke looks down at her like she’s the reason stars shine.
The sight of it makes something in Emily’s chest sting.
“Where is Lorelai in this picture?” she manages to ask after a moment too long.
“She was usually at the inn when Rory got out of school,” Babette explains. “She had this rule that Rory couldn’t get on the bus until she was thirteen, so every day after school Rory would cross the square to Luke’s and wait for her mom there.”
Emily tries her best not to frown and the other women fail to notice her efforts.
“Oh, it was just the sweetest thing,” Miss Patty repeats, clutching her hands to her heart. “Every day, at exactly 2 o’clock, Luke would drop everything, even if he was in the middle of taking an order, just stop whatever he was doing, go stand outside the diner, and watch Rory come out of school and walk to across the square. Every single day.”
“Unless it was raining,” Babette interjects, pointing to the photograph again.
Miss Patty nods her head. “Unless it was raining. Then he wouldn’t even wait for the bell to ring. He’d set an alarm for himself for a few minutes before school let out and the second it went off he’d grab that giant umbrella of his, run off to wait for her by the school doors, and walk her back himself.”
Emily continues to warily eye the photograph along the few others of the diner man with her girls that dot page. A part of her, a very big and somewhat shameful part of her, wants to tell these women “Luke is not Rory’s father. He had no part in her creation, he has no right to look at her like that. He isn’t of the right pedigree for her girls.”
Instead she asks, “Every day, you said?”
Miss Patty nods her head again. “Every single day. Until Rory was thirteen and she started taking the bus to the inn. He’d still watch out for her, though. Even when she started Chilton, he made sure she got home okay.”
“Oh, Luke is just devoted to those girls,” Babette. “He’d do anything for them. I swear if they asked for his head on a platter, he’d saw it off himself.”
“Well, it’s true!”
Emily suddenly feels something in her gut drop, like some part of her carefully orchestrated life just came crashing down. She hides it behind an overdramatic gasp.
“Oh dear, look at the time! I’ve been out later than planned and I really must be getting back to Hartford,” she says in a rush, not even looking at her watch. “I’ll call Lorelai when I get home. Thank you so much for letting me look at your photo album. It really is lovely. Tootles!”
She doesn’t hear Babette and Miss Patty’s goodbyes. In fact, by the time the café’s door closes all the way Emily is already in her car, turning the corner out of Stars Hollow, and calling Christopher.
- Freudian Slippers and Pearl Necklaces
Three days after Rory’s 21st birthday Hartford’s chapter of the D.A.R. gather in the Gilmore’s parlor, away from the chilly drizzle outside. The girls turn to Rory for ideas and even advice on a matter or two Emily Gilmore just about beams.
As much as it kills her that Rory isn’t in Yale right now, that her beautiful granddaughter now has a criminal record and has to perform community service, Emily can’t help but feel proud and just a little bit satisfied that she is doing so well in Hartford and in the D.A.R. despite whatever the Huntzbergers may do or say. Rory is graceful, intelligent, and poised in the way Lorelai was supposed to be. She is finally dating a nice young man from a family that, although not of the most wonderful character, are of good standing. Emily is sure that, given time, Rory will find her way back to Yale and reconcile with her mother. In the meanwhile, she watches her sweetly charm her way into the best of Hartford’s high society and thanks the good Lord for this second chance.
“Rory, that is just a beautiful necklace,” Jacqueline sweetly says once shop talk is over. “Logan really has remarkable taste in pearls.”
“Oh, no, Logan gave me something else. This is from my dad.”
“Well, that’s lovely,” Nancy coos. “It was a shame Christopher couldn’t come to the party, but at least he sent you something absolutely splendid.”
Rory furrows her brow adorably in confusion before letting out a tiny gasp and shifting in her seat. “No. I mean, yes, Chris did send something nice; but I meant to say step-dad. My step-dad gave the necklace. Well, actually, he’s not my step-dad yet; but he will be when he marries my mom. Finally.”
Now it’s Emily’s turn to shift in her seat, fighting the urge to look anywhere but her granddaughter while Nora smiles kindly at both Gilmores. “Ah, yes, Lorelai’s fiancé. He’s a restaurateur, isn’t that right, Emily?”
“Yes. Yes, he is.”
“He has the best coffee in Stars Hollow; arguably, all of Connecticut!” Rory adds, her smile bright and proud.
Her grandmother’ smile is amiable, her eyes lackluster. “Well, it’s good to know that business must be doing very well if he can afford such a piece.”
Rory strokes the necklace affectionately. “Actually, it belonged to his mother.”
The girls seem to melt at that and Emily fights the urge to roll her eyes. Jacqueline pats Rory’s knee.
“It’s wonderful that you’re both so close already.”
Rory shrugs. “Well, Luke has always been family.”
There is a sharpness in her granddaughter’s eyes that cuts something deep inside Emily, and she swears she can feel it bleed.
- Starting Over
The Wednesday after Rory leaves for the campaign trail, Emily decides to drive to Stars Hollow and meander through Kim’s Antiques. She really does like Mrs. Kim and, over the years, she has come to enjoy the rather odd conversations she sometimes carries with the woman once business is done.
“You must be very happy Luke and your daughter have reconciled,” Mrs. Kim says rather abruptly over a large marble dog.
“Lorelai didn’t tell me they had reconciled.”
Truthfully, Emily isn’t very surprised. It really was only a matter of time.
“Yes, they were seen kissing and holding hands after Rory’s farewell party.”
Emily smiles at her granddaughter’s mention, already counting the minutes until she makes the weekly phone call they had agreed upon.
“That was a wonderful party, wasn’t it?”
Mrs. Kim hums. “Luke is a very good organizer. He works very well under pressure and is a surprisingly good leader.”
“Luke? Luke organized the party?”
Mrs. Kim nods sharply, as if the man’s part in the event were common knowledge. “Yes. He put it all together. Held a secret town meeting. Spent the whole night sewing the tent together. He is a good man; takes very good care of your girls.”
Emily finds herself actually agreeing with the other woman and leaves Kim’s Antiques in a slight daze. When she turns the corner towards the town square, she takes a deep fortifying breath, sets her shoulders back, and walks to the diner. It is a surprisingly difficult journey, one she almost doesn’t finish; but she thinks about Rory’s pearls and the archway in Lorelai’s yard and she forces herself forward.
She is relieved to find the diner empty, most likely having just seen the worst of the lunch rush. Luke is there, of course, wiping down the tables and counter.
She takes a seat on the stool closest to the register and he stares at her for a brief moment before attempting to ignore her.
She takes another deep breath. “I didn’t know.”
Almost a minute goes by before Luke responds. “You didn’t know, what?”
“How much you love them, how good you are for them. I should have known. I just didn’t want to see it.”
“Why didn’t you want to see it?”
She shrugs, the answer a particular truth she isn’t ready to voice.
“I’m sorry, Luke.”
She hates the defeat she hears echoing through her words, but she is glad to feel just a little lighter, especially when, after about thirty seconds, Luke comes around the counter and pours her a cup of coffee.
It really is good coffee.
“Mrs. Kim let it slip that you and Lorelai have reconciled. Evidently, it’s all over town.”
“Of course, it is.” She looks at him somewhat expectantly and he sighs. “We’ve decided to take it slow. We want to do it right this time.”
Emily nods. “So do I. Come to Friday night dinner?”
Eventually, he agrees and Emily is pleased.