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Whither

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On mornings like this, Luke thought he understood Lorelai's feelings about the first snowfall. The air was clear and crisp as apples. The street outside had been scrubbed by the wind until it glowed with the early light, still empty of the town's daily clatter and chatter. All around him, boxes and cans waited in patient piles for Luke to bring them to perfect order. There was nothing like an early morning inventory.

Luke jumped as the peace of the morning was disturbed by a rapid-fire knocking on the door. He resisted the urge to look to see who it was. Lorelai was upstairs in bed, and Rory was – well, Rory was not likely to be banging on his door any time soon, and there was no one else he felt the need to break his routine for.

The knocking continued, faster and louder, and Luke shouted, "We're closed!" He knew immediately that that had been a tactical error, as the knocking increased to a speed and force that even Kirk had never matched. He sighed and walked out to see who it was.

There was a girl on the doorstep, standing tall and tense as a statue, nothing moving but the blur of her arm as her fist struck the door. Luke pointed at the Closed sign hanging in the window, and the girl shook her head violently and kept knocking. The glass rattled in the doorframe. Luke opened the door.

"Look, we're closed," he said as the girl pushed past him, rubbing her arm.

"Oh, is that what that sign saying Closed meant? I'll just leave right now then. After all, I only gave myself tennis elbow nearly knocking your door down because I was just overcome with a sudden desire for some pigs in a blanket, so I can just go out and wait until you're ready to open up."

"What –"

"You're Luke," the girl said, and sat down at the counter.

"Do I know you?" She did look familiar to him.

"I'm Paris. Rory's friend."

"Paris," Luke said. "Oh – oh. Paris."

"Yes, people have that reaction. Perhaps this is too much to ask in a restaurant, but do you have any coffee?"

"Paris, Rory's not here."

"Really? What a complete surprise. I've just told you that I'm Rory's friend, but maybe that wasn't enough to tip you off that I might know something about what's going on in her life, or at least the first thing about her. Even if she hadn't decide to completely wreck all her prospects, Rory's not likely to be anywhere at five fifteen in the morning, barring a fire, an exam, or a half-price sale on rare books."

"Well, if you're not looking for Rory, what did you want?"

"Let's start with some coffee," Paris said. Luke crossed his arms. Paris crossed hers and raised her chin. Long experience had taught Luke that when a woman got that look in her eye, he'd end up giving in long before she would. He walked behind the counter and started a pot of coffee.

"It'll be a few minutes. But I don't think you came here just for a beverage."

"I'm in trouble," Paris said, the words falling in a raw rush from her mouth.

"Oh," Luke said. He looked away and wiped his hands on his jeans. "Is it – did your car break down? I could take a look at it, but it'll be a couple of hours before Gypsy opens up, so you might –"

"No, it's not car trouble," Paris said. "I don't know why men assume that the lack of a Y chromosome somehow means you're lucky if you can figure out where to put the gas. Like any responsible driver, I know how to change a tire, change the oil, and perform other basic maintenance, and for anything beyond that, I thought I'd be better off with a Triple A membership, rather than just wandering the byways until I stumbled across a benevolent short order cook to rescue me."

"Look, you were the one who said you were in trouble. Or – did you mean, is it trouble trouble, was someone following you, or bothering you , or –" He started to walk over to check the lock on the door.

"Yes, that's exactly it," Paris said. "Because this is an episode of CSI: Diner, and I'm being tracked by a serial killer who's going to grind me up and slip me into your chili, and only your keen sense of smell and knowledge of the differing texture of human versus beef fat will bring a murderer to justice and save a town of chili-lovers from a fate worse than death or mad cow disease."

"What is it you want, Paris?" Luke said.

"I'm in trouble," Paris said again. She said it more slowly this time, and so softly Luke had to duck his head to hear her. "I'm in trouble, and Rory said once, she told me that if she were ever in trouble and couldn't find her mother, you'd be the first person she'd call, and even if she found her mother first she'd get you anyway because you'd be the first person Lorelai would call, and I just thought …"

"Rory told you that?" Luke said. He smiled, then remembered where Rory was right now, remembered Lorelai upstairs in his bed. "Well, when she actually did get in trouble, she didn't exactly run to me, did she?"

"I know," Paris said. "But I didn't know who else to go to."

"Oh, man," Luke said. "Well, I guess I could … You're already here. What's the problem?"

"I'm just so – there's something wrong with me, and I don't know what it is. I'm miserable. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I feel all freaked out and inside, it's like I'm angry but I can't even get a good rage on, I yell and yell but I still don't feel good afterwards. I've tried everything I can think of to make myself feel better, I even Netflixed The Power of Myth when I couldn't find my copy, but I didn't even enjoy it. I can't relax, I can't – even my glue gun doesn't help, not even when I aim it at frat boys out the window."

"You know, Lorelai's right upstairs." Luke looked over his shoulder and shuffled awkwardly. "I could go get her."

"I don't want Lorelai," Paris said. "She can't help me anyway. I know she's just as furious about this whole stupid thing as I am, Rory told me before I told her that I completely agreed and then she hung up on me and now she won't take my calls. I just – ever since Rory told me what she was doing, I just can't – it's so stupid."

Luke nodded sympathetically, and looked over at the stairs again. Lorelai would have to get up sometime.

"I can't function. I can't think, I can't work, I don't know what to do. I called Terrence –"

"Your boyfriend?"

"My life coach," Paris said. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I've heard Rory talk about you. What the hell do you think you are? You're exactly the same as Terrence, except you wear flannel shirts and he has a modicum of fashion sense, and you own a diner and he owns a consulting firm focusing on holistic life strategies." She looked him up and down. "Also, you're taller."

"So what did, uh, Terrence tell you?"

"He told me I was panicking because Rory's decision made me question my own choices, and showed that I placed too much dependence on outside validation. He said that I wasn't missing Rory, but rather qualities that Rory represented to me that I valued and thought I lacked, and that instead of trying to change her mind about her own life path, I should concentrate on being the Rory I needed in my own life."

"Huh."

"I know, it's ridiculous, and I told Terrence that."

"Huh."

"What?"

"Well, what's the point of having a life coach if you're not going to listen to him?"

"You even ask the same questions as Terrence," Paris said. "And both of you have a point, so I fired him. And now Rory won't take my calls, and it doesn't seem like she's going to change her mind, and I still feel this way, so I decided as a last resort that maybe I'd try what he said. I'd try to be like Rory, and what Rory said she'd do in trouble was come to you, so –" She looked at Luke expectantly. "Here I am. What do I do?"

"Oh, jeez," Luke said. "Look, the coffee's ready!" He poured Paris a large mug, and then waved the coffeepot near the stairs, hoping the scent would bring Lorelai down. "Have some coffee. Do you want some eggs or something?"

"Eggs?" Paris said. "I poured my heart out to you, I came to you in my hour of need, and you're offering me eggs? Is that what you'd do for Rory?"

"Well, she'd probably want pancakes." Paris looked for a moment like she was going to throw the mug right back at him, but instead she cupped her hands around it and hung her head. With her shoulders hunched over and her lip trembling, she reminded him of Rory when she was smaller, when she was being brave and trying not to cry.

Paris took a sip of coffee and then sat up straight. She sighed and said, "Do you have a to-go cup for this?"

"Look," Luke said. He took his cap off and ran his hand through his hair, then put his cap back on. Paris looked up at him. "Everything'll be all right, okay? You'll feel better soon."

"Um, sure," Paris said quietly. She stood up. "Don't worry about the to-go cup, I'll just – I guess I'll get something on the road."

"Ah, man, don't – wait," Luke said. Paris stopped.

"What?" she said.

"Why don't you – um, why don't you sit down and, and – close your eyes," Luke said desperately. Paris sat down and closed her eyes immediately. "Okay. Uh – you closed your eyes, good. That's good. Now, let's see. Now why don't you – just think about something that would make you feel better. A beach, or, I don't know, something nice, a kitten –"

"Nothing makes me feel better," Paris said. She looked at Luke. "I told you –"

"Eyes closed!" Luke said, and Paris shut her eyes again. "Now concentrate. Don't argue, don't even speak, and don't – it sounds stupid, but just keep your eyes closed and let your mind wander wherever it wants to. Don't think, just let your mind kind of – idle."

"Oh, a guided meditation," Paris said. "Terrence loves those too."

"Shh," Luke said. "Okay, I want you to just – let's see. Think of something that makes you feel good." Paris mumbled something, and he said sternly, "Remember, don't argue – when you're arguing you're not – I don't know, being guided."

"Sorry," Paris said.

"Okay, just let your mind hang there. Don't think about anything, don't worry about anything. Just kind of hang out for a minute." Paris was quiet, and Luke wondered if he could somehow sneak out the back while she was sitting there. But her face was turned up to him trustingly, her eyes still closed, and he couldn't bring himself to abandon her. "Okay, um, think about … oh, man. Okay, you're sad. When you've been sad before, what cheers you up? Don't say anything – just let your mind wander. When you're mad, what calms you down? When you've done something great, who do you want to tell? When you're happy, what makes you even happier?"

Paris opened her eyes. "Whoa," she said.

"Wow," Luke said. "So that, uh, that worked, huh? Now you know what you need to do to feel better?"

"I saw her face," Paris said. "I saw Rory's face."

"Whoa," Luke said. He took a step back.

"You're much better than Terrence," Paris said. She leaned across the counter. "So what do I do now?"

"I don't know," Luke said. "Look, I think I did that wrong – I run a diner, I'm not a holistic life whatever. I was just working from this book I read this one time, so I don't really – I think I might have led you wrong."

"No," Paris said. "This doesn't feel wrong at all. It feels exactly right. So what do I do next?"

"I don't know!" Luke said. "Like I told you, I just read this one book –"

"Well, what did the book say to do next?"

"It said – well, it doesn't really apply to you, probably. I mean, it was for men."

"Oh, I see," Paris said. "This is special secret advice just for men, because your feelings are important and noble and the stuff of great works of art and literature, while women's feelings are just trivial messes of soft sappy sentiment and only fit for Harlequin novels and afternoon soap operas."

"No!" Luke said. "It's not – it's not anything against women. If anything, it's the opposite. It's just – the book was just to help men, because it said we aren't good sometimes at expressing positive emotions, like love, or – well, it said we feel more comfortable sometimes with expressing aggression. Or competition. Or, or anger … oh, crap."

"You're speaking my language," Paris said happily. "So what do I do now?"

"All right – but this is the book, okay? This is not me telling you this, this is the book."

"Duly noted. Now hit me, guru."

"Well, it said that once you know what your feelings are, you should think about where they come from and, you know, start to share them."

"You know, it all started with Terrence," Paris said thoughtfully. "See, when I first freaked out, before he handed me that ridiculous line about being the Rory in my own life, he said that I might just be having my quarter life crisis early. It is early, of course, but it's not like I've got the most stable background, and besides, I've always been precocious."

"Not with me," Luke said, but he knew it was hopeless. "You're not supposed to share your feelings with me."

"And quarter life crises – well, you probably know this, but that's when you start to freak out about family life, and feeling like you need to build your own base and your own tribe, and well. My family of origin is not too steady right now, and I just found out that Nanny got a job in California taking care of a little girl named London, and what with Rory leaving on top of everything, Terrence thought this had all the earmarks of a good q.l.c. Is there more of that coffee?"

"Sure," Luke said. "You want a doughnut?"

"Yes, please," Paris said. "Anyway, Terrence thought one way to treat this crisis was with some ritual creation. He's very big on that – he comes out of a very ritual-based school of life strategies. Is your own philosophy ritual-based, Luke?"

"No," Luke said. Then he looked at the cup of coffee he'd just topped off for Paris, and the doughnut sitting neatly on the plate in front of her. "Actually, maybe."

"I thought so – I told you you reminded me of Terrence. He had me do a guided meditation – he's big on those, too, although he's a little more poetic than you are. Anyway, he had me meditate about holidays when I was young, so we could find a ritual I was attached to for the base of our new ritual. Because you don't destroy the past and build anew, you preserve what's good about the past and build on. That's what Terrence says. I know, I keep telling him he's got to find a snappier slogan. Anyway, I didn't really have a lot of good holiday memories, my family wasn't so big on that, but Terrence is very pushy – also like you. And finally, my mind kept coming back to Shavuot."

"Oh," Luke said. "I don't really –"

"It's not like it was some big memory, it wasn't even a big thing in my family but in Hebrew school, we'd cut out these paper flowers and read this story and sing this song, and for some reason my mind kept going back to it, again and again. 'Whither thou goest, I will go.'"

"That does sound vaguely familiar."

"Book of Ruth," Paris said. "Anyway, Shavuot, festival of first fruits, of course Terrence thought that had to do with fertility, he loves when things have to do with fertility, it's a chance for him to sing 'Circle of Life.' Anyway, he said it had to do with my biological clock. I told him I didn't believe in biological clocks, biological clocks are what women are told they have instead of drive and ambition, and we fought and finally he said that we should take a little time off from each other and he'd call me the next day."

"Speaking of time off from each other –"

"So the whole day I'm not feeling any better, in fact I'm feeling worse, and then the first thing Terrence says when he calls me – you're not going to believe this. The first thing he says is, 'Funny story. I was googling your 'Whither thou goest,' and it turns out it's practically the Jewish lesbian marriage vow. Isn't that wild?' And then – and then he doesn't even pause there, it doesn't even occur to this master life strategist that maybe we should take a moment to consider what he just said. He just goes on to tell me his be-my-own-Rory theory, like he hadn't even heard the words coming out of his own mouth."

Luke said, "There's a Jewish lesbian marriage vow? An official one?"

Paris looked at him witheringly. "Of course not. And I know, I know what you're going to say, it's not like the Book of Ruth is some ragingly hot lesbian epic. When Ruth tells Naomi, 'Whither thou goest, I will go,' it's not like she's talking about following her to Cherry Grove."

"That's, um, that's not what I was going to say."

"Ruth leaves her family and home behind to follow her mother-in-law because of her love for her, then marries her mother-in-law's rich relation? It's not exactly Girls Gone Wild: Israel. But come on, have you read the Bible? We're not really spoiled for choice when it comes to role models for strong female relationships. Screw your dad because you think you have to carry on the human race, sure, that you can find, but let me tell you, if you find two women in the same story who aren't trying to steal a man from each other, you pretty much roll out the rainbow flag."

"Sure," Luke said. "Of course you do. Anyone would."

"And it's almost beyond belief, but Terrence didn't pick up on any of this. I mean, I didn't, either, but come on, I'm the one repressing. He's the life coach! But no, he keeps on with his crazy theories, so I picked a fight with him and usually that makes me feel better but of course it didn't. Now we know why, but at the time I just felt miserable and panicky and abandoned, and I had that line running through my head over and over, 'Whither thou goest, I will go,' like some sort of horrible song you can't remember the rest of the words to but that you still can't stop singing. But then I came here, and you explained to me that I'm in love with Rory, and now –"

"What?" Luke said. "I didn't explain that to you! I didn't do anything. I told you, it was the book, and I'm not even sure I was remembering what it said right. You shouldn't believe it just because of me –"

"It's not just because of what you said," Paris assured him. "It's right – it's exactly right. I know it now. But without you, who knows if I would have ever realized I'm in love with Rory?"

"Oh, man," Luke said. He took his cap off and put it on again.

"Do you think there's something wrong with this?" Paris said suspiciously. "Because whenever Terrence guides me to a breakthrough, he acts a lot happier than this."

"Of course there's nothing wrong with – I mean, it's fine to be a – I love lesbians! I mean, in a respectful and non-erotic way. I mean, non-erotic to me, of course lesbians are erotic to each other, I wasn't suggesting –"

"What weren't you suggesting about lesbians?" Lorelai said as she came down the stairs. She kissed him. "I thought I smelled coffee."

"Lorelai's here!" Luke said. "Look, Paris, Lorelai is here and she can help us have an entirely new conversation about something completely different."

"Good morning, Paris," Lorelai said. She poured herself a cup of coffee. "What are you doing here?"

"Luke is counseling me," Paris said. "Actually, would you mind giving us a little privacy? I think we were really getting somewhere."

"Counseling you?" Lorelai said. She tipped her head to the side and looked at Luke. "That sounds fascinating."

"You don't have to leave me alone with Paris," Luke said.

"I know I don't," Lorelai said. "But I really really want to. I'll just take my coffee back to bed with me, and you can get back to getting your Dr. Phil on."

"Thank you, Lorelai," Paris said.

"Yes, thank you, Lorelai," Luke said through his teeth.

"Any time," Lorelai said, and grinned at Luke before she went back upstairs.

"So," Paris said brightly, "where were we?"

"Oh, Paris, I don't know," Luke said.

"I think we were just starting to get at the root of my problem."

"Just starting?" Luke said. "How can we be just starting? I've got to open up in a few minutes. People are gonna want their breakfasts. Besides, it feels like we've been doing this forever."

"Are a few breakfasts more important than my happiness, Luke? I'll just explain to anyone who comes by that we're on the verge of truly significant progress, and that you're closed for the day."

"For the day?"

"Well, we can wait and see how we're doing before we decide about tomorrow."

"What's to decide? We're done, Paris. You're in love with Rory – okay. Great, that's great, good for you, and you've got your song or verse or whatever, 'Whither thou goest' and all, and that definitely seems to imply that if there's one thing you should be doing, it's going. We've got this baby wrapped up – you should just go ahead and go whither Rory goests, and then, hey, you're Rory's problem. Or breakthrough. Whatever. It's time for goest-ing."

Paris looked at him silently for a minute. Luke shuffled under that steady look, then saw Kirk walking toward the diner's door. Luke waved at him more eagerly than he ever had in his life, but then Paris leapt up from her seat and spun around. Kirk scurried away.

"What's wrong with you? I thought you were better than Terrence."

"What? What did I do?"

"I should just go whither Rory goes? That's your advice? That's the only thing I want to do! Even before I knew why I wanted to, I knew I wanted to, but I can't. I can't, and now you're throwing it in my face!"

"Why can't you?" Luke said, trying to get out of the way of Paris' mad pacing. "It's not like she went that far."

Paris froze, and suddenly Luke longed for the mad pacing to start again. "It's not like she went that far? She couldn't – she couldn't –"

"Paris –"

"She couldn't go any farther if she tried!" Paris threw herself down in a chair and buried her head in her arms. Luke watched her for a minute, then sat down across from her. He touched her arm gingerly.

"Paris?" he said.

She looked up at him. "Don't you know how far she went?" Paris said, and her voice was low and calm but still it sent a chill through him. "She left her whole life, everything she's wanted since forever. Everything she's loved since forever. She left Yale, she left her friends, she left me, she left her mother. She left you." Luke pulled his hand away and looked down.

"I'm sorry," Paris said, "but it's true."

"Rory wouldn't do that," Luke said. "She went away for a while, she didn't leave for good. She wouldn't."

"No," Paris said, "not the Rory we knew. But she did, you can't argue it, she did and she's not even looking back, and that's not – that's not the Rory we knew. Don't you see? She even left herself. I would go wherever she was, but that's the one place I can't follow her. She's left herself behind, too, and now she's gone. She's gone, and she won't be back."

Paris' voice rang with a despair so deep Luke could feel it in his bones. Rory had left them, gone farther than he'd ever believed she would. But he'd never believed she would go so far that she wouldn't come back. "She will," Luke said. "She'll come back."

"No," Paris said. "She won't. She left herself, and you don't come back from that."

"She didn't," Luke said. Paris started to say something but he spoke right over her. "I don't think she did. I think she got scared, and she got lost, and I think now she's afraid she doesn't even know the way back to herself. But me and Rory – I've known her for a long time, and I have faith in her. She didn't go that far, and she'll be back, and maybe the best thing for all of us to do would be to let her know we'll help her find her way back."

"You believe that?" Paris said.

"I know it," Luke said. "I know Rory."

"I know her, too," Paris said. "I do." She looked at Luke for a moment, then thrust her arm out. Luke jumped back, but Paris only wanted to shake his hand. "You're right," she said. "You're right, she's not gone, she's just lost and I can work with that. I can help her find her way back. I can help her remember who she was – who she is. No one knows better than me."

When he saw the determined look on Paris' face, Luke almost felt a little sorry for Rory. Almost.

"Bring her back, Paris," he said.

"Whither Rory goest, I will go. Whither she rests, I will neither rest nor let her rest until I've shown her that she belongs at Yale and in Stars Hollow and with you and with Lorelai and with me."

"Is that from the Bible? Because it doesn't sound too familiar to me."

"Like any other text, it must be constantly reinterpreted by the reader," Paris said. "Now I'll take the rest of this coffee in a to-go cup, and also a wrench, or a hammer, or – do you have a toolbox?"

"Why?"

"I've got a poolhouse to break into," Paris said, and when she smiled Luke didn't feel sorry for Rory at all.