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Diner Days

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Somewhere off the Southern Interstate...

 

Jenna snoozed her alarm with palpable exhaustion.
“It’s too damn early.” She rolled over and covered her ears with a pillow as to muffle the outside world for five more minutes.
“I know, I know. But this is important to you. This is your dream. Well… not the dream you just woke up from, but your actual dream. If this meeting goes well you’re one step closer to world domination through pie,” a groggy voice responded. Babbling, Jim lifted Jenna’s chin and nudged her to get up with gentle reassurance.
“You’re right,” she stretched, eyes still closed. Jenna wished she could engage more, but she was too wiped out these days. As exciting as her dreams were, making them work took more grit than she could muster, especially at five in the morning. “and you’re driving to the station, please.” Even dazed with the fleeting comfort of sleep in her eyes, Jenna couldn’t forget her manners. Especially when someone as caring as Jim has been by her side for years now. The coffee pot in the other room beeped and Jim sprinted to the kitchen. He came back moments later with two mismatched mugs both filled to the brim with coffee.
“I hope this is enough incentive to wake up.” He taunted her, holding the mug inches away from her nose, letting the pumpkin pie spice creamer waft. “I figured a pie flavor would suit you… plus apparently everyone Lulu’s age is very into pumpkin spice.”

Lulu had just turned fourteen and her teenage years were already proving difficult for Jenna. Boy, was she thankful to have Jim around to help. Jenna spent so many years as a single mom, but she loved Lulu having a stable father figure. There were still occasional visits from her eccentric pal and Lulu’s honorary uncle, Ogie. While she appreciated the help and dedication of her friends or more like family, they had their own messes to clean at the end of the day. Jim was always there to tell Jenna to sit the hell down for twenty minutes while he scrubbed away the cobwebs. Lulu and Jim were the best things to happen to her.

Jenna never tired of waking up to Jim frantically serving her coffee or Lulu’s voice down the hall.
Speaking of-
“Mama, have you seen my shoes?”
“Which ones, honey?”
“The teal canvas ones.”
“Those shouldn’t be hard to find. Check the chair by the front door. Also, Dawn is taking you to school this morning and she’ll stop in during the week, Jim and I are already running late. We’ll be home before you know it.”
Jenna sounded fine but she was really “fine”. That word never meant fine. It meant losing all your shit but trying to hold it together.
It was the first time she’d given Lulu the option to stay home alone. Sure Dawn and Ogie were minutes away and she’d be busy with school during the day and some of the evening, but Jenna always had trouble letting go. Double that when it came to her baby.
She kissed her daughter on the forehead, reminded her that the Change is Good Green Grasshopper Pie was in the fridge (as was other, actually sustainable food), downed the rest of her chambre coffee and left the house with Jim.

The train ride was long and boring but luckily Jenna and Jim could enjoy the company of one another despite the situation. It was reassuring to see Jim’s face light up when referring to his hometown. Jenna was anxious but mostly enthralled to see her little dream expand. She wasn’t sure how to feel about Lulu’s Pie Diner adding additional locations. She didn’t want to sell out or make too many changes. The business grew with her for a decade and a half and all of the people that came through those doors had affected her heart in some way. Love made the place special. She wondered what Joe would say if he was still here. Holding back tears, she squeezed Jim’s hand as they got off the train.

Chapter Text

Stars Hollow, CT...

 

“Luke? Hey, Luke! Come on, it’s my day off and I’m already two cups of coffee in, let’s go!”
Lorelai Gilmore held an empty mug and descended the stairs, listening for Luke.
“Have you seen my hat?” Luke emerged, looking nicer than he ever had. He was a fan of flannels and jeans, but Lorelai saw him in a suit for the first time since their wedding.
“What hat?” She paused as she admired her husband. He was the farthest thing from lazy, but his fashion choices indicated that he was serious about this change. Lorelai still had to give him a hard time, “You’re joking, right? That’s going to ruin your outfit completely. I really can’t believe it, you’d think you’re running for city council or something.”
Luke's hands shook and he clenched his jaw. His hat was lucky, it was the first thing Lorelai gave him and he wore it every day since. He wasn’t intending on wearing it in the meeting, but having it on beforehand felt ritualistic.

“Yeah… it’s stupid, I guess.”
“I didn’t mean it like that Luke, I’m sorry. It’s the coffee talking.” She realized she hurt his feelings. Though the two would spar, she had to cut Luke some slack; he was going far out of his comfort zone for this. She realized what day it was.
“Oh, Luke, I totally forgot. I thought we were going to Taylor’s and the 80s movie marathon later. I know you told me yesterday but I forgot your meeting was today. How could I forget? Do you want me to go with you?”
“That’s okay. Coffee brain.” Luke explained to her. “Actually, maybe you should come with me. You know I’m not good at talking to women. Or anyone, really. I don’t know anything about this woman. I just know she runs the place and wants to open up a pie store here and sell her pies with us.”
“Your coffee is unparalleled but your pies could use some work.” Lorelai, the self-proclaimed pie connoisseur, was honest with him. “Are her pies good?”

“No idea. We’re finding that out today.”
“Why didn’t you say so? St. Elmo’s Fire can wait, let’s have some pie.”
“I thought you’d say that.” Luke smirked at his wife and desperately tried to straighten his tie and channel his nerves into a purpose. “We’re going to meet at the diner, but it’s technically closed. I gave Caesar the day off. He needed it.”
“That’s nice of you.” Lorelai brushed the back of Luke’s coat with a lint brush. “Hey. Are you nervous?”
“Extremely.”

Chapter Text

Jenna and Jim settled into the inn they’d be staying in for the next couple nights. They thought the man at the front desk was a little rude, but it didn’t deter from the total charm of the place. How cute for a couple’s first true vacation together? Even if it was technically a work trip for Jenna. The two of them would take the whole week off to enjoy their own company. Jim insisted originally they stay with his parents but Jenna still felt weird about the whole thing. Technically still not married, the couple knew they’d have an onslaught of questions directed at them and neither of them needed the additional stress. Jenna, carrying a freezerbag of many pie slices, poked her head out to Jim
“Almost ready?”
“One second…” Jim muttered from the bathroom.
“Please, I’m going to be late!”
“Jenna, listen,” Jim emerged and spoke harshly. “I think it’d be best if you went alone.”
“But you said you’d be there for me!” Jenna’s tone shied, she felt almost childish listening to herself.
“I know, and I will be. We can go out afterwards and celebrate or get your mind off work or do anything else you can think of. But I’ll look pretty stupid there with you, won’t I? I mean I’m a doctor, not a member of your team. This is yours. You built this on your own. I can’t take away from that.” He held his hand out to make sure it was okay to reach for hers and then he embraced her. He knew Jenna sometimes didn’t want to be “smothered” as she called it.

Thinking herself out of the hole she was spiraling into, she broke the silence.
“But you’re my number one customer.”
“And your number one fan. But you can do this without me.”
“No, I really can’t.” Jenna’s voice trembled. Last minute changes bothered her and it wasn’t like Jim to do this sort of thing. Knowing he had the best intentions, she tried to keep a level head.

“You’re going to be late. You’re right down the street. Just go past the town sqaure and it’s next to the market.”
Jim helped adjust the Lulu’s branded freezerbag to her shoulder and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I believe in you.”

Jenna walked briskly and heard a bell as she opened the door to Luke’s diner. She saw a young girl scrambling to get to different tables with thick glasses and an offbeat sense of style. She was reminiscent of Dawn when they were younger but there were no turtles in sight. She gave the waitress a smile and proceeded to the counter. A man with a chef’s apron was plating food there.
“Hi, excuse me, I’m looking for the owner. Luke Danes. I have a business meeting scheduled for this afternoon.”
“Luuuke!”, he looked up briefly and then back down to his work, clearly overwhelmed.

“What, Caesar? I already told you we only have enough eggs for-”
“Luke…” Caesar quietly interrupted him, noticing he was wearing a suit.
Luke saw Jenna and her Lulu’s bag and then glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Oh… I’m so sorry to shout. You must be Jenna. I’m Luke.”
Jenna shook his hand and laughed.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, wow, I’m so sorry. I lost track of time. I was going to shut this place down for lunch so we could talk but it’s been so busy today, I didn’t even have time.”
“Oh, that’s alright. I’m fine here.” Jenna sat on a stool at the counter.
Luke shot a look at Caesar and he carried his plates back to the kitchen.

As Caesar swung the kitchen doors open a woman came out chewing on a piece of bacon and checking her wristwatch. Preocupied by the time and her sightlines were blocked by Caesar and Luke’s head, “Hey Luke, it’s noon. Is that pie lady coming by soon? You gotta get Lane moving so we can clear this place out.”

“Um...hi.” was all Jenna could say. What is going on today?

Chapter Text

Really wishing Jim was beside her, Jenna felt her throat tighten and the pit of her stomach drop She bit the inside of her cheek. She took a brief glance at the bag on her shoulder and thought of her daughter, the only reason she got this opportunity, and she’s spending it being fearful. This wasn’t the story she wanted to tell Lulu when she got home. Snapping herself out of it, Jenna saw the unapologetic woman staring blankly at her.

“Sorry, what?”

“I’m Lorelai. When can we eat that pie?”

“Lor, have a seat, would you? Caesar, fill her up.” Caesar, like clockwork, slid a ceramic Luke’s Diner mug over to Lorelai and filled it to the brim.

“Would you like some as well?” Luke offered.

“Yeah, please.” Jenna knew she’d have to keep up energy if she wanted to strike a deal with these people.

“How do you take it?”

“Half and half and sugar.”

“Say that again.” Lorelai stared again. Jenna noticed it wasn’t asked as a question.

“Half and half and sugar?” her pitch raised a bit and Jenna felt a little nervous. She wanted to get to know Luke, but this woman was in the way and she didn’t know how she felt about her yet.

“Haha, you have an accent,” Lorelai said bluntly. “Cute.” I think you all have accents, actually. Jenna kept her thoughts to herself and sipped her coffee.

“Thanks.”

“Well, oh my stars, y'all!” Lorelai was taking it a little too far imitating Jenna’s accent. Jenna wanted more than anything for this to be over. Even Lulu as a two year old wasn’t this annoying.

“Mom!” the door swung open and the little bells rang. A young girl with a book in her hand ran right over to Lorelai. “Are you going to the movie marathon? Will you drop me off? I gotta get ready soon!”

“Hi sweetie,” she kissed her daughter on the forehead.

“I’m going later tonight, maybe Mrs. Kim could take you, if Lane’s going.” Oh my god, she’s a mother? Are we ever going to get this meeting started? The other teenaged girl with glasses went over to join her friend.

“Rory, hi!”

“Lane, are you coming out tonight?”

“My mom won’t want me to, but let’s go!”

“Okay, you girls can talk over in the corner or you gotta leave. Jenna’s been waiting long enough. Lane, you have five more minutes left of your break, okay?”

“Party pooper.” Lorelai herded the girls over to the corner and then came back with a slightly less childish attitude.

“So can we get this meeting started?” Luke motioned for Jenna to join him at the counter.

“Please. I hope you’re hungry. Do you have some extra plates?” Caesar was right on it.

“So, I only have my one shop, but it does pretty well in town. We actually were in a few articles and business has been really good. We have breakfast and lunch, but the thing we’re famous for is pie.”

“Your pies?” Luke kept eyeing the bag, wondering what was inside. His mind went to when he was a little kid and his grandma would take him blueberry picking in Maine and they’d bake together. She was so encouraging of him even then.

“Yeah, my pies.” Jenna said awkwardly. She knew Luke was already interested but she never liked talking about herself. She practiced her pitch with Jim multiple times.

“I brought a few different kinds with me. If you want, I can show you a full list of them and even send them over within a couple days. I know this is preliminary, but I want to make it easy on you, this place is clearly busy and you seem to have your hands full.” She side-eyed at Lorelai. She silently wondered how her daughter seemed so sweet, too. She was about Lulu’s age, too. “Oh, sure. What’d you bring?” Luke was still trying to wipe his curiosity and personal memories out to focus on business. This wasn’t usually an issue for him, quite the opposite actually.

“This is my daughter’s favorite, a strawberry pie. They all have kind of funny names, but I let her name this one.” She handed him a slice.

“Does Lorelai want any?” She really didn’t want her to come over, but didn’t want to be rude, either. “Lor, pie!” Luke didn’t look up. He was too busy admiring the work.

“Wow… those edges are so evenly crimped. It looks real nice.”

“Thanks.” She took another sip of coffee as he took his first bite.

“It’ll be so much easier on us doing this, you know. Caesar is amazing but he can’t make a pie to save his life, and I just don’t have the time. Even if I did, I couldn’t make anything like this.” Jenna smiled genuinely for the first time all day. Apparently both of them weren’t very formal when it came to talking business, but she could recognize Luke was on the same page. Compliments made her nervous, but she knew this was a good thing coming. Lorelai stole some of Luke’s piece and also complimented her.

“Now I get amazing coffee and pie in one place. This is better than Pop Tarts.”

Rory’s ears perked up. “What’s better than Pop Tarts?” Her mother fed her a piece of the pie. Jenna looked at them and couldn’t help but think of Lulu; she didn’t want to be away from her for another minute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had strawberry pie before,” Rory mentioned.

“It was my daughter’s idea, actually.”

“Family business? Does she bake?” Lorelai asked

. “With me, sometimes… she’s a teenager.”

“So is this one. Fourteen.”

“Oh, so is Lulu! Wow, you look more like sisters.

” “That’s what the name is, huh? Cool. Luke just named this place after himself like a narcissist.”

“My coffee, my name.” Luke was able to drown out the banter. “We do love your coffee.” Lorelai was sweet to him.

“I also brought a chocolate pie and a savory pie. You can have them for later if you want. Or even for customers to sample and see how they do.” Luke nodded, noting Jenna’s good ideas.

“How long are you in the area for, Jenna?” Rory asked.

“Oh, just this week.”

“We’ll talk soon.” Luke shook her hand.

“Where’s Lulu? Lane and I are going to a movie marathon with my mom tonight and she should come!” Rory seemed ecstatic to have someone else her age in Stars Hollow.

"Oh, I’m sorry, hun. She’s at home.”

“By herself?” Lane interjected.

“Sort of. My friends are keeping an eye on her.”

“You should bring her next time. We wanna meet her.”

“Okay, kiddos, we gotta go get ready for tonight.” Lorelai reminded.

“Bye, Jenna.” Lane waved and she and Rory sauntered off.

“Did you wanna come tonight? You’re probably bored here. A whole week in Stars Hollow. There’s not that much to do.”

“Oh, thanks, but I have my partner with me. He grew up in Connecticut.”

“Both of you should come. Luke needs some guys to talk with.”

“I appreciate that.” Jenna said, unsure of how to respond. She just wanted to go back to Jim and call Lulu and check in and leave the day behind. There were a lot of things changing and she needed a second to breathe and think it over.

“If you’re both up for it, starts at eight…See ya, Jenna.” Luke waved her goodbye.