Title: A Sleepy Little Town: Free Fall
Disclaimer: The characters you recognize were created by Chris Carter. The rest are mine. Mine!
Summary: Shortly after the events of "Memory House" an amazing and devastating secret bubbles to the surface of Mulder and Scully's lives.
Ballyguest Historical Society
"Homestead of ghosts?" I asked, giving Hattie a look of undisguised horror.
"Yes, dear. They changed the official name back during the twenties, though there are documents with the new name on them as long ago as the late nineties." It took a moment to realize that she meant the 1890s, not the more recent nineties.
"Why?" I asked on autopilot. My thoughts were far more consumed with wondering why the place's name originally referred to ghosts than concerned that they changed the spelling.
"Oh, public relations, I'd imagine."
"Public relations?" I repeated blankly.
"Yes. That's probably why it was called Ballyghaist in the first place, but things fall out of fashion, and they didn't want to scare potential visitors away. Guest sounds much more inviting than the implication that the town is haunted."
"But they didn't worry about that to begin with?" I asked, vaguely aware that the baby had woken up while we spoke. "That hardly sounds like something that would have ever brought tourist dollars to town."
Her own expression was slightly abashed. "Ms. Scully, I don't know how much stock you put into the paranormal or supernatural yourself, but Ballyguest used to be known for it in certain circles."
I'm afraid that I stared off into the distance as I tried to process which she was saying. It didn't seem like the right time to tell Hattie that in our former lives Mulder and I had dealt almost exclusively in the paranormal and supernatural. Judith had already spent quite a lot of time telling people all about the version of us she knew of and the last thing that Mulder or I wanted was for our work history to become an issue for the boys at school.
Eventually I noticed that Hattie was giving me a concerned look. "Which certain circles?"
"Are you at all familiar with spiritualism?" she asked in a tone that suggested that she wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't.
"With séances, and faked ectoplasm, and supposed ghosts floating around people's heads?" I asked. It was hard not to sound skeptical. She probably thought I wasn't a believer. Mulder would've found that amusing.
"That's it exactly." The look she gave me was approving, and the fine network of lines around her eyes crinkled as she tried not to smile openly. "It hasn't been popular since the 20s, so I'm always surprised when I meet a young person who has any grasp on the concept."
Once again I was tempted to tell her that I wasn't young, but it seemed pointless. To a woman in her eighties, I was young. "I've come across the concept. And there was that movie just last year."
"Haunting in Connecticut?" Hattie asked, leaving me surprised this time. The thought of woman her age watching horror movies just didn't gel in my brain.
"Yes. My husband and I went to see it last year, at his insistence. But I already knew something about spiritualism before then." It didn't seem worth mentioning that my first brush with the idea of mediums came in the form of Richard Peck books written when I was in my teens.
"Back during World War one Celia Maddox's great-grandmother was something of a local celebrity as a medium. There were many a séance held right here in Ballyguest."
"I suppose those séances were held in Memory House?" I asked, feeling more than little grumpy about the idea. You would have thought that it would have been worth a mention in their literature, considering that the inn famed itself on being able to connect people to their dead children dreams. Not that I myself had managed to have that pleasure.
Hattie shook her head. "No. Although Vicky's grandfather had been involved in spiritualism himself," she said, referring to the current innkeeper.
"Then where?" I hoped fervently that Hattie's next words would not be "in your house," because while that might have amused Mulder, I had no interest in learning that our new house was widely rumored to be haunted.
"Predominantly where Russell Carr's museum now stands; it used to be the Ballyguest Institute of Spirituality. Although, there were plenty of séances held in the north end of town, too, in private residences."
Unbidden, an image flooded my mind. A round wooden table, covered with a gaudy red cloth, surrounded by chairs. Each chair filled, people crowded together, shoulders practically touching. One person, an old woman, muttered to herself, and another, a man with a notebook, wrote down utterances that no one else could understand. Somewhere in the room, a hollow knocking sound.
Shaking my head to clear it, I found myself thinking that I was glad she didn't say the south end of town considering that's where our house was. It was probably irrational, considering I knew that virtually all spirit activity in medium shows was based on fraud and trickery, but I had seen too much to think that all of the results were fabricated... As much as I would have liked to believe as strongly as I insisted that the ghosts that Mulder and I had seen in that house one Christmas Eve were fake, I had never been able to completely convince myself.
Hattie apparently mistook my silence as contemplative rather than dismay. "If you're really interested, I think there are some articles about the séances still. The Gazette could probably get you copies." Hattie tilted her head to the side. "You know young Max, don't you?"
I did indeed know young Max Kirby, and unlike me, he actually was very young. "I do-" I was spared from having to think of something nice to say about Max when Autumn began to fuss at last. "Oh, oh, what's wrong, sweetie?" I crooned, looking at my daughter rather than at Hattie.
Autumn was probably just bored because her fussing tapered off as soon as I pulled her out of her sling. Behind me Hattie chuckled. "Look at that hair! We can tell who this one takes after, can't we?"
That gave me pause. People often comment about Joey sharing my hair color too, and he was definitely much more cautious than William. Beyond noticing that, I hadn't really given much thought to which of our children would be more like Mulder or myself when they were grown. Frankly, I'd be quite content if they were not overly like either of us, because I've always thought the sum of our attributes were better than either of our own.
I suspected that Hattie had just been using the baby's outburst as a diversion, because the next thing she said was, "I'm sorry to have given you a shock, dear."
Although I looked up at her, I didn't say anything.
She sighed. "Not all newcomers take gladly to this town's illustrious past. I guess it must seem alien these days, ghosts, how can they compare to modern things like cell phones?"
Again I was gripped with the urge to explain what Mulder and I had done at the FBI, but I kept my tongue. Hattie didn't strike me as a gossip, but you never knew. Instead, I shook my head, as if I was trying to ward off something that bothered me. It wasn't much of a stretch because I actually was. "I'm okay."
For a woman in her eighties, Hattie had the brightest eyes. They bore into me for a moment before she looked away. "Good. Good."
There didn't seem to be anything left to say, at least nothing that seemed like a good idea to say, so I stuff the baby back in her sling and left. My exit would never be on a highlight reel for social etiquette, but I didn't know what else to do.
Mulder was fortunate that he wasn't home when I got there, because on the drive there I had decided that he must've known somehow. I wasn't sure how he might've figured it out, or how he had let me convince myself that moving to Ballyguest was my idea, but it didn't make sense to me that we could have moved to that town as a mere coincidence. One of us had to have known about the town's reputation, and it wasn't me.
His car wasn't in the driveway, but I found myself restlessly wandering into his office anyway. As I had suspected, he wasn't there. The only thing that greeted me was a pile of newspaper clippings, and a computer monitor that he had left on. On the screen I could see typing. At least he had been working on his manuscript. Still, I was annoyed that he had left the monitor turned on. It undermined our attempts to convince Joey and William not to waste electricity when we did so ourselves. Just in case, I hit save on his document before I turn the monitor off.
Autumn began to fuss in a way that told me that her issues were now more serious than mere boredom, so I brought her to her room. I was still in the middle of changing her when I heard Mulder open the front door.
"Scully?" His voice floated to me.
I didn't rush, knowing that I would end up with a crankier baby if I did. As soon as I put Autumn down, she fell asleep.
This time I found Mulder in his office. He was emptying a bag of copy paper and ink cartridges. "Hey," he said, glancing at me over his shoulder.
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Did you know?"
"Did I know what?" he asked calmly. "You're going to have to narrow that down a little for me, Scully."
"About this town."
"Even narrower than that."
"Mulder, what's this town's original name?"
He gave me a blank look. "It hasn't always been Ballyguest?"
"No, no it hasn't," I practically growled.
Mulder gave me a wary look before sitting in his office chair. "What did it used to be?"
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that he would instantly understand the significance, but I admit that it did. Eying me warily, he just said "Wow."
"Wow," I repeated grimly.
"No, I had no idea. Though I suspect that you have an idea why it was called that, which must be why you're looking at me like I did something wrong."
Perhaps I should have protested that he hadn't done anything wrong, but I didn't feel like it. Not right then. "Apparently we have moved ourselves to what used to be renowned for being a center of spiritualism. Séances, ectoplasm, the whole nine yards."
"That's fascinating," Mulder blurted out. "I mean, how upsetting."
If he had tried to jolly me out of my bad mood, he would have failed. But his unfeigned reaction did the trick. Lying to me has never come easy to him, so it seemed rather unlikely that he had allowed the town's reputation to be the driving force behind moving us there. Occam's razor suggested that it really was just a strange coincidence. My mother would've said it is fate that drew us, but I really wasn't in the mood for giving her theories about predestination any consideration.
Sighing, I said, "At least that's all in the past."
"Until someone gets revivalism fever," Mulder joked. His face fell when I didn't smile. "That probably won't happen."
"I hope not." I really did. When we moved, I thought we were getting further from our past, but now... Eyeing him, I did recall that he'd been the first one to point the town out on the map. "If you didn't know about this place's illustrious past, how did you decide to look at houses here?"
He shrugged. "I looked online for houses that looked like they'd suit us, and realized that the name sounded vaguely familiar."
"Familiar how?" I demanded to know. It was hard not to feel suspicious all over again.
"It took me a bit to place it myself, but there was something in my mother's stuff about the town."
This surprised me I'll admit. "Teena came here?"
He nodded. "I didn't really put two and two together until Max Kirby began to hound you about that story..."
When he trailed off, I didn't need him to fill in any more blank spaces for me. His mother must have visited the town so she could stay at Memory House. The thought of Teena Mulder deciding that she'd like to see if she could dream about her lost child didn't seem to gel well with what I knew of the woman. That sort of silly desperation just didn't seem in character.
Then, almost as if reading my mind, Mulder added, "It was a very long time ago, Scully. She was a different woman back then."
"How long ago?"
"Just two or three years after my sister disappeared..." He looked down, frowning. "I guess it was around the time she stopped thinking that Samantha was still going to come home."
"Two or three years?" I repeated, puzzled. "But Samantha-"
"Hadn't died yet. I know. Guess Mom jumped the gun on that one, huh?"
I gave him a small, sympathetic smile. He was beyond needing to be cooed over whenever he thought of his sister or his mother, but I understood how he felt about things that could never be changed now. Thinking about things that had gone unresolved between Missy and our father certainly gave me a basis for comparison.
After a beat, I said, "So I guess we have your mom to blame for this, then."
He looked startled at first, but eventually smiled. "A gag gift from beyond the grave. And you didn't think my mother had a sense of humor."
I tried to return his smile, really I did, but it was hard not to think about ghosts, and how very glad I would always be if I never had anyone tell me that our home was haunted. I could luck out and avoid it forever, couldn't I?
When I woke up in the morning, I felt better. So what if someone had thought our town was haunted way back before the great depression? That was so far removed from the present that it was silly of me to have gotten worked up about it the day before.
Trying to act cheerful, so Mulder at least knew I was over my bad mood, I made breakfast and chatted with him and the kids until it was time for them to leave. For the heck of it, Mulder and I trailed after them with the baby in tow when they raced to the bus stop next door. They didn't seem to mind us waiting with them for once - it wasn't like we hovered over them like some kids who had parents with them every time the bus stopped.
As William and Joey boarded their bus I heard excitable little boys calling out to them, asking them to sit with them. Glancing at Mulder, it was obvious that he had heard them too. The doors slammed closed, keeping us from hearing anything else that might have been said, but I could still see them happily settling in seats with other kids.
"I wondered how soon they'd make friends," Mulder mused as we watched the bus drive down the road.
"I'm glad that it didn't take very long, I said, thinking about how they had been bound to be referred to as "the Mulder twins" since the first day of school on - we have met several parents, and that phrase had popped out of nearly all of their mouths. Neither their new classmates nor their classmates parents had no idea that our boys hadn't begun school as a twosome, and hadn't even known each other until their final month of kindergarten.
"You sound like it was really a concern," I remarked, looking up at my husband.
Mulder shrugged. "Little New England towns don't exactly have a reputation for being welcoming to newcomers."
"You've read too much Stephen King." I pushed his shoulder lightly. "Besides, Ballyguest is different." I said, thinking of Hattie's revelation.
"Maybe you're right."
"Maybe?" I teased. "When am I not?"
"I seem to recall spending a night looking for tanker trucks..."
Shrugging my shoulders and looking down at Autumn, I said, "And look where that got us."
There was an unusually amount of noise coming from Daniel's house next door on Saturday. He was generally so quiet that it was hard to keep track of when he was actually home and not away on frequent business trips, so I was shocked. From talking to him a few times about what it was like to be in the sales of medical devices, I got the sense that it was a job he'd picked because he liked the salary, not the work. I didn't blame him, I was a doctor myself and I could hardly work up any enthusiasm for tools I might actually use, let alone be in his position of just selling the things.
"Who is next door?" Joey asked me as he bound into the room a minute after I noticed the noise. The fact that he had his coat in his hands suggested that he was about to ask if he and William could go out and play.
"I think Daniel has company," I said, and we both walked to the window. I didn't like being the noisy neighbors, but the racket was getting quite loud. Considering the noise I more than half expected that he had some guys over for a sporting event, something that made me think wistfully of the late gunmen, but there weren't any overly enthusiastic drinkers/sports enthusiasts in his yard. Instead there was a small boy having a complete meltdown.
"Wow," Joey commented, making me give him a sidelong look. His transition into our household hadn't been the smoothest, but at least I could say that he never caused me public embarrassment like the little blond boy throwing a fit in Daniel's driveway was. And the fact that Daniel was being embarrassed wasn't conjecture, I could see him standing a few feet from the boy, looking like he was in utter despair over the child's behavior.
A woman, I had to assume his ex-wife from her equally pained looks, was apparently trying to cajole the boy into behaving. And an older boy looked like he wished that the earth would split open and swallow his brother whole. It was hard not to blame him...
"Hey," I said, getting an idea. "Why don't you get William and go ask him to play with you both?" I asked Joey.
He gave me a look like I was insane. "Un uh, he just kicked his dad!"
Putting a hand on my son's shoulder, I shook my head. "Not that him. That him," I said, pointing at the older boy. I figured he was around ten, and the one throwing a fit six or seven. "He looks like he wishes he was anywhere else, doesn't he?"
"He does," Joey said with a frown. "Maybe he wants to go sledding."
"Will!" Joey bellowed, racing up the stairs towards their bedrooms.
I shook my head. Mulder and I had pretty much given up trying to tame our sons' enthusiasm for rapid travel. The house and its five bedrooms, hardly seemed big enough to contain all of their energy some days... Mothers of older boys said that it would eventually level off, but they hadn't seen my husband scaling a tree in his thirties, so I didn't think they knew what they were talking about, even if they meant well.
William and Joey must have went out the back door because I didn't see them leave: they just suddenly appeared in Daniel's yard. William, the less shy by far, took the lead, saying something to the older of the two boys. After a moment of conversation and some shrugging, my boys and one of Daniel's ran off, leaving the couple to deal with the younger boy who had still not stopped yelling.
"Is someone killing a lion next door?" Mulder asked behind me. When I turned I found him with Autumn in his arms and a burping cloth over one shoulder, grinning at his own joke. He'd brought several of the bunny print cloths like the one decorating his shoulder when he realized he was more sentimental about some of his clothes than he thought, and not just his Knicks jersey.
"Looks like it must be Daniel's week with his sons," I commented. "Joey and William rescued his older boy from that. I think they're sledding in the backyard."
"I'll check," Mulder told me, passing me both our daughter and the burping cloth.
Unable to tear my eyes away from the spectacle next-door, I felt like a voyeur when Daniel finally tired of the caterwauling, and picked the little boy up and hauled him into the house. The noise level dropped to a dull roar after Daniel's ex slammed the door behind them.
It sort of made me wonder what kind of woman she was, and my initial impression was fairly positive given she hadn't done anything to indicate that she was making the problem worse. The sad thing was that the temper tantrum might not have anything much to do with either parent, though I'm sure neither of them was feeling overly confident in their parenting skills after all of that.
"Yup, they're having a grand ole time in the backyard," Mulder confirmed a minute later.
"Good. Too bad the same can't be said of Daniel."
"There are worse Daniels to have for neighbors," he said unexpectedly. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking if he had my ex in mind. Probably. He told me once about taking different paths, and I couldn't help but wonder if William and Joey might have ended up Daniel's if I'd been weak enough to take Daniel back. It wasn't a comfortable thought.
A knock on the door about an hour later hardly came as a surprise, nor did Daniel standing there once I opened it. He looked sheepish, and asked "is it Declan still here?"
As he asked that, I realized that I didn't actually know his sons names. I really didn't see much of Daniel, and his sons had only come up occasionally. I of course hadn't pressed him on that subject because I knew that he missed them, and didn't want him to feel badly about that.
"Boy around nine or ten, dark blonde hair?" I asked, hoping that a joking tone would make him less uncomfortable.
"That's the one," Daniel replied. He looked like he was a little more at ease. "Thank you for rescuing him from Rhys's outburst." I wanted to protest that I hadn't done anything, but I guess it was a little obvious that William and Joey had been given some encouragement.
Declan and Rhys, I thought. And some people thought Autumn was an unusual choice. I wondered who was a fan of European names, though I had to admit I didn't know Daniel will enough to even hazard a guess about that.
"No problem," I said, when I realized I hadn't actually answered him.
Daniel's face began to turn the little red. "Rhys isn't taking the divorce very well," he muttered.
Looking up at him, I asked, "how long ago did you and your ex separate?" I had met Daniel in January, and his divorce seemed to have already been finalized by the then.
Daniel shrugged and said, "December."
"December," I repeated. In December Daniel had been in Florida helping his elderly mother move into her retirement complex and it made me wonder if his mother had driven a wedge between him and his wife. That would have been pretty sad, but it wasn't unheard of. Not when so many people for taking care of both their elderly parents and their own children the same time. The ex and his sons had already been gone by the time we'd moved in back in November, so maybe it had been something else.
"I feel like the worst parent in the world when I think about that," Daniel confided with a grimace. "Can you think of a worse Christmas gift for your children?"
I actually could, and tried to push away the unbidden image of somebody hanging themselves near the Christmas tree. I didn't say that of course. "I'm sorry," I said instead. There really wasn't anything I could say that would make him feel better, so I didn't even try to.
Our conversation came to a natural close when the boys came trooping around the house and appeared behind Daniel. When I smiled, Daniel turned and looked at his oldest son. "Declan. Rhys is in the house, and he's calmed down now a little," Daniel told him, and Declan gave a long-suffering shrug.
This made me raise my eyebrows a little bit. From Declan's expression it was fairly obvious that his little brother wasn't behaving much better for their mother than he had just now for their father. That had to be rough, not that I would know personally; my father never would've put up with behavior like that. He would have sent anyone of us to military school first.
"Come on," Daniel told him. "We're going to order some pizza from Papa John's."
Declan made a face. "Can't we have Pizza Hut instead? It's a lot better."
Before Daniel could even open his mouth, I was sure what his response would be, and I wasn't disappointed. "The promise of Papa John's is the only thing that kept him from opening his mouth and yelling again," Daniel said, his expression saying that there was no room for argument.
Declan just looked resigned. "Okay. Maybe we can get Pizza Hut next time."
I wouldn't bet on it, I thought. Not the way your dad looks like now, he thinks that your little brother is always going to be in need of appeasement. Maybe the next visit. Of course, I said nothing.
Instead, after Daniel and his son left, I turned my own sons. "Did you have fun?"
William nodded. "He seems nice. Really quiet though."
Trying not to look askance at Joey, I asked "how quiet?" I knew that William considered his own brother to be abnormally quiet, so the fact that he thought it was worth mentioning that Declan was quiet made me wonder.
"Pretty quiet," Joey said.
If even Joey thought that he was quiet... I gave my head small shake, and told myself that it wasn't really my problem to fix. Some kids were shy. Still, I was tempted to ask Mulder to talk to the boy at least once during their visit. Sometimes being a former hotshot profiler was handy for him when he came to dealing with children too.
"Do you think you'll invite him over to sled again sometime this weekend?" I asked, finally shutting the door. Daniel and his kid had already returned to their house, so by that point we were just letting in cold air.
"Sure, if that's okay?" Joey asked.
I tried not to cringe. There is nothing like musing over the baggage of other people's children to remind you that yours have their own. I had never even met Mrs. Van de Kamp, and had only met Jonathan once, but I would have liked to ask them what they had done to Joey to make him so nervous about proper decorum. I sensed, perhaps unfairly, that they had put the Captain to shame when it came to strict parenting.
"Oh, that would be fine," I said as lightly as possible. "As long as you let Dad or me know that you're going out to play and who you're playing with you know it's okay as long as we don't have other plans... But don't forget that Declan's dad needs to know where you are going too."
"Yeah," William butted in. "How often do Mom and Dad say no?"
"They said we couldn't get Mr. Pike-" Joey said, referring to their pet fish who lived in the dining room, "-a 100 gallon aquarium."
This made his brother roll his eyes. "I meant about playing outside with other kids."
"'sides, the dining room isn't big enough for an aquarium that big," William pointed out.
Joey sighed. "I know, but imagine how big he'd get if we could put him in a tank that big. I want to know if fish really grow as big as their tank will let them."
"But Mr. Pike is a grown up. Do grown up fishes still grow?"
They both looked at me expectantly at this point. I made a shooing motion. "You both know how to look on wikipedia," I reminded them. "Go find out."
"Okay, yeah," William agreed before grabbing his brother by the arm when Joey was too slow to suit him.
I made a mental note to ask Mulder how long he thought we should keep the net-nanny software on the computer the boys were allowed to use. It was pretty good at keeping them from accessing questionable sites, but it always made me miss the Gunmen when I thought of it. Not that they would ever have deigned to make some real money by authoring software that actually had a market value. Oh no, they'd always had too much integrity for that, even with empty bank accounts to show for it. You had to grudgingly admire people with principles that strong, even when you worried about the sanity of strictly adhering to them.
An impatient little beeping outside alerted me that the mail truck was in the driveway the next afternoon. After decades in the city I was still trying to get used to having packages show up right at your door with the expectation you'd be there to take them or not mind them being left on the front stoop. A stiff breeze slapped me across the face as soon as I stepped outside wishing I'd grabbed my coat.
"H-hi," I said through chattering teeth as soon as I reached the mailman, who had already gotten out of his truck. Apparently I hadn't gotten there soon enough to suit him so he'd been preparing to abandon the package.
Instead of returning my greeting the mailman just thrust the box at me with a curt "here."
I didn't bother trying to say goodbye as he stomped back to his truck, leaving behind a trail of dirty footprints in the snow. Sighing, I hugged the package to my chest and hurried back inside.
"Mulder, I think our mailman hates us," I complained the second I saw him. He raised an eyebrow and watched me put the package down so I could pull on a fleece top. L.L. Bean was rapidly becoming my favorite source for winter-wear.
"Why?" Mulder eventually asked, looking moderately amused.
"Hmm?" I asked, toying with the idea of starting a fire to rid myself of my chill when the fleece didn't cut it. We had plenty of wood but I still couldn't tell if the kids were screwing with me by begging to toast marshmallows every single time we lit a fire. Looking at Mulder I asked, "why do I suspect he hates us, or what do I think accounts for it?"
He shrugged. "Lady's choice."
"I think he resents all the packages he has to bring us."
"So it's your mom's fault."
"I wouldn't say that!" I replied, automatically defending her.
Mulder gave me a skeptical look and gestured towards the box. "Who's that from?"
It was hard not to cringe. "Mulder... She's just so excited to finally have another granddaughter." Besides Emily, only one other girl had ever been produced by me or either of my siblings.
His expression finally softened. "With every other Scully grandchild but one being a boy, no wonder."
"Yeah," I agreed, thinking of Bill and Charlie's sons.
He handed me a pair of scissors and I used them to cut the tape holding the box's flaps closed. I shifted a layer of tissue paper to discover a pair of gift cards labeled with William and Joey's names and an exquisite green dress with a matching bonnet. Looking over my shoulder, Mulder said, "Well, no one is ever going to accuse Maggie of not having good taste. But is this a hint about getting more pictures done?"
"Maybe. She's expressed wanting us to do them every three months."
"I hope she doesn't expect the boys to use those gift cards on clothes. They wouldn't be very happy. "
"I doubt she does..." I thought of the mail carrier's attitude again. "But the mailman-"
Mulder shook his head firmly. "If he can't deal with one of his job duties, may be a career with the post office isn't a good fit."
This did give me pause. There were parts of almost any job that didn't thrill you - investigating fertilizer came to mind - but you sucked it up and did it anyway. I still wasn't happy that the mailman so openly resented delivering packages, but Mulder was right. Either he learned to cope with what the job required or he looked for something that suited him better. I resolved on the spot to not let it bother me so much. "You're right."
"Scully! You say the sweetest things."
"Down boy," I retorted with a smirk.
Our banter died an early death when the phone in my pocket rang.
"Probably your mom checking to make sure the mail carrier didn't huck it into a snow bank," he quipped but I waved him off when I saw the number.
"Hello? Dana Scully speaking," I said in my most professional tone... While ignoring the faces my husband was making. I ducked into the dining room in self-defense.
"Doctor Scully, this is Charles Whitcomb. Is now a convenient time to talk?"
"Yes, of course," I said instantly. The man was my new employer, so I wasn't about to blow off his call because I'd rather continue to flirt with Mulder.
"Excellent. I'll actually be quite brief. I was hoping to schedule an in-person meeting with you in the near future."
To my frustration, Charles never said what the meeting we'd scheduled for the following week was to be about. I guessed I'd find out then.
"What are you watching?" a voice over my shoulder asked Wednesday afternoon. It was Mulder, of course. The boys still couldn't look over my shoulder, yet, though they kept telling me that they'd be taller than me one day. Like I didn't know that.
I waved my hand towards the screen. "A Morgan video."
"Ah." Mulder was almost as used to seeing video of Duke Crocker's orange cat as I was. Duke was a nice boy, but had strange ideas about the best way to keep in touch. His friend Audrey Parker wrote actual e-mails, but Duke usually just sent videos of what his cat was up to or updated brochures for his hotel, like anyone who got stranded there was in a hurry to go back. I wondered if he was in touch with the Greens, too... Fortunately, Morgan was pretty cute so I didn't mind. Somehow neither did anyone else: there were videos of Morgan with thousands of hits on Youtube too. "Can I tear you away from that?"
"Of course," I told him, pausing the video so that Morgan Crocker hung in mid-air, front paws inches from a red dot someone - I think Audrey given the smallness of the hand - was projecting on a wall for him. "What's up?"
"I found this writer's workshop I'd like to attend in Dover," Mulder said, handing me a flyer. There was a stamp on the back from the library, so I didn't have to ask where he'd found out about it. Mulder and Autumn took frequent trips to the library, not that she was even old enough to understand that the pictures in the books he read her represented anything. She would in a few months, though, so it was good to acclimate her to the reading process before then. "I've already checked that they're still taking registrations."
"That sounds like a good idea," I told him. Though I had no idea how much he'd actually get out of it, I thought it was a good idea simply because the workshop was bound to leave him enthused about his project. I didn't have a specific deadline for the completion of his book in mind, but I had the distinct impression that he didn't either. Maybe attending a workshop with other writers would help him formulate a timetable for it.
"The only problem is that it's the same day as your meeting with the hospital, so I guess I'll be bringing the squirt with me."
"Mulder, please don't call her that." I sighed.
"Why?" he asked, looking at me like he couldn't fathom my objection.
I waved a hand. "It's vulgar."
"What do you-" He shut his mouth in mid-sentence, obviously having put two and two together. Giving me a wry smile, he said, "Now that I think about it, that is kind of vulgar."
"Yeah. But anyway, are you sure you want to bring a baby with you?" What I wanted to ask was, aren't you supposed to be paying attention during the workshop? But I already knew that he'd just tell me that he was good at multi-tasking. He was, but no one was that good.
"Um, okay." It was his event. I wasn't going to stand in his way if he wanted to make things more difficult for himself. Honestly, I think he enjoys challenging himself now and then. It's not like I don't myself.
"I'm sure I won't be the only parent there, there's this photo here with some toddlers in it." He pointed at a tiny picture, and when I squinted, I could just barely make out a couple of babies crawling on the floor. It was hard to be sure given the size of the photo, but it seemed to me like there were a couple of adults who looked frustrated too. Made me wonder if they were the kids' parents, or people annoyed that there were small distractions exploring the room.
"Maybe she'll sleep through a lot of it," I suggested. With a few bottles of expressed milk going with him, it was possible he'd have a full, sleepy baby on his hands for most of the day. Of course, babies seemed to have a sixth sense about when you wanted them to sleep, and then fought sleep with every fiber of their beings.
"I'm sure she will," he said confidently.
I winced, sure that he'd just cursed himself.
A few days later our plans hit a snag when we realized that neither of us would be home when the boys got out of school the day of Mulder's workshop and my meeting. Mulder looked irritated but he said, "I'll cut it short."
"I don't want you to have to do that," I protested, knowing how important it was to him.
"Scully, it's not like you can blow off a meeting with your new boss. It has to be me. Don't worry about it."
He looked so resigned and disappointed that I just had to wrack my brain to come up with a solution. "Leigh!" I blurted out the second I thought of it.
He gave me a curious look. "Their teacher's wife?"
"Yes. She baby-sits. She's the one Judith introduced me to right after Autumn was born."
"Oh." After a moment of surprise he seemed to warm to the idea. "We should see if she's free. It'd only be until six, I'm sure I'd get home by then."
"Right," I muttered. Simply assuming she'd do it probably wasn't smart. "I'll need to ask Judith for her number."
His response was to make a shooing motion, clearly indicating he thought I should go right then and there. He even had the nerve to chuckle when I rolled my eyes at this. Sometimes it's hard to believe I put up with that man.
Fortunately, Judith didn't mind giving me the number and Leigh was home when I called. "Hi, this is Dana Scully, Judith's neighbor?" I hated that it sounded like a question, but I was worried that she wouldn't remember me by name alone. "I hate to ask at the last minute, but Fox and I are looking for someone to watch our boys on Wednesday from 3 to 6."
"Oh, sure, I'm available," she said much to my relief. "I should swing by your house to meet the bus, right?"
'"If you can, that will be great."
"No problem." she paused for a moment. "You don't need someone to watch the baby?"
"No. Fox is taking her with him." I had serious doubts that he'd find the writer's workshop as much fun with a baby as he thought, but he insisted that other people were bringing babies and toddlers too. That sounded noisy and unproductive to me, but no one asked my opinion. "He's attending a writer's workshop that's supposed to be baby-friendly," I explained.
"Oh." The single word's tone conveyed almost as much doubt as I felt myself. "I'm certified in infant CPR if you ever need a sitter for all three of them sometime."
Smiling wryly, I said, "Be careful. We might just take you upon it in the future."
She gave a youthful burst of laughter before saying, "I'm sure I wouldn't regret the offer."
Thinking that the kids tended towards over enthusiasm rather than actually being naughty, I really hoped so. "I think as a parent I'm contractually obliged to say that."
Leigh laughed again. "Oh, I've said if myself," she said, reminding me that she had a boisterous little boy of her own.
"Thanks again, Leigh."
"No problem. I'm sure it will be fun."
After I hung up I made a mental note to ask Judith for Leigh's going rate. I'd pay her double for helping us out of a jam. If she refused, I'd insist she use take the extra money to buy something fun for the kids she sat for.
I think that Mulder enjoyed the fact that Ballyguest is in the middle of nowhere, like so many of the small towns we investigated while we were at the FBI, but I didn't really like that myself. It would have been nice if going to the grocery store didn't require driving ten miles in each direction: there was something really terrible about getting home from one of those shopping excursions only to discover that you'd left something behind and knowing that you'd have to waste all that time and gas over again in order to go back for whatever it was. That must be why Judith seemed overly prepared for such trips to me at first, back before I realized just how very spoiled I'd been when we'd lived in cities. Even Carter, Virginia seemed like a mecca in comparison to our far flung home now.As for me, I was desperately trying to find something to buy to wear for my meeting with Charles. Mulder hadn't said anything about how I was finding it more difficult to lose the last fifteen pounds I'd gained while pregnant this time than I had after William's birth, but I felt critical enough about it for both of us. Most days I was too busy to pay much attention to that chiding little voice that attempted to scold me for every cookie eaten and every workout that got canceled because something more pressing came up, but alone with my thoughts as I drove for miles going from one store to another and failed to find something fitting... All I really wanted to do was to go home, but I didn't have anything dressy that fit. My old interview type clothes were too tight by a lot, and the outfit I'd used for the interview - even if I was willing to take the chance that he wouldn't have remembered what I'd worn - was now too big because I'd been late in my second trimester when I'd landed the job.
As I struggled with yet another set of buttons, I finally admitted to myself that the biggest reason I was having a fashion crisis was probably because I wasn't looking forward to leaving my baby all day, and the meeting with my new employer just served to remind me that it was going to happen in just a couple more weeks.
Don't get me wrong, as I've watched Mulder interact with Autumn since December, I'd grown confident that she was going to be in her father's very capable hands when I wasn't around. It was great that he'd turned out to be as much a natural with tiny infants as he'd proven himself to be with first a toddler then small children, but a big part of me just wanted to be there myself too. As much as I'd promised myself that things were going to be different with my last baby, I couldn't help but think about how it had been just me taking care of first William, then Joey for a while, and not wanting to have less control over things now than then. Of course I'd never say anything about it to Mulder because there was no way to say it that wouldn't sound selfish.
Eventually, after about four hours of trying on things I hated, I found something I only mildly disliked and headed home.
The boys are usually so well behaved (or at least since the first few months after getting Joey back) that it always throws me when they act up. Especially when it feels deliberate. I'd almost swear that they'd conspired against me the night before my meeting with the medical director, perhaps making a secret pact to fray my last nerve. maybe they were reacting to the reminder that I'd soon be returning to work after so many weeks home with their sister...
But it was hard to be sympathetic to that when William outright refused to even try the side dish I'd made to go with dinner, Joey whined through doing homework, and they both complained bitterly when Mulder refused to let them play outside after dark. The straw that broke the camel's back, however was the issue of their bathroom.
"Can we watch TV now?" William asked in a long suffering tone while I oversaw the kids putting their plates in the dishwasher. This alone had me gritting my teeth because he had no idea that the only reason he wasn't still sitting at the table while his side dish grew cold was because I'd remembered a night when Charlie had sat in front of a plate of meatloaf until after my parents had gone to bed.
"No," I said firmly. The eye-rolling that came next didn't improve my mood.
"Because I want your bathroom clean before you go to bed."
At this, Joey jumped into the conversation. "But Mom!"
Shaking my head, I just shot back, "No buts."
William put his hands on his hips. "Why do we have to wash the floor and the walls? That's hard. We hate that."
"Yeah," Joey agreed with a vigorous nod of his head. "They don't even get dirty."
I hate to admit it, but I kind of just snapped after that. First I stormed out the room and went to grab something left over from Halloween, which I stuffed under my arm. Then I went back to the kitchen, grabbed each of my sons by a forearm, and frog-marched them to the bathroom, studiously ignoring their alarmed looks.
Once we were in the room, I let them go and they were so stunned that neither of them tried to make a break for it. This allowed me to reach behind us to turn off the overhead light, and snap on the portable black light that I'd retrieved.
As I swung the light in an arch around the toilet and the adjacent walls, small spots began to glow.
"What's that?" William asked, obviously surprised that the bathroom floor and walls resembled a Dalmatian's coat under the black light.
"Guess," I told him flatly.
"Water?" he ventured, sounding uncertain.
I picked reached over and turned on the sink. We all watched when the water came out and didn't glow. "Not water."
"Pee?" Joey whispered.
"Exactly," I declared. I turned the light on, put the black light down, and gave them the mop and a magic eraser. "I'll leave the black light here so you can check to make sure you got it all."
"Okay..." they groaned.
I wasn't exactly thrilled to have won the victory, but as I walked away I felt a little less guilty when I heard William say, "That's gross. But kinda cool." Joey murmured an agreement, and I heard the mop bucket being filled.
It could have ended worse, I decided with a shrug.
Maybe Mulder talked to the boys or maybe they just got over their grumpiness, but either way they were less bearish by their late breakfast: I'd been steeling myself for them to whine and demand to know why Daniel's boys didn't have to go to school and they did, and had already prepared an explanation of how different states had different vacation schedules.
It was a good thing they were behaving too considering how nervous I was about my meeting. Perhaps a doubly good thing considering the weather had prompted a two hour delay of school, meaning that the kids were still hanging around the house considerably later than I had anticipated. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind their company most of the time, but when I needed to get ready for a major meeting was what I hope is an understandable exception.
"Hey," Mulder said to the kids, a quart of milk in one hand, and a stack of diapers in the other; I had to assume that he believed that having breakfast and packing a diaper bag could be multitask. "Do I have your attention?" Both of our sons nodded and put their cereal spoons down. "Don't forget the Mr. Blackwood's wife Leigh is going to pick you up at the bus stop today. So don't walk back to the house-" we lived all a 10th of a mile from their bus stop. "And don't be scared that there's strange car there. Mom said it silver."
"Dad!" William groaned. "Were not babies. We wouldn't be scare of a car."
"I know you think you're practically grown up-"
"Were almost nine!" our son immediately protested.
"Not until May," Mulder grumbled. "And it's my job to worry about you!"
"You're good at it."
"Thanks." This was said with a roll of Mulder's eyes.
Apparently bored of the minor squabbling between his father and brother, Joey squirmed restlessly in his seat until William went back to picking at his toast. "Dad, is today your writers' play date?" Joey finally asked.
"It's not a play date, it's a workshop."
"Oh." Joey looked confused. "What's the difference?"
"Um..." Mulder was obviously at a loss, but he thought of one difference. Sort of. "If we want snacks, we have to buy our own."
"Right." Joey looked up at me. "Good luck, Mom."
"Yeah, good luck," William echoed.
Then they were both out the door.
Mulder scowled, but not a me. "So, what about you?"
"What about me what?"
"Our kids think today has all the gravity of a play group, like Gymboree." Mulder had brought William there as a toddler far more often than I had had been able to stand to.
I shrugged. "Kids have limited worldview."
To my surprise he lifted his eyebrows, and one corner of his mouth twitch. "I'm afraid those sound like weasel words, Scully."
"Do not!" I protested. "That be more like 'musk'. Or 'bendable'."
Forcing myself to be more serious, I kissed his cheek and told him, "What you are going to get out of it is going to largely depend on what you put into it. If you just go to socialize, it's not going to be very valuable from a writing point of view," I added, thinking that being able to talk to other grown-ups had an intrinsic worth all of its own. "But if you go there ready to learn, you could stand to gain quite a bit."
"That sounds like pretty sage advice," he murmured, leaning down to kiss me back.
"Is it?" I glanced at the baby monitor on the table, waiting for Autumn to wake up and cry. For once she didn't.
"Oh yeah," he said distractedly. Most of his attention was on kissing me, although his hands were up under my pajama's top by that point. "The sort of valuable advice that could get a girl lucky, if she wanted to." He pulled away for a moment, disappointing me. I realized that he'd been looking for the clock only when he said, "and if she has time to."
Nerves had had me out of bed hours before technically needed to be, so I had plenty of time left to shower and dress... And other things. "Mulder, I have to take a shower," I said firmly.
"Oh." Now he was one that looked disappointed.
"I didn't say I had to take alone," I told him.
Mulder dashed out of the house forty-five minutes later, and I only found out that evening that he'd reached the workshop only five minutes before check-in closed. However, he told me that the stress of getting there on time had been well worth it.
It seemed half a miracle that I managed to locate the director's office without turning myself around and going the wrong way even once. I hadn't been there for months, and it shocked me more than little that I still remembered where the interview had taken place. This meant, of course, had the meeting taken place anywhere else, I would've been screwed.
As it was, I was still so nervous that I was barely able to return the smile that a perky receptionist gave me as soon as she saw me. "You must be Dr. Scully. Dr. Whitcomb will join you in just a moment. Would you like something to drink?"
I must've been very nervous, because I nearly blurted out that drinking anything at that point would just make me need to pee, but I managed to clamp down on my tongue before those words betrayed me. I hardly paid any attention when she spoke to me as she abandoned me in the conference room. Instead, I was telling myself very sternly that I needed to keep my crap together.
Charles Whitcomb came into the room looking no less anxious than I did. I didn't take that as a good sign, and I was confused about whether or not I should stand when he entered the room. Eventually I decided not to. He gave me the briefest of smiles and sat down across from me. "Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Scully."
"You're welcome," I said, hoping that my voice didn't tremble and give me away. Nothing good could be coming with him being this out of sorts too. The director looked slightly uncomfortable. "I suppose I should get to the reason I asked you to come in today." I nodded slightly, which did nothing to remove that look from his face. "I hate to admit that the remodeling in what will be your department is taking longer than we were promised by the contactors. As much as I'd love to have you begin on the date we agreed upon, I'm afraid that we won't have any place to put you."
It was hard not to frown in response to this. I really didn't like the sound of this, was this the beginning of telling me that the job no longer existed? Mulder and I could get by on our savings for a while, but I didn't relish the thought of what could be a protracted job search considering the state of the economy.
He steepled his hands and leaned forward. "I've already cleared this with the board, Dr. Scully...What we want to do is put you on hold for three more months."
"On hold?" I asked warily, not especially liking the sound of that either. Being without an income for three months was better than being out of a job altogether, but it didn't really strike me as fair. What was that saying my dad always repeated? A lack of planning on your part isn't an emergency on mine. How I wish that was a universal truth.
Maybe some of what I was thinking showed on my face, because he couldn't get his next words out fast enough. "We'll pay your salary during those three months, of course."
"Of course," I echoed, as if I'd been thinking that he would all along. I didn't expect him to believe me. I didn't believe me.It was hard to keep a straight face when I thought about the tantalizing possibility of being able to stay home with my baby twice as long as I thought I was going to get to. I'd agreed to begin working at the center next month because that was a condition of employment, not because I was eager to go back to working. Though my lingering guilt over what had happened when Joey was an infant was greater, I still felt bad that I allowed John and Monica talk me into returning to work insanely soon after William was born too. I didn't blame them because I really was there only viable option at the time, but if I'd been a better mother, I might have told them no anyway, and just spent some time on the phone looking for someone else to help. It probably wasn't healthy to consider Autumn's infancy as a chance to finally do things the right way, but I couldn't help feeling it. Whitcomb of course completely misinterpreted my quietness. "I can't apologize enough for this incontinence-" he fretted, at least until I took pity on him and cut him off. "I understand that things like this are outside your control," I told him, watching some of the apprehension slide off his face. "It's all right. I'd be happy to postpone my start date until June." He immediately looked guilty again. "June at the earliest, I'm sorry to admit." "Well, as long as you keep me abreast of things," and pay me, I silently added, "I don't have a problem with that." "I'm sure your family will be pleased at least," he said desperately. I hadn't mentioned having a family in the interview, but beyond having been somewhat obviously pregnant at the time of the interview with him it was also common practice to vet people by doing an internet search so he'd probably found references online, if only though Max Kirby's article about Memory House. The idea that he might know about Emily didn't delight me, though.
All I did was nod. "Yes, to be sure."
He stood abruptly, making me scramble to my feet too. Then he took my hand, shaking it heartily. "Well then, I will keep you informed to the best of my ability. And I hope to see you at the beginning of the summer."
I shook his hand back, remembering distantly that my father had once advised me that even women need a strong handshake. Nobody likes handling a dead fish. "Yes. Until then."
As we left the conference room, I'm not sure who felt a greater sense of relief to have the meeting over with. I hoped it was me. Otherwise, the director was going to be a very nervous man to work for.
I stopped at a bakery on the way home and bought a chocolate cake with butter cream frosting. Maybe it was silly, but I was in a celebratory mood. Mulder seemed confused when I told them this over the phone. About the cake, I mean, not about feeling like celebrating.
"Comfort food?" he asked carefully.
Blinking, I realized that I had told him more about dessert in my meeting. "No." Maybe it was a conversation best left until we could talk in person.
"Right." After a pause he asked, "are you going to make me wait until we get home to tell me what your meeting was about?"
I never did believe that Mulder had temporarily gained the ability to read minds back when he had come in contact with that etching but once in a while he displayed an uncanny ability to ferret out my thoughts. Still elated, I playfully agreed. "Yup."
"Okay then," he sounded at least as amused as confused.
"We, before you hang up, how's our girl?"
"Sound asleep. She must find this workshop deadly boring because she's been asleep most of the day. Autumn's going to keep us up all night I'm afraid."
Fine by me, I thought giddily. I knew they were women who were thoroughly sick of being cocooned with their newborn by the six-week mark, but I guess I'm not built that way... At least not when I don't have as much angst on my plate as when Mulder went into hiding. "I guess we'll have to take that when it comes."
"That's a nice attitude," he said, sounding a little skeptical. "Hopefully you'll still have it at 3 AM."
"Thanks," I snorted. "I won't keep you any longer. I'm sure you have important conversations to get back to."
"Love you, bye."
"Love you too."
A few minutes later I found myself humming as I carried everything I'd bought out to my car. I almost put it all in the backseat, then envisioned my curious sons going through the bags, and stowed it all in the trunk instead.
The Blackwood home was nice, if modest. A passing thought as I walked to the front door made me wonder if one set of parents or the other had helped out with a down payment because our property tax bill suggested that Leigh's husband wasn't overpaid, and she didn't work fulltime. I reminded myself that I was being nosey, and knocked on the door. It didn't take long before it was answered. "Hi, hope they weren't any trouble," I greeted Leigh.
"Nope, no trouble at all. Come on in," Leigh told me as she held the door open. "It's too chilly to wait out here for them."
"Thanks," I replied, following her in. The inside of the home matched the outside. I wondered where the nearest IKEA was because the living room furniture was stuff I recognized from their catalogue. It was nice, if a bit too modern for my tastes. I smiled when I noticed a play area for Leigh's son blocked off with baby gates - Mulder and I were considering something similar once Autumn was walking, but we weren't ordering a pen from Drs. Foster & Smith's pet supply catalogue no matter how hard he tried to convince me that it'd be practical. She was a baby, not a Boston terrier.
"Why don't you take a seat there." Leigh pointed at an armchair. "And I'll make sure they get their boots and coats on."
If they need to put their boots on, I guess they'd made themselves comfortable. Hopefully Leigh didn't mind kids running around in socked feet. I didn't, but as the mother of two eight-year-olds I was used them leaving a breadcrumb trail of discarded clothing and other belongings in their wake.
Leigh had only been gone a minute when a small voice said "Hi" at knee level. Leaning over, I found myself looking into a pair of ocean blue eyes, very much like Leigh's. Jacoby raised his arms above his head and asked "Up?"
"Okay," I agreed, but I more than half expected him to change his mind. To my surprise he just settled happily onto my lap. The other thing that surprised me was that I couldn't feel the expected bulk of a diaper under his clothes, so that must have meant he was already potty-trained despite being two and a half. William had resisted the potty until a couple of weeks past his third birthday, and there wasn't really anyone I could ask about Joey. Maybe I'd luck out and get Autumn out of diapers sooner than I had William - Jacoby was proof it was possible.
"Name?" Jacoby asked, fingers reaching for my cross until I slipped it under my shirt. He looked disappointed but didn't whine about being denied his goal.
"My name is Dana."
"Oh." A man of few words, that Jacoby.
My eyes roamed the immediate vicinity, and I spotted a basket of picture books on the floor, within arm's reach. I was just about to ask Jacoby if he wanted to look at one when Leigh came back. She looked a little surprised to see her son sitting on my lap, and I felt a rush of embarrassment. Maybe I shouldn't have assumed that picking him up was okay. Some parents didn't like that sort of thing. "Sorry," I told her. "He asked me to pick him up and I didn't think to ask-"
Leigh shook her head. "No, it's okay. I'm just a bit shocked that he wanted you to. He doesn't usually warm to people very quickly, and he's only seen you a couple of times before. There must be something about you he likes," she concluded with a smile that promised that she wasn't upset.
I thought back to another baby I'd held, back when I'd thought I'd never hold one of my own in my arms. That baby had taken to me too. "It's a gift," I said seriously, though I ruined it by smiling.
She looked amused, which had been my goal. "Have you ever worked with kids?"
That was a loaded question, though she had no way of knowing it. Mulder and I had interacted with several children over the course of our time with the FBI, and those were the sort of cases that could break your heart more often than not. It wasn't the time or the place to bring up that, though, so I just shrugged a little. "When I worked at the hospital a fair number of my patients had been children." And fortunately, most of those cases had turned out as well as Christian's - he'd e-mailed Joey and William about a fun field trip his fifth grade class had taken just this week.
"Well, you have a way with them, not just your own."
"Thanks." I was intended to tell her that she did too, but Joey and William appeared suddenly. Jacoby held his arms out to his mother, and my boys waited patiently for her to take him before they swarmed me. "Where's Autumn?" William asked, looking around and apparently expecting to see his sister somewhere, maybe under Leigh's coffee table.
"With Dad," I reminded him. As I did I began to rebutton his coat - he hadn't lined the snaps up properly and didn't seem to have noticed. He fidgeted while I did so, clearly conveying that he didn't consider misbuttoning to be worth the attention. Joey, of course, had his buttons done up properly. He continued to be more detailed oriented than his brother, and I figured he always would be. "All set?" I asked, looking to make sure they had their backpacks. "Did you work on homework here?"
"Did you check to make sure you put it back in your backpack?"
"Oh." William darted out of the room and returned with a handful of worksheets.
Joey held open his backpack so I could see that his was in there.
"Mush," I said pointing at the Blackwoods' front door.
"Hope that's not what's for dinner," William muttered.
I openly smirked when Joey said, "Nah, it's not Dad's night to cook."
I let them go first, lingering long enough to say goodbye to Leigh. When they got to my car I unlocked it with my key fob, which William insisted was magic until he was almost five. "Thanks again," I told Leigh.
"Any time," she smiled as she spoke. I guessed that they really hadn't be any trouble given her lack of hesitation. That was good to know. I hurried out when the kids got the car doors open.
"Did you have a good afternoon?" I asked the boys as they climbed into the backseat. Joey had some trouble with his seatbelt, but William leaned over and helped him get it buckled.
"Pretty good," Joey told me. "I didn't know that teachers don't get to go home when we do. Leigh said that Mr. Blackwood never leaves right when the bell rings like we do. He didn't get home too long before you came to get us."
"Teachers usually stay late to grade stuff, or to plan for the next day," I told him. It must have been a little strange to be in their teacher's home knowing that he wasn't there most of the time. At least they were old enough not to be laboring under the misconception a lot of smaller kids had, that teachers lived at the school. Knowing they went home was definitely progress, I thought, trying not to smile at the idea of the poor teachers sleeping on their desks or on mats in the gym.
"That's what Leigh said," Joey said with a nod of agreement.
"How about you?" I asked William. He was unusually quiet, but I noticed that he was looking his window.
"Pretty good. Leigh reminds me of you, Mom."
"How?" I asked, blinking. Leigh and I were alike?
William shrugged. "Dunno, she just is a little like you."
"Do you mean we look alike or act alike?"
"Act. 'cept having blue eyes like me and Joey do too, you don't look alike."
"Ah, okay." I still wondered how he thought we acted alike, but he'd immediately begun chatting with his brother about something that had happened during the school day. Maybe he'd think of a way to articulate that later.
I didn't hear so much as feel the kitchen door open when I was making dinner a little later on. My back had been to the door because I was looking in the cabinets for pasta, but a cool breeze had me turning just in time to see Mulder carrying Autumn in through the doorway. She was so bundled up in her baby seat that it was almost impossible to see any part of her other than her closed eyes.
"Hey," Mulder said, pausing long enough to put Autumn's seat on the floor before hugging me. "How did it go today?"
"Good," I said after kissing him. "Really good."
"Yeah?" His eyes held curiosity, but he didn't press.
I snaked an arm around his waist and decided not to wait to tell him. "I'm not going to be starting until June. They blew the timeline on the building renovations, so they don't want me to start until there's a place to put me."
"Oh," he said. His face spoke of mixed emotions. "Are you okay with that?"
"Am I okay with having more time home with my baby, sure," I said flippantly. Then I wondered if me being home might not be what he'd hoped for, especially after spending a whole day getting writing advice. What if they'd told him that it was imperative that he have time alone to write? Me being around for three extra months could certainly put a damper on any enthusiasm he'd built up at the workshop.
"I figured you'd like that part," he told me. "I was wondering about the another three months without income part."
"Oh! I forgot to tell you, they're going to pay me anyway."
"You didn't lead with that?" he asked dryly.
"Oops. So how did today go for you?"
Mulder shrugged and I felt a surge of disappointment for him. Without a word he'd just told me that the day wasn't nearly as life-changing as he'd hoped. "Most of what was said I could have read in On Writing or some other book about writing professionally."
"It's okay. I got to hang out with other people who are still working on their books too. And I've learned that in comparison to some, I've actually already have accomplished a lot with both planning and writing."
"Well that's good," I told him.
At that very moment Autumn woke up and began cooing for attention, both the boys ran into the room to inform us they were hungry, and the pot of water I'd put on the stove for the pasta I'd never put in it began to boil over. In other words, it turned into a typical evening.
The next morning I gave Mulder a dubious look as he put on his coat. "Are you sure you want to drive all the way to Portmouth?"
He shrugged. "That's the nearest bookstore."
This was the unfortunate truth: Judith had been lamenting the decline of bookstores in New Hampshire just a few weeks earlier. She'd told me that there were currently less than half the number of bookstores within a 100 mile radius now than there had been just ten years ago. For an avid reader like her, this was the sad reality now that there were so many options for buying books online. Mostly she said she missed being able to walk into a store and read the backs of dozens of books without making a day of getting there first.
I almost asked him if he really needed the books right then instead of ordering them from the internet, but I didn't. It was a miracle that his disappointing writers' workshop hadn't put a complete damper on his enthusiasm, so far be it from me to suggest he not go through whatever he needed to in order to maintain momentum. If that meant taking a long drive on a cold day, I guess that was what he needed to do.
"Okay," I told him, kissing his cheek when he bent near enough for me to.
He gave me a wry smile. "And if it makes you feel any better, I did think to call and have them hold the books for me."
That did make a difference, and lately it was the sort of detail I would have overlooked myself. It was slow-going adjusting to getting up a couple of times a night to feed Autumn, and I had a sneaking suspicion that many of my brain cells were hibernating while I tried to make the transition. "Smart thinking."
He responded by smirking and bowing. "What are you going to do with the kids today?"
I shrugged. It was one of those mysterious teacher workshop days I'd always wondered about. "I think I'll play it by ear," I told him. "See what they have in mind."
"Well, I can tell you that Autumn's plans include sleeping, eating, barfing, and pooping."
"Good thing she can do that just about anywhere."
"Ha. I bet the boys will have better ideas."
"And if they don't, they probably won't be barfing at the very least," I said, hoping hard that it was true. Kids were walking germ factories, but it seemed like both boys had somewhat better constitutions than many of their classmates, being sick about half as often. I'd never said it aloud, but I was marginally pleased that they did get sick once in a while - Jeffrey Spender's words about William being more human than human (even though he hadn't realized that the baby he'd spoken over was Joey at the time) had rocked me more than I wanted to admit. Every sign that both boys were just regular kids was moderately comforting.
"God, I hope not," Mulder groaned. "Remember when they both got sick the October before last?"
"How could I forget?" There had been a lot of barfing. And a subsequent lecture about how we need to wash our hands to protect ourselves from people who don't bother leaving their illnesses at home. So far they'd avoided getting another norovirus again since.
He looked around furtively, like he was about to try to get away with something. Turns out he was just trying to get away. "I better get going before they wake up."
"Right." We'd discussed his reasons for not wanting to take the boys with him the night before, and I couldn't blame him from wanting to leave before they woke up and came up for arguments in favor of going with him. I wasn't sure what I'd do with them, but I could probably come up with something more educational than a shopping trip. "Drive carefully."
"Promise. And you too, if you leave the house."
"Oh, we'll leave the house," I declared. I wasn't spending the whole day in the house with two kids and an infant, even if it was a cold winter day.
My mother hadn't believed in letting kids sleep in, even on scheduled days off or snow days, so if I'd been her I would have gotten the kids out of bed at the usual time. But as much as I love my mom, I haven't sought to duplicate all of her child-rearing practices, which is why I let them sleep and enjoyed the quiet with a book until they stumbled downstairs looking for breakfast.
For some reason the sight of equally tousled red and brown hair framing their sleepy faces, not to mention their cartoon covered PJs, had me smiling as I tossed my book aside. They were still really adorable sometimes, as big as they were getting. "Hey guys," I said, holding my arms out. They immediately came over to hug me. "How are you?"
"Good," Joey said. Then he yawned loudly. "Whoops."
"Yeah, pretty good," William agreed through an equally loud yawn.
"I was thinking about Belgium waffles," I told them. "Sound good?"
This perked them up. "Yeah!"
"Okay, then." It was only then that I realized that I could hear Autumn through the baby monitor. She wasn't crying, but she was definitely awake. "Hey, if I go get Autumn, could you guys entertain her while I cook?"
"Uh huh," William told me. They liked playing with their sister, not that she could do much yet. She'd recently begun to smile when they 'played' with her, so she was apparently amused by her brothers' antics.
I brought the baby into the living room and put her on one of the many baby blankets people had given me. This way she was warm but no one had to worry that they might drop her or that she might learn how to roll over sooner than expected. They both sat on the floor with her and made faces at her to make her smile. Whatever worked.
A short while later the kids dug into their waffles and finally looked fully awake. I hated when parents inadvertently encouraged their kids to either shovel their food down or talk with their mouths full by demanding answers to questions while they were eating, so I let them eat in peace.
It was only when they were through putting their plates in the dishwasher that I started asking questions. "What do you want to do today?"
Joey shrugged. "Dunno."
When I looked at William, he shrugged too. "Dad's gonna take us to make something at Home Depot-" he said, referring to their craft program for kids, which he had somehow talked Mulder into bringing them to every time it was offered over the past three months. "But that's not until this weekend."
"Mom, what is there to do on a weekday?" Joey wanted to know.
"Well, we could go to the library for storytime-"
"No!" William groaned. "That's for babies."
I guess he did have a point, most of the books were picture books. "The park?"
Joey made a show of shivering exaggeratedly. "Too cold."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I found myself imagining sitting on an ice cold metal bench while they climbed on equally frigid playground equipment. Good thing they didn't want to go to the park.
I was on the verge of grabbing my laptop to look for suggestions on the town's message board when someone knocked on the door. "Who's that?" Joey asked.
I shrugged. "Did I suddenly develop x-ray vision?" I asked in a deadpan Mulder would be proud of.
This had him giggling. "No!"
William looked at him. "Are you sure?" Swiveling his head towards me he asked, "Mom, would you tell us if you did?"
"Yes. I would definitely tell you if I could see your bones."
"Ha, your bones are showing," he chortled, cracking himself up.
Looking at Joey, I said, "I can't see through doors any better than you."
"Oh, okay. Can I get it?"
I waved to indicate that he was free to, and he raced to the front door. William was only two steps behind.
By the time I followed with Autumn in my arms, Daniel was standing there looking sheepish. I can only imagine what my sons might have said to him. "Morning, Dana."
"Hi, Daniel. What can I do for you?"
"I'm bringing my boys to the Eclectoporium and Declan was hoping that Joey and William might be able to come too."
"The Eclectoporium?" I repeated, puzzled.
"I don't know if you met Russell-"
"Oh, is that Russell Carr's place?" I asked, thinking of his 'museum'. "I heard a little about his collection on New Years Eve."
"What's an eclec, eclecto...um..." William tried to ask.
"Good question," Daniel told him, and I wondered if he was being sarcastic. Apparently he wasn't. "It's a small museum. Eclectic means 'random' and the exhibits are about as random a collection as possible. But keep in mind it's small stuff. No dinosaurs or anything."
"Weird stuff?" Joey asked.
"A lot of it, yeah," Daniel admitted.
"Cool. Our dad would like that if he was home."
"Oh, he's not home?" He looked surprised. I guess he didn't take note of Mulder's car being missing. "I was just going to ask if the boys could come, but you're welcome to join us too."
I almost automatically declined, but then I thought about it. What did I have that was better to do? "I think that would be nice. And this way you won't have to figure out how to get two more kids into your car." The moment I said it, his expression gave away the fact that he hadn't thought about that detail.
"Yay, let's go!" William said with enthusiasm. He started to reach for his coat on the coat tree.
His excitement wilted a little when I gave him and Joey a pointed look. "What have we talked about when it comes to wearing pajamas in public?"
They both sighed. William wrinkled his nose and dutifully recited, "The only people over the age of three who are allowed to wear their jammies out of the house have better just had an operation."
"Or triplets," Joey added. "And everyone else who wears their jammies in public is a slob who should know better."
"So..." I prompted.
"Thank you, we'll be right back," Joey promised hurriedly, giving his brother a little shove towards the stairs.
As they left I opened the door wider and asked Daniel, "Coffee?"
He started to nod, then looked concerned. "I appreciate the offer, but I think I'd better go check on my guys. They aren't getting along the best lately."
"Okay. I'll follow you when we leave."
"Right, you probably have no idea where it is. If you honk the horn when they're ready, I should be able to hear you. Even if there's yelling."
It was hard not to cringe thinking about his youngest having a meltdown in the driveway a few days ago. "I will."
When Hattie told me that Russell's museum had once been the spiritualism society's home, I'd immediately imagined an imposing, worn around the edges gingerbread Victorian. The weathered shingles would be black, and if you looked up at the widow's walk, you'd either see ravens or bats, depending on the time of day. And in the windows several stories up, you'd catch faint movement that would put you in the right frame of mind to imagine ghosts.
So it was a little bit of a letdown to pull into the driveway of a fairly ordinary, if large, brick building. The kids didn't seem to have had any expectations, they were just antsy while they waited for me to extract Autumn from her car seat and put her in her sling - I was really going to miss it when she outgrew it, since it did keep my hands free.
William hung back a moment, giving the building a contemplative look. "I guess it'd be really hard to fit a dinosaur in here."
"Nah," Joey immediately disagreed. "Some dinosaurs were really little, like chickens."
"I meant a good one. Who cares about dinosaurs that are littler than Thanksgiving dinner?"
"If we had one, you'd think it was cool."
"Well, yeah," William instantly admitted.
They didn't seem to mind when I poked them to get them moving towards where Daniel stood with his boys. It really was that cold out.
I only noticed how tense Daniel was when I realized that he had his hand clamped around his younger son's wrist. From the look on Rhys's face, I guessed that he'd already tried to make a break for it, and we just hadn't noticed.
"Hi Declan!" William called at the same moment Joey said "Hey Declan."
He smiled brightly at them and returned their greetings.
While I appreciated the fact that my boys had greeted the older boy so nicely, I didn't want the little one to feel left out, so I looked down at him and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Rhys."
He only scowled until Daniel said "Rhys" in a warning tone.
"Nice to meet you too," he finally mumbled, not looking up at me.
The first thing I realized when we stepped inside was that the building was one of those deceptive places that was a lot larger than it appeared from the outside. As long as I didn't have to play hide and seek with mutants in there it was okay by me.
Of course, the second thing I realized was why Russell's friends had given him such a hard time on New Year's Eve. The concept of the place seemed to pretty much be the same as the kitchen junk drawer in my childhood home: Mom had grouped things roughly and hoped for the best. Here, somewhat similar things had been arranged to share alcoves and small rooms, both of which the building was rich with.
"Wow!" William exclaimed. "There is a lot of stuff here."
"Even more than in your closet," Joey teased.
"Yeah, I'll say."
I only had a second to adjust the baby bag so it stopped feeling like I was in danger of being garroted and glance around to try to pick a place to begin when a voice called "Dan! Dana! So good to see you!"
Dan? I wondered. My taciturn neighbor didn't strike me as the "Dan" type.
Russell appeared from behind an over-sized dresser's dummy, all smiles. He tapped the dummy as he passed it. "Got this beauty from the descendants of one of the Massachusetts mill girls."
"Must have been quite a large mill girl," Daniel remarked.
I couldn't fault him for it; Mrs. mill girl had to be close to seven feet tall if the dummy was used to construct her own garments.
Russell took this in stride, merely nodding. "The grandson who trucked it up here played college basketball."
"So, what brings you in today?"
After his 'advice' led me to learning more about the town's checkered past than I'd ever wanted to, I couldn't help but say the semi-snide thing I was thinking. "Just couldn't go another day without seeing those Van Buren steins."
"Um, oh." The look he gave me as much as said that he couldn't tell if I was joking. I knew that given how many times I'd seen that very look directed at Mulder. "They're downstairs," he said gamely. "Generally speaking I just let people explore at their own pace, but if you come across anything you want to know more about, just holler."
"Thanks," Daniel said for the both of us, and I watched Russell disappear.
It was only after he left that I realized that he wasn't the only one to have pulled a disappearing act: except for Autumn, Daniel and I were alone.
"Oh, no," I muttered in dismay. The boys could be anywhere in that labyrinth.
"Sorry, I should have warned you," Daniel apologized.
"Warned me about what?" I practically turned in a complete circle, but I didn't catch even the barest glimpse of the kids.
'"My boys really love this place, and I usually let them wander off. Yours must have followed them."
"Hmm." For a moment I wonder what the appeal might be, but then it hit me: this place also reminded me of the treasure box Charlie had kept under his bed as a little boy. Maybe it was the museum's jumbled nature that appealed to little boy aesthetics in the same way it overwhelmed my own.
I must have looked a little nervous because Daniel grinned and said, "Don't worry. No one's ever had to call in a code Adam."
This earned him a grudging smile. "Lead on."
We caught up with the kids four or five rooms later. I was tempted to ask Russell if he had a copy of the floor plan because I couldn't wrap my head around it. Many of the rooms led into others, and the floor was broken up by condors that I'd swear were placed at complete random - to confuse the ghosts, a small voice at the back of my mind suggested. It did make me wonder what room the séances had been held in...
"Mom!" William called as soon as he saw me. "Look at this!"
"This" turned out to be a taxidermed bald eagle. I didn't even want to know how Russell had gotten it. "Wow." Looking at its brown feathers reminded me that only fully grown eagles had the classic coloring.
Turns out I wasn't the only one thinking about that. "It's, um, well it's shaped like a bald eagle, but it doesn't look like Sam," William said, referring to the Muppet. "Is it a girl? I know girl birds can look different from boy birds."
"Nope." I tapped a small sign to draw his attention to it. "It's a juvenile." Which made me a little sad.
He looked confused. "It was bad?"
At first I had no idea what he meant, and when I figured it out I had to force myself not to laugh. "No, when they call someone a 'juvenile delinquent,' delinquent means they did something wrong. Juvenile means they're not a grownup yet."
William gave the stuffed bird a stunned look. "It's a baby?!"
"Well," I told him. "More like a teenager. He'd probably have gotten grown up feathers in a few months."
"Oh, okay." This seemed to calm him, and I doubted he'd worry about monstrously large eagles anymore. Even still, I made a mental note to have Mulder avoid any bedtime stories featuring a mythical roc any time soon.
Joey and Declan were staring down at something, and even when I got close I couldn't have told you what it was... Which is what the sign in front of it suggested you guess.
"Mom, what is it?" Joey asked. Next to him Declan shrugged.
"Honestly, I have no idea." It sort of looked like a gasket, and was a light tan-gray color. I didn't poke at it like the kids did, but I thought the texture was quite similar to the Nerf footballs Mulder had already bought for the boys' Easter baskets.
"I think it being in this room is a clue," Joey told me. I looked around, past the eagle.
Shells and bones, more unfortunate animals that had been stuffed. "You think it's organic?"
"Um..." The way his gears spun made me realize that fruits, veggies, and chickens were probably his only context for the word.
Declan, being a bit older and having had more science classes, understood what I'd meant. "That's from something alive? We think so."
Frowning down at the floppy ring of whatever it was, I wasn't so sure that I was inclined to agree with their guess.
But Daniel did. "That's right."
I looked up, throwing him a startled look. "You know what this is?"
"Dad, tell us!" Declan begged.
"Okay. Late at night a creature ventures out onto the damp sands of beaches, looking for dates," Daniel began. I hadn't pegged him for a storyteller, so I was amused. "These creatures are...giant snails."
"Snails?" three of the boys asked, each incredulous.
"Moon snails," Daniel told them. "Something like that-" He pointed at the curious object. "Contains thousands of snail eggs."
Autumn was content in her sling and three out of four boys were thoroughly entertained, so it was easy to be lulled into a false sense of peace. At least until a little hand grabbed up the egg casting and dashed it to the floor.
"Rhys!" Declan groaned. His face merely looked resigned, like he had fully expected something like this to happen sooner or later.
And what did happen was that Rhys had a complete meltdown like he had at Daniel's house soon after the boys arrived. I really wanted to help make it better, but there wasn't really anything to do. So when Daniel suggested "Maybe you could take them to the gift shop" in a strained voice, I instantly agreed.
Honestly, I was a bit surprised that there was a gift shop, but I shouldn't have been. Besides typical "New Hampshire" branded stuff, there were toy dinosaurs and yeti, and some sciency kits, and other assorted things that were meant to appeal to tourists and/or children.
The kids exclaimed over the stuff, but I barely noticed it. All I could think about was little Rhys having a temper tantrum in one of the other rooms.
For years and years, more than a decade even, all I thought I wanted was a normal life. Even now I'd freaked out a few days ago when I caught the faintest whiff of something that could put that into danger. But did I really want normal?
Normal wasn't finding out that you had children you didn't know about, and only getting to have the last one you knew about before birth because you won your stolen ova back. Normal wasn't having a sister-in-law who had disappeared as a child. And it certainly wasn't spending most of your career chasing down things that other people were terrified to admit existed.
Instead it was having a first grader who couldn't cope with your divorce, and not knowing how to make things better for him. It was having an older child with sad eyes who got ignored when you had to focus all your energy on the one who was hurting out loud.
Daniel had a normal life. It just didn't look very appealing from where I stood.
"Mom." A small hand tugged on mine until I looked down. "You should get these for Dad."
Joey handed me a package of buffalo flavored sunflower seeds. I shuddered. So far none of the kids took after Mulder in that regard, which was fine by me. It was enough work to nag one person to clean up his shells. "Um, okay."
By the time we left a fifteen minutes later, I was glad for the sort of life Mulder and I had, even if it hadn't exactly been ordinary much of the time. We had a solid marriage, great kids, and less dangerous livelihoods than we used to. That was a lot to be thankful for.
Still, I frowned to myself when Rhys acted up again when we got to our cars. Was there a tactful way to suggest family therapy, I wondered. Maybe Mulder had taken a class on that sort of thing. Hell, maybe I could get him to talk to Daniel or even Rhys. There had to be some way to help, I just didn't know what it was yet.
I was humming to myself as I chopped up vegetables for a stew one afternoon, and a cold breeze behind me was the first sign I had that the kids had come home from school. Fortunately, I put my knife down just in time to have Joey come and give me a quick hug before disappearing towards his room. That seemed a little odd to me, until I saw William's face, anyway.
"What's wrong?" I asked immediately. Of my boys William was consistently the more happy-go-lucky, so it was somewhat shocking to see such a woebegone expression on his face.
He sighed, and sat himself at the kitchen table. I sat down too. "I'm supposed to tell you something."
"What's that?" I asked, sensing that something had either gone wrong at school or on the bus.
"I have detention tomorrow."
"Why?" I blurted out. Neither of the kids had ever gotten in trouble at school before, at least not to the extent of having to stay after.
William didn't meet my eyes. "For fighting," he said reluctantly.
"William! What on earth were you fighting about?"
When he answered me, I could barely hear him. "Joey."
"Oh." for some reason, when I ran the possible explanations through my mind, that hadn't been one of them. After a moment I asked, "what happened?"
He shrugged. "A bigger kid wouldn't stop teasing him about having red hair. I made him stop."
This had me wincing, and I hoped that William didn't notice. Having red hair had been harder on my brothers than me. I had been teased too, but I hadn't gotten into any physical fights over. My mother always said that it was anti-Irish are anti-Catholic sentiment, but either way my brothers had come home from school with bloody noses more than once.
Given I hadn't heard anything about teasing, I had hoped that things would be different for Joey and Autumn. "How long is this been going on, the teasing?" I finally asked.
William frowned up at me. "Since we moved here."
That really bothered me. "And neither of you thought to say anything to dad or me?"
"I wanted to! But he said not to. So I couldn't."
I gave him a stern look. "I know that you were trying to be a good brother, and not tell his secrets, but if things have escalated to the point of getting into an actual fight..." I trailed off, letting him think about that.
"Yeah." Then he looked up to me, eyes wide with concern and guilt. "Am I gonna be grounded too?"
My first instinct was to say no of course not, but I didn't want to make light of it. "I need to talk to your dad first."
"Right." He sighed and stood up. Then he thought better of it and looked at me for permission to leave, so I nodded.
I would talk to Mulder about it, but really, I wanted to call my mother. If anyone had some insight into what to do about teased little redheads, it would be her. Eventually I'd have to speak to William about it too, but I wanted to give him a chance to bring it up himself first.
I only discovered the fact that there was a parent-teacher conference the afternoon before it happened. We sat William down once a month and insisted that he clean out his backpack. Joey had been trained to be tidy at the private boarding school the Van De Kamps had sent him to for kindergarten. There were a lot of their methods I didn't agree with but their approach to cleanliness wasn't one I faulted. So, Joey got to read a book while his brother and I sorted through crumpled tests and food wrappers. William was the most interested in saving the trading cards that littered the bottom of the backpack.
"You should put those in a baggie," I suggested when he lamented over a bent card.
"Uh, okay," he agreed and instantly got up to get one.
It was only then that I got to a folded up flyer. When I smoothed it out and read it, I groaned. William looked over at me, plastic bag in hand. "You have a parent-teacher night at school tomorrow? Why didn't you tell me?"
"You and Joey both forgot?" I asked incredulously. They were little boys and both forgot things they were told on a regular basis like all kids their age, but why had they both forgotten a fairly important piece of information?
"No... Mister Blackwood said it'd waste paper to give us two notes, so he just gave it to me." William shrugged.
Well, that was something to talk to their teacher about: if he wanted to save the trees, he should give my neater son the notices or we might never see them. What if we hadn't cleaned out William's backpack until later in the week? Missing it for such a dumb reason would have been pretty embarrassing to me.
Or both of us, I realized as I read the note more carefully. The school requested that both parents attend if possible, and that they not bring the kids. Made me wonder if this had been worked out in collusion with the town's secret baby-sitting cartel because this request had to be burdensome to many families... Crap, I needed a babysitter too!
"William..." I sighed. "You need to try harder to remember this sort of thing."
"Sorry," he said sheepishly.
"Clean up the rest of this, okay? I need to make a phone call."
At least one of us was still in a good mood. I was trying to wrack my brain about who I could ask to watch the kids if Leigh couldn't. She probably couldn't, there had to be a lot of parents who needed sitters. Judith had already said she only minded kids "in an emergency" and this was hardly one even if it was stressful. Daniel might, if he was home. But his boys had returned to his ex, so he might have a business trip, lined up... My brain suggested that Max Kirby still owed me one, and if it just had been the boys I actually might have considered him. But there was no way I was going to ask him to look after a newborn - he didn't owe me that much... Too bad it was such a long drive to Haven because I'd been assured by two different people that Nathan was great with babies. I wanted to see that for myself actually.
While I ran through the slim possibilities of who else I could get to watch the kids, If shed through my purse for my phone. "Maybe Leigh can suggest someone," I muttered as I punched in her number.
She picked up on the second ring. "um, hi Leigh. It's Dana Scully. I know this is last minute, but I just now found out about the kids' parent-teacher conference, but I was hoping if you're not free yourself - and I don't expect you to be given it's tomorrow - you might know someone who'd be comfortable babysitting both the kids and the baby..." I trailed off, feeling stupid. This was the second time I'd asked for her help on very short notice. She must have thought was a flake, or at best one of those absent-minded professor types.
After a beat, she said, "You actually have pretty good timing. The family I was going to sit for tomorrow just cancelled on me."
"So you can watch them?" I asked, hoping I wasn't misinterpreting her comment. My luck was never that good, so I was second guessing myself.
"Right." She sounded amused. "I'll need to bring Jacoby over with me though."
"Of course." Until she said that, I hadn't really considered that the sitter might come to our house rather than vice versa. It probably was easier to go to an infant's home than to have everything on hand for the rare occasions you watched a baby.
I'll bring his playpen," Leigh promised.
"Thanks so much," I told her, no longer worried about sounding flaky.
"No problem," Leigh told me. "When the Dions cancelled I was sure I'd be out a night's work because most families have a sitter lined up by now."
This made me wince; I probably wasn't in the running for Mom of the Year. "Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow night." I didn't bother saying when, as their teacher's wife she knew very well when.
"See you tomorrow, Dana."
I hung up feeling a sense of relief... at least until I remembered that I still needed to let Mulder know that our plans for a popcorn and movie night had been changed for us. He wouldn't be thrilled, and I would've rather stayed home to watch movies too. They say being involved with your kids' school is its own reward, but sometimes...
People with small babies don't tend to have the neatest houses, but I was feeling pretty good about how tidy the house was the next night. There had only been minimal argument from William about taming his room once I pointed out he would have had more time if he'd remembered to give us Mr. Blackwood's note earlier. Maybe it was a low blow, but I wasn't sad that his action had led to inconvenience for him too. A teachable moment, we'll call it.
Joey volunteered to clean their bathroom, leading me to believe he wasn't as shocked to learn about Parents' Night as his father and I had been. My brother Charlie had been a guilty cleaner as a kid too, so it just might run in the family.
I'd just turned the dishwasher on when I heard the front door open and close. Going to the window, I saw Mulder pull Jacoby's playpen out of Leigh's trunk. She had the toddler on her hip, and I sort of wondered what she was saying to Mulder.
I couldn't hear Jacoby either, but I was pretty sure the word he was repeating was "down" based on his body language. I was not looking forward to the stage when Autumn would be as suicidally determined to be put down at all costs as William had once been: I'd nearly dropped him on his head half a dozen times before he turned three.
Joey opened the door for them and a gust of cold air that left me shivering beat them inside. For a moment there was a confusion of stamped feet and hung coats, and then Mulder returned his attention to the playpen. I could see that Leigh wanted to protest that he didn't need to set it up for her, but in his capable hands it instantly unfolded, as if by magic.
"There," he said, satisfied.
"Thanks," Leigh told him. The way she was looking at the playpen as much as said she'd never gotten it set up that easily.
"Autumn is sleeping," William helpfully informed us.
'"We'll try not to wake her, but I need to show Leigh her room," I explained.
He and his brother nodded; "try not to" was sometimes theoretical when it came to my daughter. I'd swear that she was going to prove to have inherited my mother's supernaturally good hearing. Even now I could set my brothers off by reminding them of things we hadn't quite gotten away with because Mom had overheard.... Missy had been the one to get in trouble due to that the most often, I remembered with a pang.
Leigh's footfalls behind me made only the softest sounds as I led the way to the nursery. In the dark only large shapes like the crib and dresser could be made out. Even the mobile Mulder and William put together was invisible. After I was sure she could find the crib, we stepped back into the hallway, and I carefully closed the door.
As soon as I did, she sighed. Then she blushed a little when she realized I was looking at her. "I can hardly remember when Jacoby was that tiny. It must have been harder for you, given how much older your boys are."
Something about her expression gave me the idea that she was imaging me looking back on having two babies; she had no way of knowing that I'd only cared for my sons together as infants for one night. Not wanting to go into all of that, I just nodded.
She gave me a shy smile. "I'm glad the big age gap works for you but we're not going to wait so long. In the next year, year and a half, we'd like to give Jacoby a little sister or brother."
That made me think of how everyone seemed to think we, and me especially, were grateful that Autumn had turned out to be a girl. I'll admit I'm very pleased to have a little girl, but if Autumn had been a boy (I would have wanted to name him August. Baby Gus. May not have won that argument, though) that would have been okay too: we just had wanted one more to complete our family, and what was in their diaper hadn't mattered much to either of us.
"Just two?" I asked, just to say something.
She blushed a little. "Aaron hated being an only child a lot more than I did. He suggested six or seven." I made a choking noise and she gave me a wry smile. "-But I said let's have three and see how we feel after that."
I nodded. "You're both young, you have time to sort it out." I remember despairing when William was Jacoby's age, certain that I'd never be able to give him a brother or sister even though Mulder and I had finally settled down enough to give him a normal life. Sometimes it was nice to be proven so wrong.
Leigh relaxed. "That's what I tell him but he's still disappointed we don't already have two."
"Eight years between babies, well I wouldn't recommend that for everyone, but too close can be even worse. My older siblings were only 13 months apart and fought like cats and dogs. I'm three years older than the baby of the family and he and I got along much better."
"Do your older siblings get along now?" Leigh asked, interested.
It was hard not to sigh; I'd opened that can of worms myself, so I could hardly complain. "Oh. Missy died several years ago. But yes, by the time Bill left home they got along pretty well."
"I'm so sorry," Leigh said awkwardly.
"Don't worry about it," I said, tone lighter than I really felt. Good thing we were busy or I'd follow thinking about Missy down the usual path that began with my father and ended with the gunmen.
By the time we returned to the living room, Mulder had the boys' attention. "When we get home, I want the dishwasher to be empty, your homework done, and-" He brought something from behind his back. "-this movie watched." They eagerly reached for the DVD box.
"Oh, cool!" Joey exclaimed when he read the title. I couldn't see it from there but the box seemed to have both pirates and dinosaurs on it. One of Mulder's D movie picks, no doubt. I made a mental note to look up Ed Wood and see if he did anything with dinos.
"So," Mulder said, making them look up again. "Dishwasher, homework, movie. Right?"
"Right!" William agreed.
"In that order?" Joey asked
"In that order."
"Okay." Glancing at William he said, "we need to listen for the dishwasher being done."
"Dad, can we start-" William started to say, but Mulder cut him off.
"You can do your homework first, if you want to. Just... movie last."
Leigh shot me a look, as if to ask 'is this what having two close in age is like?' I just shrugged.
"Leigh, you have my cell phone number, right?" Mulder wanted to know. He was yanking on his coat.
She pulled out her phone and double-checked. "I do."
"Great. Be good," Mulder said to the kids as we moved towards the door.
"Dad!" came an outraged protest. "We're not bratty little kids."
I shook my head after we closed the door. Were either of us going to be up for two teenagers in just over four years? I was beginning to get a sense of how my mother, in moments of exasperation, had been driven to threaten to send Bill and Charlie to seminary school.
'"They can be so touchy sometimes," Mulder complained when we got into the car.
I smirked at him. "I'm afraid they're human after all."
"Maybe we should have tried to get more DNA of alien origin in our systems before we had them."
He started the car and I gave him a long look. "What, like Gibson?"
Mulder shivered. "Don't get me wrong, Praise is a good kid, but... spooky."
"I know." Years ago I'd debated what to do with him with John and Monica. We had all been willing, if not eager, to take him in. Even Skinner had reluctantly suggested himself as an option. Gibson had been across town, with Marita, at the time, and he called during the middle of our conversation, announcing that he wanted our help getting him into a European boarding school.
I hadn't had a lot of time to think about it at the time because we soon busted Mulder out and everything that went wrong soon had him and me on the run, but later on I wondered if his timing had been coincidental, or if he could read people from a lot farther away than he would ever admit...
"I heard from him yesterday, actually," Mulder told me.
I almost asked why he hadn't told me, but remembered how chaotic the night before had gotten. It probably slipped his mind. "How' s med school going?"
"Good. He's thinking of specializing in psychology." Mulder glanced at me. "What?"
''I think it's a good idea. I bet a lot of psychologists wished they could read minds."
He laughed. "No doubt."
It felt strange to me to be parking in the elementary school lot after dark. I suppose it wouldn't have if we were the sort of parents who scheduled every moment of their children's lives and signed them up for a dozen after school activities... or that could just be me lashing out for feeling guilty that I hadn't yet signed them up for any. I made a mental note to at least have Mulder talk to them about spring sports.
Mulder slammed his door before coming around to open mine. It was completely unnecessary now that the baby was here and no longer making me awkward, but I can't say that I didn't appreciate the gallantry. Mrs. Mulder had raised a boy who could be a gentleman - when it suited him. There were times when I didn't want a gentleman, so it was fine by me.
The appointments to see the teachers were staggered, understandable so they didn't get mobbed, so it gave us a few minutes to admire the artwork hung in the hallway.
"Getting a jump on saint Patrick's day, I see," Mulder murmured down to me.
A plethora of shamrocks and Leprechauns did indeed give that impression. They were cute enough but brought back uncomfortable memorizes of when Sister Wendy had traumatized my entire second grade class by showing us Darby O' Gill and the Little People one snowy afternoon.
''Hopefully no little people will sue for being mocked," he next remarked.
I wrinkled my nose. "It's not like they can use 'think spring' as a theme. Not when a March beginning to spring is merely hypothetical in New England," I shot back.
He grinned. "Spoken like someone who has spent a little too much of their life at the business end of a shovel."
His remark wasn't particularly logical, but I knew what he was getting at, so I laughed.
After a few minutes in the hallway, during which Mulder cracked increasingly bad jokes, the classroom door finally opened and another couple came out. They were both older than us. Back when I was pregnant with William I imagined being the oldest mom at his school functions, but over the years in between then and now I'd met several mothers who were even older. But for some reason I didn't think they meant they had quite the same reasons for waiting when some of them said it was due to their careers; the average doctor or lawyer probably was a lot less concerned about her safety than I had been while chasing down monsters...
The other couple was rounding a corner when the door opened again and a familiar young blond man looked out at us. "Mister Mulder, Doctor Scully," he said politely but I knew Mulder was fighting not to smirk over being called "mister"; he was Agent Mulder too long to like the non-important title much. I could easily imagine him grimacing over the "M" word into his 80s.
"Mister Blackwood," Mulder replied blandly.
Aaron looked uncertain and didn't say anything as he stepped back to let us into the room. We followed him up to his desk.
It was hard to imagine this young man as someone eager for a houseful of kids. I knew he had to be in his mid-20s but he looked younger, like a college senior dressed up for his first big job interview. Max Kirby looked positively mature in comparison. But I guess if he was consider responsible enough to look after twenty eight to nine-year-olds, I owed him my respect. Dealing with classes of FBI recruits had been enough to make me batty so I couldn't bear to even try to imagine teaching young children, as much as I loved my own.
Aaron retreated behind his desk, leaving us awkwardly standing there like naughty children being stared down by the principal. My back-to-school experience was now complete.
He flashed us a brief smile. "I'll admit, when I was told I would be getting two new students and they were twin boys I was a little apprehensive." For a moment I bristled, thinking he was one of those teachers who assumed boys were always more trouble, but as he went on, I realized that wasn't what he'd meant. "Frankly, I was worried about telling them apart!"
Mulder chuckled, but I just found myself thinking of the first time I'd seen Joey since the social worker had taken him away as a baby. Seeing him standing there, scowling up at us, and seeing instantly that he looked so much like my younger bother at that age and realizing that William did too... at that instant I knew he was ours, in my heart, even as my head insisted on waiting for the DNA report.
"Most people comment on how much they look alike," I eventually said.
"Oh, they do," Aaron was quick to agree. "No one who saw them side by side would ever doubt that they're brothers. I just had horrified daydreams about them being identical and never learning to tell them apart."
"I think it disappoints them a little that they can't play Parent Trap sort of pranks," Mulder remarked and I wondered if that was speculation or something they'd actually told him.
"Suppose that'd be hard with mom and Dad together," Aaron said.
But it could have been like that. We'd talked about Mulder taking William when he'd gone into hiding...
That idea shattered when Mulder asked, so how are they doing?"
Aaron's expression instantly sobered. "Academically, very well. They're both very bright and doing great in both my class and in GATE-" He was referring to the pull-out gifted education program they both participated in on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. "Besides William needing occasional reminders to hand in completed homework there are no academic issues I can think of."
A 'but' lurked in the room and I decided to bite the bullet to get it out in the open. "And socially?"
He sighed, which bothered me. "You know about the fight Will had."
My innermost mommy wanted to blame him for having let the teasing happen in the first place but earning a reputation as an overprotective harpy wouldn't do me or the kids any favors. "Yes," I said evenly.
"I spoke to Will and the teacher who broke the fight up. So I know that Joey being teased was the instigating event."
"And?" Mulder asked warily.
"Well..." he began before looking up at us. "You have to realize that I don't like to blame the victim, but I'm hoping you'll be willing to consider something."
My first worry was that he was going to suggest putting one of our sons in a different class - some of the sisters who taught me would have suggested that not having his brother around to literally fight his battles for him would force Joey to toughen up. But that's not what he had in mind. "There's a new after school group beginning in a couple of weeks, and I think Joey would benefit from being in it."
"What kind of group?"
"Anti-bullying and assertiveness strengthening. I know people love to tell small picked on children that bullies go away if you ignore them, but that doesn't really work. The group will learn about and practice methods that might work better."
I gave Mulder a sidelong glance and wondered if he'd tell Aaron that he had a degree in psychiatry and could fix our son's problem himself, thank you. But he asked, "You don't think singling them out for this is going to get around and give bullies yet more ammo?"
"It's our hope that it won't. I think an innocuous name will help, where calling it something like 'Pride' Or 'End Bullying Now' would only make things worse."
"What are you calling it?" I couldn't help but ask.
"We thought we'd leave that up to the kids to decide during the first meeting, with some guidance, of course."
"We?" Mulder asked. "You'll be involved?"
"Sure will. I had it rough at this age myself."
Mulder looked at me. "Okay with you?"
For some reason I found myself thinking about what my father would have said to such a suggestion. He probably would have told my brothers to man up and maybe been more sympathetic but disappointed in me. Fortunately, I wasn't raising children in my father's day. "Sure. But only if Joey agrees."
Privately I wondered how readily Joey would agree once he realized that William wasn't going to be there, though.
"Great," Aaron enthused.
We spent a few more minutes talking about the kids and some of the remaining activities for the year - which I at the very least appreciated because I hated being blindsided by projects that required last minute shopping trips - then said goodbye and left the room. "Hey!" someone behind us called.
When we looked back, a man motioned Mulder over. The other parent sidled up to Mulder and grinned at him. "You're Will and Joey's dad, right?"
"I hear you have a new baby too," the father commented.
"Born in December," Mulder confirmed.
"So I guess with active twin boys to look after it took you this long to recover and decide to have another one," the father said, laughing. But he stopped when Mulder glared icily.
"No," is all Mulder said, voice flat.
"Oh, sorry..." the other father said sheepishly. "It was stupid to make a joke when I have no idea..."
We were walking down the hallway when Mulder's cell phone rang. "Leigh," he told me, looking down at the display. "Maybe she meant to call Aaron instead."
"Hello?" he asked, smiling. It dropped off his face quickly. "Okay, we'll- damn."
"What?" I asked, suddenly worried. That didn't sound like Leigh had called him by mistake.
To my further alarm, he took my arm and began hurrying me down the hallway. "She said to come home right away, and then the call dropped."
"Did you get any sense of what's wrong?" I demanded to know.
He looked down at me, hazel eyes filled with the same worry that I was sure showed in mine. "No, and that scares the hell out of me," he finally admitted.
I shoved the exit door open instead of saying anything. Leigh wasn't an excitable or inexperienced teenager, so if she called to say we needed to come home, something must be really wrong.
A tense silence filled the car as Mulder broke several speed limit laws in his haste to get us home.
The only bit of relief I felt was that when we pulled into the driveway, Leigh's car was the only other vehicle there. No police cruiser, no ambulance, no fire truck. Of course that could just mean that things had devolved since Mulder lost the call, a terrified little voice gibbered in the back of my mind.
We raced up the walk, and Mulder almost dropped his keys trying to open the door. Eventually, before he even seated the key, the knob turned, so he stopped trying.
When Leigh opened the door she was shaking and looked horrified.
"Leigh, what's wrong?" Mulder asked, and I could tell he was trying desperately not to panic. I knew that because I was too.
I had already begun to fumble at the catch of my purse, anticipating the need to call 911. I didn't know if the problem was an intruder, or if something happened to one of the kids, though of course the latter was the more upsetting prospect. So, the last thing I expected was for Leigh to say "Why do you have a picture of me?"
"What? We don't," I said blankly. Though Mulder and I have taken a lot of pictures of the kids, Leigh was never around when we did so, at least not that I could think of.
"Yes you do!" she accused, shaking. "It's hanging in the hallway."
If anything, my confusion built. There were only four pictures in the hallway. One of William, one of Joey, one of Autumn, and one of Emily. But just that second, Mulder caught my eye, and he looked like he had had an epiphany. It took my brain a moment to catch up.
Leigh looked a little like Emily. They were both blonde and had blue eyes. Was that why she had gotten upset?
"Oh no," I said in what I hoped was a soothing tone. "That's a picture of my daughter Emily. She died when she was three."
"No, it isn't. That picture is me as a child," Leigh insisted.
"Leigh-" Mulder started to say, but he trailed off, seeming not to know what to say to calm her.
Leigh didn't say anything else. Instead she picked up her sleeping son out of his playpen and then pushed past us, stumbling out the door.
"Leigh!" I gasped, horrified. I didn't know what had her so shaken up, but I was certain that she was in no condition to drive - up until she left so abruptly I'd been planning to call Aaron to come get her on his way home if she refused to let Mulder drive her home as I suspected she would.
Before I could go running after her Mulder put a hand on my shoulder, making me look up at him. "It's okay."
That seemed like a foolish assertion, but before I could say so, he pointed. Leigh wasn't headed for her car. She walked right past it, then looked both ways before darting across the street.
I leaned against Mulder and sighed. "Maybe Judith will be able to calm her down."
"Maybe. I still can't wrap my head around what just happened, though."
Neither could I.
It turned out that we wouldn't be left wondering what had made the babysitter flip out for very long. There was a knock on the door about an hour later, and I opened it to find a frazzled looking Judith staring back at me.
She stomped her feet on the welcome mat, knocking snow and slush from boots long enough to disappear up under her skirts. "Can we talk?" she asked.
I stepped back to let her in. "I think we'd better," Mulder said warily.
Judith nodded tiredly, then sat on the couch. She then looked around, seemingly alarmed. "Are the kids in bed? The boys, anyway," she added when she noticed Autumn dosing in my arms.
This seemed to relax her a little, but she looked at her hands instead of at us. "Leigh had a difficult childhood, we think."
"You think?" Mulder said, tone clearly conveying his disbelief that if someone had a difficult childhood or not was the subject of doubt.
"We think," Judith said firmly, uncowed. "I've known her parents for twenty years and I still remember the day they told me that they were going to adopt an older child...Ben and Lydia could never get Leigh to tell them much about her childhood, from before they adopted her. Mostly she claimed then, and still does now, not to remember."
"How old was she when they adopted her?" Mulder asked. I wondered if he was just curious, or if he was trying to figure something out.
Judith shrugged. "Eleven, twelve. I'm not sure if anyone knew her exact birth date, least of all her."
"Is she Russian?" I asked, and they both turned their heads to stare at me.
I refused to blush under their sudden scrutiny. Everything I'd ever read about children adopted from the former USSR suggested that they were badly mistreated and often had adjustment problems when adopted by Americans. The lucky ones adapted and the rest... didn't.
"She's not from one of those overseas adoptions," Judith told me. "I think she was from some southern state originally."
"Leigh had a southern accent?" Mulder asked.
"No," she said with a shake of her head. "She barely talked at all when they first brought her home. It's amazing to think she's normal now." I gave her a sharp look and she sighed. "Leigh wasn't right when she was young. Delayed, they called it. I honestly thought they were trying to be polite about the girl having an intellectual disability, but in a couple of years she caught up to the other kids her age."
"It's good that she caught up," Mulder said a little impatiently. "And while it's a sad tale I'm not sure what it has to do with Leigh freaking out over a picture of Dana's late daughter."
It always threw me a little to hear him refer to me as Dana even when talking to other people. So much of our mutual history had been so insular, so wrapped up in our work that most people we encountered knew only agents Mulder and Scully, not Fox and Dana. Not that anyone was ever allowed to call him Fox even now. Well, besides my mother who had never been able to bring herself to using his last name instead.
"She thinks the child in the photograph is her."
"Yes, she said as much," Mulder complained. "The question is why she thinks so. Does she think it's some sort of mean prank we went to ridiculous lengths to setup? I have to tell you, we're not really known for our senses of humor though we do have moments."
"She doesn't think it's a prank," Judith interrupted, tone grim.
"Then?" I prompted. If Leigh didn't think we were messing with her I was worried about paranoia. She was about the right age for schizophrenia to rear its ugly head.
For a long moment Judith looked away. When she finally spoke again, it was to ask, "I know this is a terrible thing to ask, but... Are you 100% sure your daughter is dead?"
I was about to snap that of course we knew Emily was dead when Mulder quietly said "100%? No." I stared at him, aghast, but he pointedly avoided my eyes. "There were definitely irregularities at the funeral."
So he was thinking about the sand. Eventually I stopped dreaming about it. Trekking through it, digging through it to discover Emily whole and healthy if I just sifted through enough of it... "Mulder," I began my protest.
He shook his head, letting me know he wasn't going to be put off. "Emily is body wasn't in the casket we were given to bury. When I demanded answers long enough from enough of the right people, I was told they were worried about her illness being contagious so they'd taken her so she could be cremated with the proper precautions."
I stared at him, unsure if he was just telling our neighbor a story, or if he'd really demanded and gotten those answers, or ones like them, at some point. Either possibility seemed equally plausible.
"She told me tonight that ever since the first time she met you, she's felt like she'd met you before," Judith offered. "And it finally came to her that you reminded her of the police who got involved when her real parents died when she was small."
I was debating whether or not I should point out that. Emily hadn't lived with her 'real' parents ever and had mostly decided that it would only fuel the crazy notion, when Judith went on. "She said that growing up she wondered now and again if her 'real' parents might not have been. And if not, why her real family hadn't rescued her from foster homes that were so bad that she can't even bear to remember them."
Although I was raring to refute everything Judith said with logic, the look on Mulder's face plainly said he was giving the absurd idea that Leigh was Emily a lot more consideration than I thought it deserved. So I wasn't shocked when he said, "Emily was adopted too. We only found her when she got sick."
"Damn it, Mulder!" I yelled, not really sorry when I woke the baby. When When she began to cry I let him take her even as I continued to shout at him. "This is absurd! Emily is dead. Emily has been dead for years!"
He took my abuse with a sad look that immediately made me feel a sense of paranoia myself. Why was he so open to the possibility that this could be real? Had he lied to me when he claimed not to have chosen Ballyguest for a reason?
Judith looked extremely uncomfortable, and I was too upset to feel bad about that too. ''I should go."
"Yes, you should," I replied flatly.
"Good night," Mulder said weakly, barely audible over Autumn's squalling.
As I watch Judith scurry out the door, part of me knew that I'd should apologize to her, but I just didn't have it in me to do it right then. Right then I was more concerned with what she was going back to tell the distraught young woman sitting in her house. No doubt anything she told her about what we said would just mean that this wasn't the end of it. If I hadn't been so blindsided, I probably would have been more cautious about what I said about Emily.
When the door closed behind Judith, I turned back to Mulder. "How could you have thought that saying that we weren't 100% sure that Emily was dead was a good idea?" I snapped at him.
He shrugged. "It's true."
"It is NOT true," I insisted.
Mulder raised his eyebrows. "You've never had any doubts?" he asked mildly. "Never wondered where her body ended up? You buried a box full of sand, one with your cross on top of it all-" Until that moment I hadn't been sure he'd seen what I'd taken out of the casket. "-and you never wondered if that meant that she might be out there somewhere?"
All I wanted to do was insist that I had no doubts, but it was a lie. "Okay, I've had doubts. Terrible doubts that have left me feeling angry and helpless when I think about the possibility that someone might have taken my daughter away from me yet again," I admitted unhappily. "But that doesn't mean that there's even the slightest chance that Leigh is Emily."
"Fifteen," I hissed. "If Emily had lived, she'd only be fifteen now and Leigh is in her twenties. How do you explain that?"
He gave me a long look. "The Kurts." Some of my indignation fell away as I stared at him. He shrugged again. "I saw those boys being grown in vats with my own eyes. If they could accelerate the growth of clones..."
I opened my mouth to protest, but shut it again without making a sound. That could explain how Leigh was eight years older than Emily would currently be given her year of birth. The thought of little Emily being suspended in liquid like the photos of the unfinished Kurt clones Mulder had shown me made me feel sick, but hadn't I wondered if something like that was possible ever since the day of Emily's funeral? Someone had taken my daughter's body, and although I had never been eager to dwell on what the purpose of that act might have been, it was impossible to banish the thoughts entirely.
"Maybe it won't even matter," Mulder said, looking at me over the baby's head. When she hadn't quieted, he'd put her on his shoulder to rub her back. "Maybe Leigh will let it all go, and our only problem will be lining up another babysitter."
"Did that girl look like she's inclined to drop this?" I demanded to know.
"Mom, Dad?" I hadn't realized how loud my voice had gotten until I looked over at the sound of Joey's question and saw him standing in the doorway rubbing his eyes. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, buddy," Mulder told him, getting up to lead him back to bed.
Being woke out of a sound sleep made my little boy grumpy and confused. "But I heard yelling."
"Nothing to worry about," Mulder assured him. He gently prodded him down the hallway. "Come on, back to bed. Autumn needs to go back to bed too."
"You're sure there's nothing to worry about?" Joey asked.
They got too far away for me to hear his father's reply. There was something to worry about. Good God was there ever something to worry about.
When Mulder came back alone a few minutes later I was slightly calmer. But as soon as he sat down I gave him a bleak look. "Do you really think that she's just going to let this go?"
He sighed and leaned back against his chair. "Honestly? No. If Judith went back to her house and got badgered into telling her what we said...she'll only be more sure that there's a possibility that we're the people she remembers from when she was small. Even if this is a complete coincidence." Straightening up, he asked, "The question is, what do we do to put her mind at ease?"
When I didn't say anything for a while, he quietly asked me, "Don't you think we should at least agree to a DNA test? If she wants to, I mean, not that we should suggest one. If everything is a complete coincidence, that would be the end of it, I think."
A big part of me wanted to scream that I didn't ever want to do another DNA test as long as I lived, but the more logical part of me being told it to be quiet. The tests were stressful, both of the ones I'd submitted to in the past had been, but they provided information that couldn't be gotten any other way. It didn't seem fair that I should have to subject myself to all of that for the sake of calming down a girl I barely knew, but I also knew he was right. It might be the only way to end all of it.
I slowly nodded, and then said, "If she wants to do a DNA test, if she insists on taking this craziness that far, I'll let them do a test. But if I do, we should do one against your DNA too."
He looked so astonished that I nearly laughed. I didn't, though. Couldn't. "Against mine too? Why-"
"Ellens air force base," I reminded him. "We still have no idea what they did to you all that time they held you while you were out of it, and it's not beyond imagining that-"
"They borrowed a cup of genetic material?" he asked dryly.
The irreverent thought that a cup was a pretty big brag floated through my mind, but I knew what he was getting at. "Exactly."
Shrugging, he said, "I can't exactly refuse without being a hypocrite, can I?"
Not really, I privately agreed.
The next morning found me shaky and overtired, which probably wasn't too surprising considering how little sleep I'd managed to get. Autumn had woken me up twice and I hadn't given in to sleep easily to begin with. The third time she'd woken up hungry, I'd still been awake. I must've seemed pretty dazed breakfast, because if Joey remembered being woken up by our argument, he didn't say a word about it. Usually he'd of demanded a full report.
It almost came as a relief when the knock on the door came about an hour after the kids left for the bus; at least I wasn't going to be left hamstrung by nervous anticipation all day.
To my utter disappointment, it wasn't Leigh coming to finally clear the air. Instead Daniel stood there, giving me an awkward smile. "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"
"Of course," I said quickly, stepping back to let him in.
He scraped his feet on the mat, knocking the snow off his boots, and I waited for him to complain about the raised voices he'd no doubt heard the night before. Mulder and I had been the subject of noise complaints from neighbors before, but generally the noises had come about from gunfire or other ways of dealing with lethal assaults on our persons.
"Coffee?" I asked, prepared to give him a cup of Mulder's. He'd taken up the habit since we'd moved to Ballyguest, and I assumed it was related to the unending dampness and cold that far north.
"No thanks," Daniel tried to summon up a smile as we took seats at the table.
"If this is about last night-" I began to say, but I stopped abruptly when he clearly had no idea what I was talking about.
"I don't know what you mean," he admitted, unsurprisingly.
"Oh, it just got a bit noisy," I said, not planning to elaborate if he didn't ask questions. "So what did you want to talk about?"
His expression suddenly became quite grim, and I began to worry. "Liz brought Rhys to a doctor this week," he began, and I started to worry more. I knew that there was something wrong with the boy from even the short amount of time I'd spent with him. Was Daniel coming to me because there was something rare and deadly wrong with his son? I knew already that Judith had told some of our neighbors and other of her friends about my work, but I had been hoping that I'd never be in the position of being the only one who could help someone I knew. "And they did a bunch of tests, confirming what she told me she already suspected. I just hadn't wanted to believe it."
"What did the tests show?" I asked, keeping my tone as even as possible. I hoped it wasn't cancer, or something neurodegenerative, though if Rhys was coping with either it did make his outbursts easier to understand.
Daniel looked away for a moment, then back at me. "He has Asperger's."
"Oh!" I probably sounded more shocked than that warranted, but I was so glad it wasn't something fatal. Though I knew it was something that Daniel was going to have to deal with long-term. No wonder he seemed down, getting a diagnosis like that wasn't pleasant. "I'm sorry to hear that." It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that there were a lot of good programs these days to deal with children who fell on the autism spectrum, but I'm sure that Rhys's doctor had gone into all of that.
"Liz keeps saying it could be worse, considering the other disorders on the spectrum are all more impairing, and the school system is already used to handling kids like him, but..." Daniel trailed off with a deep sigh.
He looked so glum that I reached over and patted his hand. "You shouldn't feel guilty for not being more grateful. You're not supposed to have to feel grateful that your kid's problems are 'only' as bad as they are."
"Thanks." He looked around, and for a moment I didn't understand why. But then he said "is it true that your husband has a degree in psychology?"
Judith, I thought. It made me very glad that very few of our cases had been written up in newspapers more respectable than the Lone Gunmen. Somehow, I really didn't like the idea of all of our neighbors, and new potential friends, knowing all about the X-Files.
Looking at Daniel I nodded. "Yes, but he's not practicing."
"I see," Daniel said glumly. "I suppose that means he doesn't know anybody he can recommend, then," he said, and I finally understood that he hadn't been expecting Mulder to help his son, just hoping he might know someone who could.
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "It's possible that he might know somebody who can give a recommendation. He does do an awful lot of reading on the subject of psychology, even if he doesn't use it in his day-to-day life anymore."
This made Daniel seem a little bit happier. "Well, if he does know somebody, or know somebody who can recommend somebody good, I'd love to hear it."
Unfortunately, this made me realize that there was one vital piece of information that I didn't have. Trying to ask as gently as possible, I said, "It would help if you tell me where Liz and the kids live."
He looks startled. "Newburyport, Massachusetts," he said. "She had family there, and after we got divorced..."
"Right. I will definitely ask Mulder about it."
"Thank you Dana," Daniel said, standing. "I'm sure this is a heavy subject for first thing in the morning, so I want to apologize for that."
"No problem," I said, watching him walk away. He had no idea how heavy a subject I had been prepared for. The only problem was, I was still going to have that conversation ahead of me now. That left me feeling as grim as he had looked earlier.
In the days that followed Leigh's outburst, I felt my surety that had all been a huge mistake erode. Mostly because of my long ago dreams about Emily... At the time I'd merely ascribed them to a grief I had never been certain I was entitled to. But years later, while Mulder was gone, I had another series of dreams, ones equally vivid and horrific.
And when we'd unearthed Mulder, and I saw the scars on his face, it had nearly been impossible to deny that my dreams had meant something that time.
Days after his miraculous recovery, I left him long enough to visit my mother. I suppose I'd hoped that she would comfort me by telling me that sizable coincidences happened all the time, and I'd been so worried for him that dreaming of the way he was hurt was inevitable. Maybe she'd even tell me that we dreamed every night and of course I'd had other dreams that didn't match up to what had been done to him, and since they hadn't, they didn't feel significant enough to remember.
But that turned out to be more wishful thinking on my part because she's listen carefully before telling me the most of the women in her family had had something preternatural about them, something outside the confines of medical science, so was hardly surprising to her that I'd had prescient dreams myself.
At the time I'd been irritated by her declaration and had distanced myself from her for a couple of days, telling myself that it was due to Mulder needing me, and then had mostly forgotten about it. That was probably inevitable considering how much would be thrown at me over the next year. And by the time life lifted itself out of chaos, the conversation longer seemed remotely important.
But what if she had been right? When William was as small as Autumn, I'd seen him effect objects in a way that was scientifically impossible. If that had been in him (I still don't know what stopped it, I'm just glad it didn't recur, and that the shot that Spender had mistakenly given Joey hadn't hurt him) was it possible that the ability to dream of situations I was far removed from was in me?
And if it was possible that my dreams after Emily's death had been portends what did that mean for me now? Really, that's what kept me up at night.
In the end it took three days of walking on mental eggshells before Leigh returned. I had known that she would. Because if it had been me, I would have. Even if the odds were slim of getting the answers needed, I could understand needing to take that chance. I wouldn't have threatened a slimebag's manhood to get information about Joey's birth if I wasn't the sort of person who took that kind of chance too.
We were having breakfast, after the boys had left for the bus, when there was the unmistakable sound of a car stopping in our driveway. Before I could move Mulder put his coffee down and stood up so he could look out the window by the front door. He walked over to me and squeezed my shoulder. "I'll talk to her."
Looking up at him, I wanted to tell him that he didn't need to protect me like that. "Thank you."
I didn't need rescuing, but maybe Leigh did, from my inability to be calm about the whole crazy situation. I found myself grateful that it had been Daniel visiting that next morning, because days later I was still keyed up so imagine how I would have reacted then.
Mulder just nodded, and only as he went to get the door did I realize he was aware that I'd hear everything said in the next room. I took that as an invitation to join them if I thought I could. Or should.
The door squeaked a little as he opened it. "Leigh, Aaron." I started a little, half surprised she'd brought her husband. I heard them come in, then Mulder said, "I guess the kids will have a sub today."
"It seemed for the best," Aaron said.
That was true. It was nice to see Aaron treat his own wife with the sort of compassion Mulder showed me.
Aaron spoke again. "We talked to Judith at length about that night." It hadn't escaped my notice that Judith had driven Leigh's car home, then Aaron had brought her back later that evening.
"We assumed you would," Mulder acknowledged calmly.
"So I'm sure you aren't surprised that what she relayed to us did little to put Leigh's concerns to rest."
"No, not at all."
"So..." Aaron paused, to gather his courage, I thought. "There really were unanswered questions surrounding your daughter's death?"
I waited for Mulder to correct him, to explain that Emily had been my child, not his.
"There were irregularities around her death, yes. We weren't allowed to bury her," Mulder told them.
Sitting there just out of sight, I wondered for the first time how Mulder had felt about Emily's death. At the time I'd been beyond grateful that he'd at first let me lean on him and then hadn't been one of the many people who had been alarmed by my need to throw myself into work in order to cope with my grief. But had he been grieving too, for her sake and not just for my pain? When I'd first found out that she was inexplicably mine, I'd immediately imagined a life with my daughter, raising her, and Mulder had been a part of those daydreams. Sometimes he'd been the fun uncle type who was pleased to see her when the nanny brought her to visit me at lunch, and sometimes he proposed and we raised Emily together, but no matter what I imagined him being some part of her life. Had he had that sort of thought too?
"I... I know I was sickly as a little child," Leigh spoke up for the first time, braver than me. "I saw doctors all the time. I hated being poked and prodded and told I was so good."
Any sickly child would have that sort of memory, I silently argued. I was sure I could get that sort of memory recall from Christian, Kevin Kryder, Richie Lupone, or a dozen other ill children I'd helped or treated through both the X-Files and my medical practice. What she'd said was hardly an argument that she was Emily.
"Look," Aaron said abruptly. "I know this all seems fantasy-based, but I'm not asking you to believe anything right now. I'm just asking you and your wife to keep an open mind about the possibility that this isn't just a massive misunderstanding. To agree that there are enough similarities-"
"To what?" Mulder asked, using the same mild tone that he had infuriated me with the night we'd spoken to Judith.
Aaron swallowed hard. "To justify further investigation."
"By what means?" Mulder asked evenly.
I expected Aaron to say a DNA test, but Leigh spoke again instead. "I just want my records looked at. A lawyer told me that I might need help compelling someone to give me access. Another interested party demanding answers to might help."
"Someone claiming to be a parent?"
"Someone looking for answers about what happened to their child," she replied back.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Mulder and I had been at odds because I needed answers that he hadn't. At the time I wondered how he could possibly be content with not knowing. But now I wondered if I had been a hypocrite then. Because I had been willing to let those questions about Emily go unasked. Now it was quite clear that we all picked and chose what sort of unknown we could live with.
I got to my feet, not quickly, and walked out into the living room. Leigh look surprised to see me, and Aaron relieved. Actually, when I looked closer, I realized that Leigh looked frightened, of me. Was she expecting me to begin to rant and rave like a crazy woman? Did I look like I was going to?
Mulder held out an arm, indicating that he would like me to sit next to him. As soon as I did, he pulled me close. I leaned on him, grateful for that. Maybe it was psychological, but it did feel like he was lending me his strength.
I didn't smile when I studied them. "Okay."
The look Aaron gave me was uncertain. "Okay?" I don't think he realized even then I could hear everything they had said.
"If Mulder and I can help you gain access to the adoption records, we will. I'm not sure how much we'll be able to bolster the argument for allowing you to see them, but okay."
Leigh looked astonished. And it sort of broke my heart. Had she come here fully expecting me to deny the favor? Had she been so sure that I would turn her away? Was she only there at all because Aaron insisted that she needed some sort of closure, even if that closure was me slamming a door in her face?
Aaron bound to his feet, reminding me of a puppy. "Thank you! This really means a lot to us." He turned to look at his young wife. "Doesn't it, Leigh?" he asked, prompting her like he might have one of his school children to say thank you to another teacher.
Leigh still looked dazed. "Oh yes, it means a lot."
Conversation fizzled to an end then, and we made vague promises to help in whatever way we could. As the door closed behind them, I found myself wondering which would be more painful: finding out that she was Emily, or finding out that she wasn't. Right then, I couldn't tell.
I thought I'd been keeping things together fairly well the rest of the day, at least until William took Mulder aside after dinner and asked "Dad, is Mom all right?" in what he probably thought was a whisper.
I wasn't the only one who heard them, because Joey looked up from his math homework and gave me a quick look. One glance from me, and he returned his eyes to his paper immediately, making me wonder what my expression looked like. Not pleasant, apparently.
Mulder put his hand on William's shoulder, and said "she's gotten some news that makes her unhappy, buddy. It has nothing to do with you, or your brother or sister, and it's not really something you need to worry about. But please try to be patient, okay?"
William looked relieved, and that made me feel bad. What had he thought I been upset about, considering that he and Joey had been so well behaved lately? "Okay" he said earnestly. "I will."
This, more than anything made me wish that we got answers as soon as possible. It was becoming even more obvious to me that I wasn't holding up under the strain nearly as well as I wished I was, and I wasn't really sure what I could do about that.
It had been quite a while since I had gone to therapy sessions, and I tended to think of it as what you did when things were really wrong (like when you thought you were dying), but I began to wonder if maybe I should look to see if there was somebody well-recommended in town.
Until something more happened with Leigh's search for answers, I promised myself that I would do the best I could to put the situation out of my mind because it had to be unhealthy to let it eat at me the way I had been the past few days.
We may have all wished for quick answers, but they were not to be. Leigh showed up at my house several days later, looking tearful. For a change, her upset wasn't because of anything Mulder or I had said or done, which left me the mental space to feel sympathetic.
Fortunately, the kids were playing outside, so I just ushered her in before they saw her and begin to ask questions. I'd been doing a better job keeping handle on my own emotions, but I'm sure that seeing a woman in that state would make them uncomfortable just then, being a reminder of my own emotional fragility of late.
"What's wrong?" I asked Leigh, going to the stove to retrieve the kettle I'd been heating for tea. I brought two teacups and two teabags to the table, fixing tea with milk and sugar for both of us without bothering to ask if she wanted any or how she did if she did.
Leigh held it in both hands like a small child, and seemed to be more comforted by the warmth of the cup than the contents. She did take a sip though before looking up at me. "They keep telling me that they can't show me my records."
I nodded, not surprised. "So you will need Mulder and me to put some pressure on them," I suggested.
"That was Aaron's idea, you know, not mine," she said, her tone begging to be believed.
"Okay," I said. It didn't actually surprise me that her husband had come up with the idea. She was more of a wreck than I was, so elaborate planning probably wasn't in her wheel house at the moment.
"But what if it's not," she asked, confusing me for a moment. "If you and your husband go there and ask questions, and they just... They just don't answer you either?"
I wanted to mention DNA tests, but held my tongue. Mulder and I had said that we wouldn't be the ones to bring it up. So I wasn't going to do it then without consulting him first. "We'll figure something out," I promised her, not really comfortable with how vague that sounded even to my own ears.
Leigh rubbed her eyes. "You shouldn't have to." She picked her cup up again. "I shouldn't have involved you in the first place. This whole freakout of mine, that's me. You shouldn't have to deal with the fact that I'm neurotic."
I sighed, and she cast me a worried look. Maybe she thought that she had really exasperated me then. "You're young, so maybe that means that you are still looking for ways to prove that you're an adult that can handle things all by herself. But it doesn't always work that way, Leigh. Sometimes, you have to lean on other people. This doesn't change, no matter how old you get.
"Aaron may not understand exactly what you're going through now," I told her patiently. "But I know what it is to need answers that are difficult to find on your own, the ones you need to ask for help for. There's no shame in that."
Maybe I expected her to nod and feel better, but I didn't expect for her to ask what she did immediately. "What sort of answers have you needed to look for?" she asked, a mild note of challenge in her tone.
Looking out the window at my two snowsuit clad children throwing snowballs at each other, I hesitated for a moment. It wasn't something that I brought up very often, not with strangers, but if there was any chance that Leigh was actually Emily... Then it was something she was going to need to know eventually. And if not, maybe I just needed to tell somebody. I could take my own advice about lessening burdened by asking other people to share it, there.
"I don't suppose Joey has told your husband or his classmates very much about his early childhood?" I asked.
She looked confused, which was a sure sign that Joey didn't talk about it much to anyone outside the family either. "No. Not that I'm aware of."
"While I don't really want to go into all the details now, Joey didn't always live with us."
"He didn't?" she asked, throwing me a startled look.
"No. Before William was born, Mulder and I did IVF. That's how we got Autumn too." She looked little alarmed, and I wondered why. Even if she was Emily, Jacoby was proof that my fertility problems weren't genetic. And though I might have been in a sharing mood, discussing my history of cancer wasn't something I was willing to put on the table. So, I went on. "William was almost six when we discovered that someone had managed to give one of our embryos to someone else. And that embryo became Joey."
"That's horrible!" Leigh exclaimed. I could tell that she was envisioning a lab mix up, and that was okay. I wasn't going to explain the Consortium to her, not then. "But you got him back somehow?"
"We did," I said, wondering how much detail I should give about that. I decided to err on the side of vagueness. "Joey's other parents suffered a tragedy in their family. Long story short, it was discovered that Joey was our biological child, and we were able to get custody of him."
She had been listening attentively, but I think she got confused along the way about what did this had to do with my statement about needing answers, because all she said then was "oh."
Trying to drag the topic back on track, I went on to explain, "When we first learned about this, I was so hurt, even after things worked out in a way that allowed us to bring him home. I just couldn't understand how this could have happened, or get past it. How could some other couple have ended up with my baby? Joey should have been William's twin in reality, not just what people are allowed to think for convenience's sake. Someone's actions robbed me of almost six years of my son's life. Maybe I should have been happy just to have him, but I couldn't just let it be. So I went looking for answers. It wasn't easy, but I felt I had to do it."
This had Leigh nodding, as if she could completely emphasize with that feeling. "Aaron keeps telling me that I should be happy that my life turned out better than people might have predicted when I was younger. That I should be content with my lot now. But he doesn't understand what it's like not to know important things about yourself. He's never had that problem himself."
Until that second, that I only wanted to help her get her answers because it was the Christian thing to do. You're supposed to help your fellow man whenever you can, even if it's a burden to yourself. But then? To hear her say that? I wanted those answers for her too.
"You're going to know, someday." I reached across the table and put my hand on hers. She looked a little bit surprised by this, but didn't flinch away. "We'll help you. It's important, even if Aaron doesn't understand that right now."
And that's about when she began to cry. Not in huge heartbroken whoops, but silent tears, the kind that make your shoulders shake a little. I didn't take my hand away, but I didn't know what else to do to make her feel better. Maybe she did feel better. Because she didn't look sad. She looked relieved.
"Thank you," she told me once she pulled herself together again.
Before we went to bed that night, Mulder and I had a plan about how we would speak to the adoption agency that placed Leigh with her parents.
Joey seemed withdrawn after school the next day, and it made me worry that my tension was having an adverse effect on him. So I felt guilty trepidation when I knocked and entered his room.
"Mom?" he asked at his desk, looking up from the homework he was doing. William usually did at least some of his homework as soon as he got home to "get it over with" in his own words, but Joey always put it off until just before dinner unless we insisted otherwise, so it didn't surprise me when he asked, "is it dinnertime?"
"No," I said, shaking my head. He gave me a curious, expectant look then. "You've been really quiet today. I wanted to know if we could talk about it."
"Oh. Okay," he said warily. He closed his reading book and turned his chair towards me. What I didn't expect was for the first thing for him to say was, "we got a new kid in our class this week. Jacob."
My first worry was that Jacob was proving to be another bully, but a nagging suspicion made me wonder if it might not be something else about his new classmate that had him upset. "What's he like?" I asked carefully.
This elicited a big sigh. "Jacob causes a lot of trouble," Joey told me. "He throws things and hides under the tables, then kicks the art teacher when she tries to get him out."
"Wow," I replied, thinking. That sort of behavior seemed really immature for an eight or nine-year-old. "Does he get punished a lot, then?"
"No?" I didn't know Aaron Blackwood well, but I found it surprising that he didn't discipline the troublesome student, but maybe it was because he was hoping the boy was just acting out because transitioning to a new class was hard.
"He doesn't ever get in trouble. Sometimes Wendy takes him out of the room, but he doesn't get detention like we do."
"Who's Wendy?" I asked, but I figured it out before he answered.
"Jacob's other teacher. She helps him do stuff."
Probably an aide, I decided. "Just Jacob?"
"Yup." Joey was quit for quite a while, then he looked up at me. "Mom... Jacob looks like Ava did. I think he's like her." Oh, I thought then, finally beginning to understand why the new boy's behavior bothered Joey but not William. "-does that mean she would've been a brat too if... if she didn't die when she was so little?"
"Jacob has Down syndrome too?" I asked, just for confirmation. "Uh huh." He nodded. "I forgot what it was called but he does."
It bothered me a little that he hadn't asked the name if he couldn't remember it, but then, he rarely spoke about his former family, and Ava least of all. "Not necessarily," I told him. "When Ava was a baby, did people tell you that people with Down syndrome are all the same?"
"Yeah!" Then Joey looked puzzled. "Everyone said the kids like her are always happy and that was kind of blessing. They used to make me mad because mom and dad told me that she wasn't going to be able to do all the same stuff is me and just getting to be happier didn't seem fair."
"I thought so. A lot of people think they're being nice when they say things like that," I explained. "They don't necessarily believe it."
"Then why do they say it?" Joey demanded to know. I thought it was a good question.
Shrugging I said "some people think that they need to put a happy spin on things all the time. The type of people who tell someone who loses her house in a fire that at least they have their health, or at funerals say that at least someone who died is in a better place."
"They're fake nice?" he asked, looking at me for confirmation. It was hard not to nod.
"Maybe. But some other people have a hard time dealing with talking to someone who has bad stuff happened, so they insist that things aren't all that bad," I said, wishing Mulder was the one having the conversation with him. I didn't share his psych background but hopefully I was explaining people who had avoidant personality types well enough.
"Then they're wishing?" he asked me.
I thought about that. "Yes, it is wishful thinking, isn't it?"
"And some people probably have also heard that all people with Down syndrome are happy kids so often that they just believe it. This is the type of person who doesn't actually know very many people with Down syndrome at all. If you don't know people it's easy to believe the stereotype."
"But it's not true," I said gently. "People who have that genetic syndrome have all of the same types of emotions as everyone else. They can get mad, scared, excited, frustrated, and sad just like you and me. That means that there are some who are really nice and usually happy like the stereotype, and others are mad and frustrated often enough to kind of seem like jerks when they take it out on other people. Most are probably no more nice or mean than anyone else."
Joey surprised me by asking, "Is Jacob frustrated because of stuff he needs help with or just can't do even with help?"
"Don't you get frustrated by those things?" I immediately asked back.
The point I was trying to make seemed to sink in. "Yes..."
"We don't really know what Ava would have been like," I said but he shook his head. "No?"
"She would've been nicer than Jacob," he insisted.
"Yeah?" I asked, curious about the conviction in his tone.
"I would've helped her not be frustrated," he explained. "My old dad said she could learn stuff, just slower than me." I was interested by the apparent contradiction with what he said the Van De Kamps had told him earlier, but I'm sure my sons could readily bring up examples of when Mulder and I'd done the same.
"I'm sure you would've." It did feel odd talking about the dead toddler, though. If Ava hadn't died in a tragic accident, she would have been old enough for preschool by that point and, likely would have attended kindergarten in the fall, with or without an aide like Wendy. Odd as it left me feeling to have the discussion, it was obviously important to Joey, so I didn't hush him just because it made me uncomfortable.
And then it got more uncomfortable. "I used to worry about if he did it on purpose, or not," Joey confided, and my stomach lurched when I realized he was referring to his adoptive father. Mulder and I had reluctantly promised Jonathan that we'd lead Joey to believe the prison wouldn't allow them to see or write each other and so far Joey hadn't challenged that. But what happened when Jonathan got out of prison? He didn't think he deserved a relationship with the surviving child he'd adopted, and maybe I agreed with him, but would Joey? Would he insist we visit him when there was no longer 'the prison' keeping them apart? "But I don't anymore."
"No?" I asked with trepidation, not really wanting to hear right then if he had decided that Jonathan had or hadn't done it on purpose. I barely knew Jonathan van de Kamp, but my gut said that he hadn't intentionally left Ava in the car all day. Still, his adopted daughter was dead because of his actions...sometimes inattention, rather than evilness, had the most devastating results.
Joey spun in his desk chair before answering me, and when he did, the answer surprised me. "If we make bad things happen, even by accident, it's okay to get punished for it. Because the bad thing happened even if we didn't want to. Do you think that too?" he asked earnestly, looking me right in the eye.
Without hesitation, I answered him. "I do. I think that one of the good things about punishing people for doing things accidentally is that it gives society more reason to think about consequences." I decided that eight going on nine was probably still a little too young for long lecture about the laws of unintended consequences, so I didn't go into all of that right then. "A lot of the bad things that happen to people happen because somebody acted without thinking. This doesn't necessarily mean that they were a bad person, but that they are just kind of irresponsible. And sometimes we have to pay for our mistakes from that too."
Joey thought about this for a moment. "Like how William and I got in trouble for forgetting about bouncing balls in the house and broke the vase? We didn't mean to do it, but if we had thought harder about it, the vase wouldn't have gotten broken. So I think we kind of deserved having to pay for it with our allowance."
That was sort of those simplistic example, but perfectly age-appropriate. "Right, and with grown-ups, it can be more like not keeping an eye on kids near traffic or swimming pools or doing something dumb when you're driving, like texting, or even things you don't get in trouble for with the police or go to court over, but get in trouble with other people, like having too much to drink and deciding that calling an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend is a good idea and ending up in a huge fight and feeling stupid when they don't understand why you bothered them," I said, thinking about how many times Charlie had fessed up to nearly starting World War III with ex-girlfriend after drunk dialing. "Or, somebody gets really angry at their boss or customer and sends an email that's belittling, and then end up getting fired. There are all sorts of situations when we fail to think through things and get ourselves in trouble, right?"
"Right," he agreed, spinning his chair the other way.
I began to wonder if he was going to bring up Jonathan or his sentencing again. As far as I knew Jonathan had only been sentenced to ten years, and if he made parole he might be out in just two or three years. But that wasn't on Joey's mind as much as it was my own. "So..." he said slowly, "is it okay if I think that Jacob is a jerk?" He frowned, looking up at me. "William thinks that I'm being mean. I don't think he understands."
"Well, if you can find a way to get along with Jacob, maybe you'll find that you like him better than you think. Perhaps one of the reasons he's frustrated is that he wants to make friends and hasn't yet. Do think that could be true?"
"Maybe." When the chair squeaked as he spun it again, I made a mental note to have Mulder squirt some DW-40 at it. Maybe he could make a lesson of it for the kids, since they seem to enjoy learning how to be handy. "But... I don't want to be his friend."
I raised an eyebrow. "I didn't say you had to be his friend. But it would be nice if you could at least be civil to him. And, if other kids start talking about him being a jerk or anything, I would like you not join in."
"Okay," he said reluctantly enough to clue me in that he had already been talking to classmates about Jacob. There wasn't anything to do about that since it was already done.
"All I'm saying, is just give him a chance. He might settle down in a week or two, and become a lot nicer member of your class." This was my honest hope. Not just for Jacob's sake, though I had no interest in hoping that a little boy got alienated by his classmates because he was intolerable to be around, but more for Aaron Blackwood's. He had enough to deal with in his personal life already, and didn't need friction at work too.
"Maybe," Joey said, halfheartedly at best.
"Scully! Joey!" Mulder's voice floated down the hall towards us. "Dinner!"
Joey bounded out of the room, but I didn't follow. This had not been my most successful conversation with one of my kids. But, maybe he would learn to like Jacob after all. And, at least my worries about what would happen when Jonathan got out of jail could wait for another day. Sometimes, you have to settle for what you can get.
Not for the first time, I found myself selfishly glad that Joey hadn't spent a lot of time around Ava. From what I was able to piece together from what little he'd told me himself and articles about the trial, Ava had been placed with the Van De Kamps just a week or two before Joey had been shipped off to boarding school, which meant he'd only seen her after that at Christmas, when his parents took both kids out for dinner to celebrate Ava's adoption from foster care being finalized, and at Easter.
The only picture I'd ever seen of her - from an article; I knew Joey had pictures of his other family but if he looked at them, he never did while anyone else was around - was probably from Easter, just weeks before her tragic death. Fortunately Joey wasn't in this picture that seemed to be inserted in every news story. Instead she's alone except for a stuffed bunny, and she's grinning happily at the camera. Her pigtails were tied off with ribbons that matched her red dress and looked nice against her platinum hair. In the photo Ava looks happy and well-cared for, and I'd like to think she was. It wasn't malice, just one thoughtless act that had ended everything for her.
"What are you thinking about?" Mulder asked behind me before putting a hand on my shoulder.
I shrugged and tried to summon up a smile for him. "How a moment of thoughtlessness can end a life."
"Heavy topic for this time of night," he comment, and then held something out to me. At first I wasn't sure what it was, but I soon recognized it. "Sunflower seeds?"
"Uh, sure..." I gingerly took two out of the bag and stared at them. When I looked up at him, he gave me an expectant smile. Trying not to sigh, I popped them into my mouth and chewed. They weren't too bad.
To my surprise he held the bag out to me, saying "Then they're yours. It's not that I don't appreciate the gift, but it's hard to top the unflavored ones."
"I thought you liked buffalo," I replied even as I took the package from him.
"Just chicken," he called over his shoulder. I could hear a faint "Dad!" from upstairs.
As I watched him scale the stairs, admiring the view, I picked a few more sunflower seeds out of the bag and ate them. After all these years he could still quietly lift my spirits better than anyone else.
The adoption agency was reluctant to speak to us but I pressed and they eventually let us set up an appointment. That morning I imagined all sorts of things that might complicate the search for answers, but all my imaginings set the issues in the office of the adoption agency, not in my living room.
Mulder was in Autumn's room, hunting for diapers he swore we bought the last time we were at Market Basket, when the doorbell rang. I thought that it might be our mail person so I opened the door without hesitation. And then was confused when an older woman I didn't know gave me a semi-dismayed look. "Doctor Scully?" she asked nervously.
"Yes?" I asked, already a pensive myself. My first thought was to wonder if she worked for the medical center and was coming to tell me that the renovations had been completed earlier than expected, and I'd soon need to start my new job sooner than I'd hoped. She didn't really look like the sort of woman who worked at the center, but she had called me doctor.
The woman with dark brown hair gave me a tight smile. "I'm Lydia Coburn, Leigh Blackwood's mother."
"Oh," I said dumbly, staring at her. Maybe I should have guessed her identity sooner, but not only did she look nothing like Leigh (only later would I realize how ridiculous an assumption that she should was) she was several older than I would have expected Leigh's mother to be, practically Judith's age. Apparently she and her husband had adopted later in life than I would have, if adoption had become the only option for parenthood.
"Can I come in and speak to you?" she asked when I just continued to let the cold air in.
"Um. Okay." Stepping back, I let her in.
She sat down and I paused, wondering furiously what she wanted to talk about. I knew a lot of adoptive parents felt hurt when their children sought out their birth families, but even if it did turn out that Emily and Leigh were the same person, it wasn't like she'd actively looked for us.
"Scully?" Mulder said behind me, making me jump. "I found those diapers so we won't need to stop at..." He trailed off when he noticed our visitor. "Oh, hi," he offered, shifting the baby in case he was called upon to shake hands.
"This is Leigh's mother, Lydia," I explained. He sat next to me and let me take Autumn. "She was about to explain why she's come to see us. Right?"
"Right!" She looked as flustered as I felt. Giving us a sickly smile, she said, "I was hoping to speak to you before you visit the adoption agency."
"Just in the nick of time, then," Mulder told her. "That's where we're headed."
As he spoke I wondered if we'd have time to keep the appointment. Since we didn't know what she wanted yet, there was no way to predict how long the conversation would take. Or if she was going to do her damnest to keep us from it altogether.
"I'm glad I caught you before you left, then," she murmured. Looking up at us, she said, "I really appreciate your willingness to help Leigh but I'm not sure that you'll learn anything useful by visiting the adoption agency."
She appreciated it? Apparently she wasn't one of those women who felt betrayed when the child they raised decided to look for answers about their origins. It made me wonder if that was because Leigh had been so old when she was adopted, or if it was more of a reflection of the sort of person Lydia Coburn was. For no good reason I found myself hoping it was the latter.
Mulder took the baby and bounced her when she began to fuss but still managed to ask "why's that?" before I could extract myself from my thoughts and reply.
Lydia wrang her hands, which seemed like a bad sign. "My husband and I fell in love with Leigh as soon as we saw her photo when we went to the agency with the intention of adopting a special needs child. There was just something in her eyes that tugged at the heartstrings..." she looked far away for a moment, lost in the memory, but began speaking again. "I think the fact that we were so sure that she was the child we were meant to have is the reason we didn't make a fuss when we realized that there was something strange about the adoption."
"What was strange?" I wanted to know.
Lydia shrugged. "There wasn't anything overtly wrong, not like those Lifetime movies about selling babies. But there were subtle things that just felt wrong. My biggest concern was the complete and utter lack of information about her past. Every question we asked was met with 'I don't know.' when was she born? I don't know. Was she born like this or did she have an accident or illness that caused her cognitive impairment.' I don't know. Where did she live before she ended up in the group home we took her out of? I don't know."
She sighed. "I halfway expected to be ambushed in an alley one night and told to stop asking questions if I knew what was good for me. Oh, they tried to make excuses, to give reasons that they knew almost nothing about the child they were trying to place, but none of them rang true."
"You thought they were lying," I surmised.
"I did. Ben, Leigh's father, he was more willing to take what they said at face value. If the doctors they said she had to see hadn't made any predictions about her prognosis, I might have been more willing to believe them myself."
"You didn't expect her doctors to have any idea what she'd be like?" I asked. "Didn't they do testing on her?" It would have surprised me a lot if they hadn't done any medical or psychological testing on a child who presented like Leigh had. Even if they didn't do a lot of genetic testing to determine if there was a biological reason she was so delayed I thought they'd at least do an IQ test.
"They did enough testing to tell me that whatever her problem was didn't seem to be from a genetic disorder. I assumed that meant that perhaps her mother had drank or did drugs when she was pregnant," Lydia looked up at me, and I noticed that her expression was apologetic. It took me a moment to figure out that she meant she had had those assumptions about me. That made me wonder if she now knew that I had not given birth to Emily in the first place. Somehow I thought not. "But their predictions for her outcome were odd."
"Odd how?" Mulder asked, seizing upon her words.
"They told me that they had no idea if she was going to improve. I don't know how much Leigh or perhaps Judith told you about what Leigh was like when we brought her home… She was a big girl, they thought she was eleven or twelve maybe, and we decided that she must be eleven after we had another pediatrician examined her, but she acted for all the world like a preschooler. She could speak some, but you would've thought you were speaking to a child a third her age. She was curious, and picked things up quickly, but in the way a small child does. Ben and I thought that was hopeful, actually."
"Okay…" I said slowly. There was obviously more to the story, but she was having difficulty getting it out.
Lydia shook her head. "The strange part was that they told me that if she got better, and they hope she would, it might happen quickly. That's an odd thing to say, don't you think? How could they possibly know that her improvement would be rapid? And it was: by the time she was thirteen she seemed just like the other thirteen-year-olds that I knew from being a secretary at the middle school. It was around then that we decided to put her in public school."
"That does seem a little strange," Mulder said, startling me a bit when he apparently decided to wrench the conversation back onto topic. "Back when I was in college I did a lot of reading on so-called feral children. These children were not literally raised by animals like the legends about them claimed, but severely deprived of human interaction by uncaring custodians. After being rescued most of them took a very long time to make any sort of improvement. I'm not saying that Leigh was raised by wolves before you got her-" he said with a small smile, and I found myself thinking that if this girl actually was my daughter, she would've been better off with a wolf pack than in the hands of the Consortium. At least wolves are loyal to each other. "-But their supposition that she might improve does imply that they thought her problems were caused by deprivation rather than some sort of brain damage. So yes, it is a little strange that they would tell you that she might rapidly improve considering other children in the same sort of dire straits while small historically have not."
"And that's not the strangest part," she went on. By then I was sitting at the edge of my seat, wondering what else she could possibly tell us. As I listened to her I found myself losing hope that we were going to get any answers from the adoption agency. It might not matter that we were very clearly going to be late for our appointment. "They told us that if she did get better, she might end up having a problem with lies."
"With lies?" Mulder repeated, his tone suggesting that he wondered if he'd misheard her.
"Yes. That struck me as… I don't know, it just seemed like that wasn't the sort of thing you could predict about a child's development. I asked them if they thought she had the potential to become a pathological liar, because that's the only thing that seemed to make any sense in that context, but they said no. Instead they thought she might just be a little confused, and use her imagination to fill in the blanks in her memory."
I looked at Mulder. "People do do that, don't they?" I asked, thinking of some of our cases. Specifically one when he had himself woken up covered in blood, confused, and eventually coming to believe that he had committed a murder.
But Lydia cut him off before he could continue. "But could you predict that someone would come up with a specific line of reasoning, that they would imagine a predictable filler for their missing memories?"
He gave her a curious look. "I'm not sure what you mean."
She frowned, but not at us. "They thought she might make up stories about aliens."
I blinked. "Aliens?" I don't know about Mulder, but that wasn't what I expected at all. I thought perhaps lies about people treating her badly, but aliens? Shooting Mulder look I dared him to say that maybe Leigh really had run into aliens. He didn't accept it.
Lydia waved a hand, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. "I know. Isn't that the most outlandish thing? I asked them what they meant, and they tried to explain it by saying that she had probably been in and out of hospitals, and might be confused by IV lines, and conflate that with what she had seen on sci-fi movies, but they said in a way that was too pat, and they wouldn't meet my eyes."
This made me think of those boys, the proto-Curts that Mulder had once seen suspended in liquid. That was an image straight out of a horror movie, even I had to admit that. "Did she? Did she tell you stories about tubes and aliens?"
"No. She used to dream of the ocean, nightmares actually, but nothing about aliens ever got brought up."
"That's unusually specific a theme for nightmares," Mulder said quietly.
"She hated the beach. Ben and I tried to bring her to the ocean several times when she was young, but even after she caught up to the other kids her own age she could never tell us exactly what it was about the ocean that frightened her so much. At the very beginning she just cried and told us it was too big," Lydia said, making me flinch. Joey had had the same reaction to the ocean when he saw it for the first time when he was six. Somehow, I didn't think that it was because Leigh had also lived inland most of her life. "And later, when she could articulate things better she just insisted that she hated it. I don't think that we ever managed to get her into the water to swim with us. Instead she would just stand on the shore, looking miserable and worried for us, as if she expected us to be swept away by the waves at any moment. After a few times Ben convinced me that it was cruel to keep trying to get her to acclimate to the beach, so we stopped going. I don't think that Ben and I went again until after Leigh graduated high school."
That must've been quite the sacrifice, considering the fact that the humidity in New England nearly reaches rainforest levels during the summer, and Ballyguest is only twenty odd miles inland. Still, I didn't know the woman well, but she seemed like the type of person who would do what was best for her child rather than think to her own comfort, even in a sweltering summer.
Lydia offered us a confused little smile before shaking her head. "I'm sorry, it just feels a little strange to be thinking of all this so many years later. I suppose that most sound odd, but Ben and I are so grateful that Leigh grew so far beyond our early expectations that we don't spend much time looking back."
"That's understandable," Mulder told her.
"Thank you," Lydia stood then. "For hearing me out, I mean. If you can't get answers from those people Leigh will be crushed. I'm not sure how you feel about the possibility of getting nowhere-" She didn't seem to notice me staring at her. Surely Leigh hadn't told her that we'd been looking for answers too? That we'd believed Emily dead had to have come up... hadn't it had to? She was being damn nice if she was under the mistaken impression Mulder and I had sought Leigh out while on a quest to reunite with our long lost child. "-but I didn't want you to feel blindsided if the agency brushes you off too."
"We appreciate that," Mulder told her with a glance at me. He didn't add "don't we, Scully?" so I guess I didn't look like I was in an agreeable mood.
"Well, I'll let you get going," Lydia announced when Mulder stood up with the baby in his arms. The look she gave Autumn was complicated. All I could think was that it must have just occurred to her that if Leigh was Emily, the baby my husband was bouncing in his arms to ward off her beginning to fuss would be Leigh's sister. "She's lovely," Lydia murmured before slipping out the door.
"We're going to be late," Mulder remarked as the front door closed.
"I doubt that will matter."
Turned out I was right.
The adoption agency wasn't at all annoyed with us being late (honestly, I got the impression that they would have been thrilled if we hadn't turned up at all) which was a good thing because I took one look at the building and instantly decided that I didn't want to get out of the car. Mulder didn't notice my reluctance until he got out and I didn't.
"What's wrong?" he asked, leaning back into the car.
''I don't want to go in," I whispered.
"I can see that you don't. Is it because Leigh's mother came to see us? I don't think she was trying to scare us out of coming, just warning us not to get our hopes up. I thought it was good of her to do that, and really didn't get the sense that she's worried about us stealing Leigh from her."
I blinked, wondering now what Lydia really thought of us. Shaking my head, I said, "It's nothing to do with Lydia." And it really wasn't. How Leigh's adoptive parents might feel about us deserved some consideration if things turned out that way, but those were fears and worries for another day.
He looked exasperated, which I understood but couldn't help. "Then what?"
I looked in the backseat. Since she was so tiny still her car seat faced the seat, but I could tell she was sleeping even if I couldn't see her face. Still looking away from him, I said, "I wish we hadn't brought her with us."
"What else were we..." He trailed off as he read between the lines. "Oh."
Yes, oh. It looked a lot like the place John and Monica had driven me eight years earlier, the place where I'd do something I now considered one of my biggest mistakes… Sitting there, I couldn't believe how much it hurt all over again to think about the action I'd taken that day, the one that had unwittingly led to me not seeing my son for five years. I'm not sure if I was so shocked by how I felt because I'd convinced myself I was over all of that, or because with all of the insanity going on I still had room to feel something else.
"It's okay," Mulder said gently. Before I could respond he went to the rear door and got Autumn out of her car seat. When he came back to me he was holding her protectively. "I won't let anyone think we intend to leave without her."
Taking in his 'hands off!' body language, I knew he was right. No one would think he would willingly part with her. "Okay?" he prompted.
I wanted to tell him that bringing a baby to an adoption agency had been the biggest mistake I'd ever made, and even though I knew we'd be leaving with our baby this time, it still felt unbearably ominous. What if going in to an adoption agency just led to making the second biggest mistake?
But I got out of the car without saying a word.
Since I had used our status to get the agency to meet with us (and I shamelessly admit that being seen as somewhat important can be a useful tool) I wasn't surprised when the agency's director, Ryan Davis, greeted us as "Doctor Scully" and "Agent Mulder." Mulder, at least, seemed pleased.
''Thank you for agreeing to meet with us," I replied, my tone cooler than usual because I noticed the look he was giving Autumn. It was one of appraisal and I didn't like it.
Force of habit I decided when he noticed my displeasure and looked guiltily flustered. "Um," he began, "I'm afraid that Ms. Blackwood has probably left you with the wrong impression about the agency's interaction with her."
"She said you gave her the brush off," Mulder said flatly. Although Autumn was on my lap he'd possessively placed a hand on her leg, telling me I hadn't been the only one to read into Davis's gaze: he must have gotten the distinct impression Davis had been thinking about how he could market her too.
The other man nodded. "I can understand how it might have felt that way to her."
Mulder's eyebrows went up at this. "Because you refused to tell her anything?"
"That implies that there's anything to tell," Davis protested.
"You're in the habit of adopting out children you don't know the backgrounds of?"
My skepticism had him squirming. "In the habit? No. But we don't reject children whose origins aren't as well-documented as we'd like."
"Or documented at all," Mulder intercepted. "Apparently."
Davis flushed a dull brick color. "Leigh's case is... unique."
He didn't get flustered this time. "I've always wondered..."
When he trailed off Mulder asked "wondered what?" quite sharply.
This made Davis sigh. "We get a child who has obvious issues, who has no accompanying background files but strict orders about what doctors she is supposed to see." He shrugged. "My mind went to WITSEC."
I blinked. "You think she's in the witness protection program?"
"That she was," Davis corrected. "My theory is that one or both of her parents did or got dragged into some bad business and the whole family got dumped into WITSEC. Then things went seriously wrong, with the parents dead and poor Leigh suffering from a traumatic brain injury she's fortunately recovered from."
"That's... quite the theory," Mulder looked amused. I wondered if he really was.
"I'm not sure what other explanation there could be." He leaned forward, expression intent. "Leigh arrived with no past other than a handful of memories she had of being very small. Ruling out WITSEC, if I was the sort of person who believed in aliens or time travel, I would imagine that she was simply dropped her from another where or when."
"Or you could simply be lying," Mulder said, and Davis made an interesting choking noise. "That doesn't mean you were necessarily paid off." Mulder gave him a sympathetic look. "Maybe it was threats."
"I have nothing to hide!"
Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Or so you say."
Mulder stood, ignoring him. Looking down at me he said, "I think we're done here, don't you?"
Frowning a little, I let him take the baby and stood too. "I think he can't, or won't, tell us anything of use," I agreed, wondering if this would entice Davis into spilling his guts.
It didn't. "It was... nice to meet you," he just mumbled.
So we left.
On the way home Mulder glanced at me while traffic was light and asked, "Do you think he was lying?"
That was something I'd been brooding over the whole drive. "I don't think he was keeping anything from us," I said slowly. "At least not about Leigh's history." From his reaction to Mulder's suggestion I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Davis had been bribed, but I was sure he was paid to not ask questions, not to keep secrets.
"That's what I thought too." He sighed. "If he's lying he's damn good at it. As good as Krycek was when he was young."
"And that's very good," I admitted.
"Do you think there's any way we could track down the doctors that told Lydia what to expect?" Mulder asked then. "Obviously they worked for the Consortium."
"Unless they're the same people who later created Joey, I don't think we can." I said, toying with the idea of threatening James Monroe again for more information. He'd only been a lab tech, though, and probably didn't know much about what had been done with the children he'd helped to create after they were born. Since Joey had been created with a different purpose in mind, and had been under the care of his evil grandfather the first few months of his life, him knowing about Joey past birth was probably a unique case.
He sighed, signaling his own doubt that my reluctant source would know anything. "Considering how quickly they burned through people…"
Sometimes literally, I thought then, remembering burned bodies on a mountain.
"We're just going to have to admit that we're out of people to ask," I told him.
"Lydia was right, and Leigh's going to be heartbroken," Mulder decided, sounding glum. I wondered when he began to care how she felt, too.
When we got out of the car, Mulder gave me a long look before saying, "Maybe we should be the ones to suggest a DNA test after all."
It was my instinct to shout "No!" Because all the maddening half-realized clues we'd uncovered were conspiring to make me believe as much as I wanted to remain in denial.
Please don't misunderstand - it wasn't anything about Leigh that made me not want to be related to her. She was a nice, responsible young woman, the sort of person any mother would be proud of, like Lydia obviously was. And I didn't want Emily to be dead - God only knew how many nights long ago I'd been alone except for my grief that I hadn't been allowed to get to know my oldest child and that I hadn't saved her.
No, it wasn't either of these things. I just didn't know if I could cope with knowing for sure that I hadn't done the right thing after all, and in seeking to spare Emily from a life of on-going pain and manipulation I'd merely ensured both of those things went on for a while longer. If a DNA test proved that Leigh was Emily, it was true: I hadn't let my daughter have a merciful death. Instead I'd let them continue to torture her, but secretly now.
And if she was Emily, I was wrong. I'd thought that she'd be medically tortured her whole life at best, threatened and intimidated into complying with whatever demands the people keeping her a live placed upon her; at the back of my mind I imagined them forcing her to do unspeakable things, and ending up no better off than other people they'd gotten their claws into, like Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias. I'd envisioned a life filled with pain and despair at best and had written it off as an existence literally worse than death… and Leigh's life hadn't turned out to be an unending parade of horror. She was hurting now, but it was clear she generally happy. She was close to her mother, enjoyed working with children, and clearly adored her husband and little son.
If she was Emily... I would have robbed her of all of that she now had and had accomplished with her life if I'd gotten my way.
I blinked and noticed that my eyes were burning only when he said my name. He looked concerned and I wondered how long it had been since I left him to get lost inside my own head. "You're right," I forced myself to say.
He looked surprised that I agreed with him. I was surprised too.
''Okay then. Should I call and ask her to come over?" There was more than a hint of caution in his tone.
May as well rip the Band-Aid off now, I chided myself when I hesitated. "Please." I meant 'please don't make me call her' but he just nodded, making me wonder if he'd understood that.
"Be right back," he promised. Well, maybe not.
Leigh was flustered when she arrived, and the first thing she said was, "I didn't know my mom was going to come see you. I'm sorry she ambushed you-"
"Don't worry about it," Mulder interrupted. "Speaking to her helped prepare us for what we were told at the adoption agency."
"What did they tell you?" Her voice trembled, sharply reminding me how high the stakes were for her, too.
Mulder and I exchanged a look. ''Almost nothing," I said as gently as I could. "They admitted that they had accepted you without getting any of the standard background information."
As we anticipated, Leigh's face fell then. "So I'll never know where I came from," she said, voice devastated. "I'm just never going to get any answers."
"Not necessarily," Mulder said firmly.
Leigh looked up at him, her eyes red. "What else could we do?"
"A DNA test. It couldn't tell us what happened to you, but it could tell us where you came from."
"Only…" Leigh's voice shook. "Only if that photo in the hallway is me."
"Only if." His tone was gentle, but he wasn't going to disagree with her. If she wasn't Emily we had no more idea where she came from than anyone else. And if she was Emily… If she was Emily, I think that it was going to be my heart that broke to learn that, not hers.
"Okay, right. When can we do this?" Leigh asked, obviously trying to look brave. I knew exactly how she felt, although I think we were worried about the outcomes being quite different. She was hoping to find out who she was, and I was worried that I would find out what I had lost due to my own ill-considered actions. Yet another loss, to pile next to the ones I had already coped with.
He didn't look at me before he replied, and I didn't blame him. "I think we could do it today. And the results would take a few days, probably no more than ten."
Feeling a small and mean, I didn't suggest a rapid test although I was well aware that they existed. Mulder probably knew too, even if Leigh didn't, but he didn't bring one up so that's how I knew that he was aware of how I felt. That was sort of ironic, considering that I wasn't entirely sure of my feelings myself. It wouldn't be entirely terrible to learn that the young woman who stood before us was actually my child, but there was so much wrong with that to that I didn't really want to deal with it.
Although I had said nothing, something must've shown on my face because Leigh looked up at me and asked "are you all right that this?"
I just nodded.
"No, I mean it. You didn't ask for this."
"Neither of us asked for this. But now that the question has irrevocably presented itself, we need to know the answer." That wasn't as warm and fuzzy an answer as she probably hope for, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
It wasn't good enough. "If the test turns out to show that I am the daughter you lost, I don't need anything more from you than that answer. I know that you thought your daughter was gone and that the past was buried, so if you need to continue to live your life as though it's true even if it turns out not to be, well, I guess I can't ask you for more."
"Leigh…" I trailed off, unable to think of anything to say to make it better.
"Um, let's not be hasty. We have no idea what the test results are you going to say, so it's a little bit premature to start worrying about how people are going to fit into each other's lives when we don't know that they have to," Mulder said, trying hard to smooth things over. "Have to worry, I mean," he quickly added, I think concerned that he'd just implied that we didn't have to have anything to do with each other unless she was Emily. Still, though, I imagined if Leigh wasn't Emily, we'd be finding another babysitter given it'd be awkward after the test results came back.
"Right," Leigh said softly.
We could have gotten the test done at the medical facility I was employed by, but that seemed like it would be a bad idea. I hadn't even begun working there, and already colleagues would know much more about me than I would ever disclose on my own. Leigh was reluctant to ask her own doctor to do it because he was also Aaron's doctor and she had no more interest in that news going around the elementary school than I did about my own place of employment.
We briefly considered stopping by the local hospital but instead Mulder called the doctor's office where he and I were technically patients but had not yet had our first visits. They told him that normally they wanted to see people for a physical before they saw them for anything else, but he said something to them that I did not actually overhear that encouraged them to make an exception for us. I didn't ask what he had said, because I was sure that I didn't want to know.
I have to hand it to our new doctor's office, they were efficient and promised discretion. It's not very often that three adults seek to have their DNA compared against each other's but not against the baby who'd come with them, but they accepted the request without blinking.
The test only took about a half an hour altogether for all three of us, though we didn't speak much before or after it. I wanted to tell Leigh that it wasn't a big deal, but that would have been a lie. So instead we parted ways after the test was done and I promised to let her know as soon as we had the results.
Even though I knew that it would take several days for the results to come back, I still found myself compulsively checking the mail beginning just two days later. It was during one of my many treks to the mailbox that Daniel tried to catch my attention. "Hey, Dana." He waved until I looked over to where he stood at his front door. "Do you have a minute?"
All sorts of unwise responses crowded my mouth, ranging from insisting that I didn't have time to do anything but obsessively worry to begging for something else to think about, but I swallowed them all down and trudged through the snow towards my neighbor's house. (people kept telling me that it eventually stops snowing, even in New Hampshire, but by that point in March I was beginning to have my doubts.) I did my best to smile though when I reached his doorway. "What's up?"
"Come in," Daniel told me. I realized he was shivering in his sweater. "Before we freeze."
I followed him in and had a funny thought along the lines of how unwilling I would have been to follow a different Daniel into his home. Although in the other Daniel's case 'lair' might be a more apt label.
He handed me a mug of coffee and pointed at cream and sugar before saying, "It feels like forever since I last spoke to you." Before I could make any half. guilty excuses, he went on. "My fault. There's just been so much going on."
This left me feeling both startled and self-absorbed. Then genuinely guilty for having not spared a thought for his son's problem in days. "I've been busy too," I murmured. Good God, what an understatement.
"Who isn't?" he asked rhetorically. "Anyway, Liz and I have had a ton of meetings the last few days. The doctor Rhys is seeing, the boys' school in Newburyport, the school here..." When he trailed off I wondered what they'd wanted from the local school, suspecting they'd spoken to the kindergarten and first grade teachers who had been able to observe Rhys in action. "Then Liz and I had the longest conversation we've had since she moved out in October."
"The schools here seem just as capable as the ones here, and the doctor feels like his temper tantrums are symptomatic of him not being able to cope with the upheaval in his life. Not to mention he's so out of control he's hard for anyone to deal with one-on-one which isn't really fair to his mother or Declan, who is putting up with a lot while Rhys takes up so much of Liz's time. So...Liz and the boys are going to come home. Move back in. Here." Daniel didn't meet my eyes. "It should be better for everyone this way."
"You're getting back together with your ex-wife?" I blurted out.
The bleak look on his face made me wish I could take the words back. "Think of it as us being roommates. We'll be under the same roof, which should be good for both of the kids, but she'll be sleeping in the guestroom."
"Wow." What else was there to say? It made me sad for both him and the ex that they'd tried to move on, but the needs of one of their children was forcing them back together, whether they liked it or not.
The sad look he gave me left me even more depressed; suddenly I knew from his expression that the divorce hadn't been his idea. I didn't know if he or Liz had strayed, or if they'd just grown apart, but she'd probably been the one to insist on drawing up the papers.
How hard would it be for him to live with a woman he was still in love with? Standing up, I put my hand on his arm. "If you ever need to talk, or just get away from things here for an hour or two, come over. Mulder and I will play Uno or something with you."
Daniel offered the ghost of a smile. "I appreciate that."
"I mean it," I said firmly. And really, I did. With all the chaos in my own life, it felt good to be able to extend a helping hand to someone else still.
"Well, you'll have to send Declan over to play once they get here," I told him. "They like him a lot."
"I got that sense," Daniel agreed. "And I'm glad. He's had as rough a time of things as me and Liz, but…"
"But he's afraid to say so?" I suggested. I could imagine my kids getting the idea that they were bad to feel upset if a sibling had problems, and Declan was only a little older than them.
"I think so."
"Well, he's welcome to come over too," I replied.
Daniel nodded. "Frost was wrong, you know."
"Hmm?" I shot him a puzzled look.
He spread his hands. "Minding your own business isn't the only way to be a good neighbor. You and Judith make me realize that."
When I went home I felt a little better. Even when we can't solve all of our own problems, it's still sometimes possible to help someone else.
After spending days on pins and needles, a truck chugged into the yard after nine-thirty one night. Mulder pulled his boots on and went outside to see what was up. He spent what felt like was forever outside, long enough to make me begin to worry, but eventually returned with an envelope under one arm, blowing on his fingers to warm them.
"Why were you out there so long?" I asked, listening to the truck back out of the driveway. "I was treated to a lovely dissertation about how sorry the courier was for getting here so late and how annoyed she was about the sad state of New Hampshire highway signage is," he explained, finally handing the envelope over to me.
Taking it, I scanned the return address. "It's from the lab," I said, stating the obvious.
He nodded. "I know. Do you want to call Leigh to come over before we open it?"
"Does it make me a bad person if I say no?" I asked. "It's late and I... I want to be prepared before we let her know what the results are."
"That's reasonable," he said soothingly. "We'll talk to her first thing in the morning, okay?"
"Right." I stared at the green and white envelope, which trembled. Eventually it occurred to me that my hands were shaking. I almost dropped it when I held it out for him to take.
He took it and began to walk away, and I almost yelled at him not to do that. But I saw the letter opener in his hand and held my tongue. Mulder slit the envelope and withdrew the contents before looking at me and asking, "Do you want me to read it?"
"Please." I was feeling so overwhelmed that I doubt I could've made sense of the documents. Somehow I thought Leigh had the same worry considering she could have had the results mailed to her too but somehow decided it was better if just we did.
He unfolded the papers, and I watched as he read through them, trying to figure out what the words made him feel. Eventually he noticed. "Well."
"Well, what?" I demanded to know.
"Her DNA matches yours," he told me, and I think by that point I knew on some level that it would. But I honestly didn't quite expect what he said next. "It matches mine, too."
"It does?" I asked, astonished. Somehow I hadn't ever allowed myself, even back when I first discovered Emily's existence, to imagine that her father was a good man and not a Consortium flunky. Or worse.
Giving me a crooked smile, he said, "I guess they borrowed that cup of genetic material after all."
All of the sudden I felt my face crumple. She was our child, ours, and we hadn't been allowed to raise her. It felt like we'd failed her, even if that wasn't rational. Even though I would've given almost anything to change that at the time, only letting go when it got hopeless.
Mulder stepped behind me and wrapped his arms around me. I put my head back against his shoulder, and let him hold me. Looking down, he said, "I know what you're thinking, and you need to stop."
"What am I thinking about?" I asked, my voice a painful rasp.
"Missed time. You're thinking about all the time you missed seeing her growing up."
"You could give Yappi a run for his money."
"Instead of dwelling on that, you have to look ahead. Agonizing over what might have been won't make you feel the loss of all those years any less sharply."
"But Mulder, I never got to be her mother," I said weakly. "Not really." My brain threw up images of the scant handful of days before Emily's supposed death, and they were a pale shadow of motherhood when I compared them to memories of raising my other children. Autumn was an infant still, and even with her I had scores more memories already tucked away.
"Then do it now. Do the same thing you'd do for Autumn or the boys - what's best for her, not for you. If you can accept who she is now instead of mourning what it would have been like if we'd raised her then, you might be able to have a relationship with her in the future. We can't reclaim the past, so don't hurt what could be in the effort."
At times like that he was so reasonable that it was almost possible to hate him for it. I wanted to lash out, and tell him that if it'd been his child we had found and lost, or at least a child that we had known was his and not mine, he would be feeling differently. But it had been his child too, even if we hadn't known it then.
I wormed my way out from the cradle of his arms and went to sit on the edge of the bed. Looking up at him, I gave him a wry smile. "I expected to be a grandparent someday, with three children we're bound to have grandchildren, but I didn't realize that it would happen this soon."
Mulder grinned. "Yeah, you don't look much like grandma Scully to me."
I dropped down on the mattress. "I'm not sure I'm ready for this," I moaned.
To my amusement, Mulder threw himself onto the bed too. "Me neither. But what choice do we have?"
I think he meant to be silly, but it really was a serious question. We did in fact have a choice, we could cut them out of our lives altogether. It wasn't a great idea, but the possibility did exist. Looking over at Mulder, I realized that perhaps it wasn't a question at all. We weren't that sort of people who would do that. We would cope and carry on with this new and strange facet of our lives together.
I was in the middle of pulling the covers back, prepared to sleep away the stress when a thought occurred to me that stopped me cold.
"Scully?" Mulder asked, sounding concerned.
Looking up at him I asked, "How are we going to explain this to the kids?"
If Leigh vowed to have nothing more to do with us, it would be easy: we'd say nothing, at least until they are older. But if she and Jacoby were going to be some part of our lives...and right then I thought it could go either way.
Mulder sighed and sat on the bed. "When I pictured parenting nine-year-old boys, I didn't imagine explaining The Consortium to them. I thought we'd save that as small talk with their prom dates," he quipped with a wan smile. "I don't think there's an age appropriate explanation that touches on the truth."
"So you think we should lie?" I asked uneasily. I didn't like to lie, but we could hardly sit them down and explain that their sister had been aged in an aquarium, but only because she was alien human hybrid, so don't worry about that happening to you kids too.
"More sins of omission," he said quietly. "They're just not ready for this."
I nodded slowly. "But won't they feel blindsided when we eventually tell the whole story?"
"Not if we say there are things were not going to tell them until they're older. It's going to make them mad, but I'd rather them be mad than traumatized."
He had a point... "Okay." Sometimes parenting doesn't mean making an ideal choice. Sometimes it means making a choice between things that all feel like the wrong choices. Unfortunately, this was one of those times.
Then he said something that made me feel like I had been doused in ice water. "Before we can tell them anything, we need to have a discussion with Leigh." I almost told him that I knew that considering we had to share the DNA results with her, but he went on. "Not only do we have to tell her that she is our biological child, she needs to know what happened to those 'missing' years, Scully. And she might not take it very well."
I stared at him, at a loss for words. How could we begin to explain to her that the missing memories she'd been looking for didn't exist because the years didn't either? That legally she was still a child even though she and everyone else believed otherwise? Could we get her to believe us? And what would the fallout be if by some miracle she did believe...
It was very difficult to sleep that night. All I could think was she was Emily, but what if telling her the truth kept her from us even then. I'm not sure I would want to believe the story we were going to have to tell her. And if she couldn't cope with it, she was an adult as far as everyone else was concerned. She and Aaron could just pick up stakes, take Jacoby somewhere else, and never speak to us again.
Mulder called Leigh first thing the next morning, mostly because I couldn't. She didn't live far away, so she arrived sooner than I expected, but fortunately not sooner than I was ready for. I almost wondered who was watching her son, but I saw her stop at Judith's; apparently that was enough of an emergency as far as our neighbor was concerned to lift her ban on babysitting.
Leigh slowly walked up the driveway, and I couldn't help but worry that she feared my reaction more than the results. I tried to smile in a welcoming way as I opened the door, but it was obvious that I wasn't putting her at ease.
The first words out of her mouth were "Did you read it already?"
This made something slither in my belly: had we been wrong to open the letter without her? But she actually looked relieved when we nodded.
She took a deep breath and held her hand out for the letter, which I handed her without a word.
Leigh read the letter twice before looking up at us, hands shaking a little. "It's true? You're my biological parents?"
"Yes," Mulder said simply. It was good of him to answer, because I would've just rambled on myself.
"Oh. Wow. I have siblings! Jacoby has two uncles, and an aunt who is younger than he is," she said excitedly. "This is just so..."
She started to stand then but I put my hand up because I thought she was going to hug us. "Leigh, don't get too excited yet. You may hate us by the time were done talking today."
She looked at me, her blue eyes wide with confusion. "I don't understand. Are you saying that you did give me up, and that you lied about me being taken from you?"
"No," Mulder said firmly. "You being taken from us involuntarily is true."
"Then I don't understand what you could possibly have done to make me hate you."
I sighed, and folded my hands on the table. "We'll tell you the truth today. The whole and complete truth. But you can never tell anybody. Especially not Aaron."
"Why not Aaron?" she asked, already looking upset.
I could have just blurted out that he would be in legal trouble if he knew the truth, but that seemed like a poor way to get to it. I supposed that if she didn't manage to connect the dots herself, I could explain that her age made him technically guilty of a crime that nobody had to know about if she kept her mouth shut. "I promise that by the end of our story you'll understand why it is not in his best interest to know everything."
Questions were written all over her face, but she just made a go on gesture, ready to listen. I noticed that she hadn't agreed to keep Aaron in the dark, but I would worry about that later.
"If you've talked to Judith about us at all, she probably told you that we used to be FBI agents," I began. She nodded, confirming my suspicion that our neighbor gossiped quite a lot. At least it was a nice sort of gossip, not malicious, just semi-proud like she thought we done something important in our lives. "Unfortunately, being FBI agents meant that we ran up against horrible people over the course of our career. The sort of people who would not hesitate to hurt us any way possible, even if it meant harming innocent people."
I glanced at Mulder, and he picked up the thread. "Perhaps the worst of these people was my biological father," he said, looking to me to make sure it was okay to continue. "I grew up believing that my mother's husband, Bill, was my father, and didn't learn the truth until after Dad died. You would've liked him perhaps. He had his faults, but at heart he was a good man. The same cannot be said of my biological father: he was ruthless, smart, powerful, and one of the most evil men I have ever met. The important thing here is that he was instrumental in kidnapping Dana not long after she and I began to work together."
When he paused for breath, I jumped back in. "I told you that all three of your... That William, Joey, and Autumn were all conceived through IVF. What I didn't tell you was why. When I was kidnapped, all of my ova were removed by the men Mulder's biological father worked with. Eventually we were able to get some of it back. That's why we have children. And why you exist."
"Why I exist?" she asked, her expression conveying a sinking feeling. I thought she was already beginning to understand. But I couldn't risk the possibility that she didn't.
"You were three when we investigated a murder-suicide. Your adopted parents hadn't actually killed themselves or each other, but it had been made to look like that. When I saw you for the first time, you looked so much like my late sister at that age that I had to find out if you were related to us. It seemed to take forever, and you got sick in the meantime, but the DNA tests came back and I found out that you were not my sister Melissa's child. You were mine.
"This is when all of the horrible pieces fell into place for me. I knew that I couldn't have children, and I knew that my lack of fertility wasn't natural, that something had been done to me cause it, but I hadn't really thought about why they had done that particular thing to me. Not until I found out that one of my stolen eggs had been used to make you."
None of us spoke for a moment, letting Leigh take this in. "What for?" She paused, gathering her thoughts. "What did they want me for?"
I couldn't say it, so Mulder did. "To torment us, maybe. You see, they did something to you before you even born. To make sure that you would be sick. It was in your DNA. I think they killed your first adopted family, the Sims, that was their name, so we would know about you. And know was too late to help you." He looked so sad that I knew in my heart that he was reliving the day that it became too late for Emily. "It worked, it did torment us."
Looking less fragile than I would have given her credit for, Leigh nodded and said "I got sick, and you were led to believe I died. I still don't see why you think that could make me hate you."
"The fact that you were created as a pawn in some maniac's game just to hurt us doesn't make you hate us, too?" I asked, genuinely startled.
"I don't see how it's your fault," she surprised me by saying. Maybe she had more of a forgiving nature than I did. Because I know over the years there had been times when I blamed Mulder for getting me involved in his struggles, because of what they cost me and my family. "No more your fault than those poor people the Nazi experimented on's fault."
"There's more," Mulder said quietly. Oh God was there. Looking at me asked "do you want to explain the timing, or should I?"
Cravenly, I said, "you can."
"Dana was kidnapped in 1994. August. You were born that November."
"That's not possible," Leigh sputtered.
"But it is," he said insistently. "When I told you that they had done something to your DNA that made you sick, it also change how quickly you developed in the womb. From August to November, and you were a full-term baby."
It soon became obvious that rapid gestation wasn't the part that bothered her. "But I'm twenty-four," Leigh said helplessly. "Not fifteen going on sixteen."
"I think the records we can't find, the ones that cover what happened to you between the ages of three and eleven, aren't hidden from us." I looked her in the eye. "I don't think they exist. I don't mean just the records, I mean the years."
"You think they just aged me?" Leigh gave us an incredulous look. "Things like that aren't possible."
Mulder nodded patiently. "You weren't far off when you mentioned the Nazis a moment ago, Leigh." He looked her in the eye, and she didn't flinch away from that direct gaze. "The men my father worked for, they took their inspiration from those medical experiments. Did you learn any of the things they attempted back then, in your history classes in high school?" Leigh nodded, indicating that she had. "The experiments they managed to do in the 40s were fantastical for the times. Now imagine that people with the same mindset had access to 50 more years of knowledge and technology…They did many, many terrible things to people. One of the things that they did was to clone children and age them rapidly. I was once shown large tanks with children suspended in them, growing rapidly into adults or into mute children who worked like slaves without wills of their own. That's what happened to some of the ova that were stolen from women like Dana." He gave her the saddest of smiles. "So far as we know, you and Joey were the only children created from Dana's ova without our say so, which is something we are both grateful for considering we had so little say over what happened to either of you."
"But even if these neo-Nazis people did this to other children, Joey and I are normal," she said, voice both insistent and desperate; I thought that she was trying to talk herself out of believing us. "We talk, we're not mindless slaves, and we didn't magically pop out of an aquarium full grown adults. You said that I had adopted parents before, the Sims, they didn't keep me in an aquarium, did they?"
Mulder ignored her obvious sarcasm at the end. "No, they raised you like you raise a typical baby. They loved you, and I don't think, beyond needing to give you shots to treat for what they were told was a type of severe anemia, they ever thought of you as being anything but a normal child."
Looking her in the eye again, he asked, "How do you explain it, then? If not how we the explained, how do you account for being an adult now when you didn't exist until 1994?"
This time she looked away. "I... I..."
"Once they took you from us, from the funeral home, I think they did to you what they did to those boys I had seen. I don't think it took long until you had aged from 3 to 11. The only question I have, is why they took you out then, and gave you away to a new family. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that they did, just curious as to why," Mulder said.
Looking at him, I wondered why he hadn't come to the same conclusion that I had. "Your mother," I said simply.
He looked like I had slapped him.
"I don't understand," Leigh complained.
Glancing at her, I said, "Mulder's father was evil, but even he was capable of love of a sort. He cared very much about Mulder's mother, even though he treated her badly. From the way to the timeline lines up, I suspect that he took you out of this tanks right around the time when Mulder's mother died." I didn't speculate out loud if this would've been just before or just after Teena's death.
"So my dead grandmother is responsible for me not being middle-aged now?" she asked. Then she looked horrified is something else occurred her. "Am I going to get old quick, quicker than you??"
"We don't think so," Mulder said soothingly. "After your birth, you aged normally the first three years of your life, and then you have also aged normally since what appears to be about age eleven. I don't think that any of those children, or the adults, continued to age rapidly outside of whatever process was going on inside the tanks."
Some of the alarm faded from her expression. "Well thank God."
"And it doesn't seem as though rapid gestation is something hereditary either," I added, knowing that this would soon be a concern of hers if she hadn't already thought of the possibility. "Jacoby came in the standard forty weeks, correct?"
The very last thing I expected her to do was laugh, but she did. "Forty-one, actually. They were going to induce in a week if he didn't decide to finally come out on his own."
"That's good too."
The three of us sank into our own thoughts for a while, not speaking, just processing our discussion. I think I had given Mulder something to think about even, where it came to his mother. Leigh was the first one to break the silence.
"Occam's razor, isn't it?" She waved a hand when we looked at her questioningly. "When you rule out everything that's completely absurd and completely crazy, the only thing that's left, even if it's still crazy itself, has to be the truth. Short of getting myself carbon dated, which I'm pretty sure you can't do while you're still alive, I guess I have to believe you about when I was born. And if I believe you about when I was born I guess I have to accept that I was rapidly aged too. Although that makes my head hurt very badly to think about."
"And if you were born in 1994, we can't tell anyone that," I said firmly. When she looked at me I finally decided to connect the dots for her. "The age of consent in the state is sixteen, and technically you won't be sixteen until November." At that time Jacoby was two and a half.
Leigh looked sick. "Oh crap. Oh God. If Aaron knew that he was legally guilty of statutory rape, I don't think he could deal with that." The grimness of her tone had me thinking of Teena again, and this time about how she had taken her own life.
"Which is why we're not going to tell him, and you aren't either," Mulder explained. "It's not his fault, and for all intents and purposes you are the age you think you are. It would just confuse him, and cause him a great deal of pain for no particular gain."
"Except he'll never know the truth about me," she said quietly. There was pain in that too.
Mulder just shrugged. "Sometimes loving somebody means that we keep from them what would destroy them, rather than being honest with them. You know how they say that if you have one night stand, it's almost always for your own benefit that you confess rather than for the benefit of the person you've wronged? And maybe you should just hold onto the guilt rather than confess to make yourself feel better? It's like that. Except so much more serious than that." He glanced at me, confirming that he realized that he was placing a huge burden on her. But his expression also said that he thought she could take it.
And her next words said that she could too. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she said, "You're right. Telling him would only have small gain, and huge, horrifying downsides. I can't ever tell him." She looked at her hands. "But how do I explain no longer looking for answers about what happened to me in the years that don't exist?"
"It's too painful to me." I gave her a weak smile. "Mulder took you aside and told you that we really want to have a relationship with you, but considering how painful it was when we believed you died, and everything else that went on, he worries that it will severely affect my mental health if you keep digging into things. And you're okay with that. Because it's more important to you to have a relationship with your biological parents than it is to find out what went on in those years you can't remember and more importantly can't change even if you could remember them."
"That makes you sound weak, are you okay with that?" Leigh asked, looking like she accepted the plan otherwise. If only I would tell her that it was okay with me.
I spread my hands on the surface of the table. "We're all weak in some ways, and it's okay with me if he thinks this is one for me."
For the first time since we told her that there was more to understand about her past, she looked okay. I don't think she was overjoyed, but I didn't think she was going to fall apart either. "Thank you."
"No, I don't just mean for letting Aaron believe that you're the reason I'm not going to keep pressing for answers, I mean for telling me the truth. It couldn't be easy to tell me this, especially when it sounds so insane that you had to be worried that I wouldn't believe you. Thank you for taking the chance on me, and believing that I might hear you out and not just run out of here thinking that you were nuts."
"You're welcome," we said, because what else could we say?
"Is when you worked together at the FBI public record?" she asked, confusing me. "Because if Aaron or my parents can look up that…"
"I think you should tell them that we've know each other since the year before you were born," Mulder suggested. "If they work out the dates and assume this means we knew each other before we worked with the FBI, well…" He shook his head. "Just let us know they asked, and we'll work out something plausible to tell them."
"They probably wouldn't ask more, especially if I seem uncomfortable with the topic should it come up. I wouldn't even need to act to give them that sense," she said with a weak laugh. Then she frowned, obviously thinking of something else. "Damn, I just thought of another reason why shouldn't tell anyone when I was born." I noted that she didn't say how old she was, which made sense, because no matter when she was born, she was twenty-four in her head.
"What's that?" Mulder asked.
"They'd take my license. Not just my driver's license, but my daycare one too."
He grinned. "See, that wouldn't be fair. Because you are twenty-four. I don't care when you were born, that's how old you are really."
"I think it's going to require a lot of Tylenol to wrap my head around this," she said with a soft groan.
"And maybe a few stiff drinks," Mulder suggested.
She flashed me a smile. "Isn't that technically encouraging underage drinking?"
"Any of my kids get rapidly aged, they get a pass on the legal drinking age," he said, not able to keep a straight face.
She looked amused, but eventually her expression sobered. "So, when are you going to tell your boys that they have to sister they didn't know about?"
Mulder and I traded a look. "Tonight, if that's okay with you."
Leigh actually looked relieved. "Good. I'd like to see them soon, after they know. If that's okay...?"
"Absolutely. Why don't we make plans for you to see them this weekend? That will give them a couple of days to get a grip on things themselves, and hopefully calm down a little bit because I know they're going to be super excited," Mulder said.
"You think they're going to be excited?" she asked suspiciously.
"I am fairly certain they will be," he insisted. "Some time we'll have to tell you about our Christmas vacation the year before last. Long story short, they tried to talk us into adopting an older sister for them. So, I think they will be very open to the idea of having an older sibling."
"Awesome. I love my folks a lot, and I understand that I was a handful the first couple years they had me, but I always wished that I had brothers or sisters. So, kind of cool to learn that I have some now, even if the story of how that came to be is kind of twisted."
She and Mulder continued to talk about William, Joey, and Autumn, and what it would be like once they knew. I had stopped listening closely when they started to chat about Autumn in particular, and how it would probably be the easiest, if not the weirdest, for her because of the huge age difference between them when she was old enough to understand it.
I had stopped paying attention because for the first time the entire conversation I felt like it was going to be okay now that Leigh knew the truth. She hadn't run away screaming like she said, and she seemed to be interested in being part of her siblings' life. I didn't know how close she would ever want to get to Mulder and me, but it was a good start.
In the end the boys accepted what we told them much more easily than I anticipated. I think the way that Mulder approached it might have had something to do with that. If it had been me, I probably would've started with asking them what they thought about Leigh, hoping to prime the pump when he came to accepting that they had an older sibling. But Mulder had other ideas.
We were in the middle of dinner when he looked at the boys and asked, "Hey, have you guys heard from Olivia recently?"
William swallowed, then nodded his head saying, "We got an email from her earlier this week, Dad. Why?"
"I was just wondering how she is."
"She's good," Joey said. "She and her mom have started doing pottery together. It sounds kinda dumb to me, but she likes it."
"I'm glad to hear she's doing well with her mom," Mulder told them. "I just keep thinking today about how sad it was about her dad dying that way." And that was no understatement. Being ripped apart by a wendigo was a pretty sad way to die. We were just fortunate that Duke Crocker had managed to intercede before it killed Olivia too. Of course, he himself had been pretty beaten up in the process of rescuing her.
Both of our sons suddenly looked morose too. "Yeah, that was really sad."
"Remember how you guys wanted us to adopt her?" Mulder asked, and I suddenly understood what he was up to.
"Yup," William agreed. "It would've been neat have an older sister, but I'm happy she's still got her mom."
Mulder glanced at me. He didn't stop staring until I nodded minutely. "You do. Have an older sister, I mean," I added when they both looked at me.
William looked confused for about a second, but then gave me a sad smile. "But she died a long time ago."
Mulder reached for my hand. "Well, that's what we thought."
Joey immediately picked up on what his father had said. "What you thought?" he asked sharply.
"We told you that Emily was very sick when she was little, but what we didn't tell you is that when we had her funeral we didn't get to bury her body."
William looked at him, eyes wide. "Why not?"
"You know how those movies about zombies talk about the Center for Disease Control?" I asked, hoping that we wouldn't immediately launch into a confused conversation about whether or not Emily had turned into a zombie. "Well, the Center for Disease Control in real life deals with infectious diseases, not zombies. And when somebody has a disease that's rare or new and seems to spread from person to person, sometimes they take their bodies away after they die so they can study them. That's what we were told happened to your sister's body." I thought a moment. "What was wrong with her was rare," I added, least they worry that she could make them sick.
"But it doesn't sound like that was true," William said suspiciously. "Right?"
"Right," Mulder said, but he failed to meet his eyes. "And... We just found out that she didn't die."
"She didn't die?!" they cried in unison.
"Where is she?" Joey asked eagerly. "Can we meet her? Is she going to come live with us? How old is she?"
I breathed a little easier once I heard the last question. Maybe things would be okay if we only told them part of the truth. It didn't seem as though they really understood how old Emily would have been if she had lived a normal life. I was sure that they would eventually do the math and have questions, but not yet. I was thankful for not yet.
"You've already met her," I said slowly.
This had them even more excited. "Who?" William demanded to know, bouncing in his seat. Fortunately he didn't immediately start naming girls they knew.
I looked at Mulder. And let him say it. "Leigh."
"No way!" William exclaimed. Then, turning to his brother, he said something I didn't expect. "Hey, we're uncles!"
And so they were. Somehow, I had wrap my brain around the fact that Mulder and I were grandparents, but somehow had forgotten that meant our children were Jacoby's uncles and aunt even though Leigh had brought it up herself.
"Neat," Joey commented before looking at Mulder and me. "If you didn't know that Leigh is Emily, does that mean she didn't know either?"
Before they could think too much about their sister somehow being willingly involved in a nefarious scheme, Mulder quickly reassured them. "She didn't know either. After she got better, a different family raised her. So she had no idea who we were either."
"How did you guys figure it out?" Joey asked.
"Remember the night that Leigh babysat you guys here?" I asked, deciding it would be better to really explain what had happened than hope that Mulder would come up with something else that would make sense to them. When they nodded, I went on. "Well, she saw the picture that I have of her in the hallway, and recognized herself. Until then we had no idea at all, not Dad and I, and not her either."
"I'm really glad we moved here then," William remarked, playing with his food absently as he spoke to us. "If we didn't, we'd never know. That's what they call a coincidence, right?"
Mulder answered something, but I didn't hear it. I was hung up on what William had just said. What if it wasn't a coincidence that all? Logic argued against it being coincidence. The odds of us moving to the same town as our long-lost daughter were just too astronomical to have been a coincidence. I tried to put myself back into the conversation, and promised myself to bring it up with Mulder later.
"She'd like to hang out with you guys over the weekend, if that's okay?" Mulder said, finally drawing me back into the conversation.
"Sure. Are we going to go to a movie, or something like that?" Joey asked.
I actually had no idea what Leigh wanted to do with them. A movie sounded like something you might do with much younger siblings, so probably something along those lines. "I don't know," I admitted. "But if she asked for suggestions, should I tell her you would like to see a movie with her?"
"Yeah. There's a bunch of cool things in theaters right now," William said excitedly. "I can't believe have an older sister to hang out with. How cool is this?"
I tried to pay attention, honestly I did. But my mind kept drifting back to what William had said about coincidences. I no longer believed in them.
It took almost all of my willpower, but I managed to hold in my questions for Mulder until after we had put all three of the kids to bed. But he was still in the middle of changing his underwear when I pounced, verbally that is. "I think your mother knew."
"Hmm?" Mulder looked up at me, only one leg in his boxers, and the rest of him flopping in the air in a way that might've been comical in any other time. "What do you mean?"
I let him put on his underpants before replying. "I think your mother knew where Emily, or I guess Leigh, was. I think... I think she knew about her granddaughter. I don't think your father only stop aging her to please your mother, I think he let her know about it."
What I wanted to ask him, but I couldn't because it would hurt him, was if he thought that his mother's suicide had anything to do with knowing what had happened to his only child. Maybe she had seen her. The smoking man was big enough bastard to have brought her to look at child suspended in liquid, and maybe brag that he had saved the child's life, if you could call what she was doing in that suspension living. Maybe that had set her over the edge... But I couldn't say that. It was just speculation. It was the kind of speculation that would wound, and maybe it wasn't true. Maybe it was.
Or maybe Teena's suicide is what had driven the smoking man to take the girl out of the tank while she was still a child, instead of growing her to an adult like all those poor men named Kurt. Something had to have made him decide that robbing her of eight years was enough. And the only person or thing I could think of that he loved in any way, shape or form had been Mulder's mother. And he was just the sort of man to try to make a gesture to someone he had already killed...
"I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe."
"You said that you found mention of this town in her things," I persisted. "We just assumed it was because she had been here once before during the 70s. What if it was somebody's idea of a joke, to send the girl to the place where Teena had tried to find her own daughter?" I asked.
"Maybe," Mulder said softly. "It does seem to fit what we know of them and their monstrous sense of humor."
It was odd to think about them having a sense of humor because the jokes they played were so needlessly cruel. But still, they had to amuse somebody.
Instead of saying anything else, I went to him, and wrap my arms around him tight. This wasn't something we could figure out. Everyone was dead. The truth had died with them. Somehow, I thought this time Mulder would be the one who had more difficulty with letting go of the hope-for answers than I did, which was saying a lot, considering how much difficulty I had with that myself.
It took a lot for him to say "I think we have to just go forward, not backwards now," I thought.
Still holding on tightly, I nodded against his shoulder. If he could let it go, so could I.
And hopefully so could Leigh.
I'd gone to bed relieved at how well Leigh had taken the news, and happy that William and Joey had so eagerly accepted the fact that their long dead sister wasn't actually dead. Even Mulder and I seemed to be coping well enough. But I still had to tell the rest of my family.
And I was really dreading that.
I spoke to Mulder about it the next morning, after the kids had headed off to school and he'd settled at his computer desk on the pretense of getting some writing done. "I, um, we need to tell my mom and brothers." I hovered, wringing my hands as I spoke to him. He didn't make me feel better when he winced.
Then, looking up at me with a sheepish smile, "I'm sorry. Charlie and Your mom will probably take it okay, But Bill?" He shook his head ruefully.
''Actually, I don't think my mom's going to take it very well either," I admitted.
He looked surprised. "What makes you say that?"
I shrugged. "Even when we found out that Emily was mine, she never really warmed to the idea. I... I'd expected her to be excited about having another grandchild, the only one who'd live near enough to see regularly if I got custody... But she'd never been enthusiastic about the idea of me even seeking custody. She didn't even ask if I wanted her help with it, just said that she guessed she'd back whatever decision I made."
"She guessed?" Mulder repeated, sounding upset.
Nodding, I said, "At the time, or a few days later, actually, I wondered if she somehow had known that it wasn't going to work out, and that's why she was so detached. Right then I'd assumed that she'd sensed that I wasn't going to get custody, not that she thought that Emily would die. I didn't allow myself to think that until..." I trailed off, remembering my misery as they unhooked the monitors from Emily's still warm body.
"Your mother once told me that she thought she was clairvoyant," Mulder offered cautiously. He seemed relieved that I wasn't shocked. "After you'd been abducted. I'm not saying she is-" Because he knew I'd never buy that went without saying. "But maybe she believed that she knew how it would turn out."
''And she figured getting involved would hurt more."
"She's not going to like being proven wrong." I waved a hand when he gave me a questioning look. "That the grandchild she'd written off had a future after all."
"I'd like to think she'd be happy about Leigh's fate," he said reprovingly.
"Eventually she probably will be," I told him, imagining her shock at learning that she's a great-grandmother. "But it's now I'm worried about."
"I know," he sighed. I wanted to too, but I was afraid, I wouldn't stop if I got started. "Have you thought about how you want to tell them?" he asked, gesturing when I gave him a look. "In person? Phone? E-mail?"
I raised an eyebrow. ''E-mail? Why don't I text them, then?" I scoffed.
Rolling his eyes, he just muttered, "Not e-mail."
"Sorry," I apologized. I was about to suggest that it'd be best to tell them all together, maybe inviting them all to my house for Easter, not just Mom. Or maybe Memorial Day would be better. Or 4th of July. But he was clearly not on the same page as I was.
'"I think you should do a video chat," he told me. When I frowned, he gave me a quick hug. "I know you're not eager to have this conversation with them, but the longer you put it off, the worse it's going to go." I almost protested this, but he gave me a long look. "They'll be hurt too, as well as shocked, wondering why you were afraid or reluctant to tell them, if you put it off."
I sighed. That's exactly what they'd think. In their shoes I would too. "Help me set it up?"
"Of course. Find out when's best for them, and I'll set it up," he promised.
In the end I did e-mail them, but just to figure out when to do the video chat. If I called them, it would have been inevitable that one of them would have bullied me into spilling the beans, upsetting the other two. We agreed on the following night. We agreed on the following night. It scared me, but I tried to think of this as also being like ripping off a band aid quickly
I probably looked as fretful as I felt while I waited for the time to arrive the next day, going by the concerned looks that Judith cast me when we both went out to get the mail.
"Afternoon, Dana. I spoke to Leigh yesterday," she ventured.
"Leigh's doing better than I'd of predicted, given how she reacted that night." I knew what she meant, but I'd come to believe what had seemed like Leigh being horrified at the time had really been her being intensely shocked. Giving me a look that seemed designed to encourage me to open up to her, Judith gently asked, "But how are you and your husband handling... it all?"
"Okay," I told her. "I think we both were convinced that she's Emily days before the DNA test confirmed it." I did not tell her that it had been that way with Joey too. At best she'd probably send me over to Celia Maddox to discuss my ability to intone the future... only after an exhausting conversation about why Mulder and I hadn't raised Joey from birth, either.
"And Fox is her father?" Judith asked carefully, not making eye contact. This reminded me that Judith had tactfully not asked us before why Emily had been given up for adoption. I very much doubted that Leigh would tell anyone how old she really was, so Judith must have been under the impression that Leigh had been born when I was in college, not several years later.
"Well." She looked a bit uncomfortable, which actually came as something of a relief: she probably wasn't going to ask more.
"Really, other than anticipating a tense conversation with my mom and brothers tonight, we're both doing pretty well," I said with a brief smile.
She looked up." Fox doesn't have any family to tell, or...?"
I knew she was wondering if his family had already been told. Shaking my head slightly, I said, "His parents and sister are all gone now. Other than a few cousins he's not close to, the kids are his only family now."
To my surprise, she smiled. "Four healthy children is more family than a lot of people can lay claim to."
"True," I agreed faintly. Four was a word I was going to have to get used to. A few short months ago I'd been the mother of two, and now I had four children.
Patting me on the arm, she said, "If the conversation's going to be tense, I want to help. I pushed you to take Leigh's concerns seriously, so I think I owe you."
"What did you have in mind?" I asked cautiously. Character witnesses probably wouldn't impress my family much, no matter how well-meaning.
"I assume you'd rather not have the boys overhearing?" she asked, reminding me that Mulder and I still hadn't given that much thought. "I could come over and keep them occupied."
"That would be great," I admitted.
"Wonderful. I'll bring over a couple of board games and some art supplies."
"I think they'd enjoy that." Much more than being banished to their rooms, that was for sure.
"Lovely. When should I come over?"
I told her the time, and she bid me goodbye until then.
We rushed through dinner that night, almost entirely due to my nerves. The kids were good about it, though, and were actually rather enthusiastic when they greeted Judith. I tried not to think it was because they were relieved to be around an adult who hadn't been through the ringer lately, unlike me, Mulder, and their teacher.
Mulder started the chat, and my stomach got wobbly as soon as the images of my mom and brothers showed up on the screen. It didn't settle down any When Bill asked, "What's the big news? I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're not moving, switching careers, or having another baby again so soon."
A giddy part of me almost was tempted to say something along the lines that not a baby, but that he wasn't so off the mark there... but before I could really stick my foot in it, Mulder calmly looked at the three images and said, "We know why Emily's coffin was empty."
He looked at me while they spoke over each other. I nodded slightly, letting him know I was okay to speak. Looking at them, I made sure I had their attention before saying "There wasn't a body to bury."
My mother looked confused and very disappointed. I paranoidly wondered why, at least until she said, "I take it that the funeral home finally admitted that they cremated her against your wishes."
She really meant her own wishes, given she was one of those older Catholics who had never warmed to the idea that their loved ones might not have an old-fashioned burial. Shaking my head, "I simply said, "No, mom. The funeral home didn't cremate her."
Bill piped up. "Don't tell me Fox's wild theory about the CDC stealing the body turned out to be true." Until then I'd almost forgotten that I'd told him that back when I'd been forced to come up with some explanation for all that sand.
"Then...?" Charlie asked with an intent look.
Mulder took my hand, squeezing it. "She's not dead," I said quietly.
This predictably caused an uproar, and they fired so many rapid questions at me that I couldn't even understand them all, let alone respond to them. Mulder whistled sharply, Shocking all three of them silent. They stared at us.
Eventually my mother haltingly asked, "Have you seen her?"
"We have," I told them. "Her name was changed to Leigh. Leigh Blackwood now. I have a theory that they picked the name Leigh because it was similar to Emily, or at least enough to get her to accept it." Mulder and I had never discussed that, and I could tell from the look on his face that it was the first time he was considering it.
"They who?" Bill asked sharply. "The people raising her?"
I flinched. We hadn't even gotten to the hard to accept part of the conversation yet. "No. The people who had her before she was adopted again."
My mother thought for a moment. "Oh. Is she going to join us at Easter?"
She would immediately go there. "Mom, she has her own family."
"If she's your daughter we're her family!" she exclaimed, obviously distressed.
Bill immediately got belligerent. "If those people are trying to keep her from you... You have rights. She was kidnapped, not given up for adoption."
Thinking about the sort of custody battle my brother was alluding to almost made me laugh. "It's complicated." Lord was it.
Not complicated enough, Mulder seemed to decide then. "Dana didn't just mean her parents, who have actually been supportive of Leigh's desire for answers." I could have put my hand over his mouth or shouted "No!" to keep him from saying what I knew he'd say next but I didn't. It had to come out, so I let it. "Leigh has a little boy," he finished.
"She has a child?" My mother looked horrified. "How old is he?"
"Two and a half."
"Oh my God," she muttered. "That means that when he was born she was only-"
"No," Mulder said firmly. She gaped at him. "You're thinking of Leigh as a normal child. She wasn't. Two and a half years ago she'd already graduated from high school...."
"So you're saying she's some kind of child prodigy," Charlie said. "I thought smart girls managed to avoid teen pregnancy. I hope her parents are helping out a lot."
They really, really didn't get it. "She's an adult," I said quietly. "Raising Jacoby with her husband, an elementary school teacher, not relying on her par-"
''Her husband?" Bill looked disgusted. "What kind of man marries a child?"
"The kind who has no idea that she is a child, legally," Mulder told him. "As far as he knew, and even Leigh herself knew, she was twenty when they got married."
"I know some girls look much older, but no twelve-year-old looks twenty. And why would she not know her own age?" Charlie asked.
There really was no turning back- sighing, I said, "She was aged."
"What do you mean, she was aged?" Mom asked, looking nauseous.
Turning to her, I said, "We've discussed some of the cases Mulder and I worked on. You have an idea of what those people were capable. Making children like Emily and Joey, you have to understand that's just the tip of the iceberg."
"So, what, you're saying they waved a magic wand and poof, she's an adult?" Bill asked sarcastically.
"Not an adult, and not a wand, but she went from being a three-year-old biologically to being eleven as far as even doctors could tell," I told him.
"Please. Do you really expect us to believe this scifi crap?" Bill complained.
"Yes," Mulder told him. "Because it's the truth."
"Are you sure?" Charlie asked doubtfully. "Maybe it's a scam. People do some pretty terrible things for a buck. I mean, even stuff like faking cancer."
"We had a DNA test done," I told him. "Leigh is definitely our daughter."
"'Our,'" Bill repeated. ''Are you saying she's his, too?"
"Yes," I said simply.
My older brother thought this over for a moment. "Huh."
"Maybe she has one of those aging diseases," my mother began before breaking off. "No, I don't suppose she'd be healthy enough to have a child if she did."
More than anything, at that moment I wished that they would stop trying to think of ways to bend reality into a form they found more acceptable. Maybe if I told them more about her… "She's fine. Healthy, bright, and generally happy," I said. "Everything I'd ever hope for Emily."
"Including being alive," Mulder added.
My mother nodded. "That's the important thing here, and we've lost sight of that." Looking at my brothers' images, she said, "We'll make her feel welcome when we meet her." She wasn't asking their opinions, and they could both tell.
Charlie smiled faintly before asking, "I guess I can now assume that the monster in that episode of COPS was real, then?"
''I guess there are worse ways that your work could haunt you than a kid who literally grew up too fast," Bill grumbled.
That comment actually made me feel better. It sounded a lot like grudging acceptance to me.
"Do you think that she'll want to meet us?" My mother asked, sounding uncharacteristically timid. "Someday."
I hesitated. "I hope eventually." I really did. But at that point we hadn't really discussed with Leigh what she hoped to get out of a relationship with us. Sure, she was willing to spend time with the boys, but Mulder and me? And my family? It seemed too soon to pressure her. And I didn't want to step on her parents' toes. I didn't know them well, any of them, really, but I could already tell that Leigh had been raised the right way.
To my surprise, this answer actually seemed to satisfy my mother. "Well, I guess we can't ask for more. This has to be a big adjustment for her too."
"It is, I know it is," I told her. "I think more than anything Leigh had been hoping to find out why she couldn't remember so much of her childhood. It has to be very strange to learn that the years she can't remember don't even exist, on top of finding your biological parents."
"You told her the truth?" Bill asked. When I nodded, he sighed. I didn't realize why until he spoke again. "I guess if she believes that what you told her is true, we have to too."
I just stared at him. I honestly didn't know how to respond to that.
It soon became clear that Mulder didn't either. "Um, thanks."
Bill just nodded.
Charlie, however, looked thoughtful. "Did you tell William and Joey everything you told us?"
"No," I said quickly. "They're too young to understand…everything. We have not told them anything at all about the fact that Leigh is about eight years older than she should be."
My younger brother looked relieved. "Good. I thought you had the sense to realize that, but…" He frowned to himself. "Honestly, I'm not sure that even my kids are old enough to know the truth, either."
"Do Lauren and Mark know about Emily?" I asked. I didn't ask about Sean because I was sure that my brother's youngest son didn't, considering that, at a few months younger than Mattie, he hadn't even been born yet when we found and lost Emily.
Giving me a sheepish look he said, "I've always meant to tell them about her, but the timing never seemed right. If Lauren had seemed to remember hearing about her back then, of course I would've had to explain, but she doesn't." Lauren had been four when Emily had crash landed into our lives, and she had never actually met her cousin.
"And I'm glad of that," Mulder said, making everybody look at him. "Joey and William are too young to have figured out that Emily should be much younger than Leigh is. Your kids are old enough to work that out for themselves. If they don't know, then they're not going to have the same sort of questions they would otherwise."
I hadn't thought of that, but it was a good point. "Gee, Charlie, for once your procrastination streak has worked in my favor," I teased him.
Grinning, he said, "Well, that had to happen at least once in a lifetime."
"You'll let us know if she wants to meet us?" my mother asked, obviously hoping to get us all back on track.
"Mom, I will."
"Good." Looking at the images of my brothers, she asked, "Have we exhausted this topic?" For a moment Bill looked like he wanted to say something else, but he eventually agreed with her. "All right then. Can we say hi to the kids before we all sign off?"
"Of course," Mulder said for both of us. Then, before I could even blink, he left the room.
Looking at the monitor, I said, "I guess he volunteered to go get them."
"He is a good boy," my mother said fondly. And, I thought perhaps slightly sarcastically.
Before the kids were even in the room, I heard "Grandma! Uncle Charlie! Uncle Bill!" behind me. A moment later, they came to crowd in front of the computer.
"You boys being good?" Bill asked.
"Yup," William said earnestly. Joey looked like he had to think about it, and I wondered why. Maybe it was better not to ask. "Uncle Bill, the next time we come see you, can we go to the New England aquarium?"
"Um, if your parents want to?" It was gratifying, and more than a little amusing to see him flustered that way.
Mulder came to his rescue, surprisingly enough. "I think that sounds like an excellent idea. We should do that sometime this summer. Sound good?"
"Sure. I'm sure that Tara and Mattie will enjoy that too."
My mother gave Charlie's image slightly reproachful look. "See? If you would just return to the East Coast, you could actually see your siblings in the flesh."
Charlie took this in stride. Snorting, he said, "I'll let Uncle Sam know that you want me to relocate."
"Good. You do that."
You know, I think that Charlie was even more flustered that she seemed to take him seriously than Bill had been by William's question. "Um…"
Ignoring the havoc she had just cause, my mother smiled at the boys. "Who's going to hold up that baby for me to see better?"
"I will!" Joey volunteered, turning to his father to take Autumn. As soon as she was aloft, Autumn goggled comically at the computer screen, earning a round of awws from her adoring relatives.
After that, the conversation turned towards how sweet my youngest daughter was. And honestly, considering that they seemed okay with knowing about my oldest girl too, I was content as well. The conversation had worried me, but I should have known my family better than that. I would try not to underestimate them as much in the future.
The boys were happy to go off to the movies with Leigh. If anyone had any anxiety about the outing, it was the adults. Leigh seemed full of fake cheer when she picked them up, but they hadn't noticed because I'd been subjecting them to the same all morning. It was probably a good thing that they felt that this was less of a big deal than Leigh or I did. Maybe to them it would continue to just be a little odd but a lot more fun to have new family rather than a delicate and awkward process to attempt to integrate our two families.
Mulder simply told the three of them to have fun, and then he disappeared. That was one way to avoid an uncomfortable situation, I guess. I thought about going to find him to interrogate him about his feelings and make him help me vivisect mine, but noise from outside distracted me.
It was an unseasonably warm day, leading to patches of mud intercepting the blanket of snow in the yard. Shopping the night before locals confused and amused me both by insisting that "mud" season was right around the corner, and that even if the snow melted the snow-free weather wasn't going to last: more than one person said both of these things, showing no awareness of how contradictory these things seemed to a newcomer. It made me worry that it might actually be possible for both things to happen soon. Thinking of these things had me stepping gingerly as I tracked the source of the noise.
I walked halfway down the driveway before I could see that there was a moving truck in Daniel's driveway. For a moment I worried that plans could have changed while I was preoccupied with my own family's drama, but after a few seconds moving men began to carry a twin bed off the truck.
Daniel held the door open for them, then spotted me. "Moving-in day?" I called when he'd halved the distance between us.
"It sure is," he agreed when he reached me. His dark hair caught the light of the later winter sun, but the light didn't reach his eyes.
I wanted to ask him how he felt about that. I didn't. "Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked instead, imagining moving some boxes. I could use the exercise.
He glanced around for a moment. "Are your sons home?" he asked hopefully.
"No, they went to a movie with Leigh Blackwood."
"Oh." He seemed disappointed, and probably had hoped to send his kids over to play. Then, after a beat, asked, "Why?" when it occurred to him to be curious. He probably thought we'd gotten her to babysit, which was odd considering Mulder and I were home.
In the days since getting the DNA results back I'd been trying to imagine how I'd respond when people who didn't know what was going on had questions, and I'd come up empty.
So I was surprised to hear myself say," It's a very long story, but Mulder and I were led to believe our oldest daughter, Emily, died at age three. Through a strange series of events we learned otherwise. After she recovered from what had seemed to be a fatal illness, she was adopted, had her name changed, and moved here… So my boys are spending the afternoon with their sister." I shrugged, as if it was no big deal. Maybe one day it wouldn't be.
Daniel stared at me with wide eyes. "Wow. You must still be in shock."
"Pretty much." Smiling weakly, I added, "But is there anything I can do to help you with getting Liz and the kids settled?"
"Not unless you want to keep Rhys out from underfoot," he said doubtfully.
"Send him over," I encouraged. "I'll find something to keep him occupied."
If Rhys had been unhappy when Daniel had told him he'd be going next door, he showed no sign of it by the time he got into the house. That was a relief - I'd honestly expected a tantrum.
"Hi, Rhys, I'm Dana," I reminded him as he took off his coat and Daniel left.
''I remember. You have a baby. Where is she?"
I waited for him to ask about William and Joey, but he didn't. Maybe his interest in the baby wasn't all that social. "Oh. I kind of want my mom and Dad to have a new baby now that we're gonna live together again," he said, making me cringe inside. Obviously he assumed his parents were really back together. "Do you think they will?"
"I don't know." Surprisingly, this answer seemed to satisfy him. "What would you like to do?"
I figured he'd say watch TV, or play a game, not look around my kitchen and open a couple of the pantry doors before asking, "Can we organize these shelves?"
For a moment I stared at him. "Um, Sure."
"Good." Humming to himself, he reached for cans of soup and began stacking them on the counter.
He didn't get upset when I started to help him, so it only took us about twenty minutes to empty all the shelves, though it took all the counters, the island, and the table to hold all of it. Rhys gave the sea of packaged food a thoughtful look. Looking up at me, he asked, "Is it okay to sort 'em by kind of food?"
"Sure, that sounds like a good idea." As we'd emptied the shelves I'd imagined him getting bored and needing to finish myself, but he still seemed keen.
Looking a little anxious, he nodded but said, "Daddy said I gotta be less bossy sometimes. We could do it by color or size if you wanna."
"Actually, Rhys, sorting by food type makes more sense," I reassured him while trying not to undermine what Daniel was trying to teach him, too. "It would look pretty by color, but it will be easier to find what I want if they're sorted together in like things."
"Is that what mommy calls practical?"
"Yes, this will be very practical."
"Okay," he told me and began to move cans around on the counter.
As I watched him, I began to understand the appeal the task held for him. At first I imagined a little kid who had classical autism obsessively lining up objects, but he wasn't that impaired. Instead I could see that he was having fun matching things up, sort of like how Joey and William had loved the game Memory when they'd been six themselves. And really, was what he was doing so very different from adults playing mahjong?
Once he'd sorted everything to his satisfaction, we began to put everything back. We were finding a place for the kids' favorite cereals when he asked me, "can you tell me anything about the history of putting food in cans?"
"Um..." No matter what his problems were, there was no denying that Rhys was a very smart little boy. Just one with atypical interests for a six-year-old. When I'd done a psych rotation in med school, I'd met a boy his age with Asperger's who was an expert on how washing machines worked, so I was aware that it was probably to be expected.
He didn't drum his fingers and dryly ask "well?" like an adult might, but his look clearly telegraphed an expectation that I address his question.
"Well, before they actually made cans for food out of metal, they used to 'can' food in glass jars that were sealed with wax."
"Like candles? Why?"
"Sealing it up keeps bacteria out. Do you know anything about food poisoning?"
"Kings have someone eat some of their food first to see if they die," Rhys said promptly.
Trying not to smile, I wondered what sort of movies he'd seen. "Actually..."
We had managed to put everything back on the shelves just before there was a knock at kitchen door. We had literally just sat down with mugs of cocoa five minutes earlier, and Rhys drained his mug expectantly. Maybe he recognized his father's knock.
"Hey, did you have fun?" Daniel asked, giving his youngest son a quick hug.
Rhys didn't pull away, but I could tell that he didn't really enjoy being hugged. I would have to remember that myself. "We had a lot of fun."
"Really? What did you do?" Daniel asked, giving me a sidelong look. I shrugged.
"Come see," Rhys invited, taking Daniel by the hand. Apparently that level of physical contact was preferable. He pulled Daniel over to the cabinets, and opened several of the doors. "It's all nice and neat now."
"It sure is," Daniel gave me an apologetic look over his shoulder.
I just smiled. If he was worried about me being insulted by Rhys's suggestion that it had been a mess before, he obviously didn't remember what it was like to have a three-month-old baby.
"Rhys was a huge help, and time flew pretty quickly."
The little boy beamed at me, making me feel hopeful for him. Maybe it would be better for him to be here in Ballyguest, living with both parents. As it was, we had spent what had to be close to two hours together, and he hadn't had a single tantrum. That had to mean something positive.
"Thank you, Dana," Daniel said, handing Rhys his coat.
"You're welcome. It was fun."
Daniel gave me a look that said that I didn't have to humor him, but honestly, it actually had turned out to be somewhat entertaining. It had been constructive, and I had gotten to feel like I was on a game show as Rhys peppered me with odd food history questions.
"Maybe your kids can come over and play tomorrow?" I suggested.
"Sure, if they'd like to."
We both waited to see how Rhys would react. And, his response was not to respond at all.
Baby steps, then. He was doing better, at least as far as I could tell, but being home was obviously not a cure. Still, he seemed quite cheerful as he and Daniel left.
After Daniel and Rhys left, it finally occurred to me that I hadn't seen Mulder in quite a while. I went to his office, assuming that he would be in there working on a chapter of his book, but I found the room empty and the monitor to his computer turned off.
I glanced out the window, but his car was there, which I had expected. He didn't often leave the house without telling me, nor did I without telling him. I looked around the house, and had almost made up my mind to look outside when I realized that the cellar door was ajar.
"Mulder?" I called down the stairs.
"Yeah" floated back to me.
It only took a few seconds for me to go down the stairs, but it took much longer to find Mulder. Although most of our essential unpacking had been done a couple of weeks before Autumn was born, a lot of things we didn't immediately need had been stored in the cellar to be dealt with in some mythical later time when we were better able to deal with them, so Mulder was hidden by a labyrinth of boxes and Rubbermaid containers.
Eventually I spotted him near a particularly tall stack of blue bins. He had one open in front of him, and had pulled out papers that I didn't immediately recognize.
"What are you up to?" I asked. It felt like a reasonable question. I honestly wondered if he had been downstairs the entire time I had been looking after Rhys.
"Going through some of my mother's paperwork," he explained, making me realize why I didn't recognize the contents of the box.
"Okay… Why?" I'd known that he'd kept a lot of her things, but I'd assumed that they were things of sentimental value, not papers.
"I've been thinking a lot about what you said. About my mother, I mean. She traveled a lot the last year or so of her life. I used to think that she was seeking treatment for her ailment, but what you said about her possibly knowing about Em- about Leigh, made me wonder."
I waited for him to say what he was wondering about, but he didn't. At least not right away. Picking up a stack of papers, he held them out to me. "Look."
I took them and scan them. At first I didn't understand what they were, but eventually I realized that they were receipts for hotel visits. They weren't for Memory House, but they were for another inn in town. When we had first moved to Ballyguest I wondered how the town managed to support two such places, but that was before I realized that Memory House only attracted a specific clientele. People who weren't hoping to reconnect with their dead children probably opted for this other place.
I looked at him, and he seemed sad. "So far I've found six invoices. You were right. I'm almost certain of it."
"Mulder…" I tried to think of what I could say, but nothing sprung to mind.
"I… I just wish I knew why she didn't tell me." He sighed, sounding like the weight of the world was on him. "I wonder if we showed Lydia a photograph of my mother if she would recognize her."
I almost asked him why he would suggest that, but then I realized what he was getting at. There was almost no chance that Emily had been in Ballyguest while she was being horrifically aged because you don't pick a picturesque town to set up Frankensteinian operations. If his mother had been coming here, it was because she knew that Leigh had been sent here after being…decanted.
This did take some of the air out of my theory that knowing about Emily had pushed Teena over the edge. Clearly it hadn't been the sight of a girl suspended in liquid that had driven her to suicide. Not if she had been here, apparently checking on her granddaughter after she'd been freed from her watery experimentation. This realization made me grateful that I had not shared my thoughts in that direction with Mulder.
"Maybe," I finally agreed when I noticed his look.
He shook his head. "I want to think that her interest in Leigh was a good thing. That she was showing concern for the only grandchild she'd lived to see in her own way. But she never told me that our little girl was still alive. If we had known… I'm not sure I can forgive her for that."
Looking up at him, I finally consciously realized that I wasn't the only one who felt the loss of those years we might have had if Emily had been ours to raise. He was so strong for me so often that I forgot that he'd likely had his own grief about what had happened, even if he didn't share it with me.
"I'm sorry, Mulder," I said at last. "Is it better to know that she knew?"
Mulder wrapped his arms around me. "I don't know," he said honestly.
Somehow, I knew exactly what he meant.
I'd heard the door upstairs opening while Mulder and I were still in the cellar so I wasn't surprised that Joey and William were already taking off their coats by the time we got to the living room. For a moment I was a bit disappointed when I saw them, because they were alone and I thought that Leigh had already left.
But then the door opened and Leigh walked in, Jacoby on her hip. Seeing me, she smiled sheepishly. "Jacoby saw some snow by the edge of the driveway and threw a tantrum until I stopped and let him pick it up."
My blond grandson gave me an angelic look, as if to suggest that I had to understand that his mother was exaggerating his transgression. Looking up at her, he smiled and said, "Down pwease."
"That was very polite," Leigh said approvingly. "Okay."
Jacoby looked thrilled when his feet touched the floor. He immediately toddled over to William and Joey.
"How were they?" I asked Leigh.
Behind us Mulder said he'd get Autumn, who'd woken up and was crying over the baby monitor.
"Great! I think we all had a good time," Leigh shared.
"Fantastic." Turning to the boys I asked. "Did you like the movie?" I didn't actually remember what they'd decided to see.
Joey nodded vigorously. "Uh huh. Alice got big and small and I liked the cat who turned into a smile. The hatter was a little scary, though."
"How about the red queen?" I asked, relieved to figure out what they'd seen.
"I didn't like her," Joey said with a shudder.
Normally William couldn't resist adding his two cents to a discussion like this, but he hadn't said a word. Or at least not to me. Eventually I realized he was saying "Say 'uncle William,' Jacoby. Say it."
"Uncle William," Jacoby eventually mumbled.
Mulder returned with the baby just in time to hear that, and he shot me an amused look I understood. We'd worried so much about how the kids would adjust, but they were having an easier time than us.
"Good! Now say 'Uncle Joey," William encouraged, obviously not wanting his brother left out, either, even if Joey wasn't planning to badger their nephew himself.
Leigh smiled at us. "You know, Aaron and I got to talking about what Jacoby should call the two of you," she said.
"What did you decide?" I asked, feeling shy all of the sudden.
"Well," she said thoughtfully. "He calls Aaron's parents grammy and grampy, and he calls my parents grandma and grandpa. We thought of a few other options, other places' customs and such, but they all sounded kind of silly." This had me imagining being called memaw or grandmere. "So we decided to let Jacoby decide."
"Good," I said softly. I was afraid if I spoke up I'd embarrass myself by making it seem like as big a deal as it was. And it was huge. They wanted for him to acknowledge his biological relationship to us? That felt like... acceptance.
"What did he come up with?" Mulder asked, settling Autumn into her swing.
"We haven't asked him yet. Hey, come here," she told Jacoby, picking him up. He looked up at her, expression comically surprised. "Jacoby, this is my other mommy and daddy, like grandpa and grandma. What are you going to call them?"
"I pick?" Jacoby asked.
Jacoby pointed at me and smiled. "Dana!"
For a moment Leigh looked like she was going to reject the idea but I touched her arm to get her attention. He'd asked my name before, and I'd told him. If he wanted to keep calling me Dana because it made sense to him, I was okay with that.
Leigh obviously understood. "And how about him?" she asked of Mulder.
Jacoby gave this a lot of thought, making me wonder if he was trying to figure out how to say Mulder. Glancing at Mulder, he declared, "Grim!"
"Grim?" Leigh asked doubtfully.
"Grim," Jacoby repeated.
I looked at Mulder to see what he thought. He was smiling. Taking Jacoby from Leigh, he settled him on his hip before saying, "Oh, kid. You and me are going to get along just fine."
Leigh looked both pleased and confused. "Okay, I guess it's settled. Dana and Grim."
"Do you and Aaron want to come over for dinner sometime this week?" Mulder asked Leigh. "I'll make pizza."
"Would Thursday work?" she asked.
"Thursday would be great. Right, Dana?"
"So tell me about your favorite pizza toppings," Mulder was saying.
I checked out of the conversation then. Instead I just watched them. Mulder was holding our grandson, and having an utterly trivial conversation with our oldest daughter. Our daughter. It was all going to be okay. We were all going to be okay.
a/n: The end for now, folks. Later on in this series we'll check in on Doggett and Reyes in a companion tale set in this universe, and here in Ballyguest Mulder and Scully's friends from Maine will stop by with a problem that only our intrepid duo/favorite stalwart parents can help them with.
|Read More Like This||Write One Like This|
|Kid William fics list
Twins + list
Non-Canon Kids list
Big Brother William list
Moving Day Challenge
William's Twin Challenge
One Each Way Challenge
It's Another Boy Challenge
|Neoxphile's Series fics||Neoxphile's Works-In-Progress||Neoxphile's Stand Alone fics|