Zuzu's Petals - Part 3
many different meanings to so many different people, and as people grow older
and experience life the meaning of Christmas can change. Christmas: the
celebration of Christ's birth, a time of gathering in friendship, or a time to
be endured for the less fortunate.
been fortunate enough to experience the childhood euphoria of many Christmas
mornings with her sister and brothers, even several when her father had been
home from the sea for the holidays. Yet, as she grew older Christmas had become
a harried event, shaded with depression as familiar faces disappeared from the
family gatherings. But somehow, after everything the family had been through,
Scully's mother kept the warmth and good feelings alive at Christmas. Perhaps
it was the infusion of new life with Charlie and Evelyn's brood, and the
appreciation for what joy did remain.
followed and watched as her mother moved about the house, seeing how she glowed
just straightening after her guests, not fussing but rather primping her home,
making everything just so and making sure everyone was happy.
thought you were going to have help again this year. Didn't you call a
service?" Scully asked.
going to, but it seemed so impersonal to have strangers in the house,"
Maggie answered as she carefully surveyed the buffet arrangement, "I just
wanted this to be family and friends."
hesitated. "Oh, look," she said, sounding surprised as she came to
the crystal punch bowl sitting among the buffet offerings. "Dana, would
you mind? There's more in the kitchen."
Scully set her
wine glass down and almost eagerly took up the punch bowl. Finally, she had a
justifiable reason to go check on Skinner without appearing obvious. He'd been
led into the kitchen with Bill's offer of beer lingering in hall after them
nearly an hour ago and Scully was more than just a bit curious about what was
going on in there.
seemed to have become an impromptu assembly center as guests came and went or
stayed and talked a while before drifting back out to the living room with
refreshed drinks. Charlie, in his self- appointed position as bartender had
gathered a small crowd of which Bill and Skinner had become a part. The current
topic of conversation among this small group was football, or sports in
general, as far as Scully could tell when she came in.
Bill, along with several others, hovered around the kitchen island, beers in
hand and potato chips in a salad bowl. Charlie kept the discussion going while
making drinks, managing to stay on track even with the interruptions.
and Maggie entered the kitchen Skinner's attention was suddenly divided; he
glanced Scully's way and looked as if he might speak to her, but he was drawn
back into the armchair huddle by Bill, who was obviously still upset over the
Rams move from LA. "The city doesn't have a team-- how can a major city
not have a football team?"
lots of major cities that don't have teams," Charlie groaned and Scully
got the sense that this was topic that had outlived itself.
several glances at Skinner while the others chimed in their color commentary.
He seemed relaxed enough, she thought, and there was certainly nothing wrong
with how he was dressed. He'd tried to beg off from Maggie insistent invitation
for him to join her party for the sake of his attire, but no one seemed to take
offense to the jeans and sneakers, nor the basic white knit shirt. Scully knew
Skinner had probably thrown on the first thing, not expecting to be invited in,
or perhaps was wearing what he considered clothes for lounging around in, but
no one else knew, and no one else seemed to notice how particularly handsome
the man looked--
I've already got the eggnog prepared," Maggie said, tearing Scully from
her thoughts. Blinking rapidly, she turned to her mother, hoping she hadn't
been staring, and hoping even more so that if she had been, Skinner hadn't
have to stir it up, the rum has gone to the bottom." Maggie hesitated, the
pitcher of eggnog in her hand. She frowned at her daughter. "What's the
fidgeted. "Nothing? Why?" she asked, hearing her voice go up an
octave and immediately began to wonder if she should have started that third
glass of wine.
a brow as her gaze shifted between Scully and Skinner for an instant. "You
looked a little distracted," she answered and smiled as she handed Scully
the pitcher of eggnog, "that's all."
and stirred, and Maggie scooted off, straightening as she went, humorously
scolding her sons for eating plain chips while there was a buffet to be eaten
before she left the kitchen.
thought you said your mother always gets a service."
Scully all but
jumped at the sudden sound of Skinner's voice. Looking around, she found him
beside her and extending his beer to her. She took it and instantly questioned
her readiness to accept this offering, only to realize he was freeing his hands
to take the punch bowl for her.
she hesitated, still taken a back some as he gestured for her to go toward the
kitchen door, "not this year. She wanted it to be strictly friends and
and glanced at her, a flash of self-consciousness in eyes. Scully wondered what
he was thinking just then; did he wonder what he was doing there, or if he was
surprised to be considered a friend of the family?
nothing, and started for the door again and was forced to stop to let other
guests pass through the door.
this go anyway?" he asked, glancing back over his shoulder at Scully.
dining room," Scully said and grinned, knowing he just wanted to get out
of the kitchen.
two," Charlie suddenly called after them, “Dana! Walter!” When Scully and
Skinner stopped and turned, Charlie grinned and pointed at something above
their heads, "Ho ho ho."
They looked up
to see a sprig of mistletoe attached to the door jamb above them.
Why in the
world would they put it there? Scully distractedly pondered a second as her
gaze drifted downward and locked with Skinner's-- this was when the reality of
the situation hit her.
ho, the mistletoe hung where you can't see," Charlie chortled lyrics as if
answering his sister's thought.
Scully looked away from each other, searching for anything to look at but one
on," Charlie and the others began to prod while Bill looked on with a beer
uh," Scully shook her head, refusing her brother's goading.
around stopped to look and suddenly found it necessary to join in, and Scully
and Skinner suddenly found themselves blocked from a nonchalant retreat and the
focus of unwanted attention.
the matter? What's happened?" Maggie asked, coming back in from the living
room. She glanced around, confounded by what all the fuss was about until she
came to Scully and Skinner.
no," Maggie said and covered her mouth a second, then, "no, now leave
it's tradition," someone declared, and others agreed boisterously.
embarrassment, wine and vexation at her brother, Scully was ready to shove her
way past those blocking the door to the hall, when she heard a hiss escape
Skinner. That was a sound she'd come to know as the telltale sign of agitation.
She looked up and before she could take a reading of his demeanor she'd been
pecked on the cheek-- so close to her lips she knew it would pass for gold to
of cheers went out, and suddenly their path was cleared-- the kitchen door was
even held open by a rosy cheeked Father McCue.
With eggnog on
the brink of sloshing from the punch bowl, Skinner headed into the dining room.
He stopped to survey the area and once Scully wordlessly pointed to a bare spot
among the finger foods, he freed himself of the bowl.
his beer back, and Scully reclaimed her wine glass from the table, and unison
they choked back a gulp. The two stood in silence, refusing to look at one
another for an unbearably long instance until finally, "Sorry
about--" they broke off at once and stared dumbfounded at each other.
his eyes away, glancing around the room. "I should go," he said,
sounding doubtful of his own statement.
her mouth to protest but shut it quickly and tightly, only nodding a rueful
agreement. She would have liked him to stay longer, but could tell he wasn't
feeling comfortable and especially after what just happened. She cringed
inwardly, mortified for herself and Skinner.
Bill appeared at the dining room entrance, a beer in each hand. "Hope my
brother's sense of humor won't be chasing you off," he said, offering
Skinner one of the beers.
the beer a second before finally reaching for it. "Uh, no," he
replied, and Scully knew it was a polite lie, "not at all."
glad to hear you aren't going yet. It's, uh," he paused for a second, and
glanced around the room before he nodded assured to himself, saying to Skinner,
"It's good to have some fresh conversation around here." He tipped
his beer bottle as if in salute and winked at his sister. "You two talk--
have some of Mom's pie."
frowned, and as she watched Bill saunter off, she mouthed his last words to
herself, mystified. The sense of mutual regard that existed between Skinner and
Bill was obvious to Scully, but Bill seemed to be acting-- He acted as if he
thought her and... Nonsense.
to Skinner who was looking thoughtfully between the two beer bottles in his
hands, as if contemplating whether or not to finish them or dismiss them
entirely. Scully dipped her chin to catch his gaze, when their eyes met she
arched a brow and asked, "You want some pie?"
brows shot up out of the deep crease in an almost comical expression of
surprise. Scully smiled, bemused by his reaction, and before she realized it
Skinner was smiling, too.
His whole face
lit up with a devastating smile that left no trace of his former self and took
Scully aback. He shook his head and his smile turned to a low chuckle, and
Scully began to laugh with him.
she asked, half laughing.
nodded, his laugh tapering. "Sure, why not?" he managed, still not
fully done with his amusement.
laughter still rippling through them like a case of the hiccups, Scully and
Skinner helped themselves to the buffet, exchanging a quiet repartee unmindful
of the attention they were drawing and would continue to as they drifted
together through the rest of the party.
had burned, and the tables had been cleared of meals, and the hour had grown
late. Maggie Scully's holiday party was waning in its energy; the guests were
thinning in their numbers, and the talk was beginning to grow quiet over coffee
and move into more intimate settings of conversation throughout the lower half
of the house, while little ones slept upstairs.
If it hadn't
been for Scully's brothers and their friends, still carrying on with only
slightly less vigor than they had started, Skinner would have felt completely
intimidated to walk through the now sedate house. In spite of the sound of the
hardy laughter rumbling out of the kitchen, to Skinner's own ear his foot falls
seemed to carry like the beat of a drum over the hardwood floor, and his weight
enhanced every creek and squeak there was to be found down the hall.
Going for his
parka, Skinner kept an eye peeled for any sign of Scully, but the chance to say
good night was looking slim as he reached the front closet without seeing her.
She'd disappeared with her mother and sister-in-law, where he didn't know for
certain, but for how long-- it had seemed like an eternity.
didn't see me creep down the stairs to have a peep.
She thought I was tucked up in my bedroom fast asleep..."
The old song
playing in the living room tickled the periphery of Skinner's awareness as he
heard a creaking from upstairs. He stopped at the closet to look up, wondering
if Scully was up there. Her and her mother, tucking the kids in. Should he
wait? Say good night and say thanks, and...
It was late,
Skinner was tired and needed to call a cab. Keeping up with the Scully boys
obviously required more bar time than Skinner had put in since college. He
could thank Scully and her mother another time.
call to the cab company, he pulled his coat from the closet, Skinner hesitated
For the first
time in a long time, he'd actually enjoyed himself and the company of others.
Scully and her family, their friends and neighbors, everyone had been happy and
enjoying the simplest of pleasures, and Skinner had been invited in and made to
feel more welcomed than he could ever remember feeling anywhere, even his own
thoughts recoiled as the kitchen door swung open and laughter tumbled out.
Seeing Bill coming into the hall, eyeing him curiously, Skinner knew he better
make a good show of his intent to leave.
you're finally leaving for real this time?" Bill questioned half
shrugged on his parka, nodding. "Don't want to wear out my welcome,"
he replied, adjusting his cuffs, and looking for his gloves.
do it if you tried," Bill said and grinned that big offish grin that made
him look akin to Gary Busey. He glanced around, craning his neck to check the
living room and then the dining room. "Does Dana know you're
Skinner reluctantly answered, then followed quickly, "tell her good night
for me, and thank your mother."
problem," Bill drew out the phrase, and it was the first sign he'd shown
all night that maybe the alcohol was starting to affect him. "You okay to
drive?" he asked, his slur becoming more pronounced.
stopped at the door, and turned, trying not to smile. "I’m getting a cab. Are
you staying here tonight?"
his head dramatically and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Not to
worry, I won't be driving anywhere tonight."
Giving a last
thoughtful glance, Skinner smiled courteously to Bill Scully, then left the
his time going down the walk, finding a peaceful joy in tranquil stillness of
the night, despite the cold. He hesitated to give the yard a slow sweeping
glance, wondering if it was the cold still air that gave the thousands of tiny
white Christmas lights their particularly crisp glow or was it merely the
alcohol he'd imbibed? Was it that lights always looked this nice-- Nice? He
wasn't a man to stop and admire Christmas lights, let alone refer to them as nice.
Deciding he'd drank
too much rather than believing he'd been bitten by the Christmas spirit,
Skinner was about to round the corner of the garage when he heard the front
door come open, then heard, "sir?"
Skinner saw Scully hurrying down the steps after him, carrying something
covered in foil. He frowned at the sight of her without a coat yet again.
"Sorry, I was upstairs..." she called, coming down the walk. “Bill
said you'd just left," she explained, a little breathless as she caught up
to him, "I didn't think you could have gotten far."
you ever wear a coat?" he asked her, the scorn barely coming through. Coat
or no coat, he was glad to see her before he left.
you ever wear a hat?" she countered his question with her own and grinned
as she pulled his ballcap from behind her back. "You forgot this.” She
chortled, stretching to place the cap on his head. She looked at him, and
pouted seeing that the hat was all askew, “Oh no.”
She reached up
again to straighten it, but he shook his head and did so himself. “I got it.”
He considered her, she’d definitely had as much to drink as he had. “You’re
staying here tonight, not going anywhere?”
“Nope – I
mean, yes.” She stopped herself, thinking. “I’m staying here, yes.”
probably a good choice.”
stay, too. There’s lots of room.” She eagerly offered obligingly.
his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Agent Scully.”
glum. “Yeah, you’re right.”
He asked pointing at the foil covered plate in her hand.
She smiled and
held out the foil covered plate. "You forgot this?"
What is it?" he asked, scanning it curiously as he took it.
mother put a plate of goodies together for you to take home. Cookies and...
pecan pie," Scully said melodiously and laughed.
laugh rippled through the air, the wraith of her breath lingering between them.
Skinner looked at her, a slow smile touching his lips.
Scully took a breath
and seemed to sober a little. "That's twice," she softly declared.
blinked, then frowned. "Twice what?" he asked, confused.
one night I've seen you smile," she replied, her eyes smoldering with a
warmth that unnerved Skinner a little. "I don't think I've ever seen you
hesitation, his gaze dropped from hers. He thumbed the foil along one edge of
the plate and swallowed hard against the suddenly lump in his throat.
"It's been nice," he said quietly and lifted his head, flicking his
gaze around apprehensively. "I had a nice time..." Skinner's voice
drifted, then he chuckled in disbelief at what he saw in the tree.
brother put this up, too?" Skinner asked Scully before she could finish
the question, directing her attention at the clusters of mistletoe above them.
she laughed, "I think that's natural."
They looked at
it for a moment, then at one another.
still count?" Skinner asked, curious and feeling a little too sly for his
her mouth, her eyes widening with a thin veil of innocence. "I
suppose," she answered.
stretched between them for too long, and Skinner lost his nerve.
Self-consciously, he looked away from Scully's expectant stare, and studied the
plate in his hands again. "Thank your mother for me," he said, ready for
that cab to show up now – he really needed it to show up.
corner of his eye, Skinner saw Scully nod and cross her arms over her chest.
"I will," she said quietly, the good humor was gone from her tone.
her a furtive glance, taking a step away. "I’ll, uh, just go wait for the
cab.” He muttered as he slowly started toward the street. “Good night,
night, sir," Scully's voice was almost a whisper now.
steps slowed as he pondered the consequences, and glanced back at the tree,
then at Scully. "You shouldn't break tradition," he said, then looked
at her. "Should you?"
with her arms still crossed over herself, Scully shook her head. “Never.”
what I thought," he grumbled, and started straight back to her in a fluid
motion that seemed to startle her.
Scully let her
arms drop to her sides as he leaned in, his lips brushing hers, feeling them
cold and moist against his. Quick, fast, chaste; it was a whisper of a touch.
Skinner didn't think he needed any more than what he stole, but when he drew away,
he knew a person couldn't steal what was given as a gift. Scully looked up at
him, her eyes misty and sparkling in the Christmas lights adorning the yard.
hammering foolishly, Skinner swooped down, kissing her fully. His touch no
longer modest or restrained, but urgent and aflame. He was thrilled when he
felt her arms come around his neck and her body crushing against his. She smelt
warm and wonderful and romantic-- cinnamon and perfume and-- Forgetting the
plate in his hand, Skinner embraced her, pulling her in tight, and only then
becoming aware of the plate that had gone on its edge between them.
down the walk to them as someone opened the front door of the house. Soft
laughter and music tugged at Scully and Skinner's awareness, bringing them back
to a better sense. They parted in a soft gasp of surprise, their mouths moist
and hot from their pleasant massage.
They stared at
one another, unable to look away even as voices came from the house as though a
threat of people would follow down the walk.
finally flicked his gaze toward the house, a tinge of distracted irritation
tugging at his mouth. Scully, too, half turned to look back. Whoever had come
out had now gone back in, leaving a puff of smoke lingering on the porch behind
aware of the plate in his hand and looked down, seeing the once poofed foil now
crushed over the form of whatever lie beneath it. "I think I crushed my
pie," he said, and his voice was husky to his ears.
back to him, her eyes drifting over him dream-like until she found the plate in
his hands. She blinked at it a second and then grinned. "That's the least
of it," she quipped softly and looked up at him again.
his brows, snuffling against the effects of the cold night air. He made a
humphing sound to himself, bemused and still slightly dazed.
them said anything or did anything-- what was there to be said or done?
silence had lingered too long, Skinner reached up and caressed Scully's hair,
letting it run through his fingers slowly as he studied her thoughtfully. She
shivered, and although some part of him wanted to believe it was due to his
touch, he knew she was freezing.
his selfishness, Skinner stole one last touch of her body by letting his hand
roam down the soft curve of her shoulder then down over her arm. "You’re
cold," he said quietly, and swallowed hard before continuing, "you
should go back inside."
A car horn
beeped from the street drawing their attention. His cab had just pulled up to
turned back to Scully, something indiscernible passed through her eyes as she
nodded, agreeing with obvious difficulty. She wrapped her arms around herself
once again, and said, "good night." Then let her gaze drop from his
as she started to turn.
Her name passed his lips with an ease that gave him pause, and when she turned
back to Skinner at the sound of her name, he was even more taken as her eyes
alone betrayed her reignited anticipation.
nothing, he didn't know what to say now that he had her attention again--
Something important-- Something momentous! Wasn't this the time for that sort
of thing? His mouth came open, then went tight.
She stared back
at him for a moment, her expression growing more curious until she finally
asked, "would you like me to get my coat?"
his mouth, taking a quick breath-- Yes! He started to say, but "No,"
the word dropped out of his mouth like a lump of coal, and stammered on
recovery, "uh, no. My cab is here."
cleared of all emotion, her gaze growing flat as she watched him.
tortured, Skinner looked away from her. "Be careful next week," he
grunted, frustrated with his inability to form thoughts or sentences.
will," she answered and turned to walk away again.
certain guilt and self-pity, Skinner glanced down at the once poofy foil
covered plate in hand and turned to go.
call you," Scully's voice came back down the path to him.
Her words spun
him on his heel, and when Skinner looked back, he found Scully smiling back at
him from the front porch. His pulse went racing as she broadened the smile and
wriggled her fingers in a demure wave. "Good night, again," she said
and disappeared into the house.
motionless, staring back at the vacant porch in an overwhelmed daze while a dog
began to bark in the distance.
“You call a
to the cab at the curb, looking at the driver staring back at him from the open
passengers side window.
unfortunately, I did.”
~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~
To be continued...
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