Zuzu's Petals - Part 3




Zuzu's Petals - Part 3
by PR

Christmas has 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.

Scully had 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.

Scully 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.

"Mom, I thought you were going to have help again this year. Didn't you call a service?" Scully asked.

"I was 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."

Maggie 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.

The kitchen 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.

Skinner and 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.

When Scully 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?"

"There's lots of major cities that don't have teams," Charlie groaned and Scully got the sense that this was topic that had outlived itself.

Scully stole 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--

"Dana, 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 noticed.

"We'll 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 matter, Dana?"

Scully 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.

Maggie arched 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."

Scully poured 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.

"I 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.

"Not," 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 family."

Skinner paused 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?

He said nothing, and started for the door again and was forced to stop to let other guests pass through the door.

"Where's this go anyway?" he asked, glancing back over his shoulder at Scully.

"Front dining room," Scully said and grinned, knowing he just wanted to get out of the kitchen.

"Hey, you 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 ho ho, the mistletoe hung where you can't see," Charlie chortled lyrics as if answering his sister's thought.

Skinner and Scully looked away from each other, searching for anything to look at but one another.

"Come on," Charlie and the others began to prod while Bill looked on with a beer tinted grin.

"Uh uh," Scully shook her head, refusing her brother's goading.

Others mulling 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.

"What's 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.

"Oh, no," Maggie said and covered her mouth a second, then, "no, now leave them alone."

"Come on, it's tradition," someone declared, and others agreed boisterously.

Flushed by 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 their audience.

A smattering 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.

Skinner took 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.

Skinner darted his eyes away, glancing around the room. "I should go," he said, sounding doubtful of his own statement.

Scully opened 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.

"Walter?" 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.

Skinner eyed the beer a second before finally reaching for it. "Uh, no," he replied, and Scully knew it was a polite lie, "not at all."

"Good, 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."

Scully 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.

Scully turned 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?"

Skinner's 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.

"Well?" she asked, half laughing.

Skinner nodded, his laugh tapering. "Sure, why not?" he managed, still not fully done with his amusement.

With the 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.

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

The candles 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.

"...she 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.

Finishing the call to the cab company, he pulled his coat from the closet, Skinner hesitated in thought.

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 home.

Skinner's 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.

"So, you're finally leaving for real this time?" Bill questioned half seriously.

Skinner shrugged on his parka, nodding. "Don't want to wear out my welcome," he replied, adjusting his cuffs, and looking for his gloves.

"Couldn't 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 leaving?"

"No," Skinner reluctantly answered, then followed quickly, "tell her good night for me, and thank your mother."

"No 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.

Skinner stopped at the door, and turned, trying not to smile. "I’m getting a cab. Are you staying here tonight?"

Bill bucked 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 house.

Skinner took 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?"

Turning 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."

"Don't 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.

"Don't 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.”

“All right, probably a good choice.”

“You could stay, too. There’s lots of room.” She eagerly offered obligingly.

Skinner shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Agent Scully.”

She nodded, glum. “Yeah, you’re right.”

“What’s that?” He asked pointing at the foil covered plate in her hand.

She smiled and held out the foil covered plate. "You forgot this?"

"I did? What is it?" he asked, scanning it curiously as he took it.

"My mother put a plate of goodies together for you to take home. Cookies and... pecan pie," Scully said melodiously and laughed.

Her gentle 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.

Skinner blinked, then frowned. "Twice what?" he asked, confused.

"Twice in 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 really smile."

Without 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.

"What--?"

"Did your brother put this up, too?" Skinner asked Scully before she could finish the question, directing her attention at the clusters of mistletoe above them.

"No," she laughed, "I think that's natural."

They looked at it for a moment, then at one another.

"Does it still count?" Skinner asked, curious and feeling a little too sly for his own comfort.

Scully pursed her mouth, her eyes widening with a thin veil of innocence. "I suppose," she answered.

Silence 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.

From the 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.

Skinner gave 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, Scully."

"Good night, sir," Scully's voice was almost a whisper now.

Skinner's 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?"

Wordless and with her arms still crossed over herself, Scully shook her head. “Never.”

"That's 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.

His heart 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.

Sound poured 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.

Skinner 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 them.

Skinner became 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.

Scully turned 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.

Skinner lifted his brows, snuffling against the effects of the cold night air. He made a humphing sound to himself, bemused and still slightly dazed.

Neither of them said anything or did anything-- what was there to be said or done?

When the 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.

Recognizing 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 the curb.

When Skinner 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.

"Dana?" 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.

Skinner said 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?"

Skinner opened 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."

Scully face cleared of all emotion, her gaze growing flat as she watched him.

Feeling tortured, Skinner looked away from her. "Be careful next week," he grunted, frustrated with his inability to form thoughts or sentences.

"I will," she answered and turned to walk away again.

Feeling a certain guilt and self-pity, Skinner glanced down at the once poofy foil covered plate in hand and turned to go.

"I'll 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.

Skinner stood motionless, staring back at the vacant porch in an overwhelmed daze while a dog began to bark in the distance.

“You call a cab, mister?”

Skinner turned to the cab at the curb, looking at the driver staring back at him from the open passengers side window.

“Yes, unfortunately, I did.”

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~


To be continued...

Comments welcome at prchung18@gmail.com

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