SUMMARY: He never, ever calls her Scully.
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended on my part. Apologies to Paul Simon for the title and to Christopher Guest for stealing a line from "Best in Show."
WORD COUNT: 2815
DATE POSTED: May 2008
He smells like Ivory soap and bay rum aftershave. He has big, strong arms that hold her tight when the night gets too close. He wears clean gray tee shirts and plaid boxers to bed. He's a basketball fan and yells at the TV when his team scores. He reads magazines on the couch with his glasses on. He cheerfully eats her stir-fries and salads but he'd much rather be eating a big, greasy pizza. He sleeps with his gun in the bedside table, just in case. He wants to hold her hand in public. He blushes a little after he's kissed her.
He never, ever calls her Scully.
He doesn't call her Dana, either.
Sometimes when she's on her way to work she has to remind herself that her name isn't Dana, her name is Cynthia. She practices it at red lights. "My name is Cynthia," she says with a grimace. "Cynthia Ellingson." She hasn't been Dana Scully in a long time.
Four years of college, four years of medical school, two years of residency and she's a waitress. She's service with a smile, can I take your order sir, is there anything else I can get you. She's all efficiency during her shift, white shirt and black tie, gliding between the tables with trays of osso bucco and tiramisu. In the break room, she counts out her tip money and stuffs it in her pocket. She doesn't have to think when she's out on the floor, filling water glasses and recommending the special of the day.
She doesn't always recognize herself in the mirror. Cynthia is too thin, bordering on gaunt; she doesn't eat enough and probably drinks too much. She has long, dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She wears glasses and red lipstick. On her days off she wears jeans and sweaters, tennis shoes. Cynthia doesn't own any suits or high heels.
She wonders if he's looking for her. She mostly hopes that he's not. He's spent his whole life having to look for somebody.
After a few weeks of working at the restaurant, she'd gotten into the habit of going for a drink at Freddy's Lounge across the street. Sometimes it was with a whole gang from the restaurant, sometimes alone. She'd order just one gin and tonic, sometimes two, and ask for extra limes. Soon enough, the bartender knew to put the extra limes in without her asking. He was a big man. Solid, safe-looking. One night he told her that his name was Mike. She liked the name for its simplicity. Mike. A name without any history attached to it.
He'd been a fireman until he hurt his back during a four-alarm fire at a warehouse. Now he tends bar three nights a week, collects disability checks, walks his dog and reads a lot. He'd been married a long time ago, but his wife had left him for another man. His eyes were as blue as her own, surrounded by inky lashes. He had a dimple in his cheek. She liked his gruff voice, his Providence accent sounding like a combination of Boston and Brooklyn to her ears.
They got drunk together that night after he got off work, passing a pint of Wild Turkey back and forth while sitting on his front stoop in the August evening heat. She touched his hand, feeling the calluses hard into the skin. He kissed her at half past three.
Her apartment is a small studio in an old brick building. She has done very little to make it a home. It came furnished with beige carpeting, a brown and beige sofa bed, a brown armchair. Her clothes don't even take up two drawers of the scarred laminate dresser. The kitchen smells of nothing but bananas going brown and stale coffee. The refrigerator holds water, wine, a jar of Dijon mustard and cream for coffee. She considers a Christmas tree, something small to put in the window, and decides it's not worth the bother.
Mike rarely comes over to her place. The bed isn't comfortable and her secondhand TV doesn't have cable.
She practices selective amnesia when she can get away with it. It's no use thinking about it. Her mother used to tell her, "You made your bed, now lie in it."
A rainy New England morning, Dunkin' Donuts in bed, and he strokes her arm, her eyebrows, her breasts. He touches her belly. "What happened here?" he asks. The puckered memento of gunfire.
"It was a long time ago," she says.
"Someone got you good, didn't they?"
"They did." Poor, stupid Agent Ritter. She wonders where he is now.
His finger traces the stretch marks on her belly, the telltale silvery striations. "And this?"
"It was a long time ago," she says.
Instead of asking her anything else, he kisses her, long and slow. Mike is good at not asking too many questions. She likes that about him.
She has two photographs, hidden in one of the suitcases in the closet. She doesn't look at them much, but she likes knowing they're there, just in case.
The baby is laughing, holding his arms out to his mother. His eyes are crinkling at some private joke she's since forgotten.
And Mulder, oh Mulder, a picture from a faraway crime scene in a western state, his trench coat flapping in the wind, hair blowing across his forehead. He's looking at something beyond the horizon. That's Mulder, always searching.
It was a short note, the one she left on the kitchen counter between the coffee cups from that morning and the box of shredded wheat.
I'm fine, I'm safe, nothing terrible has happened, but I can't be here right now.
And she got in the car and drove. A thousand times she considered turning right back around but she kept her foot firmly on the gas pedal. The car pointed her east until she reached Providence. She chose the city purely based its name. According to the dictionary, it meant "the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth." She thought she could use a little of that.
Mike goes to Mass with her some Sundays. He's the product of twelve years of Catholic school, the oldest of seven in an Irish-Italian family. They talk about the nuns and their dreaded rulers, about guitar masses in the 70's, awful polyester uniforms and spaghetti dinners in church basements. Every Sunday his family gathers for dinner together at his parents' house. She's made a thousand excuses for why she can't come and he's stopped asking. It's one thing to lie to Mike, but his whole family is quite another. She doesn't want them to get used to her. Any minute, she could be gone.
She wonders if their pictures are still hanging in post offices.
He calls her his angel, his princess. She laughs and pushes him away. She's not used to pet names.
He never says he loves her. She's glad of that.
The first time they had sex, everything was so different, the way he moved against her, the sounds he made when he came, that she almost broke down and cried.
From time to time, late at night after she's one glass of wine too many, she calls their old phone number, with the Caller ID blocked. She holds her breath, waiting for the message to say the line has been disconnected. Instead, the phone picks up on the third ring; the voice mail message is her own voice. "Mark and Claire can't come to the phone right now. Please leave us a message at the tone." She always hangs up before the beep. Mulder never answers.
She tells him stories that aren't far from the truth. Cynthia was a military brat, grew up all over the country. She has two brothers. Her father is dead and she doesn't talk to her mother much, although she loves her very much. For a long time she was a nurse but the stress got to her and now she's taking a break and trying to figure out what she wants to do next. She was married for a while, but it didn't work out. They loved each other but there was just too much baggage. So she moved to Providence for a fresh start.
Occasionally she misses the thrill of the chase, the exhilaration of a new case, the fun of arguing about it with Mulder late night at some diner in Arkansas over pie and weak coffee. She misses motel rooms and boarding passes. She misses "Joy to the World" in a cold Florida forest. She misses the way he'd unbutton her blouse with deft fingers, his smile spreading across his face.
It got so quiet in the end. There didn't seem to be anything left to say.
One morning she woke up and found she was in Spokane. It was the fourth city in two years, third set of ID. Her name was Claire Beaumont then. Her hair was pale blonde, falling to her shoulders. It didn't suit her.
So much lay thick and heavy between them. The never talked about it, never said his name. William. They could not talk about him for hours.
The silence built up to a scream in her head, the two of them lying oceans apart in a double bed, pretending to sleep.
At the end of the note, she wrote, I love you and I always will.
She's sure she wasn't lying about that.
They're at the supermarket, a crowded Saturday just before Christmas. Little Drummer Boy plays over the speakers and there's fake holly everywhere. People keep crashing into her, their shopping carts piled high with holiday delicacies.
She turns her head to see a baby sitting in the cart. Round blue eyes and a bow-shaped mouth. Flaxen hair just beginning to curl.
She wants to reach out and touch the baby's soft head, feel the feathery hairs under her fingers.
The baby gives her a toothless grin, drool hanging off his chin in a thin thread.
William is four now. He's probably in preschool. He walks and talks and laughs. At night another woman reads him his bedtime stories. She wonders if he likes "Goodnight Moon" and if he's old enough for "Where the Wild Things Are" yet. She had a stack of books for him. "Curious George," "A Snowy Day," "The Cat in the Hat."
The baby's father returns to her cart with a turkey. "How old is he?" she asks him.
"He's nine months old," the father says, smiling, brushing something invisible from his son's cheek.
"Cynthia," she hears a voice say from the meat counter.
Oh. Nine months. Just like William was.
She clears her throat and tells the man his son is beautiful.
"Cynthia!" she hears again, louder this time. "Cyn!"
She whips her head around to the sound of Mike's voice. He's holding up a pork tenderloin for her approval.
For a minute, she'd forgotten all about Cynthia.
Alone at night when Mike is working, or out with friends or just spending the evening at his own place, she can be Dana again, sometimes even Scully. She reads medical journals to keep her brain in tune. She scrubs her tiny apartment from top to bottom. She makes tea and pretends to be interested in public television. She lights scented candles because her apartment smells dusty and unloved.
The trouble is, sometimes Dana remembers. Scully definitely remembers everything. She's so methodical.
Dana wants to weep for her baby. She wants her mother's soft arms around her. She wants Mulder. She wants to be on a boring stakeout with him, the radio humming classic rock, Mulder crunching on sunflower seeds and telling her some tall tale about Himalayan snow monsters. Or in bed with him, back at his Alexandria apartment, listening to his sleep breathing and the bubbling of the aquarium in the living room, feeling like nothing can come and hurt them in this particular moment.
Scully tells her she's made a terrible mistake, which makes her laugh since she's made so many mistakes, how can you pick just one out of the bunch of them?
On a Sunday morning she walks along the Providence River as the sun comes up. It's too early even for Mass, and Mike is still snoring in his bed. It's cold January and she burrows her gloved hands deep in the pockets of her coat.
Slow down and pay attention, she says to herself. It's a lesson she learned a long time ago.
For a long time, she's been running, not just from the proverbial long arm of the law, but from herself. From Mulder. From the painful truths they share.
She stops and watches the frozen river. Not long after she arrived, she walked down to the river one night to find it magically set afire, seemingly all of Providence crowding the banks to watch the flames reflected on the river water.
No matter which way you twist it, she's still Dana Scully. Cynthia Ellingson doesn't exist. She's a name on a driver's license, a fake birth certificate, a Social Security number that belongs to a child that died too young. She's only paper.
Her breath comes out in white puffs as she continues along the river. She wants coffee and a hot bath, but she needs to finish thinking first.
Cynthia wasn't a pathologist, she wasn't a Special Agent with the FBI, she didn't have a partner named Fox Mulder. She wasn't abducted. She didn't have cancer. She didn't lose a little girl named Emily before she really knew her. She didn't shoot and kill a man. She didn't have a baby boy named William. She never loved her partner and he never loved her. Cynthia isn't a fugitive.
But Dana Scully lived that life and she can no longer run from her history, whatever that means.
Her mother also used to say, "It's time to face the music."
Maybe they're ready to start talking.
She's ready to stop running. She wonders if Mulder is, too.
When she gets home, she makes a pot of coffee and rubs her toes to warm them. She picks up the phone and dials the old number, her stomach lurching as she listens to it ring. This time she is sure she'll get the disconnect message. It's been nine months; surely he's moved on to a new identity, a new town.
He picks up on the second ring, his voice froggy from sleep. "Hello?" he says.
She holds her breath.
"Hello, who is this?" The voice has become more alert now and she imagines she can hear Mulder's heartbeat.
"Is it you?" he says, his voice rising on the word "you." "Is it--"
She hangs up the phone, hands shaking. It takes her a long time to catch her breath.
The church is old, with faded stained glass windows. It has witnessed thousands upon thousands of baptisms, funerals, weddings and confessions. She's been going to Mass on a semi-regular basis since she arrived in Providence, but mostly as a spectator, simply letting the music and the words wash over her.
This morning she kneels in a pew at the back of the church and bows her head. She humbly asks her God for his forgiveness and the strength for what lies ahead.
At the end of the service, Father Daulton says, "Mass is ended. You may go in peace" She blinks away tears, hoping he's right.
It doesn't take long to pack. Everything she owns fits easily into two suitcases. Before she shuts the door for the last time, she wipes the place clean of fingerprints. She gets a money order for the next month's rent and mails it to the landlord. Then she drives over to Mike's house. His car isn't in the driveway; he's at his parents' already.
All Mike wants is a nice woman to watch basketball with, a woman who will come to dinner at his family's house and bring a cake, a woman who likes sex first thing in the morning, a woman to laugh at his terrible jokes. She wishes she could still be that woman.
The letter she slides under the front door is longer than the one she left for Mulder. She tells him that she's tired of running away from her life. Finally, she can tell him the truth.
She gets in the car and drives. She keeps her foot firmly on the gas pedal. The car points her west.