Title: Fireworks at Falls River, Every Fourth of July
Fandom: The X-Files
Warning: No spoilers
Summary: “I’ve always wanted to show you something magical.”
Notes: Written for a Scullyfic improv. Elements are at the end.
“What’s going on here?” Mulder said when he stepped into the office. It contained more people than had been in it the last seven years combined, and Scully rose from the computer and came to him. Something buzzed by his face and he waved it away impatiently. “Scully?”
“We appear to be infested with ladybugs,” she said, brushing an insect from her jacket. “Custodial wants to fumigate but the exterminator wants to capture as many of them as possible with a bug wrangler first.”
She said this as if it should make perfect sense, and he said, “Ah,” as if it did.
“The bug wrangler will be in today and they’ll fumigate the rest starting tomorrow . . .” She batted away another bug. “Which means we’ll be back in the office Thursday, at the earliest. Of course with the holiday it doesn’t matter much.”
“Wonderful.” He stepped aside to let an exterminator in a white jumpsuit pass by.
“So grab whatever you want to work on over vacation and I’ll see you Thursday.”
“Thursday?” he said, and then stopped himself, remembering they were not alone. It was too easy to get wrapped in their world of two. “A nice long holiday weekend,” he said, and the exterminator nearest him glanced at him and faintly smiled.
Mulder looked around the office a moment, trying to decide what to do. He had no intention of working over this weekend anyway, and now with the extra gift of today he was even less inclined to do so. But Scully, as if she expected to be bored in the days to come, went on downloading files onto floppy disks and glancing through manila folders.
“It’s only five days,” he said as he moved towards her side to see what files she had chosen.
“You never know when inspiration will strike.”
He leaned over her shoulder and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. She glanced at up him, her face stony with warning. It was email, their email to each other, the ones that always started out so innocently and quickly descended into things like “I can taste you right now” and “I want to feel your skin under my lips” and so on.
She grabbed one of his notepads and scribbled quickly, underlined it, and shoved the pad under his nose. *How many times must I tell you not to keep these?*
“I’ll take your advice under consideration,” he said, earning another glare, but the custodial crew barely noticed, they were so busy with sealing off the room.
He decided the illusion of work would be a wise choice. He selected two books he’d read partway through and put them into his briefcase, pulled a few files from the cabinet and tucked them away as well. Maybe he would have time to read.
He hoped not.
He said, “Well, I think that’s everything, then. I’ll see you next Thursday,” he added and got flicker of a smile before Scully turned back to her work.
*** *** ***
Mulder called Scully’s cell phone from his car, driving towards Alexandria. “Are you home yet?”
“No, are you?”
“Not yet. What do you say to us taking off early?”
“Mulder, I still have to pack.” But she sounded like it wouldn’t take much to convince her.
“We could be on the road by noon and in Falls River by five. We could check into the inn, have a leisurely dinner, take a walk by the river . . .”
She hummed and said, “All right. Pick me up?”
“Yes.” He wanted to add something goofy and romantic, but just said, “See you soon.”
“Love you,” she said and clicked off her phone, which was fine because Mulder was knocked speechless anyway.
*** *** ***
The drive was pleasant. Scully had made mix tapes, which leaned towards her taste in angry girl rock but Mulder liked them anyway. As he had hoped, she had left the suits behind and wore khaki shorts and sandals that showed off her creamy legs, and a white v- neck t-shirt that seemed a little tighter than necessary.
“Hey, Scully,” he said casually, watching her readjust her feet against the glove compartment. They had been on the road almost four hours. “You know those halter tops people have been wearing this summer?”
She turned a page of her magazine. “I wasn’t aware you noticed women’s fashion, Mulder.”
“When it reveals that much skin, yes, I do.” He let a moment pass and said, “You wouldn’t happen to have one of those tucked away in your suitcase, would you?”
She smiled behind her sunglasses. “Maybe,” she said, and turned another page.
*** *** ***
Falls River lived up to its name in that it sprawled across the Charles, close to falls that looked like the terraced steps of a palace. Mulder and Scully parked in a designated scenic overlook and sat on the hood of the car for a while, watching the water splash. He rubbed her knee with his palm absently.
“I think that’s our hotel,” he said, pointing across the river. “The carnival will be there, at the bend in the river.”
“You still haven’t told me how you heard about this place.”
“I read about it.” He looked up at the perfect sky. “An article called ‘Fireworks at Falls River, Every Fourth of July.’ It was quite intriguing.”
“Somehow I can’t imagine you planning our vacation with a Conde Nast travel guide in hand.”
“It wasn’t a Conde Nast travel guide.”
“Then it was . . ?”
He looked up at the sky a little longer and thought, May as well tell her now. “‘Haunted America.'”
When her silence grew to unnerving lengths he glanced at her. She was staring up at the sky too, her mouth slightly puckered as if she’d tasted something sour. “‘Haunted America,'” she repeated. “Perfect.”
“It was this or the Winchester Mystery House, and frankly I’ve had enough of California for one year.”
“So, what is it, Mulder? Is our hotel haunted? Do ghostly ships sail the river? Are there Confederate soldiers still walking the streets, or did Edgar Allen Poe sleep here once?”
She was teasing him now, he could see it in the tilt of her eyes. “Nope,” he said. “You’ll see it on the Fourth, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”
“It had better be good.”
“You’ll like it. You especially, you’ll like it.”
“Hm,” she said, but leaned against his side until they had looked their fill at the falls.
*** *** ***
The inn Mulder had chosen had themed rooms, a fact he had not known when he booked them into it. “You have the Dragon Room,” the clerk said brightly, handing over the keys, and Scully’s lips quirked like she wanted to say something and caught herself just in time.
“Dragons,” she said to him softly as they rode up in the elevator. “Will it be medieval, do you think? Do you want to act out a Robin Hood fantasy?”
“Be nice,” he said, and she chuckled.
The room was not medieval. It was red and black and gold, vaguely Asian, with paper fans on the walls and porcelain figures in a glass and brass case. There was a small automated waterfall on the table, water tumbling over black and green stones into a brass basin. The bed sat on a black wood frame that curved at the head and foot, and the coverlet was white. There was a small shelf above the bed with two lamps and a clock, and a pair of large porcelain dragons set at each end like guardians of the bedchamber. They were imperial and fierce, with open maws and gold-tinged scales and billowing porcelain clouds to support their sinuous bodies. They were not identical: one had its head turned inwards and down while the other had it proudly raised, and the same one lashed at the clouds with its tail while the other curved it around its body. Mulder wondered if any emperors had been conceived under their watch, and then smiled at himself.
Scully looked around the room for several minutes, her face expressionless. She went to the window and opened the curtains, revealing a view of the river. “If you hate it,” Mulder began, but she turned to him and smiled.
“I like it. I like it very much. It’s kind of like how I’ve imagined a geisha’s chambers would be . . . only very feng shui.”
Mulder let his voice drop and said, “Are you going to be my geisha this weekend, Scully?”
“Not on your life
,” she said demurely.
*** *** ***
They kissed for a while on the firm white bed. The bed suited them, quiet with just enough give, and Mulder liked the sleek modern bedframe. “Maybe I’ll get something like this for my apartment,” he said, and Scully chuckled because he changed his mind about his potential new bed every week. For months he had been sleeping on a mattress and boxed springs like he was fresh out of college.
She fell asleep with her head against his shoulder, her hand on his chest, her leg between his. He did not sleep at first, but he lay with his eyes closed and his arm around her, and listened to her breathing and the soothing, for all its artifice, sound of the tabletop waterfall.
When he opened his eyes again the room was darker and Scully had begun to unpack her suitcase, hanging up light cotton dresses and delicate shirts in the black wood wardrobe. He watched her, listened to her bare feet brush against the wooden floor. “Are you hungry?” she said without turning around. It looked to him that she had unpacked his duffel bag already.
“Yes.” They’d bought peaches at a roadside stand earlier but neither had eaten a full meal since breakfast.
“Let’s find a place for dinner.” She pulled a dress from the closet. “Should I wear this?” It was a pale color–he couldn’t tell exactly in the dark–with a halter neck and a long skirt. She held it up against her body.
“Yes,” he said again, because he wanted to see her in the moonlight with bare shoulders and legs, he wanted to see her dressed like summer.
*** *** ***
There was a pamphlet at the front desk to recommend local restaurants and events. “You’re here for the fireworks, of course,” the clerk said, raising her eyebrows, and Mulder said, “Of course.”
“This reminds me of Main Street in Disneyworld,” Scully said as they walked hand-in-hand down the street towards a restaurant that sounded promising. “Only more quaint.”
“Do you think we should have gone with Colonial Williamsburg?”
“No.” She turned into his embrace, wrapping his arm around her waist. “I trust your judgement. These fireworks must be something special.”
“Oh, yes.” He hugged her close. “Very special.”
The restaurant served “authentic Colonial cuisine,” cleaned up for the modern palate. Scully delicately ate a fried johnnycake dipped in honey, then raised her eyebrows at Mulder as he leaned his chin on his hand and watched. “Don’t you want yours?”
“I like watching you eat.” While she’d been sick with cancer there had been too many meals when she would eat a bite or two and then push the rest away, robbed of her appetite by chemotherapy. He tried to tempt her pernicious appetite with soothing, delicate foods, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes. Now he thought he could happily watch her tuck away a four-course meal and order more if she wanted.
“Remember Memorial Day?” he said, and she raised her brows at him again. “The picnic.”
“Of course I remember. You won your volleyball game.”
“I was thinking of something that happened earlier. That cooler you brought, all that ice cream, and the cones you brought for yourself. Tootie-Frootie Ricey Pops or whatever they’re called.”
“Tofrutti Rice Dreamcicles,” Scully said. Clearly she did not have quite the same memories he did.
“I remember watching you eat one, and you know what else I saw?”
“Other people watching you. Skinner watching you too.”
Again her brows rose and she said softly, “Oh?”
“Watched your tongue lap up that ice cream substitute. Watched your lips close around the cone. Watched you enjoy yourself. I swear, Scully, by the time you were done he’d broken out in a sweat.”
“Why are you bringing this up?” There was a sparkle in her eyes, a deepening softness around her mouth. He could see her thinking about it, remembering it, embellishing what had been a cold treat on a hot day into something more provocative. Just like he hoped she would.
“I just remember watching you eat that, watching them, knowing what they were thinking. They wanted to know what I know,” he said in his softest voice, “they wanted to know how sweet your mouth can be.”
“You’re making this up,” she said in a near-whisper. She was always reluctant to be seduced, but he could not give up trying. He loved to watch her soften and yield from partner to lover. Her hand covered his on the tablecloth and her fingers rubbed lightly between his. “People don’t watch me eat.”
“They do. I do. I love watching you eat. You’re beautiful when you eat–but then you’re beautiful all the time.”
“Mulder,” she said, looking away, blushing and smiling and not letting go of his hand. “You have me, you know. You don’t have to convince me of anything.”
“But I like to,” he said, holding her eyes with his, and the waiter had to discreetly cough to break their reverie and present them with their main course.
*** *** ***
They walked a bit, looking at store fronts and Independence Day decorations. They discussed seeing a movie but decided to wait until mid-afternoon heat drove them indoors later on in the weekend. In the park a band played reggae-flavored covers, so Mulder spun Scully into his arms and she wrapped her arms around his neck, and they held each other close as they danced.
“‘Is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feeling?” the singer asked, and Mulder smiled at the answer he saw in Scully’s eyes.
*** *** ***
He was captivated by the insides of her elbows. Bewitched by the backs of her knees. Enchanted by the lobes of her ears. Infatuated with the curves of her breasts. Charmed by the dip of her spine. Ga- ga over the indentation between her upper lip and her nose.
He touched her slowly and gently as she caressed him with her hands and mouth. Sometimes when they made love it was quick and fierce, driven by the feverish need to be joined. But sometimes, like now, it was about the process, the touching, the deep long kisses that robbed them of breath.
He ran his hand slowly up and down her side as she lay sprawled across his chest, and she murmured, “What are you doing?”
“Counting your ribs.”
“Are they all there?”
He chuckled. “Looks like.”
“That’s good.” She yawned, stretched, kissed him, and lay her head back down. “I’d hate to wake up and be missing a rib.”
“You can have one of mine.”
“It wouldn’t fit.” She laughed and looked up at him through her tousled hair. “This was a good idea.”
“I was hoping you’d think so.”
“Oh, I’ve been thinking so ever since you suggested it. I’m just reconfirming it.” She smoothed her hands slowly across his chest and kissed him over his breastbone, and lay her cheek on his chest again. “A very, very good idea.”
“Are you falling asleep?” he said after a while, and she didn’t answer so he kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes.
After an hour or so he got out of bed and fumbled around for the switch on the tabletop waterfall, and shut the thing off with relief. He lay down and finally slept.
*** *** ***
Like the rest of the room, their bathroom was primarily black and red with touches of white and gold, decorated with imitation Chinese ornaments in green jade and black wood. On the black marbled counter top there was a wooden bowl filled with small square stones. On each a kanji was carved with the translation on the other side, and Mulder looked through them: “love”, “trust”, “hope”, “peace”, “joy,” et cetera.
Mulder arranged them so that his favorites were on top and stepped into the already steaming shower. He tilted back his head beneath the spray and exhaled slowly. Normal aches and pains that usually bothered him daily seemed to have melted away, and he felt an unfamiliar looseness between his shoulders. He swivelled his head from side to side and then stood still and let the water pound on him for a while.
When he came out of the bathroom, a towel tied around his waist, Scully still lay in bed. He smiled, taking in the beauty of her cream-and-g
old body, threw his towel aside and crawled into bed beside her and lay his head on her shoulder.
After a moment she stirred. “You’re all wet.”
“I just got out of the shower.”
“You smell nice,” she said sleepily.
“Thank you, dear.”
She chuckled. She found his fondness for nicknames endearing–at least he hoped so, she hadn’t yet objected to anything he called her. She caressed his shoulders and kissed his damp hair, and said, “What do you have planned for us today?”
“Absolutely nothing. How does that sound?”
“Heavenly.” She sighed and shifted to settle him more comfortably in her arms. “There. Your hair is going to dry funny, though.”
“I’m not going to worry about my hair. I’m not going to worry about anything. I’m just going to drift.”
“Mm,” Scully agreed. She kissed his hair again and scratched the base of his skull, and Mulder drifted.
*** *** ***
“I have to admit, it is beautiful,” Scully said.
“Yep,” said Mulder.
They lay in silence for a while, staring up at the green oak leaves which blew softly above them. A faint breeze blew from the main carnival grounds, smelling of corn dogs, sawdust, oil from the rides and livestock from the 4-H exhibits. It competed with the air from the river, which smelled of cool water and reeds.
They could hear the sounds of the fairgrounds as well: children laughing, riders screaming, pigs grunting, popguns firing, barkers chattering, bells ringing, and a band playing. It was the ninth band of the day and far from the last. Every year for nearly one hundred bands came from all over the country to play at the Falls River Fireworks Festival. There was a panel of judges to choose the best performance, the best showmen, the most original arrangements, the best overall.
Mulder had packed a picnic blanket. They bought sandwiches, ice, Cokes, fruit and cookies at the hotel restaurant and brought them in a cooler to the fairgrounds. They spent the morning going on rides and seeing exhibits, and then around noon went to the picnic grounds to eat lunch. As the temperature crept closer to 100 degrees they decided to stay in the shade.
They were not the only ones dozing in the shade. Every tree in the picnic grounds had three or four people lounging beneath it, and any picnic table unfortunate enough to not have shade went unused.
Scully rolled from her back to her stomach and looked at Mulder, resting her cheek on her hands. “Have I thanked you for this yet today?”
“No,” he said, smiling.
“Thank you, Mulder.”
“You’re welcome, Scully.”
“I feel like a new person. Or at least a different person. It’s nice. It’s novel. I feel ten years younger.”
“You look wonderful, by the way.” Scully in shorts and a t-shirt: it was a mental picture he wanted to keep forever.
“Thank you, Mulder.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie.”
She laughed and moved closer to him to lie her head on his chest. He rubbed a circle on her back and said, “If we get tired later let’s come back here and look at the stars.”
“What a wonderful thing to write in my day planner. Ten-thirty p.m.: look at stars.” She chuckled again. “If I’d brought my day planner.”
“I was about to ask.” He kissed her forehead and looked up at the rustling leaves.
*** *** ***
At night the carnival lit up with neon and electric lights, and the music carried further over the water. Scully and Mulder took in more performances, including a Dixieland jazz band who encouraged their audience to dance. They rode more rides, including the biggest roller coaster in the carnival, and Scully raised her arms and yelled in triumph as they flew down the largest hill. “I think roller coasters are life-affirming,” she said to Mulder as they coasted into the station.
“I need to sit down,” was all Mulder could say.
They played games: spraying water into balloons, throwing dimes into fish bowls, tossing baseballs into urns. At one of the booths the prize was a fuzzy neon green alien with black felt eyes, and Scully decided she had to have it. It took six tries and nearly twenty dollars, but finally she threw the baseball into the urn, it circled the mouth and fell in. “And the lady wins a prize!” the barker cried. “What would you like?”
“That,” she said, pointing to the alien, and the barker took it down and handed it to her. “This is for you,” she said to Mulder, presenting it to him, and he laughed and took it.
“But everybody knows Reticulans are grey, Scully.”
“If you don’t want it I’ll keep it,” she said, starting to take the toy back, and Mulder wrapped his arms completely around it and turned his back to her, laughing as she tried to grab it.
“No, no, you said it’s mine and I’m keeping it. It gets a place of honor on my bed. You get to name it, though.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Scully said as they started walking down the midway again.
“I’m the soul of generosity.”
“Especially since I’ll be sleeping with it half the time.”
“If you start to like this more than you like me I’ll be very hurt.”
She tousled his hair. “Oh, he’s very cute, but he doesn’t have your disheveled charm.”
“I like that.” He said to the stuffed alien, “You’re my witness, she said I have charm,” and the alien nodded solemnly in agreement.
*** *** ***
If there was anything Mulder knew, it was Scully frustrated, and she was growing obviously frustrated that she could not learn the exact nature of the closing event. Whenever a ride operator or concession stand clerk learned it was her first journey to Falls River they would smile and say, “I hope you enjoy the Fourth, ma’am,” and wouldn’t tell her more.
“What’s the big secret?” Scully said to Mulder as they walked through a handmade quilt exhibit. “It has to be something amazing if it draws all these people.”
“Most people are here for the band competition, I think. Not many people know about the last thing.”
“But it is well known?”
“In certain circles.” Despite her frustration he did find teasing her out this way entertaining.
“‘Haunted America’ types of circles.”
“‘Haunted America’ is an educational publication.” He held her loosely in his arms, his chin resting on the top of her head. “This one’s called the Wedding Ring pattern.”
“I think I like the Cross and Crown better.” She rubbed the backs of his arms. “You’re not going to tell me, either.”
“Nope. You get to be surprised. Sometimes the surprise is better than the knowing.”
“I hate surprises,” Scully muttered.
“Liar. You just hate being the last one to know.”
*** *** ***
The heat was hard on Scully. Every day the temperature climbed to 100 and hovered there. Mulder tried to keep her in the shade or at an indoor exhibit during the worst of it, but on Monday afternoon she said to him simply, “I need to be in air conditioning,” and so they went back to the hotel.
She stripped off her t-shirt as soon as the door was closed behind them. Mulder could see, despite their efforts with sunblock, the beginnings of sunburn on her arms and neck and the backs of her legs. “Will you close the shades?” she said softly.
Mulder crossed the room and closed the sheer curtains. He turned to Scully and watched her mop her chest and stomach with her t-shirt, and he said, “Take off your clothes and get into the tub, Scully.”
Too tired to argue, she nodded and went into the bathroom, dropping clothes as she went. He filled it with lukewarm water and Scully eased into the water with a contented sigh. “Did you bring cold cream?” Mulder said. She gestured towards her toiletries bag, her eyes closed and her head against the back of the tub.
“I came prepared. There’s an aloe-based lotion in there. Use that.”
Mulder found the bottled and opened the cap, and smiled at the scent. He squeezed a dollop into his hand and rubbed his hands together, and knelt behind her at the side of the tub. He rubbed her warm neck with the lotion, and squeezed out more for her shoulders and upper arms. She let her arms
float just beneath the surface and made small happy sounds in her throat.
“How should I do the legs?” Mulder mused out loud, massaging her shoulders deeply. Scully lowered herself further into the water and extended one pinkening leg across the edge of the tub. He laughed and poured lotion directly onto her leg, which twitched at the coldness of the lotion. As he rubbed the lotion into her leg, concentrating on her calves and the sole of her foot, she sighed and sank down completely beneath the water until it closed over the top of her head. She resurfaced and smoothed back her hair.
“I feel much better.”
“Knew you would.”
“You need to cool off too,” she said, arching a delicate brow at him, and he stripped off his t-shirt and unbuckled his belt.
*** *** ***
The morning of Independence Day. They’d left the window open the night before to let in the cool air from the river, and so were wakened at dawn by the thin distant sound of a trumpet playing America the Beautiful. The trumpeter played it slow and mournful, lingering on the every pause.
Scully sat up and hugged her knees, listening to the music. She glanced back at Mulder over her shoulder and when she saw he was awake she leaned back on her elbow and kissed him. He cupped her face in his hands and stroked her cheekbones when she raised her mouth. “Isn’t that pretty?” she whispered.
“Yes,” he said, looking into her eyes, and they kissed as they listened to the lone trumpeter play.
*** *** ***
The carnival was even more crowded than the previous days, as the last of the brass bands played and final prizes for the competitions were given for everything from quilts to jams to pigs to pies. Official types made speeches, and a choir of school children in red and white shirts and bluejeans sang patriotic songs.
“When’s the parade?” Scully said around noon, as they ate barbecue and corn on the cob.
Mulder spat out a watermelon seed. “After sundown.”
“And then all the bands play?”
He said around another mouthful of watermelon, “Every one of them.”
Scully looked at him, puzzled, for a moment and he thought he’d given her too big of a clue, she’d figured it out. But she only shrugged and bared her teeth at him. “Is something stuck there?”
“Yes–hold still.” He reached over and gently pried a kernel skin from between her front teeth.
“This is very intimate,” Scully observed.
“Yes, it is.” He wiped his fingers on a paper napkin. “Don’t tell me that after all we’ve been through you’re squeamish about my finger in your mouth.”
“I’m not squeamish. I–” She paused, then said, “I like that you’re comfortable enough to do things like that.”
“I’m the picture of an enlightened male,” Mulder said, and for the rest of the afternoon Scully refused to explain why she laughed.
*** *** ***
The bandstand was set up at the water’s edge, along where the river curved. Families spread blankets and set up camp chairs. Scully brought a light sweater as well as the picnic blanket, and Mulder refilled the cooler with soda and ice cream sandwiches.
They choose a space away from the main body of the crowd, near the tree line where the ground sloped upwards. They had a good view of the enormous bandstand and the water, but felt sheltered in the darkness.
“So, how will I know when this great special thing is happening?” Scully said, licking melted chocolate from her fingertips.
“You’ll know.” He lay on his back with his hands folded behind his head and smiled up at the stars.
She leaned over to lie her head next to his, and said against his hair, “Think I can tickle it out of you?”
He laughed. “You can torture me all you want, copper, but I’m not talkin’.”
She wrapped her arms around his head and said against his forehead, “How about if I kiss it out of you, then?”
“Uh . . . oh . . . well, if you really have to . . .”
She kissed him until he put his hand on her shoulder. “Listen,” he said. “You hear that?”
“The parade,” she said with the delight of a child, and they both sat up to watch the parade come in.
Thirty brass bands, from kettle drums to cornets. Some in formal uniforms complete with drum majors, and others in street clothes. Some marched and some danced. It was a river of music.
Scully’s hand crept into Mulder’s and she squeezed it, her eyes on the parade. “There are so many,” she said softly.
“Think there are seventy-six trombones?”
The parade reached the bandstand and filed in, still playing. It took two repetitions of The Stars and Stripes Forever to get them all seated, but they left the last third of the bandstand empty.
“Why don’t they spread out?”
“Wait,” Mulder said.
The band stopped playing and the crowd applauded. Mulder barely listened as the carnival committee head announced the winners in each category. He wanted the fireworks. He wanted the finale.
Finally the M.C. announced the champion of the competition: it was the Dixieland band, as Mulder had hoped. Once the applause died down the M.C. gave the microphone to the leader, who came to the front carrying his trumpet.
“I have a special job,” the bandleader said. “I’ve seen this occur every year for nearly thirty years, and it’s a miracle every time. So this year it is my honor, and my privilege,” he paused dramatically, “to invite every musician who has ever played the Falls River Fireworks Festival to return and play once more.”
“Mulder?” Scully whispered.
“Wait,” Mulder said again, grinning at her.
The bandleader raised his trumpet, and played a sweet, solitary note. A few people, and then a few more, and then many more, and then the entire crowd got to their feet as he played a aching solo of The Star-Spangled Banner.
The applause was quiet, reverent, and the crowd and the bands held their breaths. The bandleader took an audible breath and raised his trumpet to play again, but another trumpet played the note.
It was joined by another trumpet, a trombone, a rattling snare drum, instrument upon instrument until the anthem swelled with the sound of century’s worth of musicians. No musician they could see in the bandstand played, but still the music sounded as strong and vital as if John Philip Sousa himself directed them.
Mulder looked at Scully again. She had her hands pressed to her mouth and her eyes sparkled with tears. She looked at him and whispered, “They come back.”
“Every year,” Mulder said, and put his arm around her shoulders. He whispered, “I’ve always wanted to show you something magical.”
“Whenever you said that I always assumed you meant Paris.”
“Bastille Day is coming up,” Mulder said, and Scully leaned her head against his chest, smiling, her eyes still on the empty bandstand.
The crowd was completely silent as the invisible band played the anthem, but exploded into applause when the last note died. “I don’t believe it,” murmured through the crowd, while those who’d known what to expect said, “Believe it. It’s true.”
“Will they stay?” Scully whispered.
“I don’t know. The article said sometimes they play for hours, sometimes just once. Listen.”
She closed her eyes, her head against his chest, listening with concentration.
Gasps ran through the audience when again the music started, a rousing march this time that made people clap and cheer. The living band joined in with them then, playing with gusto.
It was difficult to tell when the ghosts left: the music continued in strength and vigor well into the evening. They played the 1812 Overture finale, they played Scotland the Brave. They played You’re a Grand Old Flag and When the Saints Go Marching In. They played and played and played.
When the bands stopped playing, both living and dead, the fireworks exploded overhead. Scully and Mulder lay back on the blanket, holding each other and their legs intertwined, watching the grand display.
“They remind me of something,” Scully said, glancing at Mulder with a wicked gleam in her eye
, and Mulder chuckled.
“One way or another I wanted you to see fireworks this weekend.” He turned onto his side, still holding her, and she smiled and placed her hand on his chest. “Lots and lots of fireworks.”
“Show me more,” she whispered, pulling down his head to kiss him.
After a few minutes he lifted his head. “Do you hear something?”
“Mmm . . . music . . .”
*** *** ***
Behind them in the trees, a lone trumpeter serenaded them as he had that morning. He would not play again until he returned next year, but had one more gift to give: a private concert for these young lovers, these two who believed.
Whew! I actually did an improv!
–a parade with 76 trombones
–Mulder and Scully investigate an X-File at a Fourth of July carnival (this one is somewhat loose, I admit)
–Skinner watches Scully eat a Tofrutti Rice Dreamcicle.
–a pair of porcelain dragons
–an inexplicable infestation of ladybugs in the basement office