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An Acceptable Level of Happiness

8

The twin beds Melissa and I slept in for most of our childhood are set up in what has become a guest room. There are pictures of Melissa and me on the walls, our old children’s books in the bookcase, dried roses in a vase on the bureau. Some of Melissa’s dresses hang in the closet, along with jumpers and overalls I wore when I was a little girl.

Mulder takes off his jacket, shoes and bow tie, and lies down on the bed nearest the window with his back to the room. I fold his coat and sit on the bed beside him. I slowly rub his back with my open hand. “Do you need anything?”

He shakes his head. His eyes are closed. He looks tired and pale, and I wonder if I should blow off the rest of the party and take him home. “I just want to rest a while,” he murmurs.

“I’m going to get Malcolm and nurse him up here. Okay? I’ll be right back.”

“Hey, Scully?”

“Yes, love?”

“If you want to go back to the party you don’t have to sit with me.”

My hand pauses for a moment in circling his back. I lean over him to kiss his cheek. I rub my nose against his beard. “I’ll be right back,” I say again, firmly, and am rewarded by his faint smile. I kiss him again and leave the room, closing the door behind me.

Downstairs, the children are gathered around the TV watching “A Christmas Story.” Mulder loves this movie, especially the cranky department-store Santa Claus. My mother is in the kitchen with the baby as well as the other adults of the family, cleaning up from dinner, and they all fall silent when I come in.

It doesn’t take a genius to know what they were discussing. I set my jaw and go to my mom to get the baby. “He’s resting,” I say shortly, but Mom stops me before I can leave, her hand on my arm.

“Dana, sweetheart,” she says. “We’re worried about you.”

“You should be worried about Mulder.”

“We’re worried about all of you. Does he do this often? Does he just—fall apart—”

“Only when provoked.”

“Dana, honey,” Uncle Frank says, “I’m so sorry—I was joking—I had no idea he’d take me seriously.”

“We thought he’d been kidnaped by terrorists or something like that,” Uncle James adds.

I take a deep breath as my family look at me expectantly. “He was abducted by aliens who tortured him for seven months and then brought him home. Personally I’m just grateful he’s alive and sane—that he’s willing to move on with his life and make a family with me. Believe it or not, most of the time we do just fine. Now if you’ll excuse me, my son is hungry.”

I hold Malcolm tight as I go back upstairs. He wraps his fist around a lock of my hair and tugs on it, his lips pouting with concern. “It’s okay, sweet baby,” I whisper, stroking his head. “Mommy and Daddy are just a little upset. It’s not your fault.”

He plants his mouth on my jaw and sucks on it for a moment, then lays his head on my shoulder. “Little vampire baby,” I say tenderly, tickling his side, and he laughs his deep unfettered chortle.

I open the bedroom door a crack. “Mulder?” He doesn’t answer so I come into the room, shutting the door, and put Malcolm on the other bed so I can take off my sweater. It takes me a few minutes to figure out how to get the dress down so I can nurse, and finally just unzip it and lay the dress aside. This leaves me in my underwear, stockings and strapless bra, so I get a spare blanket from the closet, wrap it around me, and settle myself on the bed with Malcolm.

“Scully?” Mulder says sleepily from the other bed.

“Oh, hey. I thought you were asleep.”

“Not yet. Scully, I’ve been thinking.”

“About what?” I don’t look up from Malcolm’s contented face.

Mulder sits up. He’s found another spare blanket and wrapped it around himself like a tent. He says, taking his time as if choosing each word with care, “I think it was irresponsible of me to ask you to have another baby.” I raise my eyes to him, startled, and he goes on, “I mean, having Malcolm was so hard on you. And what if something happened to me? You’d be alone with two babies. I can’t even think how I’d handle it if something happened to *you*. It was selfish of me, Scully. I’m sorry I put that kind of pressure on you.”

I don’t know what to say. I felt no pressure from him, just a sense of waiting. I say quietly, “Dr. Ogilvy said it would be safe for me to have another baby, as long I take some precautions. My blood pressure and so on.”

“Oh.” He lies down again, pillowing his head on his arm.

“So . . it’s not out of the realm of possibility, you know.”

“But do you want to?”

I can’t lie to him, not now. “I don’t know.” He sighs heavily and I say, “There are so many factors, Mulder. Financially, for instance. I’m not sure we can afford for me to take maternity leave so soon. Leaving out my health questions, what about yours? Malcolm will be a toddler by the time this baby is born. I mean, if we conceive soon. Could you take care of a toddler and a newborn? And who knows if we can even have another baby at all?”

“You’ve been thinking about it.”

“All day.”

He gets up and climbs into the narrow twin beside me. He props his head on his arm and regards us quietly for a moment. “Scully.”

“Yes, love?”

“Do you really want to be with me?”

“Of course I do, Mulder.”

“There’s no ‘of course’ about it,” he says, shaking his head. “There’s so much in me, Scully—there’s so much that aches—so much that I can’t—you deserve more than a guy who can’t keep it together.”

“Mulder,” I whisper.

“I know what your family is thinking,” he says, his voice trembling. “They’re afraid one day I’m going to crack up and hurt you.”

“Mulder—”

“I’m afraid too. I’m afraid one day I’ll open my eyes and find your blood on my hands—”

“You haven’t done anything to make me afraid of you. I’ve been afraid *for* you—”

“You don’t need one more thing to worry about.”

“Do you think I’d stop worrying if you left?” He sighs and I play my fingers along his chin, scruffling his beard. “You make life stable and easy for me and you take such good care of Malcolm. You’re such a good daddy. You’re the best daddy I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some wonderful daddies.” He smiles faintly, closing his eyes. I whisper, “A lesser man would have given up. But not my Mulder. You deserve the happiness you’ve worked so hard to have. You’re my hero, Mulder.”

His face creases and I see tears on his lashes. “Scully,” he whispers again. His arm snakes around my back to hold me. “You know what’s strange?” he says. “I never really wanted children. I didn’t feel any drive or desire for fatherhood. I thought I’d screw up any child I might have, and I didn’t want to ask for trouble.”

“What changed your mind?”

“You.”

“Mulder,” I whisper with a chuckle.

“I knew I loved you and suddenly I wanted everything. All of it. I wanted to give you a home. Babies. A happy life. A safe world.” He says in a voice on the edge of tears, “Where did I go wrong, Scully? I wanted to give you everything.”

“Mulder, love. My love. You didn’t go wrong anywhere. We’ve got everything. We’ve got more than I ever dreamed of. More than I hoped for.” He opens his eyes to look at me. “I am so happy with you.”

“You are?”

“Yes. I am. Are you, Mulder? I can’t tell.”

Mulder looks at me for a moment, then sits up and puts his arms around both Malcolm and me. He kisses me hard, holding my face in his hand. “Yes,” he says simply and kisses me again.

***

I leave them both asleep, Malcolm in Mulder’s arms. I’m inclined to take them home as soon as they’re awake, and not stay around the rest of the family festivities. There’s still a gift exchange for the children and my mother’s elaborate dessert buffet. Some families have three kinds of pie for Christmas dessert. That’s just the beginning for us.

They’re singing now, Uncle James pounding on the piano. Billy stands back from the piano, a drowsy Matthew in his arms. He sees me hesitate in the living room entryway, an
d comes over to join me.

“Is he all right?”

I don’t ask which ‘he.’ “They’re both sleeping.”

Billy pats Matthew’s back, swaying a little to soothe him. “Are you sure Malcolm’s safe?” he says quietly.

“Malcolm is quite safe, Bill.”

“People with post-traumatic stress will take it out where you least expect it, Dana. I heard about this medic in the Gulf War—”

“Mulder would sooner kill himself than hurt Malcolm.”

Bill’s eyes fix on me and he gives a short nod. “I see.” We listen to the singing for a moment—I have no desire to join in and Billy’s trying to get Matthew to nap a bit—and then Bill says, “Malcolm. That’s a strange name, Dana.”

“It was either that or Keiran.”

“Why not Keiran?”

“Mulder didn’t like it. He said no one would know how to spell it. He wanted Scott.”

“Scott’s a good name.”

“Scott Scully,” I say, and Bill grimaces, seeing my point.

“Why not Scott Mulder?”

Now I know what he’s getting at. I refuse to take his bait yet, though. “I don’t like the name Scott. With Mulder or Scully. I like names like Malcolm and Keiran.”

“Malcolm Mulder rolls off the tongue.”

“Mulder wants him to stay Scully.”

“And if you have more children?”

“They will also be Scully.”

Bill shifts Matthew from one arm to the other, murmuring, “Go back to sleep, pumpkin,” when Matthew makes a little cry in his sleep. Bill says, keeping his voice low, “He’s got it pretty easy right now, doesn’t he. No responsibilities, no one expecting anything from him—”

“Is that what you think?” I ask in a furious whisper. “You think this is *easy* on him? Do you think Mulder walked out of that hospital? Do you want me to tell you exactly how many scars are on his body?”

A muscle jumps in Billy’s jaw, and he says, “I just want what’s best for you.”

“What’s best for me is Mulder.”

He snorts, watching the singers. “Aren’t you ever afraid that someday you’re going to come home and find him completely bonkers? That he’s hurt the baby, hurt himself, burned all your clothes and broken your dishes? People crack, Dana.”

“I’m aware of what people do.” I can’t say he’s fine because he’s not—he’s okay but he’s not fine yet—but he’s a lot better than people might think.

“And that doesn’t worry you?”

“Of course it worries me. But at least he doesn’t act like it never happened. That would worry me more. Would you trust me, please? We’re together and we’re happy, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Bill’s jaw clenches and unclenches. Finally he says, “I don’t get it. I don’t get any of it, Dana.”

“You take happiness where you find it, Billy.” Suddenly I do want to sing. I join the group at the piano and my mother welcomes me with a hug. I lift up my voice and join in the chorus, “Gloria, gloria, hosanna in excelsus . . .” Which, despite everything, expresses the way I feel today.

***

Some of the smaller children and older folks lie down for naps as well, filling up every bed. Mulder gives up his place to Matthew and Tara. She’s expecting again and tires out easily. He brings Malcolm downstairs and puts him in his carrier, and then sits down at my feet by the fireplace. He leans his head on my knee, letting Malcolm clutch his fingers.

“How are you feeling?” I play with his hair. “Should we go?”

“I’m okay. I’d like to stay until tonight. If you want to.”

“Okay.” His hair feels so soft. There are grey streaks here as well, mainly at his temples. “Are you hungry? There’s plenty of leftovers. I could warm up some potatoes and gravy.”

“I’m okay,” he says again. “I’m looking forward to all that pie.”

I chuckle and go on stroking his hair. In his carrier Malcolm sleeps on, his mouth working like he’s suckling. That’s a good dream for a baby. I can’t say how glad I am that Malcolm’s dreams are so peaceful.

I feel Mulder’s hand on my ankle. “Everybody’s sleeping, or watching TV,” he murmurs. Our backs are to the TV, now showing the version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Patrick Stewart.

“Some of my cousins are playing Monopoly in the kitchen.”

“Is anyone in the dining room?” His hand slides further up my leg and he fondles the inside of my knee.

The question puzzles me. “I don’t think so. Mulder . . . what are you getting at?”

He stands and picks up Malcolm’s carrier in one hand. He holds out the other to me. “Come on.”

I put my hand in his and rise from the armchair. My mother is watching the movie, Charlie’s youngest boy Miles in her lap. Mulder sets the carrier at her feet and leans down to whisper, “Will you watch him for a little bit?”

“Of course,” Mom says, giving me a slightly worried look, but I smile to reassure her and hold Mulder’s hand with both of mine. He smiles his thanks to her and leads me to the dining room.

He shuts the door between this room and the hall and turns to me. His eyelids are lowered and his face is serious. The room has been rearranged since dinner: the chairs are put aside and the table has been moved against the wall, set up for the dessert buffet. The room is gloomy, lit with only the grey light from outside coming through the curtained windows.

Mulder cups my face in his hands, staring at me intently. “Mulder,” I begin as he dips his head. “Mulder, if you—maybe we should go home.”

“I want to stay. The day’s not over yet.” He kisses me gently.

“Mulder—oh,” I gasp as he kisses my neck, stooping to reach me. I try again. “Mulder, I do not want to have sex with you in my mother’s dining room.”

“It’s the only place we can be alone. Unless you want to go out to the car.”

I do not want to go out to the car. It’s cold out there. “Then we should go home.”

“No. There’s more to the party.” He kisses all over my face, still cupping it in his hands. My eyelids fall closed and I tilt back my head, clutching at his shoulders. He whispers, “I need you, Scully,” and I’m glad I’m holding onto him because his low, dark tone melts my knees. “The only time things really make sense is when I’m inside you.”

“Mulder,” I moan, sliding my arms around his neck. I understand what he means, I think, and I wish he was right. I wish my touch could heal him. I wish my body could suck out the pain and the poison inside him, to leave him healthy and whole. I wish my hands could lift the marks from his skin, to make him smooth and pink like a newborn. I wish sex was the cure-all people pretend it can be.

Ever since Mulder was returned I have been more affectionate and demonstrative than I had ever allowed myself to be, with him or with anyone, knowing that the physical would help ground and reorient him. I wonder sometimes, when people look at us, if all they see is lust and chemistry. But it’s what they don’t see, what can’t be seen, that really holds us together—it just happens to express itself through kisses and touching.

Mulder undoes the last button of my cardigan and slides it down my shoulders. He kisses my chest above the neckline of my dress. It is only at times like these that I notice our height difference—he’s nearly bent double to reach me. There’s no convenient sofa, no available bed, nothing but the hardwood floor.

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