Title: Something Blue
Warning: post-series Happy Land of Denial
Summary: Happiness is a choice.
Notes: For Pige, who didn’t want me to have the blues, and Kimbly, who said, “I need Doggett smut.” Here you go, darlin’.
The inn owner’s Carolina accent is so thick I’m having trouble understanding her. “Turn left onto Old Firehouse Road,” she says, or I hope that’s what she says because that’s what I write down. “You’ll drive about three blocks—are you getting this, honey?”
I detest being called “honey” by strangers, but I say, “Yes,” anyway. “Turn left on Firehouse Road and drive three blocks.”
“Old Firehouse Road, honey,” Mrs. Welles corrects me gently, and then goes on, “We’re on the corner of Old Firehouse Road and McCain Avenue, on the right-hand side.”
“Right-hand side,” I repeat, scribbling, but the pen only makes a dry scratch on the paper. I lift the pen, shake it, and try again, as the owner continues speaking.
“Now, you’ll park in the rear of the building and the driveway is clearly marked. When you check in we’ll send a porter for your bags.”
My pen is dry. I scowl and toss it in the garbage can, and start to rummage through John’s desk for a new one. There’s nothing on John’s desktop, not even a stray paperclip, except his computer and desk calendar. I can’t resist—I flip the page over to tomorrow, and there in John’s crisp handwriting is “Kimberly’s wedding—3 p.m.—Delaney, N.C.” The calendar does not tell me where John is now, though Monica probably knows.
I open the top drawer. Ballpoint pens are lined up in the catch-all tray, neatly as toy soldiers. Paper clips in a box, a small stack of Post-It notes still wrapped in plastic—though I bet the assortment of colors is Monica’s doing—and a wood picture frame.
“If you have any trouble finding us just call this number again and we’ll get you here. I know Delaney very well.”
“I really appreciate that,” I murmur, and pull out the picture frame. I take a deep breath before I turn it over, though I don’t know why I’m nervous. It’s probably a picture of his son, or John and his wife in happier times. For all I know it’s a downloaded scan of Angelina Jolie. For all I know it’s empty.
I turn the frame over. It’s the picture of myself and William I sent out last year with my Christmas cards: both of us in red, William’s arms outstretched in his happy, generous hug.
“Are you there, Dr. Scully?”
“Yes.” He keeps a picture of the baby and me in his desk. Not on it, where people would see and make comments. In it, tucked away. I say into the phone, “You give very good directions. I’m sure I won’t have any trouble.”
“Well, thanks, honey. We’ll expect you about ten tonight, then?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I put the picture frame away and take a pen to quickly scribble down the last of her directions. “How late will you hold my room if I’m not there by ten?”
“Oh, we’ll hold it till six tomorrow morning. My husband read in an article that most big hotels hold rooms until late, so why not us?”
“That’s very kind of you.” Monica will be back from her meeting any moment now, according to her note. This is the only thing that prevents me from taking out the picture frame again. If John doesn’t want her to know, I won’t be the one to reveal his secret.
“And it’ll just be yourself?”
“Yes. Though, how child-friendly are you?”
“We allow children, but we don’t have a whole lot to amuse them. Of course, most families spend their days at the beach anyway. Will you be bringing a child with you?”
“Not this trip.” My mother is taking William this weekend: it will be my first solo vacation since that time I went to Maine. “Thanks for all your help.”
“You’re welcome, Dr. Scully. We look forward to seeing you.”
“Thanks.” I hang up the phone, still dazed by my discovery of the picture in John’s drawer. I know it’s only a picture, I know I gave it to him, but I’m still puzzled that he would hide it away.
“Dana!” Monica exclaims from the doorway, and I look at her and smile.
“Hi. Are you ready for lunch?”
“Dana, your blouse!” She crosses to Doggett’s desk, pointing to my shirt. I look down to see a blue smear across the white fabric, and a matching one on my hand: the pen I just opened is leaking all over my fingers.
“Damn,” I say simply and toss the pen into the garbage. “So much for lunch.”
“Ah—wait—” Monica kneels by the desk and opens the bottom-most drawer. “John keeps a spare shirt in here.” She pulls one out, still in its packaging from the store. She hands it to me, triumphant. “I’m sure he won’t mind.”
I take the package. John doesn’t indulge himself in many ways, but he does buy nice shirts. “I don’t know . . . I’d hate to use his spare.”
“Oh . . .” Monica waves her hand in dismissal. “I’ve borrowed one a time or two and he’s perfectly fine with it. All he’s asked for is to have the shirt cleaned when I returned it. You don’t have enough time to go home and change before your afternoon classes, do you?”
“No, I don’t.” That settles it: this is a necessity, and John is both mellow and generous. I could even buy him a new one, if he wanted. “All right,” I say as I get to my feet. “I’ll change in the ladies room.”
“I’ll be waiting.” Monica picks up a file, plops into her chair and props her feet on her desk. I hurry down the hall to the nearest restroom. I wash my hands thoroughly. Jacket and blouse come off, and I unwrap the shirt and put it on. It’s a tiny bit tight across my breasts: the rest of my body has recovered from pregnancy but my bust will never be the same. Still, I button the cuffs, tuck in the waistband and smooth the shirt down, rather pleased.
I sigh, smooth my hair down, put on my jacket and pick up my stained blouse. I’d like this shirt even more if it smelled faintly of soap and male skin . . . John smells so good . . .
I shake my head at myself and go back to the office.
At lunch, Monica only wants to talk about the wedding. “She has four bridesmaids and two flower girls,” she says, stabbing cucumber slices with her fork. “But only one ring bearer.”
“How many groomsmen?”
“Four. Her brother, his two brothers, and his best friend. The ring bearer is her nephew. I love it when kids participate in weddings. They’re so cute in formal clothes.”
“They are,” I say, thinking of the last time I put William in a baby-sized suit. It was gift from one of my aunts, and he outgrew it quickly. He did look very cute in it, though.
“And I’m excited to see her dress. Kimberly has such a good figure. Whatever she’s chosen I’m sure she’ll look fantastic in it.” Monica tilts her head and studies me. “You’re a thousand miles away, Dana.”
“Oh, I’m just thinking.”
“Thinking wedding thoughts?” she says with her mischievous look.
“No,” I say. “I pretty much don’t have wedding thoughts.”
“I don’t think I’ll be getting married anytime soon,” I say in a tone that’s meant to finish this conversation, but Monica sweeps past it.
“That’s silly. You’re a beautiful, intelligent woman in an interesting line of work, surrounded by people who care about you. You could point to just about anyone in your acquaintance and they’d fall over with joy at the prospect of being with you.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think that’s quite true.”
She starts to grin. “You don’t think you’re beautiful, or you don’t think you’re intelligent?”
“Mon . . . I mean I don’t think anyone would fall over with joy at the prospect of being with me. I think the thought of living with me is more attractive than the reality.”
“Hm.” Monica eats a few more bites, nodding solemnly. “I think I see what you mean . . . but I also think I know where you’re wrong.”
“I think anyone who was excited at the prospect of living with you would know what they’d have to deal with in the reality.”
I smile at her. “Monica, are you coming on to me?”
She laughs. “Oh, yes, didn’t I tell you I’ve switched teams?”
“I bet Walter would be surprised to hear that,” I tease right back.
“I don’t think anything I could do would surprise Walter. That’s one of the nice things about dating an older man: nothing shocks him. Though th
e other night I did bring out a jar of body-painting chocolate and a blindfold, and I think he nearly did a double take.”
“Monica!” She giggles and I try not to giggle too. The relationship between Walter Skinner and Monica Reyes has been water-cooler gossip for almost three months now. Nobody saw it coming, and nobody has thought it would last beyond a week. From what Monica tells me, though, all is well and it looks to continue that way.
Changing the subject seems like a good idea before we fall into bawdy girl talk. That would be fun, but the last time we got caught up in that subject at lunch we were asked to leave after Monica demonstrated some of Skinner’s anatomy with a basket of bread sticks. “Where is Agent Doggett today?”
Monica smirks at me, raising her eyebrows. “What brings him to mind, I wonder?”
“Oh, stop. I’m just curious. I thought he’d be in the office today.”
“He’s in New York. He left last night.”
His ex-wife still lives in New York—but then, I remind myself, he has other friends in New York, too. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”
She shrugs. “After the weekend, I guess. I thought he was planning to go to the wedding, but New York to Delaney is a long way to drive in one day.”
“Oh.” I was hoping to see him at the wedding—to see him in formal clothes, for him to see me in the dress I bought just for this occasion and because I haven’t had a pretty dress for ages.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
“Oh, sure. Weddings make me melancholy, that’s all.”
Monica puts down her fork and gestures towards me. “Give me your hand.”
“Mon—” I hold out my hand anyway.
She hums and frowns over my palm for a few moments, then says, “You’ve got a long life line . . . and a deep love line . . . but I don’t see anything that says you’ve got to be alone for the rest of your life. It’s a choice, Dana. Happiness is a choice.”
I close my hand. “I told someone once that loneliness is a choice.”
“It is,” Monica says earnestly. “But why would anyone want to make that choice?”
I put my hand back in my lap and start eating again. “It’s not that simple.”
“You can’t spend the rest of your life grieving, Dana.”
I drop my eyes and say quietly, “I don’t want to talk about that, please.”
“I’m just saying that it isn’t doing you or Will any good.” She wipes her mouth with her napkin. “All I’m saying.”
“Hm,” is my only reply as I twirl my fork in my angel hair pasta.
“Look,” Monica says, “a wedding is a great place to hook up with somebody. Everybody’s dressed so nicely, there’s romance in the air, there’s champagne and good food, music and dancing—I bet, if you wanted, you could meet somebody to help you blow off some steam, at least.”
“No . . . no one-night stands. Those just get me into trouble.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to drive with Walter and me, then? I promise we won’t mind the company.”
“Thanks, but no. You two don’t need me butting in on your romantic weekend. No . . .” I lean back in my chair, “I’m just going to take it easy, enjoy the wedding, spend some time with myself. That sort of thing.”
“William deserves a mother who’s happy,” Monica says, and just smiles at my impatient noise. She glances at her watch. “Oh, it’s almost one. Time to get back to the real world.” She picks up her purse and starts digging through it.
“I’ll get the check. You go ahead.”
“Are you sure? I’ve got my wallet in here somewhere, I promise.”
“I’m sure. It’ll be your treat next time.”
Monica stands and leans over me, and kisses my cheek. “See you in Delaney,” she says and squeezes my shoulder. She leaves quickly, still looking through her purse for her wallet.
My next class isn’t until two-thirty, so I dawdle, eating my pasta and people-watching. I should, I realize, have pointed out to Monica that my getting laid is not necessarily going to make me a happier person—but I’m sure she would retort with Beatles lyrics or something equally difficult to counter.
Enough introspection. I’m going to have a good time this weekend, without sex entering the equation.
I sigh and ask a passing waiter for my check.
I had imagined Mrs. Welles to be a Southern lady of the old school: patrician, silver-haired, wearing a cameo at the base of her throat. She is, instead, plump and black-haired, glittering with jewelry, with a broad low bosom that you just know has cradled grandchildren and tired husbands with equal aplomb. I like her at once.
“You’ve had such a long drive, honey!” She hands me tea in a paper-thin porcelain cup and saucer. “Did you have trouble finding us?”
“No, not at all. Getting away was a little difficult.” I sip my tea and close my eyes. “My son didn’t want me to leave.”
“And how old is he?”
“He’ll be two next month.”
“Oh . . . what a wonderful age that is, when they’re just starting to show their personality. I’m sure he’ll be fine with his daddy.”
I open my mouth, and then shut it again and sip more tea. I don’t want to explain my circumstances anymore, even to this kind stranger.
“Well,” Mrs. Welles goes on, “breakfast is served from six to nine, and if you want your sheets changed during the day hang the sign from the doorknob. Good night, Dr. Scully.” She rises from the small table and leaves my room, pausing only to smile when I wish her good night as well.
Alone, I rest my feet on the ottoman and fold my hands over my stomach. Mrs. Welles had a fire going for me when I arrived, and it crackles soothingly, warm against the spring chill. It’s a sweet room, with a soft, curtained featherbed and doilies in every conceivable place. It would be good for honeymooners or second-honeymooners or new lovers . . . it’s a lot like one room Mulder and I occupied for a few days that too-brief summer—
I pass my hand over my eyes. Is grief this way for other people? Does it stop aching eventually and just become resignation, nostalgia and a faint tremble of regret? I do wish we had more days to love each other, Mulder and I, and I often wish we had more nights.
He was infuriating, charming, baffling. He was an endless mystery. He was a soothing hand, a strengthening hug, a tender kiss. He was brave when I was afraid, he was strong when I was weak, he was warm when I was cold. He was father, brother, teacher, son, lover and best friend.
He’s still dead.
And I’m still breathing.
I stare into the fire, and then drink the rest of my tea in one long swallow. There are a lot of things I do that I tell myself are for William’s sake, but I’m beginning to think it’s time to do a few for myself.
In the tiny bathroom I wash my face and brush my teeth, and put on my pajamas. I close the curtains and slip beneath the crisp, clean-smelling sheets. I expect a restless night in this unfamiliar bed, but sleep comes quickly with calming dreams.
In the morning it’s too cold to sunbathe properly, but still after breakfast and a call home, I grab my beach blanket and a book, and walk the three blocks to the shore. All last night I could smell the ocean, and I find the closer I get the faster I walk. I’m nearly running when I reach the concrete steps that lead from the boardwalk to the sand.
The boardwalk and beach are nearly empty. The season doesn’t start here until June. From here I can see the section of beach where Kimberly’s wedding will be, already set up with a tent for the reception and chairs for the ceremony.
I spread my blanket on the sand a few yards from the water line, sit down and lean back on my elbows. There’s no smell like the scent of the ocean. Nothing can duplicate the salty, watery tang. Mulder used to tell me I taste like the ocean—
Stop it, I tell myself firmly, and open my book.
Around noon I wander back to the inn, window-shopping on my way. I bought the wedding gift already, but it never hurts to add a few things to a gift bag. I don’t see anything that calls out for me to buy it, though.
e inn I run hot water in the tub and lay out my dress. A touch-up with an iron couldn’t hurt, so I plug in my travel iron to warm up while I bathe. I can’t remember the last time I took a leisurely bath—before William’s birth, at least. Mulder used to call me his water baby—
I scowl and sink down beneath the water until it closes over my head. I miss Mulder. I can’t deny that. Gone almost three years and I still miss him.
I’ve got to move on. I know this. I knew it before Monica reminded me at lunch yesterday. I know it every time a colleague asks me out for coffee. I know it every time my mother offers to watch William so I can “go out”.
Surfacing, I push my hair out of my face and lean against the back of the tub. I need to move on, and lately I’ve begun to think I know with whom I should do the moving. Who, after all, is the one who stayed? Who is still beside me—in a figurative sense, true, but enough for me to feel his presence even now? Who would probably be with me now, if I’d asked him to come, and if he’d put off for another day that trip to New York.
I shake out my damp hair, splash my face with water and pull up the stopper of the tub. Time to get ready for the wedding, not contemplate my utter lack of love life.
At twenty to three I leave the inn again, and walk towards the beach. There’s still a chill in the air, making me wish I’d brought the wrap that goes with this dress. The closer I get to the site of the wedding, the more clusters of people I see, until we’re a rather noisy party climbing down the steps, dropping off our presents in the tent, and settling into white, ribbon-festooned chairs. A string quartet plays Pachobel near the dais set up several feet from the waterline.
I hear a familiar voice— “Dana!”—and stand to be wrapped up in Monica’s strong hug. She studies my face and breaks into a huge grin. “Are you having a good time?”
“I am, are you?”
“Very.” She glances at Walter Skinner, standing beside her, who flushes a tiny bit but smiles back. They briefly touch hands, and I find somewhere else to look. I remember that feeling—secure in the knowledge that the one you love loves you back—and I miss it, too. “This is so classy,” Monica goes on, coming around the row to sit beside me. Walter sits at her other side and casually takes her hand in his. “Now, is he from Delaney or is she?”
“They both are,” Walter says. “High school sweethearts, if you can believe it.”
“Really?” Monica turns her attention to him. I try not to feel envious as one blunt fingertip traces a vein in her wrist.
“They lost track of each other after high school, and then he turned up in Accounting at the Hoover Building.”
“Kim never told me that.”
“Did you ever ask her how they met?” Walter says mildly.
“I guess I didn’t. Well, I knew he was in Accounting, I guess I assumed they hooked up in the cafeteria or something. High school sweethearts.” She shakes her head. “So romantic.”
“Would you marry your high school sweetheart if he turned up back in your life?” he asks in a low voice.
“I didn’t have one. I was gawky.”
“Aww . . .” Walter leans over and kisses her. I smile and look away again.
Idly I watch a slender man in a blue suit make his way down the boardwalk steps, and then I get to my feet. “Didn’t you say Doggett was in New York?”
“He was yesterday.”
“Isn’t that him?”
Monica gets to her feet too, and starts waving. “John! Over here!”
John crosses the sand and joins our row. “Good, familiar faces,” he says, hugging first Monica and then me, and then shaking Walter’s hand. “I was sure the only person I would know would be Kim.”
He’s carrying a blue box wrapped with silver ribbon, and Monica says quickly, “They’re taking gifts in the reception tent, would you like us to take yours over?”
“Oh—yeah, sure.” He gives the box to her, and she, with a subtle tug to Walter’s hand, leads Walter over to the tent further down the beach.
I take my seat again and John sits at my other side. For a few minutes we’re silent, listening to the quartet and the waves. John scrapes the sole of his shoe against the rung of the chair in front of him. He looks very good today: the blue of his suit and lighter-hued shirt deepen the color of his eyes, and the soft fabrics smooth his sharp features.
His eyes meet mine and I realize, blushing, that I’ve been staring. He starts to smile, and I blurt, “Was that from Tiffany’s?”
“What did you get them?”
“Oh . . .” He looks almost embarrassed, and he says, “Monica told me Kim said she’d wanted to register for a few things at Tiffany’s but didn’t dare because everything is so expensive. So I got them something frivolous.”
“But something frivolous from Tiffany’s.”
“I’m sure she’ll love it. What is it?”
“Two silver spoons.” He smiles again. “One is engraved with their names and today’s date, and the other I paid for them to have engraved whenever they want. Twenty-fifth anniversary or the birth of their first child . . .” He shrugs. “Whatever.”
The sheer thoughtfulness of this gift leaves me speechless, but I manage to say, “That’s so sweet.”
He just shrugs again, looking at his shoes.
“I got them the sheets they registered for, and pillows,” I say after a few moments more. “It suddenly seems pale and unoriginal.”
“No, no, no,” John says quickly. “It’s what they needed, what they wanted. It’s perfect.”
“You give good presents,” I answer. “William still plays with those trucks you gave him on his last birthday.”
“They should keep him amused until he’s ready for smaller toys. Those big clunky things are good for small hands.”
“See? You know exactly what to give people. What’s your secret?”
“I’ve never given you anything,” he says instead of answering me, and our eyes hold each for a long moment—until Monica bounces into the other chair again.
“A limo just pulled up! The bride’s here!”
” . . . But seriously,” the best man is saying, “and I should be serious because Dave told me to make this toast count—” He pauses to grin at his brother and there are a few chuckles in the crowd. “Kim, Dave. You two are my favorite people in the world. We knew twelve years ago you were perfect for each other, and we forgive you for taking so long to realize it.” He pauses as people chuckle again. “You hear so much nowadays about divorce statistics and tricks on how to make a marriage last. I think you two don’t need any tricks. You have the secret already. Love, of course. Respect. Lots of that. But most of all, you two are friends. That will see you through disagreements, disasters, and two a.m. feedings.” Again he pauses, and smiles at the newlyweds. “Look at your wife, Dave. Look at your husband, Kim. And tell yourselves, ‘This is my best friend.'” He raises his champagne glass. “To Kim and Dave!”
“Kim and Dave!” the crowd echoes, and everyone drinks. John starts tapping his glass with his spoon and all around people follow suit, so the newlywed couple, blushing and smiling, kiss each other gently.
There has already been dinner and more toasts. The hotel’s serving staff has cleared away the dessert dishes and passed out flutes of champagne.
But I’m not sure how much longer I will stay. The band is setting up at the other end of the tent, which means dancing will start soon, and I’m not sure I want to watch the newlyweds nuzzle during their first dance, or Monica and Walter sway in each other’s arms, or John dance with other women—
As soon as the music starts I rise from my chair. A waiter steps forward but I shake my head: I don’t need anything. The tent is open-air, and I easily walk down the risers to the sand.
It’s a mile or so back to my inn, and after a few steps I bend and take off my shoes. The sand is cool between my toes. After a few steps more I turn to look at my footprints.
Someone else is following my footpri
nts, too. John. He smiles at me and catches up in a few quick strides. “Not a music fan, I take it?”
“It felt like a good time to exit gracefully.”
“Oh.” We walk in silence until he adds, “That’s a pity. I was hopin’ to ask you for a dance.”
For a moment my heart pounds painfully hard against my ribs, but I manage to laugh and say lightly, “You’re lucky, then. I’m a terrible dancer. I never figured out how to follow.”
“Maybe you just didn’t have someone who knew how to lead,” he says, then clears his throat. “Storm’s comin’.”
There is a bank of clouds moving rapidly from the sea, blocking out most of the afternoon sun. “They’re lucky it hasn’t come sooner.”
The breeze, which has been chilly but comforting all day, suddenly turns cold, and I shiver. “Here,” John says at once, taking off his jacket, and he wraps it around my shoulders. His arm lingers at my back. We both smile awkwardly when he takes it away. “That’s a pretty dress but it’s no good for spring storms.”
“It isn’t intended to be weather gear.” I hold the lapels of his jacket, keeping it around my shoulders. It smells like how I wanted his shirt to smell yesterday, like skin and soap, like John. “But I’m okay, really. My inn’s just up there a ways, and there’s no reason for you to miss the rest of the party.”
“I can walk you there and walk back,” John says mildly, and takes my arm. He loosens his tie as we start walking again. “I might even beat the storm—though I doubt it,” he adds with another glance at the clouds.
The wind blows even harder and colder, and we move closer together for warmth. He puts his arm around my shoulders again, holding me near enough for me to catch his scent and feel the muscles in his side. I want to turn my head and bury my nose in his chest, but I only bite my lip and concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other.
The wind blows colder and stronger, and soon John says, “I think we’d better make a run for it.” Glancing up, I agree: we’re going to get poured on in a second. He takes my hand as we run up the beach and towards the boardwalk steps. We reach the street just as thunder crashes and rain begins to cascade down.
I lift the jacket from my shoulders and hold it over both our heads. “Your feet are bare,” John reminds me, but I just shrug: wet feet are the least of my worries right now. I lead him up the three blocks to my inn, and we run through the wet garden and up the front steps to the porch.
We stand before the door, panting from exertion, thoroughly soaked. “Thanks for walking me home,” I say, and he smiles a tiny bit.
“Sure. Too bad about that dance, though.”
His words set my heart to pounding again, and I blurt, “Why do you want to dance with me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” he whispers. He touches the collar of his jacket, still around my shoulders. “How could I pass up my only chance to dance with you . . .” His finger moves up my neck to my cheek, which he caresses for a too-brief moment. He clears his throat and lets his hand drop. “I’d better be getting back. My truck is parked by the other hotel.”
“Is that where you’re staying?”
“No. I wasn’t planning to stay. I’m going to drive back tonight.”
I take a breath, and hear myself saying “No,” loud and firm. He raises his eyebrows, surprised. “No, you’re not,” I say more clearly. “You’re not driving home in this weather. It’s dangerous. You could get hurt. And I’d hate for something to happen to you. I’d—I’d hate—”
My words falter. I can’t say what I’m thinking: I’d hate to spend the rest of this day without you. I’d hate to spend the rest of my life without you.
John stares at me intently, but when I stop talking his face takes on an expression of wry patience. “Don’t worry about me,” he says. “I’m indestructible, remember?”
“No,” I whisper. “You’re not. No one is.” I shiver despite the warmth of his jacket, and stare down at my pale toes.
John touches my cheek again. “Dana,” he whispers.
“Don’t go,” I say simply, dropping my shoes, and I step closer to him and wrap my arms around him. His hands hover over my shoulders for a moment, and then he spreads them over my back and holds me even closer. His lips touch my hair.
“You are full of surprises, girl,” he whispers.
“I’m not a girl,” I mumble into his shirt.
He caresses my shoulders and says, “No, you’re not,” in a low voice. He takes a deep breath and says, resolute, “I should be going. You should—you take a hot bath, okay? You don’t need to catch pneumonia.”
“No,” I say again. I look up at him. “Stay.”
“Dana . . . I can’t.”
“You can. You should.” I smile at him. “You will.”
“Your Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me,” he says, but the joke falls flat. Still we stand there, holding each other, not moving.
“I’m not going to let you drive back in this weather. I’m resolved. Period. You’re staying here.” I gather up all my courage and say, “You’re staying with me.”
“Dana . . . I can’t. I really can’t. I didn’t bring any clothes. I don’t even have a toothbrush. And I don’t—I can’t—” He sighs heavily. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“John, this isn’t a question of right and wrong. I’m trying to look out for my friend.”
“Oh,” he says softly, and starts to frown. He starts to let me go. “Your *friend* . . .”
This won’t do at all. I haul him right back to me, stand up on my toes and kiss him, hard.
I feel him gasp, and then he eases into the kiss, holding me by the shoulders. He taste like champagne. He tastes like wedding cake. He tastes like the ocean.
We part, breathing as if we’ve been running again. Slowly he traces my lower lip with his fingertip. “No wonder you’ve got so many friends.”
I laugh and kiss his finger. “You’re staying.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He scoops up my shoes. “And you’re drying off.”
“Yes, sir.” I smile at him as he opens the door, and we hold hands as we head through the inn and up the stairs.
In the room, John wraps me in a blanket and we lie together on the overstuffed sofa, watching the rainfall. He strokes my hair with his palm.
“Tell me something,” I say eventually.
“Tell you what?” He sounds sleepy.
“About you. Tell me something about you. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Well . . . I have three brothers. They’re all wonderfully insane. I love them dearly.”
“Mm, brothers.” I can imagine him with brothers, doing boy-like things.
He goes on stroking my hair. “You tell me something now.”
“Anything.” I feel expansive. I want to tell him everything.
“Do you miss Mulder?”
The strangeness of this question makes me sit up and look at him. He is rumpled and damp, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, his hair askew. His eyes are patient, but slightly afraid. “Of course I miss Mulder,” I say, and then wonder if I should get off the sofa or lie back down.
“What do you miss?”
“Do you really want to hear this?”
“Yes. I do.” He grits his teeth a moment. “I have to know.”
I frown, and then shift and straddle his waist, the skirt of my dress hiking up my thighs. His eyebrows shoot up but he watches me, wordless. I place my hands on his chest. “I miss everything,” I say evenly. “I miss what we had. I miss who I was. I miss the sound of his voice.”
Closing his eyes, John nods. “Okay.”
“However,” I say, and lean down so that I’m speaking right against his mouth, “loving the dead is a trap, you know.”
“I wasn’t aware.” His hand comes to rest on the base of my spine. His eyes open, bluer-than-blue.
“You forget things. Faults, annoyances, petty grievances. I could spend the rest of my life making my memory of Mulder into a shrine—but what good would that do? For me or for William? No.” I shake my head. “It’s a messy business, this loving the living, but worth it in the end.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
“Only that I’m glad you’re here.”
He murmurs, “Well, that’s something, anyway,” and pulls me down to him again. He touches t
he sole of my foot with his toe. “Your feet are still cold.”
I pull up my legs and he fluffs the blanket over us. For a moment I have an urge to suck my thumb, like William does when he’s content. “William has Mulder’s toes,” I say sleepily. “Long, narrow toes, and a crooked pinky toe. I have short, square toes, but William has long toes . . .”
“Luke looked like my wife,” John says quietly, and it seems to me the world goes still. Even the rain seems muted. “Sometimes I think . . .” He stops, sighs, kisses the top of my head.
“Like when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. I saw them, of course. And I saw kids at the theater, some of them scared, some of them into it, and I thought, Luke would love this. And my heart breaks all over again.”
I hesitate, and then say, “Last week I was reading a book and I wanted to tell Mulder about a passage of it, and I was reaching for the phone when I remembered.”
“You called me instead.”
“I bought the book.”
I lean on my elbows and look at him, relieved to see his faint smile. “I don’t want this to be about grief, John.”
“You’re right,” he murmurs. “That wouldn’t be any better than being alone. And it’s not just about getting laid at a friend’s wedding, either.”
“Absolutely. It’s . . .” I toy with a button on his shirt. I don’t know what it is. It’s *him*, my friend, my compadre, my son’s favorite plaything, my comfort, my joy. I kiss his chest and feel myself blush.
“Dana,” John says seriously, and raises my head with his fingers under my chin. “There’s no rush.”
“I’m tired of standing still.” I lower my head so I can kiss his fingers. I’m still on top of him and I feel his chest rise and fall with faster breaths as I grab hold of his wrist and kiss his veins and his palm, and suck his fingertips.
“Dana,” he whispers, and his voice is soft with awe. “Dana, honey . . .”
I hold his hand flat to my chest, over my heart. “I want you in my life.”
“I am in your life.”
I get the feeling he’s being deliberately stubborn, that he wants me to say it. I’m afraid to say it. I’m more afraid if I don’t say it he’ll get up and leave. And, of course, it’s possible that I’m imaging our entire connection and he really does just want to get laid at a friend’s wedding.
On the other hand, his eyes are crinkling at the corners like they do just before he smiles, and his hand is warm and heavy above my breast. I rub his knuckles. “I. Want. You.”
John smiles slowly, like a sunrise, and slides his hand down my chest. “Huh,” he says, his voice raspier than ever. “Could you be more specific, please?”
I let my head fall back and bite my lip to keep from moaning as his hand begins to knead my breast and his hips start to grind against my pelvis. “I want you—ah, mm—to make me pancakes on Saturdays—” He starts laughing and his other hand grips my other breast—”and I want to—oo—pick you up after work—oh, oh—and buy groceries with you—oh my—and sleep next to you—John—John—”
“You’ve got this all planned out,” he whispers, drawing up his knees behind me so I can lean against his thighs.
“You asked for—specifics—” I grab his wrists and wrench his hands from my breasts. “I’m trying to talk to you.”
There’s an honest-to-God twinkle in his eyes. “I’d say you’re trying to seduce me, pretty Miss Scully. Not that I mind.”
It shouldn’t get me, but it does. I feel myself soften all over. “You think I’m pretty?”
John sits up, and I shift a little so I’m not sitting so heavily on his hips. He takes my face in his hands. “Dana,” he says solemnly, “I think you’re beautiful.”
I put my arms around his neck and kiss him. He hums and slides his hands up and down my sides. “I think,” he whispers, kissing me, “you’re sweet—” kiss “—and funny—” kiss “—and delicious—” kiss “—and—oh, Dana!” He kisses me, his tongue leisurely exploring my mouth.
Lying together to warm up is one thing, but this is a Kiss With Intent. And oh, I hope he’s intending, because I sure am.
I rake my hands through his hair and kiss him back, until he breaks it off to plant little kisses around my face. “I want to taste every one of your freckles,” he murmurs, and I don’t hold back my giggle. He pulls away and looks into my eyes. “I like hearing you laugh.” He lowers his head and rests his cheek above my breast. “I like hearing your heartbeat. I like hearing you say my name . . .”
“John,” I whisper, and he chuckles.
“Just like that.” He raises his head and looks at me. He cups the back of my head in his hand and tilts it back, and begins to kiss my neck. I close my eyes and knead his shoulders. I love this slow gentleness, I really do, but I want his skin on mine.
I take my hands from his shoulders and find the knot of his tie, to loosen it and pull the tie away. He moans when I start unbuttoning his shirt, and stops kissing me. “Wait a second, just a second,” he whispers. “Condom?”
“What?” I’ve had this hypothesis about his ears for months, and now seems like a good time to try it out. I tongue the top of his ear and he jumps.
“Dana! C’mon. Don’t for a second, okay? Do you,” he says slowly, while I pout because I’d rather be kissing, “have a condom?”
“Do you have anything? I have no idea what you normally use.”
“John, I haven’t had sex in nearly three years, and it was a good six before that. I am completely unprepared.”
He sighs and lifts me up to put me off his lap. “Okay. I’ll—um—do you suppose they’ll know where I can find a drug store at the front desk?”
I have an uncomfortable moment, knowing what Mrs. Welles will think—sneaking off for a naughty weekend with my lover while my husband stays at home with the baby—and say, “I trust you, you know.”
But he’s already putting on his shoes. “Can I use your car keys?”
“They’re on the table.”
He puts on his jacket and turns to caress my cheek. He looks rakish and handsome, his hair ruffled and his shirt open, just a few buttons, just enough to tease the eyes with his white t-shirt. “It’s not that I don’t trust you,” he says quietly. “I just don’t wanna knock you up. Not yet,” he adds with a half smile, and I have to remind myself to breathe. He bends and kisses me quickly. “Won’t be long.” He leaves the room, closing the door carefully behind him, and I stay trembling on the couch.
After a few minutes I regain my composure. It’s all hypothetical at the moment: of course you think about having a child with a new lover, it’s part of human biology. But then I think about a little girl with John’s mesmerizing eyes and hug myself. I always wanted a big family.
I get to my feet and start to unzip my dress, but hesitate. If we were home I could put on something pink and slinky but all I’ve got here is cotton pajamas, jeans and t-shirts. I want him to undress me, but not from something that looks like I’m ready to go jogging or take a nap.
But I did put my hair up for the wedding, and it can come down. I pull out the bits of baby’s breath and hairpins, and comb my fingers through the braids until my hair falls in waves to my shoulders. William would suck on the ends of my hair when he was a baby, and now he’ll cry “Pretty!” and pet my hair like a cat when I let it down. He sometimes tries to help me brush it, but he hasn’t gotten the hang of how the brush should move through my hair yet.
John is good with William, after some initial awkwardness when Will was tiny. Infant William looked lost in John’s big hands, and John didn’t look much at home either. Now William runs to him when he comes over, and John will carry him around comfortably for as long as William will stay in his arms. When I’m on the phone with John William will tug at my hand: “Wan’ talk wif Zawn, Mama.”
Having John more completely in my life is for me, yes, but it’s for William too. They lov
e each other, too.
I kneel on the sofa and open the curtain to look out at the drenched garden. Neither of us has said a word about love, though I want to. And I will: I will take a deep breath and just say it, just let it out, just be honest and vulnerable in front of him. I can do it. I tell William I love him all the time—John can’t be any more difficult.
Except, of course, that there’s a world of difference between one’s two-year-old son who adores you and a forty-five-year-old man who may or may not love you back.
I frown at myself and let the curtain close. I trust John. I care about him. There was pain and misunderstanding between us at first, but since Mulder’s death John has been nothing but supportive and gentle. He is everything I want, for my son and for me.
I hear a knock at the door and jump to my feet. He’s back.
I open the door eagerly, and am greeted by John’s quiet smile. “I hurried,” he says, putting my keys and the box of condoms on the table. He hesitates. “You . . . didn’t have any second thoughts, did you?” he says, trying to be light, but there’s a little worry in his eyes.
“None,” I say, taking his hands. I lead him to the bed and we both sit on the edge. He holds my face in his hands and again starts placing small kisses along my jaw.
“You surprise me so much, little girl . . . I know, I know, you don’t like being called girl,” he adds before I can chasten him. “Sorry. I tend to think of you that way. My girl. I’ll stop, I promise.”
“Well . . . if that’s the way you like to think of me . . .” I move my legs casually over his and pull myself into his lap. “Maybe I could not mind so much.”
John slings his arms around my waist. “Sweet girl,” he murmurs, and kisses me.
For several minutes we kiss, deeply, slowly, as his hands stroke my back and I run my fingers through his hair. Being out in the rain cooled down his skin and his mouth, but both heat up quickly enough as we kiss. When I stop to look at him his sharp cheekbones are highlighted further by his flushed skin. He rubs tiny circles into my temples. “You took your hair down.”
“No lingerie, so . . .”
“I like it down. It’s pretty.” He nuzzles his face in my hair. “So pretty . . .”
I chuckle, and notice his ear is within reach again. He groans as I run my tongue along the ridge. “Mm . . . you like playin’ with me, don’t you,” he murmurs and lightly tickles my side. I have to stop licking him to laugh.
“That’s because you’re such a willing and wonderful plaything.” I hold his face in my hands and kiss him again.
“And what was that about lingerie?” he adds when again we pause.
“Oh, while you were gone I wished I had something special to put on for you. But as I’m sure you guessed, I really wasn’t planning on anything happening this weekend, so no lingerie.”
He smiles and thumbs the inside of my elbow. “I don’t think anything you could wear would make you more desirable than you are.”
He melts me. There’s no other way to put it. I thank him with a kiss. “You say the nicest things,” I whisper.
“Just bein’ honest, darlin’ . . .” He grasps the zipper tab at the back of my dress, and as he kisses me lowers the zip. I feel every bump of his fingerprints as he strokes my bare back. He pulls his mouth away and looks at me as he lowers the sleeves and bares me to the waist. Yes: no bra. My mother would be shocked.
“God,” John murmurs.
“They’re just breasts, John.”
“Yeah, but they’re your breasts.” He dips his head and runs his tongue along the upper curves. I rub my cheek against his hair, and as he kisses and nuzzles my breasts I push off his jacket and unbutton his shirt. He pauses so I can pull the t-shirt over his head. Both shirts fall to the floor, and he lets me look at him for a moment, lets me run my hands over him. “It’s just a chest,” he teases softly.
“Yeah, but it’s your chest.” I glance up to smile at him, and kiss the tattoo on his arm. It occurs to me I’ve never seen so much of his skin before: he’s always in suit and tie, or at least a t-shirt. I rub his arm and whisper, “You were there, weren’t you?”
“Yeah. That’s what these are from.” He points to scattered scars along his side, that lead down below his waistband. I slide from his lap and kiss his scars. He makes a soft sound and traces my collarbones with his fingertips. He lowers his head and traces my cleavage with his tongue. I comb my hands through his hair, whimpering faintly, wanting more of his touch but not wanting to rush him, either.
He lays me on my back and spends a moment looking at me, running his fingers over my skin. He doesn’t speak but when our eyes meet, his are dark with passion and wide with wonder. I rub my palm across his cheekbone, and he smiles and kisses my hand.
When he lowers himself onto me again his kisses are even deeper, longer, wetter. His hands knead and squeeze my breasts, and I arch and writhe beneath him. My nails rake over his back. This is what I want—give me heat, give me passion, give me all of you and I promise I’ll give you all of me in return.
His lips move down my body, and his mouth latches onto my nipple. My head presses back against the mattress and I grasp his shoulders, moaning, “Ooo . . .” He fingers my ribs, my hips and my ass, suckling me intently. “John, John,” I whisper, and I feel him smile.
His mouth leaves the left breast—wet with saliva, hard with arousal, marked faintly by his teeth—and moves to the right. He grasps my left breast, warming it and squeezing it, as he fiercely suckles the right. I wiggle my hips, as much to feel his erection as to get out of my dress.
John chuckles at me again, and lifts his head from my breasts to rise up on his knees. I whimper and reach for him, wanting his warmth back on me. He kisses my palms and tugs my dress past my hips and off my body. “Should I hang it up?” he whispers, the first words we’ve spoken for several minutes.
“No.” I slide my hands down to the waistband of my panties. John licks his lips as he watches me pull them off, and his chest heaves. I let my panties hang from the tip of my finger for a moment, and then they join the scattered clothes on the floor.
John starts to bend over me, but then rises up again and backs off the bed. He grabs the box of condoms from the table and fumbles to open the flaps for a moment—when that takes too long he rips open the box with his teeth. He slams the box on the nightstand and turns to where I’m sprawled on the bed, waiting for him.
Quickly I sit up and tackle his belt buckle, kissing his rock-hard stomach. He groans as I unzip his pants, hisses as I ease his crisp cotton boxers past his erection. He grasps my shoulders and kisses the top of my head, stroking my hair.
“Hold on a second, let me—” John kneels down and takes off his shoes and socks, and then shucks the rest of his clothing. Nude and magnificent, he gets back on the bed.
More Kisses With Intent, warm and hard kisses that make me quiver with need. “Let me touch you, let me suck you,” I plead as I wrap my hand around his cock, which throbs against my palm. His hips thrust and he groans, pushing my hand away.
“Later, baby,” he mutters, kissing me. “I promise, later you can do whatever you want to me, but right now—please, baby,” he kisses me again, “please, I want to be inside, let me be inside, I just want to be inside—”
“Yes. Yes.” My hand flails at the nightstand, searching for the box of condoms, knocking off my book and something that lands with a crash in the process. But I still manage to grab the box and fumble out a condom. John kisses my neck while I try to get the packet open.
Finally I pant out, the condom ready for action, “If you stop doing that for a minute I can put this on you—and let me remind you, this was your idea. I was all set to throw caution to the winds but no, you wanted to be careful—”
He holds himself above me and looks at me through his eyelashes. “So put it on me,” he rumbles.
I push on his chest so that he gets on his knees. I kneel too and carefully unroll the condom down the length of his cock. He moans in his chest, turning his head away, and shifts anxiously on his knees.
“There,” I whisper, and swallow hard.
John grabs me and kisses me. His hands grasp my ass and he lifts me up—my legs go around his waist, my arms around his neck—he slams me down onto his cock, forcing a cry from my throat and my back to arch.
One hand leaves my ass and he reaches out, finding the wall by touch. He walks us, on his knees, to the wall and presses my back against it. All the while he’s kissing me and I’m kissing him—lips, noses, eyes—and he’s rocking his hips against me.
With the wall for leverage now, John pulls back a little—close enough to feel each other’s breath, not close enough to kiss—and watches me as he thrusts into me, slow and deep. We tease each other, almost kissing, almost nuzzling, touching no more than breath and the tips of tongues. He watches me with his eyelids lowered. He moans softly in his chest.
“Dana,” he whispers. He kisses my eyebrows and pushes my hair back from my face. “God . . . Dana . . .”
I can only moan in reply. It’s John, John inside me, John fucking me like he wants it to last forever—I have to close my eyes.
“Oh,” he whispers, “don’t, baby, don’t close your eyes. Let me see, Dana. I want to see you.” He cradles my cheek and kisses me. “Please don’t hide from me, baby.”
I open my eyes at his sweet pleading, and meet his gaze again. Neither of us has said a word about love, true, but no one can convince me it’s not love I see—that it’s not love I feel deep between my legs, deep inside my soul.
His name is on my lips now, between kisses. He whispers back to me, kissing my neck and shoulders and face. “Dana—sweet Dana—oh, my baby—”
“My John,” I whisper, drawing my fingers over his mouth. I love him. I do. I love his strong body, his whiskey voice, his electric eyes, and his stubborn, linear mind.
And at this moment I particularly love his thick, hot cock that is fucking me so exquisitely.
I can’t touch him enough—I want to feel every one of his muscles, every pore of his skin. I taste his sweat as it drips down his face, comb my hands through his hair, and smooth my tongue along his throat.
John’s body is shaking hard. His thrusts and his kisses are rougher, and his hands hold my hips in a bruising grip. We’ve reached a nearly frenzied pace, and it almost feels like—yes—please—
I moan and my nails dig into John’s shoulders as colors burst behind my eyelids. I feel as much as I hear his orgasm—his shiver, his groan, his grip, and finally his ease as he comes down.
We hold onto each other, just breathing. I shake all over still. John kisses my lips and gently lifts me, to lay me on my back against the pillows. Again he kisses me, and strokes my hair. He gets off the bed and goes into the bathroom to dispose of the condom.
While he’s in there I force myself up long enough to turn down the covers. There is an unmistakable wet spot on the bedspread. I crawl between the sheets and lie on my side, pillowing my head on my arm.
John comes out of the bathroom, and smiles a little when he sees me. He gets into bed beside me and gathers me to him, gives me a few more kisses and lays down his head. I rest my head on his shoulder and sigh deeply.
After a moment, John takes my hand and holds it to his chest, just over his heart. I smile and kiss his shoulder, settle my head again and close my eyes.
No words are spoken. No words are needed.
* * *
When we both dozed off the room was still gray with rainy, late-afternoon light. When I open my eyes again the room is much darker, and the space beside me is empty.
I sit up. John’s clothes are still on the floor, which makes me breathe more easily. I remind myself, too, that it’s John and not some random stranger: he’s not going to just get up and leave.
I lean back on the pillows and smooth the coverlet. My body is sore from our lovemaking earlier—a good, satisfying soreness. But I want John back in my arms—I want reassurance, I want to feel the reality of his love.
I only have to wait a minute or two: the bathroom door opens and John comes out, carrying a cup of water. He pauses at the window and lifts the curtain to peer outside. Raindrops tap quietly at the glass.
I turn onto my side and observe John as he sips his water and watches the rain. There are a great many things that attract me to him, and his body is in the top three. He is strong and slender, muscular, and you could bounce a quarter off that ass.
The thought makes me giggle, and John looks at me and lowers his glass. “What’re you laughing at?” he murmurs, coming to the bedside.
I take his hands. “Just thinking what a hot lover I’ve got.”
“Ahh . . . so I’m hot, huh?” He turns my hands over and kisses the base of my palms.
“Hotter than the Fourth of July,” I tease softly. “Come back to bed.”
“Come look at the rain with me,” he says instead. “It’s beautiful out.”
I get out of bed. He leads me by the hand to the sofa, and wraps the same blanket from earlier around our shoulders as we get comfortable. He holds me close, his hand warm on my hip.
It is beautiful out. Streetlights paint the raindrops silver, and the flowers in the garden below are aglow in the wet light. Even the clouds have a magical look about them, purple and golden and midnight blue.
I lean my head against John’s shoulder. He kisses the top of my head. “Are you warm enough?”
He chuckles. “Yeah, you are.”
I laugh too and put my arms around him. “So are you, baby.” I turn his head towards me and kiss his cheek, then his lips. He holds my chin and kisses me back. In a moment we’re making out, tongues and noses and fingers and loud, smacking kisses. “Mm, mm, mm,” I moan, or he moans—it’s hard to say.
John pulls away from me and holds my face with trembling hands. He leans his forehead against mine.
Before he can speak someone knocks on the door in a series of quick, serious raps. “Fuck,” Doggett mutters, letting go of my face. “Do you want me to get that?”
“I’d better.” I get up and put on my bathrobe, while John covers himself with the blanket. I open the door, to see Monica and Skinner standing there.
“Dana, come to dinner with us,” Monica begins—then her eyes grow wide when she sees that I am naked except for this robe, and sporting a serious case of sex hair. And I don’t doubt she can see John, sprawled on the sofa and nude under the blanket. “Oh,” she says. “Oh!”
Skinner is just as surprised, though he shows it far more mildly, and he says, “We thought you might want some dinner, but if you two have other plans—”
“I think dinner sounds great,” John says from behind me. “Don’t you think, Dana?”
“Dinner sounds fine,” I murmur.
“We’ll wait in the lobby,” Skinner says, taking Monica’s hand. She pauses long enough to give me a huge smile and a “Way to go!” thumbs-up, and then allows Walter to lead her away.
I shut the door and turn to John, crossing my arms over my chest. “What?” John says. “Would you rather do something else?”
“I’d rather stay here and fool around some more,” I admit. “I’m not sure I’m ready to go public yet.”
“It’s dinner with friends, not an announcement in the Times.”
I know he’s right, but there’s some fanatically private part of me that isn’t ready to face anyone else as John’s lover. It’s the kind of thing I’d rather cherish between us for a while.
I mutter, “I need to clean up,” and go into the bathroom. I turn on the faucet and run my brush under the water, then drag it through my hair. My makeup is smeared all over my face: lipstick reduced to a blur around my mouth, mascara smudged into raccoon circles beneath my eyes, eyeliner gone completely. M
y face is pink with stubble burn.
However, I’m also aglow with sexual satisfaction, from skin to eyes, and I can’t help smiling at myself. I look like I got laid but good.
John gives me a few minutes, and then taps lightly on the door. “I’d like to take a quick shower.”
Still nude, John enters the bathroom, and squeezes past me to the shower. He turns the water on and stands, waiting for the water to warm up, with his hand under the spray.
His shoulders are set so tightly I know he’s upset. He’s not at the twitching-muscle-in-the-jaw stage, at least.
I put down my brush and go to him. I slip my arms around his waist and start kissing the freckles on his shoulders. He sighs.
“I know you like to keep your business your own, Dana, but they’re our friends. I also know you and Monica talk about everything—you’d have told her eventually.”
“I’m not ready to share you yet.”
“Share me? Are there plans for an orgy later?”
“You know that’s not what I mean,” I begin, and he chuckles. “You think you’re so funny.”
He turns in my arms. “You think I’m pretty funny too,” he says and kisses me. “I do know what you mean,” he goes on in a serious tone. “And I think I understand—but Dana, I *do* want to show you off. I want to know I’m going home with the most beautiful girl around—and I want everyone else to know it too. Besides,” he adds with an arching brow, “I thought you said I’m hot.”
I rest my cheek against his chest. “You are. I’m proud to be with you, I really am. I just want you to be only mine for a while.”
“Dana.” His voice is soft and serious. “I *am* yours.”
I look up, search his eyes, and smile.
John smiles back, hesitates, and then kisses me. His tongue moves slowly over my teeth and the roof of my mouth. I arch my back, thrusting my breasts against his chest. He moans in his throat and his mouth slides down my chin to my neck. He noses my robe open, and his tongue drags along my shoulder. A little more nudging and my breast is exposed to his eager mouth.
I gasp, “Monica—Walter—in the lobby—waiting for us—”
“They’ll wait,” John murmurs. He raises his head, a glint in his eye. “Unless you *want* me to stop.”
“No—no—” I thread my fingers into his hair, cupping the back of his head. “Don’t stop.”
He chuckles, lowering his head. He scatters kisses along the upper slopes of my breasts, pulling open my robe with deliberation. He lowers it from my arms as his tongue slides down my ribs, my belly, my thighs.
“The water’s hot,” he mutters, rising up again.
“. . . water . . . oh . . .”
John nearly has to lift me into the shower, where we’re enveloped in water and steam. I compose myself enough to grab the soap and washcloth, and start up a lather. John smirks at me.
“You want to wash my back?”
“Yes. Stop laughing.”
“I’m not laughing.” He turns his back to me, shaking out his shoulders and neck.
I step closer to him and place an open-mouthed kiss between his shoulder blades. “I like your back,” I murmur. “I like your shoulders. I like your freckles.” I start to rub the washcloth over his shoulders.
“All body parts present and accounted for,” he murmurs.
“And I like every single one,” I answer. For a long while we’re silent as I wash his body. His eyes are closed and his mouth is slack, but his cock, already starting to perk when we were kissing outside the shower, is alert and pulsing. Still facing his back, I rub the washcloth down his chest, his stomach, and his balls—then gently wrap my fingers, covered by the soapy washcloth, around his shaft.
John groans as I stroke him. “Dana, the condoms are in the other room.”
“Then we’ll do something else.” I give his cock a squeeze and he groans again.
He turns to face me and grabs me around the waist. He kisses me so hard he bends me backwards. My nails dig into his shoulders.
John straightens me up and presses me against the shower wall. Cupping my breasts in his hands, he pushes them together and stoops to kiss them. His tongue slips over the curves and then into the cleavage. I moan and he grunts, his tongue thrusting between my breasts. My head lolls and my body writhes against the wall. My hands clutch at his head.
Just when I think I can’t bear any longer without John inside me, he raises his head again and kisses my mouth. “What something else did you have in mind?” He’s got the rumbly voice again, so deep it reverberates through me like a bass guitar.
“I—I—” I want him to fuck me again, with or without a condom. His concern about impregnating me is touching, but probably misplaced. Still, I know he won’t see it that way.
I run my hands over his wet chest, and lean forward to lick up a droplet of water or two. He releases a deep breath. “Dana . . .”
“I want to suck your cock,” I whisper, and he moans in response. I circle his nipple with the tip of my tongue. “I want to taste your come.”
“God, girl,” he breathes, grasping my skull. His fingertips rub my scalp as I kiss my way down his body. I’m already on my knees when he tilts my head up and says, “Wait—I’ve got a better idea.” He helps me stand, and then carefully lies down, his back against the slope of the tub and his feet sticking out over the edge. “Kneel over me.”
I smile at him and arrange myself awkwardly over his body. The throbbing in my belly is even more insistent. I moan aloud at the first touch of his tongue to my thigh.
But the point of this position is the mutual pleasure of give-and-take. I stroke the head of his cock with the underside of my tongue, and he squeezes the cheeks of my ass as he kisses my thighs. He sucks my outer labia as I lower my head, taking him further into my mouth. His tongue flicks my clit as my lips slide up and down the length of his shaft.
All the while hot water beats on my back and runs down my sides, into the cleft of my ass, over my shoulders. It only adds to the sensuality of this experience: we’re wrapped up in heat, in wetness, in the scent of soap and sex.
And pleasure is washing over my body like the water, through me and around me as if it’s in the air.
In the back of my mind I know Walter and Monica are waiting for us downstairs—I know we should be taking a quick, sensible shower and not delay. But I’m enjoying the thrum of John’s cock against my lips far too much; I’m enjoying the persistent press of his tongue on my clitoris. If his muffled moans and the thrust of his hips are anything to go by, so is he.
After his first exploratory kisses, John has been concentrating on my clit—around, around, around, over and over and over. I imitate him, flicking the tip of my tongue in the tiny opening of his penis. His head rubs against my thigh. His hands have been kneading my ass, but one hand moves down for a lone finger to slide into me, soon joined by a second. His fingers fuck me and he sucks my clit like it’s a nipple.
I have to let his cock slide out of my mouth, to throw back my head, to moan and shudder through an orgasm that is deep and intense. I thrust my entire body back against him, riding out my climax until I slump to a stop.
John lets his fingers rest inside me and softly kisses my upper thighs. “Uh . . . darlin’? Do you mind . . ?”
I cup my hand around one testicle and place a kiss on the weeping head of his cock. He moans as I lick down his length. “Oh,” he says faintly, “oh, good . . .”
I laugh and continue drawing my tongue up and down his cock. John wraps one hand around my calf and presses his face to my thigh, moaning low and long.
I take him between my lips again, easing his cock as far in as I can and moaning in my throat with anticipation. His skin is burning hot. The taste of soap is long gone, replaced by salty flesh and water. I know he’s trying not to thrust, but part of me wants him to—part of me wants him to fuck my mouth. I raise my head and look at him over my shoulder. “It’s okay,”
His eyes are squeezed shut. “What’s okay?”
“I want you to let go. Do what you want to me. It’s okay. I trust you.”
John exhales and rubs one cheek of my ass with his open palm. “Yeah,” he says vaguely, and moans with relief when I wrap my lips around him one more time. His thighs are tense and his feet press against the wall.
Balancing on one elbow, I concentrate on the head of his cock and explore him gently with my fingertips. His balls are tight against his body. He groans when I stroke his scrotum, twitches when I flick my fingernail at his anus. His hips thrust with abandon and his fingers dig into my calves. “Oh, yeah,” he mutters, “oh, yeah . . .” His cock is spasming in my mouth—I raise my head enough to bring the tip of his penis to the front of my mouth, and stroke and stroke the head while he moans my name. His entire body rises up when he comes.
When he relaxes and I’ve swallowed the last of his semen and licked his penis clean, I kneel and turn around. John watches me through his lashes, and wraps me in his arms when I fit myself beside him. The water is still hot, by some miracle.
I whisper, “I’m sorry I took so long. I’m out of practice.”
“Do you feel all right?”
“Yeah. I feel great.” He sounds like he’s about to doze off. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I stroke his chest. “Should we call down to the lobby and tell them to go ahead without us?”
“No, I’m hungry.”
“We should get going, then.” Neither of us moves.
After a few minutes, John says, “Hey, Dana?”
There’s a long pause, and he says, “Nothin’. C’mon, they’re waiting for us,” and gets to his feet.
* * *
It’s been so long since I’ve had ordinary friends I’d forgotten how pleasant it could be. To make small inside jokes, to talk about movies we’ve seen or books we like, to go over every detail of the wedding even though we all were there—and to never once bring up aliens, conspiracies, or our fears for the future. I think, This is how everybody else lives, and feel deeply content.
Monica and Walter are discreet enough not to mention the hour we kept them waiting, though Monica has the pleased smile of a successful matchmaker. I suppose I can allow her that—her prodding did encourage me to take the chances I’ve taken today.
And it’s well worth it, I think as John takes my hand and leans close to ask if I want dessert.
“I don’t,” I murmur back. “I think it’s time to go.” I glance at Monica and Walter, who are whispering to each other too, Monica’s hand cupping Walter’s jaw.
Before I can suggest we leave, however, Monica stands and announces, “Ladies’ room. Come with me, Dana.”
“I’m summoned,” I tell John as I get to my feet.
“We’ll wait,” he replies, squeezing my hand.
Monica waits until we’re in the restroom to pounce. “So! Tell me what happened!” She pulls herself onto the counter and crosses her legs. “I should have known when you two disappeared at the same time that something was up.”
I open my bag and take out my powder compact to touch up my nose. I dressed up again for dinner, though nowhere as elaborately as for the wedding. Just the minimum of makeup, and my hair bound up in a way that reminds me of a Roman frieze. John has been playing with my stray curls all through dinner.
“He walked me back to the inn,” I tell Monica. “It started raining, and I kissed him.”
“Interesting cause and effect,” Monica observes.
“I didn’t want him driving in the rain.” I lean closer to the mirror and smooth away some stray powder.
“Ahh . . . Altruism. Very good. Well, our afternoon was quiet after the reception—naps at the hotel, that sort of thing.” She hesitates. “Dana. I keep thinking about the best man’s speech. What he said about being friends.”
“What about it?”
“Walter and I . . . we weren’t really friends before. We were co-workers with lust. I wonder sometimes is lust is really all we’ve got.”
“Well . . . you and Walter talk, too, don’t you? You don’t only have sex.”
Monica is about to answer when one of the stall doors opens and an elderly woman scurries out. She stops at the sinks long enough to give her hands a perfunctory wash and rushes past us, glancing at us as if we’re deviants. A piece of toilet paper flaps from one heel, but she’s out the door before either of us can say anything.
Monica looks puzzled, but just shrugs and says to me, “We do talk, but it’s usually bookended by sex. Everything we do is usually bookended by sex.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a passionate relationship.”
“But there is something wrong if passion is all you’ve got. I like Walter. I love him. But I can’t look at him and say he’s my best friend. *You’re* my best friend.”
I haul myself onto the sinks too and put my arm around her shoulders. She leans her head on my shoulder and I kiss her dark hair. “You’re my best friend too.”
“And then there’s John. If you two aren’t best friends you’re pretty darn close.”
“We do enjoy each other’s company . . . but tell me something: tonight, while you were waiting for us at the inn, what did you do?”
She squirms a little. “We talked.”
“No making out?”
“Of course not! We talked about—I don’t even remember now. I made him laugh. I do that a lot.”
“I think that just proves you understand each other.”
“Yeah . . . Weddings make me have relationship crises, I think. I broke up with my last serious boyfriend after we went to a wedding together. I’m in no rush to get married but there’s something about the atmosphere that makes me doubt, or at least question, the relationship I’m in.”
I say, “It’s the symbolic nature of the whole thing. Witnessing that raw commitment, the absolutes of it all, can make you wonder if you can do that with the one you love now.”
Monica mulls over that, then says slowly, “I think part of that is, I’ve come to the realization this is not going to last the rest of my life. It will, at most, last the rest of his.” Her voice chokes up a little at this, and she lifts her head to look at me. “Twenty years, Dana! The year I was born he was still in Vietnam. We’d have maybe thirty years, if we’re very lucky.”
“Gee, only thirty years,” I say dryly.
“Oh, Dana, sweetie, I’m sorry!” Monica exclaims, stricken. “I didn’t even think about you and Mulder.”
“It’s okay.” I rub her back and she lays her head on my shoulder again. “The thing is,” I say slowly, “even though we really didn’t have much time to love each other, I still treasure every second. I miss him every day, but the thought of him doesn’t make me sad anymore.”
“And John?” Monica whispers. “He loves you. He’s crazy about you.”
“I know.” There’s a lump in my throat because I do know it: I’ve seen it in his eyes, felt it throughout my body. It’s hard to articulate, though. “John . . . heals me.”
Monica nods. “Maybe . . . instead of wondering why we love each other, we should just be grateful that we do.”
She wipes her eyes with the side of her hand. “Do you have a tissue? We should be getting back. The boys are probably arm-wrestling by now.”
I chuckle at her image of “the boys” and give her a tissue from the dispenser beneath the mirrors.
John and Walter are not arm-wrestling—they are waiting at the table, now empty except for coffee cups, and quietly talking. They both stand when we approach. Walter puts his arm around Monica’s waist and kisses her cheek. “All right?” he asks her.
“All right.” She kisses his cheek too and puts both her arms around him.
John takes my hand. “We took care of the bill. Are you ready to go?”
“Yes.” On impulse I hold his face and kiss his cheek too, which earns me a small, pleased smile.
It stopped raining while we were in the restaurant, so John and I tell Walter and Monica good night, we’ll see you in Washington, and walk back to the inn.
Most of the clouds still linger, blocking out the stars and giving the moon a ha
zy glow. The air smells clean and salty. There are stone planters all along the sidewalk, filled with flowers still sparkling with raindrops. John stoops as we pass one and picks a violet, which he tucks behind my ear. He smiles and touches my cheek, and we continue walking.
“So how did you decide who paid the bill?” I ask him after we’ve passed another block.
“We wrestled over it.”
He laughs. “Of course not. Flipped a coin.” I chuckle, and he says, “So you tell me: what were you and Monica talking about for all that time?”
I hug his arm to me. I know he hears Monica’s half of our phone conversations, and I’m sure they talk to each other as much as she and I do. Monica brings that out in people. Still, I just tell him, “Monica needed some reassurance. Dating someone nearly twice your age isn’t easy.”
“Neither is dating someone almost half your age,” John says quietly. I watch him and wait for him to continue, but he only says, after a moment or two, “Would you like to walk on the beach a little?”
“Yes, of course,” I murmur, and hug his arm closer. At least this time I remembered the wrap.
Once we’re on the sand again I take off my shoes and John unknots his tie. I pause for a moment, letting the ocean breeze play through my hair and inhaling the scent. John hangs back, understanding my need to be alone with the ocean however briefly, and takes my hand when I hold it out to him.
We’re near the hotel where the reception was held. The chairs and the tent have been cleared away, but there’s still a party going on in the hotel lobby. I can’t tell if it’s the same party, but there is laughter, dancing and music inside.
“Do you want to go in? Say hello?” John asks when I pause.
“No . . . It’s nice music, though.”
John nods, looking up at the hotel. He starts to smile. “Hey,” he says softly. “Hey.”
“Hey what?” I answer, just as softly.
“I still wanna dance with you.” He pulls me into his arms. “Okay?”
“Yes.” I put my arms around his neck, holding my shoes by the tips of my fingers.
It’s not so much dancing as swaying and turning in a slow circle, but none of that matters. There’s a smile in John’s eyes, and I’m sure there’s a matching one in mine. Nothing, I think, could make me love you less. I’ll only learn to love you more.
He kisses me. His lips are cool from the night air. His mouth is hot. When his tongue strokes mine I moan helplessly and wrap my hands in the lapels of his jacket.
“Dana . . . Dana,” he whispers, thrusting his hands into my hair. “Do you want to go in? Or stay out?”
“I’d like to stay out, just a while longer.”
John smiles down at me. “Let’s walk a bit, then.” He kisses me, and we hold hands as we walk down the beach together.
About halfway between the big hotel and our inn, John takes off his jacket and spreads it on the sand, a few yards away from where the water breaks. We sit on his jacket and he puts his arms around me.
“I hope you have a good dry-cleaner,” I murmur. “This is a nice suit.”
“Oh, he’s the best.” He kisses the top of my head.
We listen to the waves, holding each other and exchanging small, quiet kisses. Happiness blossoms through me—a feeling of warmth and security and love that I haven’t had for far too long. I wonder if he feels the same thing from me.
Wanting him again, I get onto my knees, straddle his lap, and hold his face in my hands as I kiss him. John grunts and grasps my upper arms, to pull me away. “No.”
“If you check your wallet you’ll find a surprise,” I whisper.
“That’s not it—”
“Is it too public out here?”
“Just a bit—but, Dana, I need—we need to talk.”
I rest on his thighs, still holding his face. “Okay.”
He studies me, serious-faced. “All that stuff you said earlier—how much of it is true?”
“The pancakes on Saturday morning stuff.”
“All of it. All of it’s true.” I kiss his forehead. “All of it.”
He nods. “Hm. Okay.”
I arch an eyebrow at him. “‘Okay’? I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”
“Dana . . .” He rubs my thighs. “This has been one hell of a day.” He says in a serious tone, “I’m in love with you. I have been almost since we met. I’ve been watching you—I watched you mourn, and I watched you come out of it stronger. I’ve been wondering if you could ever need me.”
“Of course I need you,” I whisper. “I love you.”
He smiles quietly and kisses me. “But you don’t need me,” he whispers against my lips. “I may be crazy about you, but I’m sane enough to know that.”
I softly laugh against his cheek. “I do need you. Every day, I need you, John, I need you so much.”
“For more than sex?” He ducks his head to look into my eyes. “For more, Dana.”
“More sex,” I tease, but he doesn’t laugh. “John . . . You know I like you. You know I care about you. I need you to believe that I love you.”
He sighs. “I don’t want to compete with a dead man.”
“You’re not in competition with anyone.”
“What if sometime we have a fight and you start thinking, ‘Mulder and I never fought’?”
“Mulder and I fought all the time.” I start kissing his face. “Mulder and I fought about everything. You and I, at least we fight about sensible things. Real things.” Again he sighs, and I stop kissing him to look into his eyes. “John. I meant every word—I mean every word now. I know I didn’t always like you, but I learned to trust you . . . and I learned to love you.” I stroke his face with both palms, and John’s gaze never wavers from mine. I whisper, “I love you,” as I lean in to kiss him again.
This time he lets me.
His hands stroke my thighs as we kiss, easing up beneath the skirt. My breath comes faster, as does his, and his hips begin to rise up to meet my pelvis. I moan when his erection hits the fabric of my underwear.
His fingertips drift across my thigh and move my undies aside. I gasp into his mouth when his fingers part my labia and seek out my clit. “God, you’re wet,” he mutters.
I rock my hips against his fingers. “This is what you do to me.” His voice, his touch, only increases the demanding rhythm deep in my belly.
“You said something about a surprise?” His mouth sucks on my neck and slides down to my shoulder.
“Check your wallet.” My lips flow across his forehead. “I slipped a little something in . . . just in case.”
He chuckles, shaking his head. “Girl . . .” He has to remove his hand from my panties, and lifts his hips to get his wallet from his back pocket. The condom is tucked behind his driver’s license. He holds it between two fingers. “Just in case?”
I shrug, grinning. “My libido’s been hibernating a long time.”
He grins too, and kisses me again. “Lucky me,” he murmurs against my lips.
It takes just a little adjusting to work his cock out from his pants and undershorts. John leans back on his hands, his eyes closed, and his cock throbs against my palm as I stroke him. “Can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“You don’t seem especially nervous,” I point out, tearing open the condom wrapper.
His eyes crack open and he gives me a sly smile. “Yeah, but I’m lookin’ *that* way.”
I smile too, and scoot back on his lap to smooth the condom onto his cock. He may get to look at the ocean, at the clouds and the moon, but I get to look at him.
John’s head falls back and he groans as I lower myself onto him. He’s still supporting himself on his hands, and he digs his heels into the sand so he can lift his hips. His chest heaves beneath my hands, and he raises his mouth eagerly when I bend down to kiss him. He gives a gravelly chuckle when I lick the dip in his chin.
I had planned on doing all the work, to let him rest and enjoy, but John apparently will have none of that. His hips meet mine thrust for thrust and his tongue slides along my collarbones. He tongue-fucks my cleavage again, pushing my breasts together with his big, warm hands. He sweetly kisses my mouth.
And finally, as I start to feel his cock twitching inside me, he lies back on the sand, breathing through his open mouth and his hand beneath my skirt to stroke my clit. Even his eyebrows are into this, moving up and down his forehead in cadence with our bodies.
John turns his head away from me, moaning into the sand. His fingers dig into my hips and then slowly let go. I let my eyes close and my head fall back, let my orgasm come as naturally as the waves meet the shore.
I lay my body onto his, curling up my legs behind me I kiss his throat. He strokes my back.
“Every word, huh?” he murmurs.
“Good.” The silence is filled with the crashing of waves. “‘Cause I make great pancakes.”
* * *
In my pajamas, face washed and teeth cleaned, I come out of the bathroom to see John has undressed and gotten into bed. His clothes are neatly folded on the sofa. I sit on the edge of the bed and kiss his forehead. He chuckles sleepily.
“Tired?” I kiss his nose.
“Very.” He strokes the inside of my arm. “How come you’re so peppy?”
“Endorphins.” We both smile. “Look . . . I want to get an early start tomorrow. I’d like to get home before William wakes up from his afternoon nap.”
“Okay. Do you want to set an alarm?”
“I seem to have broken the clock.”
John starts to grin. “There’s an alarm on my watch. What time would you like me to set it for?”
“Seven, please.” He picks up his watch from the nightstand, clicks a few buttons, and puts it back down. I lie down by his side, curling up next to him, and he puts his arm around me. He kisses the crown of my head.
After a few minutes he whispers, “Dana?”
“What happens tomorrow?”
“Well . . .” I say slowly. “We go home . . . and we fumble our way through it, just like everyone else. We’ll fight sometimes, we’ll make up, we’ll talk and we’ll laugh . . . we’ll have fabulous sex . . .”
John breathes deeply beneath my cheek. For a moment I think he’s just sighing, but when he doesn’t respond to my teasing I realize he’s asleep. I prop myself up on my elbow and smile down at his peaceful face. “I love you, John,” I whisper and kiss him. He hums in his sleep.
I get up to turn out the lights. For a moment I stand by the window, looking out at the dark sky, and then let the curtain fall closed. I slip beneath the covers and fit myself to John’s side, and am asleep in only a breath.
* * *
I wake up first, before John’s alarm goes off, and lie quietly for a while, enjoying the warmth of John in my arms. I could get used to this, his sleep-scented skin and the soft sound of his breathing beneath my ear.
There was a time when I couldn’t see myself with anyone but Mulder. I thought no one else could even begin to understand the complexities of my life, that no one else would value and cherish me as much as he did. When he died, I thought my heart died with him.
But William, my precious little pumpkinhead, proved to me that I could still love. And John, my sweet friend, wouldn’t let me forget how.
Nothing is going to keep me from loving him to the fullest. Fear held me back once before. I won’t let it hold me back again.
John’s watch buzzes, and I reach over him to turn it off. “Lower left button,” John murmurs.
“Thanks.” I press the button and lay my head on his back for one moment more. He rumbles a laugh and fidgets beneath me.
“What time does Will usually wake up from his afternoon nap?”
“So . . . in theory, you wouldn’t have to leave until, say, eleven.”
I hesitate, and then say, “There are a few stops I want to make, too.”
“Oh.” He hesitates too. “I’m guessing one of those stops is in Raleigh.”
“Yes.” He sighs and I hug him closer. “Don’t be upset.”
“I’m not upset. I understand. God knows I wish I could visit Luke’s grave more often.”
“Did you visit him when you were in the city on Friday?”
“Yeah.” He adds, “My ex, too. Just to say hi.”
“How is she?”
“Good. She’s good. I don’t think she misses me.”
I kiss behind his ear. “I’d miss you.”
John turns over to face me, and kisses me soundly. His morning erection prods against my thigh, making me whimper. “I’d miss you too,” he whispers. “Dana—baby—are you sore? You’ve got to be sore.”
“A little,” I admit, but I open my legs anyway and put my arms around his neck. “Just a little.”
“I’ll be gentle,” he whispers as he bends to kiss me. It is a sweet and deep kiss, with a slowly stroking tongue and softly pressing lips. He holds my chin in one hand, and slides it down my neck as his mouth follows.
I arch my neck and close my eyes, my fingers threading into his hair. He squeezes my breasts, rubbing face between them, and then moves down to the bottom of my pajama shirt to start unbuttoning it. He kisses my stomach and ribs as he opens my shirt. I caress his neck and scrape my fingertips over his scalp.
When my top is unbuttoned I expect more kisses, but John holds himself above me and studies me, his eyes dark and his face gentle. He traces the line of my face with his fingertips. He tries to speak, but stops and simply smiles and lowers himself down to kiss me.
He slept nude, having no other clothes, and I indulge myself in touching him. Every inch of his smooth skin, every bulging muscle, every soft hair—they all make me hum with pleasure as we kiss.
John gets onto his knees and lifts my legs against his chest. He watches my face as he draws my panties and pajama bottoms down my legs, and then kisses the soles of my feet. Holding my ankles, he lowers my legs again, opening them wide. Neither of us speaks as he takes a condom from the box, tears open the foil, and unrolls the condom over his cock. “Tell me if it hurts,” he whispers as he takes me into his arms.
“It won’t hurt.”
And it doesn’t—he is as gentle as he promised, gentle as comfort, gentle as a loving kiss. The pleasure he brings to my body is as gradual and soft as dawn. I know when I come it’s not going to be a screaming, thrashing production number, but still my orgasm is long and rich and deeply satisfying.
He follows me a few thrusts later, sighing into my neck. “Mm, Dana . . .” I push my body up to his a moment as he relaxes against me, loving his weight.
I caress his placid face and whisper, “I have to go.”
John raises himself up on one elbow and cups my face in his hand. “Say you’re mine,” he whispers.
“I’m yours, John.” I kiss him. “I’m yours.”
“I’m yours,” he says seriously, “but I think you’ve known that for a long time.”
I smile, kissing him a few times more. “I’ve had an inkling a time or two . . . Like when I found that picture of William and me in your desk.”
He groans. “Aw, Dana, you weren’t supposed to see that.”
“From the looks of it, I’d say no one was supposed to see it.”
“No . . . I just didn’t want people thinking the wrong thing.”
“But if they do think the wrong thing, it’ll be the right thing now.”
He grins at me, and says, “Okay, then, come Monday morning I will proudly put that picture out on my desk, and if anyone asks I’ll tell them, ‘That’s my girl and her little boy.’ How’s that?”
“Perfect.” I kiss him once more, and he pulls out of me with a sigh. He watches me as I get out of bed. I say, as I drop my pajamas onto my suitcase, “By the way, I borrowed your spare shirt. Do you want it back?”
“Nah, you keep it a while longer. Don’t wash it before you give it back,” he adds. I pause in the bathroom doorway and arch an eyebrow at him. He just grins back. “Please.”
He melts me again. “Okay,” I say softly, and go into the bathroom.
* * *
I take John to his truck, which is still parked by the big hotel. I wear his white shirt again, tucked into a pair of old jeans. John likes the jeans: he shoves his hands into my back pockets as he kisses me goodbye.
“These look great,” he whispers.
“They’re falling apart.” I show him a threadbare seam and a hol
e in one knee.
“They still look great. Fit you like a second skin.” He kisses me again, squeezing my ass through my jeans.
“Come over tonight,” I say, slipping my hands to his behind and giving him a friendly squeeze. “I’d love for you to spend the night.”
“Okay.” Yet another kiss, and his hands move up to span my waist. “Okay,” he says again. “You need to get on the road. I’ll see you tonight. I love you.”
“I love you.” Every time I say it his eyes smile, even if his mouth doesn’t.
He hugs me close and kisses the top of my head. “Drive carefully.”
“You too.” Reluctantly I step out of his arms. He holds onto my hand until the last possible second, and doesn’t get into his truck until I’m in my car. He even waits to leave the parking lot until I’m on my way.
I make two stops before I leave Delaney: a toy store to get something for Will, and a florist’s. Then I’m on the highway, heading north.
The cemetery in Raleigh is a few miles off the highway, a familiar route to me now. I haven’t brought Will here yet. He’s not old enough to understand about his daddy’s body being in the ground. He doesn’t really understand when we tell him his daddy is in heaven. I’m not even sure he understands what a daddy is.
But that will change.
Slowly I drive through the cemetery to the Mulder family plot, and park the car. I take the bouquet and a few things out of my bag, lock the car and walk across the grass.
It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but the grave is neat and well tended. I kneel down and lay the flowers below the headstone. “Hi, Mulder. I brought you a picture of William.” I tuck a photo into the bouquet. I know it’s an irrational thing to do, but I always feel the need to bring him something of his son. “He’s not a baby anymore. He’s running around and talking, getting into everything and asking questions . . . He’s so much like you, Mulder. He wants to know everything. He wants to understand everything.”
I have to stop a moment and wipe my eyes. “Mulder . . . Mulder, I’ve done something. It’s a good thing, but it’s going to change my life and Will’s. I’m in love, Mulder. He’s a good man. He’s strong and kind and so *good*, Mulder. He adores William and he loves me.” I run my fingers through the grass over the grave. “He’ll be such a good father. He’s everything I want for our little pumpkinhead.” I pause, and whisper, “He’s everything I want for me. The only thing that’s wrong with him is he isn’t you, and I can forgive that. He’s quite wonderful, just as himself.”
I hear a car door slam and look over my shoulder. John’s big black truck is parked behind my car, and John is standing beside it, leaning against it, his arms crossed over his chest.
“That’s him,” I whisper to the grave. “That’s my sweetheart.” I expect John to cross the grass and join me, but he stays by his truck.
“Is it all right, Mulder? I don’t want you to be jealous. I want you to be happy for me. I’ll always love you, but I want to be happy. I choose happiness.” I close my eyes a moment, wishing for some feeling of benediction. There is only the spring breeze, stirring my hair.
I open my eyes and get to my feet. “I love you,” I whisper. “I’ll be back soon.” I kiss my fingers and press them to his name on the headstone, then walk back to my car—to John.
When I’m close enough he unfolds his arms and takes my hands. “I figured you’d want to be alone with him.”
“Thanks.” I squeeze his hands. “How did you know I’d be here?”
“Just a hunch. Are you okay?”
“Very. I’m ready to go home.”
John puts his arm around my waist and walks me the few steps to my car. I unlock it and open the door, but stop before I get inside. “John.”
“Yeah, baby?” He toys with a curl at my neck.
I smile—I never liked being called baby, but from John’s mouth it sounds so natural—and say seriously, “You make me happy, John.”
He smiles with his entire face, and bends to kiss me between my brows. “You make me happy too.” He wraps his arms around me and I clasp him around his waist. We hug each other tight as the breeze caresses us.
Finally John says, “Let’s go home,” and I nod in agreement. He shuts the door for me once I’m in the car, and then gets into his truck.
I take one last glance at the grave—at the bright flowers and the little flick of white that is the photo of William—and start the car. I can see John in my rearview mirror: he smiles at me and gives a small wave. I wave back and pull into the narrow cemetery road.
With John in my rearview mirror, I smile all the way home.
—something in a Tiffany’s box
—a new pen that leaks all over someone’s white shirt
—a pale blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled up just *so*
—a pair of tight but tattered blue jeans
—a pen that runs out of ink during a crucial note taking moment
—toilet paper stuck to someone’s shoe