A LIFE, PART SIX: MAPLE SYRUP SUNDAY
By Char Chaffin
Category: MSR, Future AU
Spoilers: Vague, Seasons One through Nine Disclaimers: Clones on Loan
STORYLINE, THANKS: See Header Notes, Part 0
Dedication: To a couple of Birthday Girls - Tamra, who wanted to see this series continue and so I have done just that, for her! - and Suzanne!
Summary: "She can thank God, for him..."
"Maple Syrup Sunday"
In the early morning he awakens, before the rooster crows and before Briggs stirs and crawls up from under the extra covers at the foot of the bed, to lick his face. It's still dark outside his little bedroom window but the blankets and his quilt are as warm as can be and sometime during the night he wound himself up like a mummy.
He grins sleepily, at the thought he could be a mummy; those are his favorite scary movies to watch, the ones his mother forbids him to see and the same ones his father lets him view. Sometimes, when he knows there'll be one on Channel 12, when "Chiller Theater" comes on Saturday at midnight and he can't sleep, he sneaks out of bed and tiptoes down the stairs. And there'll be his father, curled up on the faded sofa, watching. He slips in beside his dad, under the arm held out, just for him... and he gets to hold the bowl of popcorn on his lap, while without even a word of 'hello', father and son watch mummy movies.
Next to 'Maple Syrup Sunday', those are his favorite times... well, that, and helping his mom feed the chickens, especially his pet hen Pinney.
Kevin stretches under the covers, on this early morning in the dark of his bedroom in the hills of the Bluff Mountains. And he remembers it's Sunday because he watched "The Mummy's Curse" last night, and ate two bowls of extra-buttery popcorn, snuggled in his father's arms - and this morning it'll be maple syrup, on his pancakes.
Kevin loves maple syrup on his pancakes.
He gets out of bed and yawns all the way to the bathroom, brushes his teeth without turning on the light. There's a Mickey Mouse night-lamp plugged into the wall and that's enough for him to see where to put his brush. It's icky, eating pancakes when his mouth is dry and smelly from sleeping all night; besides, he knows he sleeps with his mouth hanging open - his dad told him. Kevin figures it's because his dad sleeps that way, too, and after all, his mom is always telling him he's a 'chip off the old block', and sometimes she smiles when she says it and sometimes she doesn't. Kevin thinks it depends on whether being a 'chip' is a good thing, or a bad thing.
When she doesn't smile, his dad always comes up behind her and kisses her neck, underneath her blonde ponytail... and his mom always giggles a little. Kevin thinks it must tickle. He loves to hear his mom giggle.
Rinsing his mouth in the sink, Kevin makes sure to clean out the spit he leaves behind. Mom says never leave spit behind, and truly it's nasty stuff. He wipes his hands on his flannel pajamas and calls a low whistle to Briggs, who wrestles his way out from underneath the mound of bedding, and pads to the door, liquid adoration in his soft brown eyes and much wagging of his golden tail. Kevin scratches him behind the ears, allows his face to be thoroughly licked, and then boy and his dog trudge downstairs to the kitchen where Briggs runs out the back door into the new snow that fell the night before.
Kevin climbs up onto the seat in the bay window overlooking the frost-coated garden and watches Briggs dance in the snow, snuffling his nose through the powder one minute and then peeing up against the lamppost five seconds later. He'd stay out there forever if Kevin let him, but then he'd be wet and covered with snow and Kevin would get into trouble for letting Briggs track his wet fur and footprints all over his mom's shiny floors. So Kevin opens the door and calls him in, makes sure to grab a towel from the rack in the mud room, and wipes off the dog's sopping feet and damp fur.
Looking at the clock, Kevin sees it's still much too early for pancakes, but he doesn't mind waiting around. He likes to sit in the kitchen in the dark, warm from the remains of last night's wood stove fire, smelling of herbs and cinnamon and now, wet dog. He curls up on the pillows framing the window seat and squints out into the yard, imagining all manner of creepy things, staggering toward their back porch with their arms outstretched and their hands curved into claws. Just like that mummy last night, the one that shuffled into the tomb, and grabbed that girl. Kevin shakes his head and grins; mummies are always staggering into tombs and grabbing these stupid girls who for some dumb reason have to hang out in dark tombs, waiting for yucky monsters like mummies, to grab them. Kevin has yet to see a girl in a movie that's half as smart as his mom...
In the cool morning air of their bedroom, June snaps awake, the remnants of a dream fading from her consciousness. Beside her, Frank sleeps like one of the dead, like one of those ridiculous mummies in that movie she knows he watched last night. And let Kevin watch, as well... it's amazing to her that boy has yet to suffer a nightmare from watching horror films late into the night. Oh, June knows all about it... knows her men sneak around on the occasional Saturday night, when "Chiller Theater" shows a mummy movie. God knows why they seem to find mummies fascinating - but they do. And Frank knows better than to let their young son watch any sort of scary movies - and June knows better than to try changing either of them. They are what they are, after all.
She swings her pajama-covered legs out of the bed and sits on the edge, stretching and yawning, scratching her nails through her tangled blonde hair. It's been getting so long lately that she's taken to wearing it in a braid when she sleeps. And she smiles as she remembers the recent nights it started out as a braid and ended up as an extra blanket for Frank, who delights in unplaiting it as fast as she braids it, then wrapping her hair in his hands as his body presses hers into the flannel sheets and he slips between her legs and into her very heart. Lately, more and more, June has awoken with tangles instead of a braid... except for occasional Saturday nights, when she shares Frank with a mummy and a bowl of popcorn.
This morning the hair close to her scalp is tangled, but the braid still holds. June pulls the covers up over her dead-to-the-world husband, and heads for the bathroom.
It's a cold Sunday morning and they have many chores to do, after they come home from church - but it's also Maple Syrup Sunday, and June is grateful church doesn't start until eleven in the morning. It gives her time to tend to small tasks around the house, to make and enjoy a leisurely breakfast snuggled up on the faded sofa in the living room, with Frank and Kevin, eating pancakes. On Sunday they don't go near their kitchen table; instead they light a fire in the fireplace and eat breakfast on the sofa and supper on an old quilt spread out on the living room floor, pretending they're on a picnic. They do it every Sunday during the winter, except for the times they have Sunday company. June has a feeling that if they asked their guests so sit Indian-style on the living room floor and eat fried chicken off a paper plate, they'd be more than happy to comply.
In the bathroom June brushes her teeth, then tosses her toothbrush aside when the taste of the toothpaste makes her gag into the sink. She spits up foam; clutches her stomach as her spit takes her past nausea and all the way to vomiting in the toilet. She rests her face on the cool porcelain, refusing to consider that Kevin may have visited the bowl once already and missed his target when he relieved himself. The child has lousy aim... but when morning sickness rears its unwelcome head June lets it have its way. She'll worry about scrubbing her face later. Right now it's more important to purge herself.
They haven't told Kevin he's going to become a brother. She and Frank are still getting over the shock of finding her pregnant after two years of trying, without success. June figured it would never happen again, that for whatever reason they were blessed beyond measure the first time and that would be it for them.
When she first became nauseous in the early morning June was afraid to say anything to Frank, unwilling to get his hopes up. On the fifth morning, Frank walked in and caught her bent over the toilet, retching and crying and laughing all at the same time. After he helped her clean up and made her brush her teeth and wipe her damp face, he carried her to bed and made the most tender, gentle love to her, tears running down his face to mingle with the ones welling up in her eyes as she climaxed and clung tightly to him. Another child - how blessed they felt. How incredibly blessed...
That was a week ago. This morning June thinks it's probably a good time to tell their son, and she heads back to their room intent on awakening Frank and suggesting they do just that - but when she gets back to the bedroom Frank is nowhere to be found. June struggles into her bathrobe and yawns her way downstairs, picturing the two of them up to their elbows in pancake flour and eggs. When it's this quiet in the house this early in the morning, and her boys are not upstairs, that can only mean one thing: they have taken it upon themselves to cook. God help her. With amused trepidation June heads to the back of the farmhouse.
Five seconds later she pokes her head into the kitchen and grimaces at the tableau in front of her. Lord, what a mess...
Eggs, and flour and sugar, everywhere. Soft laughter and conspiring whispers, spilled milk, as the men in her life make an absolute disaster out of mixing up pancakes. June stands in the doorway with her hands on her hips, fighting the giggles back, watching Briggs enthusiastically lap up a busted egg on the floor and committing to memory the sight of her tall, handsome husband wearing one of her frilly aprons over his bare chest and pajama bottoms.
June delicately clears her throat. "Um, guys... mind if I ask who started making... pancakes... this morning?" She points to the batter-spattered ceramic bowl with its bounty of lumpy dough, and the assorted measuring cups, spoons and what-not cluttering up her once-pristine counter.
Frank spins around, an egg flying from his fingers to drop on the floor, Briggs immediately lumbering over and licking at the exposed yolk. Grasping the eager dog's collar, Frank pulls him away from the cracked shell he's trying to eat, and mutters, "You weren't supposed to come down yet. You were supposed to be surprised."
June grins at him, carefully walks over broken eggshells and spilt flour; stretches up on her bare toes to brush a kiss on his pouting mouth. Against his lips she murmurs, "Oh, I'm surprised, I can guarantee it. Morning, Sweetheart," she smiles down at her son, who has tossed aside his spoon and is clutching her tightly around her waist, no doubt getting pancake goop over the back of her robe. June doesn't care. Robes can be washed. Her little boy's hugs are precious and priceless to her and she wouldn't waste a single second of them, telling him he has to wash his hands first.
Leaning down, she presses several kisses over Kevin's floury cheek and his tousled hair, then leads him over to the kitchen table and sits down in the nearest chair, pulling him onto her lap. Kevin cuddles close, still little-boy enough to love sitting on his mom.
June brushes his hair off his forehead and smiles into his adorable face, then glances up at Frank, who has retained his grip on Briggs and has moved himself and the wriggling dog over to stand by her chair. When he nods at her - knowing what she's going to say - June takes a deep breath and hugs Kevin tightly, speaking lovingly into her son's small ear.
"Kevin... how'd you like to be a big brother?"
"I don't think I've ever seen him so excited." Frank scrapes maple syrup from the breakfast plates as June attacks the dried-on yolk stubbornly clinging to her kitchen counter. She's smiling as she scrubs; in the living room their son is sound asleep and snoring, lying on the floor in a heap next to Briggs, using the dog's soft fur as a pillow.
They'd gobbled down pancakes that may not have been round but were certainly delicious. Frank had made a batch with blueberries in them and one with chocolate chips, and Kevin had been in kid heaven. He'd slathered butter and hot maple syrup over a heap of the lumpy cakes, then in between huge chomping bites had slurped orange juice and asked countless questions about babies and little brothers and messy diapers...
"Will he look like me? Will he be a he or a she? I think a sister would be sorta fun, I could teach her how to climb apple trees, Mom couldn't I teach her how to climb apple trees? Maisie Hawkins climbs trees and she only fell once and you shoulda seen the big scab on her knee, if she's a girl can I name her, Dad? Can I call her Daisy? I like daisies and I bet she'd be real pretty just like you Mom and Daisy's a pretty name isn't it? Can I help you put on his diapers, if it's a he? I don't want to help if it's a she, I don't think that would be nice 'cause Maisie says girl babies smell really bad when they poop an' she should know 'cause she's got that baby sister..."
Kevin had managed the long-winded garble while cramming pancakes in his mouth and over the excited barking of Briggs, who was busy trying to cadge food. June had started laughing helplessly, unable to eat between chuckles, as she listened to their son's infectious enthusiasm and strange rambling about diapers and smelly girl-babies. She'd finally held up a restraining hand, her eyes brimming over with mirth as she attempted to answer his questions.
"Kevin, slow down! First off, we haven't a clue if it's to be a boy or a girl. I promise you whichever we have you may certainly help choose names. No, you may not teach your baby brother or sister to climb trees, not until they are at least as old as you are right now! And Daisy is fine for a puppy, but I'm not too sure about a baby. And when did you and Maisie discuss the quality of her baby sister's poopy diapers?"
Thinking back on the wild conversation, June is relieved that Kevin is this thrilled. He has been their one and only for almost six years; by the time the baby is born Kevin will have just turned seven. It would be natural for him to be resentful of a young sibling, but so far Kevin shows only happiness and excitement. A little too much, in fact... her forehead furrows into a worried frown, and Frank catches it - and easily reads her thoughts.
"You're thinking of what he said about his grandmother, aren't you?" Frank has come up in back of her and slips his arms around her waist, letting her lean back against him. He buries his face into her soft hair as June nods and swallows hard, remembering the exact moment when she knew they'd have to explain to their son much more about his family than he'd probably be able to understand.
She rests her head into his shoulder. "I can't stop thinking about it. How could I think of anything else?" She turns in his arms, looks up into his face, into his loving eyes. Her hands frame his cheeks, her gaze is sad as she whispers, "Mulder... he wants to see her. He wants his baby sister or brother to see her... God, I want to see her, too!" June's voice breaks as she dissolves into tears and buries her sobs into his neck. Frank holds her closely; for once uncaring that she's spoken his secret name, in the middle of the morning a scant hour before they're due to church and within earshot of their son. He holds his wife in a comforting embrace and rocks a little on his feet, hoping he's soothing her somewhat - knowing her nearness is soothing him.
Several months after they first moved to Simmons, Frank wanted to contact her family. He wanted to go and get them, as a matter of fact - and June claimed the right to tell him no. The decision she'd made to stay hidden, in turn keeping her family away, had not been easy. Kevin had begun asking questions and it was so hard to tell their son his grandma might never get to see him again. In fact they'd put off telling him anything of substance, until he'd passed his fifth birthday. By then Kevin's intellect and capacity for comprehension was showing remarkable development for one so young, and the decision was made to explain as much to him as they thought he'd understand -
And it turned out that Kevin could understand plenty. He'd sat between them on the sofa, holding their hands, his little face serious, as first June and then Frank had haltingly explained to him why it was impossible for him to see his grandma and his uncles.
Kevin as usual had lots of questions. "Will the bad people ever forget us, Mommy? Will they ever want to hurt Grandma? Can I send her pictures and drawings if it's safe? What about Briggs? Do they hate dogs, too?" Kevin had slipped from their hands and bent down to hug the dog, who slobbered worshipfully over his cheeks and tried to chew on his ears. June had stroked her son's head and fought to blink back her tears before Kevin could see them. She swallowed hard and her voice came out even and clear.
"I don't know how these people feel about dogs, Sweetheart - but Briggs is safe with us. We're all safe here, as safe as we can be. Only one person knows where we really are - and he's our link to your grandma. He has gotten photos and letters to her on a regular basis, for us. Your grandma knows what you've looked like since you were a toddler."
As she spoke June had forced back tears again, at the thought of their one vital and valuable link to her family. He had risked his life for them, over and over. Had put himself in dangerous situations, for them - gladly. Had begged to be the one they contacted, leaving his two partners in the dark as to their whereabouts. It was safer that way, he declared, that only one of them should know. And his friends agreed to in turn protect him, at all costs. It had worked for several years, and they could only pray for its continued success...
Frank had lifted Kevin into his lap and snuggled him, as he took up the narrative. "Someday we hope these bad people will forget about us, Son - but until they do, we have to stay hidden, like this. I know you understand how important it is, for you to never say anything about this, to any of your friends at school, or your teacher. We're secrets, okay? All of us. Until Mommy and I tell you differently, this other side of our lives is a secret." Kevin's eyes had never wavered as Frank spoke; his head nodded vigorously as he'd promised his parents to never say a word. That had been months ago.
And now, a new life to protect - and a new vow to make...
Sunday zips by, as Sundays usually do. After church Frank and June take Kevin to see Mrs. Pennington, whose cocker spaniel Mouse delivered a litter of puppies, four weeks ago. Last year Mrs. Pennington had moved into town to be closer to her daughter Catherine, claiming that Bluff Ridge living was just getting too difficult and the little apartment upstairs from her real estate office in Simmons was certainly big enough for her.
Now she watches Kevin roll around on the floor with seven tiny yet rambunctious pups, and wonders aloud, "Gad, what was I thinking, putting my house up for rent and moving into this dinky place? Frank, you should have stopped me!"
Frank throws up his hands in surrender, grinning at her; beside him on the sofa June laughs as he protests, "Don't drag me into it, Mrs. P - I told you not to do it! That house is a lot of work, I know - but you've got very helpful neighbors out there on the Ridge."
June nods, but adds, "Well, it is a long way from town, Adele. I can certainly understand the hassle of driving that road every day, especially in the winter months. And all by yourself in a large house like that... you're better off in town, close to Cathy. Besides," she picks up a sweet little black cocker pup and cuddles it, "your canine houseguests will be out of here soon! Then this place will feel a lot bigger." The tiny pup wriggles and yips, licking at her face, as June inquires, "You did get them all sold, didn't you?"
Adele Pennington smiles and nods. "Yes indeed! In fact, the last pup has been adopted by the Northrups - they're the folks who have been renting my house this past year. They wanted to spend one full rotation of seasons out on the Ridge, see if they liked it, but sadly, they didn't. They gave notice a few days ago and they're moving out, heading back into town. I've been looking for a new tenant, haven't found one yet - so keep your fingers crossed for me."
After another half-hour of visiting, Frank and June collect an over-excited Kevin and take him home. There are still many chores needing to be done. Visiting Adele is always nice, but today was actually a kind of test, to see if Kevin would say anything to her about the baby. Frank hadn't forbidden Kevin to speak of it, not at all - but he wanted to see if Kevin understood the concept of discretion... and their son had kept his own counsel; when asked what was happening with him, Kevin had shrugged and had dutifully reported on Brigg's latest antics. Then after Adele had turned away to refill June's teacup, Kevin had caught his father's eye... and had winked. Frank was torn between laughing aloud and squeezing the stuffing out of his son in pride. He'd settled for ruffling the boy's hair and grinning at him.
Now, as they head back toward Bluff Lake, June notices the new layer of ice on Emmett Road, and hopes aloud that Mrs. Pennington's ex-tenants have good studded tires, for the drive back down the Bluff. The Ridge is ten more miles away, at a steady incline, not a fun road in the dead of winter.
At home, they change clothes and dig into their chores. Kevin spends almost the entire afternoon outside, either helping June feed the chickens and the horses, or roughhousing with Briggs in the yard - even doing his best to be of assistance when Frank chops wood, dragging the smaller branches and pieces aside to be fed into the chipper. It's cold, frost-biting work but they troop inside at least once for hot cocoa and a turn standing in front of the wood stove in the kitchen, warming their backsides. By five, everything is done, and the family sits down in front of the fire to an early supper of stew and homemade bread.
Kevin conks out fast, sprawled across Briggs on the hearth rug in front of the fireplace; the faithful dog stirs himself just enough to deliver an adoring lick to his young master's face, before curling around him and going to sleep. On the sofa, June stretches herself next to Frank and likewise curls into his side, both of them lying full length on the fat cushions. He plays with her hair while they stare into the fire. June has a lot on her mind and Frank knows it. He's been thinking, too... but he'll wait for her to say it first.
Several minutes stretch by, before she speaks. "The baby... he or she will be born in mid-June. It's pretty here, in June." She turns away from the fire, looks into her husband's loving eyes. He knows what she wants to say. It's the same thing he'd like nothing better to say to her; that they can make it work somehow, go and get her family, bring them here when it's warm and summery and the garden is flourishing and the hills are green and lush. That her brothers would want to visit here, that her mother would want to uproot herself and move here, cut herself off from the rest of her world.
He wants to say it and he wants to believe it...
But he doesn't believe it. And neither does she.
As the flames slowly wink out in the fireplace and leave hot embers behind, Frank carries Kevin to bed and tucks him in. June finishes up in the bathroom and then slips between the flannel sheets and sighs in contentment when she discovers they've been ironed by her thoughtful and sweet husband. Warm flannel and bare skin, her favorite way to sleep, in the deep of winter when the house is silent and smells of woodsmoke; when her bed smells of cotton and Mulder. Mulder... she can whisper his name at eleven o'clock at night when she waits for him in their bed.
She can watch him walk toward her, naked and muscled from hard, honest farm labor. She can close her eyes in thick desire when his arms band themselves around her and his mouth buries itself into her neck, under her heavy blonde braid; can giggle softly when his hands destroy that same braid and release her hair, to cover both their shoulders. She can sigh, moan, cry out in rapid-fire reaction to every delicious action he perpetrates upon her body - every kiss, every touch, every thrust. She can thank God for him, when he shudders deep inside her, inside where their baby now grows. Inside, where she thought she'd never conceive, ever again...
Inside. Close to her heart. Wrapped up in her soul. She can fall asleep with his arms tightly enclosing her and his hard body protecting her.
It's all hers to love, in turn protect, to care for as he cares for her and for their son. And sometime in early summer, when their baby son or daughter is born, they'll find a way to get safe word to her mother. They'll send photos. They'll send life, and their future sealed up in an envelope filled with loving words and color images.
Pressed up against his back, breathing softly into his damp skin, she mumbles a sleepy, "Love you so much, Mulder..." and smiles when his drowsy answer echoes over to her.
"Love you right back, Scully... my baby... all my babies..."
"A Life" will continue in "Air Mail Love"
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Char Chaffin
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