A LIFE SERIES, Part Eight: Spring Clean-Up

by Char Chaffin

By Char Chaffin
MSR, Skinner/ScullyFamily Angst, Future AU Rating: PG
Spoilers: Vague, Seasons One through Nine WARNING: Minor Character Death

STORYLINE, THANKS: See Header Notes, Part 0

Dedication: My darling Jay BayBee is having a birthday! Happiest of days, BayBee!

Summary: 'Her whole world dwells there...'

"Spring Clean-Up"

The condition of Emmett Road has slowly improved over the past month, but not because of snow plowing done by the state. The residents of Simmons and the outlying farms and houses dotting Bluff Ridge have taken turns clearing the only road that winds into town. Twenty-one miles of curving, steep mountain road has been kept relatively snow-free all winter long. Using a rotating roster, the calls have gone out whenever snow has been predicted - and although there has been some melting, there has also been unexpected snowfall, hitting Simmons and the Bluff the night before Easter.

Frank runs his plow on the slippery road, early Easter morning. He'd arisen in the dark, gotten dressed in the bathroom so as not to disturb June, who'd had a rough night of indigestion and leftover coughing from her bout of bronchitis and hadn't slept very well. He'd leaned over her sleeping form to kiss her and the feel of his lips on her cheek had stirred her, enough to croak, "Mulder... where're you going in the dark?"

Frank had passed a gentle hand over her hair, soothing her. "Shh. I'm plowing the Ridge. It's been snowing and it's my turn. Go back to sleep." With another kiss he'd slipped out the door and padded quietly down the stairs and out into the back mudroom to retrieve his snowsuit and heavy boots.

Bundled into the cab of his Cat, Frank takes the more difficult route first, the road going north up along Bluff Ridge. It's still very early in the morning but he knows folks will be rising soon and there will be activity on the road. Even on the Lord's very special day, Miller Kendell will still have to get to town with his eggs and Peg Brightner will drive in from Little Bluff Road in her old school bus, picking up other Bluff residents without vehicles who need a ride into town for the day. Peg's tire chains are worn and Miller's four-wheel drive went out on his truck last week. And this far up in the Bluffs, cleared and dry roads can be a matter of life and death.

Frank whistles under his breath as he maneuvers the Cat up the far side of the road. He always makes sure to clear as wide a swath as possible; Emmett Road is typically narrow and winding. Last month a truck full of Bexley kids driving to Bluff Lake for a snowmobile party had run off the road at Mid-Point Curve, and had gone over the embankment. Thankfully no one had been seriously injured but the group had totaled one snowmobile and crumpled the front of their truck. If the road had been plowed a little bit wider Frank doesn't think they would have slid quite so badly. He and the other Ridge farmers had talked it over and they'd all decided to scrape as far left and right as possible.

As he passes Adele Pennington's place, Frank notices it's still deserted, the Northrup family having already moved out over a month ago. He knows Adele has been out of town visiting family in Boston, and hasn't been actively searching for a new tenant. He also knows that her finances are less than sound right now and that she needs to rent that house, and soon. Frank has toyed with the idea of buying it from her, but he doesn't want to be tied down with owning two houses. There's no way of knowing when he and June may have to pick up and leave, quickly.

They have been lucky so far, living in Simmons. The town is wellhidden and relatively unknown even to other Vermont residents. They rarely get strangers in town except during ski season and then only a handful at a time. It's as if everyone has forgotten Simmons - and that's exactly why he and June like living here. But in the two years since they've become Simmons residents, Frank has never let down his guard. He could be ready to move within a few days, if he needed to. And although he loves it here, he's a practical and cautious man. He's had to be.

Still... as he climbs further up the winding road Frank thinks how nice it would have been, to own Adele's place. The house is smaller and the acreage only about half as much as he has with his own farm - but the lay of the land is sweet and the house would be the perfect size, for his mother-in-law to live in and his brothers-by-marriage, to visit. They could come, and stay as long as they like, any time they like. There are four small bedrooms in the house and two fireplaces. It's a great place - and just as he's thinking those particular pipe dreams again, Frank lets them dissipate into the cool air of the Cat. There's no way. He knows it. June knows it.

Somewhere, Maggie Scully knows it...

Frank shakes off the gloomy thoughts and turns around in front of the boat launch at the southern tip of Bluff Lake. Time to plow on back down the road, take the Cat into town for a quick gas-up and then turn around and head on home, to pancakes and hot maple syrup.

The sun shines high and the day is bright. New grass is coming in sparsely, nurtured carefully by the groundskeepers of Falls Church Memorial Cemetery. There are robins chirping in the trees nearby and in the cool crisp air there is a promise of renewal.

At a gravesite in a small corner of one of the older areas, mourners gather slowly, individually and in small groups. There are mounds of flowers; urns and baskets and swags stacked in graceful order around the gleaming rosewood casket. A double row of chairs has been set up underneath a dark green canvas awning and they are slowly filling with family, and friends.

Some of them wear black and others are garbed in less traditional colors. Some carry single long-stemmed sterling roses that they gently lay upon the closed casket, and others clutch handkerchiefs. Their murmurs are low and meant to comfort, as they gather around the occupants of the first row of chairs.

Bill Scully Jr. is not talking to anyone, barely answering his wife and children. His eyes are rimmed in red and his face is drawn in pain. Next to him his brother Charles is in a similar condition, one hand clasping his older brother's and the fingers of his other hand twined through his wife's reassuring grip. Deborah Scully cries openly, not bothering to wipe the tears from her face. They slip down her pale cheeks silently. She isn't speaking, either.

On the other side of Bill, Tara Scully holds her youngest child, Mary, on her lap. Matthew sits next to her, solemn in his dark suit and polished shoes. This is the third funeral he's attended in his short life. Matthew hates funerals - hates their significance. His dark eyes ache; his heart hurts. He leans his head into his mother's arm and feels the kiss she brushes over his hair. It helps to ease a little of the coldness he carries inside.

The priest takes his place next to the casket, clears his throat. Opens up the Bible in his hands, and begins to read the Twenty-Third Psalm. It's a favorite of the family's, and they specifically requested it be read. Father Bishing hasn't bothered to inform them the Psalm is read at every graveside service he performs. It's his responsibility to give the bereaved family anything they want and to agree with them in their time of need.

As the words of the Psalm are spoken softly and reverently, Bill Scully bows his head and harsh sobs wrack his body. Beside him his brother releases both occupied hands and wraps his arms around Bill's shaking form, trying to soothe him, support him. And behind their chairs, Walter Skinner presses a strong and comforting palm on each man's shoulder.

None of them could have predicted this day. It caught them by surprise, the suddenness of it, the shock. It should not have happened. And yet, it did.

Skinner remembers reading the obituary in the paper. Remembers the utter surrealism, of seeing her name listed there. Remembers the way she looked, the last time he saw her... at her children's funeral, five years ago. She'd been dressed in navy blue, and her smile had been sad and genuine and her hand had pressed his gently when he sat beside her under an awning very like the one that covered them today.

She'd murmured, "Thank you for coming, Mr. Skinner. I know Dana and Fox would have wanted you right here, with the family."

And he'd nodded, unable to say much to her, hanging onto her hand as if he held a lifeline. Which in a way, he had... for never in his adult life had he met a stronger person than Margaret Scully. She'd watched a husband's ashes cast upon the sea he so loved; had buried a daughter in this cemetery. Was burying another this very day, in the same family plot - along with her grandson and the man who'd fathered him and loved her Dana. Three beloved children and a grandchild, a family unit - side by side in the Scully plot. She could bear it, the overwhelming grief - because she was a Scully and the Scullys were made of tough stuff. She still had two sons, and they were a source of comfort to her, now. Their wives were her daughters, now...

Skinner remembered her strength and had always admired her for it. He lost track of her after the funeral. He grieved for the loss of them, the loss of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, of their son William. Gone, all of them - and he missed them, five years later. He missed them every day.

Now, he stands with his hands on Margaret Scully's sons' shoulders, and knows he'll miss her every bit as much. Once she had graciously and fondly lumped him in with her family, and he'd felt such a warm surge. How long had it been since he'd been part of any family? Maybe five years had passed since he'd last seen her but her warmth could still be felt, a live thing amongst all of them. She was his last real link to the agents - and friends - he'd lost years ago.

Skinner bows his head, fights back the tears. He's always been a tower of strength to those who needed him, and he won't compromise that strength today, though in his lifetime he'd shed some tears. And later, alone... he'll shed some, for today - for her. And for her daughter and family. He'll cry for them. But right now her sons need strength and compassion, and that's what they'll have, from him.

His eyes sting as they gaze at the rosewood coffin, covered in a blanket of pale yellow carnations and sprinkled with fragrant sterling roses. Surreal, that's what it is. He can see her face, in his mind he can feel the warmth of her smile...

Yes, Walter Skinner will miss Margaret Scully, very much.

These are busy days for Frank and June, after Easter holiday. The ground is warming up fast and has lost enough of the spring chill for them to begin tilling the soil. June has dragged Kevin and Briggs to town three times in the truck, spending a small fortune at the garden and feed store. This year they are trying a new crop of potatoes and Kevin has expressed a desire to have his own little garden, filled with odd things like blue taters and popping corn. Yesterday Frank helped him stake out a sunny corner of the garden, promising to have it tilled by nightfall - and Kevin is bouncing in his seat all the way to town, at the prospect of getting to choose his own seeds.

June parks the truck across the street from Cameron's Dry Goods, and Kevin snaps on Brigg's leash, the excited dog trying very hard not to strain against his young master's hold. June waves to several familiar faces, as she and Kevin walk the three blocks to Simmons Farm and Feed. It's good to be out walking, after being stuck on the Ridge with lingering bronchitis. In the third trimester of her pregnancy, she waddles a bit now, and Kevin pokes fun at his ungainly, pretty mother.

"Look, Briggs! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's... DuckWoman !" He runs ahead of her, imitating her walk and making her blush and giggle helplessly. Briggs prances in a circle, yapping with enthusiasm and winding the leash about Kevin's legs. He trips and they tumble to the wet grass in a pile of fur and silly boy. June laughs at them so hard she gets a stitch in her side and has to stop and rub at her belly.

"You deserved that, Kevin - making fun of your poor mother. Come on, we're going to be late getting back." As her grinning son untangles himself from the long leash, June waves at Adele Pennington, who has just come back from her lunch break. Adele veers from the door of her real estate office and hurries across the street to give June a hug.

"You've finally been sprung from prison, huh? You must be feeling better, you certainly are glowing, my dear. And look at you! How much longer?" Adele gently pats June's tummy.

June grimaces. "Two more months. Honestly, I feel as though I have been pregnant for an eternity. I haven't seen my feet in so long I can't help but wonder if my toes are intact! And I'm hungry all the time. I have to be more careful about what I put in my mouth, otherwise I'll never lose the baby weight, after Megan pops out."

Adele smiles fondly at her. "Such a sweet name. Megan... I like it. Is it a family name?" Her question is expected, yet June feels the sad little tug, when she responds.

"My maternal grandmother's name - and my mother's middle name. It seemed fitting, that I could honor them both at the same time."

June's eyes carry a sadness that Adele has seen before. She is not a prying woman. She has never asked too many questions, not where this family is concerned. She suspects they have seen their share of rough times, in the past. And she knows that here in Simmons they have found a peaceful - and safe - kind of living that only smalltown life seems to offer. She also knows they have both suffered family loss; she has seen it in Frank's eyes, the few times he's mentioned his family. And she sees it now, in the way June tears up, just a little, when she talks about her mother. But Adele Pennington will not pry.

Thoughtfully, she changes the subject. "My dear, I have great news! You can tell Frank to stop worrying about me and my empty house - I found someone to rent it. A lovely woman, elderly. A widow. From Indiana; Gary, I think. Name's Cora Bledsoe. Drives a little red Honda sedan; you might see her from time to time, on Emmett Road. I had Harv next door help her move her things in; poor dear didn't have very much."

June is curious. "Did she sell everything before she left Gary?"

Adele shakes her head, sadly. "No, the poor woman lost most of her possessions in a house fire. Killed her husband, and her dogs. I understand she was on her way home from work; she volunteered at a local day care center. Drove up her street, in time to see fire trucks and police cars, everywhere. Well, she went berserk. Broke through the barricade and dashed into the burning house, before anyone could stop her. When the firemen chased after her and by the time they'd caught her, she'd managed to get through the front door and she was screaming for her husband. She got burned badly, on her face, and her hands."

"Oh, how awful for her! When did this happen?"

"About two months ago, she said. She still has a lot of scars; has had some grafting and plastic surgery done. But her face is in rough shape, and I think a combination of grieving and her injuries is what will keep her on the Ridge. I would bet we don't see much of her in town. Martha over at Cameron's tells me that she has arranged to have groceries delivered to her place, twice a month."

June is sympathetic. "Well, I can certainly understand her need to bury herself away, after what she's been through. I'll tell Frank about her, and caution him to leave her be while she gets settled. You know Frank; he'd be out there with the lawn mower and tiller, offering his help, as a one-man welcoming committee!"

Adele laughs, knowing June is right. Frank is a gregarious man, generous with his time and always determined to give back to others the blessings he's received himself. It's just the way he is...

"Well, I'd give her a few weeks, then maybe stop by and welcome her. She seemed very shy to me."

June nods and calls to Kevin, who's found a couple of his school pals and is busy chatting with them, Briggs right in the thick of their boyish banter. Kevin obediently trots over, is engulfed in Adele's loving embrace and good-naturedly suffers his young pals' verbal teasing, as they watch him being hugged. Adele ruffles his hair. "You get bigger every time I see you, Kevin! Are you being a good boy and helping out your folks?"

Kevin nods dutifully, "Yes, Mrs. Pennington. Hey, guess what? I'm getting my own garden! I'm gonna grow purple potatoes and popcorn and baby carrots!" His little face is flushed with enthusiasm and there's a smear of Adele's pink lipstick on one cheek. June thinks there couldn't possibly be a more adorable child on earth than her Kevin - and for one brief moment she allows hot tears to gather in her eyes, at the thought that she'd give anything if her mother could see Kevin, just as he looks right now.

Then the moment passes, and she and Kevin are hugging Adele Pennington goodbye, after extracting a promise from her to join them for Sunday dinner. Half an hour later they've finished their shopping and are back in the truck, headed home, the bed of the pickup loaded down with bags of fertilizer and assorted peat and potting soil. A large bucket holds blue tater starters and another bag contains seeds. Briggs hunkers down between bags and bucket, happily gnawing on a large Greenie that Kevin bought for him with part of his weekly allowance.

In the warm cab June drives with both hands on the wheel and Kevin's head snuggled in her lap, asleep as always, when he travels in a vehicle. She spares him a quick glance and a tender smile, then lets her mind drift a little, as they climb Emmett Road, headed for the Ridge.

Seven miles away, Frank is tilling their garden. Seven miles from here, their farmhouse is warm and full of spring sunlight. Her whole world dwells there, the world she helped Frank create and the place that spells safety and permanency, for all of them. There will be more of these moments, June knows - when she'd do anything in the world to have her mother in her arms. She also knows that Margaret Scully didn't raise any weaklings. She will hang tough, stay strong - because she is a Scully, and that's what Scullys do.

June drives through the Bluffs, hands steady on the wheel and the warmth of her dozing son against her leg.

The little satellite post office stands in the late afternoon sun, parking lot filled with vehicles owned by postal patrons eager to pick up their mail before the lobby closes, ten minutes from now.

He walks to the back and unlocks Box 121. Pulls out the manila envelope and slips it into his jacket. Locks up and walks out to his car. He drives away, taking it slow, nosing through traffic... pondering.

It saddens him to think this envelope will go no further than his own hands. He's sure its contents are wonderful and sweet. If he knew of a safe place to store it, he'd keep the envelope, maybe open it and look through the priceless contents. But there isn't a safe place in the world right now, that can hold it - of that he's sure.

An hour later he pulls off onto a narrow side road, stops the car. Gets out, and squats in the dirt on the shoulder of the road. Pulls out the envelope and lays it on the ground. Removes a lighter from another pocket, and carefully sets it on fire. Watches sadly, as it burns. He is sure he'll regret not looking through the contents - just as sure as he is, that looking through them would also hurt all the worse.

Five minutes later the envelope is a small pile of charred ashes that blow away in the early evening breeze... and he is back in his car and driving away. And as John Byers heads for home, he wipes away the moisture in his eyes.

"A Life" will conclude, in "Full-Circle Summer"

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Char Chaffin