For everyone who asked.
He rattles up the driveway, the rattling a function of his automobile rather than the O'Keefes’ smooth asphalt. He parks under the basketball hoop, blocking the garage.Fallen branches litter the yard. A shutter is down from one of the dormer windows, and the landscaping looks threadbare in places. A Japanese maple is split down the center.
Henry is gathering this debris from the storm, hauling it into a large pile in front of the house. He wears a Princeton sweatshirt and jeans, a Nationals cap pulled over his hair. He pauses in his work to greet Mulder. There are wet leaves on his hands.
“Didn’t expect to see you,” Mulder says, stepping over a rake to shake hands. “I was planning a drop-and-dash.” He holds out Scully’s wooden umbrella, her jumper cables.
“Well, you can just, um, set that stuff on the bench I suppose. Dana’s in surgery all day, but I can put it in her car when she gets home.” Henry jams his hands in his pockets, rocks back on his heels.
“Okay,” Mulder says. He lays the items on the bench, then surveys the yard with a kind of awe at the destruction. “Hell of a mess.”
Henry sighs. “I know they were calling for it, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for what we got. You know Dana has a big crack in her windshield.”
Mulder’s eyebrows go up, as this is news to him. “She okay?”
“Oh, she’s fine, but she was pretty shaken when she got home last night.” He studies Mulder carefully. “Must have been a rough drive home, huh?”
“Must have been.”
They are silent for a time.
“You need any help cleaning up?” Mulder asks. “It’s the least I could do after you were nice enough to buy me birthday champagne.”
Henry shakes his head. “No, thank you for the offer though. Glad you had a good night despite the weather. You’re hard to shop for, though Dana said you wouldn’t want a gift.”
Mulder looks away. “I don’t need much.“Henry picks the rake up, leans on the handle as he presses the tines into the soft earth. “I love my wife,” he says. “And so do you. Some people might say that puts us at odds, Mulder.”
Mulder meets Henry’s gaze. “It would be an understandable, if incorrect assumption.”
Henry shifts. “I don’t want to be at odds with you. You….you’re her friend. You represent a part of her life I can never fully understand. When I lost Joan I thought I’d…well. I know we all have our ghosts.”
“Nothing happened last night, Henry.”
Henry stiffens. “Pardon?”
Mulder holds his hands out, open. “I feel like I need to just say it, okay? Nothing inappropriate happened. My battery was dead and we realized we both had too much too drink, so we waited the storm out in my car. Her phone got wet and ruined so she couldn’t call. She adores you and your kids and that Ewok of a dog.”
Henry closes his eyes for a long moment, then opens them. “Thanks for bringing her things back. I’ll tell her you came by.”
Mulder nods. He gets into his car and backs down the driveway, navigating fallen limbs as he does. On the radio, Tom Petty’s singing about his last dance with Mary Jane. Mulder turns the volume up and sings along.