Agent Sean Pendrell looked at his watch and let out a vehement curse. He was going to be late for work yet again. It would be his third time in two weeks and the lab director was going to have his hide for this.
He couldn't even blame the traffic for his tardiness. He'd overslept. His alarm did go off but he somehow managed to turn it off through some dreamy haze, and thus, once he did finally wake up, he almost fell from his bed when he saw it was already nine o'clock.
Just the thought of the expression on his boss's face made him wish he could crawl under a rock and die. He would have called in sick but there was a major staff meeting and the lab director had stressed that unless they were lying under a slab of rock in a cemetery or on some hospital bed, there would be no exemptions. All had to attend. He'd come in to sit in those meetings with fevers of 102 and more in the past. The director didn't even offer slight appreciation for his sacrifice. There was no way he would be able to avoid coming to the office.
He quickly jumped out of bed, scrambling to get out of his PJs and into his suit and tie. He slithered his feet into his shoes and forwent tying his shoelaces as he grabbed his briefcase and hurried out of his apartment.
Of course, traffic had to be an abomination when he was running late. He'd hoped that since he was already delayed, that there would be less people on the road. Alas, it appeared as if today everybody had overslept and thus he found himself stuck for over an hour and a half amidst honking cars and aggravated drivers.
It was almost eleven by the time he clocked in. As he approached the lab entrance, he tried to prepare mentally for his boss's reprimand. Finally standing by the door marked 'LAB', he drew in a deep breath, opened it and entered.
To his utter surprise and relief, the lab rats were busy bustling about and nobody really noticed his tardy arrival. Shaking his head in disbelief, he quickly snuck to the nearby closet to hang his coat, but the moment he opened the closet door he was attacked by airborne balloons trying to make their way out.
In an attempt to prevent the balloons from escaping, Pendrell entered the closet as he blocked the balloons' exit with his body. As a final resort, he pulled the door behind him and shut himself within the closet's confines.
He'd solved the matter of the runaway balloons, but now he was in a tiny space filled with sheer darkness. He had no idea where the light switch was, but he still had his hand pressed against the door knob. All he had to do was just twist it, and he'd bring back the light, but to his total dismay, turning the knob did not yield the expected result. It wouldn't budge. He was nicely secured within the tiny dark closet.
Great going, Sean, he berated himself. Now what was he going to do? He could bang on the door until somebody heard him and set him free, but that would bring too much of that unwanted attention he'd so far managed to avoid.
No. He had to somehow figure his way out of here on his own, but the first order of business were the lights. There was slight chance he'd make any headway while in complete darkness.
So, without any further ado, he began patting the walls of the tiny closet in search of the light switch.
The logical location had to be by the door, so he palpated the wall up and down along the door sill but he couldn't find the switch. He didn't want to, but he had good reason to believe it was on the outside. Before he gave up and began pounding the door for help, he decided to check if there was some cord dangling from above that pulled the switch. He raised his arms and tried to feel for anything in the way, as he waved them to and thro.
Not only did he not find the subject of his search, as he was slowly turning around, he inadvertently trod on one of his untied shoelaces and the next moment he found himself losing his balance as he tried to lift his foot and realized too late that it wasn't possible. He went down like a bag of rocks. He tried to grab hold on whatever he could that was around him, but all he could catch were coats slung upon coat-hangers. As he tugged at the coat he'd managed to grab hold on, the garment came off the hanger and down he went with it.
The landing was a painful event. He couldn't prevent himself from letting out a cry of pain as his knee made contact with the floor tiles. The only upside was that he could hear the rushing of footsteps and voices crying out: "Who's there?" "Do you need help?"
With a deep defeated sigh, Agent Pendrell revealed his location and grim situation to whoever it was outside the closet door. "It's me. Agent Pendrell. I'm afraid I somehow managed to get myself locked in the coat closet."
He heard a clicking sound and suddenly bright light flowed into the tiny space he’d been occupying almost blinding him and forcing him to shut his eyes.
“Agent Pendrell!” A female voice shot out, her tone both shocked and concerned. “Are you OK?”
Pendrell still had his eyes shut tight. “I’m OK,” He blurted. He could feel hands trying to grab hold of his arms. He relented and welcomed the help he was offered. He slowly rose up. His knee still throbbed as he felt himself being guided carefully out of the closet.
“Slowly does it,” the voice ordered.
He had no problem complying. The throbbing of his knee gradually made way for full blown agonizing pain, and he couldn’t help but limp as he was maneuvered by his saviors.
“Here, Pendrell. Sit down.”
He felt a slight push on his shoulder and the touch of the edge of a seat against his thighs, and he leaned back and plopped down into it.
“Open your eyes.”
Like an over-obedient pup, Sean Pendrell complied, albeit with extreme caution as he recalled his reaction to the light as the closet door was opened. He let the light in slowly this time and gradually he got accustomed enough to be able to make out the faces of his helpers. Three women stared down at him, their eyes filled with concern.
“How did you manage to get yourself into such a mess, Pendrell?” Jane Cook, Chief of Molecular Biology, asked.
Pendrell was still trying to regain his senses and wasn’t quite sure how it had all happened at first. Then he remembered. “There were these balloons… Why were there balloons in the coat closet?”
Mia Lesley, Jane’s assistant, let out a chuckle. “Silly Pendrell. Don’t you remember? It’s Agent Scully’s birthday today. We’re having a tiny office party before lunch.”
Pendrell gulped. Fuck me! He’d totally forgotten. He was supposed to bring a fruit bowl. It was supposed to be a healthy snack party being that Scully was a health nut.
“Pendrell?” This time it was Jean Cohen, the Radio Frequency expert, “You didn’t forget Dana’s birthday now?”
Pendrell stared at his hands. He couldn’t bear the thought of staring into any of these women’s eyes at that moment. He knew that they knew how he felt about Dana Scully, so for him of all people to forget her birthday…
“Seriously?!” Jane cried out.
“It’s just that… it was a crazy morning…” he tried to explain.
“But you knew about the party over a week ago.” Jean admonished him.
Busted. He’d meant to buy her something; he just didn’t know what to bring her. Every gift he thought of would have sent the wrong message. He wanted something to show her that he knew her; something that might send a slight hint about his feelings for her, but most of his choices came between either too nerdy or too hopeless a romantic. He’d tossed aside the fake petri dish with fake bacteria, the heart-shaped chocolate box and the latest edition of Scientific American. With not much time left he decided he’d just get her a pretty pot-plant at the florist shop next to his apartment building. But of course, his morning dash sort of put the lid on that.
And now he had nothing. What a mess.
“Oh, c’mon Jean. Give him a break,” Mia shot at her friend. “Sean’s had a lot on his plate lately. Too many cases to handle. So he forgot. These things happen.”
Pendrell looked up at Mia, feeling grateful.
“You can hop by the gift shop and get her something now,” Jean suggested.
Yeah. He could do that, he figured.
He was about to get up and do just that, when a loud voice bellowed. “Agent Pendrell, I still don’t have that summery of your monthly activity for today’s staff meeting.”
It was Eva Sherman, the lab director.
Shit! Fuck! Could this day get any worse? “I was just about to send it to you, Mam,” he told the director.
“I expect it in my inbox in the next hour!” Director Sherman informed him. “If it won’t be there, I will have to rethink your upcoming promotion, Agent.”
Pendrell gulped. “It will be there, Mam.”
“Good!” Sherman said. “I’m off to a meeting with A.D. Skinner. I’ll be back in time for Agent’s Scully’s party.” With that she turned around and strode out of the lab, leaving a terribly distraught Pendrell behind her.
He looked up at the three remaining women, feeling like a complete loser. “I might as well get that report going.” He got up from his seated position and trudged wistfully in the direction of his desk.
“Pendrell…” Mia called out after him.
“It’s OK. I’ll get Agent Scully a gift some other time.” He said dejectedly.
“Nonsense!” Jane uttered. “I’ve got some free time. I’ll go buy that gift.”
Pendrell turned around, completely astounded. Maybe this day could turn out OK after all. “Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Sure. You’ve helped me out in the lab several times. It’s time I returned that favor.”
He felt extremely grateful. “Jane! You’re the best!”
“Nah. Dana’s the best, but I still like you anyway,” Jane laughed.
[Almost an hour later – same location]
Agent Pendrell clicked the send button. He had to rush through the report and he knew he would have done better had he been given additional time; hopefully Sherman would be satisfied with the semi-abridged version.
He leaned back and stretched out his arms and legs. He felt a tiny twang in his right knee, a reminder of his unfortunate morning. At least right now his luck was turning around. All he needed was that gift from Jane and he’d be fine.
He heard the lab door being swung open and as he turned around he caught sight of A.D. Skinner and Lab Director Sharman walking in with Agents Mulder and Scully in tow.
Damn. The party was about to begin and there was no Jane in sight.
Skinner and Sherman passed him by. Skinner gave him a courteous nod while Sherman offered him a very meaningful glare. Pendrell bowed his head slightly, his nerves getting the better of him.
He followed them with his eyes and almost jumped when a familiar female voice greeted him with “Hi Agent Pendrell.”
He blinked. “H… Hi… Agent… Scully…” he somehow managed. God! He sounded like a blundering fool. Why couldn’t he speak to her like a normal person? As long as it was shop talk he did fine, but the moment they left those boundaries and he was all over the place.
“Pendrell!” he felt a slap on his back. He looked up and caught Agent Mulder’s extra chummy grin.
“Hey,” he responded weakly.
“You’re joining us, right?” Scully said.
“Y… yeah… sure…” he blurted. Scully was talking to him but her eyes were constantly on Mulder. He sighed inwardly. He knew his chances with her were slim, but he couldn’t help himself. “I’ll be right with you.”
“Great!” Mulder approved. But he was already half way through the lab and on his way to the adjoining lounge where the party was scheduled.
As the directors and the agents entered the lounge, Pendrell could hear the sounds of giggles, chit-chat and music. The party was well on its way and Jane still hadn’t returned from her errand. Why was it taking her so long? All she had to do was go to the gift shop across the road. He was becoming anxious by the minute and he didn’t like it one bit.
Pendrell’s heart jumped with shock.
“Agent! Your presence is required,” It was director Sherman. She was standing at the lounge’s entrance, her stance was telling him he should hurry or else.
He fumbled out of his chair and quickly made his way to the party venue.
As he approached Sherman, he was ready to assume his usual cowering position, but the director offered him a hearty grin. “Thata’boy! Now get inside and enjoy yourself. That’s an order, Agent!”
“Yes, Mam!” he almost saluted, but he was quickly ushered into the lounge by his lab friends. Somebody shoved a plastic cup with some fruit juice into his hand, as another couple of unseen hands strung a paper hat on his head.
The tiny lounge was almost bursting with the unusual number of people that filled it. Pendrell felt somewhat overwhelmed. The noise was more than he could bear with too many people all talking at once and the music playing. He was having a hard time concentrating. People shook his hand, patted his back and just tried to start some form of conversation with him but to him it was all just a total blur. All he could think of was that Jane hadn’t yet arrived with that gift and he was now beginning to worry that his bad luck might have been transferred to her. He hoped she was OK.
Then He heard a deep-no-nonsense male voice making an announcement. “Let’s raise our fruit juice for this young and talented agent!”
Pendrell pushed his way through the crowd until he made the front ring. A.D. Skinner held his cup of juice in his left hand and his right hand rested on Agent Scully’s shoulder. Pendrell thought Skinner looked like a father presenting his very own daughter with immense pride.
The crowd cheered as all held their cups up high.
“Bottoms up!” That from Mulder.
Everybody cheered once more.
Suddenly Pendrell heard a woman from behind. “Sorry I’m so late. I just had to find the right gift for you.”
He turned around abruptly.
“Here,” Jane shoved a small rectangular box into his hands. “I didn’t wait for them to wrap it. Too short on time.”
Stunned, all he could divulge was a quick “Thank you.”
Jane smiled. “I got to go get my gift from my desk,” she said. “Be right back.” And she disappeared from the lounge just as quickly as she appeared.
Pendrell finally managed a quick peek at the small box he was holding. It read ‘Rabbit Habit’. At first it didn’t register, and then when it did, he almost choked.
Behind him he could hear as Agent Scully was thanking her colleagues for the presents she was receiving. He turned around only to realize he was next in line. He quickly hid the tiny box behind his back. Maybe he could still somehow run out of the lounge and save his face. He looked behind him only to find a rather large gathering, all eagerly waiting to reach the birthday girl. There was no escape route whatsoever.
“Agent Pendrell,” It was A.D. Skinner, “What are you holding behind your back?”
Pendrell felt his body temperature rising and he knew his face now matched his hair color.
“It’s… a gift… for Agent Scully.” He couldn’t look Scully in the eye as he reluctantly passed the package to her.
Suddenly the crowd went silent. The music that had so far been mostly masked by the din, could be heard and with it Agent Mulder’s voice as he sang along with it, completely oblivious to Pendrell’s mishap. “I'm pickin' up good vibrations. She's giving me excitations (Oom bop bop). I'm pickin' up good vibrations (Good vibrations, oom bop bop). She's giving me…”
Pendrell looked up and turned to look at Mulder along with the entire crowd.
“What?” Mulder shot back at the crowd innocently. “I love the Beach Boys. Now all I need is ‘Happy Rhonda’ and I’m a content man”.