It’s the sun that tempts Scully away from the diner opposite their motel. The air is tinged with the undercurrent of Fall and she feels feeble warmth on her cheeks. She walks along the road – deserted and quiet thanks to the newly built highway nearby - until she sees this particular diner with a tall, red windmill on its roof. It feels like a memory she can’t quite grasp. So, she steps inside and is shown to a booth.
The diner is fresh and empty. Tables wiped clean and silverware untouched by the grease of the day. Dust dances in the morning sunlight and she smells smoky bacon from the kitchen. Her dry eyes ache as she scans the menu and finding anything that wouldn’t induce a combination of dopamine and heart disease is a challenge. She settles for an omelette. The coffee is hot and bitter, serving as a distraction from her guilt: Mulder is on a morning run, and would expect her to eat with him later. He has never really understood her need for solitary wandering. He knows when her mood shifts, and gives her space, but he doesn’t get it. During their very first case, having known her less than 48 hours, he showed her his deepest and inner-most self. The neglected child in him craves attention, contact and acknowledgement. Professionally she had to prove herself to him for the best part of a year, yet very early on he attuned his physical movements to hers resulting in an intimacy which is both affirming and invasive. He sustains himself in relation to others – his sister primarily, then his father and, finally, her, the weight of which has more than once threatened to suffocate her. She exists, and that alone can sustain her. She learned this the hard way. She is the sun and he has been in her orbit for 25 years.
The diner bustles with tourists and businessmen. The waitstaff hurry in their tennis shoes like theatre stagehands, making sure everything goes without a hitch. There is anticipation in the room. Scully keeps her eyes low to avoid any well-meaning small talk from the retired couple in the table opposite her booth.
She hadn’t slept well the night before. They left the hospital at 11:30pm when it was confirmed that Jackson van de Kamp had disappeared. With no real leads as to his location, Mulder drove them back to the motel. She had protested strongly: he can’t have gone far; he was a scared teenager whose parents had just died. They should make sure he’s safe. Mulder, whose irrational commitment to a case headlines his resume, didn’t play along this time. He led her to the car by her elbow, a gesture which reeked of condescension and she snapped.
‘Get your damn hands off me Mulder, what do you think you’re doing? I can’t just leave while he’s out there alone. I can’t do it.’ His face remained neutral and he dipped his head towards hers.
‘No one’s said anything about leaving, but Scully, we need to get some rest,’ his caramel voice had been low, his hand still at her elbow. ‘Let the police do their jobs. We’ll pick it up in the morning, but we’ll be no use to anyone unless we sleep.’
Fuelled by fear, Scully had sat on her bed at the motel taking her frustration out on the laptop keyboard. She had the energy of an injured animal, and she knew Mulder kept his distance for fear of her strike. He watched Friends reruns from a stiff-backed chair and made his way through a 6-pack which sat on the table beside him.
Scully blinked quickly from fatigue and dread. Had it only been yesterday morning that her biggest concern was sleep paralysis? The familiar chest pain from 16 years ago, when she’d said goodbye to William, had returned. She couldn’t swallow anything. He was close. And she couldn’t reach him. She focussed instead on a superfluous report she pretended Skinner would need when in fact he had told Mulder he didn’t want to touch this case and they shouldn’t either. She peppered her report with phrases like confirmation bias, paracosm and teenage schizophrenic epilepsy and concentrated on the facts of the case: they hadn’t yet identified any DNA link with Jackson van de Kamp, and they couldn’t confirm exactly what happened with the two girls on the boat.
However, she knew it was him. She knew. Not because of any vision, but because his bedroom hummed with him and she heard it. Her maternal instincts, dormant for 16 years, responded to the smell of his room as a flower turns towards light. In both her work and her faith, she had come to understand the necessity of trust in situations that defy logic. To have confidence in her instincts now, yet not to act, was torture and so she did the only thing she could: she recorded it like the scientist she is.
She must have fallen asleep sometime after 3am, and it was 6am when she awoke fully clothed but tucked under the covers. Her laptop and glasses were on the bedside table next to her. Mulder was lacing up his running shoes. She could see the hangover on his face. Lines slightly deeper, eyes slightly smaller. The silence tightened between them.
The omelette arrives, and Scully tries to work out if it’s actually made from real eggs. She decides to have another sip of coffee before braving it. A shadow falls across her plate as someone sits opposite her. She looks up and inhales sharply, choking on her coffee. His eyes have the same depth as his father’s, and wasn’t there something of Bill’s tight-jawed certainty around his mouth? Jackson stares at her as she gulps some water to control her coughing.
‘Jackson,’ she exhales. Her hand had found his. He immediately removes it and places both hands on his lap. She tries not to feel stung.
‘I just…. I wanted to see you. In person. I’ve seen you before… but not in real life I guess.’
‘I wanted to see you too.’ She speaks carefully, as if tempting a sparrow to eat from her hand. No sudden movements, no raised voices, no emotions. ‘I have wanted to see you for a long time.’
‘So… are you? My birth mother.’ His candour startles her. Her heart pounds with adrenaline. His long, thin fingers tear lines in the paper placemat and he searches her face for answers to questions he doesn’t vocalise. She hears whispers in her mind.
‘Can I get you anything?’ A waitress in a yellow gingham outfit interrupts, and Jackson breaks his stare to glance at her.
‘Uh… maybe a diet coke?’
‘Would you like some food too?’ Scully asks. He eyes her eggs and shakes his head before meeting her gaze again. She reflects his intensity right back to him, both trying to record the other, trying to uncover clues. He is fluid and jumpy and full of nervous energy. Is that Mulder or is that symptomatic of a scared teenager? Is his focus from her or is he just working out who he can trust?
'So... yeah. Are you… her?’
‘That’s a very big question.’ She finds she can’t answer to his face. She is ashamed and scared of his reaction, so she looks down. She twists her mother’s engagement ring on her right index finger. ‘I believe so, yes.’
‘Ok… I guess. I’ve seen you before,’ he repeats. The waitress brings his coke, which he drinks quickly.
‘I’ve seen you too.’ She looks up again and stills herself. Her eyebrows are tight. She feels the table shudder as he jiggles his leg. ‘Last night at the morgue. Did you hear what I said?’
Jackson nods and she bites her lips together. They form a dam which stops her from flooding the table. With words, with tears, she’s not exactly sure. But she knows it’s important to stay steady right now.
‘So. Now you know.’ Her voice hitched on the last word, and her cheeks flush with embarrassment.
‘I think about you every day. Every day. And I will always struggle with my decision.’ She tries to be articulate but he’s here in front of her, he’s talking with her, she can smell his stale clothes. His eyes are looking right into her, and she thinks he can see right into her heart and her mind and she knows she can’t stop so she picks up her refrain from the night before. ‘I’m so sorry. At the time I was a single parent and there was a very real threat from which I couldn’t escape. I thought this was the best decision. And it turns out it was the worst decision because it still didn’t protect you and I wasn’t with you. I wasn’t with you. And they found you anyway.’
Jackson doesn’t say anything as she lifts her napkin to wipe to her eyes. She isn’t wearing mascara, yet she still dabs daintily before putting her hands back in her lap where they twist the engagement ring once more. He will never understand, she realises. One day he might have his own child and then he will understand even less. Handing over her only child to a stranger seems so irrational now. Had she been so alone, so afraid, that she didn’t feel she could fight for him?
She looks at the young man before her and the lapsed years slap her in the face. She wants to hear about his birthday parties. She wants to know when the themes changed over the years; when bounce houses turned into sleepovers and movies which turned into video games which turned into sneaking out and underage drinking and making out. She will never know enough. He will never understand, and she will never know enough. This is the true price of her decision.
‘They found me anyway,’ he confirms and dips his head in a move that’s so familiar to her. ‘But... maybe, like, a little later than if I’d stayed with you? It seemed…. Pretty intense for you.’
His generosity makes her want to cry further, but she laughs instead. Just like his father to hand a moment about him back to her to make sure she’s ok.
‘Yeah, it was pretty intense.’ She nods. She leans on the table, closer to him, pushing aside her untouched breakfast.
‘Do you, like, see them too, the visions?’ Again, she nods. ‘I keep seeing the end of the world. I think. I think you’re the only other one who can see it too. Or, the only one I can send them to or whatever. It’s not…. good.’
‘No, it’s not.’
‘What does it mean?’
‘I don’t know,’ she answers carefully while meeting his eyes. She should maintain eye contact as much as possible, she realises. For her sake and for his. ‘It might be something, or it might be nothing. But Mulder and I – he’s my partner – we are working to try and make sure it’s the latter.’
‘Mulder,’ the name rolls in Jackson’s mouth, ‘is he...’
‘My partner at the FBI, and yes,’ she takes a deep breath before continuing, ‘he’s your father. Birth father.’
Jackson has ripped off the label from his diet coke, and he shreds it on the table. The paper snowflakes jump as his leg still jiggles under the table. It makes the silverware tinkle. The noise irritates her, but she doesn’t ask him to stop.
‘William,’ she starts and corrects herself when he looks up in surprise, ‘Jackson. Were they… good to you? Were you happy?’
He nods, his focus softening as he remembers. ‘They were farmers. I rode on the mower every Saturday in our back field. At the start of the 2008 crash we sold up and moved to Norfolk where my mom teaches high school. My dad loves football, and he tried so hard to get me into the Redskins, but I, like, just … don’t care. I’m more into skateboarding… and astronomy. It sounds dumb, I know. But it’s actually pretty cool. I got a telescope for my birthday, and Mom showed me how to find Jupiter. I love it. Space. It’s so big.’ His voice tightens. ‘I keep thinking I can go home. And then I remember I can’t, and they’re gone.’
Scully reaches for his hand again. Tears slide down her face, and she wipes them clumsily with her left hand. She can’t talk. If she tries, she knows the dam will burst.
Dana, this isn’t about you, she chastises herself. You need to help him, not add to it. Be the parent. This is it, your chance, right here. She takes two sips of water until she can trust her voice.
‘Come with me,’ she says evenly. He looks up in surprise, and his vulnerability immediately vanishing under a 17-year old’s nonchalance. ‘Come with us. I promise we will do everything we can to keep you safe.’
‘Uh, no thanks,’ he breaks her grasp and stands. ‘I should go. I’ve, like, probably stayed too long already. Thanks, though.’
‘Where are you going?’ She asks. What’s your plan, what will you eat, how will you survive, you can’t live a life this way, but she has no right to ask further.
‘I’m driving cross country.’ He runs his hands through his hair and looks around warily. ‘I doubt we’ll be seeing each other again.’
‘Jackson,’ she counts the money in her purse and hands it to him, ‘here’s all I have. It’s just over $500. Please.’
He takes the money. In a sudden movement, he sits next to her in the booth. His face is close to hers, and he whips out his phone and holds it away from them. ‘Say cheese.’
The photo is slightly blurred. Her face is surprised, but a natural smile betrays her overarching joy at the situation. He looks pensive, and she reads both grief and fear.
‘I just wanted… something better than a vision,’ he says, his eyes running over her a final time.
‘Can I… can I have a copy?’
‘Give me your email. I want to get some distance in.’ Scully writes her email address and phone number on her placemat. She likes having something practical to do, and she regains her composure almost entirely.
‘Jackson, I want you to get in touch if you need anything,’ she is all business now. She knows this part well. ‘If you need money, somewhere to hide, someone to listen…. I promise you I understand the importance of discretion.’
He nods once and stands to walk away.
‘Jackson,’ she calls, and he turns towards her. She falters.
‘You seem like a nice person. I wish I could know you better.’ Here again is Mulder’s generosity, letting her off the hook. It gives her the courage she needs.
‘You can. I love you. I’m here.’
And then he is gone.
Their motel room is stuffy with Mulder’s sweat. She finds him in the bathroom and snakes her arm around his warm torso, still damp from his shower. Their tension dissolves in the steam. She pushes her cheek against his chest, closes her eyes and sighs. A 16-year-old cloud has lifted. She suspects he has read the change in her.
‘Good run?’ she asks. He nods and kisses her hair. ‘I know a place we can get breakfast.’
‘Yeah? You been out snooping?’
‘I’ve been snooping,’ she affirms. She will take him to the diner to the right booth. She will order a fruit salad, and she will tell him.
Three weeks later, she receives an email from a strange email address. She moves to delete it, but the subject ‘Eggs and Windmills’ gives her pause. Clicks open. Her grainy face fills the screen next to that of her son. They know that for definite now. Her wide smile hurts her cheeks, and her breath stutters. She wants to turn cartwheels across the living room. Her son is out there. She presses print.