There’s something different about a road-trip, some strange rolling intimacy that only hours spent side by side, radio on and trading memories and mindlessness can create. I’ve flown with Mulder, spent hours locked away in a dusty basement with him and his obsession, but this is the first time we’ve driven this far and though I’d rather die than admit it, I’m enjoying myself.
Tipped back in the passenger seat, window wound down, I watch Mulder spin the dial on our rental radio, searching for a station that’s not pop or preaching. Static feeds into our comfortable silence until I hear the unmistakable opening chords of Eric Clapton’s Layla and shoot upright to still my partner’s restless hand on the dial.
‘I love this song!’ I explain, whizzing the twizzler I have pilfered from Mulder’s junk food haul around in some vaguely rhythmic pattern. I love music I just lack the skill set to express that love very elegantly.
Mulder chuckles at my enthusiasm and cranks up the volume, ‘I never would have had you pegged as a Clapton fan’.
I roll my eyes at him, ‘And what did you base that assumption on?’
‘Nothing really. I guess I just thought you’d prefer… something a bit more… classical?’ He has the grace to to sound a bit sheepish and sensibly fills his mouth with candy before he can fit any more of his foot in it.
‘Clapton is a classic Mulder.’ he nods his agreement, eyes wide in the rear-view mirror and I decide that this time I’ll let him off. ‘My dad had the Layla album on cassette and every time we drove anywhere on vacation we’d have it in the car. It was the only one that all of us could agree on. I guess it’s kind of our family road-trip anthem.’ I trail of, slightly self-conscious. We’ve never really discussed my family; knowing what I know about the Mulders it always seemed a unfair to parade my mostly normal childhood in front of him.
He doesn’t seem to mind though, he’s too busy playing a very wonky air guitar around the steering wheel and pulling what I’m sure he thinks is a rock-star face. I can’t suppress a giggle at how ridiculous he looks and, mock-offended, he casts a sideways glance at where I am still bobbing my half-eaten candy around, distinctly off-beat. I shimmy awkwardly, waggling my eyebrows and his scratchy chuckle joins the happy noise that fills the car. We forget that we are FBI agents with a crime to solve, that we have a lot to prove in this new partnership and a very shaky foundation to build on. For a few minutes we are just two people, flying towards Jersey in good company with a killer soundtrack.
The last lick of guitar fades into the smooth second act of the song and though the dancing stops the closeness lingers. Eyes sliding shyly down the side of my face Mulder asks,
‘So what were the other standards of a Scully family road-trip? Scientific flash cards and carrot sticks instead of candy? Or did the weird snacking habits develop later?’’
I fold my arms and purse my lips, the dig at my eating habits is already old news but something in his tone, hidden behind the teasing, stops me from turning his question into a bickering point. Instead I settle back in my seat and let my mind flick back through sepia memories to those long journeys from whatever base was home to whatever beach was nearest.
‘Mom would always make cookies for the trip and Charlie would sneak too many and make himself sick. We would play I-Spy for hours until Melissa had won too many rounds and Bill threw a strop. I always had to sit in the middle because I was the smallest and the least likely to try and climb into the front when I got bored. I used to moan but I secretly liked it, I could catch my dad’s eye in the rear-view and it was like we had little conversations that nobody else knew about.’
I lose myself in the past and when I come to I catch Mulder looking at me with a far-away longing in his eyes, car drifting slightly towards the central reservation. I poke his hand with the end of my twizzler and he snaps his gaze back to the road and straightens his course, red-faced at being caught staring.
A few moments of silence stretch out like white lines on a long highway before Mulder speaks.
‘I spy, with my little eye… something beginning with “U”’.
I glance round the car and come up with upholstery, umbrella and ugly tie, all of which earn me a no (and the last an indignant rebuttal.) before turning my attention to the passing countryside with no more success. After several minutes of increasingly far-fetched guessing I give up.
He smirks and point upwards and I crane my neck to see up through the windshield. Nothing.
‘Okay, Mulder. what gives?’ I demand.
‘Obviously it’s a U.F.O. Scully! I thought that would be your first guess!’ Mulder’s announcement is as smug as it is ridiculous and my mouth drops open in disbelief.
‘Why you dirty cheat! There’s not a damn thing up there Mulder! And don’t try and tell me that it’s invisible or I’ll hit you with more than just a twizzler.’
He only shrugs, unapologetic.
‘I know what I saw Scully. And I guess it’s still my turn, so…. I spy something beginning with “A”’.
‘Asinine asshole?’ I offer bitterly, ‘Absolute moron?’ Mulder chuckles and reaches across to start spinning the radio dial again,
‘I’m starting to think that Bill wasn’t the only sore loser in the Scully clan’. I sigh heavily, letting my disapproval hiss with through my teeth and start to plot ways to get him back. When Mulder settles on a classic rock station I decide the next time a song I know comes on I will sing along. Loudly. Three minutes of tone deaf Led Zepplin sounds like just what the doctor ordered.