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Of Butterfly Books and Yellow Shampoo

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The smell of his fine strawberry hair after a bath still resonates in her memory, floating like pollen in the wind. The powdery clean scent of the baby shampoo still tickles her nose whenever she has the courage to smell it. Even after all these years, she sometimes finds herself down the baby aisle, lifting the yellow bottle to her face, breathing in the scent. It hasn’t changed. A secret recipe that has withstood the decades. She takes solace in that. But she never lets it linger long, and replaces the cap with the audible sigh. This aisle was never meant for her. So few memories left for her to revel in – dreams are all she has.

In her dreams she reads to him, her nose buried in his clean hair as brightly colored butterflies litter the pages of the book on her lap. He toddles between the toys in his room and her, always busy, always too busy to simply sit and enjoy a quiet moment – so like his father in that way (or, maybe Mulder was more like his son, his attention span never maturing past the point of a toddler). In any regard, she tries to avoid him in her dreams. Avoid Mulder. It hurts too much.

Dreaming of just her and William is one thing, but dreaming of being a family is entirely another. Her heart breaks every time she allows the thoughts to permeate her mind, because in her dreams Mulder is in the other room while she gives William a bath and reads him the butterfly story. He’s too distracted by the other items in the room to pay attention. He asks for Daddy to read it instead because it’s Daddy who normally reads to him at night – only Daddy can do the silly voices that Mommy can’t. Daddy is the best at reading books.

In her dreams, Mulder isn’t in hiding, and they are a family: cuddled against him on the couch while William opens Christmas presents, eagerly flying his toy airplane through the air as he runs around the living room, smashing wrapping paper along the way, with Nat King Cole playing in the background and a fire crackling nearby; early Sunday mornings spent in bed, lazily in each other’s arms, loving one another tenderly, before the bed dips and they’re interrupted by a rambunctious toddler bouncing between them, teddy bear in hand, demanding to watch cartoons. William cuddles between them, and Mulder curls him against his larger frame. She lays beside them…, watching, feeling her heart swell at the knowledge that every moment, every choice she ever made, led right to this very moment, and she couldn’t be happier. They spend the next hour watching the adventures of Sesame Street, his fingers running idly through her hair, while their son sucks on one thumb and rubs the cotton of Mulder’s shirt with the other. The simple things – the simple pleasures.

Like the yellow shampoo from the baby aisle, those memories, those dreams (delusional wishes, she tells herself), were never meant to be. They don’t belong to her. But she can’t escape the wishful longing that, just for once, her life had been easy, been simple. She wishes to feel Mulder in her arms again, to wake up and know that he’s lying next to her like he did for so many years. Just for once she would like to dream of their son, and dream of the idea of the family (that was so cruelly taken from her), without her heart breaking. Just once, she wishes. Just once, to have memories, instead of dreams; memories of butterfly books, Sunday cartoons, and Mommy and Daddy.