The Real Thing
By Christine Leigh
Summary: A Valentine's Day vignette. Post-series. Third person POV.
I know this is going to sound strange, but today I saw a valentine. All right, one may ask, why is that so strange? After all, the silly holiday is two days away, and those ubiquitous cards and decorations have been in the stores since the last week in December. No, I'd respond, not that kind of Hallmark faux love, cheap sentiment. Sorry, I have nothing against Hallmark or any other card maker, but the insistence of the retail world in cramming this holiday down my throat when my Christmas tree is still standing has made me cranky over the whole thing. Never mind that there are no flowers or candy due my way this year; I don't want that. Really. Nor champagne or a romantic dinner. Those things I really don't want. Really. Well, to repeat, I saw a valentine today.
To live in what can be called a neighborhood in the true sense of the word is a rarity these days, unless one happens to live in a very small town, which I do not. And by neighborhood, I don't mean a planned community. As it so happens, I live in such a rare place. It consists of beautiful older homes and apartment buildings and is populated by both older persons and younger ones; there are many families with young children. The people are for the most part harmonious types, and they go about their lives without CC&Rs to guide them as though they hadn't the sense to choose a decent color to paint their garage. I get lost whenever I go to one of *those* neighborhoods where most of my friends and some family live. The beige life is not for me.
One of the nicest things about my neighborhood is Tyler's, the grocery store that is the most frequented by the people who live in the area. It's both upscale and homey. I've been shopping there and picking up lunch at their deli counter forever, so I know the faces. The deli is where I first saw them. It was about three months ago that I noticed them for the first time. At a glance they're a normal enough looking couple. He's tall and dark and she's short and redheaded. Upon a closer look, though, they're quite beautiful. They both have distinctive eyes. I don't usually go on this way, especially about total strangers, but they really are very physically attractive. Their demeanor is another thing, however. They are, I don't know, cautious? No, actually, I think the better word would be wistful. What I mean to say is, that I don't think I've seen either of them smile, at least not fully. Or laugh. I know this probably sounds odd, but apparently people must laugh some of the time in the grocery store, if I've noticed that these two do not. I've been in line behind them on several occasions at the deli and they're consistent, ordering sandwiches -- pastrami or roast beef for him and turkey for her. They always ask for an extra pickle. Sometimes he'll touch her face briefly, or place a hand on the small of her back while they're standing and waiting, and seeing that gives me a true thrill. I'm alone now, but I remember what it was like.
Anyway, back to today. I didn't take lunch until later, around one-thirty, so decided to head for Tyler's since at that hour business would have died down and I might even be able to do a little shopping. So, after picking up a salad, I perused the produce -- I was squeezing an avocado when I was attacked. Okay, not really, but a little heightened drama never hurt a story. My attacker looked to be about five, and he was gripping my leg and smiling up at me. He spoke.
Well now, what was this? He was a cute little guy. What a grin. I disengaged him and bent down.
"Hi yourself. Whom do you belong to? Is your mommy or daddy here?" Then I heard someone calling out a name.
"Will . . . Will, where are you?" I looked up. It was Tall and Dark, of the tall-dark-short-redhead couple.
"Is this your child?" I hope I hadn't sounded too surprised, but I certainly was. I'd never seen them with a child before.
"Daddy, can I have a pickle?" The man was now holding the boy's hand.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. He got away. I hope he didn't startle you too badly." Oh my. I'd heard it before, but what a voice he has.
"I'm fine. It's been years since anyone attacked me in the produce aisle." I smiled as I said this. There's something about him, and I don't mean the obvious. He's gorgeous, but he also seems very kind.
"Will, what do you say?" The man's voice was very patient.
"Yes. Tell the nice lady you're sorry."
"Really, it's fine."
"I'm sorry." His little voice was so sweet. Suddenly I was feeling teary. Damn. I had to come here today.
"Accepted." I was trying to focus on other things, like how nice it was to see a child being taught good manners.
"I guess we'll go get that pickle now." They turned and headed up the aisle, still holding hands. The boy's hair was dark, too, but with a glint of red. It's all I could do to resist following them. I'm sure Tyler's doesn't need to become reputed for being a stalkers' haven, though, so I returned to the avocados. It's funny how a little incident can color everything so differently. It had been a long time since something warmed me this way. I found one, an avocado that is, that would be just right in a couple of days and put it in a bag and headed for the checkout stand.
There are only three checkstands and only one that was open, so as I waited my turn, I was joined in line -- This time by all three of them. She had a handbasket with their sandwiches and some other items, and he was opening a box of those little chalky, candy hearts. We exchanged smiles as he handed the opened box to the boy. I turned back around then.
"Yes, Will? Is that for me? What a pretty little heart. And from my favorite valentine."
I could hear him stoop down to face his son and receive his piece of candy.
"Will, you're my best buddy, you know that?"
"Is Mommy your buddy?"
"But I'm your best."
"Can I have two best buddies?"
"Mulder, I can be second. I'll survive."
Her voice was teasing.
"Will, how about this? You'll be my best buddy, I'll be Mommy's, and she'll be yours?"
"And tomorrow we'll all switch."
There was laughter, then. The boy was obviously a happy child. I wondered why I'd never seen him with them before. Guess I'll have to come by at this time more often.
"Daddy, can I give the lady a heart?" Speaking of which, I think mine skipped a beat upon hearing this.
"You may offer her one, yes." I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to face them.
"Excuse me. My son would like to offer you a heart."
I smiled and stooped down. His little hand held a pink heart. I opened my hand and he placed it there.
"Why, thank you. That is the nicest valentine I've received in a long time."
"What do you say Will?"
"You have a terrific little boy." I said this to them before moving up in line and giving the checker my money. Now their stuff was being rung up, as I started to leave.
"Thanks -- we think so, too." This was from him, but now she was smiling a smile that could have lighted a thousand rooms. What an extraordinary threesome they were. No cheap sentiment here.
Yes, I thought, as I exited the store, this had been one of those rare moments that comes out of nowhere but leaves its impression for years to come. I'd seen a valentine, and there was no doubt that it was the real thing.
~ End ~
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This story is (c) Copyright 2004 by Christine Leigh. "The X-Files" and its characters are the property of the Fox Network and Ten-Thirteen Productions and are borrowed here without profit or intent for profit.