First Timer Blues
“Well, Agents, everything looks in order,” commented Skinner as he closed the report before him. “I’m glad you were able to finish the case before the holidays. What do you have planned for the rest of the week?”
“Well, sir,” Scully began, “since it is a short week and we don’t have any current cases, I thought Agent Mulder and I might take the opportunity to catch up on our paperwork. We have several weeks of expense reports that need to get done and we want to finish the report on the Hodgkins case. I got the lab results back on Friday.”
“Excellent idea. So, what do you two have planned for Thanksgiving?”
Mulder fielded this question. “We’re planning on staying home, watching football, do a little snuggling on the couch.” The last comment earned him a kick from his partner. “Ouch!”
“You’re not going to your mother’s house, Agent Scully?”
‘My sister-in-law, Tara, has taken the kids to visit her family and Mom chose to go on a skiing trip with her ladies club, ‘The Red Hat Brigade’. That leaves Mulder and me without family this year.”
“You’re not cooking dinner?”
“I was going to cook, sir,” Mulder began, “but decided against the hassle of cooking for just the two of us this year. Maybe we’ll order a pizza to be delivered.”
Scully looked at him incredulously. “Pizza!”
“We could make it a turkey pizza with all the trimmings.”
Scully chuckled at the idea of a turkey pizza, covered in dressing and gravy. Mulder would probably love that. Put anything on pizza crust and he was a happy man.
“How about you, sir, what do you have planned?” asked Mulder.
“Oh, the usual. Stay home, watch football, maybe have a nice steak dinner at the local restaurant.” Skinner rattled off his usual Thanksgiving tradition. He was so tired of spending the holidays alone. He would love to have some company. He suddenly had an idea. He had come to think of Mulder and Scully as more than his agents; he thought of them as friends. Maybe he could persuade them to join him for Thanksgiving. Yeah, that was a super idea. He could cook! They could enjoy each other’s company, watch football, eat a real Thanksgiving dinner; it would be fantastic. “I have an idea. Why don’t you two join me for Thanksgiving? It would be great. I’ll cook dinner. We can watch the football game together. Sorry, but I can’t do anything about the snuggling thing.” He added with a smile. “Please, I would really like that.”
Mulder and Scully shared a glance that said everything. They had planned on spending the holiday together and doing nothing, but they would have the whole weekend to do that. This would mean a great deal to the Assistant Director and they could use all the good karma with their boss they could get.
“We’d love to, sir, thanks,” replied Scully. “Can we bring anything with us?”
“Well, yeah, why don’t you bring the beer? I mean what’s football without some brewskis?” Skinner was literally grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be so much fun. This would be a great Thanksgiving.
“Scully, these reports are so boring. What I wouldn’t give for a good bigfoot case right now.”
“Mulder…you don’t want to be on the road for Thanksgiving…again, do you? Just think, one more day and we have a 4-day weekend.”
“Actually, that’s dinner at the boss’s, then a nice 3-day weekend. You know, I had big plans for us on Thanksgiving.”
“It’s only dinner. It’ll mean a lot to the AD and we could use a few brownie points. Besides, we will have plenty of weekend left for your _plans_.”
Suddenly the phone rang. Mulder uttered a “Thank you, Jesus” under his breath as he jumped to answer the phone. This could be his salvation from the reports. “Mulder.”
Scully could tell by the straightening of Mulder’s stance that it was their boss on the line. It was almost a Pavlovian response to the sound of Skinner’s voice.
“Yes, sir,” said Mulder and then hung up the phone.
“Skinman wants to see me…just me…in his office, muy pronto.”
“Why? What did you do, Mulder?”
Mulder feigned a hurt look. “Do? Now, why do you assume I’ve done something?” Her only answer was the now routinely raised eyebrows. Mulder grabbed his suit coat and headed for the door, “I can assure you, Agent Scully, that I have done nothing to draw the wrath of the AD.” As he left the office, she heard him mutter, “At least, I hope not.”
Mulder rapped lightly on Skinner’s office door and entered, when he was beckoned inside.
“Please, have a seat Agent Mulder.” Skinner directed him to his usual chair facing the AD’s desk.
Mulder noted the stern look on Skinner’s face. He had been wracking his brain the entire trip from the basement to here, trying to figure what he could have done to upset him so much. He couldn’t come up with anything; not anything recent.
“Sir, I don’t know what I have done…” began Mulder.
Skinner held up his hand to stop Mulder is mid-sentence. “Agent Mulder. Are you under the impression I’m mad at you?”
“Well, sir, that is usually the case when you call me up here…alone.”
“I called you up here to ask you a question.”
“Certainly, sir, fire away.”
“Have you yourself ever prepared a Thanksgiving dinner?”
Mulder was completely taken aback by the question and the look on his face showed it. This was the last question in the world he would have expected the AD to ask. He stared at the man in a state of shock.
When Mulder didn’t answer the question, but continued to stare, Skinner tried again. “Agent Mulder, it’s not a hard question. Yes or no. Have you ever cooked a turkey dinner?”
Mulder finally brought himself back to reality, answering the question that was posed. “Yes, sir, I have. Several times. In fact, if we eat Thanksgiving at home, I do the cooking. It’s kind of a tradition now.”
“Good!” That was exactly what wanted to hear. A huge grin spread across his face which was contagious, because Mulder couldn’t help grinning too. He had obviously given the right answer.
“What kind of turkey do you usually get? I mean, do you get a fresh turkey or frozen? I read about free-range turkeys…have you ever tried one of those? How big? I need enough to feed 3 people, but I love turkey sandwiches, so I thought I would like to have a lot left over. What should I make with the turkey? I know you have to have stuffing, but what else?”
The questions seemed to be non-stop. Mulder didn’t think the AD took a single breath in between the string of questions. They kept pouring from his mouth.
“Does Scully like apple pie or some other kind? I prefer pumpkin, but I wanted to see what you would prefer?”
Finally Mulder put a stop to the questions. “Sir! Umm, have you _ever_ cooked Thanksgiving dinner before?” Mulder was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he had to confirm his suspicions.
“Well, no, _but, I have seen it done hundreds of times. My mother cooked every year for as long as I remember and, after I got married, Sharon cooked it many times.”
“Did you ever help, sir? Help them in the cooking process?”
“No, not really. I was never allowed in the kitchen. I was always told to stay out of their way,” he said resignedly. “But, I did carve the turkey,” he added as an afterthought.
“Oh, uh, Scully usually insists on carving the turkey. She’s the professional slicer & dicer. She may fight you on that one, sir.”
Skinner formed a mental picture of Scully in her scrubs and mask, standing over a roasted turkey, sliced open with the traditional “Y” incision, removing the slices of meat from the bird.
“Sir? Sir!” Skinner finally broke out of his daydream and looked up at Mulder. “Why did you offer to cook dinner, if you hadn’t done it before?”
“I spend every Thanksgiving alone. I wanted some company. I’ve come to think of you and Agent Scully…Dana…as more than just my agents, but my friends. That’s what friends do…they spend the holidays together. Besides, how hard can it be?”
Mulder thinks back to his first attempt at Thanksgiving dinner. He had managed, but it did not come off without a hitch. Perhaps, he could pass on some tips that might help.
“Buy a fresh turkey. Seeing that it is Tuesday, you won’t have time to thaw out a frozen turkey.” Mulder recalled being up all night changing the water in his attempt to quickly thaw out his frozen bird.
“Make a list _before_ you go to the store. Decide what you want and make a list. You have a better chance of getting everything you need if you make a list first.” That was another mistake Mulder had made. He just went to the store and started buying things. Luckily, he managed without the missing items, but he had never gone to the store without a list again.
“One more thing…check out the Butterball website. It’s full of information for the first-timer. I sure wish I had seen it before I started the first time.”
Skinner wrote all this down. “Anything else?”
“Buy lots and lots of whipped cream. It saved my dinner more than once.” The thought brought a smile to Mulder’s face, remembering how he and Scully had found so many uses for the wonderful stuff, other than putting it on food.
“Whipped Cream? For the pie?”
Mulder realized what he had just said and the thoughts he was having here in Skinner’s office. He immediately straightened in his chair. “Umm, never mind, sir…I don’t think it will help you in this case. Forget I mentioned it.”
Skinner appraised his agent, trying to figure out what he had talking out, but decided it was best to forget about it. He was impressed that Mulder knew so much about cooking. He felt much more confident after their discussion.
“Thank you for all your advice, Agent Mulder. I feel much better now. Please don’t tell Agent Scully about what we discussed. Let’s just keep it as our little secret.” Skinner knew it would be hard for Mulder to keep a secret from Scully, but he didn’t want her to think he couldn’t pull this off on his own, which of course, he couldn’t, but he didn’t want her to know that.
When Mulder got back to their office, Scully was ready for him. “What did Skinner want? Is everything OK? You were gone a long time. I almost thought about coming to your rescue.”
Dammit! He had completely forgot about Scully. He had been so floored by the AD and his apprehension about cooking the dinner, that he hadn’t prepared an excuse for Scully. “He..uh…he wanted..uh,” stammered Mulder. Luckily, this worked in his favor, since Scully simply thought he was stalling, which he was, but she thought it was because he didn’t want to tell her what had happened, which of course, he didn’t. Finally, the light bulb went off. He could have sworn the room brightened with the birth of his idea. “He wanted to talk to me about Sheriff Oates. He said he had gotten several complaints about my behavior during the case.”
Scully had to think a moment. Sheriff Oates. Mulder could tell the moment that she remembered, as her bright smile turned into a dark scowl. “You mean that chauvinistic pig from “Pig Snout”, Kentucky? If any one was out of line, Mulder, it was him. He was rude to both of us.” Her voice had grown louder with each word. “I thought you were on your best behavior…considering. Maybe I should talk to Skinner.” She headed for the office door.
“No!” Mulder shouted, which pulled Scully up short. “I mean, no, everything is OK. I explained everything to Skinner and he was fine with it.” Scully’s expression seemed to relax before his eyes. “Besides, he said he didn’t care much for the sheriff either,” he added with a chuckle.
“OK, Mulder, if you’re sure,” she conceded. “Let’s get this last report finished up and head out a little early.’
“I like the way you think, Agent Scully.”
Thanksgiving Day, 6:00 am
Mulder woke to the sound of the ringing phone. He fumbled to answer it before it woke Scully. “H’lo, he slurred sleepily.
“Agent Mulder? I’m sorry to call so early in the morning, but I need your help.” It was Skinner and he sounded panicked.
“One sec,” whispered Mulder, as he slid out of the warm bed and left the room carrying the cordless phone with him. He went into the kitchen, so he could talk to Skinner without disturbing Scully. “What’s wrong, sir?”
“What kind of stuffing should I make?”
Stuffing, thought Mulder. He woke me at 6:00 am from a dead sleep to ask about stuffing. The man was losing it. He cleared his throat, before he began. “What do you mean?”
“I _mean_, what kind of stuffing should I make? I have cornbread stuffing, rice stuffing, and plain bread stuffing and I don’t know what kind to make. What kind does Agent Scully like?”
Mulder chuckled to himself. “Well, Scully is partial to cornbread stuffing, but I’m sure she’ll love any one of them.”
“Ok, cornbread it is. Thanks!”
“Umm, sir, you’re not going to make it now are you? You have to make it right before you use it to stuff the turkey.”
“I know that, Agent Mulder. I’m just about ready to put the turkey in.”
“Sir, how big of turkey did you buy?”
“I bought the smallest I could find, which was 11 pounds. Why?”
“Well, it should only take a little over 3 hours to cook that turkey. If you put it on now, we can eat it for breakfast.” They had already agreed to meet at Skinner’s for dinner at 1:00 pm. “Why don’t you wait until 9:30 or 10:00 to put it on?”
Mulder could hear the disappointment in Skinner’s voice. He obviously wanted to put that turkey in now. “Ok. I’ll wait a while before I put the turkey in. I’m just anxious to get started. Maybe I’ll read the paper for a while. I’ll see you and Scully around 1:00.”
When he returned to bed, Scully snuggled up to him and asked…actually it was closer to a mumble, “who zat?”
Dammit! He had completely forgot about Scully…again. He had been so caught up in Skinner’s plight, that he hadn’t thought about what to tell Scully. At this rate, he was going to have to compile a list of excuses that he could pull out at any moment. He thought she had dozed back off, when she asked again. “Oh, it was Skinner. He wanted us to bring some, uh…butter when we come.”
“‘kay,” she managed and burrowed deeper into Mulder’s arms. Good one, Mulder, that seemed to satisfy her.
An hour later, the phone rang again. Mulder knew who it was before he even picked it up. He slid out of bed, grabbed the ringing phone, and headed back to the kitchen.
“Does Scully like giblet gravy or plain gravy?”
Mulder rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Sir, it really doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t understand how one is supposed to make gravy using the internal organs that were removed from the turkey.”
Yummy, thought Mulder. It doesn’t sound too appetizing when you put it the way. “You boil them to cook them. Dump them all in boiling water for about half an hour. Personally, I only use the liver and throw away the rest, but that’s my preference.”
“Ok, that sounds like a good idea, Agent Mulder. I’ll just cook the liver.”
“And boil a couple of eggs to add to the gravy. Scully likes it that way.”
“Great. Thanks again. See you at 1:00.”
Mulder was just about to crawl into bed next to Scully’s warm body, when the phone rang again. He did an about face and left the room.
“What is it now, sir?” Mulder asked with a hint of irritation.
“Am I disturbing you, Agent Mulder?”
“Uh, no sir, I’m up now.”
“Oh, good. I seem to be all out of eggs. Could you please pick some up on your way over here?”
“Yeah, sure,” Mulder said as he hung up, without so much as a see ya later. “Sure, fine, whatever,” he mumbled as he returned to the room.
He decided against crawling back into bed. Scully looked so peaceful and he didn’t want to disturb her anymore. Besides, he was wide-awake now. He would go for a run instead. He leaned over and gave Scully a peck on the cheek. She asked him who was on the phone. He didn’t have to make up an excuse this time. “It was Skinner. He asked if we could bring him some eggs when we come over later. I’m going for a run. Be back soon.” He gave her another kiss, which elicited a small moan from her. He hesitated a moment, gazing at her sleeping form. With a sigh, he gathered his running gear, and headed for the bathroom.
He returned an hour later to the smell of coffee. Obviously, Scully was up. He had stopped and bought a newspaper and some bagels for breakfast. Mulder followed the smell into the kitchen. Scully was sitting at the table drinking coffee. He put his purchases on the table and headed directly for the coffee pot.
“Skinner called. He wants you to call him”
Mulder stopped in mid-pour. “Did he say why?”
“Nope. He just wants you to call.” She looked up from her coffee, as Mulder sat down at the table with a sigh. “Is everything OK? He sounded a little stressed” Scully asked, her voice dripping with concern.
“Nah, everything is fine. I’ll give him a call and then take a shower.” He took his coffee and the cordless phone and headed to the bedroom. Mulder dialed the AD’s number, while he began to remove his sweaty clothes.
“Skinner.” Wow, he answers the phone with the same tone that uses in the office. He doesn’t even have a home phone voice. “Hello?”
“You called sir?”
“Yes I did. Do you know how to make cranberry sauce? I have a pint of fresh cranberries, but I can’t figure out to turn them into a sauce.”
“Gee, sir, I’ve never attempted to make cranberry sauce. I have no idea how to pull that one off. I always buy the kind in a can. You know, the jellied kind.”
“Oh. Well, then could you pick up some canned cranberry sauce on your way over?”
Mulder better start writing this down. At this rate, he was going to have quite a list of things to pick up at the store. “Sure, sir. No problem. See ya later.”
A couple of hours passed without any more phone calls. Mulder assumed that was a good sign…you know, no news is good news, when all of a sudden the phone rang.
“Mulder,” he said as he answered the phone.
“Mulder. I need your help. Can you come over now?”
“Yes, _now_!” Skinner shouted, then added in a softer voice, “Please?”
Mulder could tell Skinner needed help. He’d never seen him in this state and hoped never to again. It was unnerving. “Yes sir, we’ll be over soon.” He heard Skinner whisper a contrite, “thanks” before he hung up.
“Mulder, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.” At the look she gave him when he used the dreaded “f” word, he added, “Really. He’s just lonely and wants some company.”
She scrutinized him, trying to figure out what was up with him and the Assistant Director. He looked back with such an innocent face, that she decided to drop it. “Let’s head out. Besides, we need to stop at the store to get the stuff on Skinner’s list.”
When they arrived at Skinner’s apartment, he answered the door almost immediately. Almost, like he had been waiting for them by the door. Scully smiled at the sight before her. Skinner had a bath towel tucked into the waistband of his jeans. He and it were covered in flour and other assorted smears.
You could smell the cooking turkey. She took in a deep breath. “Something sure smells good, sir.”
Skinner relieved her of the bag of groceries she was carrying. He grasped her arm and hustled her to the couch, offering her some Chex Mix that was in a bowl on the coffee table.
“Thanks. Can I help you with anything?” she offered.
“No, no, no. Everything is under control,” he said calmly. “You just sit back and enjoy the game. Mulder, you want to put that beer in the fridg?”
Mulder followed the AD into the kitchen. As soon as they stepped in the kitchen, Skinner changed into a different man. He started talking at ninety miles an hour in a hushed voice, so Scully wouldn’t hear.
“Mulder, everything is going to hell! I burned the cornbread stuffing, so I had to make the rice stuffing. Of course, there wasn’t very much rice stuffing, so it all went into the bird. Do you think that will be enough dressing or should I make the bread stuffing? I don’t know if I have enough ingredients for it though. I’m running low on supplies.”
If Skinner hadn’t been in such a state, it would have been funny. Mulder knew how important this had been for him. “Relax, sir. Calm down. Everything will be fine. I think the rice stuffing will be plenty. Is that the only problem?”
Skinner gave him the “are you serious” look and began where he had left off. “The mashed potatoes are done…real done…I didn’t even have to mash them.”
Mulder peeked into the pan and took a spoon to stir the potatoes. Skinner might have just made the first mashed potato soup. “It’s OK. Scully doesn’t really do a lot of starches anyway and she’s been trying to get me to lay off them too. What else?”
“My pie crust turned out pretty well…after the third try, but the pie cooked a bit too long, so it is burnt on the edges.”
Mulder glanced at the pumpkin pie cooling on the counter. It was overdone, with a perfect black charcoal ring around it. “Don’t worry about the crust, sir. No one ever eats that part anyway. Next?”
“I couldn’t figure out the whole giblet thing. All the pieces looked alike; well, except for the neck. I didn’t want to accidentally use the heart or something, so I just threw them all away. Besides, I wouldn’t have had time to boil any eggs anyway. So I settled for plain gravy. It didn’t taste too bad, but it was really thin, so I tried to thicken it up by adding flour; that’s what my Mom use to do. Of course, then it got all lumpy. By time I fished out all the lumps, I have about a cup of viable gravy left.”
Mulder was working very hard not to smile at Skinner’s plight. He knew he would have problems, but a problem with everything was almost unheard of. “A cup of gravy should be plenty for 3 people. Anything else?”
“My salad turned out OK,” he said proudly.
“Congratulations, sir! Scully loves a good salad. Um, sir, do you mind me asking? How did you cook the pie and the turkey at the same time?”
“Well, I put the turkey in early. I know, you said not to, but I knew I needed the oven for the pie. The turkey has been done for a while now. That’s one of the reasons I called you to come over early. It’s ready…everything is ready.”
Mulder looked around the kitchen and didn’t see the turkey. “Where is the turkey, sir?”
“I wanted it to be hot, so I put it back in the oven. It should be hot by now.”
“Sir, you can’t do that,” Mulder said, as he snatched a couple of potholders off the counter and handed them to his boss. “Pull it out now or it will dry out.”
Skinner removed the bird from the oven and it did indeed look dry. It looked a lot worse than when he first took it out of the oven. He deflated right before Mulder’s eyes. “I’m a failure. My dinner is ruined,” he moaned.
“Sir, you are not a failure. Thanksgiving dinner is not as easy as it sounds. Believe me, I’ve had my share of failures in the kitchen. Everything will be just fine.”
Skinner felt slightly better, but not much. He had wanted everything to be perfect. He had no idea how hard that would be. “I’ll put the food on the table and you get Scully.”
Scully was sitting back on the couch, munching on a handful of Chex Mix and watching the game.
“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Mulder said as he grabbed a handful of the snack and began eating them. It might be the most sustenance they would get that day. He sat down next to her and leaned in so he could whisper in her ear. “Skinner had some difficulties with his dinner. You should be supportive and complimentary. Don’t make a big deal out of it. OK?”
“What kind of problems?”
“Typical first-time problems.”
“First time?” Mulder nodded affirmative. He pulled her up from the couch by her hands and led her into the dining room.
Scully had to admit the table looked nice. Really nice. He had some fine place settings, obviously from his wife. Once they all sat down, Skinner stood up to address his company.
“Thank you for coming over and spending Thanksgiving with me. It has been a long time since I have had friends to spend the holidays with. Anyway, thanks.” He took the knife and turned to Scully. “Would you like to do the carving, Dana? I heard you were the best.” He gave a little wink to Mulder at the last remark.
“I’d be honored, sir…um, Walter.” He smiled at the use of his first name. She sliced into the turkey and noticed it was a bit dry, but decided not to comment. “This really looks great, sir.” His smile widened with the compliment. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Once she had cut about a half a dozen slices, she sat down to enjoy the meal.
The bowls of food made the rounds. The turkey really wasn’t too bad, especially bathed in the gravy. The potatoes were thin. You couldn’t eat them with a fork, but a spoon worked just fine.
Between the two of them, Mulder and Skinner polished off the cranberry sauce and Scully had 3 helpings of salad. The rest of the dinner pretty much remained untouched.
“I’m sorry, but this dinner is not exactly what I had planned,” offered Skinner by way of apology.
“Oh, I don’t know sir, mashed potato soup might just become a new Thanksgiving tradition,” Mulder said trying to ease Skinner’s guilt.
“Really, sir,” Scully said, “it really wasn’t that bad, especially for your first try.” Oops, she shouldn’t have said that.
Skinner glared at Mulder. He hadn’t wanted Scully to know this was his first time. Of course, he then realized, considering how it turned out, he should be glad she didn’t think that this was the dinner of an experienced cook. That would be worse. And Mulder had done everything to help him. He really was a good friend to put up with so much. His glare softened into a smile.
“Thank you, Scully. And thank you, Mulder, for all your help. You just wait until next year. I’ll do it better next time. You’ll have to come back year, to see how much I have improved, and I assure you, I _will_ improve. I have nowhere else to go but up.” Everyone had a good laugh at that point.
“Hey, who wants dessert? I made pumpkin pie.” Before they could decline, he had disappeared into the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a tray. On the tray were the pumpkin pie, three plates, and four cans of whipped cream.
When Scully spied the cans of whipped cream, she turned to Mulder and gave him a very seductive smile and licked her lips. Mulder’s breath caught in his throat. Finally, once he was able to breath again, he turned to the AD and said, “Um, sir, could we get that dessert to go?”