Welcome To The Harem
You Don't Know Me by Plausible Deniability
Summary: Bill Mulder becomes a mean drunk, and young CSM learns something distressing about Teena. Part 3 of the "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" series, but if you haven't read the first two stories, you should still be able to follow this one. Pre-XF, young CSM/Mrs. Mulder - R (sexual situations; mature language, including some ugly homophobic epithets)
Title: "You Don't Know Me" (1/1)
Author: Plausible Deniability
Category: S R A
Rating: R (sexual situations; mature language, including some ugly homophobic epithets)
Spoilers: Concerns events hinted at in Talitha Cumi (3.24) and, to a minor extent, Paper Clip (3.2); Deep Throat's real name comes from Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (4.7).
Keywords: Pre-XF, young CSM/Mrs. Mulder
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the television program "The X Files" are the creations and property of Chris Carter, Fox Broadcasting, and Ten-Thirteen Productions, and have been used without permission. The song "You Don't Know Me" was written by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold and recorded by Ray Charles (among others, including Elvis Presley on "Clambake"). No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Bill Mulder becomes a mean drunk, and young CSM learns something distressing about Teena.
This is part of the "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" series, but if you haven't read the first two stories, you should still be able to follow this one. Just keep in mind that it's the early 1960s, the characters here are still young, and CSM is involved in a clandestine affair with Teena Mulder, the wife of his best friend. If you are interested in reading the preceding stories, you can find them on my website at http://www.Geocities.com/Area51/Dreamworld/2528.
Also, things get a little ugly in this one. Please keep in mind the situation, and the mood of the characters. No offense is intended to any reader, gay or straight.
THANKS to Dasha, Hindy, and especially Becky, for their patient guidance.
FOR CiCi Lean, who asked about Bill's drinking.
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).
--Theodore Roethke, "I knew a woman"
QUONOCHONTAUG, RHODE ISLAND
I flop onto my back, puffing like a bellows.
"My God," Teena says weakly at my side, "I'm amazed I survived that."
I give a breathless chuckle.
She rolls over slowly to face me, smiling. "No, I mean it. They're going to find me dead one day, maybe here in the boathouse, and everyone is going to wonder how it happened. Then they'll take my body to the morgue, and the coroner will do all sorts of tests and experiments to determine what finished me off. And where it says 'Cause of Death' on the paperwork, he'll have no choice. He'll have to write 'fucked to death.'"
I can't help laughing. After almost two years, I still find it a source of endless wonder that this bright, breathtaking woman desires me.
"I wouldn't be so cavalier about it if I were you," she chides. "If you kill me, you'll be breaking three commandments at once. I suppose that could be some kind of record."
I turn my head and grin at her. "Four commandments, if I time it right and it's the Sabbath."
Now it is her turn to laugh. "You are a bad, bad man."
And she is a beautiful, beautiful woman -- the only woman I have ever loved; the only woman I will ever love. The wife of my oldest friend.
"Teena," I sigh, "you don't know the half of it."
"How do you want your steak?" Bill asks. "Medium-rare okay?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"I want mine still mooing, Bill," Teena calls from across the lawn. "Make sure it's red in the middle."
She is over by the transistor radio, playing with their little son. She is holding him in her arms, and she is waltzing him to the slow strains of Ray Charles's "You Don't Know Me":
"You give your hand to me
And then you say hello
And I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so..."
"You know, I haven't seen you with a cigarette all weekend," Bill remarks.
"I'm trying to quit again."
Bill snorts. "Good luck."
We have a peculiar friendship, Bill and I, though Bill is not even aware of its complications. Not three hours ago I was blithely betraying him with Teena, making love to his wife in a burst of eager passion. In rare moments of clarity -- usually when I have not seen Teena for some weeks or months -- I sometimes experience an uncomfortable twinge of guilt for this betrayal. The feeling never lasts for very long, though. I have only to imagine Teena again, and the guilt evaporates.
Her little boy gives a gurgle of laughter as she spins with him through a turn. The yearning song from the radio floats across the summer air:
"Oh I am just a friend,
That's all I've ever been,
Cause you don't know me..."
Bill takes Teena's steak off the fire. "Teena, go get me another beer, would you?" he calls over to her.
She sets her little boy down, and disappears dutifully into the house.
I wait until the door has closed behind her. "How are things going now with Klemper?" I ask Bill in an undertone.
"He's coming around. Whatever you said to him, it seems to have done the trick."
"I just helped him to see how much wiser it is to do things our way."
The baby -- Fox, his name is -- crawls over to us. He puts a hand on my shin, and gazes up at me expectantly. "You want to be picked up, don't you?" I ask, looking down into the little face.
I bend over and lift him up.
"You don't have to do that," Bill says. "Teena should be back in a minute."
"Nah, I don't mind."
And I don't. He is Teena's baby, after all; part of her. I feel a connection to this inquisitive little boy, even if Teena has assured me that there is no real reason I should. He has a tuft of wavy dark hair and an expressive mouth with two tiny little teeth coming in on the bottom. He gazes at me, and makes a grab for my face.
"Could you do me a favor?" Bill asks.
I deflect little Fox's reach, and look up at him in surprise. "Sure."
"You see Ronald a lot more than I do, especially since I started working so much with Strughold's people. Could you...could you talk to him for me?"
"Ronald? About what?"
Bill frowns, though perhaps he is just concentrating on the food that he has been pushing around on the grill. "Every time I invite him up here, he turns me down. I think there's more to it than he's letting on."
"You think he's angry with you or something?"
Bill glances up uneasily. "Not so much me. To tell the truth, I think it's Teena."
I'm not sure why, but I feel a stir of apprehension. "Teena? Why would he be angry with Teena?"
Bill shrugs. "I don't know. It's just a feeling I have. The last time he came to visit us in Chilmark, they were alone for an hour or so while I ran to Oak Bluffs on an errand. I came home and he was already packing his suitcase, tight-lipped as hell. He just said he had to go, that an emergency had come up. I asked Teena about it later, and she said she had no idea what could have been bothering him."
"Well, maybe an emergency did come up."
He shakes his head. "Not the way he was acting then, or the way he's acted since. He never visited once last summer. I think they had some kind of quarrel."
"A quarrel? Why would Ronald quarrel with your wife?"
Bill shrugs again. "I don't know. It doesn't make much sense to me either. But there's got to be some reason he won't come up here any more, and, frankly, I'm getting tired of wondering about it. His missing our party this weekend was the last straw."
Little Fox makes another grab for my face. I catch his small fist in my hand. "Well, it's probably nothing," I say, bouncing the baby on my arm. "But I'll see what I can find out."
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEADQUARTERS
C. Street NW, Washington, D.C.
I poke my head into Ronald's office. "You have a minute?"
He looks up from the papers on his desk. "Of course. What can I do for you?"
I stroll in, and lean with one shoulder propped against the wall. "Think of me as an ambassador. I'm here on a diplomatic mission."
He raises an eyebrow. "A diplomatic mission?"
"Bill sent me."
"Oh." He pushes the papers aside, and gives me his undivided attention. "And what is it that Bill requires?"
He waits expectantly, hands folded, dapper and composed behind his orderly desk. I cannot imagine Ronald having a quarrel with Teena. It is hard to imagine Ronald, so unruffled and urbane, having a quarrel with anyone.
"He says you never accept his invitations any more."
"You know, that's odd," Ronald answers in his calm way. "Because I've been noticing for some time now that you seem to visit the Mulder place often enough for both of us."
Is that innuendo, or am I reading too much into his statement? The safest course, I know, is to ignore it. "He's wondering whether you have some sort of grudge against him."
Ronald leans back in his chair. "Is Bill aware of the irony of sending you to ask that particular question?"
I reach into my breast pocket for my Morleys, and draw one from its package. I am careful to maintain my casual pose, lounging with one shoulder against the wall. Is he guessing, I wonder as I light my cigarette, or does he really know? "I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean."
Ronald smiles. "I didn't suppose you would admit to it even if you did." His amicable expression robs his words of any sting. "Is Bill expecting you to bring him some sort of answer?"
"He would like me to."
"Then tell Bill I would be willing to discuss it with him. Privately."
"Don't look so anxious, my friend," Ronald says, reaching for the papers he had been reading until I interrupted him. "I don't see any reason why your name should come up in our conversation, do you?"
I take a long drag on my cigarette, and exhale the smoke slowly. "Of course not."
"Well, then," he assures me, his eyes on the typewritten document in front of him, "you clearly have nothing to worry about."
The light is on in Bill's office. I am used to keeping late hours, but he rarely works past six o'clock.
I stop at his doorway, and rap lightly on his open door. "Bill?" I say. "Everything okay?"
He looks up, and levels his gaze at me owlishly. "Come in," he says. "Join me in a drink."
I can tell, even before I take the chair across from him, that he is already very drunk. He is slurring his words, and his eyes have the bleary, unfocused look of the seriously intoxicated.
"What are we drinking?" I ask.
"Whiskey," Bill answers, reaching behind him and picking up a bottle of Jim Beam, which he sets on his desk beside an empty glass. "Only the best for my friends."
"And what's the occasion?"
"The occasion?" He laughs harshly. "The occasion is a little talk I had with Ronald this afternoon."
"I see." He pours me a drink, and I lean forward and take it. I watch his face cautiously as I do so, trying to gauge just how I might figure in all this. "And what did Ronald have to say, if you don't mind my asking?"
"He said," slurs Bill, picking up his glass and lifting it high, swirling the whiskey in the light, "that my lovely wife made a pass at him."
A thousand thoughts cross my mind at once -- shock, hurt, disbelief -- but at the moment the overriding consideration is the need to play this scene appropriately. I settle on cool neutrality. "Ronald said that, did he?"
"That seems like a very serious accusation to make."
"It's a lie," Bill says. "He made it up, the perverted cocksucker."
"Do you think maybe he meant -- "
"It doesn't matter what he meant," Bill answers. "He's a fucking liar. A treacherous, vicious, cocksucking little faggot."
The cold loathing in his voice startles me. "For God's sake, Bill, watch what you're saying."
He lifts the bottle, his bloodshot eyes locked on mine. "Oh, you didn't know that, did you -- that Ronald is a queer. Comes as something of a shock, does it?"
But Bill has misinterpreted my stunned face. I am not a fool. I have had my suspicions about Ronald for some time. Yet those very same suspicions have just made the news of Teena's disloyalty all the more difficult to comprehend.
"Oh yes, ol' Ronald is as queer as a three-dollar bill," Bill mumbles. "I didn't believe it myself, until Strughold told me he had him followed. Apparently our Ronald went into the bathroom at the Chesterfield with another man, and let's just say he wasn't seeing the man about a horse." He fills his glass again, the whiskey slopping over the rim onto the desktop.
"Bill, I think you've had enough," I say, standing and trying to pry the whiskey bottle from his hand.
He pulls the bottle away, holding it out of my reach. "So how does it feel, knowing you've been working side by side all this time with someone who likes to take it up the ass?"
"Ronald is our friend."
"He's not my fucking friend. I can overlook some things, but not this." He picks up his glass, and tosses back an impressive slug of whiskey.
"This is -- " I swallow, and start again. "This is probably all just a misunderstanding. Teena probably just made a joke and Ronald took it the wrong way, or said something he completely misinterpreted. He's probably convinced that something really happened, when the truth is nothing really did..."
"Oh, yeah." Bill laughs crudely. "I'm sure it's very easy to misinterpret things when a woman grabs you by the dick."
I feel as if I am about to be sick. If Bill is shocked, then I am equally so. "It's all a misunderstanding," I repeat.
Bill leans forward in his chair, and buries his face in his hands. "I keep telling myself that," he mutters. "I just keep telling myself that."
"Teena's the perfect wife, and a devoted mother," I remind him. "She's not the sort who would just indiscriminately throw herself at another man."
I am aware, as I speak the words, of just how ironic they are. Ironic, too, that I of all people should be the one to argue them to Bill. But I need them to be true just as badly as he does. This is Teena we're talking about -- Teena. She may be his wife, but she is my whole existence.
"Well, if it's true, she certainly picked the wrong target in Ronald," Bill drawls drunkenly. "A limp-wristed fucking Nancy-boy..."
"It can't be true. I've spent more time with your wife than Ronald ever did," I insist, the shock making me reckless. "I mean, I would think I'd know it if she were the type to do that sort of thing."
"No offense," Bill says cuttingly, "but that doesn't really prove anything. The truth is, you're not her type."
I choke down the denial that my ego clamors for me to make. "And Ronald is?" Bitterness gives my voice an angry edge. "What type is that? The cocksucking type?"
"The trust fund type. The Ivy League type. Cultivated."
I sit silently, shock and resentment warring in my breast. Suddenly I hate all of them: smooth, secretive, privileged Ronald, Bill with his goddamned superior attitude, even Teena with her beautiful face and her lying smiles. I hate them all.
Except I don't really hate Teena. I will never have that kind of strength.
"She did this to hurt me," Bill mumbles. "She did this on purpose, because I put my work ahead of her."
I fumble in my coat pocket for the reassurance of a cigarette. "You don't know that."
"Yes I do." He leans over his desk, and puts his head down on his folded arms. "I wish I'd never heard of this goddamned Project."
I don't answer.
His shoulders begin to shake. "I wish I'd never heard of this goddamned Project," he repeats, his voice cracking on a sob, his hand curling blindly around the nearly-empty whiskey bottle. "It poisons everything I touch."
There's a dull ache in my chest. I light my Morley, drawing a small measure of solace from watching Bill -- prep school Bill, superior Bill, Bill with the stunning wife and the beautiful son -- with his head bowed in his arms, weeping brokenly.
I have no comfort to offer him, no comfort to spare. All I can think of is Teena, and how I was not her first choice. Not even her second choice, really, if I count the man sobbing in drunken disillusionment before me.
I get up, and slip out into the deserted hallway.
I am careful to close the door behind me as I go.
It is eleven-thirty at night. I am sitting up in bed, still dressed, the ashtray in my lap. I have smoked my way through an entire pack of cigarettes, and have just opened another. Finally I give in to the impulse I have been fighting for three hours, and reach resignedly for the phone.
She answers on the fourth ring, her voice a little husky, as if she has been sleeping. "Hello?"
Just that one word lightens my heart. "Teena, it's me."
"Bill's not home," she says, a little confused.
"I know. I -- I called to talk to you."
Her tone grows suddenly sharper. "Is something wrong? Is he -- is Bill all right?"
"Oh. Oh, you scared me."
"I just called to...I wanted to hear your voice."
The edge comes creeping back into her tone. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I was just thinking of you."
"You shouldn't call me here," she says. "Even if he isn't home, he could find out somehow. It's dangerous."
There is silence on her end of the line. Then she asks, "There's something wrong, isn't there?"
"Yes," I whisper.
"What is it? Did something happen? Tell me."
I play with my cigarette, my hand trembling slightly. "I don't think I'll be able to come up and see you any more. At least not for a while."
Go on, I plead in my head, argue me out of it. Start to cry. Tell me you need me.
Instead she asks, "Why not?"
I close my eyes. Because it hurts too much, I think. Because I'm lying to myself about what we have together. Because I need to get on with my life. "I saw Ronald yesterday. He suspects something."
She reflects for a moment. "Ronald."
"Ronald doesn't like me."
An opening. "And why is that?" I ask. I hold my breath.
But she only says, in a voice that suggests a shrug, "We never hit it off, that's all."
We lapse into silence. I want her to explain Ronald. I want her to turn it into something harmless, a wicked little anecdote, a shared joke on Bill. I want to be the only secret in her life. I wait and wait.
Finally I get tired of waiting. "Teena, why did you choose me?"
She laughs, a throaty, amused sound. "I thought you chose me."
"Of course," she answers. "Don't you remember?"
I stare at the cigarette in my hand. "I remember a lot of things."
Another silence stretches out between us. This time, it is Teena who breaks it. "Won't it seem odd to Bill if you just stop coming here when he asks you?"
"I suppose it might."
"Then do you really think it's wise not to come?"
"I'm not really sure what's wise any more."
Teena sighs, impatient with my reticence. "Well, I think it might be better if we just go on as we have been, don't you?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Would I say it if it weren't?"
I take a long, unhappy drag on my cigarette. She gives away so little.
"I'll have to see," I say at last. I am weak, a coward. I never think of myself that way, except when it comes to Teena. "I'll have to see how it goes between Bill and me. Maybe I'll come next month, but only if it doesn't seem too risky."
"I'll see you next month, then."
"I said maybe."
"I know what you said."
I give a frustrated sigh. "Teena, this isn't some game I can just -- "
She hangs up the phone.
I stare at the dead receiver in my hand. I stub out my cigarette, then reach wearily across the bed, setting the receiver back in its cradle.
I lie back and gaze up at the ceiling, following a crack in the plaster with my eyes. I wonder what Bill is doing now, if he is even conscious. Teena still doesn't know what Ronald told him. She doesn't know that Bill spent tonight drinking himself determinedly into cold oblivion. She doesn't know that poor Ronald has just made himself two enemies through no fault of his own, that neither Bill nor I will soon forgive him for the humiliation he has dealt us. Safe in her gracious home with her beautiful child, she probably doesn't even know that I will lie here smoking in silence until the sun comes up.
I sigh. The worst part is, she's probably right.
She'll see me again next month.