A Janice and Mel Story
The characters of Janice, Mel, Gabrielle, and Xena are borrowed from the television program Xena: Warrior Princess©. This story follows “Southern Hospitality.” While it is unnecessary to read the previous story, the reader is encouraged to do so to better understand the attempted development of the characters.
CAUTION: If you are averse to, offended by, uninterested in, prohibited by law or health care professionals from reading stories involving same sex love, humor involving Christian religion, imprecise historical references, emotional stress, or my writing in general, please select another story.
Thanks to Trusty for proof reading and IQ and company for thoughtful comments.
Melinda Pappas stifled a yawn as she observed the anxious energy swirling around her in the church foyer.
Ruby, the Pappas’ housekeeper, knelt by the basket-case and Melinda’s old friend, Christine, attempting to mend the freshly torn hem.
“How much longer?” Asked an edgy usher as Ruby skillfully threaded her needle. He uneasily glanced at his watch. The bridal party was already late, he grimaced, unaware it was because Christine couldn’t find her left shoe.
“A few more minutes, if Miss Christine would just stop fidgeting for one minute!” Ruby scolded her with the needle in her mouth as she cut the end of the thread from the spool. Christine groaned and took a deep breath, attempting to stand perfectly still.
The usher looked at Melinda. He nodded uncomfortably at her blank stare and discreetly returned to the altar to inform Reverend Baylor.
With both shoes and the now-repaired hem, Christine seemed a little calmer, Melinda noted. However, she was far from relaxed, making the tall southerner wonder if Christine was going to faint . . . or worse. Well, it would be an interesting story to tell, Melinda considered with a raised eyebrow at her friend, whose nervousness now manifested itself into chatter directed at an elderly usher. He made the mistake of smiling at her. The patient man managed to get a few words in and told Christine she reminded him of his late wife.
Mel’s gaze uncomfortably shifted from her friend and the elderly usher to Ruby, who started to return to join the congregation. Seeing the older woman pause and give her an uneasy smile, Melinda nodded slightly and took a long breath, wanting this already long day to be over. Not just for herself but also out of concern for Christine’s general well being, she considered as her eyes returned to her fidgety friend continuing to bend the usher’s ear.
The abrupt start of the incidental music startled Mel, who strangled her small bouquet. She rolled her eyes with an irritated sigh. As the music droned on, Mel found herself glimpsing in at the congregation.
You could tell it was wartime, Mel noted somberly. Proudly uniformed men from wars past filled the pews with their families. But the young men were noticeably absent. They were still away, fighting the seemingly endless war with the Germans and Japanese. Well, except for the groom and his best man, Mel observed. They were able to arrange leave and to have that traditional hometown wedding for the bride. The perks of being well connected, she considered.
Still, it was an impressive affair, Melinda concluded. Her grandmother had always raved about military weddings and how, without a doubt, they were the most impressive of all social events. And despite the food rationing, which put a considerable damper on wartime wedding celebrations, and the deliberately small wedding party, her grandmother should be pleased, Melinda thought with a heavy sigh.
“Everything ok, honey?” Melinda’s spit-and-polished grandfather asked softly.
Turning to the retired Army Colonel with a weak smile, Melinda nodded slightly.
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, she glanced in at the groom’s side. In her brief visit with them, she found them a very nice and handsome family. Not surprising, since he was a very nice and handsome man, she considered as her white-gloved hand gently caressed her abdomen, barely hidden under the white gown.
As the incidental music changed, Mel watched her startled friend unceremoniously hike up her dress and rush into her place behind the flower girl, who had just started the slow procession down the long aisle, sprinkling petals.
With a deep breath, Christine turned and looked at her best friend since grade school.
Melinda Pappas was simply stunning.
Her tall, regal figure was perfectly adorned by the wonderful gown Ruby spent countless days sewing. Her raven hair was perfectly coifed in a French braid, highlighted with an ironic touch of babies’ breath. With no glasses or veil detracting from this vision of beauty, Melinda’s appearance would have been perfect, had it not been for that cool mask she tightly wore.
Christine’s lips parted, but no words escaped. They were suffocated by emerging tears. When Mel’s uneasy eyes dropped to inspect her bouquet, Christine absently nodded with sad understanding and wiped away a tear. Taking a deep breath, the maid-of-honor plastered on a dutiful smile and waited for her turn to march down the aisle, willing herself not to get sick.
The bride stared at her bouquet, annoyed with Christine. Struggling to repair her carefully constructed wall of indifference, Mel focused on the white roses in her tight grip.
They meant joy, Melinda remembered as she took a deep breath. A perfect choice for a wedding, that excruciatingly perky florist had told her. A day of joy, the florist continued to bubble. The southern bride released a pained breath. She never bothered correcting that woman, who couldn’t begin to fathom what truly brought her joy . . . .
“A little left, Janice . . . yes, right there,” Melinda said with a growing smile.
The weary archeologist eyed the southerner, who, in the short time since they became a couple, had grown amazingly comfortable in telling Janice what she wanted and how she wanted it. Usually, Janice greatly appreciated that quality. However right now, Janice only wished Mel would give her a break or she was certain her arms were going to fall off. But from that look in Mel’s eyes, Janice knew her partner was not yet satisfied and started to count the seconds before the next southern command.
Seeing Janice eyeing him questioningly as they put the couch down, Larry nodded with an amused smile, accepting the bet. The junk yard owner was sure he’d win this time. There was no way Miss Melinda would make them move the couch again, let alone within five . . . .
“No . . . “ Mel said thoughtfully, carefully looking at the other furniture Larry and Janice had spent the afternoon moving all around the living room for her.
Damn, Larry cringed, seeing Janice smirk at him. Good thing this was the last piece of furniture, Larry considered, having lost count of how many beers he owed her from just today. Good thing she never keeps track, he smiled, shaking his head at his friend.
“Just a little to the right,” Mel announced confidently and helpfully waved them to the right.
“Four Mississippi!” Janice announced, sporting a satisfied smile as they picked up the couch and moved it a little to the right.
“Four Mississippi, what??” Mel asked crisply as she pushed her glasses up.
Ugh oh. Larry uneasily looked around the room. He knew Miss Melinda didn’t like betting. Good thing the tall woman’s glare was directed at Janice, he thought with some relief.
“Are we finished with the damn couch now, Mel?” Janice barked, holding the heavy object that she was more than ready to drop into its final resting place.
Larry wondered about those two sometimes. They were complete opposites on almost everything. Like him, Janice appreciated the basic things in life, cold beer, a good ball game, and cigars. Uncultured things a southern lady was never likely to take a shining to. Yet, she sure took a shining to Janice. Go figure, he grinned.
“Of course . . . just after you two move it a smidgen to the left,” Mel responded with a thin smile.
“And just what the hell is a ‘smidgen’?” Janice challenged, surprising the tall southerner.
“A little less than a little,” Mel explained the incredibly obvious and shook her head with amazement.
Janice looked blankly at Larry, who shrugged.
“Here?” Janice asked with a polite smile after they moved a little less than a little to the left.
“Yes,” Mel said with certainty.
“Yes, Janice,” Mel responded with irritation.
“Really su . . . ??“
“JANICE,” Mel snapped. With a belabored sigh, she moved to the boxes piled in their living room. As the tall woman started to unpack, she shook her head.
Janice grinned as they put down the couch, which didn’t help Larry feel any more comfortable.
“Well, I guess I’ll be heading back to the yard,” Larry announced and cleared his throat.
“Thank you for your help, Larry,” Melinda said, turning towards him with a warm smile. Her smile faded as she looked at Janice. Rolling her eyes, she returned to her boxes, shaking her head. Janice silently chuckled.
“If you need any more help, you know were to find me,” the junkyard owner offered the archeologist as they walked outside.
“You’ve been a big help, Larry. Thank you. Maybe when we finally unpack everything, we could have you over for dinner. Mel loves to cook,” Janice offered with an easy smile as they got to his truck.
Larry tried to smile but uneasily glanced back at the barn. “She seems a bit annoyed.”
“Ah,” Janice responded warmly, dismissing his concern with a wave of her hand. “She gets annoyed with me all the time,” Janice admitted with a grin, making his eyebrows furrow with concern.
“Don’t worry, Larry. I’m not a complete ass. I always make it up to her,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.
“Sounds like you must be pretty busy then,” Larry said with an amused smirk, scratching the back of his head.
“Seems that way,” Janice responded with a chuckle, glancing back at the barn with an easy smile.
“See you Sunday?” He asked hopefully, always enjoying her company by the river where they sat and drank beer. He wasn’t going to ask how Janice always got out of going to church with Miss Melinda and her family.
“Yep. Got some really good cigars too,” she said conspiratorially, bringing a grin to Larry’s face.
Janice waved goodbye to Larry as he drove down the dirt road. As she turned and walked towards the barn, she paused and proudly looked up at the old structure. Only five weeks of backbreaking work on the old barn and they were finally ready to live there, Janice thought with relief.
She suspected their friend Christine, who had graciously allowed them to stay with her, was thankful for the end of the intrusion. She shook her head with amusement at Melinda’s childhood friend. Though Janice knew their love life was extremely healthy at the moment, it didn’t seem to hold a candle to Christine’s. She was constantly going out. She really should slow down a little, Janice thought with some concern, certain those dark circles under Christine’s eyes would probably go away as soon as she got some rest.
Pausing at the doorway, Janice
found the tall southerner assessing the living room.
The archeologist’s eyebrows furrowed as she wondered if the barn really pleased her partner.
Mel’s eyes slowly traveled over
the warm, wood paneled walls to the fireplace, which immediately beckoned to
the tall southerner. She recalled how much energy Janice poured into
reviving the old wood mantle. Mel vividly remembered its original
condition and her skepticism that it could ever become more than a large source
Yet Janice could see the beauty beneath the ugly painted facade.
The southerner couldn’t begin to imagine the number of strokes of sandpaper it must have taken the archeologist to obtain the beautiful finish.
Janice knew she should have consulted Mel about buying the barn but she knew it was the right decision. Well, she thought it was the right decision, she reconsidered, scratching the back of her head. Mel had been very moody lately, Janice noted with concern, recalling Mel wiping away tears when they packed up the last of Mel’s belongings from the Pappas’ mansion. When asked what was wrong, Mel said ‘nothing’ with an embarrassed smile and quickly changed the subject.
It wasn’t the first time she caught Mel crying. And sometimes at night, she would wake to the sounds of the tall woman’s crying, Janice sighed. The fact that Mel avoided discussing why she cried bothered Janice as much as the tears themselves. But Mel said she was happy, Janice considered. But if Mel was happy, then why did she cry so much? And why did she try to hide her tears?
What would she do if Mel wasn’t happy?
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed with determination. ‘Everything in my power to make her happy,’ the archeologist silently vowed and quietly entered the house.
Just like she had transformed the old mantle into a work of art, Janice had transformed the old Miller barn into a beautiful home. Our home, Mel considered with profound joy as she reached for the mantle. She grimaced at her seemingly perpetual tears, quickly wiping one away when she heard Janice approach.
“You know, I could rip it out and start o. . . ,“ Janice quickly offered.
“What!?! Don’t you dare touch it,” Mel interrupted vehemently. “It’s beautiful,” she declared with conviction. “Absolutely beautiful,” Mel repeated as she reverently touched the wood surface and brought a relieved smile to the archeologist’s face.
Mel was amazed at how uncertain the normally confident archeologist seemed to be when it came to pleasing her. ‘How on Earth could she possibly doubt how much she pleases me?’ Mel wondered, feeling tears well up again. Tears that made the archeologist uncomfortable, she considered, awkwardly brushing them away from beneath her glasses.
Janice’s smile faded. “Uh . . . while you were at class this morning, I unpacked the kitchen stuff. At least that’s what the box said it was. I’m not exactly sure what the hell half of it was,” Janice admitted, bringing an amused smile to Mel’s face. “You might want to take a look . . . to make sure I put stuff in the right place,“ Janice added with a shrug, glancing back at the kitchen.
“Well . . . ,“ Mel said as Janice’s attention turned from the kitchen to the long southern fingers that now seemed to be caressing the smooth curves of the mantel.
What amazing hands, Janice admired then blinked and forced her eyes away from the lucky mantle. They had a lot of unpacking yet, Janice reminded herself as her eyes drifted back to the mantle and the southerner’s mesmerizing hand.
“It is important to have the kitchen well organized, Janice,” Mel noted firmly.
Certain if she had heard what Mel just said, she’d agree, Janice mutely nodded as she watched Mel’s fingers continue to slowly massage the peaks and valleys in the mantle’s intricate design. Janice blinked again. ‘Jesus Christ, Covington, can’t you think of anything else? Focus, Covington! Unpacking. Remember?’ she silently scolded herself as she took a deep, focusing breath.
“But, since this will be our first night here,” Mel said reasonably. “Don’t you think we should probably focus on our room first?“ Mel said with a slight grin as she innocently withdrew her fingers from the mantle to inspect them for dust. When she glanced up to see if the archeologist agreed with her impeccable logic, her eyes widened with surprise, finding the archeologist marching straight for her.
Without a word, but with lots and lots of focus, Janice lifted up the taller woman, evoking a surprised southern yelp.
As was demanded by proper etiquette, though Melinda never recalled it formally being taught in finishing school, the southern lady immediately protested the undignified treatment of being thrown over her lover’s shoulder and hauled towards the bedroom.
“Janice! Put me . . . down!” Mel snapped between laughs as she bobbed up and down from the smaller woman’s gait. “What do you think you’re doing?“ She asked. Her only struggle was to sound offended.
“Taking you to our room to have sex,” Janice announced bluntly as she got to the bottom of the steps.
“You mean ‘make love,” Mel gently corrected her strong partner as her hand guided them along the wall as they ascended the stairs.
“Janice, dear, this isn’t exactly how I dream of you sweeping me off my feet,” Mel gently scolded her with amusement as she adjusted her glasses.
Janice grinned deviously and groaned loudly as she climbed the steps. “Good GOD, Mel, what the hell did you have for breakfast?” Janice accused with feigned gasps and patted the southerner’s firm rear.
“Janice Covington! You are horrible!” Mel snapped with irritation and made a half-hearted effort to squirm out of her hold as they reached the top of the stairs.
“Yup,” Janice readily agreed with a chuckle, causing an irritated groan from her passenger. With amazing grace, the shorter woman continued to balance her precious cargo as she twisted the door knob and gently kicked the bedroom door open with her foot.
“Oh yeah . . . ,” Janice recalled with another feigned gasp. “ . . . a big ol’ stack of pancakes,” she supplied with a smirk as she patted the southern rear again.
“Keep it up Dr. Covington, and the only thing that smooth talking of yours will get you is an invitation to the guest room!” Mel threatened as Janice carried her over the threshold of their bedroom, rear first.
“Good thing I wasn’t planning on any more talking,“ Janice countered with a grin as she gently deposited the southerner on the edge of the bed.
Mel took a sharp breath with every intention of responding. However, her breath and response deserted her as the archeologist tenderly caressed her cheek. The southerner willingly bathed in the loving gaze and warm smile of her partner, who slowly leaned down and gently kissed her, as if it was their very first time.
Hearing the soft moan from the taller woman who wanted more, Janice broke the kiss, stood up with an annoyingly satisfied smile, and waited.
Mel’s eyes blinked a moment before narrowing. “You know,” Mel said and cleared her throat as she pushed up her glasses. “It will take you a lot more than a kiss to get you out of the dog house, Dr. Covington.”
“Oh,” Janice said thoughtfully and furrowed her brow a second. “How about two kisses?”
“TWO!?!” Mel responded indignantly.
“You are absolutely the most . . . !” The southerner’s next words were forgotten when she finally detected a wonderful floral scent. Mel’s eyes darted towards the night stand to find a vase bursting with red roses, partially obscured by moving boxes.
“. . . surprising woman,“ Mel whispered.
Knowing she had just successfully gotten herself out of the dog house, again, the archeologist grinned and carefully retrieved a single rose from the vase. She offered it to the Southerner, who took the rose and relished its fragrance with closed eyes. Tears began to roll down southern cheeks.
“Uh . . . I’m really hoping you’re not becoming allergic to those things,” Janice laughed uneasily as she sat down next to the tall woman, eyeing the flower in question.
“I’m sorry, Janice. I know you don’t like to see tears,” she said with a sniff, attempting to wipe away the evidence.
“I, uh . . . ,” Janice blurted awkwardly, surprised by the comment. “I just don’t want to cause them,“ she softly admitted.
“Well you do, silly!” Mel chuckled softly as she pulled the archeologist into a warm embrace. “They are tears of joy, Janice,” Mel offered softly with a smile and happily indulged in the floral fragrance as she hugged her partner.
As they pulled back from the hug, Janice gently wiped away a tear from the southern cheek, eyeing it and Melinda skeptically.
“I can’t help it,” Mel explained with a slight shrug. “I always cry when I’m really happy.”
“Then how am I supposed to know if you’re unhappy?” Janice complained.
“Trust me, Janice. I’ll let you know,” Mel said with a polite smile and pushed up her glasses.
Janice looked at her a moment before slightly nodding and dropping her gaze to the floor, thinking of those unexplained nighttime tears.
“What?” Mel asked with concern.
“I hope I never hear those words from you, Mel,” Janice admitted softly, looking up. “But I hope, if you are unhappy, you’ll tell me.” Her eyes probed the Southerner’s as if she was waiting for her to admit that horrible truth.
Mel was stunned by her partner’s concern. “Janice . . . ,” Mel exhaled in amazement, searching for words to erase any doubt. Unable to promptly find them, she kissed the archeologist soundly, trying to convey the depth of her feelings. Finally pulling back from the soul-sharing kiss, Mel searched Janice’s eyes to see if she understood that what they had went beyond happiness.
“Uh . . . “ the archeologist said as she blinked a couple times and attempted to form a coherent thought. “So . . . are you happy, or what?” Janice finally asked and received a groan as she was abruptly pushed back and pinned on the bed by two strong, southern hands.
“I love you Janice Covington. And despite your amazing ability to annoy the Sam Hill out of me, you make me a very happy woman,” Melinda informed her firmly and quickly brushed her lips over the amused archeologist’s. “Get used to it,” the Southerner growled as she hovered dominantly over the smaller woman.
Instead of arousing desire, Mel aroused laughter. “You think something’s funny, do you?” Mel asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Giggles of Joy, Mel,” Janice chuckled. “Just giggles of joy,” she repeated and laughed. Mel rolled her eyes.
Suddenly, Janice stopped laughing and looked intensely at her partner.
“What?” Mel asked with concern.
“Who the HELL is Sam Hill!?!” Janice asked indignantly.
Mel looked at the archeologist blankly for a moment before grins emerged and laughter was shared.
“What will I do with you?” The southerner asked with feigned weariness as their laughter subsided.
“Sweetheart . . . anything you want,” Janice generously offered the southerner, who responded by eliminating most, but not all of the distance between them.
Janice bit back a groan of
frustration that only warm breath caressed her waiting lips.
“Why, that’s quite an offer, Dr. Covington,” Mel said silkily, immensely enjoying the feel of anticipation radiating from the responsive woman beneath her.
“One I hope you’ll seriously consider, Miss P. . .”
The grandmother of the bride, Victoria Irene Pappas, sat proudly in her lavender gown waiting for the procession to start. Glancing at her diamond-studded watch, she noted they were already running thirty-six minutes late.
When the music changed, she glanced back at little Celia, who began her march down the aisle, tossing petals. It has begun, Victoria thought with a heavy sigh as she turned back towards the flower-covered altar.
This was exactly what she had wanted for Melinda all those years, she thought as she discretely studied the groom. He was a good man from a good family. And certainly a striking figure in his Army uniform, she noted as the fair-haired man smiled and winked at his niece, Celia. And fortunately, good with children, she considered.
By every right, she should be pleased. But as handsome and as charming as he was, he never made her granddaughter light up when he walked in the room. He never made her really laugh. And he never brought her that smile of joy. He didn’t even come close, she thought sadly. No one did.
That unsophisticated, foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, woman archeologist, who was the furthest thing from the ideal mate for her granddaughter, who challenged her and her family at every turn, managed to bring her granddaughter the one thing she had always wanted for her. Happiness.
Victoria’s eyes started welling up. She had never cried at weddings before and it wouldn’t do to start now, she considered sternly. Clearing her throat, she took a deep breath, remembering that Melinda said she wanted this. And Victoria was not going to risk the fragile closeness they had finally found. She interfered in Melinda’s life before to protect her from Janice and she was wrong. Terribly wrong. She was not about to make the same mistake twice.
Victoria sighed and shook her head, vividly recalling the incredibly rocky start with that archeologist. Despite Victoria’s better judgement and immense displeasure, Janice Covington became an integral part of her family. And then, something unexpected happened. The older woman became grateful . . . .
“So, what do you think?” Melinda eagerly asked her grandmother as they finished the tour of the barn.
“I . . . it’s hard to imagine this was a barn. It’s . . . amazing,” Victoria said with surprise and great relief. Victoria had her doubts about her granddaughter ever being happy in a place that once housed livestock. Now she’d be able to honestly report to her bridge club that even she could be happy here. Amazing.
“Janice worked like a dog to fix this place up,” Mel said proudly, smiling as she went to the kitchen to retrieve the tea service.
“You did too, Melinda. Don’t you forget that,” Victoria firmly reminded her granddaughter as she walked towards the fireplace.
Melinda smiled broadly. That was one of the nicest compliments her grandmother had ever paid her. She must be coming down with something, Melinda thought with a smirk, considering her grandmother had been uncharacteristically nice to her lately. But whatever illness it was, Mel selfishly hoped there was no cure.
Returning with the tea, Melinda grinned, noting Victoria’s interest in the fireplace mantle. “This is incredible,” Victoria mentioned, closely inspecting the carved design.
“Would you believe Janice got that from the junk yard?” Melinda said as she put the tray down on the coffee table. “You should have seen it before she worked her magic,” she continued with easy praise.
Victoria looked at her granddaughter with amazement. Every time her granddaughter spoke of Janice, it was with such enthusiasm . . . and love, she considered, sitting down in the chair at the head of the coffee table. How this unexpected relationship could ever have occurred would forever remain a mystery to her, Victoria conceded.
“Janice is incredibly skilled with her hands,“ Melinda offered easily as she sat on the couch with a large smile.
Mrs. Pappas paused a moment before smiling politely. “For your sake, dear, I should hope so.”
Melinda’s smile faded as she uneasily pushed her glasses up.
“. . . especially if she keeps getting things from the junk yard,” Victoria added graciously.
Mel chuckled once, smiled weakly, and busied herself with pouring tea.
“So, is Janice enjoying her teaching job?” The older woman asked, noticing her tense granddaughter relax a bit.
“So far she seems to like it. It has only been a couple of weeks. Her students really enjoy the class from what Professor Dyer has told me. She had them outside digging for Civil War artifacts the first day,” Mel proudly informed her.
Victoria shook her head with amazement.
“What?” Melinda asked curiously.
“It’s just . . . Janice never struck me as a college professor type. A lion tamer, perhaps,“ Victoria said thoughtfully, sipping her tea.
“And there’s a difference?” Melinda offered with amusement, adding honey to her tea.
“With the youth these days, I suppose not,” Victoria responded with a soft chuckle, making Melinda smile as she stirred her tea.
“It is good to know her skills with the whip are not going to waste,” Victoria joked, recalling the archeologist’s demonstration of that surprising skill.
Pausing in mid-stir, Mel glanced up, smiled weakly, chuckled once, glanced down at her tea and busied herself with stirring.
Victoria’s eyes widened slightly.
Considering there were some mysteries that were best to remain so, Victoria cleared her throat and quickly changed the subject. “And . . . you are doing well in your studies?”
“Yes ma’am, I am,” Melinda proudly informed her grandmother, who smiled broadly.
“You do have a talent, Melinda. I am glad you are pursuing it,” Victoria said firmly, surprising and pleasing Melinda, who had always longed to hear those supportive words. “I’d like to think you get your intelligence from my side of the family, but I’m afraid I was never very good at languages,” Victoria admitted, again surprising her granddaughter.
“Well, I don’t feel very intelligent these days. Sometimes I don’t even know what day it is. Janice has taken to announcing it every morning so I don’t lose track,” Mel admitted with amusement, rolling her eyes. “I’ve never been so busy in my life,” she added with a weary chuckle.
“Or happy,” Victoria softly added, unnecessarily. It was already clear from the perpetual smile on Melinda’s face and sparkle in her eyes, which immensely pleased the older woman.
“Or happy,” Melinda agreed with soft conviction, warmed by her grandmother’s smile of acceptance.
“Jesus Christ GODDAMNITTO. . . ” Janice erupted through the front door. She abruptly halted, noticing the two startled Pappas women staring at her.
“ . . . hell.”
“And you’re sure about that, Melinda?” Victoria asked dryly, sipping her tea with amusement as Melinda sighed.
“Janice, dear, is there something wrong?”
“Is that a trick question?” Janice asked suspiciously, looking between the two women as she set down her leather briefcase and took her coat off.
“I was attempting to be polite. A nice thought from time to time, don’t you agree?” Mel relayed briskly, eyeing her partner who started to throw her coat over a chair. Seeing Mel’s disapproving glare, Janice stopped, sighed heavily, and placed her coat in the closet.
Victoria was impressed with her granddaughter’s grace in handling Janice Covington’s brashness. A true Southern lady, she thought proudly.
“If you think you’re annoyed now, sweetheart, just wait until I tell you,” Janice vaguely warned as she closed the closet door and headed to the ice box for a beer.
“Tell me what?” Mel asked with concern.
“Hey Victoria, you want a beer?” Janice asked holding up a bottle, surprising the older woman.
“Uh, no thank you, Janice.”
“Tell me what??” Mel asked impatiently.
“Good, it’s the last cold one,“ Janice smirked at the older woman as she popped off the cap and took a swig.
Victoria shook her head with amusement. It took some time for Victoria to get used to Janice’s bluntness. Now, she rather enjoyed it.
“Tell me WHAT?” Mel asked with annoyance as Janice joined her on the couch.
“You know, Mel, scientists are saying that there is some benefit to cursing . . . it seems to be good at relieving stress . . . maybe you ought to try it,” Janice mentioned casually, patted Mel on the knee, and took another sip of beer.
Victoria smirked as she sipped her tea.
“If I was ever inclined to curse, Janice, now might be the time,” Mel said with a thin smile. “Would you please tell me why you marched in here, taking the good Lord’s name in vain?”
Janice looked at Mel guiltily. “I’ve got to work this weekend,” Janice blurted and cringed.
“But . . . we were going to Charleston to visit Aunt Edith,” the southerner exhaled with disappointment.
“I’m sorry, Mel, I can’t get out of it,” Janice explained. “Trust me, I tried,” the weary archeologist said and rolled her eyes.
“What is so important that you have to work this weekend?” Melinda asked with frustration.
“Remember Drs. Engel and Worthington?”
“Yes,” Melinda said coldly, then noticed the curious look from her grandmother. “They were two professors from Oxford who found the Xena Scrolls not worthy of University attention despite them agreeing with their authenticity,” Mel explained with great irritation, vividly recalling how they had treated Janice. ‘Professionally’ was, unfortunately, not a word she would use.
“Yeah, well, they are coming to the University this weekend and I’m supposed to babysit them while they stay,” Janice said.
“I’m guessing either Professor Dyer hates me. . . “
“He doesn’t hate you, Janice,” Mel countered wearily, making Victoria smile.
“. . . or it has something to do with not finding any volunteers and my lack of tenure,” she muttered with annoyance. “I’m sorry,” Janice apologized with slumped shoulders, staring at her beer.
Melinda sighed and silently soothed the dejected archeologist with a gentle rub of her back, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Victoria noted. And it was, Victoria concluded, seeing the appreciative archeologist smile with relief at her partner.
“Well,” Mel exhaled thoughtfully. “Aunt Edith said she was going to come for Christmas this year which is not that far away, so you’ll meet her then. And who knows,” she offered with forced optimism. “Time with Drs. Engel and Worthington might be an opportunity in disguise.”
“Maybe,” Janice exhaled skeptically, then smirked. “And maybe my ass will sprout wings and I’ll fly,“ she added bluntly, stopping Mel’s loving caress of her back in mid-stroke.
Victoria bit back a chuckle. It wouldn’t do to encourage the young woman to be rude, not that Janice ever needed any encouragement.
“That wasn’t exactly the kind of opportunity I was envisioning, but an opportunity is an opportunity,” Mel said nobly and pushed up her glasses.
Mel wearily shook her head and reached for her tea. She didn’t have far to reach for Janice swiftly served her the cup and saucer with a warm smile and loving gaze.
A pleased grandmother watched as Mel’s face bloomed. Melinda could have done much worse . . . .
The Pappas’ family driver, Robert Thomas sat quietly next to his wife Ruby, who sighed and stared at the pew in front of them. He had never seen her look so drained, well, not since when Melinda’s mother died.
As the flower girl marched down the aisle, Robert watched Mrs. Pappas glance back and sigh heavily. There were so many sighs these days, he thought, shaking his gray-haired head sadly.
The church was right nice though, he thought with forced optimism, staring at the altar. Lots of flowers. Miss Melinda adored flowers, he smiled.
Miss Janice used to bring them to her all the time, he recalled fondly. She claimed it was to apologize for something or another. But he reckoned Miss Janice didn’t really need to do it nearly so often. But Miss Melinda sure did love the gesture, he remembered.
He’d even taken to giving Ruby some flowers just to see how it worked with his own wife and all. After the suspicious look she gave him and some quick explaining that he just did it cause he wanted to, he received the biggest ol’ smile and hug. Not bad for picking a few flowers, he considered with a smile. Miss Janice was definitely onto something.
Amazing how a simple thoughtful gesture or kind words were all that were really needed to brighten someone’s day. Of course, the way Miss Janice went about things, he was surprised Miss Melinda wasn’t blind, he recalled with a grin, which faded as the flower girl marched past him and tossed some petals in the aisle near him.
Miss Janice certainly tried to
please Miss Melinda, he sighed at the bitter sweet memories. Staring at
the petals by his feet, he recalled the time when Miss Melinda mentioned she
wanted a garden . . . .
“So when the hell are you supposed to plant these things?” Janice asked Robert as she looked over a package of seeds. Not one to enjoy digging in the dirt, unless it involved finding something, she grimaced between the seeds and the plot of dirt.
He shrugged with a smile and carefully bent his aged body and put down the large bag of seeds he brought.
“You know, Miss Janice, Miss Melinda just might want to do some of this herself,” Robert softly suggested to the young woman, who bristled at the idea.
“I just wanted to get things started. She’s very busy with her studies and I don’t want her to have to worry about any . . . thing,” Janice’s logical explanation stopped, finally seeing the older man’s smile as well as his point. “Yeah. I guess the idea is to get outside and enjoy doing it yourself,” she chuckled with some embarrassment. “If you can,” she added skeptically and shook her head.
“She’ll love what you’ve done so far,” Robert said warmly.
“You think?” Janice asked hopefully, looking between him and the plot of land she had neatly partitioned.
Robert smiled and nodded.
“I was thinking of adding a gazebo or something over there . . . “ Janice announced pointing at the location halfway between the barn and the stream. “We like to walk at night,” she said then grinned, recalling how amorous the Southerner became after a romantic walk. “I thought it might be nice place to come back to and . . . uh . . . sit and relax,“ Janice finished uncomfortably.
The older man chuckled. “I have a hard time seeing you just sitting and relax’n. Before you came here, you were just as busy as you are now, weren’t you?”
“Pretty much. Running a dig took a lot of work.”
“Do you miss it?” Robert asked curiously.
“Well, with Mel, the house, and teaching, there’s plenty to keep me busy,” Janice said with a grin, looking at the house and land.
“But you’re not digging up stuff,” Robert countered.
“Actually, I’ve done some digging with my students on some Civil War sites,” she perked up a bit, then sighed. “But cannon balls are only so exciting,” she added as they walked back to the front door. “Who knows, maybe once the war is over, I’ll go back to Greece and see if I can find the rest of the Xena scrolls.”
“You’ll leave?” Robert’s face filled with concern.
“I’m not an idiot, Robert. I’d have to take Mel,” Janice responded quickly. “Someone has to keep me out of trouble,” she added with a grin.
Robert felt a little embarrassed. “Well, if anyone can, it’s Miss Melinda,” he relayed warmly, then noted the archeologist’s eyebrows furrow as she glanced at the long dirt driveway.
“Ah shit.” Janice exhaled wearily. Robert turned to see a black car approaching, kicking up a cloud of dust.
“I guess I should go, since you have company and all.“
“That won’t be necessary. I’m going to get rid of them. Tenure or not, I’m not doing any more babysitting for those pompous windbags. And if they ask me one more stupid question about the Xena scrolls, I swear. . . . ,” she growled the unfinished threat. “It’s my day off, Goddamnit,” she muttered as she shook her head with annoyance and stood with her hands firmly on her hips.
Robert shifted uneasily, glad he wasn’t an unwanted guest at Miss Janice’s home.
When the car stopped, three men got out. Janice recognized the two British archeologists. The third man, an army Major, was unfamiliar.
“Dr. Covington!” Dr. Engel called out enthusiastically as he got out of the black car, trying to ignore the bad mood that radiated from the short woman.
“Dr. Engel. Dr. Worthington,” Janice said flatly. Her eyes narrowed as she glanced at the army Major, who smiled. “This is a surprise. I didn’t expect a social call on my day off. Having trouble finding the Krispy Kreme?”
“Uh, no . . . uh, we’re sorry to disturb your quiet,” Dr. Engel responded with a cringe.
Dr. Worthington rolled his eyes and continued. “This is Major Topel. We’re here to discuss something extremely important with you.”
“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Covington,” the Major extended a hand which received only a stare from the archeologist. Undeterred, the Major then offered his hand to Robert, who hesitantly shook it. “Robert Thomas,” the driver softly introduced himself.
“Dr. Covington, we are sorry to bother you but we have something urgent to discuss with you,” the Major said.
Janice eyed him, then the British archeologists, who quickly nodded in agreement. “What about?” She asked evenly.
“Uh, this is a sensitive matter,” Dr. Worthington noted, glancing at Robert, who looked uncomfortably at Miss Janice.
“And I asked, ‘what about’?” Janice repeated with irritation, gently motioning for Robert to stay put. She knew it would really annoy the British archeologists, and hoped the army Major too.
From her challenging glare, the Major realized he had to get her attention.
“The Xena scrolls, ambrosia, and . . . Hitler,” the Major blurted uncomfortably.
Robert’s eyes widened at the mention of Hitler.
“Robert, could you get Mel, please,“ Janice said neutrally, staring at the Major, who didn’t like the idea of more people involved.
“Dr. Covington, I’ve already said too much,“ Major Topel mentioned quickly, glancing at Robert.
“I trust Robert. And before you waste any of my time trying to convince me you are not some crack pot, I want my partner to hear this too.”
“But. . . .”
“That’s the deal,” Janice snapped. “Take it or leave it.”
The Major started to argue but realizing she wouldn’t budge, just sighed and nodded. The British archeologists looked at each other and rolled their eyes, wondering if this wasn’t a big mistake.
Janice turned to the Pappas’ driver. “Robert, tell Mel we have visitors she needs to meet.“
“You can count on me, Miss Janice,” Robert said with enthusiasm and quickly left. He knew something big was happening and Miss Janice trusted him with it . . . whatever ‘it’ was.
Melinda sighed heavily, flipping through another text. Janice was right, she thought wearily as she pushed up her glasses and stretched her stiff back, working towards a doctorate was definitely a grind. Although, it did give her a good excuse to get a back rub, Mel considered with a grin. Glancing up at the Library’s entrance, she was surprised to find the family driver scanning over the large room.
Finally spotting her, Robert walked towards her table with a relieved look on his face.
“Miss Melinda, Miss Janice asked that I take you home,” he said anxiously in a hushed tone as he glanced around the library.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Melinda asked, immediately alarmed. The students at the neighboring tables looked up at them. Robert cringed.
“Uh, she said to tell you that you have some visitors that you need to meet.” He responded softly with a weak smile. “Now,” he stressed softly.
“All right,” she said hesitantly, her curiosity and concern skyrocketing. Melinda quickly closed her texts and gathered her papers.
As they got in the car, a nervous Melinda pressed him for more information. “What’s going on Robert? Janice wouldn’t interrupt my study time unless she thought it was a matter of life or death.”
“I don’t know really,” he said with a shrug. “Three men came to visit, two English guys and an army Major. The Major said he had somethin’ urgent to discuss with Miss Janice and mentioned those scrolls you two have been working on and Ann . . . uh, Ann . . . . no. . . . ”
“Who??” Mel asked with furrowed brows.
“Uh . . . Ambrosia!” the older man finally recalled, alarming Melinda. “He also mentioned Hitler,” Robert added uneasily.
“Dear Lord,” Mel exhaled with dread.
“Janice?” Mel called out as soon as she and Robert entered the house. She immediately found her partner, who was pacing by the fireplace.
“Come in and join the party, Mel.”
Melinda tensed when the three guests abruptly stood as she walked towards them. It felt like an ambush.
“Miss Pappas, you know Dr. Engel,” Dr. Worthington said, motioning to Dr. Engel, who smiled sheepishly at the tall woman. “This is Major Topel.” Worthington motioned to the army Major who nodded politely. Dr. Worthington finally returned his attention to Dr. Covington. “Now can we continue?” He asked impatiently.
Janice sighed with a nod and watched her concerned partner sit down. The archeologist preferred to stand.
“British intelligence has learned Hitler has become interested, well actually, possessed, with the idea of immortality,” Dr. Worthington informed her.
Janice responded with a humorless laugh. “That’s not surprising. Many would love to prove his mortality.”
Robert watched Miss Melinda anxiously glance between Miss Janice and the three men as they discussed the leader of the Nazi party. He could understand her nervousness, cause he was nervous too.
“Yes, well, he believes he may find ambrosia, which the Xena scrolls mention.”
Mel and Janice looked at each other with confusion. “According to the scrolls, the ambrosia was thrown into lava and destroyed,” Melinda interjected firmly.
“In the scrolls that you have . . . ,” Dr. Worthington interjected impatiently.
“He’s found more?” Janice asked with genuine interest. Mel glanced at her with concern and irritation.
“Yes. We have also learned that a group of German archeologists are going to be sent to search for this ambrosia,” the Major relayed, amazed at the calm demeanor of the short woman, who scratched her cheek and sighed.
This didn’t sound good, Janice considered, not wanting to think about the possibilities of Hitler with ambrosia. But something about this story didn’t sit right. The archeologist eyed the men.
“But how do you know they were Xena scrolls? And how can we be sure they were translated properly?” Mel interjected with concern. This can’t be happening . . . .
“I can assure you from personal observation that . . . “ Dr. Worthington countered.
“Do you have them with you?” Janice asked with eagerness that concerned the tall southerner.
“The translations are . . . ” Dr. Worthington started to respond.
“Translation of the ancient syntax is tricky . . . they may not be right,“ Mel interrupted. It can’t be happening, she started to panic.
Seeing how unsettled Mel was, Janice started to go to her side.
“Miss Pappas, we are aware of your attempts to translate the ancient language, which are ‘remarkable,’ especially considering your limited education, but the Germans are quite proficient . . . “ Dr. Worthington caustically relayed with a condescending smirk that quickly disappeared when a red headed blur launched herself over the coffee table and roughly pulled him off his seat by his lapels.
“Janice!” “Dr. Covington!” Called the concerned group, except Robert, who smirked.
“Look you jackass, Miss Pappas has more talent in her little pinky than you or any of those goddamn Germans could ever hope to have. Apologize now or I’ll toss your Oxford-educated ass out of my home!” She growled.
That would be a sight to see, Robert thought with amusement.
“I . . I . . . Please accept my apologies, Miss Pappas,” the nervous man finally said.
Melinda uneasily nodded and pushed her glasses up.
Dr. Worthington exhaled with relief when the archeologist released her strong grip. “Good boy.” She said softly with a smile as she patted down his wrinkled lapels. Returning to Mel’s side, she placed a possessive hand on the Southerner’s shoulder.
Robert smiled warmly at the two. Nobody ever got away with treating Miss Melinda bad around Miss Janice. Not even Miss Melinda’s family, Robert considered.
Melinda was comforted by her partner’s touch and very annoyed glare directed at the three men. Maybe Janice will make them go away now and let them lead their lives in peace, she hoped.
“Uh . . . yes,” Dr. Worthington cleared his throat and loosened his collar with his finger. “Uh . . . as I was saying, we obtained copies of the Nazi’s translations of the scrolls, which are safe at Oxford. We don’t have the originals. They are in Berlin.”
“Fascinating,” Janice said neutrally, squeezing Mel’s shoulder before letting go and walking back to the fireplace.
Mel felt her heart lurch at the loss of the archeologist’s touch. Fighting a surge of panic that it was a precursor to a much greater loss, the southerner tried to take a calming breath. She prayed her nightmares were only nightmares.
“You don’t have the originals, so Miss Pappas can’t verify the translation. You don’t have the translation, so I can’t verify the context of your story. So why are you here bothering me?” Janice asked bluntly, folding her arms across her chest.
“To ask you to find the ambrosia before the Nazi’s,” Major Topel said. Janice closely studied his face.
“What!?!” Mel gasped.
“The consequences of the Nazi’s getting a hold of this . . . “ Topel explained, but was interrupted by the irritated archeologist.
“Now wait a damn minute,” Janice snapped, turning to her uninvited British guests. “How come, after your personal analysis of the actual scrolls that we found, you now believe they are more than “preposterous ancient Greek fairy tales,” Janice asked angrily, her glare boring into Dr. Worthington.
Mel watched, hoping her partner would just throw them out.
“Dr. Covington, I am terribly sorry if our assessment ruffled your feathers,” Dr. Worthington continued snidely, making Robert cringe, expecting Miss Janice to make good on her previous threat. Not that he wouldn’t deserve it, Robert’s eyes narrowed at the professor.
“But Hitler believes them and is actively looking for the ambrosia. We can’t risk him being right.”
“I see. Hey Mel, at least Hitler believes the scrolls,” Janice sarcastically called to her partner, whose heart raced with fear. This can’t be happening. . . .
“So now you think we’ll drop everything and help you?” Janice challenged, glancing at the three men.
“Uh, we were hoping you would, Dr. Covington,” Major Topel said uncomfortably, causing Mel’s eyes to widen. “No offense, Miss Pappas,” he quickly added, glancing at the short archeologist, who thankfully didn’t seem to take offence and just stared blankly at him.
Dear Lord, no. Please don’t let this happen, Mel prayed, wondering why Janice hadn’t thrown them out by now.
“We already have the translations but they only give the general locations. Dr. Worthington thinks it’s in Athens or possibly Corinth,” the Major informed her.
Janice looked at the pompous British archeologist, who sat up confidently. Or how about China, she thought, rolling her eyes.
“Doctor Covington, it is our hope that with your experience with the Xena scrolls and considerable field work in Greece, you and a small team we’ve selected could go in, undetected, and find it before the Nazis. We can’t risk it getting into Nazi hands.“
“Do you have any idea what you’re asking!?! You’d risk her life for a wild goose chase?” Mel accused fiercely. She’s got a point, Janice considered, silently waiting for a response.
“Miss Pappas,” the Major tried to explain.
“Until you produce something more substantial than hearsay, Major Topel, you are not welcome in my home. Please leave,” the southern lady said coldly, surprising Janice, who now curiously studied her very upset partner.
“If we could just . . . ,“ Dr. Engel interjected timidly.
“Get out,” Mel instructed them with chilling simplicity, slowly standing up to her full, menacing height.
Robert was certain if they didn’t leave of their own accord, Miss Melinda would be the one to make good on Miss Janice’s threat and toss their Oxford-educated butts out.
The startled men looked perplexed and concerned. The Major finally sighed and reluctantly stood.
“My card, if you are interested in helping the allies, Dr. Covington,” he said pointedly and placed the small white card on the coffee table, knowing neither woman was inclined to accept it now.
As the men left, Major Topel turned to them in the doorway. “Remember, Miss Pappas, Dr. Covington, this is a world war. It affects not only men, but women and children as well. America may not be in it now, but it doesn’t take an Oxford education to see it’s only a matter of time,” he said solemnly. “I’ll be at Fort Jackson, if you want to talk further.”
After the men left, Robert watched the tall woman slump down into her seat and fight the tears that were determined to fall. He watched uneasily as Janice immediately knelt at her side.
“Mel?” Janice said with concern, taking the Southerner’s hand.
“Don’t leave,” Mel pleaded, looking into her partner’s concerned eyes. “Promise me you won’t leave me . . .”
Any concerns Janice had that the story they were just handed was even remotely true were forgotten seeing the absolute fear in her lover’s eyes. Janice offered the only answer she could. “Whatever you want, Mel.”
Hearing the words she needed to
hear, Mel pulled the archeologist into a desperate hug, afraid to let go. . . .