The grandfather of the bride, Colonel William Jacob Pappas, felt Melinda’s grip on his forearm tighten as Christine started to walk down the aisle. He glanced at his stiff granddaughter, whose eyes were locked straight ahead. He wondered what she was thinking. He had wondered that ever since her announcement that she was getting married.
Married, he considered with amazement, despite it being moments before the walk down the aisle. It seemed so soon after she came back from Europe. Alone. Well, not exactly alone, he considered glancing down at her still-concealed stomach a moment.
Despite what was expected of a young lady in these situations, she didn’t have to get married, he told her. But she was determined to ‘do the right thing,’ he shook his head with a sigh, wondering how could she know this was ‘the right thing’ when her heart was still shattered.
No one in her family could understand how she let this ‘situation’ happen. He could see she wasn’t the same since losing Janice. He guessed she acted out of grief. Grief can drive people do unexpected things. But that was just a guess. Melinda did not discuss what happened in England and nor did they press her for an answer. All they knew was that Melinda needed their support and she was going to get it. She deserved at least that much, he thought guiltily, feeling partially responsible for the tragic turn in events.
He regretted he ever spoke one word to them about duty, honor, and country. Of all people, Janice understood what those things were about, despite her irreverent ways. He sighed heavily at the family’s loss.
Now Mel was attempting to fulfill her duty.
God help us all, he thought somberly. And especially Christine, he silently added with concern as he watched the maid-of-honor slip on a clump of petals, just barely recovering before falling onto the carpeted aisle. At least she hasn’t gotten sick, he thought with a sigh.
He stood tall, prepared to escort his granddaughter down the aisle, prepared to perform his duty.
Duty. He sighed thoughtfully. It was a word that used to define his life. A word he used to rely on to help him make difficult choices. A word that couldn’t begin to ease his guilt or fill the void in his heart . . . .
As they waited for dinner in the Pappas’ billiards room, Colonel Pappas slowly rubbed the chalk on his cue tip and sighed again as Janice leaned over for the winning eightball shot.
Annoyed, she stood up and eyed him. “You want to say something. Say it,” Janice challenged. He appreciated her candor and nodded.
“All right, Janice. Major Topel came to see me.”
“What a surprise, Colonel” she said.
“He told me about those scrolls,” William continued. “And his request for help.” The older man said softly, eyeing the young woman.
“Why won’t you even hear him out?”
“I did,” she responded evenly. “He says there are Xena scrolls, but they’re in Berlin. He says there is this German translation, but it’s in London. And there has never been any evidence that the ambrosia discussed in our scrolls has any more power than that snake oil sold at the State Fair. Not a lot to go on, Colonel,” Janice said crisply.
“Everyone thought the Xena scrolls were just in your father’s imagination until you proved they were real,” he countered. “What if that ambrosia is real too, Janice? Good Lord, Hitler with ambrosia?? You can’t possibly risk that . . . “
“I don’t see it as much of a risk,” she said uncomfortably, redirecting her gaze to the pool table. “Well, except to me. . . “ she joked awkwardly.
“You don’t see it as . . . “ he repeated in amazement, unable to finish as his temper flared. “You never struck me as a coward, Janice Covington,” he said heatedly. “Until now!”
Janice’s eyes swiftly met his, filled with anger and hurt. With great effort, she held her tongue as she put her cue on the pool table and started to leave.
“Don’t you dare walk out on me, young lady!” He barked.
Janice responded with a humorless laugh. “You ought to know by now, Colonel, I’m no young lady.” Her smirk faded into a cold glare. “And nobody tells me what to do!” Janice snapped angrily and stormed out.
“Damn it, Janice!” He called as Janice marched past a startled Melinda, who came to announce that dinner was almost ready.
“Janice?” Mel called out with concern. “I’m going home,” Janice growled without looking back.
“Grandfather, what’s going on!” Mel demanded.
“I never thought I’d see the day where Janice Covington would turn her back on anyone, let alone her country!” He growled.
“What??” Mel responded, shocked at the accusation.
“They need her and she said no. Can you believe it? There’s a WAR on Melinda and she said NO!” Colonel Pappas spewed with disgust and stormed off to the library.
Mel stood frozen in the wake of her grandfather’s anger.
Dear Lord, why was this happening?
“William?“ Victoria asked with concern as she entered the study. She found her husband at the liquor cabinet, pouring himself a healthy glass of Scotch.
“William, what is going on?” She asked. “Why did Melinda and Janice leave?”
“I yelled at Janice,” he admitted crisply, sipped his Scotch, and sat down on the couch.
“Whatever for?” Victoria asked with amazement. Her husband rarely lost his temper.
“She won’t help her . . . ” he said then growled with irritation. “I can’t discuss it,” he said cryptically and took a gulp of Scotch.
Victoria sighed with a knowing nod and sat next to him. “That business with Major Topel?”
William looked at her, astonished. “HOW did you know about that?”
“Well, Robert mentioned it to Ruby and, of course, Ruby told me,“ Victoria explained with a shrug.
“Dear GOD, you realize we’re talking national secrets don’t you?” He said with concern.
“Please, William, Ruby and Robert haven’t told anyone else. And I . . . .”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” He interrupted with annoyance.
“Well, dear, you wouldn’t be happy if I was going around gossiping about national secrets, now would you?” She smiled politely. He rolled his eyes.
“You know, Janice really
disappointed me,” he exhaled sadly and stared at his Scotch.
“Why, because she promised Melinda?”
He looked up from his drink, confused. “Promised Melinda?”
“Our granddaughter asked her not to go. And Janice loves our granddaughter, so she agreed,“ Victoria explained simply.
“And you’re all right with that?” William asked with amazement.
“I have learned that it’s not my place to question what is right for them, William. It’s for them to work out,” Victoria gently advised, getting up from the couch. “I made a promise to Melinda that I would not interfere . . . and I intend to keep that promise,” Victoria added and left for dinner.
Well I never promised, he thought, finishing his Scotch.
“Janice?” Melinda called outside from the kitchen door, finding the archeologist walking into their backyard from the woods, finally arriving home after her abrupt departure from the Pappas’ mansion.
Yanking free the axe from the large tree stump, the archeologist began vigorously chopping firewood, maintaining the healthy sheen of sweat coating her skin from the long, angry hike.
Melinda nervously pushed up her glasses. “Janice?” She called again more loudly, stepping outside. The archeologist stopped chopping and turned towards her with labored breaths.
“Uh, what do you want for dinner?” Mel asked uneasily.
“I’m not hungry,” Janice called back, as she wiped the sweat from her brow that still furrowed with frustration.
“You’ve got to eat something, Janice. How about a sandwich?” Mel persisted.
“Sure,” Janice said with a shrug and sigh, then continued chopping wood with gusto.
Mel nodded absently and turned to go back in the kitchen. She paused a moment, noticing the large pile of firewood already stacked. She glanced back with a furrowed brow as the archeologist continued to produce the unneeded wood. A sandwich, she reminded herself and entered the kitchen.
As she pulled the sandwich fixings from the ice box, Mel paused to observe Janice through the kitchen window. The archeologist had every right to be upset, Mel considered guiltily, glancing down at the kitchen floor. But I can’t lose her, she thought, the memory of her disturbing nightmares plaguing her. With a deep breath, Mel concentrated on the wonderfully normal chore of making a turkey sandwich.
A knock on the front door startled Melinda. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she went to the front door.
“Grandfather,” she said with uneasy surprise.
“Melinda,” he said tightly. “I came to see Janice.”
Mel’s eyes dropped. “Now might not be a good time. She has an axe.”
“Very well, I’ll apologize later,” he said crisply and started to leave. “Melinda?” He stopped and eyed her critically.
Mel looked up uncertainly.
“Did you ever ask her what she wanted?” He asked evenly, receiving his answer when her eyes dropped again.
“I see,” he exhaled with disappointment. “I just wonder how long a woman like Janice Covington will tolerate having her decisions made for her,” he said bitingly and left.
Dear Lord, the troubled southerner prayed for help.
“Mel?” Janice walked up to the tall woman as the Colonel drove away. When she gently touched Mel’s arm, Janice saw worry flood her face.
“What did he want?” Janice asked with annoyance, looking at the dust cloud as the car disappeared down the dirt road.
“He wanted to see you,” Mel said weakly as she shut the door. “But I told him now was not a good time. He wanted to apologize.” She added uneasily.
“Mel. . . .” Janice sighed.
“He . . . he asked me if I had asked you what you wanted,” Mel interrupted, looking at her partner with incredible guilt. “Janice. . . “
“Mel,” Janice interjected earnestly. “I want you. I want to make you happy. That is what I want,” Janice announced firmly then smiled warmly at her partner.
Mel felt overwhelmed by the unwavering love so freely offered.
“But. . . .”
Gentle fingers silenced the Southerner’s lips.
“Let me show you what I want, Mel,” Janice said softly, gently taking Mel’s hand and kissing it.
Hearing the words she wanted to hear, the silent southerner felt a gentle tug on her hand and followed the archeologist upstairs.
The Pappas’ house keeper, Ruby, eyed the red carpeting with a furrowed brow, thankful she didn’t have to clean up the mess of petals after the service. She shook her head and glanced over to the angelic Celia, who fidgeted by the altar with her now-empty basket. The groom’s niece had been misbehaving all morning. With a bit of skill and a lot of luck, Ruby was able to erase the evidence of small, spoiled fingers from the wedding cake icing. The housekeeper’s eyes narrowed at the child.
The groom, nor his family, didn’t even seem to notice her antics or they chose not to. Ruby didn’t know which was worse. Celia had gotten away with most of it because she was a smart and, at appropriate times, an adorable child. But a sweet face didn’t make a sweet child, Ruby considered.
As her eyes drifted to the handsome groom, Ruby wondered what Miss Melinda’s children would look like. Would they have his hazel eyes and red-ish blond hair or her striking blue eyes and pitch-black hair? Well, she wouldn’t have a long wait to find out, she considered with a sigh of mixed emotions. Glancing towards the altar, she absently focused on the white roses splashed with a rainbow of color that spilled in through the large stained glass window.
Miss Melinda will make a good mother, Ruby concluded confidently. After all, she was able to keep Miss Janice in line, the housekeeper smiled with amusement. Her smile faded as sadness filled her heart. She wondered what kind of mother Janice would have been. Something told her a good one. Ruby shook her head sadly, regretting she would never get to see that.
Hearing a gasp in the aisle, Ruby joined the rest of the congregation in staring at the maid-of-honor, who was clinging onto a pew for dear life, after having the misfortune of stepping on a particularly slippery patch of petals.
‘Good Lord, that girl is going to get herself killed!’ Ruby thought with exasperation. At least she hasn’t gotten sick, the housekeeper thought with a resigned sigh.
As Christine straightened herself, as well as her gown, up, Ruby heard a young boy giggling across the aisle . . . .
“Mel, do something,” Janice complained, glancing over her shoulder at the small towheaded boy hovering near her, giggling and poorly hiding behind a large oak tree. Even the bright December day and yard full of baked goods couldn’t brighten the archeologist’s dark mood.
Ruby grinned as she proudly arranged her special oatmeal raisin cookies on their table, as she had done for every church bake sale for over fifty years. She was happy her Melinda was finally back, having missed her horribly the year she spent overseas with Dr. Covington. Ruby prayed Melinda was back for good and glanced thoughtfully to the one person who would either answer or thwart that prayer.
Janice moaned impatiently, “Mel . . . .“
Mel smirked and placed her chocolate cake on the table. “Janice, he likes you,” she explained, then chuckled. “Of course, with your mood right now, I’m not exactly sure why.”
“Fine, if you’re not going to do anything about that pint-size stalker, I’m going to the river,” Janice announced and started to leave.
“Janice Covington!” Melinda snapped at the archeologist, who stopped, turned, and glared at her. “You promised to help with the bake sale,” Melinda reminded her firmly.
“No, you promised and somehow I got stuck,” Janice corrected her with annoyance.
Ruby grinned, remembering how Melinda’s mother would volunteer her unsuspecting husband for things too. Apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, she considered.
“I am sure Larry can do without you for at least one Sunday,” Melinda responded, ignoring the shorter woman’s comment, which happened to be accurate. “And Gregory is staying out of your way . . . ,“ Mel mentioned, glancing back at the tree with Janice. “Isn’t that right, Gregory?” She called out to the small boy, who giggled and retreated behind the tree.
“Oh God,” Janice moaned wearily.
“I don’t see why you are so bothered by him, Janice,” Melinda said with a sigh.
“Gregory’s a good boy, Dr. Covington,” Ruby added, clearly amused that the woman, who she had personally seen best a number of large men, bare-handed, at one time, could get so flustered by a child that barely came up to her waste.
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed at the unnecessarily helpful older woman. When she first met the archeologist, Ruby would have cringed at that look. Now, knowing Dr. Covington much better, she only became more amused.
“She’s right,” Mel added, now receiving the annoyed glare, which faded as Janice sighed heavily and finally accepted her fate.
Reaching for an oatmeal cookie for consolation, Janice’s hand was slapped away by Ruby. “No more. You’re eating the church’s profits!” Ruby scolded her.
“But Ruby, you can’t blame me that your cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted,” she said smoothly as she reached for the plate, only to be slapped away again by the stubborn housekeeper.
“Oh??” Mel challenged, folding her arms over her chest and waited for a response with a thin smile. Ruby quietly chuckled as she watched the archeologist cringe and uneasily glance into the crowd as if there might be help there.
‘Ah shit,’ Janice thought with a grimace, wondering how the hell she could have so obliviously walked into that dog house.
“I’d like pink this time,” Mel informed her as she started slicing her cake with an amused smile.
“Dr. Covington!” A student of Janice’s, called to her. Donald and another student, Steve, approached their table with big smiles.
“I didn’t know you went to this church,” Donald mentioned as Steve eyed the baked goods on the table with interest.
“I don’t,” Janice responded flatly. “So, you gonna to buy something?” Janice asked bluntly. Donald smiled broadly at his favorite professor, who obviously wanted to be somewhere else.
“Janice, please don’t intimidate the customers,” Melinda said with a polite smile, which warmed when she looked at the college students.
“It’s no problem, Miss Pappas, we’re used to her intimidation,” Steve piped up, then cringed under the archeologist’s glare. Maybe not. . . .
“So, Doc, if I buy some stuff, will I get any extra credit on my final?” Donald joked, looking at the archeologist with a big smile. Mel’s eyebrows furrowed slightly.
“Donny, I’m afraid there’s nothing you could buy that would help with your grades,” she informed the young man with a heavy sigh, shaking her head.
“Janice,” Melinda softly scolded the archeologist. Donald laughed. “Don’t worry Miss Pappas, I’m a straight ‘A’ student,” he said proudly, returning his gaze to his favorite teacher.
“Brownnose,” Steve coughed.
“You, on the other hand, might want to think about buying some stuff. Lots of stuff,” Janice smiled evilly at Steve.
Donald laughed at Steve’s drained expression. “Uh, I think I need to go study,” Steve said and retreated into the crowd.
“Now he figures that out,” Janice mentioned, shaking her head.
As Mel watched the poor young man leave, she wondered what it would be like to have Janice as a teacher . . . then grinned.
“I’ll be going too. I’m gonna catch the end of the game on my radio,” Donald mentioned, glancing at his car.
“The game on your radio, huh?” Janice asked, eyeing his car with interest, then felt the glare of her partner. “Uh . . . well, have fun,” she added with a weak smile. “I’m desperately needed here,” she added flatly, shooting a look at the tall southerner, who smiled thinly.
“I’ll be back with the score,” he said with a grin at his favorite teacher and darted to his car. Janice smiled at his thoughtful offer.
“Your students are nice,” Mel said as she watched the handsome young man go to his car. “They really like you. Especially, Donald,” Mel said with forced nonchalance as she busied herself and brushed some crumbs off the table.
Ruby shook her head at Melinda’s unwarranted concern.
“Yeah, good kids,” Janice mentioned, her attention returned to the boy still lurking behind the tree. She sighed heavily.
“Janice, he’s not causing anyone . . . ,” Mel said, hoping to stop the expected complaint but found Janice walking towards him. She looked curiously at Ruby, who shrugged. “Uh, Janice?” Mel called out uneasily. “Be nice,“ she cautioned her partner and received an irritated green glare.
The little boy was startled when he peeked out from the tree to find the redheaded woman standing right there.
“Hi,” Janice said firmly, focusing on the uneasy boy, who shyly waved and leaned on the trunk, absently picking at the bark. Janice knelt down and motioned for him to come to her. He looked curiously at her. She motioned again. Hesitantly, he left his tree.
Neither Mel nor Ruby could hear what Janice was telling him but they saw that he kept nodding, apparently enthralled by the archeologist’s words. The women looked at each other curiously when Janice placed her hand on the boy’s shoulder and motioned over the church yard, evoking more nodding from the boy. Finally, when she stood up, the boy eagerly rushed off into the crowd.
The curious women stared at Janice when she returned to the table. “Well, he didn’t look like he was running away in fear,” Melinda quipped, pushing up her glasses, and waited for Janice to explain. Ruby chuckled.
“Gee thanks,” Janice said softly with irritation, surprising Mel and Ruby.
“Janice, I didn’t mean . . .” Mel softly said with concern, reaching out and gently touching the smaller woman’s forearm.
“Dr. Covington, Miss Pappas,” Major Topel said as he and his wife stopped at their table. Melinda tensed and slowly retracted her hand.
“This is my wife, Myra. Honey, this is Dr. Covington, Miss Pappas and . . . ,” he said warmly and looked at the Pappas’ housekeeper curiously.
“Mrs. Ruby Thomas,” Janice offered, glancing at Melinda, who was distracted by the wife’s enormous stomach. She was very pregnant.
“Oh, Robert’s wife?” He asked with a smile, surprising the housekeeper, who nodded with a pleased smile.
“Pleased to meet you. Whoa . . .” Myra said, looking uneasy a moment as she placed a hand on her protruding belly.
“Are you all right?” Melinda asked with concern.
“Just kicking again. I guess I should be happy the twins have such strong legs . . . but right at this moment, I’m finding it very hard to be appreciative,” she sighed and chuckled softly. Melinda smiled warmly.
“Is this your first time?” Melinda asked with interest. Ruby glanced over to Janice with a smile. It faded when she found Janice staring at the ground.
“Yes,” Myra exhaled and felt more kicking. “Oh dear. And I think this may be my last time. Two’s a good number,” she offered wearily and looked at her husband, who nodded dutifully.
“I think I should sit down over there, in the shade . . . now,” Myra said firmly. “Nice to meet you,” she added with a warm smile. “Ladies,” Major Topel said, tipping his hat, and left with his wife.
“Twins. That is so wonderful,” Melinda gushed with a smile as she watched Mrs. Topel waddle away, then glanced at her partner. Her smile faded seeing the archeologist look . . . sad. “Janice?”
Janice sluggishly looked up from the ground.
“Oh Janice!” Christine called out melodically as she marched over to their table with a little shadow following closely behind, poorly hiding behind trees and people.
“Christine. You’re in luck, we still have some . . . .”
“Janice Covington, I think you should tell young Gregory here I am not a spy,” she said firmly, motioning to a tree. “NOW,” Christine said crisply, placing her hands on her hips. Ruby and Melinda chuckled.
“Gregory?” Janice called.
The boy jumped out from the tree and ran towards the archeologist.
“Hi,” he said and waved.
“Hi,” Janice said, then scratched the back of her head with a thoughtful sigh. “Gregory, you need to work on your surveillance technique,” she informed him.
He looked at her oddly, not familiar with the words.
“You can’t let your subjects know you’re watching them, and you can’t tell them why you’re watching them. Understand?” The archeologist asked.
Gregory nodded enthusiastically. Mel smiled broadly. Janice treated him as a person, not a child, and made a friend in the process.
“You’re teaching him to be a peeping tom?!?” Christine accused.
“Gum shoe, GUM shoe,” Janice corrected her with irritation and knelt down to whisper something in his ear. He nodded vigorously and immediately darted into the crowd.
Melinda’s big smile slowly faded as she watched the boy make a bee-line towards Mrs. Pappas, who was talking with Reverend Baylor by the church steps.
“Janice dear, you know there’s a very good chance grandmother won’t be amused.” Melinda mentioned as they all looked towards Mrs. Pappas, then to Janice.
“Oh boy,” Ruby exhaled and shook her head with a slight chuckle.
“Hey! HEY!!!” Donald yelled out in panic as he anxiously jumped out of his car, almost falling as he got the curious attention of the chattering crowd.
“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!! They bombed us!!”
The chattering stopped as the crowd glanced uneasily at each other and around the church yard with disbelief.
The blue sky was still bright and sunny. The church yard was still full of family, friends, and delicious baked goods. Beautiful flowers were still planted around the old white church. Everything appeared just like before. But everything wasn’t the same. As the significance of the words sank in, their hearts reluctantly admitted the terrifying truth.
The war had finally come to America.
“Dear Lord, no . . . ,” Mel whispered as her eyes closed. Her heart pounded as the madness continued to overrun her beautiful world. The archeologist’s normally reassuring hand on hers could not calm her fears.
As Major Topel and his wife passed the Pappas’ table to go to their car, Melinda noticed Mrs. Topel looking ill. But it wasn’t from the twin’s kicking. It was pure fear. A fear of losing a loved one. Mel looked at Janice, whose eyes guiltily dropped from Major Topel’s disappointed gaze.
“Do you want to stay, or go home,” Janice asked, glancing at the church doors where some of the people were heading.
“Home,” Mel said weakly. Janice nodded and started to pack up their table.
Ruby softly prayed, “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .”
‘I will not get sick. I will not get sick,’ Christine silently chanted as she steeled herself to begin her march down the aisle with a forced smile. Her stomach was doing somersaults and it wasn’t even her wedding, she silently moaned at the continued queasiness. Although, that was a normal response every time she thought about getting married. But for Melinda to marry a man she hardly knew, except in the unfortunate way that got her pregnant, she felt doubly ill.
And she always told me to be careful, Christine considered the tragic irony with a furrowed brow as her rebellious stomach tossed again.
Step and step and . . .
A southern lady would not give in to such physical adversity and toss her cookies, she reminded herself, taking another deep breath as she got closer to the altar. Faint maybe, she considered, feeling a bit light-headed from her now-frequent deep breathing. Maybe that was the answer, she considered, weighing the pros and cons of continued consciousness.
Fainting was certainly an accepted response to stress in southern society, she recalled that valuable lesson from finishing school. A grimace emerged as her stomach tossed again. She concluded it wouldn’t much matter to Melinda. Her old friend was so determined to get married, she would step over her body, train and all. But on the bright side, she wouldn’t have to witness the ceremony, Christine thought, not quite ready to rule out that option.
‘If I survive this, it will be . . . ,’ she thought wearily then felt her foot slip on a clump of petals. ‘Oh Good LORD!’ Her mind raced as her balance was lost. She frantically grabbed onto a nearby pew, preventing her fall onto the aisle carpeting.
Taking a couple of deep breaths, she steadied herself and attempted to ignore the concerned gasps, gawking, and chuckles from the congregation. She stood and felt the draft from the newly torn seam on her left shoulder. Damnit, she thought with great irritation, which faded when she remembered she would be burning the dress after the ceremony anyway. After getting really really drunk . . . .
She plastered on her dutiful smile and continued with a much more careful approach to the altar. Mel had always been there for her and it was time she was there for her tall friend. Even if she was making a big mistake.
She took another deep breath attempting to quell the queasiness. She’s a big girl, Christine reminded herself. She knows what she wants.
‘Didn’t I have flowers?’ The maid of honor wondered with a furrowed brow as she approached the altar empty handed. Shaking her head, she looked up at the smirking groom and best man and smiled politely. Melinda said she wanted this, Christine reminded herself, recalling how certain she was about Janice.
But he wasn’t Janice.
Sure the groom was tall and very handsome, she acknowledged. Rich. Successful. An army officer, had a respected family . . . .
Christine didn’t like him.
So what if she didn’t know him, she considered. He just wasn’t Melinda’s type, Christine believed. Though enough her type to get her in the family way. Christine’s smile faded as she stood at the altar to await Mel’s arrival. She still had no idea how Mel could have done that so soon after Janice.
Christine tried to find out what the hell happened, but she was met with impenetrable silence and quickly learned not to ask the silent woman anymore questions or risk their friendship.
Melinda would not discuss it.
All anyone knew was that Janice died. So did a part of Melinda. The happy, joyful part that had bloomed since meeting that archeologist. Christine sighed sadly, longing to hear her friend really laugh again.
The first few chords of the wedding march prompted the congregation to stand for the arrival of the bride. Christine smiled politely as the statuesque woman in white and her uniformed grandfather began the march to the nauseating music. She swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth. Having already faced one tragedy in her life, Christine couldn’t fathom why Mel would voluntarily face a second one. But life was full of the unexpected these days, she thought with a heavy sigh. . . .
“I can’t believe he signed up before the lottery picked him,” Christine shook her head as Melinda poured her a cup of tea.
“Brian surprised us too,” Melinda mentioned, still amazed her self-serving brother would do something so uncharacteristic as to join the army before he was required to. Perhaps he was finally growing up, she thought with some hope.
Melinda and Christine stopped talking when the front door opened. They watched Janice drag herself inside with a somber look on her face.
“You’re home early,” Melinda softly noted as Janice put down her briefcase and tossed her coat into the closet.
“Classes have been canceled,” Janice explained with a heavy sigh as she closed the closet door. “Probably a good idea since the students are swarming to Ft. Jackson to sign up,” she added tightly and went to the ice box for a beer. “Donald and Steve also decided to put school on hold until the war is over. On the bright side, Drs. Engel and Worthington are going back to London,” Janice said and opened the ice box.
Christine noticed Melinda glance uneasily away from Janice.
“Christine, you want a beer?” Janice asked without her usual energy.
“Sure,” Christine mentioned, getting a surprised look from Melinda. “I like beer,” Christine mentioned defensively as Janice came over with the bottles and joined Melinda on the couch.
There was an unusual tension between the new homeowners, Christine noticed as she sipped her beer. Janice exhaled slowly and joined her. Mel looked at the floor.
“The President is supposed to speak tonight,” Christine said uncomfortably, breaking the silence.
“Damn. He’ll interrupt the Lone Ranger,” Janice said with tired sarcasm, sipping her beer. Mel’s eyebrows furrowed.
“You listen to the Lone Ranger?” Christine asked, considering small talk the safest course at the moment.
“Sure. Don’t you?” Janice said as Christine sipped her beer.
“Well, I’m more of a Superman fan,” Christine admitted, gaining a curious gaze from Mel.
“I didn’t know that,” Mel offered softly, feeling much more comfortable discussing radio shows than the war.
“Sure. He’s a SUPER man. Faster than a speeding bullet . . . .“ Christine announced.
“And that’s something to be proud of?” Janice interjected.
“You know, Janice, in a fight, Superman would clean Lone Ranger’s clock,” Christine informed her, noticing Melinda gazing distantly into the fireplace.
“And, I’m sure if the Lone Ranger’s clock was dirty, he’d appreciate that,” Janice retorted and sipped her beer.
“Which super hero do you prefer, Melinda?” Christine asked, ignoring the archeologist’s comment.
“I guess the Lone Ranger,” she said softly with a shrug.
“Why did I ask?“ Christine said, glancing at Janice. “You know, Superman is bullet proof and he flies,” Christine informed Melinda.
“But he doesn’t have Tonto,” she replied softly, looking at Janice.
“Which makes me wonder, why he is called the LONE Ranger,” Christine replied.
“For GOD’s sake, he’s the last ranger, Christine. They never said he was ALONE,” Janice informed her with irritation. Christine had never seen Janice so uptight and decided to change the subject again.
“So . . . I still can’t believe Brian signed up,” Christine said, quickly suspecting it was the wrong subject when the surprised archeologist looked at Melinda, who uncomfortably looked away.
“I’m going to get more firewood,” Janice announced tightly and quickly left the old friends alone.
Christine curiously glanced at the large stack of wood by the mantle. “But there’s a pile right here,“ she noted.
Melinda’s eyes dropped.
“What’s wrong?” Christine asked, then flatly added, “Other than the fact the war now includes us?”
“Would you like another beer?” Melinda asked uneasily and got up.
“Mel?” Christine followed the tall southerner to the kitchen with growing concern. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Melinda looked inside the icebox, pulled out a bottle and stared at it. “You know, I told Janice she could only put a few beers in here. We needed some room for food. If we have guests or if she wants a couple, she’ll end up drinking warm beer,” Mel informed her friend as tears filled her eyes.
Christine looked at her troubled friend, not knowing what to say. “Uh . . . honey, I’m sure she doesn’t mind,” she finally said and added. “Don’t those Europeans drink warm beer?”
“She shouldn’t have to drink warm beer. But she will . . . because of what I’ve wanted.“ Melinda sniffed, wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Janice cares more about you than beer, honey,” Christine said confidently, then furrowed her brows, wondering what the hell they were talking about.
“I know,” Melinda said softly, looking out through the kitchen window. The archeologist continued to pound her axe against the helpless logs, causing them to splinter and soar away from the stump. “And I make her drink warm beer,” she blurted as more tears fell. “What if she gets tired of drinking warm beer, Christine?” Melinda looked questioningly at her friend, then out the window at her partner, who placed another log on the stump and swung the axe with a grunt.
Okaaay. Christine bit her lip, wondering what to say now. She also glanced out of the window at the archeologist, who was showing no mercy to the wood. “Uh . . . perhaps you should let her figure out how much space she needs for her beer,” Christine offered, gaining Melinda’s attention.
“I’m afraid to . . . ,“ Melinda hesitantly whispered.
“Yes, well, uh, . . . Janice has good judgment about . . . space,” Christine offered awkwardly, then considered that wasn’t entirely true, recalling the guest room mirror that mysteriously shattered into thousands of pieces after what the hostess could have sworn sounded like a whip snapping. “Uh. . . but honey, I think you need to talk to her about this,” Christine finally said with confidence, motioning out the window.
Melinda thought about her friend’s advice. Christine was right. She couldn’t ignore what was happening around them. With a slow nod, Mel wiped away her tears and opened a kitchen drawer. Carefully, she sifted through a pile of recipes she had yet to make Janice. She nervously pulled out a small white card and stared at it a moment before silently looking at her friend with a defeated sigh.
Christine waited in the kitchen, watching her old friend through the window as she crossed the back yard and head for the archeologist.
“Janice?” Melinda said softly. Her heart raced as Janice turned and silently eyed her, sweat dripping from her brow.
“Call Major Topel,” Melinda said and awkwardly offered the card, which Janice stared at a few seconds before turning back towards the stump. “Janice??”
“What the hell are you doing, Mel?” She spat angrily and swung the axe, embedding it deep in the tree stump. Mel cringed, surprised at the outburst.
“I know you want to, Janice,“ Mel explained uneasily.
“I want to make you happy!” Janice exclaimed with frustration. “And I know there’s not much I can offer you, Mel. But Jesus Christ, if you ask me for something I actually can give you, it’s yours, don’t you know that?”
“What are you talking about?” Melinda asked with surprise. “You have given me everything I’ve ever wanted,” she added.
Janice’s eyes shot up to the sky. Not everything, she thought with a pained exhale.
“Janice, I can see you’re not happy,” Mel admitted as a worried look flooded her face. That simple observation thoroughly undermined Melinda’s fear-driven efforts to protect her partner.
Janice looked at her with a furrowed brow. “That’s not . . . !“
“If I had not asked you to stay, would you have gone?” Melinda interrupted firmly, knowing the answer when Janice’s eyes dropped.
“That doesn’t matter. . . “
“But it does.”
Janice grimaced with frustration, then sighed. “I want to do right by you, Mel” Janice said softly, staring at the pile of wooden debris at her feet.
“Oh Janice, and I want to do right by you,” Melinda countered quickly. “I was wrong to ask you to do something so against your nature . . . to ignore someone asking for help. I should have discussed it with you,” Mel admitted, guiltily looking down at the small white card in her hand.
Janice sighed heavily, then frowned at the southerner’s continued unease. “Well, I did buy the barn without discussing it with you,“ Janice offered with a small smile and shrug.
Mel smiled weakly at her partner’s attempt to comfort her.
“I have to admit, I was surprised that you were the one to throw those guys out of our home,” the archeologist admitted with a smirk. Melinda looked uncomfortable. “Not that I mind, they were complete Jack A . . . ,“ Janice quickly added.
“Janice,” Melinda interjected. “I just . . . reacted,” Mel blurted with embarrassment and admitted very softly. “I’ve had dreams.”
Janice looked at her curiously. “Dreams?”
“You . . . you left for Europe and . . . died. Then these men come to our home and want you to go to Greece on what sounded like a suicide mission! I was afraid, Janice,” Mel admitted and added softly “I still am.”
“You probably think I’m crazy because I’m letting dreams get me so upset,” Mel said with frustration. Her eyes dropped to the ground.
“That’s not why I think you’re crazy, Mel,” Janice offered with a warm grin. Mel looked up at her loving partner with a small smile.
“Is that what makes you cry at night?” Janice asked softly, surprising Mel, who sighed and nodded.
Christine smiled with relief when she saw Janice take Mel’s hand and kiss it. The simple acts of tenderness shared between the two women almost had Christine wishing she had someone more permanent in her life. But she wasn’t quite convinced love was in the cards dealt her.
Her parents, who she thought were happily married, were on their way to a divorce, which she learned only after her father died . . . in his mistress’s bed. If they couldn’t make it work, how could she be expected to? While Christine played the field, convinced there was no one special for her, Melinda staunchly believed in and waited for her knight in shining armor. Or maiden in dusty men’s cloths, as it turned out.
If they could find each other and true love, perhaps there was hope for her, Christine considered, noticing the couple returning to the house, hand in hand. Christine grinned, expecting she probably would have to leave now. She was used to disappearing when she saw those amorous sparks fly. She had usually been unable to ignore her amazingly vocal guests, ending up having to evacuate her home. Now, thankfully, because their barn was finally habitable, she could just go home.
Her amused smile faded when she noticed Janice’s arms now waving angrily. “Oh boy,” Melinda’s old friend exhaled, seeing another kind of spark between the two. She preferred the amorous kind.
“Absolutely NOT,” Janice barked as she stormed through the kitchen door.
“We should both see this translation, Janice. I need to . . . . ,” Melinda explained again, struggling to maintain a reasonable tone.
“That means England, and you are NOT going to England,” Janice snapped, storming past their stunned guest. Opening the icebox and pulling out a warm beer, she growled at it and returned it to the icebox.
“It only makes sense that we BOTH read what they say to make sure you are not unnecessarily risking your . . . . “ Melinda repeated in a tight voice.
“They bomb England all the time. NO NO NO!” Janice boomed, slamming the door, causing the ice box to violently rattle and Christine to jump.
“The only way I am going to agree that you can go behind German lines, is if we both see that translation and both agree. . . ,” Mel said with cool reasoning.
“No.” Janice countered heatedly with the sinking feeling she was losing this battle of wills.
“It’s the only way. . . .“
“NO!” Janice boomed.
“YES!” Melinda snapped, her hands firmly placed on her hips as she glared at the shorter woman.
“Fuck!” Janice blurted and stormed out of the house, spewing out more expletives.
Mel’s eyes shot up to the ceiling. “Lord give me strength,” she exhaled tightly.
Something told Christine they
were no longer discussing warm beer.