Larry Underwood’s eyes widened as the bouquet hurled towards him. After hitting him squarely in the forehead and losing a few petals, the floral missile dropped into his lap. Rubbing his head, the junkyard owner lifted the flowers up curiously, not expecting projectiles so soon. Was he supposed to give it back?
Glancing to the aisle, he found its pretty owner already marching off towards the altar. Probably wouldn’t be appropriate to call out to her now, he thought with a troubled sigh. It really didn’t matter since he wouldn’t have enough nerve to talk to Miss Christine anyway, even if it wasn’t the middle of a wedding. He was not the kind of guy she’d care to associate with, he considered, looking at the grease still under his nails. He wasn’t even wanted for the draft, he sighed sadly. Though he was still of the desired age at forty and had previous Navy experience, he was not of the desired health with a partially missing foot and slight limp.
Looking around the church, he noticed many eyes on him, including the unnerving blues from Mrs. Pappas. When he smiled uneasily and weakly waved the bouquet at her, the older woman just pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head with a weary sigh. He never did feel comfortable around Mrs. Pappas, he acknowledged, wondering how Janice ever managed.
Clawing at his suffocating collar to loosen his tie, he also felt uncomfortable in church. It wasn’t just the current gawking directed his way, which didn’t help, but that he just didn’t attend church regularly. Hell, he didn’t attend church period, he silently admitted, then cringed, wondering if GOD was going to be upset with him cursing in church.
Janice told him once that ‘thinking about cursing’ wasn’t really the same thing as cursing. Although still undecided about that, he had to admit she certainly knew all about cursing. That woman had a mouth on her that could make a sailor blush and he should know, because he was a sailor. You definitely knew where she stood, he smirked. Perhaps that is why he felt comfortable around her and all. That, and the fact she could drink him under the table. And she certainly knew about cigars and poker and . . . .
He sighed sadly, the deep pang of loss resurfacing. Looking at the bouquet in his hand, he wondered how Miss Melinda was getting along. He glanced up at the groom and wondered if he could make her happy. He hoped so. He knew Janice would have wanted Miss Melinda happy. She would have done anything for Miss Melinda to make her happy. Not that Janice was always happy about doing what Mel wanted, he considered with a smirk, recalling the last time she came to the junk yard. Her cursing that night not only made him blush . . . it hurt his head.
As dusk settled, Larry continued working on his old truck. Some thought he was crazy to bother putting so much time in salvaging the heap. But the same people also thought he was odd for being in the junk business, he considered as he pulled out a belt from his haphazard pile of spare auto parts. To each his own, he thought.
He smiled, enjoying the peaceful night song of crickets chirping as he placed the spare belt on the fender next to his tools. The only other sound that accompanied the crickets was the faint hum of his kerosene lanterns, which illuminated his cluttered garage. He had yet to put in electric lighting, still kind of partial to the lanterns.
As he had done for many nights, he hunched over the old engine. Removing the frayed belt from the engine, he heard a startling stream of profanity piercing through the blackness. Quickly standing to see the source of the vocal eruption, he hit his head on the hood.
“Ugh.” Grimacing while rubbing the tender spot, he watched the archeologist emerge from the night and march straight for him, cursing with every step.
Finally in the garage, Janice started to pace in front of him, proceeding, between a rainbow of colorful words, to inform him how utterly unreasonable Miss Melinda was. How stubborn Miss Melinda was. How, as soon as you even think of giving Miss Melinda an inch and you’ve lost the mile, not to mention the whole goddamn road and the fucking car you were going to travel in. How Miss Melinda didn’t seem to understand how bombs, even small ones, could ruin your entire day. How she knew Miss Melinda was determined to follow her, even if it meant into hell.
“How can I possibly agree to that?!?” Janice asked with annoyance, then sighed heavily, expelling the last bit of steam in her rant.
After eyeing her a thoughtful moment, Larry pulled a rag from his overalls’ pocket and slowly wiped his hands.
“You want a beer?”
They silently sat in the old chairs they usually occupied Sundays. Each looked out over the river, pondering the disturbing events of the past two days. After a few beers, Larry turned to the quiet archeologist.
“What kind of flowers you gonna get her this time?”
Janice looked at him with a raised eyebrow, then chuckled softly and shook her head. “I swear, Larry,” she exhaled wearily. “I don’t know why she puts up with me,” she said, looking out over the slow-moving water reflecting the shimmering moon light. “I get angry at the drop of a hat, I don’t belong in her circles, and I can’t give her . . . . “ Janice stopped and exhaled wearily. “. . . lots of thing,” she finished weakly.
“She knows you love her,” he noted. “That counts for something,” he added and sipped his beer.
The worried archeologist nodded and stared at the ground, hoping that would be enough.
Melinda sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, watching the mesmerizing flames as they crackled and flickered. The only thing missing was Janice. She sighed and glanced at the door, hoping it would not be much longer before Janice came home. She knew Janice would not appreciate her compromise that they both review the translation. But she didn’t realize how much.
As the flame started to die, she retrieved another log from the large pile of wood. Mel didn’t mind the waiting that much, having learned there was no way to have a rational discussion with the temperamental archeologist until she cooled down. Good thing she had a lot of wood, Melinda thought.
As the Southerner added the log, she was startled by a firm knock at the door. She glanced at her watch curiously. It was nine o’clock and rather late for a social call, she considered as she went to the door.
Opening the door, Mel exhaled with relief when she found her partner.
“Is there some reason you just didn’t come in?” Mel asked curiously with a raised eyebrow. A bouquet suddenly appeared in the archeologist’s hand.
“This is for storming out on you,” Janice said softly, offering the wild flowers to her. Mel’s features softened as she looked into the sincere face.
Taking the bouquet, Mel indulged in the fragrance. “Thank you. But why didn’t you just. . . .” Mel asked then looked up to find Janice holding another bouquet.
“This is for shouting at you,” Janice said with a cringe, offering the second bouquet to her. A small smile emerged on the southerner’s lips as she took the second gift.
“Janice, we were both. . . .“ Melinda started but found her partner with another bouquet. “Janice!” Melinda started to chuckle.
“For the cookie comment. And they are pink,” Janice said, carefully showing the petals to her. Now Melinda was laughing as she received the third gift.
The laughter pleased the archeologist, who swiftly produced a fourth bouquet with a grin.
“And that’s for . . . ?” Melinda asked with amusement.
“In case you remembered something that I forgot. Just wanted to cover my bases,” Janice informed her, offering the fourth bouquet.
“Well, you have to come in now. I don’t have any more vases,” Melinda said with a grin.
“And whose fault is that, my southern lion tamer??” Janice responded with a smirk as she entered their home and placed her coat and hat in the closet.
Mel’s eyes narrowed. “You are fortunate, Dr. Covington. The fourth bouquet just covered your . . . base,” she smiled thinly. Janice chuckled and migrated over to the fireplace as Mel tended to her flowers.
Noticing the pillows and blanket in front of the hearth, the archeologist smiled and made herself comfortable. Watching the flames as she took her boots off, she was reminded of the fire they shared at their last camp site - a promising site they were forced to abandon when the Germans invaded the area. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise, Janice considered, certain neither of them would have made much progress towards each other without being forced to decide what was next. She smiled warmly, recalling Mel’s nervousness when she extended that surprising invitation to South Carolina.
Who would have imagined accepting that invitation would lead to sharing a life together? She glanced over their home, filled with contentment and a simple joy she had never dreamed possible. Accepting the tall woman’s invitation was the best decision she ever made, she considered as her eyes fell back on the dancing flames.
“We have a few things to discuss, Janice,” Melinda said softly as she returned to the room, easily drawing the archeologist’s attention away from the fire. Janice nodded and watched the tall woman sit on the floor next to her.
“Let’s start with your dreams,” Janice suggested, surprising the Southerner.
“Nightmares,” Mel corrected her, uncomfortably pushing up her glasses. With a squeeze of her partner’s hand, Janice silently prompted her to continue.
Taking a deep breath, Mel finally told her about the overwhelming sense of danger plaguing her dreams. A frightening confrontation with three men, so much darkness, so much blood. There were ruins that reeked of death. The horrifically vivid image of Janice being shot in the chest. Then, in another dream, Janice traveled to Europe by boat and drowned. Then, in another dream, Janice tried to escape and was shot in the back. Then in another . . . .
“They are different, but the same . . . you always . . . die in them,” Mel finished in a whisper, unable to continue, falling silent as she nervously pushed her glasses up with a trembling hand.
“Why didn’t you say anything about them?” Janice asked softly. “They made you cry,” she added with a grimace.
“I just thought . . . “ Mel quickly responded, then sighed. “I didn’t want you to think I was crazy for getting so upset over dreams.”
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed.
“But now, with everything that has happened, the three men visiting and asking you to go to Greece to do what I consider extremely dangerous . . . what if they are not just dreams?” Mel asked.
“Then I’m in big trouble,” Janice joked, receiving an annoyed glare from her partner. “Mel, sweetheart, I’m sorry. But sometimes, dreams are just dreams. There’s no way to tell. But we can’t live our lives in fear because of them. That wouldn’t be living. If it is to be, then. . . .”
“No!” Melinda snapped. “I do not prescribe to the opinion that we just let things happen. We make things happen. You of all people demonstrate that every day,” Mel said testily.
“Mel, I’m not saying I would just let someone shoot me,” Janice argued. “I just can’t let a bad dream make me live life any less than I would normally live it. Life is too precious. . . .”
“And I can’t ignore the fact that these dreams feel so real,” Mel said, continuing fervently. “I have to do something . . . anything . . . everything I can to make sure that they won’t become real. And I will be going with you,” Melinda informed her firmly, bracing herself for another flare up.
“And risk both our lives?” Janice blurted, looking at her with a grimace, fighting her natural urge to inform her she was crazy. Loudly.
“Janice, I need to go with you. I need to know what you are doing, that you are safe. Don’t you understand?” Melinda argued passionately. “I wouldn’t be able to go on without you. . . .”
“God, I hope that’s not true,” Janice said with concern.
“Janice, I love you,” Melinda responded with annoyance.
“I know. And I love you,” Janice quickly responded. “But Mel, you have so much to experience . . . you have so much to offer,” Janice added with conviction. “If I wasn’t around, I’d want you to grab life by the balls and squeeze the hell out of them, taking no prisoners,” she said sincerely with a small grin.
Melinda was not amused. “Well, we won’t have to worry about that now, will we?” She said crisply, pushing up her glasses. “Because I’m going with you,” she declared with finality.
Janice exhaled slowly, struggling to reign in her emotions before responding.
“To England. To review the translation. That’s all.” Janice said evenly, looking back into the fire.
“But what if you need help in . . . ?” Mel argued.
“England,” Janice interrupted forcefully, looking into her partner’s eyes then added softly. “Or I’m not going.”
Melinda studied her partner’s unwavering gaze for a long, silent moment. Janice wasn’t bluffing. And if she didn’t go, she would be miserable. And Mel knew she couldn’t live with that. “All right,” she exhaled begrudgingly, her blue eyes dropped in defeat.
Janice let out a relieved breath and gently lifted up Melinda’s chin with a warm grin.
“Oh, don’t gloat,” Mel muttered, half-heartedly moving her chin away from the touch.
“I’m not gloating. I’m trying to make up,” Janice countered, caressing the Southerner’s cheek. “You know, the only good part of an argument,” she explained softly, appreciating the feel of the tall woman’s flesh as her fingers slowly journeyed down her neck.
“You’ve had beer,” Melinda flatly reminded her, trying to ignore the frustratingly arousing touch. “And you know I don’ t like . . . beer . . . oh,” Melinda blurted as the touch was replaced with tender kisses. “Breath,” she finished with some difficulty as a wave of desire washed over her.
Janice slowly kissed her way up to Melinda’s ear. “You don’t have to kiss me on the mouth . . . if you don’t want to,” she whispered, then suckled her partner’s earlobe, causing Mel to take in a ragged breath.
“How . . .” Melinda responded as Janice attentively continued her kisses and skillfully freed the Southerner’s first blouse button.
“. . . thought. . . ful,” Melinda said unevenly, taking a deep breath when the archeologist’s indulgent fingers lightly traced over the newly exposed skin, before proceeding to the next button. “. . . of,” she said, closing her eyes as Janice unbuttoned another and gently kissed the freshly revealed cleavage. “Yoooo. . .ahh”.
“I aim . . . ,” Janice said softly, carefully removing the southerner’s glasses. “To please,” she added with a smile as she slowly pulled the bottom of her lover’s blouse from her skirt.
The archeologist continued the reverent unwrapping of the most precious gift she had ever received. With all buttons liberated from their restrictive eyelets, Janice slid the blouse off the broad shoulders, pausing to pay homage to each with a kiss before removing the garment.
Despite the heat radiating from the fireplace, a deep shiver coursed through the Southerner. Melinda took a deep breath, greatly torn between the desire of allowing her skillful partner to slowly take her on another erotic journey and wanting Janice NOW. Well aware of the reward for taking the journey, Melinda elected to test her patience a little further.
Tenderly, the archeologist’s hand slowly traveled over the southerner’s hip and down her leg, pausing to gently squeeze her calf, before slightly lifting the limb and removing a high-heeled shoe. Their eyes met as a shoe dropped to the blanket-covered floor with a dull thunk.
From the lustful gaze she received from the archeologist, Melinda swallowed hard, already feeling completely disrobed. When the second shoe dropped, Mel knew her patience was starting to fail the test.
“You’ll be sure . . . “ Janice said softly as her hand glided up the long leg to the full hip. The tall woman glanced down when the hand paused and released the skirt button from its eyelet.
“To let me know . . . ,” Janice added softly as she slowly encouraged the side zipper open. “How I’m doing,” she whispered in Melinda’s ear as she reached around and unhooked the bra clasps with practiced ease.
Mel shivered at the warm breath and the growing need to act.
“. . . won’t you?”
With torturously slow movements, Janice slid the Southerner’s bra straps off, savoring the soft skin beneath her fingertips and the effect her touch had on the tall woman, noting slight trembling and increasingly ragged breaths.
Surprised the southerner had allowed the slow foreplay to last this long, Janice grinned, sensing the tenuous patience would soon be lost, and paused to indulgently kiss each of her partner’s shoulders before allowing the garment its freedom.
Mel exhaled heavily. Green eyes gazed deeply into blue as a slow hand wandered over southern flesh, stopping its descent as a palm found a painfully erect nipple.
“Oh . . . “ Mel exhaled with her head thrown back as she arched into the torturously teasing hand. Needing so much more, Melinda growled impatiently. With one of the many moves Janice had demonstrated in a previous amorous encounter, the Southerner quickly shifted positions and easily pushed the excruciatingly slow archeologist onto her back and kissed her. Hard.
Between hungry kisses, the remaining clothes were torn and flung across the room. Unfortunately for the archeologist, most of the clothes were hers. However, Janice’s mind was not on shredded garments but each moan and urgent touch. Having carefully stoked the smoldering embers of Melinda’s passion into a full-bore blaze and knowing just how potent a fuel their love was, Janice was still amazed by the intensity of the firestorm consuming them.
The archeologist felt like she would shatter as a hard climax quaked through her. Riding through the aftershocks rippling through her, she felt the southerner start to tremble.
Very close to release, Mel gasped “please.”
Almost coming again at the urgent plea, Janice gently rolled the Southerner on her back and resumed her intimate thrusts. “Yes,” Mel exhaled at the needed touch, almost there. Almost . . . .
Suddenly, the thrusts stopped and Mel glared at her partner with frustrated confusion.
“I love you, Melinda Pappas” Janice softly declared, then resumed the skilled attention to her intimate needs, causing tears to fall as the tall woman cried out with release.
After a long moment of unmoving and entangled limbs and breaths being caught, Melinda finally propped herself on her elbow and gazed down at her expended lover, who looked up with a contented smile.
“I’m sorry about that,” Melinda said softly with a cringe, gently guiding the archeologist’s damp hair away from her eyes, which looked at her with surprise.
“I know you wanted to go slow, but . . . I couldn’t,” she admitted, glancing down with embarrassment.
“Do you hear that?” Janice blurted quickly, lifting her hand to her ear to listen.
“No . . . what?!?” Mel abruptly looked around the room with concern.
“That’s the sound of me not complaining,” Janice informed her. Mel looked at her a moment, rolled her eyes, and settled back on the blanket to cuddle against Janice, who happily served as a pillow for the taller woman.
Kissing the dark head resting under her chin, Janice sighed contentedly. No complaints at all, she thought with a smile and tenderly caressed the southerner embracing her.
After a few moments of listening to her lover’s strong heartbeat, Melinda whispered a request. “Promise me, you’ll come home.”
Janice sighed heavily, knowing she was unable to promise what she had no control over. Melinda shot up, gazing at her with a mixture of irritation and alarm.
Janice cringed, realizing her response was incredibly insensitive.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Janice said sincerely, caressing Mel’s arm. “I promise I will do everything in my power to be careful and to come home to you,” Janice said with careful conviction, looking confidently into Melinda’s eyes. Still seeing uncertainty, Janice added for good measure, “For God’s sake Mel, I’m an archeologist. I know a good find when I see it.”
Mel looked at her partner a moment before her eyebrow rose.
“Did you just call me old, Dr. Covington?”
Janice’s eyes widened with concern. Well aware she was all out of flowers and vases, the archeologist avoided any more damning discussion the only way she could . . . .
Reverend Baylor said a silent prayer of thanks as he watched Christine finally make it to at the altar without really injuring herself or anyone else. Larry was hit in the head but he looked ok, Reverend Baylor considered then frowned, thinking this incident would probably just add to the junkyard owner’s reasons to stay at the river on Sundays.
Noting the ill look on Christine’s face, Reverend quickly said another prayer.
Returning his attention to his congregation, he smiled as he glanced over the groom’s side, which was full of unfamiliar, smiling faces. Despite their misfortune of being Northerners, they still seemed very pleasant, he thought.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the groom whispering to his best man. They chuckled. It is good to have a sense of humor at times like these, the Reverend considered with a weak smile and glanced at the bride’s side. He was relieved to see support for this wedding, though their smiles were strained and unsure. Not surprising since the wedding was rather unexpected.
As a pastor, he had a duty to determine the seriousness of the couple, to make sure they were not rushing into the bonds of holy matrimony irresponsibly. He had seen many young, unthinking girls assume that by having a wedding of their dreams, they would be happy the rest of their lives. But at the age of thirty-three, he could hardly call Melinda Pappas young, unthinking, or full of naive expectations. Though he was saddened he couldn’t detect the enthusiasm he would have expected from a bride-to-be, he was convinced Melinda Pappas had thought things through. Thoroughly.
What was encouraging was how her eyes lit up when she spoke of children, as it always had. However, since coming back from Europe, that alone seemed to bring her joy.
He glanced at the groom. He was a good man, the Reverend considered and finally nodded at the organist. As the first chords of the wedding march sounded, the congregation murmured as they stood.
As the beautiful bride and her
grandfather marched towards the altar, Reverend Baylor
wondered if marriage and children would be enough to make Melinda happy. She said it would. But he also knew how much joy her now-abandoned studies had brought her. Although she had those academic dreams since she was a young, awkward girl, it took Dr. Covington’s faith in Melinda to have her seriously pursue them.
For a woman who supposedly didn’t have any faith, Dr. Covington certainly showed a great capacity for it when it came to Melinda, he considered with a smile.
He knew the church could not condone a relationship like theirs. But he was wise enough to recognize it as loving and knew better than to interfere. Besides, as any good pastor would, he interfered with other important matters. He was making progress too, he thought. Dr. Covington actually went to the bake sale, despite Melinda’s discomfort at his suggestion. He was confident it was only going to be a matter of time before he’d see her in church, sitting beside Melinda. But like so many others in this war, Dr. Covington’s time was cut short.
It puzzled him as to why Melinda never accepted his offer to hold a memorial service for Janice.
Perhaps she thought that would be hypocritical, since Janice preferred to spend her Sundays at the river. But how could a religious service be hypocritical when held for a person who was loved by others?
Perhaps she didn’t think she had a right to mourn like a wife. But though she was discreet, Melinda had never denied her feelings.
Perhaps it was because it was just too painful a loss to share in public. That was likely, he considered. Melinda was always a private person . . . and more so now.
As the bride approached, he smiled warmly and opened his well-worn bible. He was grateful and incredibly relieved to be included in Melinda’s wedding ceremony. He had feared she might have shunned her faith when she did not turn to him or her church in her time of need.
Of all people, he understood how important church and family were during a time of despair. . . .
Reverend Baylor stared at the words on the paper. He scratched out a sentence, then a paragraph. After staring at what was left, he sighed with frustration and crumpled the sheet into a ball and tossed it across his office. It missed the waste paper basket, already overflowing with other unsuccessful attempts at a sermon, and tumbled onto the floor. He rubbed his weary eyes, feeling the incredible burden of the sermon he was attempting to write.
It was his first sermon since America was bombed by the Japanese.
How could he give the three families in his congregation comfort and guidance when they still had no idea if their loved ones were among the dead at Pearl Harbor? How could he give the rest of his congregation comfort, knowing the war now included their husbands, sons, and fathers?
He sighed. Sometimes the simplest answer was not the easiest. He scratched his balding head then wrote a few words. The words he wrote came not from the bible, but the State motto.
Dum Spiro Spero. While I breathe, I hope.
A gentle rapping on his office door startled him.
“Reverend Baylor?” Melinda poked her head in his office. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she said.
“No child, come in. You’re always welcome, you know that. Have a seat,” he offered with a warm smile as he politely stood.
As she sat down and pushed up her glasses, her eyebrow rose with surprise at the heap of crumpled paper by the trash basket.
“I was having some difficulty with my sermon,” he admitted, returning to his seat.
“I am interrupting,” she said with concern.
“No, no. I was ready for a break,” he quickly responded. “So, how are you and Janice?”
“We are doing well,” Melinda said weakly, glancing down.
This wasn’t a good sign, he considered from his forty years of counseling Baptist couples. “Oh,” he said uneasily, wondering if any of his advice would still apply to a couple like Melinda and Janice. “It isn’t that business with Major Topel, is it?” He guessed.
“What??” Melinda blurted with concern. “How did you know about that?”
“Don’t worry, child. Your grandmother told me in the strictest confidence and I am a man of the cloth, you know,” he said with a warm smile.
Melinda’s eyebrows furrowed. Wonderful. Just what other confidences did her grandmother discuss with him?
“So is that it?” He asked, provoking a sigh and a weary nod. “Melinda, there is no shame for a woman to stay at home. I can see why you are concerned about her safety. It isn’t right for the military to ask such a thing of a woman. . . . “
“We’re going. . . .“ Melinda interrupted with irritation. “Well, I’m going as far as England and Janice will go . . . where she needs to,“ she explained uneasily.
“. . . oh.“ Reverend Baylor was not sure what to say. He wasn’t surprised Janice would not be put off by a dangerous situation, he considered. But Melinda? Looking up at his visitor, he saw she didn’t seem pleased about the decision.
“Are you sure about this, Melinda?”
“Yes,” Mel said confidently. He nodded.
“Well, if you two have worked it out, then why did you come for a visit?” He asked curiously.
“We are leaving tomorrow and I wanted to ask you . . . could you please keep Janice in your prayers?” Melinda said uneasily.
“Tomorrow?” He said with alarm, gaining a firm nod. “Of course, child. But I will keep both of you in my prayers,” he added, noting his answer seemed to please her as a small, relieved smile emerged on her face.
The Columbia train station was unusually busy for an early Wednesday morning, Reverend Baylor noted. He was part of the reason why. Melinda and Janice were leaving and their family and friends were seeing them off.
As Melinda received hugs and good-byes from her family and friends, Janice stood silently in the background with Larry.
“Janice?” Larry started uneasily, then noticed Reverend Baylor walk towards them. “Uh, I’m gonna say good bye to Melinda, if I can get near her,“ he joked uneasily and darted off to join the swarm around Mel.
Janice’s eyes narrowed at her retreating friend.
“GOD’s speed, Janice,” the Reverend offered warmly, extending his hand.
“Thanks,” she said uncomfortably and shook it.
“Janice, I may be overstepping my bounds here but . . . ,“ he said awkwardly and reached in his breast pocket, pulled out a small manila envelope, and handed it to her. She curiously opened it and pulled out a St. Christopher’s medallion with surprise.
“You’ve become a Catholic Priest now, Reverend?” She asked dryly, staring at the small medallion.
“Well, no, Mrs. Baylor might not appreciate that,” he chuckled, making Janice smile. “I understand you were raised Catholic. Father O’Brian, from St. Augustus down the street, who I am sure will never let me hear the end of it, blessed it and your journey. I am a firm believer that it doesn’t hurt to cover all your bases,” he said with a smile.
She looked up at the older man. “Did Melinda . . . ?“ She asked suspiciously.
“No, Janice. She only asked that I keep you in my prayers, which I will.”
”Uh . . . Thank you,” she said uneasily and placed the medallion in her breast pocket, next to her lighter. She wondered if he knew that in addition to being the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher was, according to Eastern legend, a converted pagan warrior named Reprobus, who died by cruel torture rather than deny his faith. She decided not to bring that interesting fact up, in case he didn’t.
Reverend Baylor smiled and glanced at Robert and Ruby, who came towards them.
“Take care of yourself, Miss Janice,” Robert said, shaking her hand. “And take care of Melinda,” Ruby added firmly.
“With my life,” Janice solemnly vowed to Ruby, who was satisfied with the answer and nodded. Ruby then offered the archeologist a small brown bag.
“I brought you some Oatmeal cookies for your trip,” Ruby said with a small smile. Janice’s face lit up.
“You know, Ruby, I should be mad at you for how good your cookies are,” Janice complained as she happily took the brown bag of treats. “They keep getting me in trouble with Mel,” she added, immediately pulling a cookie out and taking a bite.
“From what I understand, Dr. Covington, you don’t need my cookies for that,” Ruby countered. Janice chuckled. The chuckling died when she saw yet another of Mel’s going-away-party heading for her.
“Janice?” Colonel Pappas joined them. Her eyes darted uncomfortably around the crowded station. “I never got a chance to apologize for. . . .”
“There’s no need, sir,” Janice interrupted awkwardly.
“Perhaps not, but just the same. I’m sorry for being short with you. You didn’t deserve it. Please accept my apology,” he said looking her in the eye. She nodded weakly and offered her hand. Instead of taking it, he pulled her into an unexpected hug. “Be careful, Janice. I don’t want anyone in my family getting hurt,” he said softly.
Released from the hug, she nodded uncomfortably, not sure what to say at the unexpected sentimental display. Mel smiled broadly as she, Victoria, and Christine walked over.
“Well, Janice,” Victoria said crisply. “I certainly hope you finish whatever it is you need to finish over there, so you two will be home for Christmas.”
“We’ll try,” Janice said with relief at the distance imposed by the older woman.
“Good.” Mrs. Pappas nodded. “And you will write?” Victoria’s question sounded like an order.
“Uh. . . .”
“I will write, grandmother,” Melinda interjected, placing her hand on Janice’s shoulder.
“To me too, Melinda!” Christine said. “Don’t forget me,” Ruby added. “I wouldn’t mind a letter or two,” Larry interjected, surprising everyone.
“Of course,” Mel chuckled. “And Janice will write too,“ she graciously offered, gaining a surprised look from the archeologist, whose wide eyes quickly narrowed. Her protest was preempted by the loud train whistle.
After the conductor called out “all aboard,” Major Topel stepped down on the passenger car step and glanced over the large gathering. He rolled his eyes. So much for a low-key departure.
“Ladies, unless you want to walk, I suggest you board now,” he said, glancing impatiently at his watch.
Janice smirked. If she had really been a lady, they wouldn’t have asked for her help. She knew they needed someone who wouldn’t hesitate to act, even if it meant killing someone.
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed as she watched her partner say her good-byes to everyone again. While she told Mel there were many things for her to experience, Janice never meant the horrors of war. She sighed, knowing they would eventually be arguing about Mel going behind enemy lines with her. But that was one argument she was not going to lose.
Melinda hugged her grandmother, who with surprising warmth, hugged back. Mel marveled at how different this was from the last time she left for Europe and found Janice. Everyone, except Robert, ignored her unpopular departure. Today was certainly a different day, she smiled happily, glancing over her family and friends. She thanked the good Lord for her family’s support, even if they did think she was crazy for following Janice into a war zone. But they understood. And that was all she ever really wanted.
Janice glanced at the train then began to reach for Melinda’s arm but was intercepted by Christine, who barreled into her and gave the unsuspecting archeologist a bear hug. “We’ll have a big party when you get back,” Christine informed her in a tone that brooked no room for argument.
“If you bring the beer, I’ll be there,” Janice replied, pulling back with a smile. Christine nodded as she quickly wiped a tear from her eye.
“Well, Janice, if you are finished hugging another woman in my presence, shall we go?” Melinda said with feigned annoyance and her hands on her hips. The group chuckled.
Janice grinned and followed the tall woman towards the train. “She hugged me, so don’t be thinking you’re gonna get any flowers for that,” she responded firmly and pulled out a cookie and took a big bite. “But if you’re nice, I might give you a cookie. You know, they are reaaaallly good,” the archeologist mumbled with amusement as they climbed the steps into the passenger car.
“It’s not polite to talk with your mouth full, Janice,” Mel said.
Ruby smiled broadly at the two and squeezed her husband’s hand as he chuckled.
The travelers took their seats. Melinda opened the window to continue her verbose good-byes to Christine.
The archeologist felt surprising sadness as the train slowly pulled away from the group that had accepted her into their family. Uneasily waving at them, Janice glanced at Reverend Baylor, who smiled and nodded.
Janice quickly rummaged through her coat pocket and pulled out the rabbit’s foot Larry gave her. She held it up in the window with a smirk, causing the Reverend to laugh and shake his head.
Reverend Baylor watched happily as William turned towards his granddaughter.
He had performed a number of wedding ceremonies during wartime. Weddings served as a beacon of hope through the dark and uncertain cloud of war. This wedding was no different, the Reverend considered and smiled as he watched William lean toward his granddaughter and kiss her on the cheek.
His eyes widened with panic when he heard William softly ask Melinda if she was really sure. Reverend Baylor glanced uneasily at the groom, whose eyebrows furrowed with concern.
Melinda pulled back with an odd look of surprise at the ill-timed question. Glancing around the church, then unconsciously at her soon-to-be showing abdomen, she looked back at her grandfather as if he had two heads. Under his persistent gaze, she nodded yes with a weary exhale.
The groom’s brow quickly relaxed when he received Melinda’s hand from her grandfather. “Make her happy,” the retired Army Colonel ordered the Army Captain.
The groom nodded uneasily. “Yes, sir.”
Melinda rolled her eyes.
The resigned look on William’s face was certainly not the expression of a happy man, the Reverend realized, wondering for the first time if there would be an objection to the union. In his forty years, he never had to deal with that before. He uneasily glanced over the congregation.
On the groom’s side, Reverend Baylor wondered whether they would still look so happy if they understood the bride’s relationship with the young archeologist. A woman who had first captured Melinda’s heart. Reverend Baylor’s eyebrows furrowed as the nagging question Colonel Pappas had planted in his mind grew.
Was Melinda really ready to commit to another in marriage?
She said she was. But it took time and plenty of tears to get over a loss of a loved one. Yet, Melinda took little time and cried very few tears. It was almost as if she had only lost a friend. But that was certainly not the case. It was evident when you saw them together or read one of Melinda’s letters . . . .
Working on a sermon, Reverend Baylor was startled when the gray-haired church secretary barged into his office with the mail and a big smile.
“There’s a letter from Melinda!” Gladys enthusiastically reported, handing over the letter.
“It’s over three weeks old,” he noted with surprise, looking over the envelope before opening it.
“Well, I think the postal service is probably getting a bit overwhelmed with business these days,” she said, putting her glasses on which hung around her neck. “And it is from overseas,” she added.
“Hmmm,” he responded absently and
read the letter. . . .
December 12, 1941
Dear Reverend Baylor,
I hope you and Mrs. Baylor are doing well. I am certain the sermon you were writing when I visited comforted many people. Your words have always been a comfort and inspiration to me.
As you can probably guess by the envelope, Janice and I finally made it to England. The flight was miserable but I suspect Army transport planes were not designed with the basic creature comforts in mind. Janice seemed to enjoy the flight though, chatting away with the crew and pilots. Would you believe she knew the pilots? A small world, especially around Janice. They all got along swimmingly, which was fortunate because I was not up for conversation or, for that matter, movement, and did not attempt join them in the cockpit. This, I later found out, was also fortunate. Although I have incredible confidence in her and her numerous abilities, I do not think I would have fared well knowing they let her fly and land the aircraft, despite the absence of a license.
arrived in London, we were immediately delayed from our work in Oxford because
we had to wait for our military escorts to be briefed by three different
groups. I won’t bother to discuss those details, even if I could remember
them, because I am told the censors literally cut that sort of thing out of
letters. So, to avoid risking sending you a pile of confetti, I will
instead tell you of our first day here, which I think you, of all people would
appreciate . . . .
As they left the hotel for a peaceful stroll, Melinda’s frayed nerves from the cramped and bumpy flight seemed to settle a bit. Janice still didn’t know why Mel made such a big deal about landing that airplane. A piece of paper does not mean you’re a good pilot, she tried to explain to the uninterested Southerner.
As they turned the corner of a block, Mel was suddenly drawn away from her side. Janice’s eyebrows furrowed as she watched the tall woman head towards the decimated remains of a bombed city block. She watched a group of men with wheelbarrows, hard hats, and a lot of elbow grease, pick up the surrounding debris with an efficiency she uneasily suspected was borne out of practice.
“Oh my,” Melinda said in quiet amazement of a lone, majestic structure remaining miraculously unharmed in the center of the devastation. How easy it was for life to be completely altered within a blink of an eye, Melinda contemplated with dread.
“The German’s think their bombing will destroy morale with this. They keep trying but they don’t know the British very well,” Janice said with certainty and glanced up to her unnerved partner. “Or Americans,” she added with an unwavering gaze as she took her partner’s hand.
Mel took a deep breath and nodded. It will be ok, it will be ok, she silently chanted and squeezed the archeologist’s hand with a small nod. Janice smiled then glanced over the southerner’s shoulder. It wasn’t the first time, Mel noticed with concern.
“Is someone following us?” Melinda asked uneasily, keeping her eyes ahead on the workers removing the rubble.
“It’s strange, I thought I saw two guys but now . . . ,” Janice mentioned with a furrowed brow.
“Two?? And you didn’t share this with me before now?”
“. . . I only see one. Ah shit,” Janice said with a grimace.
“What?” Melinda said with alarm, turning in time to witness what Janice was seeing. A young blur, roughly bumping into an old man then darting across the street.
The man felt for his wallet and found it was gone. “Stop!! Thief!” He called out waving his cane at the perpetrator.
Janice sprinted after the youth. Despite the long flight and speed of the youth, she easily caught up and apprehended the child, who was almost as tall as the archeologist.
“Get your bloody hands off me!!!” The scruffy child struggled, managing only to knock off her hat and release her long, dirty hair. “Get OFF!”
“A guy, huh?” Melinda said as she joined her partner and pushed up her glasses. She squinted at the child, who was about thirteen and in desperate need of a hot bath.
“Ow ow,” the thief whined, continuing to unsuccessfully struggle in Janice’s grip.
“Stop moving so much and you’ll stop the pain,” Janice said reasonably. “Now, hand it over,” the archeologist demanded.
“I’ll call the police! This is kidnapping,” the kid threatened. “Help, help!”
Mel had to chuckle at the child’s audacity and Janice’s surprised look.
“Give it a rest, pipsqueak,” Janice said, tightening her hold on the young girl.
“So that’s the little scoundrel!” The elderly man said with winded breath as he caught up. “My word,” he said, noting the scruffy appearance.
“Hand it over,” Janice said firmly again.
“Damn Yanks,” she spat.
“I beg your pardon,” the Southern lady responded indignantly.
“Hand it over or I take it from you, your choice,” Janice barked at the kid.
The kid growled as she pulled out the wallet and reluctantly gave it to the woman twisting her arm. Janice promptly handed the gentlemen his wallet.
“Thank you, Miss. Should I get a bobby?” He asked uncertainly.
“Is that really necessary?” Melinda asked with concern, looking between the man and Janice, then sadly at the girl, whose ragged and dirty clothes indicated she had a hard life already.
“It’s up to you,” Janice said to the man. “And you should check the contents,” she added, nodding to the wallet in his hand.
“Ah, bloody hell,” the kid muttered with annoyance and pulled out the cash from her pocket and handed it to the man, saving him the trouble of looking.
“Oh, you’re a sly lass, aren’t you?” He said with an appreciative chuckle. “Well, I have my belongings back . . . I guess there’s no need for the police,” he looked at Melinda with a shrug, earning a relieved smile from the tall woman. “Thank you for your help, Miss,” he said, tipping his hat at Janice and then Mel before leaving.
“Yeah thanks,” the girl muttered sarcastically and half heartedly struggled.
“You are very lucky she’s here,” Janice said evenly, glancing at Mel. “Or I’d haul your ass to the nearest jail and let you and your attitude cool down there. What’s your name?”
“What’s it to you?” She snapped back, again struggling in the archeologist’s grip.
“I suggest you play nice or we do something worse than take you to the police. We’ll let the nuns at St. Ignatius know everything you’ve been up to lately,” Janice said.
“How did . . . ??” she blurted with surprise. “Oh bloody hell,” she said with resignation, realizing the dirty jacket she wore sported the school’s emblem.
“Watch your mouth in front of the lady,” Janice said with annoyance. Mel wisely withheld a grin at the interesting comment from the archeologist.
“Now . . . what’s your name?” Janice asked again, slowly.
“Olivia,“ the girl said with distaste.
“That’s a lovely name,” Melinda interjected softly with a smile, earning surprised looks from Olivia and Janice. “Well it is,” she said defensively, then pushed her glasses up. Janice rolled her eyes.
“Olivia what?” Janice asked.
“Harrod,” she said, exhaling heavily. “Tell you what,” the girl suddenly blurted. “If you let me go, I’ll promise never to do anything bad again. Cross my heart hope to . . . ,“ the girl started but was interrupted when the archeologist swiftly grabbed her hand.
“Jesus Christ, even I’m not stupid enough to say that,” Janice said with a grimace. Olivia’s eyebrows furrowed at the really strange American. Melinda bit her lip and glanced at the ground.
“Let’s get you back to St. Egg,” Janice said.
“I don’t WANT. . . Hey . . . How’d you know about St. Egg??” Olivia asked the strange American.
“That’s what we called it when I went there,” Janice mentioned, looking around the street for a cab.
Melinda’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Ah, bloody hell.”