Larry noticed the groom’s eyebrows furrow after Colonel Pappas kissed Melinda on the cheek. He wondered what he was upset about. If he were lucky enough to get married, he wouldn’t be upset about anything. Well, except having to wear a tux. Like he would ever have that problem, he considered with a dejected sigh, bringing the bouquet sadly to his nose.
He glanced up to find the maid-of-honor staring oddly at him. Her eyebrows were furrowed with confusion. He flushed with embarrassment and quickly glanced to the spot in the aisle where she tripped.
Her eyes followed his to the spot, then rolled as she realized what happened.
Larry then motioned to his head, gently tapping it, then looked down to his lap. When his eyes lifted, he found a small smile on her beautiful face and he shrugged awkwardly. She mouthed ‘sorry.’ He shrugged again.
They watched as the Colonel joined Mrs. Pappas in her pew. They both sighed.
As he looked at the tall bride and groom standing before the Revered, Larry glanced down sadly. It was odd seeing someone in Janice’s place by Melinda. But Janice was gone and Mel was moving on. He understood the need to do that. He understood she wanted a family. The only thing he didn’t really understand was why Melinda didn’t want to have a memorial for Janice. He even offered to make all the arrangements. But she was inflexible. Why? There were many people who wanted to pay their respects and a church was a good of a place as any, he thought, considering the church also had more seating than he had down by the river.
And it wasn’t like Janice didn’t
believe in God or anything. She believed. She just had her own set
of beliefs. Like him. He smirked, wondering what it must have been
like for those nuns having a young Janice around. Interesting, he
reckoned, if her letter was any indication . . . .
Larry glanced up at the brisk January sky as dark clouds started to roll in. Looked like rain, he thought with a grimace and opened his mail box along the county road. Pulling out a couple of envelopes, he sighed wearily and flipped through the bills. Coming across a letter, he stopped with surprise. He hadn’t gotten a letter in years, he noted curiously, turning it over to read who it was from.
Dr. J. Covington.
‘She actually remembered!’
He thought happily and eagerly opened the envelope up with a big smile.
He chuckled as he walked back to the junkyard office and read the letter. . . .
13 Dec 1941
We’re here for five minutes and Mel’s already nagging me about writing people. She’s already written most of Columbia by now and is about as subtle as bulldozer when she reminds me of “my obligation to write all my friends.” It’s a good thing I don’t have too many. And if I’m going to have to write them all, I swear, I’m not making any more.
So how’s the home front? I’ll bet the junkyard is booming. Speaking of bets, you owe me one hundred and thirty-three beers, in case you forgot. And speaking of booming, I wish I could collect on a few cold ones now. We’ve had to stay in a bomb shelter once so far and I’m sure it could have been a more enjoyable experience, but the bombs missed us. Spending the evening cooped up with a bunch of nuns was not the kind of cozy evening I was hoping for. They’ve always had a way of putting a damper on things. Some things never change.
Actually, not much has changed at St. Ignatius Academy since I attended there. And before you spit whatever you’re drinking out through your nose, I didn’t attend there long. A mutual understanding was reached and I got the hell out of there. I wouldn’t have gone back except we were returning a “lost” youth, who wasn’t making it as a thief in the streets.
Mel was Mel, and insisted we stay for a visit. . . .
“Ow!” Olivia whined unnecessarily when they drove through the front gates of St. Ignatius.
As Janice sighed heavily, Mel enthusiastically gazed out of the taxi window at the large, tree-lined grounds. They drove towards the impressive stone buildings that had seen thousands of students pass through. Mel tried to imagine a young Janice Covington as one of them, in a Catholic uniform. An amused smile crossed her face. She wished she had a picture.
Janice helped the squirming youth out of the cab. Mel could see Olivia was looking for an opportunity to run and Janice wasn’t about to give it to her.
“OWWW!!!” Olivia blurted. “Let GO!”
Mel smiled at the driver. Both ignored the youth’s theatrics.
“I’m hardly touching you!” Janice finally responded with annoyance.
“You must have kids,” Mel said nonchalantly to the driver as she looked in her purse.
“Yes, ma’am,” the Cockney driver said with a smirk. “I’ve got me ten of ‘em.”
Mel looked up, impressed, and handed him the fare, and a healthy tip. “Good luck to you.”
“Thank you, ma’am!” He said
with surprise, glancing at his tip as she got out of the cab and shut the
door. “And good luck to you,” he said, tipping his hat before driving
“Ten children,” Mel said with amazement and shook her head.
“Poor wife,” Janice muttered, surprising Mel. “Ninety months of. . . “ Janice continued.
“Say Olivia, do you know what happened to the boy after he cried ‘wolf’ all the time?” Janice asked dryly.
“Yes, damn it,” Olivia snarled, as they walked towards the main building’s front entrance.
“You know Janice, some women love being preg. . . “ Mel said, gaining a concerned look from the archeologist.
“Helloooo!” Olivia interrupted. “I don’t want to go back there!” Olivia shouted and squirmed unsuccessfully. As a last ditch effort, she glanced pleadingly at the tall woman, who had shown her sympathy before. However, Mel just eyed her curiously with a raised eyebrow.
Janice sighed as she rapped the large metal knocker against the massive wooden door.
“I know you don’t want to go back,” Janice said and eyed Olivia. “Not everyone fits in here. And I ran. Just like you. And I got into a shi. . . a lot of trouble. But I wasn’t happy in the streets. Trust me, Olivia, however bad it was at St. Egg, it was worse in the streets. It gets old,” Janice spoke softly, gaining the girl’s attention. Mel was enthralled by the archeologist’s disclosure.
“What did you do?” Olivia asked the question before Mel could.
“I was able to convince my father to take me with him,” Janice said and knocked on the door again.
“My parents . . . are dead,” Olivia exhaled, dropping her head. Mel grimaced with sympathy, understanding such a loss. Janice sighed heavily.
When the archeologist’s vice-like grip on her shoulder relaxed, Olivia immediately bolted. She ran across the courtyard, towards the tall, sculpted hedges she gambled would aid her escape . . . and she laughed.
“Christ,“ the archeologist growled wearily and sprinted after her.
“Why that little . . . ,“ Mel said with irritation as the door opened, revealing a short, stocky woman in a black habit that engulfed all but her wrinkled face.
“Yes?” The nun asked with a gravely voice, curiously squinting up at the strikingly tall woman through her bottle bottom glasses. Her old face crunched with impatience. “Yes, what is it?” The small nun barked, startling Mel into speech.
“Uh . . . my . . .uh . . . .“
The nun rolled her eyes.
Taking a deep breath, Mel tried again. “Yes, well, my partner and I found a young girl who attends this school,” she offered with a smile. “And we wanted to. . . .”
“Found?” The nun interrupted curiously, opening the door wider and peering in the direction of a loud commotion. The nun’s poor eyesight prevented her from seeing the very irritated archeologist tackle a very annoyed teen into the shrubbery. Hearing a few ‘OWs’ and muffled groans, the nun became concerned.
“What is going on over . . . !“ She demanded, stepping further out of the large doorway, peering towards the vigorously shaking bushes.
“Yes, well, we bumped into Olivia . . . “ Mel interjected quickly, trying to ignore the disturbance behind her.
“Olivia?” the nun said with surprise. “Thank the Lord. We’ve been worried to death about her. We didn’t know what to think with all the bombing,” she said with great relief. “Her parents will be so . . . relieved,” the nun finished hesitantly as she glanced towards the bushes as a blurry someone emerged, hauling the kicking and screaming young girl over her shoulder.
“Sister Carmichael,” the archeologist briskly greeted the older woman and dumped Olivia on the ground at their feet.
The older woman looked from the growling, angry child, then curiously at the dirt-smeared woman, who apparently knew her. She squinted, unable to recognize the face.
“Olivia’s a little reluctant to . . . . “ Janice started to explain but was interrupted by a sharp pain. “AHHH!!” The surprised archeologist yelped as the angry girl chomped down on her calf, unfortunately just above her boot.
“Olivia!” The nun barked.
“Ow ow ow ow,” Olivia quickly called out in pain as she was hauled to her feet by her ear.
“Be nice,” Melinda warned with a low, even voice and chilling gaze that immediately demanded attention. Olivia froze, looking up at the formerly sympathetic woman, whose towering presence suddenly became unnerving.
“Goddamnittohell! I think she broke the goddamn skin goddamnit. Ah FUCK. FUCKFUCKFUCK!” Janice spued, vigorously rubbing her painful wound as she hobbled around.
The southern lady winced as she glanced at the nun.
“Janice? Janice Covington?” The nun asked with surprise, squinting through her thick glasses.
“Janice Covington,” Sister Carmichael repeated with amazement as they entered the foyer. “I’d never expect you to come back for a visit,” she said.
“We are just here to drop off Fang,” Janice said brusquely with a glare at the young girl, whose ear was still firmly trapped between Melinda’s thumb and index finger. Olivia started to snarl until she felt a slight tug at her ear and winced slightly.
“Nonsense. While you’re here, you must visit,” the older nun said.
“But . . . “
“I insist,” Sister Carmichael added firmly, leading the way inside, expecting to be followed.
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed. Her eyes darted to Mel, who attempted, unsuccessfully, to wipe the large smile off her face. Janice’s eyebrows furrowed more.
As they proceeded further inside the hallowed halls, Mel happily inspected the school’s cavernous interior while pulling a reluctant Olivia along by the ear. “You can let go now, I . . .” Olivia said with annoyance at the embarrassing position, earning the silent attention of two, piercing blue eyes. Olivia blinked a moment and smiled weakly and glanced down in defeat.
Mel noticed Janice smiling warmly at her before she shook her head and half-heartedly brushed the dirt off herself with a grimace. Mel grinned with a little pride.
“Sister Teresa?” Sister Carmichael barked to a nun entering the hallway with a stack of books in her arms.
“No, Sister Carmichael, it’s me, Sister Rachel . . . Olivia!” The young sister blurted happily, spotting the young girl. Olivia smiled, Melinda noted with relief, finally releasing the child’s ear.
Sister Carmichael squinted at Sister Rachel, then grumbled “Please get Olivia a bath and some food in her. She looks like she hasn’t had a decent meal in weeks. And Olivia, say thank you to Miss Covington and Miss . . . “ Sister Carmichael eyed the Southerner.
“That’s Doctor Covington and Miss Pappas,” Mel supplied firmly, surprising the older woman, who raised her eyebrow questioningly at Janice, who nodded uncomfortably.
“Thank you,” Olivia said begrudgingly and left with Sister Rachel, who gently scolded the young girl as she escorted her down the hall. “Olivia, where on Earth have you been??”
“I . . . uh . . . can I take those?” Olivia asked sheepishly, looking at the books.
“Yes, thank you,” Sister Rachel said, handing over half of the texts. “You know we’ve been worried sick!” She scolded as they walked away, disappearing into the library.
“Sound familiar?” Sister Carmichael smirked at Janice, who grimaced and scratched the back of her neck. Mel’s eyebrow rose curiously at her partner.
“Sister, we should really be . . . . “ Janice said uncomfortably, looking at the door, the closest means of escape.
“Janice, don’t be rude. Sister Carmichael is right. While we’re here, you should visit,” Melinda interrupted with an amused smile. Janice’s eyes narrowed at her partner.
“I’m sure the Reverend Mother would be greatly relieved to know you’ve actually made something of yourself,” Sister Carmichael said, her tone irritating the Southerner. “And it might be nice for you to visit Sister Mary Francis, don’t you think?”
Janice looked truly concerned, Mel noted curiously, starting to feel guilty for insisting they visit. Whatever happened so many years ago must still greatly bother her, Melinda considered.
“Janice? JANICE!!” A young nun called out, bolting into the corridor from the library and startling the three women.
“For heaven’s sake,” Sister Carmichael exhaled with annoyance, placing her hand over her heart.
The uncertain look on Janice’s face was replaced with a relieved smile that grew as the young nun happily sprinted towards the archeologist. Janice opened her arms and gave her a huge hug. “So much for nunly decorum,” Janice said with a grin.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” The nun said in an accent unlike Sister Carmichael’s gravely English one, Mel noted.
The Southerner was unable to get a good look at the nun because she was still hugging her partner. Tightly.
“Sister Mary Francis, you’ll escort our guests to Mother Superior’s office before they leave?” Sister Carmichael asked. “And quietly? We don’t need any more heart attacks,” she said wearily.
“Yes, Sister Carmichael,” the nun said respectfully, and smiled at the retreating nun, who shook her head at the exuberance of youth. When the older nun left the hallway, Sister Mary Francis turned back to Janice with excitement.
“Let me take a look at you,” the nun said with a smile, holding the archeologist at arms’ length. Glancing down at the dirt-covered, man-ish attire she grimaced. “What a mess. And I never did like your taste in clothing,” she said, shaking her head with disappointment.
“The feeling’s mutual,” Janice replied with a grimace of her own, glancing over the black habit.
“I know,” she said with a trace of sadness. “But I am still happy you’re here,” she added with a smile, brushing the dirt and leaves from the archeologist’s shirt and hair. Mel’s eyes narrowed at the display of familiarity.
“Would you stop that!” Janice said, swatting her hands away, causing the nun to laugh and hug her again.
Wondering if it would be bad form to peel the groping nun off her partner, Mel cleared her throat, twice.
“Oh! Mel,” Janice said, realizing introductions were needed.
Mel smiled thinly and pushed up her glasses.
Pulling away from the hug, Janice kept an arm around the nun, Melinda noticed with irritation. “Mel, this is my sister, Roberta Covington,” Janice said warmly. “Bert, this is the woman I love, Melinda Pappas.”
The surprised women looked at the smiling archeologist, then each other a stunned moment.
Her eyes were green, like her sister’s, Mel noted. She was disappointed Roberta’s hair was hidden beneath her habit, curious whether it was also the same golden color.
‘Love?’ Bert silently repeated, amazed how the word which had been so difficult for her sister, was now so easily spoken.
“I’m so very pleased to meet you,” Melinda finally said with a warm smile and extended a hand.
Bert still stood stunned, looking at the tall, beautiful woman, whom her sister actually declared she . . . loved.
Mel endured the silent appraisal, wondering uneasily if the nun was ever going to accept the hand of Janice’s partner.
But for her to be with Janice, Bert thought, she must be one incredibly forgiving and patient . . . . Oh. The nun quickly glanced at the still extended hand, then to the furrowed brows of her less-than-amused sister.
“I’m soooo very sorry for you,” Bert said, feigning great sympathy and embraced the surprised woman, gently patting her on the back.
“Well . . . it hasn’t been easy,” Melinda admitted with a heavy sigh as she pulled back from the hug and pushed her glasses up. Bert nodded as Janice’s eyebrows shot up with surprise.
“I can imagine,” Bert replied warmly, taking the tall woman’s arm and escorting her down the hall. Bert was relieved the Melinda had a sense of humor. She would definitely need it to survive Janice.
“Now wait a minute! I’ve been kicked, punched, and even Goddamned bitten! And I don’t need to hear you two. . . .”
“Janice,” the two women said sternly, turning back to the archeologist.
“Oh God,” Janice blurted wearily.
“Janice!!” The two women scolded Janice again, causing the archeologist’s eyes to roll.
Sirens suddenly came alive, seeming to wake from a deep slumber as their pitch and volume slowly increased. Within a few moments, their blaring sound flooded the school and neighboring industrial town.
“So . . . How would you like to begin your visit with a tour of our bomb shelter?” Bert asked politely and led them to the former basement store room.
‘No. Just say NO. Come on Mel. No. It’s easy. Nooooo,’ Christine silently willed Melinda to answer her incredibly sensible grandfather. She always did like Colonel Pappas.
‘Ugh,’ she softly groaned when the bride finally nodded and the Colonel gave her away.
‘Does anyone else think this wrong??’ She wondered with irritation as her eyes darted to the bride’s side. Why was Larry smelling her bouquet?
Her confused look prompted him to silently explain. She had to smile at his gentle gesturing of what happened. Thankfully, she didn’t poke his eye out or anything, she considered with a guilty cringe. She knew weddings were dangerous, she thought with a furrowed brow.
He had been a very good friend to Janice, she considered. Why was he here? Perhaps it was because he was a very good friend to Janice and wanted to show his support for the woman Janice loved. That was the problem, she thought. Everyone wanted to show their support.
As the retired Colonel retreated and joined his wife in their pew, Christine sighed heavily. So much for the Colonel coming to the rescue.
Reverend Baylor’s already weak smile faded when he glanced at the wedding party and spotted her frown. When she felt Melinda’s warning stare, she quickly replaced the grimace with a thin smile . . . which looked amazingly like a grimace.
“We are gathered here in the presence of God and these witnesses to celebrate the joining of this man and this woman in the unity of marriage. There are no vows more solemn than those you are about to make. . . . “ Reverend Baylor announced grandly.
The groom glanced at the stoic bride and smiled weakly.
‘No vows more solemn. Did you know that, Melinda?’ Christine thought with furrowed brows, wondering if her own parents had also treated their wedding like a business arrangement.
“. . . There is no human institution more sacred than that of the home you are about to form. True marriage is the holiest of all earthly relationships. It should be entered into reverently, thoughtfully, and with full understanding of its sacred nature. . . . “ Reverend Baylor continued, glancing between the bride and groom.
Christine’s stomach churned.
‘For God’s sake Mel, Mama and Daddy took these same vows, not understanding what they really meant. Look at what happened to them! It’s supposed to be a union. It’s supposed to involve sharing. But how can you share your life with a practical stranger when you can’t even share your pain with your best friend??’ Christine thought with desperation.
‘You used to share everything with me. Even things those censors thought you weren’t supposed to . . . ‘
Eunice smiled as she received a bundle of mail from the grinning mailman. Miss Christine had more than a few pen pals overseas, the house keeper chuckled as she returned inside and sorted through the letters. “Oh, Oh!!” Eunice blurted with excitement, pulling a letter from the pack.
“Miss Christine! Miss Christine!” Eunice called as she bustled her full figure to the dining room where Miss Christine was having lunch with some young Lieutenant from Fort Jackson.
“Eunice! Can’t you see that we are in the middle of a visit?” Christine scolded her housekeeper, then turned to smile at her guest, who grinned as he placed his hand over hers.
“Another letter’s come. It’s from Miss Melinda!” Eunice waved it happily.
“Why didn’t you say so!” Christine said with excitement. “Excuse me?” She quickly asked her guest, yanked her hand back, and started to get up. The surprised young man nodded with an uncertain smile and attempted to stand before Christine bolted from her seat.
Christine quickly grabbed the letter from Eunice, who followed her into the living room.
“This one’s over three weeks old too,” Eunice helpfully pointed out as Christine tore into the envelope.
“Ah, Mel!” Christine moaned with irritation, carefully unfolding the flimsy paper which she thought looked more like a doily than a letter. A number of words were cut out. Sighing heavily she read and attempted to decipher Melinda’s message . . . .
14 December 1941
I hope you are doing well and are not too bored in Columbia. I am sure Ft. Jackson’s recruits will be more than happy to keep your social calendar full and prevent that from happening.
We have finally moved to a room at Oxford. The military escorts and we have been thoroughly briefed and I am now reviewing the ******************. I am a little rusty on my ***********. It is terribly frustrating to read someone else’s *********. But despite Dr. Worthington’s assertion that the ********** are experts, It appears they don’t have a clue about ***********, let alone Gabrielle’s writing style. Even I could spot the context errors. I wish I had the original **********. It would save me the headaches. I’m afraid I might be forced to slap Dr. Worthington if he mentions one more time how I must be incorrectly ********** the ************. I wish Janice was here to deal with him. He seems better behaved around her. And where is she, you ask?
At Mother Superior’s request, Janice joined her to deliver Olivia to her family. Janice and Olivia actually called a truce, which I was grateful but surprised to hear. Especially considering Janice was still sore from that bite and getting stuck in the bomb shelter, and both of them are very stubborn. But both have a great admiration for Mother Superior, who I suspect facilitated the truce. She is an impressive woman. A gentle presence, yet you sense she has a great inner strength. But she’s much younger and far prettier than I would have imagined a Reverend Mother to be.
I’m not the only one surprised by Janice’s trip. Dr. Worthington and Major Topel are most annoyed that Janice left for her “little jaunt.” They keep grilling me about where she went and when she’ll get back. All I could say was what Mother Superior said. “It won’t take long.” It didn’t appease me either. I wish I knew how long she’s going to be.
Thankfully, Dr. Engel is not being a tyrant. He’s been encouraging and very patient with my difficulties with the ***********. I am afraid I am at a loss on the ********** of the ****************. When Janice gets back, she should be able to solve that piece of it. She is the expert on ****************. Both Dr. Engel and Dr. Worthington are saying the *********** has to be in ********* or ************* but I am not so sure. Gabrielle didn’t mention the ********** overtly, so you have to infer from ************ which has been poorly constructed. I’m wondering if we are incorrectly assuming ******* If so, I just don’t know where it would be. Did I mention this whole thing has given me a headache?
I must admit I am uneasy about how much time we have to ******************* once we figure it out. Major Topel is understandably concerned too. They have had far more time to review the ******** and are probably already looking. Lord help us if they are.
I thought she’d only be gone a day or two. It’s odd she would just go off, knowing how important this ************** is. It is as if ************** was not as important as traveling with the Reverend Mother. Though we couldn’t specifically explain our work to her Grace, I thought I had made it crystal clear it was very important. It’s not like Olivia’s family was behind enemy lines and desperately needed help. But when Reverend Mother asked, Janice couldn’t refuse her Magnificence. Dear Lord, listen to me. Why do I keep letting myself get so jealous? I really made a mess of things when I made a thoroughly jealous remark about Mother Superior. I don’t blame Janice for being angry. I was angry with myself, too. I trust Janice. How could I possibly be jealous with a love as strong as ours? But I constantly fear losing something that is so precious to me - her.
Christine, I don’t know how to explain it. I had no idea how much emptiness was within me until she came and filled it. When she’s with me, I feel there is nothing I can’t do. I feel such incredible peace and confidence. I’m home. But when she is away, I feel so . . . lost. Like now. I never expected love could be such a double-edged sword. I suspect it was never intended for the weak of heart.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I am still having those horrible nightmares. I’ve never felt such desolation than when I reach out and feel only cold sheets. I can’t help but think they are more than nightmares, that they are warning me she’s in terrible danger. I’ve gotten her to promise to be careful. But careful is not a word I would normally use to describe my Janice. She leads with her heart. I love her and her big heart for it, but right now, it scares me to death. When Janice gets back, we will be having a talk, and most likely a loud one. Once we figure out where the ************ is, I am going with her. I will not lose that argument.
P.S. Have you seen Grandmother’s victory garden?
“Everyone here?” Janice asked Bert, uncomfortably looking around the dark shelter full of nuns.
“I’m checking!” Bert said with irritation as she performed her job and counted heads.
“Where are all the children?” Mel asked Bert with concern.
“They were sent away when the bombing started, we are too close to the factories. Of course, they wouldn’t be here this time of year anyway, Christmas break,” Bert explained with a shrug, still counting heads. Twenty-one, twenty-two. . . .
“You do still celebrate the birth of Christ, don’t you, Janice?” Sister Carmichael’s raspy voice startled them. Mel’s eyes narrowed at the short, belligerent nun who joined them. Bert sighed, still looking around the dark room.
“Birth?? Isn’t Christmas when the old guy in the red suit comes around?” Janice asked with furrowed brows of feigned confusion. Sister Carmichael shook her head with a sigh. Mel wondered if it was always like this between the two.
“Two short. Sister Carmichael, I don’t see Sister Mary Teresa or Reverend Mother,” Bert said with furrowed eyebrows then spotted them at the top of the steps. “There they are,” she said with relief.
Mel noted Janice’s surprise and curiously turned to find two women descending the bomb shelter steps. The younger nun, with a bible in one hand, helped another much older nun who had difficulty walking.
“I’m getting too old for this,” the aged Sister Mary Teresa complained with a heavy exhale.
“I think we are all too old for this, Sister,” the Reverend Mother said with a heavy heart and looked around the dark shelter. “Sister Mary Francis?” She called out when they stepped off the last step. Bert was promptly at her side.
“All present and accounted for?” The Mother Superior asked.
“Yes, Reverend Mother. And then some . . . ,“ Bert added with amusement, provoking a curious look from the Mother Superior. With a grin, Bert motioned to Janice and Melinda. “We have some visitors.”
“Janice?” Mother Superior exhaled with surprise and smiled broadly as she swiftly went to join her former student.
“Sister Mar . . . I mean, Reverend Mother,” Janice said with an uneasy smile. “You got a promotion,” she added with an awkward smile, glancing to the slightly different habit and crucifix hanging from her neck.
“It surprised me, too,” the Reverend Mother offered softly. Feeling the tall woman’s eyes on her, the nun turned curiously to the impeccably dressed lady. “And who is this?” She said warmly.
“This is Miss Melinda Pappas, we . . . “ Janice said and suddenly hesitated, glancing around the crowded room full of eyes.
“Work together,” Mel finished flatly. “I translate for, Janice,” she added, glaring at the archeologist.
Ah shit, Janice silently moaned, wondering where she’d get flowers around here.
“Really?” The nun smiled with amusement, looking at the uncomfortable archeologist. “Janice has never needed a translator before. Why as I recall, she has always made herself quite clear,” the Reverend Mother added, looking up into the curious Southerner’s eyes, which glanced between Janice and the pretty nun.
“Reverend Mother, Janice is an archeologist,” Bert quickly interjected.
“An archeologist . . . like your father?” The Mother Superior asked with concern.
“Not exactly,” Janice replied, provoking a relieved nod from the woman. “But we are interested in the same thing. The Xena scrolls. And Mel and I found them,” Janice noted with a small smile of pride, glancing at her partner.
Concern crossed the Reverend Mother’s face before being replaced by a smile, Mel noted curiously. “You must have some interesting stories to tell. I’d like to hear. . . .”
Everyone’s attention was immediately captured by a steady rumble that grew louder as the enemy planes approached. When she heard high-pitched whistling piercing through the low rumbling, Mel stood uncertainly as she watched the black and white habits flock to the walls. She was surprised when her hand was firmly taken by the Mother Superior.
“Come,” the nun said with quiet authority, leading her to the wall.
Mel felt Janice’s comforting hand on her back as they followed the nun.
They crouched closely together, against thick stone walls and anxiously waited as the whistling dropped in pitch. Mel’s panicked look at her partner turned to hopeful curiosity when the dreaded whistling suddenly stopped.
Janice quickly pulled her love into a protective embrace.
Reverend Mother pulled her bible tightly to her chest and prayed.
Three loud explosions, seconds apart, shook the walls, kicking up dirt and dust from everywhere. “Dear Lord,” Mel gasped, tightly holding onto Janice. “It’s ok, sweetheart,” Janice cooed softly into the woman’s ear as the light debris showered down on them.
The Reverend Mother glanced over at the two. She knew that if Melinda was able to exercise extreme patience with the often difficult woman, she would be greatly rewarded. Janice had an amazing capacity for love. . . .
More high-pitched whistling sounded, causing the southerner to tremble.
“And here I was worried I wouldn’t be able to show you a good time,” Janice said softly, tenderly rubbing Mel’s back.
“Next time, Janice, I really hope you choose another activity,” Melinda said firmly, causing Janice to chuckle softly.
The Reverend Mother and Bert grinned. Sister Carmichael shook her head with a disapproving sigh.
They all looked instinctively up when the whistling stopped, like before. “Oh Janice,“ Mel whispered nervously, returning to the archeologist’s embrace right before the bombs exploded, violently shaking the ground and walls.
“Pffft.” Bert wiped dirt from her mouth. “That was close,” she added and coughed from the cloud of dirt that was settling on her.
The murmurs of worry grew, Reverend Mother observed with concern.
“Got any communion wine on you?” Janice asked Bert as she nudged her arm.
Bert patted herself to check, stirring up more dust. Coughing, she shook her head no with a shrug.
“Wise ass . . . “ Janice blurted with amusement.
“You want communion??” Melinda asked with concern, fearing her partner was losing hope.
“About time,” Sister Carmichael mumbled.
“No, just the wine,“ Janice responded, gaining a number of surprised stares, including Olivia’s. “I think we all could use a good drink. Not that the chapel wine is any good. Just too damn sweet,” Janice complained, hearing a surprising amen from Bert.
“Sister Mary Francis!” The Mother Superior scolded her.
“Well it is, Reverend Mother,” Bert added with a shrug.
“Pretty weak too, if you ask me,” Janice added.
“We didn’t,” Sister Carmichael interjected with familiar annoyance at the trouble maker.
“You know, if Jesus’ blood was that watered down, the only miracle he would’ve had the strength to perform was getting out of bed. . . . “ Janice continued, unfazed by Sister Carmichael’s comments.
“Janice!” Melinda gasped uneasily, glancing nervously around the room of nuns, who were now staring at them.
Bert grinned. The murmurs changed from concern to curiosity as the nuns intently listened to this unusual discussion, almost ignoring the new whistling from more bombs dropping from the sky.
“As I recall, Janice, you had no trouble consuming rather large quantities of the wine one particular Halloween,” Reverend Mother remarked, causing some of the nuns to chuckle.
Sister Carmichael shook her head, recalling the disastrous evening when the nuns had to explain to a visiting Bishop why a student was wearing a nun’s habit and throwing up in the confessional.
Olivia was dying to know what Dr. Covington had done.
“That was only after a bottle of whiskey,” Janice explained. “Amazing how much the taste improved after that. You might want to consider that for the next communion,” she offered helpfully.
The whistling stopped. Mel stared at her partner incredulously.
“The bomb is going to hit us now for sure,” Sister Carmichael mumbled. Dear Lord, she’s probably right, Mel thought. And if the bomb didn’t do them in, Mel considered she just might die of embarrassment.
“I’ll keep that in mind, Janice,” Mother Superior said dryly, providing her standard answer to Janice, who always seemed to have suggestions on how the church ought to be run. One of her favorites was a ‘Jackpots for Jesus’ night to raise funds for a new school bus.
Seconds passed as the silence continued.
“No bomb?” Mel asked hopefully.
“Sometimes not,” Bert noted. “It’s the not knowing that can be almost as bad.”
Mel nodded, then gave her partner a small smile as the tender caressing of her back continued.
Bert graciously averted her eyes from the loving display, with a pleased smile. Sister Carmichael frowned.
The whistling and explosions continued, slowly moving further away. Finally, there was wonderful silence.
“All right, sisters, I need to assess the damage out there before we start clean up,” the Reverend Mother announced as she stood. “Sister Mary Francis, you know the drill.”
Bert nodded and found Mel already mulling amongst the women to see if everyone was all right.
As the Mother Superior started up the stairs, she heard someone following her and turned to find Janice. “You might need help,” Janice said simply.
The Reverend Mother looked down into the familiar green gaze that exuded such confidence. It was contagious. Just one of Janice’s many gifts, she considered. “I would be grateful. I also want to . . . catch up with you,” she said awkwardly, uneasily looking around the room, making Janice think she had more than a few things weighing on her mind.
“I’d like that,” Janice said softly, receiving a warm smile.
“. . . provided, you stay away from the communion wine, of course,” the Mother Superior added.
“One little mistake and you’re marked for life,” Janice said. “It’s not like Harry didn’t pay for the damages . . . . “
“You still owe me a habit,” Mother Superior reminded her, glancing to the tall woman who was approaching. Janice smirked, then turned and smiled at her partner.
“I won’t be long,” the archeologist said softly to the surprised Southerner, who stopped and glanced between the two.
Mel reluctantly nodded. “Be careful,” the Southerner said with a weak smile as she pushed up her glasses.
“I promised, didn’t I?” Janice said firmly, then grinned.
“I still don’t see why you have to go,” Mel snapped briskly as they finally entered their hotel room, more than a little worse for the wear. She placed her dusty purse and crumpled hat down on the bureau and headed towards the bathroom down the hall.
Janice followed. “It won’t be long, Mel. A day or two. . . .” Janice said uneasily at the door, watching the tall southerner groan at her reflection in the mirror as she half-heartedly attempted to brush off the layer of dirt. It only smeared. It was hopeless, she concluded with a sigh, then turned to her partner with her hands firmly on her hips.
“Why do you have to go?” Mel asked.
“Why?” Janice repeated. “She asked,” the archeologist explained with irritation. “It won’t be long, Mel,” she repeated.
Mel rolled her eyes and turned back to the mirror for a moment. With an irritated sigh she turned to Janice, who looked at her hopefully . . . until the bathroom door was firmly shut in her face.
“Sweetheart,” Janice sighed, her forehead resting on the bathroom door, her mind racing to find words that Mel would accept. “I’d feel better going. . . . Reverend Mother means well but . . . she . . . she doesn’t know Olivia that well . . . ” Janice said, stumbling over her poor explanation. Damn.
“Why, I’m surprised, Janice,” Mel called out crisply. “Her Grace seems to have gotten to know you quite well,” Mel countered coldly through the door, surprising the archeologist, who stiffened, finally understanding the source of Mel’s concern.
After a few moments without any response, Mel opened the bathroom door with an accusing eyebrow to confront the archeologist, who wasn’t there. Mel heard the bed springs squeak in their room. A bit unnerved, she walked back to the room to find Janice sitting on the edge of the bed, looking . . . distressed.
Mel cringed guiltily.
“Have I ever given you a reason to think I would fool around?” Janice said evenly, keeping her eyes focused ahead, on the wall.
“Janice . . . “ Mel said, regretting her thoughtless words.
“Have I??” Janice demanded, angry green eyes darting towards the tall woman.
“No! No, Janice, you haven’t,” Mel blurted nervously. “Jan . . . . “
“Ok, Mel, I have had a number of lovers,” Janice said with brutal honesty, causing Mel to grimace at the thought. “But I have NEVER fooled around while I was in a relationship. NEVER,” Janice repeated angrily.
“Janice, I . . . “
“And I’ve never fooled around with married women and I never will. PERIOD,” Janice seethed, barely controlling her shaking. “And nuns are about as goddamned married as you can get!” she snapped, then stood abruptly from the squeaking bed, startling the Southerner.
“I’m going to help Mother Superior,” Janice announced firmly. “It would be more . . . efficient, if you stayed here and started to review the translations,” the archeologist said tightly, looking numbly past the tall woman, who nodded uneasily. “With any luck, we can get the hell out of here and back home before Christmas,” Janice mumbled as she marched towards the bathroom.
The slamming door echoed in the hallway, making Mel jump. She wished they could just go home now. Christmas in their new home, she thought wistfully, longing for a quiet, private night in front of their fireplace. Yet, Janice’s words made her brows furrow. What made Janice think they might be able to go home by Christmas if they haven’t even seen the translations yet?
The weary Southerner sighed
heavily as she sat down on the bed, which squeaked. Her eyes
rolled. With another sigh she took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes.
“Marriage to be complete must first be spiritual. From this inner state . . . ,” Reverend Baylor droned on as Ruby gazed blankly at the bride and groom.
She glanced at her gentle husband, who bestowed a simple smile that filled her with love. She smiled back, feeling sad something so wonderfully simple was missing between Melinda and her husband-to-be. Since coming home, Mel’s smiles were forced and polite. The housekeeper longed to see the heartfelt ones.
“The state of matrimony is true marriage only when based on this deep, invisible union of two souls who seek to find completion in one another. Do you understand this?” Reverend Baylor asked the handsome couple, uneasily glancing at Melinda.
It would just take time, Ruby considered with optimism. And with the baby, she would really smile again, she thought confidently. But would that be enough? Ruby wondered, glancing to the groom, who smiled uneasily.
His cracking “YES” and nervous nodding made a few in the congregation on the groom’s side chuckle.
Melinda slightly cringed and weakly nodded. “. . .yes.”
Christine rolled her eyes and tried biting her cheek to ignore her upset stomach.
Ruby prayed he would be patient with Mel. Her loss was deep. He could be good for her, she thought, if she just let him. But would she? Melinda didn’t deal with loss well, Ruby considered, remembering how she retreated into her father’s work after her mother died, then fled to Europe right after her father died. Ruby sighed, praying this time she was running to something, not trying to run away. You couldn’t run from a loss like that.
Ruby wished Melinda would talk to her . . . or someone. It helps the healing to unburden a broken heart. But she wouldn’t. The only thing they knew was what they could piece together from Melinda’s letters . . . .
December 20, 1941
Dear Ruby and Robert,
I hope you and the family are doing well. Would you mind sending some of your oatmeal cookies, Ruby? I forgot to mention that Janice finished the cookies you gave her at the station by the time we got to Charlotte, NC. I’m thinking your cookies just might be the thing to tempt Janice to return to Oxford more quickly.
Before Janice left to help the Reverend Mother, she mentioned a chance of coming home before Christmas. However, after looking over the ***************** , I am very doubtful. We need to figure out *********************** but I am afraid I still can’t agree with the “professionals” who say ***********. Unfortunately, knowing where the ********* isn’t, isn’t very helpful.
Dr. Worthington and Major Topel are severely trying my nerves. They are challenging everything I say or do. If Janice doesn’t come back soon, I have a mind to go get her and haul her right back here to deal with this mess. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a short, red-headed archeologist traveling with a Reverend Mother in the English countryside.
She’s been away much longer than expected. In our phone calls, Janice hasn’t told me when she’ll get back or much of anything for that matter. Well, except that perhaps that I was being ‘too defensive’ in my ********************** and should place greater weight in what they are saying. The nerve! If she actually would come back and read the ************ herself she would be just as irritated as I am.
Dr. Worthington just came to interrupt my lunch and complain about Janice’s trip, again. I’m going to have to find someplace other than the cafeteria to eat. He doesn’t seem to understand that no matter how many times he asks, he will still get the same answer.
Not much more to say for now, but I’ll be sure to let you know what is happening. Send my love to Beryl, Robert Junior and the grandchildren.
Mel stared at her letter as a bad feeling grew in the pit of her stomach. Quickly stuffing the envelope, she stood up from her lunch table and collected the other letters she wrote. After dropping them off at the post box, she hurried to the research room with a vague idea nagging at her.
She smiled as she approached the guard, who easily returned the smile. “Back again so soon, Miss Pappas?” He grinned, tipping his hat at the beautiful woman who had become a pleasant addition to his workday.
“Just can’t stay away, Herbert,” she said warmly and released a small sigh as she entered the stuffy research room.
Placing her purse on the table she opened up the German translations and reviewed them for what seemed like the thousandth time. Her sinking feeling grew as she read over the German words which didn’t reveal any more answers. What was she missing?
“Why are you so vague?” She growled at the translation, never having had this much trouble with Gabrielle’s work before.
“Considering the topic, it seems appropriate, don’t you think?” Dr. Engel asked, startling her from her thoughts as he entered the room.
“If Dr. Worthington or Major Topel were here, they’d say it was just me. To them, I am grossly ignorant,” Melinda said.
“Don’t listen to them. They are just feeling the pressure from the British and American governments. They were a bit too zealous in promising them we’d be ready to go by now, or at least uncover this as a hoax,” he explained, sitting at the table next to her.
Melinda sighed heavily, glancing at the German text, wishing it were a hoax. But she knew it wasn’t. She could feel it.
“You’ll get it. Or Dr. Covington will. It will just take a little more time.”
“Aren’t you worried about the Germans having a head start?” She asked with surprise.
“Perhaps a little. But as you have pointed out in your review of the translations, they are probably just as confused as we are. So I’m not too concerned. I would certainly like to hear Dr. Covington’s opinion on the subject though. If anyone can figure out this puzzle, I am sure she could,” he said warmly. “When did you last hear from her?” Dr. Engel asked with a smile.
“Last night. I’m afraid she is intending to be away at least another day,” Melinda said with an irritated sigh. “The Reverend Mother has now enlisted her aid in helping a church that was bombed,” she added.
“She didn’t mention exactly. But North . . . “ Mel sighed heavily. He nodded, understanding her frustration.
“It’s really a shame you couldn’t . . . ,” he said with a sigh then stopped and shook his head. “Never mind.”
“Oh, a silly thought really. It would give Dr. Worthington an ulcer for sure,” he grinned.
“If you left . . . to find Dr. Covington,” he said, then chuckled.
“Why is it silly?”
“Well, you said you didn’t know where she was. And even if you did catch up with her, you wouldn’t be able to work without the translation with you,” he said with a shrug.
“I don’t think it would be too hard to find her. And I do have a very good memory,” Melinda countered with a growing smile, rapidly warming to the idea.
“Well then, perhaps we can get things moving after all,” he said with a broad smile.
Mel quickly finished fastening her belt, having changed into more practical slacks and a shirt. She had a feeling she’d need work clothing.
Hearing knocking, she quickly answered the door. “Sister Mary Francis,” she greeted the nun warmly.
“You know, no matter how many times I asked, Janice would never use that name,” Bert said, glancing over the work clothes with a small, disappointed sigh. She preferred the southern lady’s much more feminine and appropriate attire.
“She can be stubborn,” Mel allowed as she picked up her coat and a backpack and closed the door behind her. “I want to thank you for coming with me and providing the transportation,” she smiled.
“You may not thank me when you see it,” Bert said vaguely as they walked outside. Mel understood what Bert meant when she saw the old, white and green church vehicle with the black lettering ‘St. Ignatius Academy’ painted neatly on the side.
“A bus?” Mel asked with surprise, looking at the nun, who shrugged.
“It was the only transportation I could get on such short notice,” she said uneasily.
“Bert, are you sure you are allowed to use the bus?” Mel asked tentatively.
Sister Mary Francis smiled weakly as she opened the bus door. “I don’t think there should be any problems. Sister Carmichael is the only one who would mind, and she doesn’t see that well,“ she explained logically. “Besides, we won’t be gone that long,” she added climbing onto the bus.
“Oh dear, I don’t want you to get into trouble,” Mel said with concern, standing at the bottom of the steps, pushing her glasses up.
“Christians are supposed to forgive, Mel. I’ll just have to remind them of that,” Bert said. “. . . If I run into any problems,” she added with a grin.
“I thought you had to take a vow of obedience. Or did they change that?“ Mel smirked.
“I did take a vow of obedience, Mel,” the nun said seriously, “But no one said I couldn’t take the bus,” she added with a grin and devious glint in her eyes.
“I keep forgetting you are a Covington,” Melinda said with amusement and climbed on board. “How did you end up . . . uh, I mean. . . uh.“
“How did I become a nun, despite being a Covington?” Bert chuckled, starting the engine which bucked and groaned but remained running. “Good girl,” she said to the dashboard and patted it.
“It was my calling, Melinda,” she
explained, pulling the bus away from the curb.
“Janice never understood that,” the nun continued as the very attentive and interested Southerner listened. “She swore up and down I must have been brainwashed or something. But the life that would have suffocated her is liberating for me. I am . . . . at home being a nun and doing the Lord’s work,” she said simply, glancing to the Southerner, who smiled.
They visited a few churches and made a few phone calls to locate the Reverend Mother. When Sister Mary Francis explained the Reverend Mother was needed for church business, the travelers quickly found out that the Reverend Mother and an American were headed for the cathedral in Coventry.
As they left a particularly helpful parish priest, who had given them tea and directions, Mel looked at Bert with concern.
“I really do appreciate your help . . . but, you said the Reverend Mother was needed for church business,” Mel said uneasily as they returned to the bus.
“She is . . . I never said she was needed now,” Bert explained with an easy smile.
True Covington logic, Mel considered and shook her head with amazement.
“Be prepared to see some unpleasant things in Coventry, Mel. It was hit worse than London, last year," Bert said as she started the engine, which sputtered and moaned, but stayed running.
After driving a while, the ‘good girl’ finally had enough. She sputtered, shuddered, hissed, then died.
The women looked at each other.
Bert sighed heavily and steered the rolling box of metal to the side of the road. “Never a break, huh?” she muttered, looking up at the sky through the windshield, which was spotting with the light rain that was now falling.
“Do you think you can fix it?” Mel asked, looking up the road that would have taken them to Coventry. Her eyebrows furrowed with frustration.
“Maybe,” Bert exhaled. “I might be able to get some life back into this old heap, with a prayer, and some divine intervention,” she added wearily, not counting on the last part.
Mel grinned. “I have faith,” she said with encouragement.
“You do don’t you?” Bert eyed her curiously. Mel nodded firmly. Bert shook her head with amazement.
“Where did she find you?” Bert finally asked her sister’s partner.
“I found her,” Mel corrected her with a bit of pride, making Bert smile.
“Out of all the people in the world, how did you find Janice?” Bert asked with amusement.
“She wrote to my father, requesting his help in translating the Xena scrolls. My father had just passed away but I was able to help,” Melinda informed her. “I knew I was supposed to go,“ she added softly, with conviction.
“Your calling?” The nun asked with a smile.
“You could say that,” Melinda said warmly.
“I’m sure she was less than amused when you showed up instead of your father,” Bert said.
“You could say that,” Melinda repeated with a chuckle. “But she eventually warmed to the idea of having me around,” she added with a satisfied grin.
“You knew right away, didn’t you?” Bert ventured softly.
“Not exactly. She did take some getting used to,“ Melinda said with crisp diplomacy and pushed her glasses up, provoking a hearty belly laugh from Bert.
They left the protection of the bus and stood in the light rain. They stared at the bonnet before Bert sighed and carefully opened it, releasing a large puff of white smoke.
“That’s not good, is it?” Mel asked with a furrowed brow, pushing up her dripping glasses.
“Well, I don’t think we just elected a new Pope,” Bert noted, scratching her chin.
“Maybe something’s just loose,” the nun offered uncertainly. Hiking up her long black skirt, she climbed on the wheel to get a better look.
Bert sighed at the engine, then looked to Mel, who politely stood nearby but kept glancing anxiously at the road. They were only a few miles away.
“If you want to walk, go ahead. I’ll probably be a while,” the nun offered. “I’m not as skillful at auto mechanics as Janice. Now sewing, I can do. . . .”
“Will you be ok here alone?” Mel asked with concern glancing around the road.
“I’ll be fine, Melinda. You go on, if I haven’t caught up to you before you get to town, I’d appreciate it if you send a mechanic my way,” Bert frowned, looking at the old engine.
“Ok. I’ll see you soon
then,” Mel said optimistically and started her long walk.
Well, he asked, Colonel Pappas thought with resignation. Melinda would be angry with him for a while, he considered as he listened to the Reverend drone on about marriage.
But he had to ask, he thought defensively and shifted in his seat.
If she had only stood up to him and said ‘no, this is wrong.’ Now that would have been a hell of a thing to see, he considered, wondering how the untested Army Captain would have responded to rejection at the altar. It would have been his first taste of battle, the Colonel considered with a smirk. How an Army Captain could avoid going overseas in this war was a mystery, he considered, shaking his head with a disapproving sigh. Of all people, he understood wealth and connections. But he didn’t understand how a man could not do his duty and fight. Even Janice, did her duty, he thought sadly.
Was he just a coward? The Colonel frowned, wondering why a man like that would attract Melinda’s interest.
He sighed, not really knowing what to make of the Captain. He certainly was a smooth talker and handsome. And from what he heard through the Army grapevine, the Captain had quite a reputation with the ladies. The Colonel’s eyebrows furrowed with annoyance, knowing the type. Marriage didn’t always change their ways.
Well Mel wouldn’t put up with that, that’s for sure, he though confidently. She can be a firecracker at times, especially when standing up for what she believes in.
Does she actually believe in this? He sighed, not knowing the answer.
She did stand up to him when asked if she was really sure, he thought. Perhaps she does know what she wants. Perhaps, like usual, he and his family just didn’t understand. They were trying harder now, he considered. But Mel wasn’t helping. She just wasn’t talking. Not about important things, anyway. She had clammed up and wasn’t going to talk unless it was a neutral topic.
He sighed with frustration.
She said more in her letters from England than she did now that she was home .
. . .
22 December 1941
Dear Grandmother and Grandfather,
I hope you two are well. I am fine, considering the lack of success with the ************ and that Janice has been gone for what seems like a month. I’ve decided to leave Oxford tomorrow morning. Janice’s sister agreed to help me find the Reverend Mother and my missing archeologist. I am tremendously grateful for her help. I am sure I’ll find Janice more quickly since Sister Mary Francis is also going to drive me around the countryside. I still feel a bit unnerved every time I cross a street. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to people driving on the wrong side of the road.
Sister Mary Francis is quite . . . well, I’m not sure how to describe it. She’s a nun but she’s definitely Janice’s sister. I hope you’ll get to meet her one day. I’m quite fond of her. When Janice first saw her at the school, I could tell Janice was nervous. I am not sure what happened between them in the past, but I think they are finally over it. Bert, or rather Sister Mary Francis, was obviously delighted to see her long-absent sister. And she warmly welcomed me, even after Janice made it clear we were, the nature of our relationship. I think Janice was relieved at her acceptance. I know I was. I know your acceptance has meant the world to me. Thank you.
I hope Janice doesn’t mind my impatience. But we are stuck *************** and I think only Janice will be able to shed some light on it. I am apparently more concerned about the ********* getting ************************* than Janice is. I honestly don’t know what Janice is thinking being gone so long. How many errands will she have to complete before she can return and focus on this problem?
As for coming home for Christmas, I don’t see how it will be possible. I have no idea when we’ll be finished here. I would love to share our first Christmas in our own home. I can almost see the living room decorated with a huge Christmas tree in the corner and two stockings hanging above the fireplace. I can almost smell the aroma of freshly baked gingerbread filling our home. But as wonderful as all that sounds, I will be happy just as long as I’m with her. So don’t you worry, we’ll be fine for the holidays.
P.S. I hope your victory garden is doing well, Grandmother.
Mel pulled her raincoat tightly around herself as she walked towards the city of Coventry. The cold rain fell harder, quickly collecting in the scorched craters and black gashes littering the road and countryside. Squinting through her spotting glasses, she glanced over the abused land, realizing uneasily that the bomb targets were not strategic.
Life itself was the enemy.
Darker clouds rolled in, over the already gray sky, bringing bright crackling flashes and powerful rumbling with them. The uneasy Southerner jumped at the particularly loud weather, then rolled her eyes, willing herself to stay calm. It’s only a storm, she reminded herself, walking more briskly to the city.
As she approached Coventry, she saw a few structures that seemed to defy the bombs. Yet upon closer inspection, the buildings were gutted and frail, looking like they would collapse in a strong breeze and join the rest of the rubble. She wondered with concern how mainland Europe looked, seeing such devastation come to a place she had thought safe. But was any place really safe in war? She suspected the people who survived Pearl Harbor would say no.
With a sense of deja vu, she gazed over the ruins where homes once stood. Fields of blackened debris with a forest of mangled pipes jutting up from the rubble surrounded her. It was an eerie backdrop for the occasional person she saw traveling through by car, on bike, or foot.
‘Dear Lord,’ Mel whispered with a pained grimace, seeing a small tricycle crushed beneath a charred appliance. A stove, she concluded after a closer look, uneasily recalling Major Topel’s ominous words “This is a world war . . . It affects not only men, but women and children as well.”
She prayed the children were safe and far away when this happened. Shivering, the Southerner pushed up her glasses and continued to walk amongst the ruins, focusing on finding her partner and comfort in her warm embrace.
Mel suddenly stopped. Her eyes were drawn to a surprising patch of green and yellow flora. Leafy dandelions sprouted up from beneath the dark rubble.
Despite man’s effort to destroy it, the precious cycle of life continued.
With that hopeful thought, Melinda resumed her journey to the Cathedral. The magnificent Cathedral, which was the life and center of the town, was also a target of the bombing. The front, that had greeted the city’s large congregation, remained amazingly intact. Only a few panes of colored glass were missing from the round stained-glass window. But as the Southerner cautiously entered the churchyard, she found part of the roof caved in and most of the side wall missing. The remaining structure was scarred by flames.
Her eyebrows furrowed. Nothing was sacred to the bombs.
Walking around to the back of the church to find an entrance that wasn’t blocked, she found a car parked behind a large pile of stones that used to be part of the church wall. It looked like the car was deliberately hidden from the main road, Mel noted, wiping the wet window with her sleeve and peering into the car. She hoped it was Jan . . . .
“Ah FUCK!” suddenly rang out from the church followed by a loud crashing thud, startling Mel before a grin emerged on her face. She found her.
Noting the side entrance was blocked by rubble, Mel opted to enter through the hole in the wall. Carefully climbing inside, she finally spotted a sight for sore eyes.
The dirty and sweaty archeologist grabbed a rope and pulled hard.
Mel’s eyes curiously traveled along the rope which was threaded through a number of pulleys attached to ceiling beams, which the Southerner really hoped were structurally sound. The rope ended at a large stone, which it was snugly tied around. The stone, formerly a part of the ceiling, was blocking an apparently interesting spot on the floor the Southerner noted, for the Reverend Mother continued to intensely focus on it.
The Southern lady raised an eyebrow, glancing over the muddy, black habit. Definitely not appropriate attire for a dig, she thought.
“Damn,” Janice blurted, rubbing her sore, red hands against her trousers, trying to wipe off the slippery sweat as she eyed the stone that barely moved.
“Janice, just a little more,” the Reverend Mother encouraged, provoking a groan.
“Jesus Christ, you keep saying that,” Janice said with annoyance, wiping her sweaty brow. “Pretty soon I’ll have excavated the entire site,” Janice complained as she grabbed the rope and pulled with all her might. The stone wouldn’t budge and Janice’s feet just started to slide. “Damn it! It must be caught on something,” Janice said, wiping her hands then grabbing the rope again.
“Or maybe you just need a little help,” Mel suggested, prompting the edgy archeologist to spin around with a ready fist.
“Mel,” Janice gasped with surprise. Under the raised southern eyebrow, Janice quickly dropped her fist with an uneasy chuckle. “Uh, I suppose you would like to know what we are doing?” she said with a grimace and scratched the back of her head.
Mel looked at her, then the Reverend Mother, who smiled weakly as she stood up and joined them.
“Let me guess, you think ambrosia is here?”
“How . . . ?“ The Reverend Mother blurted with amazement as she walked towards them. She glared accusingly at Janice.
“I didn’t say a thing!” Janice said defensively, but grinned proudly at Mel.
“No, she didn’t,” Mel confirmed with a tight jaw. Janice’s grin faded. Ah shit.
“But . . . . ” The nun responded, confused.
“That German translation, which we were here to review,” Mel said pointedly, pausing to glare at a cringing archeologist. “. . . was not talking about Athens or Corinth,” she explained. “But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the location . . . until I saw you two, here,” she said. “. . . doing this,” Mel added, glancing at the pulleys and the large stone.
“Then it fell into place. It wasn’t Greece. It was Britannia,“ Mel said evenly, returning her annoyed gaze to Janice, and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Uh . . . let me explain,” Janice blurted uneasily.
“Please do,” Mel said. “I would certainly like to know why you couldn’t trust me with this.“
“I trust you! It’s just that . . . ,” Janice countered defensively.
“I asked her not to . . . ,“ Reverend Mother interjected quickly, feeling incredibly uncomfortable now that she was under the scrutiny of the tall woman’s piercing glare. “I’m sorry if my request caused trouble between you two. But please try to understand, the fewer people that know, the better,” she offered sincerely.
“You do realize that there are a number of people already searching for the ambrosia,” Mel countered firmly, making the unhappy nun nod reluctantly. “How do you know about it?” Mel asked.
“Mel, the location of the ambrosia has been the responsibility of Reverend Mothers for centuries,” Janice explained with enthusiasm at the discovery.
“The responsibility has been passed on for ages, Melinda,” the nun said. “As has the story about the ambrosia,” she added, looking at the archeologist.
“It was Gabrielle’s story, Mel,” Janice interjected happily.
“The one the German’s tried to translate?” Mel asked with concern, causing the archeologist’s smile to fade.
Mel turned to the nun. “Would you please tell me her story?” She asked hesitantly. “I have no idea if that German translation was anywhere close,” Mel added with frustration, shaking her head with a sigh. “Did I mention it gave me a headache?” The Southerner glanced at Janice with narrow eyes.
Janice cringed, thinking perhaps she should just buy her a whole goddamn flower shop. . . .
The Reverend Mother smiled and began the story.
“A woman warrior, Xena of Amphipolis, and her companion had traveled . . . . “
“Gabrielle had a name, and she was certainly more than just a companion,” Mel crisply corrected her.
“Sweetheart, she knows,” Janice said softly, taking her partner’s hand. “Let her finish,” the archeologist added gently and squeezed the taller woman’s hand with a warm smile.
Mel looked at Janice and nodded with a sigh as she squeezed back.
Seeing Mel’s apologetic look, the Reverend Mother continued with a smile. “With their children raised . . .”
“Wait! Their children?! ? How many did they have? Did they raise them together?” Mel blurted, knowing their ancestors obviously had to have had children, but nothing beyond that. “What were their names?” She eagerly asked.
“I’m sorry, Melinda, but the story we pass down does not mention any of that,” the Reverend Mother mentioned to the tall Southerner, who nodded with a disappointed sigh.
“You might want to try the condensed version if you want to get through the story by night fall,“ Janice suggested to the nun as she glanced at her watch, considering the sooner the ambrosia was safely relocated, the sooner they could go home.
Mel’s eyebrows furrowed.
“With their children raised, the aged travelers returned to the road to help old friends and new. On one journey, the two had come to the aid of a very old friend, a kind-hearted thief, who, despite his age, found ambrosia before a ruthless young warlord, who sought invincibility.”
“Hunted by the warlord and his army, and weakened by his age, the thief knew he could not continue his journey to destroy the ambrosia. He gave it to the trusted warrior and good friend while he attempted to delay the warlord. However, the warlord was shrewd and not fooled by the thief’s plan and hunted the proud warrior woman. For many days, he and his large army followed their trail, over land and sea.
“The warrior grew angry and frustrated at her age, unable to elude the ruthless young warlord and assure the protection of her companion and the ambrosia. Temptation grew to consume the ambrosia herself and recapture her strength and vitality of youth, which she believed was the only way to defeat the young, evil warlord.
“Approaching her companion with the obvious solution to their problem, the frustrated warrior was reminded of the hard lesson learned many years before, when the young and valiant protector of Amphipolis grew into a hated warlord herself. The lesson was as true then as it is now - power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“Acknowledging the strong temptation and the army getting too close, the proud warrior did as the thief before her and entrusted the food of the Gods with another. A scroll was written by her companion to document the brave and noble deeds of the thief and warrior to keep the ambrosia away from all mortals.
“With the scroll, the ambrosia was given to a Priestess, who vowed to hide the ambrosia as long as necessary, until the warrior and her companion could return to destroy it.”
“They never did,” the Reverend Mother added softly. Mel looked at Janice sadly.
“Over time, the ambrosia had been moved, when necessary. Only a small group of women have been entrusted with this duty.”
“And the scroll . . . was lost?” Mel asked curiously.
“Not exactly, Miss Pappas,” Dr. Engel offered with amusement, his loud voice startling them.
The women turned to find the Oxford archeologist, flanked by two blond, muscular, and well-armed henchmen pointing their weapons at them.
“The Germans have it,” he explained with a smile. “Heil Hitler.”
“Ah shit,” Janice said.
The lightening and thunder raged outside. The church practically moaned as it fought to remain standing against the weather’s attack.
Mel’s eyebrows furrowed with worry as she stood behind Janice as they grabbed the rope.
“I’m so sorry,“ Mel whispered a heartfelt apology, wondering if Janice could ever forgive her for leading Dr. Engel to the ambrosia.
“I shouldn’t have kept this from you,“ Janice muttered with frustration. “You’d think I’d learn,” she added bitterly.
“Janice, I know you were keeping a promise. You shouldn’t . . . “ Mel started to scold her partner for her guilt.
“Ladies?!? If you don’t mind, I don’t have all day,” Dr. Engel interrupted their whispered discussion and motioned to the rope with his revolver.
They both pulled, slowly moving the block over the altar floor, causing a loud scraping that echoed through the church. Finally, the stone was out of the way. The Reverend Mother looked at the men, then to Janice. Concern flooded her face.
Janice sighed, also looking around the room, carefully noting the location of the men and their guns. She picked up a crowbar from the tools she brought, wishing she had her revolver on her. Stupid! She berated herself. Only three clean shots were needed and they’d be going home for Christmas, she thought with frustration, picturing a big tree taking over the corner of their livingroom . . . .
“Not so fast,” Dr. Engel said, waving his gun at the archeologist. Mel gasped, looking between the revolver and her partner who was armed only with a crow bar.
“Are you offering to dig?” Janice barked with impatience, motioning to the crowbar.
“No thank you,” he said with a thin smile. “You may continue,” the wiry man grinned, certain he’d get a promotion and the Fuhrer’s personal commendation for this discovery.
Janice shook her head wearily and attempted to pry a marble tile from the floor. After a few unsuccessful attempts, she looked at the two women hovering over her and intently watching.
“Stand back,” the archeologist said firmly, causing the women to uneasily look at each other and step back. Janice noted the curious Dr. Engel lower his revolver slightly as he peeked around Mel to see what the archeologist was doing.
Noting the quiet henchmen continuing to block the possible escape routes, still too far away to overtake them without a gun, Janice sighed and lifted the crowbar over her head. With a healthy grunt, she swung the iron bar down against the marble, smashing it to pieces. Tossing the crowbar onto the floor with a dull clank, she knelt and removed the shattered marble pieces and a few of the surrounding tiles. As Janice looked down into the hole, she could hear the eager Dr. Engel step closer.
“It’s your box,” Janice said to the Reverend Mother, motioning to the hole. “Careful, the hole could be booby trapped,” Janice quickly warned with a grin, provoking a furrowed brow from the nun.
“You are shrewd, Dr. Covington,” Dr. Engel commended her. “It’s a shame we are not going to be able to work together after this,” he added with a chuckle.
Mel glared at him then his revolver, noting with interest that he was carelessly pointing it at the floor.
“A real shame,” Janice said tightly.
The Reverend Mother looked into Janice’s eyes and found unwavering confidence in them. With a raised eyebrow, the nun took a deep breath and slowly reached down in the hole. When her fingers touched a metal box, she reflexively retracted it as if it had burned her.
Dr. Engel gasped nervously. Janice grinned and winked at the nun, who sighed heavily, wondering if she was up for this. Reaching down in the hole again, the nun considered the years hadn’t changed Janice at all. She was still a very odd girl . . . woman, the nun corrected herself, absently glancing up at the tall Southerner, who kept staring at Dr. Engel’s gun.
When the Reverend Mother lifted the box out of the hole, Dr. Engel stepped closer with excitement.
“Of course, the box could be booby trapped too,” Janice noted, causing Dr. Engel to nervously stop.
“Remember that box in Borneo? Ghastly,” Mel interjected vaguely and shivered. Dr. Engel’s eyebrows furrowed with concern.
Janice and the Reverend Mother looked up at the tall Southerner. “He only lost a few fingers, Mel. That’s not exactly ‘Ghastly,” Janice countered with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
Mel’s eyebrow rose with challenge.
The Reverend Mother looked between the women. Dear lord, they were flirting, she realized uneasily, glancing at the Oxford archeologist and his henchmen.
“To that man it was . . . “ Mel said, smiling thinly and carefully stepped back from the box. The cautious Dr. Engel followed.
Well, the nun considered, Janice did it. She found someone just as odd as her.
“Open it!” Dr. Engel commanded impatiently, waving his revolver at them. Mel looked at the gun with a furrowed brow. It was so close.
“Hold your horses,” Janice snapped and turned to the Reverend Mother, who waited for her signal. Receiving a wink and a nod, the nun nervously opened the box. ‘Father, forgive me,’ the nun prayed.
The Reverend Mother glanced inside the box then looked up nervously. “Uh . . . It’s . . . empty,” she said uneasily as her eyes darted from Dr. Engel to the henchmen.
“What!?!” Dr. Engel barked angrily as he stepped towards the cringing Reverend Mother.
Finally with the needed distraction, Janice turned and reached out for his gun. Her eyes widened with panic when in the instant before she could grab it, Mel plucked it from his hand and decked him with a right hook worthy of a heavyweight champion.
Panic-filled green eyes darted to the gunmen. Janice felt ill as they aimed their rifles at her oblivious partner, who turned and tossed the revolver to her. With no other recourse in this rapidly deteriorating situation, Janice awkwardly caught the pistol and barreled towards Mel.
Shoving the stunned Southerner to the ground, Janice heard shots. Pain exploded in her chest and side. Janice looked down in amazement at the blood spilling from her.
Janice looked at the revolver in her hand, struggling to stand. Only three clean shots before Christmas, she thought as she lifted the suddenly heavy gun towards the men. Just three clean shots . . .
The next shots confused her. She hadn’t pulled the trigger yet, Janice thought as the revolver fell from her hand and her legs collapsed beneath her.
Did someone call her name? Mel??
The hard floor slammed against her body, evoking a pained moan. Very cold, Janice thought, feeling the chill from the floor seep through her cheek and blood-soaked shirt.
I hate churches . . . .
Hands frantically grabbed her and rolled her on her back.
“Janice!!” Mel called fearfully as uncertain green eyes looked at her.
Janice blinked, focusing on the sight above her. Mel, she thought with great relief washing over her. Janice opened her mouth to say her name but could only release a gurgle. Regrets of words left unspoken and moments left unshared suddenly flooded Janice’s heart as tears flooded her eyes.
“Janice, don’t you give up on me!” Mel ordered as she nervously attempted to apply pressure to the wounds. But it wasn’t helping. There was too much blood. It wasn’t helping!
‘Dear Lord, what have I done?’ Mel thought frantically, glancing at her hands now covered in red.
After a weak cough, blood trickled over Janice’s lips. Her shallow breath became a disturbing wheeze.
Reverend Mother crossed herself with a shaky hand and said a silent prayer for her beloved friend. Dr. Engel rubbed his jaw as he slowly stood up, stunned. His men hovered over the two women on the floor, looking to him for direction.
“For GOD’s sake, let them have some peace!” The Reverend Mother roared as if GOD himself demanded it.
Dr. Engel nodded uneasily and waved off the obedient men as his mind raced. How could he possibly go back home to Germany empty handed and live?
Mel searched Janice’s eyes. They held such sadness and regret. And for the first time, the Southerner saw . . . fear.
“Hey,“ Mel said softly, her voice catching as her own tears freely flowed. “Hey,“ she said again, with a pained-filled smile and sniff as she carefully cradled the broken woman in her arms.
“Don’t . . . don’t think this will get you out of spending Christmas with my family, Dr. Covington,” Mel accused, finding comfort in the green eyes that blinked and appeared to smile at her.
Never could get a break . . . .
“It won’t be that bad. I promise,” Mel continued with a sniff, shakily caressing Janice’s pale cheek as the archeologist lung’s weakly fought for air.
Janice intently watched Mel’s beautiful face as the nervous woman tenderly wiped the blood from her mouth. She wished she could tell Melinda just how much her love meant. But even if she could speak, Janice knew she’d never be able to find the words. And the world didn’t have enough flowers. . . .
“They really do love you, you know,” Mel said, her voice cracking. “Yes, even grandmother,” she joked, laughing uneasily and sniffed, continuing her caresses.
Tears fell from the archeologist’s eyes. Thank you for loving me, Mel . . . .
“They all want us to come home, togeth. . . ,“ Mel said, then fell silent when the wheezing stopped. Looking into her partner’s eyes, the Southerner’s breath escaped uneasily.
Mel slightly shook her head no,
refusing to accept what the green eyes told her. Her lip quivered as she
gently held Janice’s face and nervously searched the normally vibrant eyes that
revealed so much . . . eyes that sparkled with a devious glint whenever a
mischievous thought crossed her mind . . . eyes that brightened with love when
the tall woman walked into a room . . . eyes that smoldered with passion when
they made love.
“Janice?” Melinda called in a barely audible whisper.
Like before, the green eyes, now cold and glassy, revealed the truth.
Janice was dead.
A wail erupted from the depths of the tall woman’s torn soul, echoing through the church and within the broken heart of the Reverend Mother.
The nun wept and glanced down uneasily at her wedding band. ‘Dear Lord, why?’
She looked back to the tall woman, who tightly clutched her dead lover in her arms and shook with heavy sobs. The deep anguish that radiating from the Southerner stirred shameful pangs of regret for a love the dutiful nun had denied. ‘Yet after all that heartache, she still helped . . . and died because of it,” the lost nun thought, praying for guidance as her once clear duty became clouded by tremendous guilt and grief.
“I’m sorry to interrupt ladies, but I’m afraid I don’t see any alternative but for you to join Dr. Covington. We can’t return to Germany having failed our Fuhrer, and we certainly can’t stay here with witnesses,” Dr. Engel explained with a sigh, carefully picking up the revolver on the ground near the uncaring Southerner, who continued to sob and rock the dead woman in her arms.
“Wait . . .” the Reverend Mother said quickly, wiping her tear-stained face as the two henchmen aimed at them. “Is information worth lives?” The nun asked and stalled, her duty now clear. May God . . . and Janice, forgive her.
“What kind of information?”
“Records of where the amb . . . “
Mel looked up in shock. “NO! You can’t! Will she have died for nothing!?!” She spat at the nun.
“Melinda, Janice wouldn’t want you to die too,” the Reverend Mother argued uneasily, watching the woman awkwardly release her partner’s lifeless body to the bloody floor.
“If this information is found useful, I will spare your lives,” Dr. Engel offered the nun.
“All right,” the Reverend Mother said evenly, looking him in the eye. She knew it had been a sin to learn poker from Janice, but today she was thankful for those lessons.
“You can’t do this!” Mel protested vehemently as she stood. Dr. Engel nodded wearily to his gunman.
“Melinda, please . . . “
“Janice wouldn’t want this . . .
!“ Mel argued, then collapsed to the ground unconscious after a rifle
butt cracked against her skull.