The Great Escape
A Janice and Mel Short Story
Authors' Note: This short story takes place in the Southern Hospitality universe, after the story Until Death.
Janiceís back slammed against a tree as she gulped air. She struggled to catch her breath after her all out sprint to the temporary cover. Her heart pounded, more evidence of how hard she was pushing herself. But she had to. They were getting too close. Closer than she had expected. But sheíd be damned if sheíd let them catch her.
Looking around carefully, she couldnít see them but she could hear their footsteps. Fortunately, they easily gave their position away with their heavy footfalls through the fallen leaves. Unfortunately, they were closing in on her and one of them was right in her desired escape route. She grimaced. She couldnít just pass him without being discovered. Once they spotted her, it was all over. But she couldnít give up, even if her body screamed in pain from her exhausted muscles and various scraps and bruises that got her this far.
Janice took a calming breath and revised her strategy. She reluctantly acknowledged she wasnít as fast as she used to be - but with her experience, she would outsmart them. They correctly guessed sheíd try to take the most direct route and had positioned themselves so they would chase her into their ambush directly ahead. Not a bad strategy, she admitted. But she would find another way.
Looking East, there was the river. Granted, it went well out of her way, even back tracking for a few miles, which didnít thrill her. But for what she didnít have in speed, she more than made up for endurance. Even Mel would agree, she couldnít help but smirk. Her amusement quickly faded as she shifted her bruised shoulder that started to bother her more, realizing Mel was going to be really pissed. But she couldnít think of that now. She had to think of a way to get back to her.
Hearing footfalls getting closer, much closer than she expected, she bit her lip. There was going to be no way to make a clean break to the river with the path she wanted to take, GODDAMN it. Looking up at the sky with frustration, a promising but riskier solution came to her.
The assailants grew excited as they converged upon their prey. They were going to finally capture the infamous Dr. Covington!
The most ruthless antagonist pounced upon a large pile of leaves with great glee at his final victory. "You almost got away - but you canít es...!!!"
A growl of frustration erupted when he found only leaves in the pile. "Oh FUCK!" Daniel blurted with frustration, kicking the mound and causing the dry leaves to noisily fly in all directions.
"Where is she?!?" JJ asked with equal frustration, poking through the remaining pile as if Daniel might have missed her hiding there.
"I guess she kicked our butts again!" Paul said with a frown, looking at his twin, Daniel. "We should go back to the cabin."
"Wait a minute. Thereís no way she could have gotten back to the cabin so quickly. Sheís old," Daniel said with great insight.
"You better hope she isnít within hearing distance," Paul said warily, looking around the forest with a wince.
"If she is, weíll get her!" JJ said with conviction, getting a nod from Daniel as they keenly scanned the area for signs of the elusive doctor.
"Whose idea was this?" Paul grumbled, impatiently looking at his watch.
"We do this every year," JJ explained with annoyance.
"And every year, Mulů kicks our butts. And then I have to hear Daniel and you whine about how close we were," Paul said with aggravation. "We are seniors now - and youíre in junior high! Arenít we a little old to be playing hide-and-seek with our mother??"
"Itís NOT hide-and-seek!" JJ objected with a frown. "And Mulů really likes to do this too," he added. It would have been really neat if mama participated too, he thought, but this wasnít exactly the type of activity a Southern lady would participate in. But Janice always came through for them and he couldnít complain . . . even if they had yet to catch her.
"Look, we all have to work as a team or sheíll beat us for sure!" Daniel blurted with great perceptiveness. Both JJ and Paul, glanced at him with surprise.
JJ added "Come on, Paul. We just HAVE to beat Janice."
"Fine," Paul said reluctantly, finding it hard to deny the younger teen, who was his brother by circumstance, not birth.
"OK!" Daniel said with enthusiasm. "Now, she obviously didnít take the direct route. . . .".
"Duh." Paul said.
"Hey, I thought it was a good plan!" JJ said, a bit sensitive.
"It was," Daniel said, knocking his shoulder into JJís supportively. "But you know sheís devious," he said, kneeling down and picking up a stick. "She thought we would think that she would take the direct path," he said, using the stick to draw a straight line between the Pappasí cabin and their starting point in the dirt.
"We did," JJ offered, ignored by Daniel, who continued.
"BUT we know now she didnít, and I bet she doesnít know we know that she didnít, thinking we would continue behind her on the path she didnít take - but weíre not going to do what she thinks we will be doing, we are going to be taking the path she thinks we think she didnít take which will be, in fact, the path she took! " he rapidly said with enthusiasm.
Paul and JJ stared at him, blinking. "Do you even know what the hell you just said?" Paul asked bluntly.
"From what he said, Iím thinking weíre not any closer to finding her," JJ added with a frown.
"If you two would just LISTEN - she must have taken another route that would be out of the way," he continued. "Even though sheís old, she has endurance," Daniel added seriously.
"I hope to GOD she is not within listening distance," Paul moaned.
"Oh Janice knows sheís old," JJ responded matter-of-factly. "Go on, Daniel, your observations are . . . interesting," the young Pappas said.
"Well, if you were going to go out of your way, which way would you go?" Daniel asked.
"Out of my way?" JJ asked dryly.
"Exactly!" Daniel said, causing JJ and Paul to look at each other, then at Daniel.
"Well I guess we know where she is then," Paul said dryly, getting a smirk from JJ.
"Come on!" Daniel said enthusiastically, heading towards the river.
"Where are you going?" JJ asked as he followed his older accomplice.
"To the river, of course!"
"How the hell did you figure. . . ." JJ said, than winced when he heard a familiar voice, hoping she didn't hear his language.
"JJ?? Daniel?? Paul??" Mel called out, causing the boys to stop in their tracks.
"Mel?" Daniel responded with some concern, heading towards her voice. "Is anything wrong??"
They found the tall woman pushing up her glasses as she navigated the rocky trail carefully. Spotting the boys, she said "There you are. Do you realize what time it is?" She tapped her watch for emphasis.
"Thank GOD," Paul said with relief as Daniel said "Uh, you know we were . . ." as JJ said "We were just . . . "
"I know what you were doing, gentleman. And while I appreciate that play is an important part to family bonding, I can not understand how running around in the woods and rolling in the dirt is "fun." Dinner will be at six sharp. If you are not cleaned up and seated by then, you will not be partaking," Mel said then said loud and clear for all to hear. "Do you ALL understand?"
"Yes, mama," JJ said, looking at his watch as the twins nodded and muttered "yes, Mel."
"All right then," Mel said with a curt nod. Pushing up her glasses, then turned and smiled as she headed back towards the cabin.
"Why donít we just go back to the cabin?" Paul said.
"NO. We can still catch her at the river and get back before we are late for dinner," Daniel said with great confidence, starting for the river.
"Yeah, we are close. I can feel it!" JJ agreed, looking towards the river with narrow eyes of determination.
"Great," Paul moaned, following his brothers.
Mel enjoyed her leisurely walk back along the trail to the cabin. She love these woods. Though, not enough to play Army or catch the archeologist, or whatever it was that had the boys chasing after Janice. She had many happy memories here, though the happy memories of her childhood seemed pale compared to the memories she was making with her family now. Mel knew she was blessed and thanked the good Lord every day.
When Mel finally returned to the cabin and opened the front door she smiled, not needing to see Janice to know she was finally back. "I was beginning to worry that you had gotten lost or something," she said with amusement as she gently pushed opened the bathroom door and peaked in. Her eyes widened with annoyance as she followed the trail of dirt to grimy pants and a shirt hung on the wall. Annoyance transformed into alarm, when she saw a tear with what looked like blood stains at the shoulder.
"Good heavens! What did you DO to yourself?" she said, immediately stepping into the bathroom to find the archeologist, sitting in the tub carefully washing a layer of dirt off herself.
Janice sighed heavily. "I fell."
"All this from one fall?"
"No. I fell a few times," she admitted reluctantly.
"Nothingís broken?" Mel asked, immediately on her knees at the side of the tub, inspecting the bruised and scraped woman.
Janice sucked in a pained breath at the unintentionally painful exploration.
"Sorry," Mel said with a wince. "Should I call Doctor Baker?"
"No. Itís just a few scrapes and bruises," Janice said tiredly.
"Are you sure thatís all?"
"Well, I might have dislocated my shoulder," she hedged.
"Iím calling the doctor," Mel said firmly, with a worried glance at the battered shoulder.
"Sweetheart, thatís not necessary. It popped right back in after I . . . uh fell the second time," Janice said uneasily, knowing that didnít sound as reassuring as she had intended. Hopefully, Mel wouldnít ask her what she was doing when she fell, she considered with a grimace as she gingerly rubbed the soapy washcloth over her tender shoulder.
"Good Lord, Janice. I donít know why you must insist on running around the forest like some kamikaze soldier," Mel scolded her as she looked at the angry bruises and snatched the wash cloth from her lover. As she started to carefully wash Janiceís back, Janice stopped her hand and looked into her surprised blue eyes.
"I do it because my kids ask me too," Janice offered softly, her eyes dropped as she added "I'm not going to have many more opportunities with all of them like this."
Melís annoyance melted into understanding. She too found it hard to deny her children anything, though out of the two of them, she found she did it more often. She also knew Janice loved spending time with them - playing, camping, working, whatever they were willing to do with her. They both relished the time spent with their children, though she never ended up a bruised mass like Janice.
"Did they actually ask you to subject your body to this abuse?" Mel challenged, eyeing the battered flesh.
"Uh, no," Janice said sheepishly. "But if youíre gonna do something, Mel, you might as well go all out," she added philosophically.
"You keep forgetting you no longer . . . heal like you used to," Mel said awkwardly, her worry seeping through.
"Sweetheart, trust me, I haven't forgotten," Janice said with a wince as Mel slid the washcloth over a small, painful cut.
"I donít suppose it would do me any good to ask you to take it easy?" Mel asked with a raised brow.
"And let them beat me?!?" Janice asked, appalled.
"I suppose thatís a no," Mel said with a frown.
"Iím teaching them a valuable lesson, Mel," Janice argued. "Could you wash a little lower?" She said, scooting up in the tub a bit to allow better access to her lower back.
Melís eyes rolled as she accommodated the archeologist and washed lower. "And what, pray tell, are you teaching them? People canít jump out of trees and fly?"
"How did you know I fell out of a tree?" Janice asked with surprise. It seemed like a good idea at the time; the other tree seemed so close.
"I didnít," Mel said flatly.
"Oh. Well, what I am teaching them is . . . ."
"If you are not careful, you might fall and dislocate a shoulder?" Mel guessed innocently, pushing up her glasses.
"NOOooo. Iím teaching them to work together," Janice said with satisfaction.
"They already work well together, thank the Lord," Mel countered.
"Yeah, well - itís positive reinforcement of them working well together."
"Just admit it, Janice. You need to prove to yourself you can still beat them physically and mentally."
"Itís for their own good - so they wonít get cocky," Janice countered defensively.
"You know, children learn more through the examples set by the adults around them. If you donít want them to be arrogant or overconfident, you might just consider. . . ," Melís lecture was interrupted by a sensuous kiss.
"You are incorrigible," Mel exhaled as Janice grabbed a towel and stood, gaining a critical inspection from the taller woman.
"Part of the Covington charm," Janice said with a grin as Mel also stood, her face a bit flushed.
"So THATíS what you call it," Mel said, pushing up her glasses as a dripping Janice stepped out of the tub.
"MmmHmm," Janice said as she put a hand on Melís hip and stepped closer.
"Youíll get me wet," Mel protested, then saw Janice pause then wiggle her eyebrows. "Janice," she groaned with amused exasperation. "Is that all you think about?"
"You are hard to resist, Dr. Pappas," Janice explained and lifted Mel's hand to her lips, kissing it gently.
Taking a fortifying breath, Mel said "So are you." Janice smiled and leaned in. "BUT," Mel said gently halting her amorous archeologist. "You need to get dressed. Our boys will be back soon and we are not sitting down to dinner until you ALL are presentable."
"I want a rain check," Janice said with a smoldering look that made Mel wish it were raining.
"Thatís a promise. Now go and get dressed, before the boys get back," she ordered firmly.
"Yes, Maíam!" Janice said with a chuckle, kissing Melís hand again, before making a show of looking out the door both ways to see if the coast was clear before scampering down the hall partially draped with a towel that exposed her well-formed rear.
Mel grinned and shook her head.
The three boys entered the cabin dejectedly. "I canít believe you gave up so soon!" Daniel said to Paul.
"I want dinner," Paul said unapologetically.
"Maybe we can guard the cabin and spot her before she reaches. . . ," JJ suggested then heard the distinct sound of laughter coming from Janice. "Sheís here already," he added with a frown, knowing they had once again lost.
"I bet we were close . . . ," Daniel said stubbornly.
"We should come back in a few minutes...." Paul said quickly. "Maybe a half-an hour," he added, turning towards the front door when he heard Melís voice but couldnít make out the words.
"What about dinner?" Daniel asked with confusion, following his brother out of the cabin.
"Halt!" Janice said as she walked into the living room area, followed by Mel. "Where do you think you are going? Youíve got approximately 20 minutes to get cleaned up and seated for dinner," Janice said sternly. "I may be old but I managed to get here on time," she added pointedly, holding back a smile when the three boys looked at each other with alarm. "Now move!" She barked, prompting them to rush past her, vying to be first in the bathroom.
"Told you we were close!" JJ said triumphantly as they left as ordered.
"Great," Paul muttered sarcastically, eyeing Daniel, daring him to say something else. He wisely kept his mouth shut - this time.
Mel looked at Janice with amusement, seeing a distinct sparkle in her beautiful green eyes.
Janice sat on the bed in her night shirt, brushing her hair as she waited for Mel. "So, is it raining yet?" Janice ventured with amusement that faded when Mel quietly entered the bedroom in a robe which she slowly untied and slipped off.
"Iíd say there is a 100% chance of a down pour," Mel said approaching the bed in her sheer night gown.
"I love rain," Janice exhaled happily.
"I love you," Mel said sitting next to her.
Janice smiled, lifting her fingers to trace her beautiful face. "Thank you," she said honestly and leaned in for an unhurried kiss.
"For?" Mel asked with a glint in her eye as she indulged in a slow caress of Janiceís bare thigh.
"Your love and for today. Donít think I donít know you distracted the boys," Janice said. "You are very good . . . at being distracting," she noted as Mel kissed her neck and unbuttoned her night shirt with practiced ease.
"Lie back," Mel whispered, prompting Janice to immediately comply.
"How did you know?" Janice asked as Mel finished unbuttoning and started to gently explore the flesh beneath the shirt.
"Know what?" Mel asked as she kissed Janiceís collarbone.
"That I could use some help," Janice said, caressing Melís arm.
"You were late. I went to find you," Mel answered simply, though it warmed Janice's heart. She could always count on Mel.
"Howís your shoulder?" Mel asked as she caressed her breast.
"What shoulder?" Janice chuckled, looking at Mel's hand on her breast.
Mel looked at her pointedly, pausing her caress.
"Itís still a little sore but ok otherwise," Janice wisely answered.
Mel nodded in acknowledgment, gently touching the bruised skin over her shoulder. "I wonder if the boys realize how lucky they are you are in their lives," Mel said warmly, kissing her lips tenderly.
"They ought to. I keep telling them," Janice said with a smirk.
"Do you remember our unfinished discussion on being, as you so eloquently put it, coc....?"Melís lecture was once again cut short with a kiss, which made Mel almost forget what she was saying.
"Incorrigible," Mel complained with amusement as she briefly caught her breath then returned the kiss.
"Charm," Janice reminded her, tracing her fingers over her brow then down her neck to the unnecessary shoulder strap of the unnecessary nightgown.
"Stubborn," Mel noted as Janice pulled Melís nightgown over her head with a wince from the slight pain in her tender shoulder.
"Persistent," Janice explained as Mel caressed the bruised shoulder and looked at Janice.
"Competitive," Mel blurted when the archeologist rolled her on her back - so Janice was on top.
"Focused," Janice rebutted, kissing her way down to a stiff peak where she lavished her undivided attention.
As the recipient of that attention, Mel had to admit "Focus is gooooood."
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