Chapter 1 - Nightmares
Melinda Pappas woke with a start. Hearing another groan, she blinked and turned to witness Janice battling another nightmare.
Mel sighed, wishing for the day when Janice would find some peace. Even after finally coming home and being immersed in a loving family that included three cherished boys, peace was still elusive for the archeologist. Mel knew it would not come easily after surviving four horrific years in a concentration camp, then four more roaming Europe to try and find her still-lost daughter, Faith. How can anyone really find peace after that? Mel wondered with a heavy heart.
Janice, like the twins, never spoke of her experiences at Birkenau. On rare occasion, they'd mention a person or a vague reference to each other, but Mel and her son, Jacob Jeremy, never heard them discuss what they had gone through. And Melinda had learned quickly they did not respond well to direct questions. Even JJ's innocent, though admittedly awkward, questions were met with gruff dodges or cold silence.
Daniel and Paul, like Janice, had their share of nightmares. But they had Janice, who would go into the twin's room and talk with them.
"They're asleep now," Janice would tell her concerned partner with a shrug as she returned to bed.
Mel had wanted to help too, but knew there were things the boys would only trust Janice with, including their fears. But Janice trusted no one with her fears, Mel thought with mixed emotions of concern and hurt. Perhaps someday she would open up, Mel thought hopefully, believing talking about it would help. All of them.
Hearing the word "no" growled from her twitching partner, Mel cringed, wondering what images haunted her this time. It seemed the archeologist was having more nightmares now than when she first came home two months ago. Mel sighed, feeling great frustration at not being able to unburden her soulmate.
"No," Janice grumbled, breathing irregularly. "No," she cried like a wounded animal, tearing at the Southerner's heart.
"It’s all right, Janice," Melinda finally offered, cautiously touching her arm. It wasn't the potential bruise from the agitated sleeper that concerned Mel, but the need to make up an excuse for it. There were just so many explanations of her clumsiness before Janice would realize that she had caused it and do something ridiculously rash, like sleep on the couch.
"You’re home now," Mel added softly, encouraged that her voice and touch soothed the restless woman, whose grimace and breathing relaxed. "You're home, my love," she said as she continued to lightly caress her arm.
After a few moments of watching over her now-calm lover, Mel settled back with a long exhale and shut her eyes. She vowed to try harder to get the reluctant archeologist to talk. Talking should help, she considered. No, talking will help, Mel concluded as she exhaled again and slowly drifted into a deep slumber.
"Mel!" Janice gasped in panic, bolting upright and looking around the room with alarm, her hands strangling the sheets.
"Janice!" Mel sat up with a racing heart, placing a hand on her lover's back. Janice jumped at the touch. "Janice, you're home," she said, seeing relief replace the archeologist's confused expression. The Southerner caressed Janice's back as she attempted to calm both their nerves.
Janice shut her eyes and took a deep breath, drinking in the comforting presence beside her. A nightmare. That's all it was, Janice reminded herself. She was home with Mel and the boys. Her eyes popped open.
"The boys??" Janice suddenly asked.
"They are all fine, Janice. They are down the hall, in their rooms," Mel said, glancing towards their bedroom door.
Janice nodded, digesting the information. Paul, Daniel, and JJ were fine. Mel was fine. Everyone was fine, Janice finally concluded, then winced guiltily at Mel. Except me.
"There's nothing to be sorry f . . . ," Mel said, then noticed Janice grabbing her pillow and start to climb out of bed. "What do you think you are you doing?"
Janice stopped her exodus, looked at her pillow, then the Southerner, who must be much more tired than she thought.
"There's no need for you to lose sleep, Mel. You've got classes tomorrow and . . . ," Janice started to explain, but saw a furrowed brow, prompting her to quickly add "Now I know you've been losing sleep because of me. I'll just sleep on the couch so you. . . ."
"What do you mean, 'no Janice' ??"
"Do you actually think I'll get any more sleep with you downstairs on the couch?" Mel asked with amazement.
Janice eyed her carefully. Something was telling her the formerly obvious answer of "yes" was wrong. The archeologist sighed heavily, looking at her pillow in her hands. Sure, she always slept better with Mel. But her nightmares were getting worse over the summer and jolting awake like she had been doing lately had to be a royal pain in the . . . .
"Janice. . . ."
"Mel, sweetheart, you shouldn't have to suffer because of my bad dreams," Janice countered, determined to be considerate, damn it.
"The only time I've 'suffered' was the eight years I had to wake up without you by my side!" Mel snapped angrily, surprising the archeologist with her intensity. Mel sighed then admitted softly, "Don't you know? I welcome even the nightmares as long as you're with me."
If only she could promise Mel no more suffering, Janice thought sadly, looking into her lover's eyes. As Janice reached out to cup her cheek, her hand was guided and held against Mel's heart. With a need as fundamental as air, Janice leaned towards her until their lips met. When their tender kiss ended, Mel softly said "Don't leave."
"Never," Janice whispered.
Melinda shut her eyes, feeling relief . . . then guilt for what that promise really meant.
It wouldn't be long before people started to notice that while gray hair and wrinkles graced the Southerner's maturing face, the archeologist remained forever young. What would people say? What were they going to do? Was it fair to expect Janice to stay with her when she was an old woman?
But Janice never talked about it. She avoided talking about it, Mel thought with a heavy sigh, wondering why the person she was most connected to continued to put up so many walls.
"I love you, you know."
"Good," Mel responded, prompting a smile from Janice. "Because I am utterly and hopelessly in love with you," she added.
Janice's smile faded at that honest declaration that was just as true for her. "I wonder whether that is a good or bad thing," she responded, concerning the Southerner with her sudden and rare glimpse of distress.
"I would hope you would think that a good thing, Dr. Covington," Mel challenged, causing a small smile from the archeologist.
"No, I meant the "hopelessly," part," Janice explained, knowing the depth of love they shared would only make a life after Mel that much more difficult. But she forced a grin, refusing to dwell on that inevitably bleak future as she gazed into the Southerner's beautiful eyes, firmly believing the here and now with Melinda Pappas was a gift that should not be wasted.
"Well, though sometimes . . . like now . . . I wonder why," the Southerner said, pleased she drew an easy chuckle from Janice. "It's not like I really have a choice," she explained, squeezing Janice's hand.
"Nor do I, Dr. Pappas," Janice admitted, then shared a long, leisurely kiss.
Mel purred contentedly, then pulled back with a smile that was interrupted by a yawn.
"We should probably . . . , " Janice suggested, then forgot what she was saying when Mel's hand began to gently stroke her arm. "Uh. . . ."
"Sleep?" Mel offered.
"Yeah. Sleep. That's the word," Janice said and glanced at the alarm clock with a furrowed brow. "Morning is coming very soon."
"Lucky morning," Mel said through another yawn.
"Doctor Pappas! The things you say," Janice said indignantly, feigning shock and a Southern accent, poorly.
"You inspire me, Dr. Covington."
"Little ol' me?"
"Oh most definitely you," Mel said, pulling Janice in for a heated kiss which suddenly stopped. "But you're right," Mel declared with a heavy sigh and reluctantly retreated to her side of the bed.
The archeologist blinked as her wide-awake body screamed "Like HELL I am!"
Janice quickly considered that maybe lack of sleep, just this once, might not really affect the Southerner's ability to teach that early morning class of hers - unlike all those other times. Janice's eyebrows furrowed. Being right can be such a pain in the ass.
With the Southerner's silent invitation of open arms, the archeologist grumbled softly and melted into Mel's warm embrace.
Well, this isn't so horrible.
In her embrace, Janice could soak up the warmth and listen to the rhythm of her lover's heartbeat. How she had longed for her partner's arms for all those years, she recalled. So soothing. So protected. So loved.
But I remembered.
She remembered everything - like Mel's smiles, from the ones full of such happiness that made her want to bring the joy rewarded with such a smile, to those infuriating little smirks Mel shared, just before she conceded a point that Janice knew had she won - until Mel conceded like that.
She remembered each and every shade of blue in her lover's beautiful eyes and the variety of tones in her lilting Southern voice. And how they changed with her moods, signaling her displeasure or hopefully more often, her pleasure.
She remembered and ached. And while in the concentration camp, Janice desperately clung to the unlikely hope that she would be with her Southern princess again. What power that hope had, even in the darkest of times.
But what will I do when I am left with no more hope and only distant memories?
Janice shivered as her heart clenched tightly at the frightening thought.
"Janice, I think we need to talk," Mel offered softly and felt Janice suddenly tense in her arms. "But perhaps later, it is late," the Southerner conceded with a heavy sigh. Though receiving a grumbled "yeah," Mel really didn't expect Janice would be willing to talk later either. But Mel wasn't going to give up. They had much to talk about - and they would. She could be just as stubborn as Janice, Mel considered confidently. She was a Southern lady, after all.
Chapter 2 - Morning Glory
Janice cringed as she watched the tired looking, but impeccably dressed Southerner attempt to stifle another yawn at the breakfast table.
"Uh, more coffee?" Janice asked uneasily, glancing between Mel and her empty cup.
"Please," Mel said gratefully, getting a nod from the archeologist, who quickly got up from the breakfast table.
"I'll have a cup," Daniel said with a mouthful of pancakes.
"Don't talk with your mouth full!" The admonishment came from everyone, causing Daniel to roll his eyes. JJ shook his head and drank his milk. Paul sighed and ate his pancakes.
"And you're too young to be drinking coffee," Mel added.
"Uh . . . " Janice said uneasily before Daniel blurted "I'm fifteen! How old do I need to be?!?"
JJ and Paul looked at each other and braced themselves for the eruption.
"Don't you dare speak to Mel like that!" Janice snapped.
Daniel growled and bolted from the kitchen. JJ and Paul looked at each other again then stared at their plates.
"Don't . . . ugh!" Janice angrily slammed the coffee pot down on the stove, making the boys cringe.
"I'll talk to him," Mel offered, placing her napkin on the table and stood.
Janice shook her head. "No, I need to talk to him. You need to get to class."
Mel sighed, glancing at her watch. Janice was right. "But he was upset by my coffee rule."
"Our coffee rule," Janice corrected her.
"Still, it doesn't seem fair to saddle you with. . . ."
"Mel, don't worry about it," Janice said, but noted the concern still on the linguist's face. "Don't you know? I welcome even the arguments," Janice said sincerely.
"I love you, you know," Mel said softly, wishing she hadn't agreed to teaching those summer courses at this particular moment. But she wanted to give Janice and the boys have some space as they got used to life in South Carolina. Though it seemed that Daniel needed more space, having the most difficulty adjusting.
"I love you too," Janice said before the women gently kissed.
"Uggh!" JJ moaned and covered his eyes. Paul chuckled.
"Some day, little man, you'll be wishing you had someone to kiss like that too," Mel sagely said to her seven-year-old son as Janice nodded in whole-hearted agreement.
"Never!" JJ declared. Mel and Janice looked at each other with amusement.
"Never say never," Paul added with a grin.
Mel looked at her watch again, then glanced at Janice guiltily.
"Sweetheart, go to your students. Impart your wisdom on them," Janice proclaimed grandly, making the Southerner shake her head with an amused smile.
"Ugh," JJ said again, placing his hands over his eyes.
As Mel's car drove down the long, gravel driveway, Janice sought out the angry young man. She found Daniel sitting on the ground, leaning against the back of the garage, staring at the clearing behind the house.
He cringed when he heard a heavy sigh and footsteps approach. "I know what you're going to say," he blurted defensively, still looking out at the land.
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers?"
"Huh?" Daniel said as Janice shook her head and sat next to him. "Oh . . . I get it."
"That's my boy," Janice said wryly and nudged him.
"You're not mad at me?" He asked with surprise.
"I wouldn't say that," Janice said bluntly.
"I'm getting fed up with how you treat Mel. You have a right to disagree, Daniel. But I don't ever want to hear you talk to Mel like that again."
"But Muló, you let us have coffee before and now Dr. Pappas says we're too young?!?" Daniel whined, unable to admit he was out of line.
Ah fuck. Janice sighed and nodded. "Look, I'm sorry. But. . . ."
"You're sorry? You're not the one with the stupid rule," Daniel said with venom.
"Mel's stupid rule is my stupid rule," Janice quickly countered with conviction, then cringed. Ah Fuck.
"There are a million new rules! How am I supposed to keep track of them all??" Daniel growled with frustration.
"The first step is listening."
"I listen! But it's like she even has a rule for breathing!"
"Daniel, I know you are feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, but we're a part of a family. We all have to adjust and learn how to compromise," Janice said.
"Yeah. All of us, except her," Daniel snapped and stood.
"Now wait a goddamn minute!" Janice was immediately on her feet, startling the boy when she grabbed his arm, stopping him from storming off. "Mel has had to adjust and compromise just like us - if not more! Her family has suddenly grown from two to five, with three of us bringing more than a few problems. She doesn't have to be, but she is there for us - each of us. She has opened her heart and without a second thought, given us all a good home and . . . "
"We had a good home. With you! And now it's . . . different!" Daniel blurted and stormed out into the woods, wondering why she didn't understand.
Janice's fists clenched as she took a slow, deep breath. She didn't go after him, knowing she'd rather beat the crap out of him than talk at the moment. With a frustrated growl, she walked in the opposite direction.
"Dr. Pappas!" A young woman eagerly called down the hallway to her professor just after class. Two other students almost collided with the distracted young woman, who had suddenly stopped in her tracks in front of the classroom doorway. They rolled their eyes and briskly went around her, muttering "watch it, will ya?"
Miranda's ability with languages put the other students to shame. Unfortunately, her intelligence and her quirky nature made her somewhat of an outcast, Mel considered sympathetically, as she watched the other students, who kept their distance from her. But despite that, the focused student marched on, pursuing what she wanted, Mel thought with admiration. With a warm smile, Melinda turned to see her star student quickly catch up to her.
Unfortunately, paying more attention to the smile than the waxed floor, Miranda slipped. Mel's hand shot out and steadied the student but the stack of books tumbled from Miranda's arms, spilling onto the floor and releasing a half-dozen papers that flew in all directions.
"Oh!" The student growled with frustration, feeling totally inept as she pushed up her glasses and knelt down to hopefully gather her books without causing more embarrassment. "I can't believe what a klutz I am!" Miranda berated herself, shaking her head disgustedly as Dr. Pappas knelt down and helped her student pick up the wayward papers.
"No harm done, Miranda," Melinda said warmly, handing a few papers to the student that reminded her very much of herself as a young girl . . . an eternity ago. "You wanted to discuss something with me?" Melinda asked with an easy smile as they stood.
"Oh, uh, I was wondering if you were going to teach Ancient Greek 201 in the Fall," she said, a bit flustered as she fussed with her books and a blush crept up her neck.
"I thought I informed the class that I was earlier this week," Mel said with surprise, adjusting her glasses.
"Uh . . . right," Miranda responded, looking into curious blue eyes, the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. "You did. Well, I'll be taking it," Miranda said with an enthusiastic smile that quickly melted with uncertainty as her favorite professor looked concerned.
"Well, I think you'll be better suited for Dr. Drakes' graduate-level course. Frankly, your progress this summer has been amazing," Melinda offered, truly impressed.
"Really?" The student beamed at the praise. "Well, uh, just the same, I think I'll stick with my favorite teacher."
"You know I'd love to have you in my class again, Miranda," Mel said, making the student's smile brighten. "But you really shouldn't rule the graduate class out." The student's smile faded.
"Oh. Well, I'll think about it, Dr. Pappas," Miranda agreed, though her mind was already made up.
"Good," Melinda said with a pleased smile.
"I was wondering, uh, if you are free for lunch, um, maybe we could discuss . . . ," Miranda said awkwardly, then spotted the infamous archeologist with a frown.
"Mel? You ready?" Janice called out from the other end of the hallway as she emerged from Mel's office.
Miranda's eyebrows furrowed as a big smile bloomed on Dr. Pappas' face. "I'm sorry Miranda, I have a lunch date with Dr. Covington today," she said happily, watching Janice approach. "Perhaps another time?"
"OK. I look forward to a rain check, Dr. Pappas," Miranda said, standing up straighter. The student noted she had a good three inches over the archeologist, even without heels.
"Hello, Miranda," Janice said with a smile, tipping her hat as she joined them.
"Dr. Covington," Miranda said briskly, with a polite smile for the incredibly impolite archeologist, who didn't have the simple courtesy to remove her dusty hat indoors. Dr. Covington's grating behavior and horrible attire made Miranda wonder what on Earth possessed THE most elegant lady in Columbia, and likely the entire South, to associate with her, let alone be best friends with her.
Sure, she had heard the disturbing rumors - that they were more than "best friends." Everyone knew they lived together and were raising three boys. But Miranda quickly dismissed the rumor as irrational. The war had destroyed so many lives. Broken families made do. So Dr. Pappas was obviously just being a wonderful, charitable friend to the boorish Dr. Covington, who still had that annoying smile on her face, Miranda noticed with irritation.
"Can we go to the Spot today? Christine mentioned Lee has a new dish he wanted to try out," Mel asked her partner.
"Sure," Janice said with a shrug, then eyed the student. "Would you like to join us, Miranda? We could celebrate your last class before finals," Janice said with a warm smile, startling the student. Mel smiled approvingly at the idea.
"Uh, I . . . can't," Miranda said awkwardly and checked her watch, surprising her professor.
"Are you sure?" Mel asked, curious about the change of heart. "We could discuss your last translation. I'm sure Dr. Covington will be as impressed with your work as I am," Mel glanced at Janice, who quickly and wisely plastered on a smile at that less-than-thrilling idea.
I hadn't really thought about dying of boredom. Janice smirked. Wouldn't Mel be really pissed if a student of hers was what finally did me in?
"Uh . . thank you . . . but I, I just remembered, I have to do something," Miranda said with a weak smile, torn between wanting to spend time with Dr. Pappas and getting as far away from that grating archeologist as she could.
"Maybe another time," Janice offered sincerely, pleasing Mel with her efforts to include her best student.
"Uh, perhaps another time," Miranda said tightly, needing to get away from those green eyes that made her so uncomfortable. "Have a good lunch. See you tomorrow, Dr. Pappas," Miranda said and promptly retreated down the hall.
Chapter 3 - 20/20
Mel carefully watched Janice, who closed the door for her, went around the front of the truck, and got in - all while sporting a knowing smirk. She could just sit there and wait for Janice to tell her what she was so amused about, she considered. But that would take a while, she frowned, knowing Janice enjoyed seeing just how long Mel would wait before asking. And Mel wasn't in the mood to wait.
"Well?" Melinda asked with a heavy sigh after Janice started the engine and pulled out into the street.
"Well, what?" Janice said, with that smirk still in place. Mel rolled her eyes.
"Are you going to tell me what that grin is for, or am I supposed to guess?"
"So, are you going to teach Ancient Greek 201 next semester, Dr. Pappas?" Janice repeated the student's question. Her grin got bigger.
Mel's eyebrows furrowed. "You know I am. Why is everyone asking me that?" Mel complained.
"Good GOD, Mel. After all that gushing all summer long, you still don' t see it, do you?" Janice asked with amazement.
Janice chuckled, shaking her head. "When was the last time you had your eyes checked, sweetheart? How many fingers am I holding up?" She said, holding up five, then one, then three, then . . . .
"Janice, I'd appreciate it if you kept your eyes on the road. And for your information, I can see perfectly fine," she said with irritation, pushing her glasses up.
"Uh huh," Janice said, dutifully keeping her eyes on the road as she passed some cars.
"Well, you are beautiful, charming, and pretty damn smart . . . about most things," Janice added with a small chuckle, noting Mel's fingers strumming impatiently on the purse in her lap. "You really can't blame her," she offered with a shrug, glancing over at her increasingly aggravated partner with entirely too much amusement.
"Blame her? Blame who?!?"
"Miranda? Your extremely attentive pet?" Janice said and chuckled at Mel's stunned, then concerned look.
"Janice Covington, Miranda is most certainly not "my pet," she countered indignantly and pushed up her glasses.
"Well, I'm sure she would be, if you asked," Janice interjected helpfully, glancing at her passenger to briefly bat her eyelashes.
"For heaven's sake, Janice. She's only a child."
"Perhaps you should see Dr. LaRosa about your eyes, sweetheart," Janice countered as she passed another car.
"I'm old enough to be her mother!" Mel argued with irritation, absently touching the faint gray streak in her hair.
"And that's supposed to stop her from appreciating a beautiful woman?" Janice asked with surprise as she pulled into a parking space. "You've heard of May-December romances," the archeologist added and turned off the engine and pulled the parking brake. "Although I think in your case, it's really more like April and October . . . but you never hear about April-October romances, do you?" Janice noted curiously, turning to her silent partner, who wondered if Janice would actually consider her beautiful when they were faced with a May-December romance. Then April-December, then March-December, then . . . .
Mel, startled from her depressing thoughts, looked up from the purse in her lap. "What do you think I should do with Miranda?" She asked and cringed, knowing she should have phrased the question better, even as she said it.
"Well, I certainly hope nothing."
Mel sighed heavily and muttered "Why did I ask?"
"I'll tell you what, if she keeps her drooling up. . . ."
"She does not drool, Janice," Mel countered wearily, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"I could have a talk with her. You know, let her know you are taken. . . ."
"I'm sure that won't be. . . ."
". . . quite often, in fact," Janice added, immensely pleased with herself.
"Necessary," Mel finished flatly. Shaking her head, she got out of the truck, electing to ignore her chuckling partner.
"Melinda, Janice!" Christine happily greeted her friends as they entered the Spot. "Lunch for two today?" The hostess-owner asked as the archeologist removed her hat and combed her fingers through her short hair.
"Yeah. And Mel might want something too," Janice said with a smirk, patting her growling belly, drawing looks from two elderly women seated by the entrance. They leaned towards each other, whispering as they continued to cast glances their way, annoying Janice. She expected people to be nosy about them, but it was still irritating as hell when they were so blatant. She had thought polite Southerners were supposed to be discreet.
"Now that's what I like to hear!" Christine said with a big smile as she produced two menus and formally directed her patrons to a quiet table in the back.
Janice pulled out a chair for Mel, who sat with a heavy sigh. Christine looked curiously at Janice, who shook her head, successfully preempting questions from Mel's childhood friend.
"Looks like the place is doing well," Janice said, glancing around the almost-full, modestly sized room. "You still enjoying the restaurant biz?" Janice asked as she sat down and accepted the menus.
"Absolutely! Who knew how much pleasure one can get by providing a fine meal and actually getting paid for it!" The Southern debutante said as she poured them ice water.
"What do you know, satisfaction from an honest days' work," Janice said with amusement, taking a sip of water as Mel quietly looked over the menu.
"Now all I need is to become an honest woman," Christine relayed with a chuckle, immediately getting her friends' undivided attention. The hostess added conspiratorially "I heard from Mrs. Merrick . . . ." Christine discreetly nodded towards the nosy elderly woman by the door, who was caught staring at them and quickly diverted her gaze.
Janice sighed and took another sip of water.
". . . that Miss Thurmond spotted Lee at Grayson's jewelry store, looking at rings - of the wedding variety!" Christine finished with excitement.
Janice coughed when the water went down the wrong way. Smiling weakly at Mel, Janice cleared her throat. "Sorry."
"Two specials?" Christine asked happily and immediately added "Excellent choice" before getting an answer. She scooped up the menus with a big smile and left for the kitchen.
What the hell is the special? Janice wondered, watching Christine disappear into the kitchen with mild concern.
Melinda looked at Janice with amazement. "Wedding rings? Do you think he's actually going to propose?!?" The Southerner asked with quiet excitement as Janice lifted the glass of water to her lips.
"Uh," Janice said, cleared her throat, then carefully put down the glass.
"Would you tell me if he was?" Mel asked with annoyance, striking an unusually raw nerve.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Janice! It's bad enough at home, but must you swear in public?" Mel admonished her, glancing around and spotting a few sets of eyes on them. "It was just a simple question," she added crisply and sipped her chilled water shaking her head wearily.
"Oh no. Nothing is ever simple where you are concerned," Janice responded with irritation.
"I just thought you might know," Mel snapped back then thinly smiled. "Apparently, you don't." Her accusing tone further angered the archeologist.
"For your information, Lee hasn't made his intentions clear to me. And believe it or not, I haven't asked."
"Oh, I can believe it," Mel said testily, her disapproval evident.
"It's his business - not mine. But if you really want me to, I'll whip out the bright light and rubber hose the next time I see him and get some answers for you."
The soft ding of a bell surprised the student, who stopped curiously in front of Miranda's door. Listening a moment, Ellen Cooper heard someone talking. Her eyebrows furrowed. Miranda had told her this morning that she already had lunch plans with her professor and declined her offer. Hearing the talking continue, she stepped closer to the door to try to make out the words, but realized with surprise they were not English. Well, Miranda was a language student, Ellen thought, still wondering who was in there with the student. She hesitantly knocked on the door, letting her intense curiosity win out over her better judgment. Miranda was not one who welcomed unexpected visitors. A lesson Ellen had painfully learned a few nights ago when she decided to drop by and suggest they go to a movie.
With no response, but the disturbing monotone voice, Ellen Cooper became concerned and opened the door. "Miranda?"
"Get out!" Miranda roared as she sprang up from her seat, knocking over a bell from her cluttered desk.
Shit. There were only a few summer students in the dormitory and Ellen was the only one who bothered to try and befriend the reclusive Miranda. Ellen cringed, wondering why she bothered. Her pretty face and great gams, you idiot.
"Geeze, Miranda. I'm sorry," Ellen said almost sincerely as she curiously glanced around the candle-lit room then the cluttered desk and large, book at its center that looked like it had seen better days. No wonder she has glasses, Ellen thought. She should know better than to study by candlelight, Ellen considered with a frown, knowing better than to try and tell Miranda that. "I didn't think it was you," she added lamely.
"Why wouldn't it be me?!? It's my room!" Miranda argued, stepping in front of Ellen's view of her things.
"You told me you were having lunch with Dr. Pappas and I . . ." Ellen countered with irritation.
"Plans have been known to change. If you don't mind, I'm very busy," Miranda said tersely, ushering the student out of the door.
"Fine! But you might want to think about getting some fresh air and sunshine every once in awhile," Ellen snapped, marching into the hallway. "It might improve your lousy. . . " she turned to continue, interrupted by the slamming door and the dead bolt locking.
". . . disposition," she exhaled to the door. "Bitch."
An uncomfortable silence fell at the table as the archeologist and Southerner gazed at each other in confusion.
"Well," Melinda finally said, unsure of what just happened. Of course there were things about Janice that annoyed her, but that didn't explain where that incredibly intense anger came from.
"Yeah," Janice said uneasily, feeling disconcerted at the surprisingly intense anger that had just consumed her.
"I'm sorry," they said in unison with obvious concern, making each feel much better.
"You think something's in the water?" Janice offered softly, lifting the glass and eyeing it suspiciously.
"You're not early, are you?" Janice suddenly asked with a concerned whisper.
Mel's chuckling stopped. "Janice," she said with warning.
"Ok, ok," the archeologist acquiesced with a smirk and sipped her water.
Mel sighed with resignation, knowing Janice's bluntness was a double-edged sword. At times, she was delightfully refreshing and at others . . . incredibly irritating. But that's what made Janice, Janice, Mel considered warmly, fully intending to properly apologize for the angry outburst. Unfortunately, that would have to be later, she considered with a sigh as she watched Janice drinking, focusing on those amazingly kissable lips.
"What? Do I have something in my teeth? I brushed . . . " Janice blurted and grabbed a knife to look at her teeth in it's reflection.
Mel blinked at her tactful lover a moment, then asked "So . . . did you talk with Daniel?"
"Sort of," Janice said, shaking her head. Mel didn't like the sound of that.
"How did it go?"
"Well, I didn't kill him. That's good, right?"
"Did he say what was bothering him?" Mel asked, then got an uncomfortable look. Mel sighed heavily. "It's me, isn't it?"
Janice cringed. "He's . . . he's just frustrated with all the changes. I used to let the boys have coffee and," she said. " I didn't think it mattered and I . . . ah fuck," Janice said with guilty frustration.
"Janice," Mel said softly. "I should have discussed it with you before just laying down the law like that. I, I know I can be overbearing at times," Mel said guiltily.
"What you are is a good influence for them, Mel," Janice quickly countered with conviction. "You can teach them so much more than I can. . . ."
"Janice Covington! I do believe we are going to have another argument," Mel snapped, surprising the archeologist. "You are a wonderful parent! Anyone with half a brain can see that when you are with the boys," Mel declared, ready to put anyone, including Janice, in their place if they dared to argue.
Despite having no hope of ever fitting into Mel's world of Southern aristocrats, despite a shady past of questionable business practices, and despite eight years of hell that left her with more than a few emotional scars, not to mention that small problem of immortality, Mel had stuck by her. And even more miraculous, Mel truly loved her. Janice couldn't help but smile.
"Now that that's cleared up . . . " Mel added with a firm nod, clearly indicating the subject was now closed.
"I do think we need to work on our "united front" a bit more. Besides drinking coffee, is there anything else you let the boys do that I should know about?"
Janice's smile faded.
Chapter 4 - Growing Pains
In search of Daniel, JJ entered the twins' room, which his Mama enthusiastically decorated with identical desks, beds, and bureaus. But though the boys looked identical, the young Pappas quickly learned the twins were not duplicates of each other. Far from it. Daniel was more likely to just blurt out what was on his mind than Paul, which explained why Daniel got in so much more trouble than Paul. And Daniel got a whole lot more annoyed when he was asked questions.
Mama had always said that talking about things helped. But she also had asked him not to ask so many questions of them. So how was he supposed to talk about things if he couldn't ask questions??
"What are you doing?" JJ asked Daniel, wondering why he was wasting a perfectly good day for catch.
"Haven't you ever heard of knocking?!?" Daniel spat and lay back on his bed to stare at the ceiling.
"Daniel?" The seven-year-old asked curiously, bravely approaching the bed.
"WHAT!" Daniel snapped at the boy, making him jump.
"Why are you upset?" JJ asked uneasily.
"I'm upset because people keep bothering me," Daniel snarled loudly.
"Hey, what's going on?" Paul entered the room, having heard his brother's yelling.
"UGH!!" Daniel growled, falling back to his bed as he pulled a pillow over his face.
"Daniel is upset people keep bothering him," JJ explained helpfully as Daniel groaned into his pillow.
Paul eyed his moody brother curiously.
"Do you think it's that time of month?" JJ asked, glancing at Daniel and his pillow.
"You know, when Janice says to steer clear of Mama because it's that time of month."
Paul laughed, making JJ wonder why he was so amused. "Good question. So Daniel, is it?"
Daniel popped up from his bed and glared at the two. "Get. Out. Of. My. ROOM!"
"You know it's my room, too!" Paul said with irritation, surprised at the anger in his brother's eyes.
"Only until Muló builds a room for me!" Daniel growled and got up.
"Like that's going to happen anytime soon," Paul said sarcastically, knowing that for the past two months, Muló and Dr. Pappas were busy trying to get things settled for everyone. It was very unlikely they'd want to disrupt anything by starting a major construction project right now.
"I KNOW!" Daniel said.
"Where are you going?" JJ asked as Daniel marched out of the room.
"Somewhere where I can be alone!"
After a moment, JJ looked up at Paul. "Why does he want to be alone?"
"Sometimes people just feel the need, JJ," Paul said softly, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"How about we go play catch?" Paul said, ushering the young boy from the room.
"Ok," JJ said with a shrug and added "but why do people "just feel the need" to be alone?"
Miranda glanced at her watch for the third time in the past three minutes as she waited on a bench in the tree-lined courtyard at the center of the campus. So focused on watching the entrance of the old red-bricked, administrative building, she didn't notice Ellen until she sat down next to her.
"What's so fascinating about the door?" Ellen asked, glancing between Miranda and the building.
Miranda rolled her eyes. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"
"Nope," Ellen said, sitting back comfortably on the bench. Miranda's glare didn't seem to be noticed by the student.
"Except for the humidity, it's really nice here," Ellen offered, gazing over the old building and the lush green grounds. "Don't have many trees were I'm from," she added, waiting for the inevitable question, that apparently wasn't so inevitable.
Miranda just sighed and looked at her watch.
"So, do you like the food at the cafeteria?" Ellen asked, trying the direct questioning approach to small talk.
"Why?" Miranda asked cautiously.
"Just asking," Ellen said with a shrug and smile. "It's almost dinner time and I thought it might be nice to sit together."
Ellen frowned. "Why not?" At least before when Miranda had declined her offers, she had made an attempt to come up with an excuse. Now she had to justify the simple request, Ellen thought with irritation.
Before Miranda could inform her she had no intention of prolonging this conversational agony, her attention was diverted to the door. The ever immaculately dressed Dr. Pappas finally emerged from the administrative building. Miranda smiled. She just loved that outfit. That navy blue suit with the cream blouse she wore today was Miranda's absolute favorite. It made her amazing eyes stand out even more, she thought with an airy sigh.
Melinda pushed her glasses up and noticed the two students sitting on the nearby bench. Miranda, she thought wearily. A big smile filled the student's face as she stood from the bench and approached, followed by a second student Mel didn't recognize.
"Miranda, what a surprise," Mel said, wondering how she could have been so oblivious to the student's excessive attention, like these "coincidental" meetings outside of class.
"Are you finished preparing the final, Dr. Pappas?" Miranda asked with interest.
"I should hope so. It is tomorrow after all," Mel said dryly, seeing the uneasy look from the sensitive student, who wasn't sure how to respond to sarcasm. "Even you might find it challenging, Miranda," Melinda added with a smile, unable to help feeling a fondness for her best student, despite her unnerving attention.
"I gladly accept the challenge, Dr. Pappas," Miranda said with a relieved smile as Mel glanced over to the student she didn't know.
"I'm sorry, we haven't met. I'm Dr. Pappas," Mel said, holding out her hand with a friendly smile. Miranda gasped with embarrassment for her lapse in manners. Even if it was only Ellen.
"Ellen Cooper," the student said and shook her hand firmly. "I'm in the same dormitory as Miranda," Ellen offered, glancing to the mortified student with a small smile.
"I haven't seen you in the language department yet."
"And you won't," Ellen said quickly at the disagreeable thought, then cringed apologetically at the popular language professor. "Uh, I completed my language requirements before I got here. I'm a transfer student like Miranda," she explained uncomfortably, glancing at Miranda who rolled her eyes. Well at least Ellen's bumbling was making her slight social faux pax inconsequential, she thought.
"So I gather you're not a language major?" Melinda asked dryly, getting a grin from the relieved student.
"No ma'am. Archeology and Paleontology," Ellen said, glancing over at Miranda, who sighed with boredom. "I couldn't make up my mind," she added with a shrug.
Melinda smiled brightly. "Well, it certainly sounds like you have your plate full."
"That's why I'm taking summer classes. I'd like to get out of school sometime before the turn of the century," she said wearily, making Melinda chuckle and Miranda's brow furrow.
"Well, despite your misguided aversion to languages . . . ," Mel said, making Ellen laugh. ". . . your pursuit of a double major is commendable, Ellen," Melinda praised easily, noting how Ellen glanced expectantly at Miranda again. "Don't you think so, Miranda?" Mel prompted.
"Yes. Commendable," Miranda said tightly, as Mel glanced at her watch.
"I'm sorry, ladies, but I've really got to get going or I'll be late for dinner. It was a pleasure meeting you, Ellen," the Southerner said with a warm smile.
"Nice meeting you too, Dr. Pappas."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Miranda," Mel said, gaining a smile from the student. "Good night."
"Good night, Dr. Pappas," Miranda said and watched her professor walk towards her car. Dr. Pappas carries herself with such grace and dignity, she thought with a fond sigh and pushed up her glasses.
"She is as nice as they say," Ellen said with amazement. "And beautiful too, don't you think? Certainly not like any language professor I've ever had," Ellen said with a chuckle. "Nice enough to even make me reconsider taking another language course someday," she added with amusement, looking at Miranda, who glared at her with annoyance. "What?"
With an angry growl, Miranda marched back to her dormitory.
"What?!?" Ellen called out, then sighed with irritation. It was clear Miranda was finished bothering with her for the evening. "So dinner's off?" she added sarcastically.
Miranda entered her room, slamming the door behind her. After a few deep breaths to regain control over her raging emotions, she went to her desk drawer and pulled out a box of matches from the jumbled collection. She struck a match against the box and reverently lit a tall white candle. Like an acolyte in an eerie church of one, she ceremoniously lit the remaining candles about the room.
Grabbing the heavy curtains, she paused a moment to glance down at the courtyard as the lamps lining the brick walkway flickered to life in the twilight. Her eyes lifted to the darkening sky before she shut the curtains, blocking any chance of prying eyes from the dormitory directly across the courtyard.
Retrieving the key on the chain about her neck, she unlocked the weathered wooden trunk at the foot of her bed. With great care, she pulled a worn, leather-bound book from the musty trunk and reverently placed it on the desk. Sitting down, she took a breath of anticipation before carefully opening the aged volume. Excitement coursed through her as she turned the delicate, yellow-tinged pages which offered her something far more precious than mere wealth. It offered a promise of power.
She had just started to uncover the secrets the volume held, having spent many late evenings translating the text. Though the first few pages were missing, which she suspected included the table of contents, she had already translated exactly what she needed for this night. She lay her fingers on the aged parchment that grew warm to the touch, almost like skin. Only then did she begin to realize that the book itself was as important as the words it contained. Though well aware she still had much to learn about the power within, she didn't hesitate to use it.
As she spoke the ancient language and immersed herself in its seductive rhythm, the page pulsed with delicious energy.
"Janice!" Mel called out excitedly as she entered the front door. Her excitement was immediately tempered as a pungent plume of smoke escaped from the kitchen. "Janice?" She called curiously when she heard . . . cheering?
"In the kitchen," Janice yelled back.
"Should I be concerned?" Mel asked cautiously as she entered the kitchen, seeing Janice put a lid on a flaming pan as JJ and Paul clapped and whistled, clearly enjoying the spectacle.
"That was neat. Do it again!" JJ laughed.
"I don't suppose you might want to go out for dinner?" Janice asked Mel nonchalantly as she waved the smoke away and coughed. "The steak's a bit . . . crispy."
"All right! Second time this week!" Paul said happily. JJ announced, "I'm having baklava!!"
With Mel's nod of agreement, Janice turned to the boys. "Go find your brother and tell him we are going out for dinner."
As they darted from the kitchen, Janice sighed and turned back to the stove, scratching the back of her neck, wondering what went wrong. She wasn't that bad at cooking, yet her meals seemed to want to spontaneously combust. The steak wasn't that fatty, was it?
"Christine will be pleased," Melinda said, eyeing the stove as she opened the window further and fanned the lingering smoke outside.
"Anything for my friends, Mel," Janice declared magnanimously as she stared at the traitorous stove with irritation.
"And lately, you've been a truly wonderful friend to Christine and Lee," Mel noted with a grin, getting two indignant eyebrows to shoot up. Mel chuckled and quickly kissed Janice on the lips.
"Welcome home?" Janice said hesitantly, glancing at the stove as Mel smiled and slid her arms around her favorite archeologist.
"I appreciate you trying to make . . . uh, it's the thought . . . um," Mel said uneasily, glancing at the stove with a cringe. Janice rolled her eyes.
"Jesus Christ, Mel. Why not just cut to the chase and say thanks for not burning the house down?" Janice responded dryly and asked "You had news?"
"OH! Yes, I think I know what to do about the Miranda situation," Mel said enthusiastically, then added pointedly "and it doesn't involve you talking to her."
"I really don't think we should have to move, Mel."
Choosing to ignore her partner's sarcasm, Mel elaborated. "The solution is finding someone else for her to focus her attentions on," she announced triumphantly.
"Uh, sweetheart?" Janice said hesitantly as she pulled back, appreciatively glancing over the tall woman's alluring form. "Moving's gonna be a hell of a lot easier."
"Sometimes you say the nicest things, Dr. Covington," Mel said with a happy smile, caressing her partner's arm.
"Shh!" Janice said with a furrowed brow, glancing around as if Mel had just revealed a national secret.
With a small chuckle, Mel continued. "There's this student, an archeology student in fact," the Southerner noted with an amused grin as she brushed some blond bangs off Janice's brow. "I think she fancies Miranda," the tall woman said with enthusiasm.
"Mel, it's never a good idea to play matchmaker . . . especially with people you don't know very well. And students, Mel ?? Two female students???"
"Something tells me you are not entirely enthralled with the idea."
"Sweetheart, there's only so much protection your family name can give us. I don't think it would take much for some members of the board to start butting into our business and causing trouble. All we need is for some narrow-minded bastard to think we're corrupting innocent young girls!"
Mel nodded and sighed heavily. Unfortunately, Janice was right. If they weren't careful, life could become more difficult. As if it wasn't difficult enough already, she considered. She gazed at her partner for a moment then softly chuckled. The surprised archeologist asked "What?"
"You . . . being the cautious one. At one time, you used to think "to hell with them," Mel noted, pushing her glasses up.
"At one time, sweetheart, I had nothing to lose," Janice said with honest concern, startling Mel.
"Janice, if it comes down to a choice between my family or my job . . . !" Mel growled as a defiant fire blazed in her eyes .
"I know, I know," Janice quickly interjected with a smile, squeezing the tall woman's hand. "But I don't want you to ever have to choose, Mel. You've worked damn hard for your position at the University. And I know you love teaching . . . ."
Interrupting and surprising Janice, Mel slipped her hand behind the blond head and pulled her in for a kiss that she poured her heart into. And for all that she gave, she received.
After losing Janice all those years ago, her life, her soul, was torn apart. Left adrift in despair, Melinda somehow managed to find her direction again through motherhood. Yet that joy and the love she received from JJ could not fill the hole left in her heart, which had ached for the one who had loved her unconditionally. The one who made her feel confident and sure. The one who was her soulmate. Then fate gave her another chance with Janice . . . and a family, she thought with amazement, her heart had never felt so full.
When the kiss broke, Janice blinked as they took calming breaths. "Uh . . . would I get another kiss like that if I said "I know you love teaching" again?"
"What have I done to deserve you?" Mel whispered, resting her forehead on the smaller woman's with a contented smile.
"My guess? Something pretty bad. But there's no use dwelling on it. You're stuck with me now."
Mel chuckled as she pulled her lover into a hug. "Well, it could be worse . . . I guess."
"Yeah," Janice responded with a grin, closing her eyes as she rested her head against Mel and basked in the warmth. "You could have some obsessed student lusting after . . . oh. Hmm," she added with amusement, prompting a groan from the tall Southerner.
"So much for my brilliant solution to the Miranda situation."
"I could still talk with . . . " Janice offered helpfully.
"Absolutely not," Mel said bluntly, pulling back to look her sharply in the eye to accentuate her position.
"Well, I'll let you think about it . . . if you're not sure."
Mel's eyes narrowed in answer.
"Ok, ok. But if you change your mind. . . ."
Mel rolled her eyes, then sighed deeply. "I'll think of . . . something," she said distractedly, then noted with concern. "It's just not healthy, Janice."
"Mel, give the kid a break. She obviously has very good taste."
"It's . . . creepy."
Chapter 5 - Going Out
Ellen climbed the stairs in the dormitory, wondering why Miranda was such a bitch. She sighed, having concluded that all the really good-looking ones seemed to be either interested in guys or were royal bitches. Even in the supposedly friendly South. Stomping up the stairs with renewed irritation as she thought about Queen Miranda, she wondered if she should just give up and try dating guys again, but quickly dismissed that thought with a groan. Well, there was always the Fall semester with new faces, she thought with a glimmer of hope.
As she reached the top of the stairs, she paused, feeling a sudden chill. She glanced around the empty stairwell as an odd, disconcerting feeling swirled around her.
It was the longest car ride Daniel ever had. Well, at least it seemed that way, having to listen to JJ and his bestest buddy Paul sing mind-numbing rounds and rounds and rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." And just when he thought he couldn't stand it anymore - Dr. Pappas joined in! At least Muló wasn't singing this time, he considered as consolation. Probably because she was still ticked off at having burnt dinner again, Daniel guessed as he stared out the window. He was surprised that she let it happen again. She really wasn't that bad of a cook. They had survived all those times when it was her turn to cook for their camp. But she was probably too preoccupied thinking about Dr. Pappas. Like usual, he thought shaking his head.
Glancing at the woman of many rules, Daniel saw Dr. Pappas turn and look at him and smile. He sighed and diverted his gaze back to his window.
Janice curiously glanced over to Mel when she stopped singing. The Southern lady produced a weak smile that held a trace of sadness before she stared at the road ahead with a sigh.
"Why, look who's back!" Christine sang happily as the two women and three boys entered the restaurant. "Was Janice cooking again?" The hostess laughed, but quickly stopped, seeing Mel cringe and Janice glare at her. "Oh." Christine smiled weakly.
"I want baklava!" JJ declared.
"Why don't we start with dinner first, Sport?" Janice said, putting her hand on his shoulder, which shrugged agreeably.
"Do you mind if I go see Lee?" Daniel asked Christine suddenly, surprising Melinda and Janice. After a quick exchange of glances with Janice, Christine smiled warmly at the boy.
"No honey, he'd be grateful for the company. But, don't be surprised if he puts you to work. It gets pretty busy at this time of night," the hostess said, getting a smile from the boy.
"No problem," he said happily and darted to the kitchen.
"The usual spot?" Christine asked as she gathered five menus.
"Daniel!" Lee said happily as he strained some noodles.
"Hi, Lee," Daniel said with a smile, entering the warm, steam-filled kitchen.
"Mind washing your hands and bringing two plates over here?" Lee asked, as he quickly moved to stir a gravy on the stove.
"You always this busy?" Daniel asked, eyeing the various pots and pans boiling or simmering as he went to the sink, turned on the water, and picked up the soap.
"Nah. Things will pick up over the weekend," Lee said happily, wiping his hand on the apron wrapped around his waist. Moving to the counter to chop some onions, Lee asked "So how are things?"
"Ok, I guess," Daniel said with a shrug as he dried his hands and retrieved the plates.
"You guess?" Lee said with a laugh, eyeing the boy curiously, knowing Janice had mentioned some problems at home. "Could you get me three medium-size potatoes?"
"Sure," Daniel said, rummaging through the large sack. "Lee?" Daniel asked as he pulled out some potatoes.
"Huh?" Lee said as he went to the stove top and stirred the soup pot. Fanning the aroma toward his discriminating nose, he smiled.
"Is there anything wrong with drinking coffee when you're my age?" Daniel blurted, immediately alerting Lee.
"Other than stunting your growth?" Lee mentioned with a small chuckle, watching Daniel's eyebrows furrow with surprise at the answer.
After a moment, the boy asked "What if I don't want to get any taller? I'm already two inches taller than Muló now."
"Uh . . . have you discussed this with her?"
Daniel rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "Like she'll disagree with whatever Dr. Pappas says."
Christine came into the kitchen and grinned at Lee, who had Daniel chopping vegetables. "Lee, you can't keep him slaving away back here. Daniel's missed at the table."
"Yeah, right," Daniel responded, causing Lee to glance up at Christine with surprise.
"Well, you are. And you should be happy to know you have a very thoughtful brother. He ordered for you," Christine said, withholding a grin as she handed over the order slip to Lee and asked "Do we have any more liver, Lee?"
"What?!?" Daniel blurted with disgust.
"Daniel?" Janice poked her head in the kitchen. "You planning to join us any time soon?"
"I hate liver and I hate being told what to do!" Daniel snarled, storming out the kitchen door to the alley, letting the door slam behind him.
Janice shut her eyes, trying to contain her anger.
"I'm sorry about the liver joke," Christine said uneasily. "I didn't see that coming," she said guiltily.
"Join the club. He's been like this for . . . since we came here," Janice said wearily, eyeing the door Daniel departed through.
"Maybe he just needs a girlfriend," Christine suggested helpfully, gaining incredulous stares. "What?!? Fine, I'll go serve our famished customers," she said with a heavy sigh, picking up two plates and leaving the kitchen.
"We need that like a hole in the head," Janice muttered, shaking her head. She glanced at the back door wanting Daniel to cool off a bit before she yelled at him.
"Yeah. But it's going to happen soon though," Lee said, gaining a reluctant nod from the archeologist. "Then before you know it, you'll be watching them get married."
Janice winced, having no desire to rush things. Before long, she'd watch them have kids, who will get married and have kids, who get married and have kids . . . .
With a sigh, she eyed Lee.
"Speaking of marriage," Janice mentioned quietly, glancing around. "You were spotted at the damn jewelry store, Lee," Janice said with irritation.
"Spotted? But I don't know that many people here. I'm always working," Lee said defensively.
"It doesn't matter! They know you. It's a small, nosy city and if you want to keep your business your business, you've got to be more discreet!" Janice lectured vehemently.
"Muló, it's not like they knew why I was at the store," Lee said with an easy smile, unconcerned.
"Well, maybe not. But it is interesting that just this afternoon, Christine told us that Mrs. Merrick told her that Miss Thurmond saw you looking at wedding rings at Grayson's jewelry store," Janice said and crossed her arms with a raised brow. His eyes widened with surprise.
"But . . . I . . . I," he sputtered, then exhaled heavily shaking his head.
"They're everywhere, Lee. Gossipy Southerners. They're worse than . . . ."
When Christine came back in the kitchen, the two were suddenly quiet and stared at her with big smiles.
"So . . . who do you think will win the pennant this year?" Janice suddenly asked her Czechoslovakian friend.
"Pennant??" Lee asked in confusion, looking at Janice, who rolled her eyes.
"Are you ok, Lee?" She asked the pale-looking man, whose eyes darted around nervously.
"Sure," he said with a forced chuckle. "Why wouldn't I be all right?"
"Daniel?" Janice called out as she walked out the kitchen, into the alley. She quickly realized Daniel was not there. She walked around front of the restaurant, looking up and down the street with concern and a large dose of irritation.
"Janice?" Mel said with concern as she emerged from the restaurant entrance. "Where's Daniel?" She asked, glancing around for the missing boy.
"Good question," she said tightly.
Mel nodded. "I'll round up the boys and we'll . . . "
"No," Janice interjected, surprising Mel.
"Shouldn't we . . . ?"
"No, Mel. We should have dinner. He's a resourceful kid. He'll be ok," Janice said and walked to the front door. "At least until I find him," she added flatly, opening the door for the hesitant Southerner.
After glancing around one last time, Mel reluctantly nodded and entered the restaurant.
The drive home was painfully quiet. The two boys preoccupied themselves by staring out their windows, not wanting to further annoy the two women. Mel glanced over at Janice, who was withdrawn, likely blaming herself for not having done something to prevent this disastrous evening, Mel guessed.
"Janice, it will be all right," Mel said softly. "You'll see."
Janice glanced over at the Southerner, obviously unconvinced.
As the car turned into their long driveway, Janice and Mel immediately spotted a light in the twin's bedroom window and sighed with relief.
As they entered the house, Paul immediately went to the linen closet and got a pillow and a blanket.
"What are you doing?" Janice asked.
"Daniel needs space? I have no problem giving it to him," Paul said evenly.
Janice opened her mouth to say something, but changed her mind, just exhaling and nodding sadly. With a heavy sigh, she headed for the kitchen. Finding nothing out of place, she pulled a plate from the cupboard.
"Why don't you sit? I'll make you a sandwich," Mel offered softly as she entered the kitchen, seeing Janice place two pieces of bread on the plate. She was pleased. Janice had hardly touched her dinner.
"This is for Daniel," Janice said, pulling a jar of peanut butter from the pantry. "I promised myself . . . " she said and sighed uneasily. "He's gone to bed hungry too many times in his life, but never when I was around," she said tightly, clenching the knife before roughly scooping out some peanut butter. "That's not going to change just because he's being an ass," she added, struggling not to mutilate the bread. Looking at Mel, the archeologist hesitantly asked. "Could you . . . ?"
"Yes," Mel said immediately, getting a mildly amused glance from the archeologist.
"You know, Dr. Pappas, if I were in a better mood, you'd be in big trouble right now," Janice joked weakly, getting a kiss on her temple from the tall woman.
"For you, Dr. Covington, the answer will always be yes," she said softly, then silently retrieved a glass and filled it with milk.
The light rapping on the door surprised Daniel, who anticipated the archeologist to storm into his room and read him the riot act. He sat up in his bed with a cringe, waiting for the door to burst open at any moment. He knew Muló liked to keep him on his toes.
His eyes widened with alarm hearing Dr. Pappas' voice. She didn't wait for a response before opening the door and entering with a tray of food. Her face was unreadable which concerned Daniel. With Muló, he always knew how angry she was.
"Y. . .You made that?" He asked uneasily as she came towards him, wondering why she would bring him food.
"No. Janice did. I was perfectly content to let you miss dinner after your little disappearing act. But I'm helping Janice keep a promise, which is my promise now," Mel said, placing the tray down on the night stand. "You won't go to bed hungry while we are around. Though I think you knew that promise already, didn't you?"
He couldn't look into her eyes, which seemed to be able to see things he didn't want her to see. "W . . . Why didn't Muló bring it?" Daniel asked nervously, looking at the tray.
"She was afraid she might hit you, which would have broken another promise she made. Though, I have to say, I have not yet adopted that particular promise. I think there are some occasions where physical forms of punishment are entirely appropriate," Mel smiled coldly at him, causing his eyes to widen with concern. "You scared us today, Daniel. I hope you don't make this a habit. Janice does not deserve this," Melinda said evenly and walked to the door. She paused and looked between him and his sandwich. "Do you have any idea how much she loves you?"
Unable to bear the intensity of her gaze, his eyes dropped. She sighed with disappointment and shook her head. As she closed the door, she heard words not meant for her ears.
"Yeah. Not as much as she loves you."
Melinda entered their bedroom and sought the archeologist, who was in their bathroom, absently brushing her hair as she stared at the mirror, deep in thought.
"Janice?" Mel came up behind the smaller woman. Gently laying a hand on Janice's, she took the brush. Janice's eyes dropped to the sink with a heavy sigh as Mel put the brush down.
"I think I know what's bothering him," Mel said softly and slipped her arms around the archeologist, pulling her against her chest. Their eyes met in the mirror.
"He doesn't like being told what to do and can't take a joke about liver?" Janice exhaled wearily, getting a kiss on her temple.
"He's feeling a bit jealous, Janice," Mel explained softly in the archeologist's ear.
"But I treat all the boys the same," Janice said defensively, turning to face Mel. "Don't I?" She asked with concern.
Mel smiled softly. "Yes, Janice. But I think he feels you love him less . . . because you love me so much."
"He said that?!?" Janice said with surprise.
"Not in so many words. . . . "
Janice shook her head in amazement and went into their room and paced. "Why the hell does he feel that?!?" She finally blurted, nonplused. "I've yelled at him, sure," she offered, then shook her head in confusion and quickly countered "But no more than when we were in Europe. In fact, I've yelled at him less since we got here!"
Mel pushed her glasses up and sat on the bed, watching Janice continue to pace and shake her head.
"When was the last time you did something with the boys?" Mel asked softly, causing Janice to stop in her tracks and look at her like she had two heads.
"You know we just went to the movies. And we go out to dinner, like tonight, or to your grandparents' house, like we'll do tomorrow night. And . . . ." Janice rattled off.
Mel took a breath then interrupted. "No, I mean just you and the boys."
"We went to the junk yard for a heater for Robert and Ruby, helped Larry with his roof, fixed our driveway," Janice responded, still looking at her like she had two heads.
"Nooooo," Mel said slowly. "Without Robert, Larry, or JJ. Janice, they were used to having some time with you alone. Now they are suddenly having to share you with many people."
Comprehension finally filled Janice's face.
"I, I didn't think . . . ," Janice said, feeling like a fool for not realizing Daniel, and likely Paul too, might need more of her attention. "Aw shit!" she said with disgust. "I'm such a fucking . . . ."
"Oh no you don't," Mel said, getting up from the bed, marching to the archeologist, and placing a firm hand on her shoulder. "Don't you dare start beating yourself up. It's a bad habit of yours, Janice. And frankly, I am tired of it."
"But . . . "
"It's not the end of the world," Mel argued.
"But . . . "
"You didn't see it before and now you do. Now you can do something about it," Melinda said with a challenge in her eyes, daring Janice to argue.
"But. . . ."
"No guilt allowed, Janice," Mel said with finality as she crossed her arms over her chest signaling the discussion was over.
"But . . . "
"But . . . "
"Janice," Mel growled, then saw the mischievous twinkle in Janice's eyes. Mel sighed. Sometimes Janice derived amusement out of the oddest things.
"But . . . " Janice said once again, prompting weary blue eyes to roll. The archeologist grinned. "You are one bossy woman, Dr. Pappas. Has anyone ever told you that?"
A dark eyebrow rose as long fingers strummed lightly against her forearm.
"I know you love teaching?" Janice offered innocently, her eyebrows waggled expectantly.
With a belabored sigh, Mel grabbed her hand and pulled her very happy companion towards the bed. "It's a good thing I love you."
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