Chapter 6 - Time
The room was quiet, except for the unusually loud tick of the wall clock, occasional paper shuffling, pencil scribbling, and the frequent, frustrated exhales from the students as they took Dr. Pappas' final exam.
Mel looked up from the stack of homework assignments she was grading to the clock. "Ten minutes," she announced loudly, causing a few students to jump and more than a few groans. Pushing her glasses up, she grinned without guilt.
They needed to be challenged to grow, Melinda thought with conviction. Why shouldn't she find great pleasure in helping her students in that growing process? Stifling a yawn, she glanced around the room and found Miranda looking directly at her. After giving the young woman a polite smile that produced a big smile in return, Mel cleared her throat and went back to grading the assignments.
It was always interesting to see what the students selected when given the choice of what to translate back into Ancient Greek, she considered. Eric Henderson chose a passage from the Farmer's Almanac on planting crops. She shook her head and with amusement as she pulled out the next paper - Miranda's.
The handwriting was very neat, as was the case in all of Miranda's assignments, Mel noted with appreciation. Even after repeated warnings of bad grades, many students still had horrible writing, making her feel guilty if she didn't devote some time to deciphering the students' writing before giving a bad grade.
Reading the first few lines of Greek, Mel's eyes widened.
"Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach . . . ."
Looking up, she found Miranda looking right at her with an unnerving smile on her face. Dear Lord. Maybe I should let Janice talk to her, Mel seriously considered as a paper airplane sailed in front of her, over the length of the desk, and landed precariously close to the edge. Startled, she glanced towards the door to find Janice, who waggled her eyebrows with a satisfied smirk before quickly disappearing. Withholding a grin, Mel looked back to her class. Among the amused smiles of the students that actually noticed, was a lone, disapproving frown.
Perhaps having Janice talk to her is not such a good idea, Mel reconsidered with a sigh. Her eyes dropped from Miranda to the carefully folded airplane. Picking up the plane, Mel read the wing and smiled.
"Carpe Diem Airlines."
"Dr. Covington!" Dan Dyer said cheerfully as the archeologist walked into the administrative office and to the wall of mailboxes behind the front desk.
"Hi Dan," Janice said as she checked Mel's mailbox then hers.
The older secretary, who just finished distributing the mail, glanced over at the archeologist, who was determined to dress in what looked like Salvation Army rejects. Surely Dr. Pappas and she could afford more decent attire for her, she considered, shaking her silver-haired head with silent disapproval.
Janice tipped her hat and winked at her, getting a startled look then a "harumpf" from the older woman before she retreated to her desk, mumbling "Northerners." The archeologist smirked with satisfaction and pulled out a stack of paper from her box. She eyed it with irritation then looked in other boxes, which didn't have as much paper. She frowned.
"Are you ready for the fall semester?" The older professor asked his intriguing friend, who made him smile every time he saw her. Everyone had thought she was dead. Yet, miraculously, Janice had somehow survived being shot and taken to Birkenau. Somehow, she endured the horrors of a concentration camp to triumphantly return home with Melinda and those boys. Simply amazing, he considered, remembering the whirlwind of excitement and gossip when she returned. But somehow that fit the unusual young woman, who still looked untouched by the years or the war, he considered fondly. "Almost," he amended, because of what he saw in her eyes. The war had touched her, he thought sadly.
"I'm ready as I'll ever be," Janice said with a shrug as she sifted through the pile with a furrowed brow. She really hated the bureaucratic crap that went along with teaching. They had memos for everything, except for wiping your ass, she thought, but expected it was only a matter of time before she got one for that too. "But it has been a while," she added wearily, curiously pulling out the only thing that looked interesting in the large pile - the list of students attending her first class in over eight years.
"Well, I'm sure you'll have no trouble getting back into the swing of things," he said enthusiastically, having always been a staunch supporter of the archeologist, despite her 'unusual' background and mannerisms. But she was exactly what the department needed, he believed, having had many arguments with the University President when he first proposed the idea over eight years ago.
When she came back, no one argued about her returning to the University. No one dared, he considered with amusement, knowing arguments would not have been well received by a certain tall professor, the formidable Pappas family, nor local veterans, who knew about the camps and considered her part of their "club," despite her never serving in uniform.
"Hmmm," Janice responded vaguely and looked at the size of her class with a narrow eyes. "Dan? Why the hell do I have forty five students in my first class?" She said, causing the offended secretary to wince with annoyance. Janice handed him the list, which he glanced over. "How can I give them all the attention they'll need? It will be a Goddamned circus!"
"Dr. Covington!" The secretary said indignantly.
"Sorry, Mrs. Kipler," she said with a sigh, causing the older woman to roll her eyes, unconvinced of the archeologist's sincerity.
"Forty four," Dr. Dyer corrected Janice, handing back the paper.
"It's forty five," she argued, helpfully tapping to the last name on the list which was numbered forty five.
"Cooper won't be in your class," he informed her somberly.
"Time," Mel announced loudly, startling the students again and prompting a few last groans. "And so the semester ends," she declared grandly as she stood. "Grades will be posted early next week. Enjoy your weekend," she added with a smile.
A lively murmur filled the room while the students gathered their belongings and dropped off their tests on the corner of her desk before leaving. One student placed his paper down and looked up at the tall professor. "You don't happen to like chocolates do you?" Mel frowned. "Perfume? Roses?"
"Eric," she interjected with disappointed sigh. "Bribery is rather unbecoming," she scolded him. Seeing him waiting for an answer, she rolled her eyes and clarified "And it's not going to work either." With a dejected nod and sigh, he shuffled out of the classroom.
The last student to leave was Miranda. Of course, Mel sighed.
"You were right," Miranda said, placing her paper down on the desk, and patted it.
"I was?" Mel said, suddenly uncomfortable. It seemed as though a . . . primal . . . energy was radiating from the suddenly confident young woman. Mel cleared her throat and pushed up her glasses.
"Yes," the student said. "It was challenging," Miranda smiled and took a step closer to Mel.
"Well, I. . . I thought it would be," Mel responded with an uneasy smile, stepping back and bumping into the chair. "Even for you," she added with a weak laugh. Was it getting warm in there? Mel wondered, fingering at her collar. I should tell her . . . what? You're standing too close? I'm . . . uncomfortable?
"You should know . . . I love a good challenge," Miranda informed her and took another step towards her.
Mel smiled weakly and pushed her glasses up again as she took another step back. Dear Lord, I really should say something but . . . I . . . I . . . . Mel looked at the bold student with concern, finding she couldn't look away.
"Janice!" The Southerner gushed with relief and quickly joined her partner's side.
Miranda wanted to scream as her hands balled into fists.
"You ok?" Janice asked softly, noting Mel's flushed complexion. Placing a gentle hand on the tall woman's back, Janice glanced to the suddenly tense student. Miranda was apparently disturbed by the liberty taken, but Janice didn't give a damn. What she did give a damn about was why Mel was so unsettled.
"Fine. Fine," Mel said briskly with a forced smile, wondering why she let herself get so flustered by the student. All she had to do was talk with Miranda and straighten this situation out. She would understand. She is a very intelligent girl, Mel noted. Well, young woman, she corrected herself, glancing at Miranda, who smiled at her. An extremely attractive . . . .
Mel blinked, startled by her disturbing thought, and quickly tore her gaze away from the student and sought Janice, who knew the Southerner was not fine at all.
"Uh . . . did you catch up with Dr. Dyer at the front office?" Mel blurted, focusing on her partner . . . her beacon.
"Yeah. He just told me that one my students got seriously injured last night."
"What happened?" Mel asked with alarm as Miranda winced.
"Apparently, Ellen Cooper fell down a flight of steps in her dormitory. She's now in a coma," Janice said, glancing over to Miranda, whose eyes fell uncomfortably to the floor.
"Dear Lord," Mel exhaled with shock. "Miranda, isn't Ellen in your dormitory?"
"Yes. She was," Miranda offered with a heavy sigh.
"It will be all right, Miranda. You'll see," Mel said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sure you're right, Dr. Pappas," Miranda said softly with a small smile, glancing at the hand, then into concerned blue eyes.
The two women walked out to Janice's truck. "Hospital?" Janice asked through the passenger's window as she closed Mel's door. Mel nodded sluggishly.
As the archeologist turned on the ignition, Mel shook her head. "I know there's nothing we can do . . . " she said, trailing off with a heavy sigh.
"Maybe not. But some say that people in comas can hear you. Couldn't hurt," Janice said, getting another nod from the preoccupied Southerner.
"Janice? How could Ellen just fall down steps??" Mel said and hesitantly added "Do you think she was drinking?"
"Dan didn't mention that," Janice said as she turned the corner. "It's possible," she added with a shrug. "She wouldn't be the first college student to have had one too many," she offered, having plenty of personal experience to draw on. She also had heard of occasional tragic accident and even personally knew a student who died in a car wreck.
"And a coma . . . ." Mel said sadly and shuddered, staring out at the street, distressed at the girl's condition.
"You know, now might not be a good time to go away with the boys," Janice offered, looking over to her partner sympathetically.
"Oh Janice, you don't need to change your plans with the boys just to stay with me," Mel said with concern, though she would feel much better if her lover did just that. Around Janice, she felt grounded and safe, no matter the danger around them. Danger? She thought with surprise, then quickly dismissed the silly, unfounded thought. It was obvious she was letting her over-active imagination get to her, she thought.
"I know. But I can go away with the boys another time," Janice countered easily.
"No Janice," Mel blurted. "You really need to spend time with the twins. And you just told them you'd go to Grandfather's cabin with them. They seemed so excited. You can't back out now."
"Guess the honeymoon is over. Trying to get rid of me already, huh?" Janice joked.
"Not at all. I just know I have to share you," Mel responded softly with a smile, gently patting the archeologist's knee.
Janice smiled as she slowed to a stop at the red light. Mel was right. She needed to spend time with the twins. They were definitely excited about the cabin idea. Especially Daniel, whose mood improved considerably during breakfast. He even made a concerted effort to be pleasant towards Mel. Of course, JJ wasn't thrilled about being left behind, until Mel mentioned what fun the two of them could have while Janice and the boys were away. Juggling quality time with her family was turning out to be harder than she expected, Janice considered, grateful for Mel's help.
"Well, I certainly hope you don't expect me to share you," Janice joked, making Mel eye her curiously. "Didn't Miranda seem a bit more . . . forward today?" Something about that student today just put her on edge. Perhaps it was catching Miranda's brief, but clearly possessive look towards Mel. Good taste or not, the kid was becoming irritating as hell, she thought. Thank God I'm not the jealous type . . . .
"Good Lord, yes," Mel moaned wearily, relieved she wasn't just imagining it. "Do you believe her last assignment was a translation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Let Me Count the Ways?"
. . . Much. "Let me count the ways," Janice muttered, shaking her head with a snort as she passed another car.
"I gather you're not a fan of Miss Browning's poetry," Melinda said flatly as she pushed up her glasses, a bit defensive of the poet, who happened to be one of her favorites.
"I have nothing against Miss Browning or her poetry. I just don't care for poetry. And unlike your young admirer, I'm not the type to espouse it, sweetheart," the archeologist said apologetically.
"I'm not asking you to, Janice. But how do you really know you don't like poetry? Perhaps if you studied it, you'd better appreciate what the poet is attempting to say and how they say it. Their words might resonate with you and your feelings," Melinda suggested enthusiastically, wanting to share something with Janice that meant a lot to her.
"I don't need a poet's words to "resonate" with me, Mel. I know how I feel. And it's not going to change because of a few catchy words neatly aligned on a page," Janice explained.
Mel sighed heavily at the archeologist's gross simplification of poetry. When Janice had made her mind up, it was nearly impossible to change it, she considered, wishing the stubborn archeologist would give poetry another try. She is the descendant of a bard for Heaven's sake, Mel thought with frustration.
"And I don't care if Miss Browning writes about a million ways to love, I'm still only going to be able to love you one way - because it's the only way I can," Janice relayed with conviction and glanced at the curious Southerner. "And that's completely, Mel . . . ," she explained.
How was it, that the archeologist could thoroughly frustrate her one moment, then completely melt her heart in the next? Mel sighed contentedly, continually charmed by this surprising woman, who despite her aversion to poetry, had a way with words.
". . . warts and all. But that doesn't have quite the same ring as all that flowery stuff, does it?" She shrugged with an apologetic grimace as she drove past a few cars.
"No, it doesn't," the Southerner admitted softly, making Janice sigh with a nod. "The ring of truth is far more pleasing," Mel declared warmly, rewarding the relieved archeologist with a beautiful smile that was happily returned.
In the companionable silence, Mel's eyes returned to the road as she sighed with contentment. After a moment, her eyes darted back to the archeologist and narrowed. "What warts?"
Chapter 7 - Important Words
Standing in front of the student's hospital room, Mel sighed uneasily. "She's so young," she said somberly, recalling her recent introduction to the ambitious and very pleasant student.
Janice nodded. "Bad things happen, Mel. Even to kids."
Mel looked at her partner, who had witnessed more than her share of bad things. Many of which had involved children. The Southerner wondered where Janice found the strength to keep going after all she had seen and endured.
"What?" Janice asked softly, noting her partner's odd look.
Mel shook her head with a small smile, dismissing the questions that plagued her. Now was not the place or time.
"Are you sure you are up to this?" Janice asked with concern, gently squeezing her elbow.
Always wanting to protect me, Mel though warmly. "I love you," she said softly, making Janice smile.
"Three of my six favorite words," Janice announced, surprising Mel, who didn't know the archeologist had six favorite words. Though she'd have to admit "I love you" were also among her favorites too.
"And what, pray tell, are the others?" She asked with amusement.
Janice looked up and down the hospital hallway, prompting the curious Southerner to do the same. Seeing no one near, Janice opened her mouth to speak but smirked and just opened the door for the Southern lady.
Mel didn't budge, except for an eyebrow, which rose.
"Later," Janice promised vaguely. The archeologist's gaze indicated that later was perhaps the right choice, Mel concluded with a weak smile as she entered the room, her mind racing at the possibilities.
As they entered the room, Melinda was startled to see a priest by the young woman's bedside, crossing himself.
"Father O'Brien. She's not . . . ," Melinda gasped, fearing the worst.
"Oh no, Dr. Pappas," he quickly reassured the tall woman with a smile. "I'm just visiting the child and saying a few prayers for her." He left the bedside to join the prominent Southerner by the door.
"Thank the Lord," Mel exhaled with relief and watched her partner go directly to the student's bedside, without a word or glance to the Priest, who frowned, not used to being ignored.
"Is Ellen Cooper a student of yours?" He asked Mel, who shook her head.
"No, I just met her recently. She was," Mel quickly corrected herself. "Is . . . going to be in Janice's class in the Fall." He nodded, glancing over at the archeologist, who was at the bedside of the unconscious student and softly talking with her.
"I had heard that Dr. Covington was raised Catholic," he said softly. "But I haven't seen her at Mass since she's moved here." The priest looked at her curiously.
Mel smiled politely. "She's not a practicing Catholic."
"So even though I'm a bit rusty at teaching, I don't think I'll be that bad," Janice said softly to Ellen, whose complexion was deathly pale. "Now, I'm not going to lie to you, there will be some hard work involved. Archeology isn't an easy job. But I really think you'll have fun. And when you get back on your feet, I can help you make up what you've missed. The other teachers will help too. And if any of them are being asses about pitching in, I'll talk to them for you. Dr. Pappas will help too. All you need to do for now is just get better. Deal?"
"Oh. She has been lured to the Baptist church, huh?" He joked with a warm smile for the Southern Baptist.
Mel almost chuckled and pushed up her glasses. "No, Father. I'm afraid she's not very interested in the Baptist church either," she informed him politely, fully aware of the archeologist's aversion to spending any time in any church.
"I see," he said with concern. "Perhaps I could interest her in attending a Mass," he suggested, glancing back to the archeologist hopefully.
"Father. You could try, but she will not appreciate your recruiting efforts," Mel said firmly, startling the man. "She's never been one for religion," she offered with a polite smile, though during intense intimate moments, Janice had been known to call out GOD.
"She does believe in GOD, doesn't she?" He asked with great concern, irritating the Southern Baptist with his superior tone.
"Father," Melinda snapped, then forced herself to remain polite to the man of the cloth. "Dr. Covington's relationship with GOD is between Dr. Covington and GOD. If you'll excuse me?" Melinda said crisply and joined her partner by the student's bedside.
The priest felt compelled to apologize to the upset Southern lady but from her suddenly cold demeanor, knew it would not be well received at the moment. He shook his head with a sigh and left the room.
"You don't look happy," Janice said, glancing between her tall partner and the door.
"He wanted you to go to Mass," Melinda said with a sigh, glancing sadly at the pale student.
"And you told him it wasn't my cup of tea?"
"I'm sorry he cornered you, sweetheart."
"It's ok. But something tells me he's not going to give up on recruiting you."
"Perhaps I should explain that he's wasting time trying to save a soul that's not going anywhere," Janice joked awkwardly, making Mel's brow furrow. "Yeah, I know, I know. Keep your day job Covington," she added with a heavy sigh.
"Thankfully, you teach much better than you tell jokes," Mel mentioned stiffly. Pushing up her glasses, she eyed the motionless student. "Which is good for you, Ellen. You should get better soon or miss out on a great class."
"She knows, sweetheart. I've already told her," Janice said with a grin.
"I see. How about help with making up work? We are ready to help however we can, Ellen," Mel said to the student.
"Yup. Told her that too."
"I see. Well, Ellen, I don't have much to add since Dr. Covington seems to have covered everything. Except we all hope you get back to school soon," she said with a firm nod.
"Uh. . . ."
Mel's eyes rolled. "Of course, you did."
As they left the hospital room, Janice glanced down the hospital corridor and spotted a young man in an ill-fitting suit. Something about him seemed creepy, and it wasn't just his suit.
"Janice? Do you really think she'll . . . Janice?" Mel asked, curious why Janice was staring down the hallway.
"Huh?" Janice said, breaking her gaze away from the young man to the much more pleasant looking woman.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," Janice said distractedly, glancing back down the hallway which was now empty. "Ready to go home?"
Melinda nodded with a smile. As they walked down the hall together, Mel suddenly stopped. Janice turned and looked at Mel curiously.
"Is 'home' one?"
It took a moment for Janice to understand the question. "Uh . . . actually, I think I have seven favorite words now," she said with a grin, getting an unsatisfied grimace from her tall partner.
Chapter 8 - A Family Dinner
Janice drove Mel's sedan up the long tree-lined driveway to the Pappas mansion, stealing glimpses of Mel's happy smile. She knew Mel really enjoyed these family visits. Family meant so much to the tall Southerner. At first, Janice thought family dinners at the Pappas mansion were about as much fun as pouring acid in her eyes. But that was a long time ago, before the truce with Mrs. Pappas and Ruby. Now, she even looked forward to it. That, and Mel's happy smile, which faded when Daniel spoke up.
"I hope it isn't meatloaf this time," Daniel declared with a scowl.
Mel's eyebrows furrowed.
"It was good," Paul argued.
"It gave me gas," Daniel complained.
Mel held her tongue, knowing full well Daniel was not receptive and down right hostile at times towards her comments regarding proper behavior. Not wanting to ruin the cheerful mood, Mel glanced at Janice, willing her to say something. But Janice didn't see her imploring gaze.
"Oh. Yeah," Paul recalled and frowned. JJ giggled.
"Guys," Janice snapped with an incredulous look, eyeing the boys in the rearview mirror. "You know how I've told you to speak your mind? Well, I've changed my mind."
Mel sighed with relief, happy Janice was handling this. She knew she had a tendency to immediately jump in to correct them. But she just wanted the boys, who had spent most of their tragic youth fearing for their lives, to have every chance at success that other American teenagers had. She knew they still had many hurdles to overcome, many she couldn't possibly help with. But where she could, like with proper etiquette, she had been determined to try. But despite her best intentions, she seemed to only fuel Daniel's animosity towards her.
"But it's the truth," Daniel blurted defensively, glancing at Janice then Mel, who bit her bottom lip as she glanced at her nails with forced interest.
Paul nodded with a cringe, remembering the odoriferous consequences of the Pappas' housekeeper's tasty meatloaf.
"Yeah," JJ chimed in and added with a giggle "He was letting them rip." Before Mel could say anything, he put his forearm up to his lips and blew, making a small fart sound. Mel eyed her son with stunned surprise, wondering which one of them had taught him that particular "skill."
"JJ," Janice scolded, rather uncomfortably. Mel's eyebrow rose suspiciously.
"You forgot to wet the arm first," Daniel said helpfully and demonstrated, loudly. Prompting Paul and JJ, who were not to be out-done, to lick their arms and join in the windy competition that was only interrupted by gales of laughter.
Mel bit her cheek and glared at Janice to say something.
"Guys, cut it out," Janice said with irritation. The tense lines in Mel's face relaxed a bit.
"Cut it," Paul repeated firmly, making them laugh harder.
"Cut what?" JJ asked, giggling.
Janice rolled her eyes as she pulled up in front of the mansion. Mel took a deep breath. One, two . . . .
"The Cheese!" Daniel responded, causing the boys to burst into more laughter and continue their gusty chorus.
As Janice opened her mouth to get them to quiet down, Mel finally snapped. "Boys! Please. Stop that right now," she said crisply, finally getting them to stop the gusty noise. The boys all lowered their arms with dejected sighs.
"Although your abilities are rather . . . impressive, they are not always appreciated. Like now," Mel added with a glare, making them frown.
"Yeah, guys. I don't think the Colonel, Mrs. Pappas, or especially Ruby, would appreciate it," Janice interjected as she and the boys got out of the car.
The suffocating Southern woman was making Muló a stick in the mud too, Daniel thought and sighed heavily, watching her go to Mel's door, open it, and help her out.
"Sorry, Mama," JJ said dejectedly, retreating to her skirt as Mel got out of the car. He received a caress on the back of his head and a gentle reminder. "You need to mind your manners, JJ. Just because you're being raised in a barn doesn't mean you have to act like it."
He nodded with a small chuckle. "Yes, Mama."
Daniel looked at JJ and rolled his eyes. Mama's boy.
Janice glanced at the ground and sighed guiltily.
Noticing her partner's body language, Mel knew Janice continued to feel lacking in the parenting area. "Well, on the bright side, the boys seem to have fun together," she whispered to Janice, then announced to the group. "For the sake of our ride home, let's just all hope for some roast chicken, shall we?"
A small smile was successfully extracted from the archeologist, whose spirits could always be buoyed by the tall woman. Paul and JJ chuckled. Daniel just sighed.
"Hello?" Melinda called out as she entered the Pappas mansion, glancing at her watch then around the empty foyer curiously.
She watched fondly as the three boys and Janice entered the mansion right behind her. She smiled at the simple pleasure of visiting her grandparents with her family. Even the twins seemed to enjoy the ritual now, she considered happily, recalling how uncomfortable and awkwardly quiet the twins were around everyone when they first arrived in South Carolina. They've come such a long way in such a short time, she thought.
"Miss Melinda! Miss Janice!" The Pappas' long-time housekeeper, Ruby, came into the foyer with a big smile. "Hope ya'll brought your appetites."
"Need a hand in the kitchen, Ruby?" Janice offered, prompting three panicked no's.
Janice eyed the boys, feigning offense, making them even more concerned. Trying not to grin, Mel discreetly raised her hand to her mouth and unnecessarily cleared her throat. And she thinks she's not a good parent, Mel considered with admiration, watching her partner's skilled manipulation.
"No, thank you, Miss Janice. Nothing left for you to do, except giving me your hat," Ruby said sweetly, watching the archeologist nod and remove her hat. The boys sighed with relief.
"So where's Nanna and Poppop??" JJ asked, glancing around curiously.
"Coming! These ancient bones don't get me around as quickly as they used to," the handsome, silver-haired man said as he joined them. William crouched down to get an enthusiastic hug from his young great-grandson.
"You are not ancient, dear," the ever-proper Pappas matriarch said wearily. At 83, Victoria Irene Pappas was still a very striking woman. Almost as tall as Mel, Victoria stood with confidence and grace. A slender-figured woman with perfectly coiffed, silver hair and always meticulously dressed, she was a perfect match for the retired army Colonel, who groaned extra loudly as he stood up.
Janice shook her head with a smile, glancing at Mel, who gazed thoughtfully at her grandparents. Though still active in the community, Mel could see they were slowing down. At least they would experience the burden of aging together, she considered, painfully aware she would not have that luxury. Janice would just watch her grow old and eventually, feeble. Feeling Janice's eyes on her, Mel looked over briefly and attempted a small smile.
"She only says that because she's a year older than I am," he said conspiratorially to the twins, who chuckled. Though the twins were not comfortable with hugging, Janice was thankful the Colonel always made a point of welcoming them too, by a pat on the back or a squeeze of the shoulder.
"William! A lady never discusses her age!" Victoria scolded him.
"I know, dear. That's why I'm doing it for you," the Colonel said innocently and quickly changed the subject "You boys ready to be thoroughly trounced in another game of pool?"
"Hey, we almost won last time!" Daniel argued.
"The operative word is "almost," my boy," the Colonel said with a satisfied smile. "Why don't we see if your 'almost' becomes an actual win this time," he said and marched confidently towards the pool room. The three boys eagerly followed the charismatic older man, all predicting he would be beaten this time. He laughed, intentionally egging them on.
"He's like a kid with them," Melinda chuckled as she watched the "men" leave.
"Yes. He is, isn't he? William will complain about the aches and pains of age but I honestly wonder if I will be able to keep up with him," Victoria said with amusement, fondly looking at the group leave.
"Uh . . . I'll be in the pool room," Janice said uncomfortably, before getting a silent nod from Mel and leaving quickly.
Mel sighed heavily, glancing up at her grandmother, who eyed her questioningly. She attempted a small smile. "She doesn't like to talk about getting older . . . or rather me getting older."
"Let's visit a spell," Victoria said softly, putting her arm around her granddaughter's waist as they walked to the living room.
Miranda entered Ellen's hospital room and slowly approached the unconscious student's bed. She stared at her a long, uneasy moment before finding her voice.
"I didn't mean to hurt you, Ellen," she offered uneasily. "But you got me really mad," she explained. "You shouldn't have talked to Melinda like that. Trying to get in her good graces by bragging about your double major, then turning around and saying you'd like to be in her class because she's beautiful ?? You were gawking at her like she's, she's . . . a piece of meat!" She said angrily, then calmed herself down with a deep breath.
"There is so much more to her than her beauty, Ellen," she lectured. "Most people don't take the time to look beneath the surface. You didn't, did you?" Miranda snapped accusingly, then sighed and walked to the window. After she peeked out the blinds and gazed at the city's lights, she pushed up her glasses and continued. "You get used to it, though. People can be so cruel. They'll shun you if you open your mouth and show your intelligence or that you have an opinion that is unique or different. But Melinda," Miranda continued with a smile. "She took the time to get to know me. And I got to know her. She's sensitive, warm, generous, intelligent - an amazing woman. Someone you couldn't begin to appreciate like I could, Ellen. Melinda and I are . . . kindred spirits."
Miranda smiled warmly as she pulled out a neatly folded handkerchief. Her thumb affectionately stroked the letters, MVP, embroidered in the corner.
Glancing up at the unconscious student, her smile faded. "I'll be going now," she said uncomfortably and walked to the door. "I have a lot of studying to do still," she noted uneasily, then left.
Janice and William drank their beers as they watched Daniel, Paul, and JJ gather the balls from the pockets and rack them loudly.
William pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and discreetly handed it to the archeologist. "Here," he said quietly, watching the boys carefully look over the cue stick as if that was the only factor in winning.
She opened and read the note. "Jesus Christ!" Janice choked.
"You know I told you that I'd . . . . " William offered softly.
"No," Janice interrupted tersely, immediately regretting it. He only wanted to help, she reminded herself. The older man just shrugged it off, understanding the proud woman much better than she realized. "Colonel, thanks, but I'll manage," Janice offered softly, smiling when he nodded in understanding. "I hope you weren't spotted too," she added.
"Spotted? Who was spotted?"
"Lee. By Miss Thurmond at Grayson's, who told Mrs. Merrick, who told. . . ."
"He went to Grayson's?!?"
"Yeah. With the restaurant, he didn't have time to go out of town."
"No wonder he was spotted. You can't just go to Grayson's without all of Columbia knowing," the Colonel said with exasperation. Janice nodded thoughtfully.
"Christine doesn't know, does she?" He suddenly asked with concern. Janice nodded and cringed.
The Colonel grimaced and shook his head. "He shouldn't have gone to Grayson's."
"Well, they did have the best price, so far," Janice said with a shrug.
Chapter 9 - Visiting
"Your brother is in love again," Victoria said flatly. Mel nodded, not surprised. "Another Northerner," Victoria added with a weary sigh, shaking her head as she walked directly to the liquor cabinet.
"Well it is easier to find a Northern girl in Boston, grandmother," Mel offered with amusement as she sat on the couch.
"They talk funny," she declared, making Mel nod indulgently. "I spoke with the young woman's mother on the phone and could hardly tell what she was saying," Victoria offered with amazement. "I kept having to ask her to repeat herself. I'm sure the woman thinks I'm deaf," the older woman complained as she poured two Southern Comforts.
Mel chuckled. "Well they say at earing is the irsting to go," Mel said dryly, getting a sharp, unamused look from her grandmother. "Or was that a sense of humor?" She added innocently. "Wait a minute, why did you call the girl's mother?"
Victoria shook her head, joining her granddaughter. "I didn't. Mrs. Cohen actually called me. I think she was interested in finding out what kind of family Brian came from, not that I can blame her. They're old money Boston," Victoria said with some respect, even if they did talk funny. "Edgar said . . . ," the older woman shared as she handed Mel the drink. "What?" Victoria said, seeing the shocked look.
"You had Edgar investigate the Cohens?" Melinda said with amazement as her grandmother sat in her chair at the head of the coffee table, placing her drink down on a coaster.
"I'm only trying to look out for Brian," Victoria quickly defended her actions, knowing how she had let her prejudices and her lawyer's investigation of Janice, which had dug up a disturbing amount of scandalous information, almost destroy her already strained relationship with Melinda. Thankfully, Janice Covington was nothing like the person that information and her assumptions had her believe. And now, after getting to know Janice and her own granddaughter better, she could honestly say she was thankful Janice was a part of her family.
"You must think this really is serious," Mel said, not dredging up the past unfortunate results of her grandmother's protective actions, much to Victoria's relief.
"Well, yes. He sounds different when he talks about her. But we'll really know if he's serious if we see a ring," Victoria said confidently, then added absently "In any event, I'm relieved she comes from a good family."
Mel rolled her eyes. She thought Victoria had learned with Janice that a person was far more than just their gender, bank book, or social standing . . . though sometimes it seemed that her grandmother tended to forget the hard-learned lesson on social standing. Old habits die hard, Mel considered with a sigh.
"So, how are things with you, dear?" Victoria asked and sipped her drink.
"Fine," Mel said politely.
"Melinda, from the way you've been acting recently, I don't think you are fine," Victoria said conversationally, surprising her granddaughter. "You can talk to me, you know," she added sincerely. "I promise not to be judgmental," she added, getting a skeptical look from her granddaughter. "Well, too judgmental," Victoria amended with a smirk and sipped her drink.
"Grandmother, I have been blessed with so much," Mel said with conviction, before her eyes dropped to her drink in her hand. She pushed up her glasses with an uneasy sigh.
"Don't feel guilty for being unhappy," Victoria said and plowed ahead, quickly cutting off Mel's immediate attempt to protest. "No one is deliriously happy every waking moment, Melinda," Victoria said bluntly, getting an uncomfortable look from her granddaughter. "If you were, dear, you wouldn't be normal. You're just having troubles like everyone el. . . . uh, well, you have troubles. Everyone does."
"The very thing that has given her back to me . . . frightens me so," Mel said softly, then looked at her grandmother. "How does someone grow old with an immortal?" Mel asked timidly, looking so lost, the Pappas Matriarch thought with a troubled heart.
"I wish I could tell you, dear," Victoria said sincerely. "Just remember, have faith. Your love will be tested but it is incredibly strong, Melinda. Don't underestimate it," she added sagely, surprising her granddaughter. "So, what does that archeologist of yours have to say about all this?"
Mel laughed without humor. "Nothing," she said flatly and added "She doesn't like to talk about her "condition." Mel was surprised when Victoria softly chuckled.
"You think this is funny?" Mel looked at her with irritation.
"No dear. It's not that," she added with a grin that faded when she saw her granddaughter's stare.
"Then what is so amusing," Mel asked pointedly.
Victoria smiled uneasily. "Um, well, dear," she said and cleared her throat. "This morning, with the bridge club, Mrs. Merrick had some rather interesting gossip to share. Of course, I told them it was ridiculous, but you know how those ol' gals get. Once they get something in their minds. . . ."
As Janice passed through the kitchen, Ruby looked up questioningly from the pot she was stirring on the stove.
"Need some light bulbs," Janice said vaguely, getting a curious look. "JJ," she explained.
Ruby nodded in understanding. Though much better, JJ was still accident-prone. "Middle shelf, to the left," she said, returning to her stirring.
Entering the utility room off the kitchen, Janice quickly found the light bulbs, exactly where Ruby had said. As she picked up the bulb, she was finally able to chuckle at the amusing look of horror on JJ's face when the end of his pool cue crashed into that unsuspecting lamp. She wondered what Mel was like at that age. Just as dangerous, she suspected. Leaving the utility room, Janice heard a burst of laughter. She looked curiously at Ruby, who shrugged and continued cooking dinner.
Victoria looked a little uncomfortable when the archeologist approached. She knew how the private archeologist hated the Southern rumor mill, especially if it affected Mel in any shape or form.
"Janice!" Mel called, then laughed heartily, trying to catch her breath.
"What's up?" Janice smiled and eyed her incapacitated partner curiously.
"Oh . . . Janice," Mel wheezed through laughter. "You should really sit down," she said, holding out her hand, which Janice took as she sat down hesitantly.
"I really don't know how to break this to you . . . ," Mel said and took a calming breath and pushed her glasses up. ". . . other than to just come out and tell you," she added and looked earnestly into Janice's eyes as she squeezed her hand.
Victoria rolled her eyes.
"What?" Janice asked cautiously.
"You're pregnant," Mel announced somberly.
Janice blinked and glanced at Victoria, who sighed and sipped her drink as Mel burst out into laughter.
"How the hell did you do that?" Janice accused Mel, who laughed saucily and waggled her eyebrows.
Victoria sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. There were just some things she really didn't need to hear.
"And here I thought I knew all about the birds and the bees," Janice added thoughtfully.
Mel tried to catch her breath as she looked for her handkerchief. After an unsuccessful moment, Janice pulled out her own and handed it to the grateful Southerner, who quickly dabbed her damp eyes beneath her glasses. Janice looked questioningly at Victoria.
"Bridge club's latest rumor," she explained flatly.
"What the hell started that??" Janice asked torn between amusement, which Melinda obviously felt, and great irritation at the pervasive gossip mongering.
"It seems Mrs. Merrick went to the Spot yesterday for lunch," Victoria explained wearily. "She overheard you tell Christine . . . "
". . . that you were eating for two!!" Mel gushed and laughed.
"Ah," Janice said, rubbing Mel's back as Mel gently patted Janice's knee. "Guess we really do need to think about starting that addition to the house."
"Ruby's stew was deeeelicious, and that chocolate cake, whew. I'm stuffed," Paul said contentedly, patting his stomach as they entered their house.
"Me too," Daniel said, following behind Paul.
"Me three," JJ said, following behind Daniel.
"Me four . . . and five," Janice said dryly, making Mel snicker as she shut the door.
"You guys have been acting really odd tonight," Daniel said, eyeing the adults, who still had amused grins on their faces. During dinner, the women would make odd comments that weren't funny at all, and laughed . . . a lot. Especially, Dr. Pappas.
"Really? Just tonight?" Mel asked innocently, pushing her glasses up. Janice chuckled and eyed the boys, who looked at each other and shrugged.
"Have you guys finished packing? We're heading out very early tomorrow," Janice said. The twins glanced at each other with panic, then bolted up the stairs as gracefully as stampeding elephants. "Guess not," Janice said with amusement, then watched Mel, who smiled and picked up her yawning son in her arms.
"Time for bed, young man," Mel said warmly.
"But Mama, I'm not . . . tired," he argued, betrayed by another yawn. Janice grinned.
"Uh huh," Mel said, rubbing his back as she started climbing the stairs. "I'm not," the boy continued weakly, settling into her warm embrace.
As Mel kissed JJ's forehead, she glanced at Janice, who gazed at them with a content smile. Sometimes, words weren't necessary, she had to admit. Sometimes, Janice's eyes would tell her everything she needed to know, like right now. In those beautiful eyes, Melinda saw love. The tall woman paused on the landing to savor the moment.
"I'll be up in a moment," Janice said softly. Mel smiled with a nod and took JJ to his room.
With some difficulty, Mel carefully pulled off JJ's clothes and put his pajamas on, though it wasn't clear anything would disturb the oblivious boy who was now laying in his bed, sound asleep. She shook her head at the light snoring that emanated from the small boy, who seemed to be growing so quickly. Pulling up the covers, she smiled and brushed his raven hair from his brow before gently kissing his forehead.
"Good night, honey," she whispered. "I love you."
Chapter 10 - A Romantic Evening
As Mel returned to their room, she stopped curiously at the slightly ajar door. Slowly, she pushed it open to find the bedroom aglow in candlelight. With a smile, she entered and closed the door, her eyes fixed on the bed. The covers were already turned down. Anticipating the need, she locked the world out with a turn of the deadbolt, which easily slid into place with a solid clunk.
As she stepped into the warm, inviting room, Mel heard footsteps stop in front of the door. A moment later, there was a soft knocking. Mel's eyebrows furrowed with irritation as she turned and unlocked the door, fully intending to quickly cast one of the three possible interruptions away. When she yanked it open, the Southerner's eyes widened with surprise.
At the door was Janice, with two glasses in one hand and a bottle of red wine in the other.
"Please don't tell me you want to be alone," Janice said and winced at that horrible possibility.
Mel rolled her eyes, hooked a finger over the archeologist's belt, and reeled her into the bedroom. Her eyes never left Janice as she closed the door and turned the lock, once again causing a solid clunk.
"Actually, I do. With you," Mel said softly, reaching out to caress Janice's face. She smiled when Janice shut her eyes and leaned into the touch. "Why don't I go put something more comfortable on while you open the wine?" Mel suggested, her gentle, Southern accent wrapping around Janice like a loving embrace.
No words came to mind as Janice nodded in complete agreement and watched the beautiful Southerner smile and retreat into their bathroom. When Mel disappeared from sight, she sighed with surprising disappointment at the temporary loss. It really shouldn't be surprising, Janice considered, knowing the tall woman had kindled her desire all day with those loving touches, shared laughter, and the unspoken promise of a satisfying evening in her eyes. Actually, Mel did that every day, Janice reconsidered, even when she wasn't trying to entice her. And God help her when Melinda was trying. Like now, she thought with growing anticipation. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to focus on the task at hand. Which was . . . ? Her brows knitted in thought.
The wine! She recalled triumphantly, then shook her head with a chuckle knowing that she was hopeless sometimes . . . but incredibly happy.
Placing the wine glasses on the night stand, she retrieved her Swiss army knife from her pocket. After gazing at the amazing invention a moment with great appreciation, though truth be told, she was appreciative of just about everything at that particular moment, she pulled out the cork screw from the selection of tools.
With practiced ease, Janice twisted the tool into the cork and started to pull. When Mel reentered the room in a silk robe, shaking her hair out from its conservative bun, the cork came free with a soft pop. Mel smiled at the archeologist, who stood mesmerized . . . and very appreciative . . . as the tall woman slowly combed her fingers slowly through her long hair.
"Have I mentioned," Janice said softly, admiring the Southerner's silk-clad form. "How much I love silk?"
"I know you've shown me . . . once or twice," Mel said dryly and approached, thoroughly enjoying the effect she was having on her partner.
Janice watched the tall woman gracefully sit and recline on the bed, carefully presenting her long legs from beneath the folds of the long burgundy robe. Melinda knew her deliberate display was welcome as Janice's eyes traveled, very appreciatively, over her. They journeyed slowly, like her hands soon would, from the bare legs to the curve of Melinda's silk-clad hip to her torso, where the sash would soon be untied and the robe slowly peeled away to reveal the hard tips of arousal, which could already be seen from beneath the robe. Janice drank in the teasing glimpse of exposed cleavage, peaking out from beneath the robe. Her lips would soon pay homage there too, Janice planned, on their way up that elegant, sensitive neck, that made her lover purr if licked and growl if bitten just so. Those and other sounds would be heard tonight, Janice promised herself as her eyes continued over the strong chin and paused on those full, delicious lips.
At last, their eyes met. After Janice took a calming breath, she whispered woefully inadequate, but sincere words. "You are beautiful."
Mel knew Janice's simple, yet heartfelt praise would always move her far more than any poet's sonnet.
"I feel beautiful when you look at me," she responded softly.
Janice gazed at the Southerner as a pleased smile grew. After a moment, she noticed Mel glance at the wine, the glasses, then the archeologist expectantly.
"Ah, sorry. For some reason, I keep getting . . . ," Janice said, pausing to gaze at the beautiful woman.
Suddenly feigning puzzlement, Janice diverted her gaze and picked up the wine bottle curiously, scratching the back of her head.
Mel grinned warmly as her eyes now indulged in a journey over her partner. She recalled how Janice's brash confidence and unparalleled intensity, that could even make large men rethink the sanity of challenging her, had immediately attracted the Southern moth to the dangerous flame. Though she didn't fully understand the consequences, she knew that once she touched that flame, everything would be forever changed.
And oh, how she wanted to touch that flame.
But she did not know how. She had never flown before and the flame seemed so far away. And yet, she could not ignore it. It stirred something deep within, silently calling to her.
Oh, how she wanted to touch that flame.
Slowly, her wings strengthened, taking her closer to watch it burn. At times, it surprised her and flickered playfully, almost welcoming her presence. At others, when she got too close too fast, it flared up dangerously, warning her to stay away. But even with singed hope, she could not ignore the captivating flame that stood all alone . . . but didn't have to.
Oh, how she wanted to touch that flame.
Stronger still, her wings became, allowing her to maneuver more skillfully around the temperamental flame, getting her closer than ever before. Though still shy of her goal, she was ecstatic from the heartfelt warmth her flame bestowed. But her wings eventually grew tired, signaling an end to that wonderful encounter.
As the tired moth reluctantly pulled away, wishing for the next time to come again soon, the flame again proved unpredictable. Not ready to end their time together, the flame overcame its fear and finally reached out and touched her thankfully persistent butterfly.
Oh, how that flame touched her. And like she predicted, everything was forever changed.
Oh, how she wanted to touch her now, Mel thought, hungrily glancing at her lover, whose soft, ample curves perfectly complemented her toned, hard muscles. Janice smiled at Mel's blatant gaze as she sat on the edge of the bed and presented a glass.
Mel sat up and slowly brushed her fingers over Janice's hand before accepting the offer. "Thank you," she said
"To us," Janice said. "To us," Mel repeated, before their glasses gently tapped with a soft clink.
After they sipped their wine, Mel smiled happily. "I had a wonderful time tonight," Mel said, tracing her fingers deliberately over Janice's thigh which tingled from the arousing sensation. Her fingers traveled down her leg, to her boot.
"It certainly sounded like you did," Janice agreed with a twinkle in her eye as Mel slowly pulled the end of the boot-lace and untied it. "I think all that laughter scared the twins," she chuckled softly, making Mel shift uneasily and unconsciously retract her hand.
"That was a. . . ." Janice said quickly, concerned about the sudden change of mood.
"Joke, I know. Sorry," Mel said with a weak smile and sipped her wine, embarrassed at her odd reaction to the innocent comment.
"What is it?" Janice asked, caressing Mel's arm. The Southerner looked at her an uncertain moment.
"Sometimes . . . I just don't know," Mel said vaguely, then sighed.
"How I should act towards them," Mel admitted, staring at her wine glass.
Janice chuckled softly. "Yeah, well, that makes two of us," Janice said with a soft shrug. "But I don't think we're the only ones who feel that way about their kids."
Mel nodded weakly with a small shrug and sipped her wine.
"Don't you sometimes wonder how to act towards JJ?" Janice asked curiously.
"Honestly? No. But then, I raised him and he's not a teenager," Mel said.
"Yet," Janice warned with a smirk. "Enjoy it while you can," she added with amusement, placing her glass on the nightstand. As Janice started to take her boots off, Mel's curiosity prompted a question.
"What were the boys like when they were younger?" Mel asked, then cringed when Janice glanced away uncomfortably, fully expecting her to clam up again.
Janice silently took her boots off and tossed them onto the floor, causing heavy thunks. When she started to peel off her socks, Mel noticed she continued to wear two pairs. She thought about asking how she could possibly have cold feet in the summer, but didn't bother. She didn't expect Janice to answer that question either. Mel sighed, thankful that at least Janice elected not to wear them to bed tonight and reminded herself to be patient. It had only been a couple of months since she had come home. She should be happy things are going as well as they are, she thought in consolation.
"Afraid," Janice finally offered, surprising Melinda with an answer. The archeologist tossed her socks at her boots and sighed. "Afraid of the unknown," she continued thoughtfully as she scooted up until her back was against the headboard. Mel was relieved Janice focused on the far wall, having trouble completely erasing the happy shock off her face. She didn't want anything to discourage Janice from sharing more.
"But thank God they had each other. Many survivors had no one."
Mel reached out and squeezed Janice's hand, wishing she had been there for her. Janice glanced down at their hands and squeezed back, thankful she had Mel's love to hold on to, which had gotten her through that difficult time.
"When they challenge me or argue, I'm amazed at how far they've come. They used to be afraid of doing anything that might rock the boat," Janice said sadly. "When we first traveled together? They would just stand there and look at me, waiting for the next chore. I had to tell them to go play. They had to be adults for so long, I think they forgot how to be kids."
"Now," Janice said, a small smile briefly crossed her face. "I see them living like the kids they are," she said and turned to her partner with an earnest look. "They've made so much progress, Mel. They really have," Janice explained as if needing to convince her. But she didn't need to. Mel nodded and smiled, knowing Janice was a major reason for that progress.
"They're almost like kids who haven't gone through . . . ," she said, her voice suddenly faulty. She stopped, diverting her gaze back to the far wall as she cleared her throat. Janice knew Mel's eyes were full of understanding. But she knew she shouldn't look at them - they would touch the anguish still gripping her heart. And time was too precious to waste on tears.
After a moment, Janice took a deep breath and blurted uncomfortably "Well . . . if that doesn't put a damper on a romantic evening, I don't know what will."
Mel tenderly caressed her partners' arm with an understanding smile. "When you share your thoughts and feelings with me, Janice, it's the most incredibly romantic thing you could do," she said sincerely, getting a skeptical look from her lover. "Intimacy doesn't have to involve sex, you know," Mel explained, getting a very concerned look. "And you know it doesn't, Dr. Covington," she growled playfully and finished her wine, letting the smirking archeologist off the hook.
"More?" Janice asked, retrieving the bottle.
"Yes. But I'm not going to," she said, holding her hand up. "Unlike some people, I have to worry about the side effects."
"Just rub it in," Janice said grumpily.
"What? I would think to be able to enjoy a drink without ever getting drunk is a good thing," Mel said with surprise, handing her empty wine glass to the archeologist.
"If you say so."
"You want to get drunk?" She asked flatly as Janice set the glass down by the bottle.
"Not right at the moment. But to spend eternity sober was not something I was really looking forward to," Janice joked awkwardly. "But I guess that's better than spending it drunk." She smiled grimly and shrugged.
Seeing the uneasy look in Mel's eyes, Janice dropped hers uncomfortably and silently cursed. She didn't want to ruin a wonderful evening discussing her not-so-small "problem." Time with Melinda was too precious to waste. Before she could change the topic to something much lighter, Mel asked her another question that had weighed on both their minds.
"What are we going to do?" The words blurted out in a desperate whisper. Mel almost gave up on Janice answering, but waited.
"Live each day, Mel," Janice finally said with a slight shrug.
"How can you ignore what is happening?!? Soon people will see how I'm getting older and you're not. Then what?" Mel asked incredulously. "I'm scared, Janice. Aren't you?" She snapped with irritation, causing Janice to wince. "I'm sorry. That was unfair," the Southerner quickly added, dropping her gaze with a sigh of frustration.
Janice knew that Mel was just trying to understand her, understand this. But how could she explain what she didn't understand herself?
"I'm scared too, Mel. And I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't," Janice admitted. "But I'm not going to let it rob me of what happiness I can have with you or the boys, while I can. I won't let it. And I am not ignoring it, trust me. I can't," Janice repeated, lifting her eyes to meet Mel's. In the green depths, Mel saw a profound sadness that gripped her heart.
"I don't know how many more people I care about I'll be able to watch die. I don't know how I'll live after you're gone. And I don't know how I'm going to survive forever," Janice said bitterly, then sighed in resignation. "But I do know . . . I don't want to," she offered weakly. "I'm not ignoring it, Mel. I'm living with it, every goddamn day."
Tears silently fell down the Southerner's troubled face, making Janice cringe. Smiles, not tears, should grace that beautiful face, she staunchly believed. Tenderly, she wiped the moisture from Mel's cheek.
"Roses . . . ," she whispered, making the Southerner's brow knit in confusion.
". . . are red," Janice explained softly, nodding. As Janice drew in a deep breath, Mel blinked, still not understanding.
"Violets?" Janice said and, after an extraordinarily meaningful pause, continued. "Are blue," she shared that secret with profound amazement.
A small, reluctant smile emerged on Mel's still-puzzled face.
"I thought I'd confuse you, then woo you, with poetry," Janice said conspiratorially as she took Mel's hand. "So how, dear Melinda, how did I do?" Janice asked and kissed her hand gently.
Looking up hopefully, she found a storm of emotions clouding Mel's face.
Part of Mel still wanted to discuss what they were going to do, knowing eventually they would have to do something. And part of her didn't, expecting she wouldn't like the something they came up with. And a part of her felt guilty for being so concerned about aging alone, while Janice faced a frighteningly uncertain future and still bothered to worry about her selfish fears . . . . Oh Janice. Guilty tears began to fall as her eyes dropped.
Melinda's chin was gently lifted up. She exhaled uneasily and gazed into Janice's eyes. The love in them gave her comfort and, for some blessed reason, hope. The archeologist waited for an answer.
"Well," Mel finally said, pausing a moment to clear her throat and take a deep breath. "Miss Browning's words have never resonated with me . . . quite like that."
The archeologist rewarded her with an amazingly cocky smirk and triumphantly announced "I'm a poet and had no idea!"
Melinda chuckled softly and leaned forward to tenderly kiss her lover's forehead. Janice's eyes closed as she enjoyed the Southerner's gentle affection. In the soft kisses that progressed over Janice's face, Mel conveyed her want to love, to protect, to nurture. They conveyed what was in Melinda's heart and Janice cherished each and every one of them.
Their lips gently brushed over each other, each woman taking her time to enjoy the soft contact. Neither wanted to rush. Neither did.
Mel reached down and slowly unbuckled Janice's belt while they continued their tender kisses. After the belt was tugged through each loop and tossed onto the floor, Mel grasped Janice's shirt at her waist and smoothly pulled the shirttail from her pants, their lips never breaking contact. When the Southerner began to unbutton Janice's shirt, she pulled back to Janice's chagrin, until she was rewarded with a soft kiss for each button she freed from its eyelet. After the shirt was finally open, they melded into a relaxed kiss as Mel gently slid the shirt off Janice's shoulders.
A knocking at the door startled them out of their bliss. Janice's eyebrows furrowed so hard, Mel would have laughed had she not been struggling to collect herself and will her heart to slow down.
"I'm going to kill whoever it is!" Janice snarled, awkwardly jumping off the bed and hastily buttoning her shirt.
As Janice marched to the door, Mel considered telling Janice to "be nice." However, being unable to fully endorse that sentiment at that particular moment, she refrained. Instead, she tightened her sash and flopped back on the bed with a frustrated sigh. Oh, how she wanted to touch her! Ugh.
Just as the knocking started again, the door swung open and Janice stood with a fierce glare. "What?!?" She snapped, startling Daniel, who thought it was rather early to have disturbed their sleep.
"We can't find any can . . .dles," he said absently as he noticed the room was full of them. "Oh, uh," he said with an uneasy smile as Janice's eyes narrowed. "So, you'll pack some candles when you're finished with . . . them?" Daniel asked awkwardly, spotting Dr. Pappas on the bed in her robe and a bottle of wine and glasses on the . . . . Uh oh.
"Yesss," Janice spit out, making him wince.
"Uh, Ok. We're finished packing then," he reported uncomfortably, just noticing Muló's shirt was buttoned crookedly.
"Good," Janice said with a tight smile.
"I'll be going to sleep now," he mentioned weakly, absently pointing to his room.
"Good night, Muló," he said and quickly departed.
Mel propped herself on an elbow and watched the archeologist close the door. She bit her lip when Janice turned the dead bolt and muttered something about candles she couldn't quite make out but was pretty sure she didn't want to. Janice returned to the bed, now in an obviously foul mood. She started to unbutton her crooked shirt and shook her head with a belabored sigh.
Mel sat up, her hand gently stopping her.
She looked into Janice's eyes and lovingly traced her fingers over the scowling face, causing the crunched features to fade. Janice sighed and started to apologize for flaring up, but long fingers pressed against her lips. Slowly, those fingers were removed and replaced with soft lips.
And oh, the joy in touching her. . . .
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