Chapter 11 - The Talk
With his face pressed against the screen door, JJ sighed, watching the excited boys throw their things into the back of the truck. Behind him, Melinda and Janice were saying goodbye. Neither were thrilled with the separation, their first since they got back together. But both had agreed it was needed.
"I'll miss you," Mel said uncomfortably, handing Janice her hat.
"You'd better," Janice said, pulling the tall woman closer for a kiss.
"Ugh! You guys!" JJ said, putting his hands over his eyes.
"Jacob Jeremy!" Mel scolded him. "I should be able to kiss Janice goodbye without any sass from you, young man."
"Sorry, Mama," JJ said guiltily as the two women disengaged from their embrace.
"Bye Sweetheart," Janice said with a final, quick kiss and headed for the door. "See you later, Sport," Janice said, pausing to affectionately ruffle his hair before leaving.
JJ looked at Janice with a sigh as Mel came up behind him with a sad smile and absently smoothed out his hair.
As Janice drove out of town, Daniel glanced over to Janice as she adjusted the radio dial. The station was playing a favorite, bringing a grin to Janice's face. Daniel looked at the archeologist again as she started to whistle.
"I could be singing," she threatened and continued to whistle.
"It's . . . I'm not . . . ," he said then sighed, leaving the thought unfinished. After a minute, he glanced over to her again.
"Got a problem?" Janice asked bluntly.
"No," Daniel said with a heavy sigh. Paul laughed derisively, obviously not in agreement with his brother.
Before Daniel could respond to Paul, Janice asked "What's on your mind, Daniel?"
"Sorry about last night," he finally said, shooting a glare at his irritating brother, who shook his head and stared out his window, watching the scenery pass by.
"It's ok," Janice said and sighed.
"Really?" Daniel asked skeptically. "You looked really annoyed last. . . ."
"Don't push it, you idiot," Paul warned, rolling his eyes at his brother who never knew when to let something go.
"I'm not an idiot, you moron!" Daniel snapped.
Janice took a deep breath, reminding herself of all the progress they had made . . . .
"Jerk face," Paul said.
This is normal for teens, she considered.
"Bastard," Daniel spewed.
We fought as kids, she thought, recalling the many battles with her siblings, Bert and Denny. Until Dad or the nuns got fed up.
"And what the hell does that make you?" Paul asked his twin incredulously.
"Would you two shut the hell up!?!" Janice finally snapped. "We're not even out of the goddamn city and you're down each other's throats already! Do you want me to turn this truck around and drive back home??"
"No, Muló," was the weak answer from the twins.
"Well it doesn't seem like that to me," Janice said with irritation and sighed heavily, focusing on the road.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said after a silent moment, echoed by Paul. "And I'm really sorry about ruining last night for you after all the trouble you went to," Daniel continued.
"Do you really think Muló would let an annoying interruption from you ruin their evening together?" Paul said with amazement.
Janice glanced at Paul uncomfortably, then back to the road. Though not normally one to like rules, she seriously considered instituting a new one while they were camping - no talking. But that would kind of defeat the purpose of the trip with the boys, she considered with an irritated sigh.
"Well, I'm sorry I interrupted. It's just that I didn't realize you two were going to . . . well," Daniel continued with a shrug.
Janice's brow furrowed
"Are you really that dense?" Paul asked. "They were practically sending out signal flares all night!"
"I know, but it was early yet!" Daniel immediately argued. "They usually wait until . . . "
The boys suddenly lurched to the side as Janice swerved onto the side of the road and turned the engine off.
Daniel and Paul nervously watched her hands which slowly strangled the steering wheel as she stared out the windshield.
After a long moment, they hesitantly spoke. "Muló?"
Janice finally turned, slowly, and faced them with a neutral expression on her face, which worried the boys. They didn't expect that from her. Dr. Pappas, yes. But not Muló.
"I thought you understood. But it seems I was wrong. So, I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you how things are," she said evenly. The boys swallowed nervously.
"Mel and I love each other. If a church, any church, would marry us, I'd take her there faster than you could say "I do." If all it took was a goddamn dress, I'd wear a goddamn dress."
The boys' eyes widened at that image.
"Melinda is . . . my other half. My soulmate. One day, if you two are lucky, you'll know what that means," Janice said. "Somehow, fate, destiny, dumb luck - who the hell really knows - we have a family. With three incredible boys," she said and added with soft reverence. "And I know that is a gift." The words and honest emotion surprised the boys. They never doubted she cared for them for she showed it every day. But to hear her say what she felt was . . . surprisingly comforting.
"I want us to be happy together. All of us. And I think it's about goddamn time we are. But for some reason, something keeps getting in the way of that . . . and I'm not really sure what the hell to do," she said with obvious frustration.
Daniel winced and looked at his feet.
"But I am sure, whatever problems we have, we'll figure something out. Together," she said pointedly and added firmly "Because that's what families do." The boys nodded.
"Now I'm going to share something with you - a very important point that I want you two to remember. One you should listen very closely to, because I'm not going to say it again," she said, eyeing the very attentive boys, who nodded again.
"What goes on between Mel and me in our bedroom is none of your GODDAMN BUSINESS!" She roared, causing the boys to jump.
"I already have to watch what I do in public because what Mel and I have, our love, isn't accepted. I am damn well not going to curb my affection for her around my family and my own home. If I want to kiss her hello, goodbye, or just because, I'm going to kiss her. If I want to hold her hand, I'm going to hold her hand. And if you happen to see sparks, there's probably gonna be a hell of a fire later. But that will be between Mel and me. And That. Will. Be. PRIVATE!!!" She erupted, causing them to jump again.
"If you really need to know when not to disturb us, I'd say anytime we are together in our bedroom with the door closed should give you a pretty GODDAMN BIG CLUE!" Janice barked.
The boys sat there under her now-silent glare, not daring to speak in case the archeologist wasn't finished. When she finally sighed and reached for the key in the ignition, Daniel added helpfully. ". . . or when all the candles are missing."
Paul cringed, bracing himself for the next explosion, amazed his brother had lived as long as he had.
Janice stared blankly at Daniel a moment before flatly repeating. "Or when all the candles are missing."
With a sigh, as she started the engine, turned the radio up, and drove back onto the road. Daniel looked at his brother, nodded knowingly, and started to whistle happily. Paul stared out the windshield, shaking his head with amazement.
After pressing the last thumbtack into the corkboard just outside her office, Dr. Pappas stared at the grades and frowned, wishing she could have helped her students do better. If only they all had Miranda's ability, she considered. Miranda actually got the only A+ she had given in the past four years. She was the only one that earned it, Mel acknowledged, knowing the young woman was capable of much more. "With the right encouragement . . . ," Melinda thought of the possibilities, then frowned, worried that any encouragement she provided to her ardent admirer would be misconstrued.
Grimacing at the unfortunate situation, she returned to her office. Entering, she reached to rub the odd tingling at the back of her neck.
"Dr. Pappas!" Miranda sang happily as she sprang up from a chair, startling Mel, who produced a weak smile.
"Miranda, I didn't hear you," she said looking around uncomfortably, wondering how she had slipped past her.
"You were probably preoccupied with some of the grades," Miranda said with understanding. "You really shouldn't be discouraged, Dr. Pappas. Sometimes students just don't have what it takes. But that doesn't mean you're not a wonderful teacher. You are," she gushed with conviction.
"Well, thank you for your vote of confidence in my teaching, Miranda," Mel said with mild amusement and sat at her desk.
"Any time. Perhaps we could celebrate the end of the semester with lunch. My treat," she said happily, with a smile.
"No thank you, Miranda," Mel said politely, surprised at how quickly the student's smile fell.
"Dr. Covington is taking you to lunch again," Miranda stated flatly.
"No, not today," Mel offered uneasily, really wishing Janice was.
A small smile reemerged on the student's face. "Then why not? I thought we could chat, discuss your plans next semester, get to know each other even better," Miranda said with hope. "But if lunch isn't good, perhaps dinner? I know you like the Spot, or we could go someplace more . . . private," she suggested.
Mel cringed, unable to avoid the talk any longer. "Miranda, please. Have a seat," Mel interrupted and took a deep breath as she got up.
"Sure," the student said with anticipation as she sat and watched the elegant Southerner walk to the door and close it. Her rich burgundy outfit was simply wonderful, and those long, beautiful legs . . . , Miranda thought with an appreciative sigh.
When Melinda turned, she caught the student looking her over. Why me? Mel rolled her eyes and sat, pausing a moment to collect her thoughts. Get straight to the point. Be gentle but firm . . . .
It was always difficult to admit your feelings, Miranda considered, eyeing the troubled teacher. But it was as plain as day how much Melinda cared for her. How she would always take the time to chat when no one else would - actually asking her about what she thought and how she felt about things, even outside of the classroom. How Melinda would encourage her when she did well and continue to challenge her to make her even better. Every time she saw her, a smile would light up Melinda's beautiful face, Miranda thought wistfully. A smile that was for me, she thought happily. Me. And now, Melinda was finally going to say what that smile had silently revealed, Miranda released a contented sigh.
"Miranda, you're a student . . . and I'm a teacher," Melinda explained gently, then winced at how inane that sounded.
Miranda grinned. Melinda was so cute when she was flustered.
"I don't think it is appropriate to encourage a relationship outside of those boundaries," Melinda said firmly, searching her eyes for signs she understood what she was trying to say.
"So, because you're my teacher, we shouldn't see each other?" Miranda asked, not considering that a real hurdle.
"Uh . . . yes," Melinda answered hesitantly, not comfortable with that question. "It wouldn't be appropriate," she added more firmly.
"Ah," Miranda said thoughtfully. "I now see why I should take that graduate course that you recommended," she added with a knowing grin and concluded "You'll no longer be my teacher." Of course Melinda had thought all of that out already, Miranda thought happily.
"No!" Melinda blurted with alarm. "That's not what I. . . ."
"I thought you wanted me to take that graduate course," Miranda interjected with confusion.
"I . . . I do," Melinda said. "B . . . . "
"So then we can see each other," Miranda said simply.
"Miranda, we cannot "see" each other," Melinda countered with irritation.
"Melinda, it's ok," Miranda said, glancing at the door a moment. Mel's eyebrows furrowed at the student's sudden and inappropriate informality. "I know we must be discreet," Miranda said quietly. "Not everyone will understand . . . us."
Oh Dear Lord. Melinda pinched the bridge of her nose. She should have just let Janice talk to her, she considered. "Miranda?" Melinda said with forced patience and adjusted her glasses. Miranda smiled warmly.
"No discretion will be necessary because there is no "us." There will be no "us." We are not going to "see" each other. Ever," Melinda said firmly. "Do you understand?"
Miranda's smile faded as all her dreams threatened to crash down around her. "No. I . . . I don't," she said honestly as her heart pounded. "Why?" She asked in a pained exhale, feeling lost. They were meant to be together!
"Miranda, I just don't . . . ," Melinda attempted to explain.
"You're involved . . . with Dr. Covington," Miranda spewed angrily. Up till now, she did not want to believe those horrible rumors. She still didn't want to. But there was really no other explanation. And poor Melinda was too weak to step out from under that suffocating shadow.
Though caught off-guard by the blunt and dangerously accurate statement, Melinda was not about to discuss Janice with this misguided student. "Miranda. . . ."
"Dr. Pappas, I understand," Miranda interrupted, forcing a smile on her face. "Really, I do."
Melinda eyed her suspiciously. "And what, exactly, do you understand, Miranda?"
"You're trying to do the right thing. I wouldn't expect anything less from you. You're an honorable woman, Dr. Pappas," she said with sincerity.
"Uh . . . Thank you," Mel said hesitantly, not as relieved as she had hoped to be.
"Well, I guess it's time for me to run along," Miranda said, mustering her dignity as she uneasily got up from the chair, obviously pained by the disheartening discussion.
"Miranda," Melinda said, feeling bad for the young student. "You're a bright and attractive young woman. You'll find someone," Melinda said with soft conviction. "It's just not me."
Miranda smiled tightly, believing with all her heart that Melinda was dead wrong.
Miranda numbly returned to her dorm room and locked the door behind her with trembling hands. Tears started to stream down her face as she crawled into her bed and clutched her pillow.
Dr. Covington?!? How could she!?! She deserves so much better! We are kindred spirits. She should be with me! She should be with ME!
Suddenly, amazing clarity settled over her, focusing her jumbled thoughts to the obvious conclusion. That rude, opportunistic archeologist was manipulating her beloved! Intense anger swelled, demanding action. Fumbling a moment to retrieve the key from the chain around her neck, she knelt down by the old trunk at the foot of her bed.
The student's anger bloomed into hatred as she unlocked the trunk. Lifting the lid, blinding light spilled out, filling the room. She flinched with a gasp and jumped back, watching the book glow an eerie orange. She had never seen that before. With cautious curiosity, she approached the trunk, slowly reaching for the book. As her fingers brushed against the glowing cover, a tendril of light jumped up and zapped her hand. She pulled back in fear, looking at her tingling hand with concern before the most amazing feeling of euphoria washed over her. A grin slowly emerged.
"Soon, you'll be free, Melinda," Miranda said confidently as she pulled the glowing book from the trunk and placed it on her desk, next to the embroidered handkerchief, which she picked up and caressed lovingly. "Then, there will be an us."
As they sat in the small boat, Janice adjusted her hat as she looked around the lake, then at the boys who were slowly reeling in their fishing lines. She smiled. It was a good day. Birds sang. The sky was a rich blue. Only a few lazy clouds floated by, casting an occasional shadow of relief from the bright sun. The lake was calm with small ripples from the occasional breeze that gently gusted. The fish were big and biting, she noted, glancing at the fish in the nearly full bucket. And most importantly, the boys finally stopped arguing.
Janice was really happy she didn't impose the "no talking" rule when the boys had gotten around to discussing some thing that concerned them, like high school. She was surprised they were worried about learning in a classroom and being compared to the other students. But she realized it had been a long time since they had experienced a classroom.
"You guys will do just fine," Janice lectured confidently. "All you have to do is. . . ."
"Keep your eyes open," Daniel said with a grin. "Use your head," Paul added with a smirk. "And be prepared to pay the price if you screw up," they said in unison, then laughed.
"Well, at least I know you're listening to me," Janice said with feigned gruffness, pleased they were enjoying themselves. "And you shouldn't worry, if you have any trouble, you'll have more help than you'll know what to do with," she joked. They looked uneasy, wondering if that was a threat. "Seriously. I think you'll both do very well," she added, getting nods with relieved smiles.
"Muló?" Paul said, pulling his line gently and glancing at Janice.
"Do you think Dr. Pappas would mind if we called her Mel?"
Finally! Janice knew Mel cringed every time they called her Dr. Pappas. But Mel told her not to say anything, not wanting them to feel pressured to call her something they weren't comfortable with.
"I do. She'd think it was too informal," Daniel argued.
Janice's smile faded. "Perhaps we should discuss that with her, instead of assuming," Janice said tightly. "She might surprise you."
"Uh . . . you know what surprised me?" Paul interjected uncomfortably, trying to defuse the growing tension between his brother and Muló. "The cabin. I thought Mrs. Pappas said we'd be roughing it like heathens, far away from civilization. But it's a house - lights, running water, a bathroom, a fireplace, four bedrooms . . . ," Paul said with a shrug, amazed at how much nicer the cabin was than the tents they lived in various places all over Europe after Birkenau. He wondered what Mrs. Pappas would have thought the tents if she thought the cabin was roughing it.
"Yeah. We have more space here than at the barn," Daniel complained. Janice sighed.
"Muló and Dr. Pappas have been too busy to build you your room, your majesty," Paul responded with irritation. He really liked the barn home. It was incredibly comfortable there, except when Daniel opened his big fat mouth.
"I KNOW, I was just stating fact," he snapped back.
"No. You were whining," Paul said.
"You're a jerk."
"Guys! Do you want me to turn this boat around and paddle back to the cabin?" She snapped. They sighed and shook their heads no. "Now give it a rest and watch your goddamn lang . . . uage," Janice said, feeling her head start to throb. Not surprising, she considered as she rubbed her temple a moment and grabbed an oar. "Ugh . . . I think, we should actually start . . . heading back," she said, wincing at the stabbing pain through her skull. "We've already got plenty of . . . fish."
"You ok, Muló?" Paul asked.
"Yeah, nothing a little quiet wouldn't cure," she said uncomfortably, not so certain. "Your turn to grab a paddle, Daniel."
Daniel quickly glanced at his brother then nodded. As they started back to the cabin, a humbling pain shot through Janice's head, causing her to drop the paddle into the water. "Aw fuck," she blurted.
"Muló?" Daniel and Paul said as she clenched her head and tried to shake it off.
"Can you move us next to the paddle?" She asked Daniel, clearly irritated she dropped it. Daniel nodded and brought them closer, but couldn't maneuver the boat very well by himself.
"Nice going," Paul said sarcastically, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Stop it BOTH of you," she snapped, ceasing the arguing for a moment. "Daniel, just get a little closer if you can. I can almost reach it," she said tightly, eyeing the paddle just a few feet away. She reached out as they came closer, stretching as far as she could. Her fingers brushed against the paddle when another jolt of pain finally overwhelmed her.
Chapter 12 - A Call For Help
Mel took a deep breath and shifted in the large bed. Sensing Janice's absence, she frowned and finally registered the sound of faint ringing. She propped herself up and grabbed the alarm clock with a groan. She squinted to see that it was only 4:13! What on Earth possessed Janice to set the alarm for 4:13!?! And why was the alarm clock ringing so softly, she wondered, concerned that she would never have woken had she been sleeping more soundly.
As the ringing persisted, she blinked, finally realizing the source of sound was the phone. Groaning, she got up and grabbed her robe, awkwardly putting it on as she descended the stairs. Yawning, she picked up the receiver and answered "Covington and Pappas residence."
"Uh, Dr. Pappas?" Daniel said uneasily.
"Daniel?!? What's wrong?" She blurted, now wide awake.
"It . . . It's Muló," Daniel said with a tremble in his voice. "She's . . . she hasn't woken up yet."
"Hasn't woken? Daniel, what happened?"
"She . . . fell out of the boat. We took her to the cabin and waited, but she's . . . she's," Daniel said haltingly. "She hasn't woken."
She said she always heals, she always heals, Mel repeated to herself, trying not to panic. "Where are you calling from?" Mel asked, knowing the cabin had many conveniences - but not a phone.
"Blake's drug store, South of Greenville. I . . . I drove here. I know I shouldn't have. I still have the bumper. I didn't see the bench. I . . . . " He blurted guiltily as his eyes started to water.
"Bumper? Daniel, are you ok?" She interrupted, growing more alarmed each second.
"Good," she said, closing her eyes a moment and letting out a small breath of relief. "You did the right thing by driving to a phone and calling me, Daniel," Mel said firmly, struggling not to sound nervous. It was extremely difficult, considering she had very little experience with Janice's condition and Daniel, who had been with Janice for over four years, sounded frightened.
Daniel nodded weakly, oddly relieved.
"I want you to drive back to the cabin and wait for me there," she said firmly. "Ok?"
"O . . . ok," Daniel said, looking at the mangled wood that used to be the bench in front of the old truck. Even though the truck looked pretty bad, with the bumper sticking up in the truck bed and only one working headlamp, it still ran fine. Muló was going to get really mad, he predicted. If she wakes, he thought, fearing she wouldn't.
"When was the last time you and your brother had something to eat?" Mel asked suddenly, finding that immensely important. She knew it was important to Janice.
"Breakfast," he said softly. "Yesterday." He wasn't really hungry and knew he probably wouldn't be until Janice woke up. Why hasn't she woken yet?
"Daniel, promise me you'll get something to eat."
"Ok," he said absently, then blurted "She . . . she just collapsed. She looked fine. Then she had a big headache," he said between gulps of air. "We thought she'd be up by now."
The boy's restrained sobbing tore at Mel, who took a deep, fortifying breath. "Daniel, listen to me," she said with amazing calmness. "Janice will be OK. We should be there for her when she wakes. Will you be OK driving back to the cabin?" Mel asked.
Daniel sniffed, rubbing stray tears from his eyes. "Yeah."
"Good. Drive back to the cabin and make sure you and your brother get something to eat. I will be there within a couple of hours," she said.
"Ok," he said and hung up, and repeated "within a couple of hours" as he walked to the truck.
Melinda hung up the phone. She looked at her hands, which trembled. Glancing at the phone a moment, she took a breath and picked up the receiver.
Mel sat numbly, watching the road as her grandfather drove her to the cabin. William didn't know what to say to his granddaughter. This was definitely outside his area of experience, he considered. Hell, everything with Melinda was, he thought with a frown.
"It's a shame you didn't get a manual for that damned ambrosia," he said gruffly.
Mel looked over at him and chuckled weakly, wiping the stray tears that plagued her. "Or for Janice," Mel added with a sniff, making William snort and add "Or for Victoria."
"After all these years, I would think you could write the manual on Grandmother," Mel said with surprise.
"Ha! You'd think. But that's not how it is, Melinda. You'll see. Sure you'll learn a lot, sometimes a bit too much, but you'll never know everything. Every day, I'm surprised by her," he said, then smiled fondly at that truth. "Heh. I guess I just changed my mind . . . a manual might spoil that," he added thoughtfully.
Mel nodded, knowing she didn't want a manual on her partner either. There was a joy of discovery when she learned about Janice. Even the smallest discoveries, she considered with a small smile, like what her favorite ice cream flavor was. To this day, Christine did not believe that Janice preferred vanilla over chocolate. Even Mel had to admit she was surprised Janice did not prefer the rich, decadent flavor of chocolate. But one would have thought that Janice's admission was down right scandalous the way Christine carried on when she found out all those years ago.
In private, she recalled with a smile, Janice had attempted to convince her tall companion that though chocolate was rich and delicious, it was one-dimensional. While vanilla ice cream, she had argued, was a better flavor because not only did it have a refreshing, elegant taste that stood wonderfully on its own, it was also the most versatile, as it complemented, not overwhelmed, other flavors. Although the archeologist's arguments were rather compelling, albeit rather chilly, Mel still preferred chocolate's depth and complexity.
Another tear fell as she prayed there would be more wonderful discoveries like that ahead.
"I'd still pay for one on the ambrosia," Mel said softly, staring out at the road ahead as William nodded.
As they drove up the long dirt road to the cabin, Mel fidgeted more, her hand tapping nervously against her thigh. When the cabin came into sight, it was as beautiful as she remembered with the sun's rays filtering through the canopy of trees and onto the wooden structure. Many happy days of her youth were spent at this cabin. But Mel didn't notice the beauty or think about the past. She just stared at the cabin . . . where Janice was.
"Well," the Colonel said as he stopped the car. "We're here," he exhaled unnecessarily. Mel nodded weakly, opened the car door, and got out. She glanced at her grandfather over the car roof. He nodded with a small smile of encouragement before they walked towards the cabin.
"Daniel? Paul?" She called out as she opened the screen door, looking for them as she entered the cabin.
"In here," Paul called from the bedroom.
"Paul?" Mel asked as she entered Janice's bedroom. She halted in her tracks and drew in a startled gasp when she saw the pale face of her lover.
"What happened?" The Colonel asked, placing a gentle hand on Mel's shoulder. She glanced absently at him then slowly went to Janice's side. Staring at her a moment, Mel sat with a small cringe on her face.
"We were out on the lake when Muló got a bad headache," Paul said as the Colonel joined his side. "She told us we should head back for the day," he continued as they watched Mel nervously reach for Janice's wrist.
Mel winced as her hands touched the cool flesh.
"As we paddled back, the headache must have been really bad, she said "ah fuck" . . . uh sorry," Paul quickly added uneasily, glancing at Dr. Pappas, who gave him a nod to continue. "She dropped her paddle and when she tried to get it, she fell over the side. Daniel and I brought her here."
Mel's fingers continued to search for something that she wasn't finding - a pulse. Finally, she looked at her grandfather and shook her head no. "How long?" She croaked out and hesitantly brushed the unruly hair off Janice's brow.
"Over a day now."
"Has it ever been this long?" Mel asked uneasily, struggling not to panic.
"Rarely, only when she was really banged up," Paul said, making Mel wince. "But she looked fine when we were fishing and then . . . " he added, looking at Janice with concern. "We never saw her just . . . die before."
She attempted to take a deep, calming breath, only successful with the deep breath part. "Where's Daniel?"
"By the lake," Paul said, staring at Janice.
Mel nodded and stood, bending over to gently kiss the cold forehead. "I'll be right back," she whispered to her still partner, before forcing herself from Janice's side.
Mel found Daniel, soaking wet, sitting on the small beach next to the boat and three fishing poles, staring out over the lake.
"She's still . . . , isn't she?" He asked numbly when her tall shadow fell over him.
"Yes," Mel said and sat down beside him with a heavy sigh. "Why are you wet?"
"I forgot the fishing poles. They fell overboard," he said, surprising her. Before she could tell him they didn't have to worry about the stupid fishing poles, he continued. "Luckily we weren't that far away from the shore when she . . . ," he said trailing off, then paused a moment. "What if she doesn't come back this time?" He asked bluntly.
"But it's been so long, what if . . . . "
"She will," Mel repeated more firmly. "But if . . . " she said tightly, her stomach churned at the thought of Janice's death being permanent. ". . . she doesn't, we'll deal with it. Together. You'll always be a part of my family, Daniel. Whether you like it or not," Mel said, seeing a surprised look on his face. "Oh please. You know she'd haunt me if she knew I didn't make sure the two of you were OK."
"Yeah," he acknowledged softly and chuckled weakly with a sniff. "I could see her now, floating around the house in a white robe . . . and socks, asking if we were hungry."
"Why she is so attached to her socks is beyond me," Mel admitted, shaking her head, wiping an annoying tear from her eye. She needed to be strong right now.
Daniel looked at her curiously and said. "She doesn't like cold feet."
"Obviously," Mel said and added with a weak chuckle. "She wears two pairs."
Daniel shook his head and explained. "When we first met Muló, we had to march through the snow. After we . . . became free, we realized she didn't have any shoes or even rags on her feet. They were just . . . frostbitten. She told us she hadn't had anything on her feet since she was first captured. She really hates cold feet."
The stark truth stabbed Mel squarely in the chest. Would she ever understand what had happened to Janice? Or the boys? Did she really want to know? More tears fell, which she briskly wiped away with a ragged breath. Was she strong enough for all of this . . . for all of them, she wondered as Daniel hesitantly moved closer and awkwardly patted her back.
"I don't know how long this will be, Grandmother," Mel said uneasily into the receiver, watching Daniel from the phone booth outside of Blake's drugstore. With his hands in his pockets, he was dribbling a stone like a soccer ball near the battered truck.
"How are you holding up, dear?" Victoria asked softly, watching JJ diligently color on some paper at the coffee table.
"I . . . ," Mel said, and exhaled heavily. "I don't know what I'll do if . . . . " Mel said wearily.
"Melinda Victoria Pappas," she interrupted crisply. "Have faith," she said firmly, making Mel stop, take a breath, and nod.
"Is that Mama?" JJ asked with excitement, appearing in front of his great-grandmother.
"Someone wants to talk to you," Victoria said with amusement and handed the phone to JJ.
"Mama?" JJ asked.
"Hi honey," Mel said, taking a fortifying breath.
"Is Janice OK?"
"Oh. She will be, Mama. She just needs a little more time, OK?" JJ said confidently.
"OK, JJ. I'll give her a little more time," Mel said with a small smile.
As Mel and Daniel walked back to the truck, Mr. Blake stormed out of his store and marched towards them. "You wouldn't happen to know how my bench got destroyed, would you?" He asked accusingly, eyeing the mysteriously absent bumper, broken headlight, then the tall woman expectantly.
After Mel paid the man for the damages, enduring snide comments about women drivers, she was relieved to leave the store. Stopping in front of the truck, she eyed the missing bumper, broken headlight, then Daniel, who was slouching in the passenger's side with his head hung really low.
"Daniel?" She called out. He lifted his eyes to see her beaconing him with her finger. He sighed heavily, certain he was going to get yelled at and certain he deserved it.
Reluctantly, he got out of the truck and walked towards her. "I'm . . ." he started to apologize.
"Driving," she interjected, dangling the keys in front of him. He looked at her with surprise.
"I don't have a license."
"I'm well aware of that. However, I'd like to know that if you are called upon to drive again in an emergency, I won't have to worry about you. Now take the keys and get in," Mel said firmly.
The stunned boy, stared at the keys a moment, digesting what she had said. "You'd worry about me?"
"I'm afraid so. Take the keys," she said, withholding a smile when she saw the boy hesitantly take the keys and look at them with amazement, then happily dart to the driver's seat.
When she got in, Daniel started the engine and revved it a few times. When he revved it a few times more with a gleam in his eye and a disturbing grin on his face, Mel looked at him with concern. What did I just do?
"Daniel . . . ," she cautioned.
"Heh. You were worried there a minute, weren't you?"
"If you would please just drive me to the cabin, instead of completely gray, I would greatly appreciate it," Mel said dryly.
Daniel chuckled, turned on the radio, and drove away from Blake's drug store - whistling.
Chapter 13 - Ante Up
After dinner, which no one had an appetite for, they sat quietly at the kitchen table as the Colonel pulled the cards and poker chips off a shelf with a yawn.
"Are you sure we can't play for money?" Daniel asked hopefully, figuring the Colonel to be his only real opponent.
"Daniel, I do not condone gambling," Melinda said firmly.
"But we're gonna bet with chips, why not money?" Daniel persisted. Paul sighed, rolling his eyes.
"Daniel, it's different," Melinda said. Before he could argue, the Colonel interjected. "Son, we're using chips or we're not playing," he said as he joined them at the table and sat down.
Daniel sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Smart boy," he said. Paul laughed derisively.
"Be nice," Mel scolded Paul, getting Daniel to sassily smile at his brother. The Colonel yawned again.
"Colonel? You tired already?" Daniel asked. "It's only eight."
"Oh great, Daniel. Why don't you just remind him he's old," Paul snapped at his brother.
Mel and her grandfather looked at each other.
"I didn't say he was old, you idiot, I just asked if he was tired," Daniel responded.
Mel looked at the Colonel and shrugged. Daniel was right.
"Well, you moron, what do you think his yawning means?" Paul snapped.
The Colonel raised a questioning eyebrow at his granddaughter. It was kind of obvious.
"Don't call me a moron, jerk face! I was asking because . . . "
Mel looked at her grandfather, who waited expectantly for Daniel to continue. Because he was showing he cared . . . ?
"You're a moron," Paul supplied helpfully. "I am not!" Daniel responded in a huff as the adults started to chuckle, interrupting the heated argument.
"What?" The boys asked in unison. Adults could be very weird sometimes.
"I wish I had that much energy," the Colonel said and yawned, getting up from his chair.
"Where are you going?" Mel asked, glancing at the boys, then returning her uneasy gaze to the older man. Things were going so well, she thought, considering there was a much better chance that it would continue if he stayed.
"The boys are right. I am old and tired. I'm going to bed," he said bluntly.
"Are you sure?" Mel asked, uneasily.
"Yup," he said and headed towards a bedroom, stopping long enough to squeeze Mel's shoulder. "G'night Mel. Boys, don't stay up too late."
"Yes, sir," they said. "Good night, Colonel," Paul said. "Yeah, good night," Daniel echoed, getting a nod from the man before he retired to a bedroom with a small smirk on his face.
The three sat silently at the table and looked at each other, then stared at the cards a moment.
"Well! What will it be? Five-card stud, deuces wild?" Mel finally blurted, getting surprised looks from the boys.
"You really know how to play?" Daniel asked skeptically.
Mel sighed, picked up the deck and started shuffling. The boys watched with amazement as she skillfully cut the deck with one hand, then separated the deck into two halves, which she blended together with a flourish. Fanning out the cards on the table in a precise arc, she lifted up the end card on the right, causing the cards to stand up and turn over to reveal their faces. When the last card turned into her left hand, she flicked them back over and scooped them neatly up into her right hand. After shuffling them once more with a flourish, she neatly set the deck down in front of the boys and pushed up her glasses.
"I have many skills," Mel said dryly, noting with satisfaction the surprise on the boys' faces.
Daniel scratched the back of his head as Paul smiled and cut the deck. "Ante up," she said, picking up the cards. They quickly divided up the chips and each tossed in one into the center of the table. Mel quickly dealt with precise flicks of her wrist, landing the cards directly in front of each player into neat piles.
As they studied their cards, Mel sighed. "Paul, don't frown. That's a dead giveaway," Mel scolded him and pushed up her glasses, making Daniel frown.
"Ugh. I keep forgetting. That's why they always beat me!" Paul complained with irritation at his brother. "Thanks, Mel," Paul said sincerely, discarding two cards. "Yeah, thanks a lot, Mel," Daniel grumbled with a heavy sigh.
She looked between them with surprise. They had both just called her Mel. "You're very welcome," she said with a pleased smile, dealing Paul two cards. Daniel rolled his eyes.
After they played a few hands, it was apparent that Mel could indeed play poker. Her pile of chips steadily grew as his dwindled, Daniel noted. And even Paul, perhaps the worst player on the face of the Earth, still managed to have more than he did. Daniel was the last to toss in his ante and sighed as Mel finished dealing.
"I don't get it," Daniel said out of the blue, picking up his hand and organizing his cards.
"Surprise, surprise," Paul said sarcastically, picking up his hand.
"Paul," Mel said firmly. "Be . . . "
"Nice," the boys finished in unison with smirks. Well, at least she knew they were listening, she considered, arranging the cards in her hand.
"What is it you don't get, Daniel?" Mel asked, noting Paul smiling broadly as he looked at his hand. Mel rolled her eyes, wondering how many times she would have to remind him about his poker face.
"Well, it seems like lots of people like to tell others what to do," Daniel started bluntly, discarding three cards.
Paul shook his head warily, confident his brother was going to step into something unpleasant soon.
"As in adult-child relationships, perhaps?" Mel asked with amusement, surprising Daniel, who grinned slightly while she dealt him three replacement cards.
"Well, that is one case, but I was actually thinking . . . ," Daniel said, as Paul discarded one card and opened his mouth.
Mel's glare preempted Paul's sarcastic comment.
". . . more about the different churches and religions," Daniel continued, surprising and intriguing Mel, who dealt herself two cards. "They all seem to have different rules. But each group thinks only theirs are right and if you don't follow them, you're damned."
"As long as they don't bother us, they can think what the hell they want," Paul muttered a familiar opinion. "Uh . . . sorry," he said uneasily, wincing at Mel's displeased look, then looked at his cards. With a pleased smile, Paul tossed in two blue chips.
"But not all of them can be right. Jews don't believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. But the Christians think we're not going to go be saved because of that. Not everyone can be right," he argued, tossing in two blue chips.
"You're right. Not everyone can be right. And people are amazingly flawed, Daniel," Mel said, tossing in two blue chips and throwing in two more white chips, knowing that was all Daniel had left. "That's why you have to decide what is right for you."
"Do you think I will go to hell if I don't believe in Jesus Christ?" Daniel asked bluntly and tossed his last two chips in, looking at her uneasily.
Mel looked at him with surprise then shook her head. "No. I don't," Mel said softly. "I think GOD will judge you on the person you are and how you live your life, not on what religion you practice . . . or don't practice."
Paul looked at his cards again with a big smile and pushed his whole pile of chips in the center of the table, eyeing his broke brother spitefully.
"Jerk," Daniel said to Paul with an irritated sigh. "But you're Baptist," Daniel said to Mel.
"Yes." Mel eyed Paul with disappointment, then pushed her larger pile in the center with a thin smile. Paul frowned, not expecting that cutthroat move from Mel. Daniel grinned. "All or nothing?" Mel suggested sweetly, getting a reluctant nod from Paul, who eyed his cards with less confidence now.
"And don't Baptists also believe that your love of Muló is a sin?" Daniel continued.
"Yes," she said with a sad sigh.
"But you love her."
"Oh yes." A smile emerged.
"Then how can you be Baptist??" Daniel asked, very confused.
Tapping his fingers impatiently on the table, Paul looked between the two, who seemed to forget they were still playing the game.
Mel took a deep, thoughtful breath. "I was raised Baptist and I'm still comfortable there. And while I disagree with some things, I still believe in much of what the Baptist church teaches."
"Must be frustrating."
"Yes, at times," Mel admitted.
"Call?" Paul blurted impatiently, ready to win.
Eyeing Paul with a raised brow, Mel presented her cards on the table. "But I don't believe I have to be in complete agreement all the time to still belong."
"Damn," Paul muttered, his full house, Jacks-high wasn't enough. "Uh, sorry," he said, in response to another raised eyebrow.
"Sort of like you and Muló," Daniel said, drawing a curious look from Mel. "You two don't agree all the time either, but you still belong together, right?"
Mel smiled and nodded.
"I'm going to bed," Paul announced dejectedly, staring at his losing cards. He was sure he was going to finally win big. "Good night." He sighed, shaking his head.
"Good night, Paul," Mel said warmly, watching him retreat to a bedroom.
Daniel looked at her hand then his and shook his head, tossing his lousy cards down. "She taught you how to play, didn't she?"
Mel nodded. "On one dig, it seemed as if we were going to need to build an ark, it rained so much," she said, getting a chuckle from the boy. "Our work was delayed for weeks and as you can imagine, Janice was getting stir-crazy trapped in our tent with nothing to do."
Daniel looked skeptical. "That was before we were . . . anyway," Mel noted uncomfortably, getting an understanding nod from the enlightened boy. "I knew she loved poker so I had asked her to teach me. She thought I had finally gone stir-crazy myself," she chuckled at the memory. "She knew very well, I did not approve of gambling. But I learned that I actually do like poker - as a game. When I first played, I used to have a poker-face like Paul's. Janice would get so frustrated with me," she admitted, shaking her head with amusement, recalling how she quickly learned how much fun it was to deliberately make faces to see how long before Janice would react.
"She does with Paul too."
"Did she teach you two to play?" Mel asked, picking up the chips and putting them and the cards away.
"Yeah," he said with a sad sigh, looking over to Janice's bedroom. "She taught us a lot."
Chapter 14 - Silent Partners
After talking with Daniel, which was one bright spot to this whole ordeal, Mel retired for the evening, declaring she was going to give sleep a chance. Neither she nor Daniel actually believed they would sleep well, but each pretended - because sleeping was the normal thing to do.
Mel entered the bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light. No light was needed for the bright moonlight spilled through the windowpanes and onto the floor, creating a hazy blue-gray hue that filled the room. She softly padded to the large chair by the window, glancing at Janice's dark silhouette on the bed. Sitting slowly, her eyes never left the disturbing form, hoping to see her lover stir.
After a long, still moment, she sighed and took her glasses off, setting them down on the small table next to the chair. Rubbing her eyes, she sat back and looked up at the ceiling. "Where are you?" She implored softly, and glanced at Janice. After a moment of silence, she laughed without humor. "I suppose you think death is a good excuse for not talking." After another quiet moment, she leaned back in her chair with a long exhale.
"Can you hear my thoughts?" She asked, curling up in the chair and turning towards her lover. "I am not strong enough to let you go, Janice. I know it's selfish but I need you here," Mel told her. "Desperately."
Closing her eyes, Mel prayed for Janice to come home.
Miranda sat with her chin resting on her hands that were folded on top of the hospital bed railing. "It was incredible," she gushed to the unconscious student. "I felt so . . . alive. It's hard to explain," she said with awe.
"Can you believe I got the book at a yard sale?" She chuckled. "And I didn't even want to go with my sister that day. I'm lucky I did," she said and smiled at Ellen. "The book is the key, Ellen. Everything I've ever wanted, I'll have."
"Oh, I know I'll have to be patient," she said pragmatically. "Not everything can happen over night. But it will happen. Soon," she said confidently. "And after Melinda has grieved a proper amount of time, we'll be together," she said. "Just like we were meant to be," Miranda added, then glanced at the unconscious student an uncomfortable moment.
The nurse came in, startling Miranda, who stood awkwardly. "Sit down, dear. I'm just here to take vitals. You can keep on visiting." The older woman said with a warm smile.
As she put the blood pressure cuff on Ellen, Miranda smiled weakly at the nurse. "You're a good girl to visit your friend like this," the nurse said approvingly and pumped. "It can only help," the nurse added as she adjusted the stethoscope under the cuff and listened as she let out the air, while Miranda uncomfortably watched.
The banging of pans, followed by loud shushing startled Mel. Glancing at the blurry door, she grabbed her neck, which protested her night in the chair. "Ugh," she moaned as she shifted, the rest of her body joining the protest.
The banging continued as well as some irritated, but thankfully muffled voices.
"Dear Lord, they're loud enough to wake the dead," she said as she put her glasses on. And odd thought crossed her mind and she glanced at Janice expectantly. After a long, uneventful moment, she sighed, knowing she was just grasping at straws.
Getting up from the chair, she walked to the archeologist's side and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at her lover's face. Her complexion seemed less pale in the bright morning light . . . or was that just what she wanted to see? Mel wondered uneasily, reaching out to caress Janice's face as two eyes popped open and the lifeless body sucked in a large, ragged breath.
"Aaah!" Mel yelled as she jumped back and off the bed, landing on the floor with a thud.
Quickly scrambling to her feet with a hand pressed firmly against her chest, as if needed to keep her erratically pounding heart inside, she gushed "Oh, Dear Lord!" She adjusted her glasses and hovered over her lover, reaching out with a trembling hand to caress her wonderfully alive face.
Janice smiled weakly. "Hi."
Mel exhaled with an explosion of relief and planted a firm, thankful kiss on Janice's forehead. "Hi." Mel responded, looking into tired green eyes. "It took you long enough," she said uneasily.
"Almost two days," Mel said tightly as she caressed Janice's face.
"How do you feel?"
"Do you want some aspirin?"
"Won't . . . work."
"Do you want to sit up?"
"Not yet," Janice said, clearly exhausted.
Mel looked at her, startled. Was that normal? What was normal, she wondered, then nodded. "Of course. Of course. You need to rest," she blurted nervously, fussing at Janice's hair and crunched clothes. "I should go tell Grandfather and the boys, you're . . . back."
"I'm . . . sorry," Janice whispered guiltily. Mel looked into her eyes a surprised moment. She gently touched Janice's lips and shook her head.
"Doctor Covington," Mel said "You had better get better quickly so you can apologize to me properly," Mel said firmly, caressing her partner's cheek that rose in a weak smile.
"Obser . . . vation."
"I'll go tell them you're back," Mel got up, but leaned over and gently kissed Janice on the lips. "Don't go anywhere."
"Ha," she countered weakly, her drowsy eyes unable to stay open.
Mel apprehensively watched her partner a moment. Seeing Janice's chest continue to rise and fall in a restful sleep, she shut her eyes with relief and thanked the Lord.
Opening the bedroom door, she gasped with surprise, finding the twins and her grandfather standing right there, looking at her expectantly. Though a less traumatic shock, she was still grateful she had a strong heart, which beat strongly under her palm.
"She's worn out and sleeping now," Mel announced, prompting relieved smiles.
"Told you she'd be ok," Daniel informed Paul. The Colonel grinned as he looked at his surprised granddaughter.
"You did not!" Paul argued incredulously. Mel raised an eyebrow at the Colonel, who just smiled.
"I did too," Daniel said as he headed towards the kitchen, followed by his annoyed brother.
"You are such a dipwad," Paul said, then quickly said "sorry" as he glanced back to Mel, whose eyebrows furrowed curiously. Dipwad?
Chapter 15 - Family Matters
As Christine handed Mel a brown bag full of baklava and made change, Mel softly asked "How is project Honest Woman, coming along?"
"So . . . , how is Janice?" Christine asked. The thin smile on her face and change in topic was answer enough.
"Better, thankfully," Mel said softly. "We still don't know what happened," she added, shaking her head wearily.
"You hang in there."
"Yeah. You too," Mel said with a small grin as she absently rubbed the back of her neck. Christine rolled her eyes.
"Dr. Pappas?" The young student said with surprise as she entered the restaurant with a novel in hand. She had spotted her teacher from the sidewalk.
"Miranda, how nice to see you," Mel said with a polite smile, standing a bit stiffly. Christine eyed her uncomfortable friend and the girl. She smirked and found some paper to shuffle by the register. "Are you ready for the new semester?" Mel asked, glancing sharply at her friend, who could have made a better effort to not appear to be so blatantly eavesdropping.
"Uh, yes. How are you, Dr. Pappas?" Miranda asked with concern.
A very good question, Mel thought wearily. "Fine, thank you," she responded with a smile and turned to pick up the brown bag. "I've got to get back home. JJ is waiting for his baklava," Mel told Christine primly. "I still owe him for letting Janice and the twins go camping without him . . . even after their trip was cut short," she complained and pushed her glasses up.
Miranda watched Mel, who seemed to be taking this amazingly well. But then, she is a remarkable woman, the student thought with admiration, noting how Melinda courageously marched on to take care of her family's needs.
"And here I thought the little dear could only spell extortion," Christine noted with amusement.
"No, no," Mel quickly corrected her friend. "He can use it in a sentence and practice the concept in real-life situations too," JJ's mother explained proudly, holding up the brown bag as proof.
The student looked between the laughing women with surprise. This was certainly not the kind of mourning she expected. Perhaps she realizes she is finally free, Miranda suddenly thought with a hopeful smile. Free to be with . . . .
"Tell Janice, I hope she feels better soon," Christine said warmly, making Miranda's hopeful smile crumble in confusion. "We need her business," Christine added with a big grin.
"D . . . Dr. Covington isn't feeling well?" The stunned student blurted with amazement, eyeing Melinda, who thought the student's reaction seemed oddly dramatic. Perhaps she is just attempting to stay in my good graces by showing concern, Mel thought warily, then dismissed the unfairly suspicious notion.
"I'm afraid not. But, thankfully, she's getting better," Mel said softly and glanced at her watch. "I really have got to get going, Miranda. Have a good night," she said with a polite smile and turned to Christine. "You'll call if you have any news?"
"Honey, if there's any news, you'll know. Everyone will know. I'll take out a newspaper ad, a radio ad, and I'll . . . ," Christine announced, then looked at Mel curiously. "How much do you think one of those sky writing planes costs?
"I think it would be cheaper to just tell Mrs. Merrick," Mel informed her friend, smiled thinly, and left with her brown bag. The stunned student numbly watched the tall professor leave the restaurant as Christine chuckled and grabbed a menu.
"Dinner for one, Miranda?" Christine asked the student, who looked at her oddly and quickly left the restaurant without saying a word.
Christine shook her head. "Odd girl."
Miranda entered her room and slammed the door angrily behind her. "No, No, NO!" Growling, she began to pace like a caged tiger, running her fingers through her hair. "How? How could she have survived?!?" She said then began to bite her thumbnail anxiously.
She stopped to eye the trunk at the foot of her bed with irritation, then growled and started to pace again. "This isn't getting me anywhere," she said and stopped, taking a deep breath. "I just need to calm down and plan," she said and went to her window.
Taking another breath, she gazed out over the courtyard. In the dormitory on the other side, a student stood at her window caught Miranda's eye. The student was chatting passionately with her girlfriend and showing her clothing. Miranda shook her head at the disgusting waste of time and the amazing lack of privacy dormitory life offered. She could see inside various dorm rooms. With surprising interest, she saw the one girl now angry as the other one stormed out of the room.
She blinked thoughtfully, then looked back at the trunk curiously.
The black bird hopped onto the windowsill and tilted its head to look at the courtyard sidewalk, three stories below. Ruffling its feathers, the raven walked along the sill and looked down again. With a few tentative hops, it finally flapped its wings and took to the sky, circling triumphantly around the dormitory building before heading away from the campus and towards a barn home, miles away.
The raven landed uneasily on a thick branch, frantically flapping its wings to regain balance as its claws dug in deep. Now steady, the bird eyed the building next to the tree, the old Miller barn that was now the Pappas and Covington residence. The bird stared into the closest window, which was dark. Hearing familiar voices from a lit window a few feet away, the bird flapped its wings and hopped to another branch, closer to the light.
Peering inside the window, the bird ruffled its feathers and watched the tall woman finish slipping on a robe and tying the sash around her waist.
"How are you feeling tonight?" Mel asked as she combed her fingers through her hair, stopping to rub her neck.
The raven tilted its head and hopped closer to the window, eyeing the screen.
"Mel, sweetheart," Janice said wearily with a toothbrush still in her mouth, stepping out of the bathroom.
The raven ruffled its feathers. The shorter woman was also in nightwear, which comprised of a short-sleeved man's shirt . . . and socks.
"I'm f . . ." Janice mumbled wearily, absently scratching her itching temple.
"You still have a headache?" Mel interrupted with concern, quickly going to Janice. Before she could protest the mothering, Mel's fingers were massaging her temples. "How does that feel?" The tall woman asked.
"Mel," Janice said and pulled the toothbrush from her mouth-full of toothpaste and headed back into the bathroom, followed by the tall woman. "Maybe aspirin will help," Mel suggested helpfully as Janice spit out the tooth paste and rinsed with water.
An ant climbed through a small gap in the window's screen.
"I told you, aspirin doesn't work. And I don't have a headache anymore. But if you keep this up, Mel, you're gonna give me one," she said looking up from the sink to the tall woman's reflection in the mirror as she wiped her mouth with a towel.
"I can't just stop worrying, Janice," Mel responded defensively, crossing her arms over her chest uneasily.
"I know. I know," Janice said softly and sighed. "I'm sorry, sweetheart."
The raven ruffled its feathers on the nightstand, looking around the bedroom as the woman continued their discussion in the bathroom.
"It's just you've had a bad headache for over a week, Janice."
"I'm fine now," Janice assured, turning to face the tall woman.
The raven flew to the bureau, landing on top. It hopped past a jewelry box, then a small silver-framed picture of the two women laughing and stopped at a wooden brush. Tilting its head, it eyed the yellow strands woven through the bristles.
"Mel. . . ."
"You are sure you don't have a headache now?"
"No, I don't have a . . . WHOA!" A thud vibrated the wall. "Jesus, you could have given me some. . . ."
"You . . . feel . . . fine?"
"Ooohh . . . yes. . . OW! "
"Oh . . . Sorry."
"You might be a little more convincing if you weren't laughing, Mel."
"But I am . . . so very . . . sorry."
"You still don't seem that . . . uhhh."
"You were . . . saying?"
"Noth. . . thing . . . ugh." Another thump against the bathroom wall. "Oh GOD."
A crash startled the women, who emerged from the bathroom a bit disheveled. Mel tied her sash, noting a brush and picture on the floor by the bureau. She knelt down and picked the items up, noting with a frown the glass was cracked. Janice went to the door, finding it still locked
"How . . . ?" Mel asked dumbfounded, rubbing the odd tingle at the back of her neck again. She returned the items on top of the bureau, pondering how they could have fallen. Maybe the thud against the bathroom wall, she guessed, then bit her lip and blushed at her amorous outburst.
Janice went to a window and tested the screen curiously. To her surprise, a bird on a branch just outside squawked and flew away, surprising her. "Jesus!"
Janice shook her head and glanced up at the night sky through the tree branches. Something below caught her eye, startling her. She saw a figure quickly dash behind the tree. A man? Anxiously rummaging through her night-stand drawer, Janice quickly pulled out a phallus, rolled her eyes, tossed it on the bed, then grabbed the flashlight.
"What is it?" Mel asked, joining her side as she curiously glanced from the bed to the window.
"I thought I saw someone down there," she explained and quickly put her pants on.
"Do you think . . . someone was in our room?" Mel gasped, looking at the bureau uneasily, though her jewelry box was untouched.
"I don't see how, Sweetheart," Janice said. "But, someone's down there and shouldn't be," she said with irritation. "I'm going to take a look around," Janice announced firmly and left the bedroom. Mel was right behind her, putting her glasses on. "What do you think you are doing?" Janice asked, stopping abruptly. Mel almost collided into her.
"What do you think I'm doing?" Mel countered with irritation.
"Following me outside to look for what I thought I saw?"
Mel smiled thinly. Janice opened her mouth to argue but was interrupted when the twin's bedroom door opened.
"Hey, what's going on?" Daniel asked as the twins poked their heads out of their room.
"Just saw something out the window," Janice said with forced indifference, though the boys still exchanged interested looks. "Go back to . . . " she quickly added.
"We'll help you look," they offered eagerly and started down stairs.
". . . sleep," Janice said, wondering exactly at what point she lost control.
"Stop!" Janice barked, successfully halting the boys, who looked up at her curiously as JJ's door opened. "Mama?" JJ asked sleepily through a yawn.
Looking back at the innocently shrugging woman who pushed up her glasses, Janice knew the answer - the moment she first set eyes on Melinda Pappas.
Janice shook her head as she finally went outside - alone. She had to put her sock-covered foot down and tell her eager family she, and she alone, was going outside to look around. Looking up, she saw four anxious heads sticking out of various windows. "Jesus Christ, would you guys stay inside?" She barked at them. Reluctantly, the four heads became just one. "Mel." The one, very annoyed head became none.
With a sigh, she started to look around the house for signs of someone had been lurking around. She knew there was no chance she'd catch the guy now. For all the time it took for her to get outside, alone, he could be in New York by now. Shining her light over the ground, then up on the side of the house and at the windowsills, her irritation grew, finding no sign of the guy. Concluding this was a waste of time, she blew out an irritated breath and headed back, wondering who the hell would be lurking outside their window.
Returning inside, Janice saw the three boys looking at her expectantly, and Mel, who was not particularly pleased with her decision to investigate without her. "Found nothing. Go to sleep."
"Yes, ma'am," Mel snapped and turned briskly. Janice cringed as she watched the tall woman square her shoulders and march up the stairs. Something told her that wasn't a good sign. The twins smiled uneasily at her.
"Go on. It's ok," she said, hoping she was right. They nodded and headed up stairs. She turned off the living room light and held out her hand for the littlest Pappas. "Come on, Sport," Janice said.
JJ took her hand and sighed as they climbed the stairs. "Janice?" He finally asked as they got to the top.
"Do you think it was a robber?" He asked as they entered his bedroom.
"Don't know," she said, picking him up with an unexpected groan and tossing the heavier-than-expected boy unceremoniously onto his bed. He giggled.
He's getting big, Janice noted, rubbing her lower back.
"You forgot to tuck me in," he noted, staring at her expectantly, unmoving.
"Oh," Janice said and proceeded to throw the sheet over him. Diligently, she tucked in the sides and top, completely covering him. "There," she said, putting her hands on her hips and firmly nodding. "All tucked."
"I can't breath," he complained, poking at the sheet, giggling.
"Picky, picky," Janice said with a belabored sigh, pulling the sheet free from the bottom of his bed so his feet stuck out. "There," she said. "Some air."
"Janice!" He said with feigned exasperation as he dug himself out from beneath the sheet.
His giggling faded as he looked at her seriously. "What if it was a robber? Do you think he would have a gun?"
"JJ," she said, tucking the bottom of the sheet back in. "If it was a robber, it is very likely he wouldn't have a gun. Getting caught with one means a longer time in jail," she explained and sat on the edge of the bed.
He sighed, thinking about what she said. "But what if he did?"
"Then I would stop him," Janice promised firmly.
JJ nodded. "But . . . if you couldn't?"
Janice smiled. "Then he would face our secret weapon and regret the day he was born."
"What secret weapon?"
"Shh. If I told you . . . ," she said and pushed firmly against his forehead, causing him to lie down. He frowned at the non-answer.
"You gonna be ok?" She asked softly, squeezing his shoulder gently.
"Yeah. Good night, Janice," he said and sat up, surprising her with a tight hug.
"Good night, Sport," she said, returning the gift.
"Good night, Mama," JJ called out over Janice's shoulder.
Janice quickly looked back at the doorway with surprise. "Good night, JJ," Mel said softly, glancing at Janice an uneasy moment before dropping her gaze and retreating to their bedroom.
Janice returned to their room as Mel sat down on the bed. She no longer looked irritated, Janice noted with some relief as she turned off the light and locked the door, more from habit than expectation.
"I'm sorry," Mel said, surprising the archeologist, who went into the bathroom for a glass of water.
"It's ok. The spigot didn't cause any permanent damage," Janice said with a shrug, turned out the bathroom light with her elbow, and walked towards the bed with two glasses.
"You make apologizing rather difficult, you know that?" Mel said, accepting a glass and placing it on the nightstand.
"One of my more impressive skills," she said, setting her glass down next to Mel's.
"I am sorry," Mel said and sighed as Janice took her pants off and tossed them over a chair. "I just wanted to jump in and. . . ."
". . . the spigot just got in the way, I know," Janice said with understanding, earning a slap on her arm from her lover. "Ow!" Janice said with a pout, cradling her now injured arm.
"That did not hurt."
"Of course it did. I'm a delicate flower, Mel. I bruise easily," Janice argued indignantly, getting a hearty guffaw from her lover, who fell back on the bed, holding her stomach. "Something tells me you don't believe me," she complained as Mel shifted, then laughed saucily as she carefully propped herself up, eyeing the archeologist with a grin.
"Well then, I guess I should tend to the damage I've done," Mel said with poorly feigned sympathy. Janice sighed and held out her arm, which Mel grabbed to pull her lover into bed, face down.
"And this is helping h . . . ?" Janice mumbled into the sheets, sucking in a breath and moaning approvingly when Mel thoroughly tended to her other bruise with highly arousing kisses.
When Mel stopped, Janice's initial objections were quickly forgotten with a swift and very fulfilling surprise.
"Oh," the archeologist squeaked in understanding.
Mel followed closely behind Janice as she went to the hall closet and retrieved her hat.
"Are you sure you don't want . . . ?" Mel asked anxiously.
"Sweetheart," Janice interrupted. "I think I can manage being on my own a bit," Janice said with forced patience. Mel had been hovering over her for days and she needed some space. They both did, Janice was certain. And after last night, she thought Mel would have to agree she had recovered fully.
"If you think so," Mel said worriedly, wondering if she might just pass out again, all alone.
Janice took her hand and lifted it up to her lips. "I'm sure when I get back, you'll be wishing I had stayed out longer."
"Not likely," Mel grumbled as Janice kissed her hand.
"Oh? So I've been such a bowl of cherries these past few days, you can't stand to be away from my little ol' sunny self for even a minute?"
A small smile emerged. "Uh, I wouldn't exactly put it that way. Maybe the twins could go with. . . ."
"Mel, I am just going to pick up the truck, Sweetheart," Janice said with a sigh. "I'll be back in time for lunch."
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