Part 6 & End
Chapter 26 - And Life Goes
Victoria clenched the receiver and exhaled with relief as Janice told her all was well again. "Thank the Lord."
Janice bit her lip, twirling her finger in the phone cord. "Victoria?"
"Thank you . . . for believing in me," Janice said uncomfortably, grateful they were speaking on the phone and not in person.
"Yes, well, anyone who would polish Melinda's silver can't be all that bad. I'm sure you'll make sure she gets plenty of rest?" Victoria said firmly.
"Yes, Ma'am. Tell the boys we'll see them tomorrow?" Janice asked with a small smile.
"They already know, they're hovering over me like old busy bodies," Victoria complained, glancing around the room of expectant faces.
"Hey, Muló!" Paul and Daniel blurted loudly, making the older woman cringe. "Let me talk to, Janice," JJ said holding his hand out expectantly. "Then me!" Daniel said. "And me," Paul said.
Victoria rolled her eyes and looked at her husband, who smiled and puffed his pipe as he happily returned to chair and novel.
Janice hung up the phone, shaking her head. She thanked God she had good news for the family. Wiping her eyes with annoyance, she growled at her inability to control those goddamned tears. With a sniff, she went to the dining room, which still was set for the formal dinner.
She sighed as she started cleaning up the remnants of a romantic dinner that was never enjoyed. Well that wasn't exactly true, she considered when she peaked under the cover of a silver serving tray. The Greek delicacies were now being enjoyed by a puffy mold, she noticed with a grimace. Hearing Mel coming down the stairs she looked up. "Hey! You just came back from the dead. You should be resting," Janice scolded her. "I know what I'm talking about."
"I'm finished resting," Mel said simply as she approached the dining-room table curiously.
"Mel . . ."
"What's all this?" Mel asked with surprise, looking at the elaborate dinner setting.
"Uh . . . a dinner I threw together . . . for Friday," Janice said uncomfortably.
"Oh, Janice. I'm so sorry," Mel said guiltily, looking at the wonderful table then Janice sadly.
"It wasn't your fault. And there will be other romantic dinners," Janice said with a small smile for the tall woman.
Mel smiled. "I'm going to hold you to that, Dr. Covington."
"You know, if you're hungry, I'm sure you could find some Baklava in the refrigerator."
"No doubt. But I'm fine, thank you," Mel said and started to help Janice clean up.
"I've got it, Sweetheart. You don't have to. . . ."
"Janice," Mel interrupted as she picked up the silverware, curiously glancing at the amazingly bright shine. See! She didn't need to polish it as often as Grandmother said, she thought triumphantly.
"The sooner this gets cleaned up, the sooner we can sit down and talk," Mel said, waiting for the inevitable groan from her partner. To her surprise, Janice looked at her and nodded.
When they finished, Mel surprised Janice by picking up a wine bottle and two glasses before heading to the living room. Janice followed with a smile.
Mel sat on the couch, placing the glasses on the coffee table. Holding out the bottle to her partner, she asked "Would you mind?"
Taking the bottle, Janice smiled and pulled out her pocketknife and quickly opened the bottle. After pouring the wine, Janice held out a glass to Mel. As Mel took it, the gold ring clinked against the crystal wineglass. Janice nervously looked at Mel, who eyed the ring neutrally before looking up at Janice.
"That was one of the things I wanted to talk about," Mel said uneasily.
"I . . . you were . . . I wanted you to have it," Janice blurted, sitting next to her.
"When I saw it, I honestly didn't know if it was from you or Miranda," Mel said uneasily, exhaling with great relief. She placed her glass on the table before happily inspecting the band.
"It's from me," Janice said, taking a gulp of her wine before blurting "You don't have to wear it. I just. . . ." Janice said but was interrupted by a kiss.
"Oh Janice, it's perfect. I love it. I love you," Mel said and kissed her again. "I am not taking it off," she said firmly after their lips parted. "Ever."
Janice smiled with relief, taking her hand and eyeing the ring that looked so right on Mel's finger. She sighed. "I wish it really meant something," Janice said regretfully,
"Janice Covington! It means something to you, doesn't it?" Mel said with irritation.
"Yes," Janice said with a small smile. Mel was beautiful when she was mad. It was fortunate, really, Janice considered. She tended to get Mel mad a lot.
"And it certainly means something to me. So how can you possibly sit there and say it doesn't mean something?" Mel said sternly.
"You know, this isn't exactly the conversation I had envisioned when I gave you the ring," Janice said flatly. "Of course, I didn't envision giving it to you when you were dead either," she said and gulped her wine.
Mel sighed and caressed Janice's frowning face. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "You had it all planned out, a wonderful dinner, flowers, and . . . "
"Miranda happened," Janice said flatly. "But you're here with me now, that's what matters," Janice said, taking the hand and kissing her palm.
"Yes," Mel said with a small smile and glanced away. "So . . . what conversation did you have in mind?" She asked shyly, surprising Janice, who finished her wine.
"Oh . . . uh, after serving you Lee's fine food and some wine, which is really good by the way," Janice said, pouring herself another glass. "I'd bring you here," she said, motioning to the couch. "The candles would be lit," she said, glancing to the mantle full of unlit candles.
"I love candles," Mel offered approvingly, glancing at the mantle.
"And romantic music would be playing in the background," Janice said, nodding towards the radio.
"I love romantic music," Mel offered, making Janice nod and sip her wine.
"I'd tell you, after pacing a bit because I'd be kind of nervous," Janice admitted uneasily with a shrug, making Mel smile.
"I'd tell you that if we were a man and woman with the love that we have . . . this ring," she said, taking Melinda's hand and rubbing her thumb over the gold band, which now fit perfectly on Mel's finger. ". . . would be no surprise," Janice said with a sigh. "I'd tell you, that even though we are not a man and woman, I still wanted to make that kind of promise to you. And a commitment to us," Janice continued, making Mel very happy. Janice sipped her wine again, which started to make her feel more relaxed.
"Then I'd recite some really sappy poetry. . . ."
"You would not," Mel challenged with amusement.
"Just seeing if you were paying attention," Janice said with a chuckle, finishing her wine.
"Trust me, Janice, you have my undivided attention."
"Anyway, I'd tell you . . . , " Janice continued, then grew very serious. "I love you more than I ever thought it possible to love someone . . . and I'd ask you to ignore the fact we can't get married. I'd ask you to be my wife, Mel."
Mel smiled widely, squeezing Janice's hand. "And after an appropriate amount of time, I would tell you - yes," she said looking fondly at her ring.
"You'd actually make me wait?!?" Janice responded with surprise.
"Well, it's the proper thing for a Southern lady to do, Janice," Mel explained patiently.
"And just how long would you make me wait?" Janice asked, pouring herself another glass and taking a sip.
"Oh, one or two . . . minutes," Mel said, making Janice shake her head with a chuckle.
"An eternity!" Janice claimed, then sighed. "I just which we could."
"You "which" we could?" She asked with amusement.
"Huh?" Janice said and sipped her wine.
"You said you "which" you could."
"No, I said I which I could," Janice said, a bit sluggishly, shaking her head that felt pleasantly light.
"Janice?" Mel said hesitantly, looking at her flush partner. She had been told it was impossible, but that would explain what Mel was seeing and hearing.
"What?" Janice said with a chuckle.
"Are you . . . drunk?" She asked hesitantly.
"Drunk? Ha! Good one. You know I can't get drunk anymore," Janice said with amusement, indulgently patting Mel's knee as she looked at her suddenly empty glass. "Hmmm."
Mel tilted Janice's head so Janice was looking at her. "I think you are," Mel said with amazement, then smiled broadly at what that could mean. "You're drunk!" Mel said happily and laughed.
Janice looked at her with a frown, starting to shake her head no but stopped herself. Blinking, she looked at the empty glass then thought about how she was feeling. There was a definite buzz. A major buzz. She hadn't had that ever since the ambrosia.
Along with that buzz was an uncomfortable churn in her nearly empty stomach. "Oh God," Janice blurted, her hand going to her mouth as she bolted to the bathroom.
A couple hours later, Janice brushed her teeth, gargled, again, and, for the hell of it, took two aspirin, before finally leaving the bathroom. When she joined Mel in their bedroom, she blurted "Ugh." Mel smiled.
"What do you think this means?" Mel asked with excitement, putting on her robe.
"That I'm unable to drink three glasses of wine without throwing up," Janice said flatly as she sat and pulled her boots off.
"Do you think you're now . . . ?" Mel asked with cautious hope.
"Mortal? I don't know. You could shoot me and find out," Janice said grumpily, rubbing her temples.
"What is with you? This could be the most wonderful thing and you act like this is another curse. Are you now saying you want to be immortal?" Mel asked with frustration.
"Mel, I got sick after three glasses of wine. Three! No Covington was ever sick after three glasses of anything, let alone wine!"
Mel stared at her with amazement, shook her head, and climbed into bed with a sigh. After a moment, Janice sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her with an odd look.
"I don't want to get my hopes up," Janice admitted softly. "That's usually when something bad happens. And so much bad has already happened, Mel," she said, vividly recalling the last breath Mel took before she died. As tears sprung to her eyes, she added with disgust "Ah fuck." She took a shaky breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. "You won't tell the boys I've been crying like a baby, will you?" She asked getting a chuckle from Mel.
"Your secret is safe with me," Mel said solemnly, provoking a small smile. Mel held out her hand, which Janice quickly took as she climbed into bed. Mel wiped a tear from Janice's face and gently kissed her. Janice sniffed and burrowed into Mel's comforting embrace.
"I know you don't want to get your hopes up, Janice. But just promise me you'll be a little more careful, just in case? No jumping off of roofs or in front of cars . . . . " Mel said, kissing her head.
"I've never been fond of pain, Mel," Janice countered flatly, sitting up to look in Mel's eyes. "Guess that means I'm not going to drink much. Three fucking. . . ." She frowned.
"Janice," Mel interrupted wearily.
Janice looked at her partner with a soft smile. "You know, except for getting the crap beat out of me by Miranda, your death, and my throwing up, this evening was almost the way I envisioned it."
"Almost?" Mel said curiously, then noticed Janice focusing on her lips intently before she leaned in for a tender kiss.
"Now, about your wifely duties . . . . " Janice said with a grin as she leaned in for another kiss. Two hands stopped her.
"I have needs, you know," Janice said. "And as my wife, you. . . ."
"Wait a minute," Mel interrupted. "As I recall, you never actually asked me, and I never actually agreed to be your wife."
"What?!? And just what do you think all that was in the living room?"
"You were telling me what you envisioned. That's entirely different than actually asking me," Mel said with a satisfied smile.
Janice looked at her a moment. "OK," she acquiesced. "So, will you?" Janice asked with amusement.
"Will you?" Janice asked again.
"You call THAT a proposal?"
Janice shrugged. "Sure. What kind of proposal did you expect?" She asked innocently.
"Well, something with a little more emotion than when asking the time of day," Mel said flatly.
"What time is it anyway?" Janice said glancing at the alarm clock, getting a slap on her arm. "OW."
"Time to woo me," Melinda responded, crossing her arms, and waited expectantly.
"You know, this bruise will probably last much longer now. . . ." Janice grumbled, rubbing her arm.
Mel rolled her eyes. "Ughhh. So much for my romantic proposal." Mel sighed dramatically.
Janice quietly got up, glancing over her shoulder at a curious Mel. The archeologist nodded and started to pace with a thoughtful look on her face. After a few moments of watching Janice walk back and forth, Mel finally asked "Janice? What are you doing?"
"OK, there goes my plan to have you fall asleep to buy me more time," Janice grumbled, making Mel chuckle. The look of serious concentration returned to Janice's face.
"Oh honey, don't hurt yourself. Come back to bed," Mel said with amusement.
"No. No. I can do this, Mel," Janice countered. "Really, I mean, how hard can a romantic proposal be . . . despite no romantic dinner, a confrontation with a wacko, your death, my getting sick, and you already wearing the ring. I'm just having a little block right now. I'm sure romantic inspiration will hit me any moment."
"Janice, come here," Mel said softly. Janice obediently returned to Mel's side of the bed and sat down, looking into her eyes.
"You don't have to say anything to me. You've already won my heart - long ago," Mel said softly, caressing Janice's arm. "I'll . . ."
"Hold on," Janice interrupted her. "Never let it be said I didn't ask you properly," Janice said with a sheepish grin. Taking Mel's hand, she kissed it and looked up at her. "Will you, Melinda Pappas, do me the honor and marry me?" Janice said, getting a big smile from Mel. Janice's eyebrows suddenly furrowed. "You're not going to make me wait for an answer, are you?"
Mel chuckled. "Not as long as you tell Grandmother I made you wait an appropriate amount of time."
Janice rapidly nodded. "I promise."
"Yes, I'll marry you, Janice," Mel said, getting a very happy smile and soft laugh.
"Thank you," Janice said and kissed her lover. When their lips parted, Janice grinned. "Now, about these wifely duties. . . ."
Before she could blink, Janice found herself on her back, pinned under a nicely curved body, looking up into intense blue eyes. "Yesssss, about these duties of yours," Mel said with a husky voice and lowered her lips tantalizingly close to Janice's and waited.
Janice also waited with a happy smile.
Mel pulled back curiously and looked into her lover's happy face. Janice reached up and caressed her lover's cheek. "God, I love your strength," she whispered before pulling Mel in for a hard kiss that prompted Mel to show it.
"Say it again?" Janice asked, exhausted but happily entwined in Mel's arms and legs.
"God, yes, harder?" Mel said through a yawn.
"Nooooo. Your answer . . . ."
"Yes, my love, I'll marry you," Mel said with a chuckle, pulling her arms tighter around her lover.
"Six of my six favorite words," Janice sighed happily.
"Yes. I. Will. Marry. You. Love."
"You said you had seven favorite words," Mel challenged with a smile, drawing her hand over the length of Janice's bare back in a slow caress.
"Oh, right. Beer!" Janice corrected herself and shifted against Mel as she took a long, contented breath.
"You said "home" was your seventh," Mel countered, stopping her caress.
"Oh. Eight favorite words, then," Janice said lazily.
"Beer?" Mel said sitting up, causing Janice to lose her warm pillow and plop down on the mattress. "I'm surprised you missed "cigars!"
"Nine," Janice said into the mattress.
"You think "Beer" and "Cigars" are as important as "I love you" and "Yes, I'll marry you" and "home" !?!"
Janice rolled on her back and looked at her partner, whose brow rose expectantly. Janice grinned. Mel's other brow rose. The archeologist sat up and kissed her partner's bare shoulder.
"Let me spend my lifetime showing you what's important to me," Janice said in a whisper before kissing Mel's lips.
"Ante up," Mrs. Merrick said, tossing her chip in the pile.
After the clinks of the chips in the center of the table, Mrs. Merrick took a sip of Southern Comfort and started to deal the cards.
"So have you heard the news from the hospital?" Julie blurted.
Victoria tensed as she sipped her tea.
"What news?" Gladys asked, pausing her dealing.
"Well, I heard from Kathy Engels, the nice woman from the gift store? That a former student of Melinda's is now in the loony bin."
"No," Gladys gushed with amazement, prompting Julie to nod.
"What a horrible waste," Elizabeth said, shaking her head sadly. "Wasn't she was a straight-A student?"
"What made her snap?" Gladys asked, continuing her dealing.
"Maybe she was studying too hard," Julie said, sorting her cards. "I've heard of students having breakdowns because of grades. It is a shame. Well, at least Kathy had some good news. That student in the coma, Ellen Cooper, has finally woken up. It was the oddest thing."
"Amazing," Gladys said.
"Some amazing things have been happening lately," Victoria said.
"Like what?" Julie asked with excitement.
"Well, Lee finally proposed to Christine," Victoria offered with a smile, recalling the excited phone call from Christine who had practically called everyone she knew. Regardless of the time, she chuckled to herself.
"Really!" Julie said happily.
"When did this happen?" Gladys asked, frowning at Victoria who failed to immediately call her with that news.
"He popped the question when Missy Wagner was at the Spot celebrating her birthday. Seems Christine was so happy, she didn't charge anyone," Elizabeth said, frowning at Victoria, who beat her to the punch.
"Good thing she's rich," Gladys said, sipping her Southern Comfort.
"She won't be if she keeps up throwing her money away like that," Julie said sagely.
"Weddings are not cheap these days," Elizabeth agreed. "And children . . . ," she sighed, shaking her head.
"Speaking of children, how's Paul? Fully recovered I hope," Gladys asked, glancing at Victoria. "Mrs. Kipler was a wreck after your phonecall."
"Kathy was amazed to see you so calm," Julie chimed in.
"Well, Victoria is a Southern lady, Julie," Elizabeth offered.
"Paul's fine, thank you," Victoria interjected uncomfortably. "It wasn't as serious as it could have been . . . ," she trailed off vaguely.
"Must have been pretty scary," Julie said with an amazed sigh. "There was a Charleston football player years ago, before the war, who fell from bleachers and broke his back. Never did walk again."
"Yes, well, we all thank the Good Lord, things worked out for the best," Victoria said.
"Well, for some people I suppose. I can't help of thinking about poor Dr. Covington," Julie said and added teasingly. "It's a shame her fiancé left town."
"Really?" Elizabeth asked, glancing over to Victoria with narrow eyes, once again not hearing anything from her old friend. Victoria sighed and sipped her tea, trying to ignore her.
"Well, Mrs. Kipler told me she had asked Dr. Covington when she and Mr. Titus were going to tie the knot," Gladys shared. "And Dr. Covington told her that they finally realized that they were wrong for each other. And though it was painful now, they agreed it was best for both of them if he just left town," Gladys said, eyeing Victoria with amusement.
Victoria coughed, nearly spitting out her tea. "Excuse me," she said softly, dabbing her lips with a napkin.
"Mrs. Kipler thinks it had something to do with that incident with Gale," Gladys added.
"The poor dear must be heartbroken," Julie explained, shaking her head.
"I had heard she moved back to the barn," Gladys said, glancing at Victoria. "Now what do you suppose she'll do about that child?" She asked curiously.
Victoria sighed wearily. "Janice is not with child," Victoria corrected her firmly, for the millionth time. The three women looked at her with concern.
"Dear Lord, did she . . . How horrible! She loses the poor child and he skips out!" Julie growled.
Victoria's brow furrowed. Gladys withheld a grin and sipped her Southern Comfort.
"Thank GOD she has Melinda," Elizabeth said, shaking her head grimly.
"Yes," Victoria said with a small smile. "They are good for each other."
"Well, I'm not so sure moving back together is such a good idea. It's like they are settling down and giving up on finding a man. It's hard enough already. And neither of them are getting any younger," Julie said sagely.
Gladys glanced at Victoria with amusement as she shifted uncomfortably.
"Even dying her hair isn't going to help in a few years," Elizabeth added with a smirk.
"What?!?" Victoria said, aghast at the thought.
"Please, Victoria. Melinda's gray is gone now. How do you explain that?" Elizabeth said with a chuckle.
"She's not the first woman who has dyed her hair, and she won't be the last," Gladys chimed in, sipping her Southern Comfort. "Though I have to say, that hair job has done wonders for her. She looks years younger. You wouldn't be able to share the name of her hair dresser, would you?" Gladys asked with a chuckle, patting her hair.
Victoria bit her tongue. No Pappas has EVER dyed her hair, but she couldn't very well explain how Melinda's gray disappeared. "I'm afraid I can't give you a name," Victoria said with a tight smile.
"I suppose a lady must have some secrets," Julie said primly.
"Well, it seems Melinda has a few," Elizabeth noted, eyeing Victoria. "Like why she is now wearing a wedding band?"
Victoria swallowed as it seemed that all eyes were on her now. "Well . . . "
"Ah, there's no mystery," Gladys said wearily, shaking her head and sipping her Southern Comfort, which Victoria eyed longingly then glanced down at her tea with a sigh.
"Well do tell, oh wise one," Elizabeth said.
"If I'm not mistaken, it's Virginia's wedding band," Gladys said, surprising all at the table.
Victoria frowned. Virginia had diamonds in her wedding band . . . and Gladys knew that.
"Now that doesn't explain a blessed thing, Gladys Merrick. Why would Melinda be wearing her mother's wedding band?" Elizabeth said with exasperation, watching Gladys finish dealing the cards.
"How will she ever find a husband if she's wearing a wedding band?!?" Julie gasped with horror.
"Julie, I think you were right about them settling down. Sometimes, women realize they just don't want or need to get married," Gladys said. "And some of those women are tired of answering the usual questions like whose she seeing, when she'll settle down, or of the god-awful advice on how to get a man," she said wearily. "I think maybe the wedding band is one way to finally shut people up. Am I close, Victoria?"
"Uh. . . ." Victoria blurted.
"But . . . that's so sad to just give up like that," Julie interjected worriedly.
"Well, I think they might be onto something," Elizabeth muttered, picking up her cards. "Walter snores like a locomotive. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to actually get a good night's sleep," she said flatly, getting a laugh from Gladys.
Julie shook her head and sighed sadly.
"Julie, if they're happy, isn't that what really matters?" Gladys asked the younger woman, who shrugged. "Right, Victoria?" Gladys asked, giving the surprised Pappas matriarch a wink.
Victoria smiled, shaking her head with an amused chuckle. "You know, it took me a while to learn that myself. But that is what really matters."
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Thanks to Trusty for proofreading.