The characters of Janice and Mel are from the Xena: Warrior Princess©
TV series. If the following content disturbs you, you may not want to
read this ‘alternative’ story:
Janice and Mel are female. Supporting characters comprise of both sexes.
English. Janice also speaks some ‘French,’ and Mel, southern.
Not really. Well, some. Ok, yes.
This story contains religious themes and differing opinions regarding the Christian faith. No offense is intended. However, if you are sensitive to sarcasm regarding religion, you may wish to pass on this story as it could offend you.
Thanks too Trusty four proof reeding. . . .
Chapter 1 - Immediate Plans
Mel’s eyes slowly blinked open as she woke to the familiar late-night sounds of paper shuffling. Without the benefit of glasses, the southerner saw a slightly blurry figure standing at the rickety table in their tent, opening a map. She squinted to get a better look at the redheaded blur, who sat with a slight sigh and added the map to the collection already blanketing the table.
When the archeologist turned to her journal to write, a smile crept over the southerner’s sleepy face. The lantern light seemed to embrace her friend in it’s warm glow.
During these late-night rendezvous with her texts and maps, the doctor’s normally harsh demeanor was almost forgotten by the southerner, who stole glances of the young woman’s amazingly expressive face. Though still a slightly blurry face, Mel quietly sighed as she squinted harder, wishing she could see better.
Mel knew any stirring to retrieve her glasses from the nightstand would ruin the precious opportunity to watch her normally guarded friend. After a number of attempts over a number of nights, Mel finally concluded there was no way to reach for her glasses without disturbing Janice and seeing that annoying guard abruptly rise. Even the southerner’s brilliant plan to leave her glasses on as she slept was foiled by the frustratingly helpful archeologist. Without fail, Janice would remove her spectacles after she fell asleep.
Out of brilliant ideas, Mel resigned herself to slightly blurry observations through her nearsighted eyes. Eyes she was grateful still allowed her to witness a variety of expressions reserved for the late-night privacy of their tent. Mel’s favorite was the eager anticipation that radiated from Janice when she sat down to read a newly translated passage. Though Mel felt great pride that her work helped unravel the mysteries of their ancestors, she felt even more satisfaction her translations helped to transform that normally cynical face into one full of childlike wonder.
Occasionally, Mel would see the archeologist lightly tap a pencil on her pursed lips, pondering some puzzle. Mel could almost see the gears turning as Janice thought through a problem. The southerner especially enjoyed the moment when Janice figured something out. Her green eyes would light up with the spark of understanding and a beautiful grin would emerge on her face.
Mel wished Janice would smile more. However, tonight, like the past few nights, Mel knew her wish would not be granted. Once again the southerner saw expressions flooding that beautiful face that were not just reserved for the privacy of the evening . . . or the archeologist’s face.
Frustration and worry etched the features of all in their camp.
German troops were advancing towards their site and they had to leave before they were overrun. But the stubborn redhead had delayed their departure. ‘To finish excavation of a promising area,’ Mel remembered Janice explaining to Georg, their trusted friend. But Mel knew they wouldn’t be able to finish. They’d have to leave . . . and soon.
Janice’s eyebrows furrowed as she stared at the map of Greece.
Damn Nazis, the archeologist silently cursed. Their plans for world domination were inconveniently colliding head-on with her dig. Because of the Germans, they had to leave this site, Janice sighed wearily. It was getting too damn risky to be out here, especially for a southern lady, the archeologist considered. The tall woman had already been subjected to more than her share of danger, Janice admitted with a creased brow.
There was no telling how long it would be before they could attempt another dig. And would Mel want to wait? Janice wondered as her fingers absently brushed over the map where the next site was circled.
She should have expected her good fortune wouldn’t last, Janice sighed. For the first time she didn’t even have to worry about the money to finance their next dig. Out of nowhere, an international investment company, Tulliby and Associates offered to back them. Janice had no idea why they had an interest in the Xena scrolls, which were considered inconsequential to educated archeologists. . . if considered at all. But Georg had heard they were interested and within a day, the suspicious but needy archeologist went to the meeting with Mel.
They didn’t even have to argue with Tulliby’s representative, Edgar Rothschild, over the location of the next dig. She never had it so easy, which immediately put the archeologist on guard. Although they did talk a good story about wanting to have the publishing rights, her decision to agree to their backing resulted from the encouragement of her enthusiastic partner, who succinctly pointed out not to look a gift backer in the mouth.
Her enthusiastic partner, Janice pondered, amazed at how rapidly the southerner had grown on her since their first meeting in Macedonia. From wanting to get rid of her, to tolerating her, to becoming friends, to . . . to what? The archeologist sighed and leaned back in her chair. Turning towards Mel’s cot, she saw the sleeping form shift slightly.
And what will you do now, Miss Pappas? The archeologist wondered as she folded her arms across her chest. Each time Janice asked herself that question, she got the same answer - Mel would go home. Without a dig, there was no reason for the southerner to stick around Europe or the gruff archeologist, Janice considered. Rubbing her eyes with a long, depressed sigh, a familiar ache surfaced. The ache that surfaced every time she thought about Mel leaving.
Attempting to fight that ache, Janice rationalized it really was safer for her friend to leave with the damn war on. Her attempts were unsuccessful. With a groan of annoyance, she threw her pencil down on the table, grabbed her coat and fedora, and stormed from the tent.
Janice stomped through the brisk night with her leather jacket collar up, fedora-covered head down, and bare hands buried in her pockets. After marching a suitable distance away from camp, Janice abruptly stopped and picked up the nearest large rock with both hands.
“Ahhhhhggg,” she groaned, hurling the heavy object at the star speckled sky.
“Damn Damn Damn Damn DAMN!!!!!”
A wide-awake Mel sat up and cast a worried look at the tent flap still swinging from the archeologist’s hasty departure. Slipping on her glasses, Mel stood and inspected the map-covered table, sadly noting the circle around the location they had planned for their next dig.
The southerner remembered how relieved she was when the suspicious archeologist finally agreed to Tulliby and Associates backing them. With that financial hurdle finally overcome, Janice immediately threw herself into the planning, despite maintaining her exhausting pace running the current dig. She had never seen Janice so happy, Mel recalled wistfully.
And now everything was put on hold because of this war.
How terribly frustrated she must be, Mel concluded with a sympathetic sigh.
After angrily tossing a few more rocks, Janice finally took a slow, calming breath. She knew she was lucky she wasn’t near a bar or she’d probably be sitting in a jail cell by now. She felt like getting very drunk and hitting someone. Hard.
“God DAMN it,” she moaned wearily, slumping down on a boulder.
‘Look on the bright side, Covington,’ she told herself with a sigh. They had been spending an awful lot of time together, Janice considered, leaning back on the boulder. More than she ever had with anyone, she admitted, adjusting her fedora as she gazed at the stars. Even Al, who, at one incredibly stupid time, was the most important person in her life.
And spending all her time with her friend was really cramping her style, Janice told herself, not able to recall the last time she had . . . well . . . a date.
What ever happened to those carefree, good ol’ no-strings-attached, rip-roaring times of the past, she wondered. They had become distant memories after meeting the tall southerner, Janice noted . . . as did hangovers and frequent barroom brawls.
Yep, Mel was definitely a bad influence, the archeologist concluded with a mirthless laugh.
It would really be better if Mel went home now, she told herself. ‘Her love life depended on it!’ the archeologist told herself then sighed heavily. She knew that was a lie. Mel wasn’t the reason the archeologist’s once-active social life came to a grinding halt. It was Al. Being burned really bad tends to make you want to avoid the fire, she admitted. Mel, if anything, gave her the one thing she needed most after Al - A good friend.
“Ah shit,” she moaned, rubbing her eyes. That wasn’t helping.
Mel’s safety was important, the archeologist rationalized. And a very real concern. It would be safer if Mel left Europe now, Janice told herself, clinging on to that single thread of truth as that familiar ache grew. Safer for both of them. . . .
Well, if she couldn’t get drunk, she could at least get to enjoy a cigar without the southerner’s not so subtle comments about filling the tent with ‘that suffocat’n smoke.’ Janice smirked and reached into her jacket’s breast pocket and pulled out a stogie. She had been nagged by many people about her smoking before, but never quite like the tall southerner. Shaking her head, she placed the cigar in her mouth, flicked her handy Zippo lighter and leaned into the flame. . . which was quickly extinguished by a cool gust.
“Damn it,” Janice mumbled around the cigar and flicked her lighter again, this time shielding the struggling flame.
“Janice? . . . Janice??”
Hearing the southerner, Janice looked up with surprise, allowing her flame to be extinguished by another gust. She looked down at her cigar and the lighter with furrowed eyebrows. Determined to have her damn cigar, she growled and flicked her lighter a few times before getting another flame to appear.
“There you are!“ Mel called out with a relieved smile as she approached the archeologist, who was finally puffing away on her cigar.
“You realize it’s . . . “ Janice mumbled with the stogie in her mouth, squinting at her watch in the moonlight. “Three AM?”
“Three eleven . . . ,” Mel corrected, eyeing the cigar with disappointment as she sat down next to the archeologist. “. . . to be exact,“ Mel added with a light cough and slight wave of her hand at the smoke.
“You can’t possibly mind that I smoke out here,” Janice complained with amazement, holding up her lit cigar.
Mel sighed heavily.
“Hell, Mel, I don’t smoke in the tent anymore . . . .“
“I didn’t say anything,“ Mel countered with an innocent shrug, looking around the clearing.
“But you still don’t want me to,” Janice stated flatly.
“If you wish to smoke, Janice, that is entirely your decision,” Mel offered reasonably, making Janice’s skeptical eyebrow rise as she slowly returned the cigar to her lips. “And if you want to smell like a dirty ol’ ashtray, Janice, that is also ENTIRELY up to you,” Mel added with a thin smile. Janice rolled her eyes.
“You could go back to the tent where I’m NOT smoking and get some sleep,” Janice suggested briskly, taking a puff.
“I can’t sleep,” Mel admitted with a shiver from the cool breeze, quickly rubbing her arms to warm herself up.
“Welcome to the club,” Janice said with a smirk. “Here,” Janice blurted, shoving the cigar into Mel’s hand.
“Janice!” Mel responded with annoyance, her face crunched up as she looked down at the vile vice in her hand. “This is NOT going to help. Take this disgusting. . . . “ Mel stopped, surprised by the archeologist, who, with a swift and graceful motion, removed her jacket and wrapped the warm leather around the southerner’s shoulders.
“thing. . . back,“ Mel finished softly as Janice sat back down.
“Thanks,” Janice blurted with a smirk as she reclaimed her cigar and took a long, satisfied draw on her stogie.
“Janice, you’ll catch a chill. . . “ Mel objected, starting to return the offering but was prevented by a gentle hand on hers.
“Nah,” Janice responded with a tender caress before realizing what she was doing. “I’m too hot blooded . . .” Janice added with a shrug, awkwardly retracting her hand and quickly waving it at the smoke the breeze blew towards the southerner.
“Thank you . . . “ Mel said softly, absently caressing the soft leather, feeling much warmer.
Janice shrugged. “You can’t sleep huh? Was I too noisy?” Janice asked, getting up from the boulder so her smoke wouldn’t keep assaulting the particular southerner, who immediately regretted her nagging.
“Uh . . . no. I . . . I was wondering Janice. . . “ Mel stammered, then fell silent.
Janice stopped inspecting the ground and looked at the uneasy southerner.
“Uh. . . well,” Mel pushed her glasses up. “We really haven’t discussed what we are going to do next. I mean. . . we will be leaving here very soon and the next site is already occupied by the Germans so . . . uh, I was wondering . . . what are your plans after we leave here,” Mel blurted nervously, looking into the archeologist’s eyes that fell to the ground.
Janice slowly puffed on her cigar and scratched the back of her neck. Here it is. She’s going announce she’s going home now, Janice thought, fighting with that ache that returned.
“I don’t have any plans, Mel,” Janice informed her softly, then looked up, bracing herself for the impending announcement.
“Oh,“ Mel said as a slight smile emerged on her face, surprising Janice, who didn’t know what to make of it. “That’s good . . . “ Mel added as her smile grew.
Janice was livid.
“GOOD?!? How the HELL can that be GOOD!?!” Janice exploded, making the southerner cringe. “Christ Mel . . . No dig . . . no work. . . no NOTHING,” Janice fumed through her stogie. “Except an Army of GOD Damn Nazi bastards . . . who decide to barge in and interfere with the only . . . .“
“You can come with me,” Mel interjected timidly.
“. . . thing that I’ve ever . . .” Janice paused. “. . . What?”
Mel took an uneasy breath under the confused gaze of the archeologist. “Come with me to South Carolina, Janice,” Mel offered more confidently and waited for a response.
As each moment of deafening silence passed, Mel’s fear grew that the proud woman would say no.
“I know it’s not the most exciting place you’ve been,” Mel blurted nervously. “. . . and I know its only a matter of time before you find yourself busy somewhere in Europe. . . but Janice, we could still do some translating while we’re there and South Carolina IS my home and certainly safer than here. . . and we could still plan . . . .” Mel stopped her flurry of words noticing the archeologist staring at her like a deer in headlights.
“What do you think?” She asked with a weak smile, pushing up her glasses.
Janice slowly removed the cigar from her mouth and took an uncertain breath. With a slow sigh, the redhead just stared at the short stogie in her finger tips, trying to think.
South Carolina. . . .
“Just think about it, Janice . . . please?” Mel urged gently, wanting to say more but knowing it was best she didn’t. The fiercely independent archeologist needed time.
When Janice looked up and silently agreed with a nod, Mel stood with an uneasy smile and headed back to their tent, pulling the archeologist’s leather jacket more snugly around her shoulders.
Janice watched the tall figure disappear on the trail. ‘She wants me to go to South Carolina with her,’ the archeologist thought with an amazed shake of her head. The offer surprised the hell out of her. So did the flood of emotions that washed over her hearing it.
Janice paced. It was a completely crazy idea.
Janice paced more. She knew Mel would want to go home, she hadn’t seen her family in over a year. . . .
Janice paced some more. They could actually get a lot of work done. Maybe even publish something. . . .
Janice shrugged as she paced. It WAS safer for Mel to be in the States. . . .
Janice stopped pacing. Damn. This really could work, Janice concluded with a surprised smile and took a long puff on her stogie, which was unfortunately a bit too short.
“Ahhh . . . SHIT!” Janice blurted out in pain and annoyance as she immediately dropped the cigar and shook her burned fingers. With a stream of curses, the irritated archeologist stomped on the butt and extinguished it.
Her eyes lifted to the trail the southerner left on. A heavy sigh escaped . . . along with her enthusiasm.
‘Covington, when will you learn not to play with fire?’ she warned herself with a weary shake of her head.
Melinda Pappas was definitely fire.
Chapter 2 - Friendly Skies
Janice stared blankly out the window, oblivious to the flurry of pre-flight activity that included their luggage being stowed in the belly of their aircraft. Here she was, on a plane with Mel, going to the States.
What the HELL was she thinking!?! Janice grimaced, shifting uneasily in her seat.
She was going to tell Mel she couldn’t go. She really was, Janice reminded herself. But the archeologist made the grave mistake of looking into those hopeful blues. And somehow, the three little words she never meant to say just. . . slipped out.
“South Carolina, huh?”
Mel immediately assumed that was agreement, Janice recalled with a sigh. She tried to tell the tall woman that she couldn’t go . . . but the words she meant to say got stuck when the excited southerner jumped up hugged her.
Janice had tried to tell her the next day. She really did, the archeologist reminded herself with a heavy sigh that fogged up the airplane window. She even kept a safe distance from the enthusiastic southerner and made sure she didn’t look into those hypnotic blues. But that didn’t help. Mel quickly informed her she had gotten a great deal on the airplane tickets and they were non refundable. The southern belle helpfully pointed out the words ‘non refundable,’ clearly printed on the tickets.
Janice sighed, considering she really should be annoyed Mel just did that. But Mel was not Al, Janice thought as she glanced at her friend reading her novel. No, Mel may be a bit too enthusiastic and act without thinking things through, but she was not devious. Not like Al.
But why did Mel have to get first class tickets? Janice silently moaned as she glanced over the larger seats. She promised herself she would pay Mel back . . . eventually.
Rubbing the back of her neck uneasily, the uncomfortable archeologist shifted in her seat again. For the first time in a very long time, she actually cared what people thought. And she didn’t fit in where this beautiful southern lady belonged, she considered, wiping the foggy window with her sleeve and earning a stare from an older gentleman across the aisle. She glanced self-consciously at her sleeve then to Mel, who was still reading her book. Either Mel was oblivious to that fact, or chose to ignore it, Janice considered with a sigh.
But it was only a matter of time before Mel would have to face the fact that she wasn’t the kind a southern lady should be associated with, Janice predicted, certain Mel’s family would see to that.
What the HELL was she thinking?!?
Janice shook her head with amazement. If she were smart, she’d stop this nonsense right now and part on friendly terms . . . . before someone got hurt. Her eyes widened when she heard the sound of the four engines being cranked and sputter to life. With the engines humming steadily, she watched the ramp being hauled away. Janice had to face the fact that unless she was going to jump, she was going to America. . . with Mel.
What the HELL was she . . . .
“You’re not getting sick are you?” Mel finally asked the fidgety archeologist.
“What?“ Janice asked, interrupted from her worrying and turned to her friend.
“Sick, you’re not getting sick are you?” Mel asked again with an accusing eyebrow.
“No,” the well-traveled archeologist responded with a slightly annoyed sigh and looked out the window, watching the ground move. “But if I was, you’d be the first to know,” she offered with a smirk.
“That’s exactly what I was afraid of ,” Mel said flatly and resumed her reading as the plane taxied to the runway. The southerner couldn’t help but smile when she heard the archeologist chuckle.
Ah hell Covington, Janice thought as her chuckle subsided. You’ve faced armed Nazis, gold smugglers, crooked police, and a boat-load of self-righteous bigots before and managed to come out ok, she considered leaning back more comfortably in her seat.
How bad can Mel’s family be?
It wasn’t like Mel’s family would just shoot her on the spot, Janice reasoned. She was Mel’s friend and, Jesus, she was a doctor of archeology after all. That had to count for something in southern society, even if she wasn’t a lady, Janice concluded with a temporary boost of confidence.
All she had to do, Janice considered strategically as she reached for a cigar, was to not draw attention to herself. No problem, she thought with a smirk . . . until her fingers touched the cigar.
Ah shit, she silently moaned.
Reluctantly retracting her empty hand from her breast pocket with a heavy sigh, she looked back out the window as the engines roared loudly, accelerating the airplane down the runway. This was going to be harder than she thought.
What the HELL was I thinking!?!
“Thank you, Janice,” Mel said softly, her nose still in her book.
“I hate flying,” Janice muttered.
“I guess we should have taken a boat,” Mel sighed, pushing up her glasses as he turned a page.
“I hate boats,” Janice blurted.
“Is there any mode of transportation you don’t hate, Janice?” Mel asked, finally looking up from her novel with a raised eyebrow.
“At the moment?” Janice responded and paused thoughtfully before answering “no.” Sighing heavily, the archeologist reclined into her seat.
Mel rolled her eyes and returned to her book.
A rotund man slowly sipped his whiskey as he sat back in the groaning chair, relishing his growing assets. Leon couldn’t understand why he was so unpopular in the small southern town. After all, he was being generous with them, giving many of them up to two months to move off his newly acquired land. He was the one who had to wait to develop it, he considered with annoyance. And what was all the fuss about, anyway? He never did like that diner’s food, it always gave him gas. And there were plenty of churches in Greenville besides that God-awful eyesore they called a Baptist church.
Hearing a noise at the door, he looked up from his drink, slightly startled. “Good night Mr. Mobly,” his secretary said, popping her head into the office. He exhaled with relief.
“Goodnight Betty,” he said pouring another drink as she shut the door. A few moments later, Leon Mobly heard another noise and got up chuckling. “Don’t tell me ya forgot your keys again, Betty. . . ” He accused in his thick southern accent.
The lights went out. “Betty?” Mr. Mobly called out nervously.
The door to his office opened and a shaft of light spilled into the dark office. “Who’s there?”
A man appeared at the door. “Who are you!” Leon demanded nervously, squinting at the man in a trench coat, unable to make out his face.
“I am the son of Gera, the Benjamite,” he announced as he stepped into the dark room.
“Who??” Leon stumbled back into a chair.
“I have a secret message for you,” the man said in an urgent voice.
A couple uneventful hours passed, driving the archeologist insane with boredom. Having read all the magazines, twice, Janice stared at the luggage rack above them for a few moments. “I’m going for a walk,” Janice finally announced, abruptly springing out of her seat.
Mel nodded with her nose still in her book, surprised that it took Janice so long to decide she needed to move.
“Dr. Covington, do you need something?” The young stewardess immediately asked with a big smile as the archeologist stepped into the passageway.
‘A very large field to run in,’ Mel muttered, turning the page of her novel.
Janice slowly looked the pretty woman over. She stood only slightly taller than the archeologist and filled out the tailored blue uniform very nicely, Janice noted. “Well sweetheart . . .what do you have to offer?” The archeologist asked with an inviting tone, looking directly into the young woman’s eyes, which sparked with interest.
Mel suddenly lost her place on the page.
“Magazines, a drink, cards?” The stewardess offered absently as she eyed the archeologist’s surprisingly attractive mannish attire.
Realizing she was staring at the two, Mel forced her eyes back to her book.
“That’s it huh?” Janice responded with disappointment. The young woman frowned, observed Mel, since her eyes had drifted away from her novel again.
“Well, that’s all I have to offer . . . ,“ the woman shrugged sadly. “For now,” she quickly added with a slight grin. Janice smirked with satisfaction, enjoying the flirting game. It had been a long time. . . .
“I think I’d like to just walk around . . . for now . . . if that’s ok?” Janice relayed with an easy smile that filled Mel with irritation. Mel sighed and buried her head back in her novel, attempting to ignore that feeling.
“Sure. You just let me know if I can get you anything,” she grinned as she reached out and squeezed Janice’s arm.
“I’ll do that,” Janice replied, glancing down at the friendly hand with a grin. Flirting was like riding a bike, the archeologist mused. Her grin faded as she remembered what it was like to fall off that bike. Janice cleared her throat. “Excuse me. . . .”
The young woman smiled as she watched the intriguing archeologist turn and retreat to the back of the plane. As her eyes drifted down, she found cold pools of blue staring up at her through black-rimmed glasses. The uncomfortable stewardess smiled weakly and concluded the pilots needed something.
Mel sighed and returned her eyes to her book. “What do you have to offer??“ Mel muttered with southern annoyance as she flipped through the pages trying to find the last passage read. When she found it, the archeologist returned, once again distracting the southerner from her novel.
Janice felt Mel’s stare as she sat down.
“What?” Janice asked defensively.
“Quick tour,” Mel observed with a raised eyebrow.
“Small plane,” Janice countered with irritation.
“You realize, we have only been flying for about three hours,” Mel observed flatly.
“I’m sorry.” Janice said with annoyance. “But I hate sitting still,” Janice complained, rubbing the back of her neck.
“I’ve noticed, Dr. Covington,” Mel said with a thin smile.
“I suppose they give you southern debutantes lessons in sitting still,” Janice shot back.
“As a matter of fact . . . “ Mel offered with a shrug, making Janice’s eyes roll.
“Well unfortunately, it was one of the many lessons Sister Mary K. was unable to teach me,” Janice countered with a thin smile of her own.
“You went to Catholic School?” Mel asked in amazement.
“Not for long,” Janice admitted with a long sigh as she peered out the airplane window to the sea below them.
“What happened?” Mel asked with interest, closing the novel in her lap.
“I couldn’t sit still,” Janice dead-panned. Mel stared at her a moment before chuckling. A sound that always managed to lift the archeologist’s spirits.
“The worst thing was, the nuns really had no sense of humor,” Janice complained nonchalantly, leaning back in her comfortable seat.
“Oh dear. . .” Mel relayed, continuing her soft chuckling as she imagined the worst.
“Sister Mary Katherine even called me a godless pagan one time,” Janice added with annoyance, quickly stopping the laughter from the concerned southern Baptist. “But if you ask me, she was just annoyed that I was wearing her habit at the time . . . .”
“Janice! You didn’t!?!” Mel gasped in disbelief.
“Hey, it was Halloween . . . I needed a costume for a party.” Janice explained reasonably with a shrug.
“You DID. . . ,“ Mel laughed, believing.
A warm feeling filled the archeologist as she watched the southerner enjoy her little anecdote. She couldn’t imagine Mel being more beautiful than when she laughed.
“Had I known how much nagging I would have to endure from Sister Mary Katherine after that, I would have borrowed a monk’s robe instead . . . from one who took a vow of silence.”
“Oh Janice,” she gasped between laughs. ”I can’t breathe,“ she announced, to the pleased archeologist.
As Mel wiped the tears from her eyes with her lace handkerchief and took a few cleansing breaths, the helpful stewardess stopped at their seats again and eyed Janice.
“Have you thought of anything I can get you?” The stewardess spoke sweetly, interrupting Janice’s fond gaze.
Janice quickly looked up at the stewardess with an irritated glance then looked questioningly at Mel. Mel shook her head no while still dabbing her eyes.
“No thanks, we’re fine here,” Janice quickly dismissed the woman with a polite nod and returned her attentions to Mel, who sported a pleased smile.
“What?” Janice asked suspiciously with narrowing eyes.
Mel silently shrugged. “So, I gather you weren’t happy in Catholic school . . . “ Mel asked, looking at her handkerchief in her lap then the archeologist, who thought a moment before answering.
“When my mother left us. . . ,” Janice spoke softly staring at the floor. The serious turn in conversation, surprised and delighted the curious southerner. “. . . Dad thought he would have us raised right. He thought that meant a Catholic boarding school.”
Us? Mel pondered silently, not wanting to interrupt Janice’s rare personal disclosure.
“Well,” Janice laughed lightly. “Harry was partially right. Denny and Burt thrived there. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, I didn’t. So, Harry took me with him on his digs.” Janice sighed slowly then shifted uncomfortably when she felt Mel’s blue eyes staring at her.
“Denny and Burt . . . are your brothers?” Mel finally asked, pushing up her glasses.
“Denny is. Burt, Roberta, is my sister,” Janice grinned seeing Mel ponder what they must be like.
“Where are they now?”
“Uh . . . Denny’s in New York and Burt is in London, I think. It’s been a couple of years.” Janice admitted uncomfortably. Seeing the idea as it formed in Mel’s head and displayed itself as a huge smile, Janice quickly responded. “Oh no. . . .”
Mel rolled her eyes. “But we are flying right into . . . “
“Mel . . . ”
“. . . New York,“
“It’s not a good . . . ”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to . . . “
“Mel . . . “
“Visit him after all this time?”
Janice didn’t respond except for an annoyed stare at Mel, who sighed heavily under the green glare. After a moment of silence between the two, Mel tried again.
“Oh Janice. . . you really . . . “
“Should visit . . .”
“Your family . . . ”
“NO, Mel,” Janice said with stern finality.
“But WHY?” Mel whined wearily, having no idea why Janice was so adverse to the idea.
“Drop it.” Janice said curtly.
Mel stared at the now silent archeologist a few moments. It was clear Janice was finished discussing her brother when she grabbed a magazine and stared at it for the third time. Mel shook her head with disappointment as she opened her novel. Pushing her glasses up, she sighed heavily and reluctantly went back to reading.
Betty shook her head wearily, annoyed at herself for forgetting her keys again as she looked one last time through her monstrous purse. She marched up the steps and hesitated at the office door. She was surprised at the darkness, expecting Mr. Mobly to be at his desk, working late again.
She opened the door and turned on the lights. But no lights came on. She sighed heavily as she widened the door to let more light from the street spill in. As she walked in, a moan from the floor made her jump.
“Mr. Mobly?” She said, her voice quivering in panic. With the second moan, her eyes adjusted and finally saw it’s source. It was Mr. Mobly . . . with a sword hilt protruding from his large gut.
“Oh GOD!” Betty screeched and rushed down to the dying man. “W..who did this!!” She asked, her body shaking violently as tears streamed down her face.
“Eh . . .uud.” He sputtered and died.
The crack of lightning and plane-rattling thunder woke Mel from a sound sleep.
“Janice?” She called as she sat up, lifting her head from its comfortable position. She blinked with surprise, finding that the comfortable position was on the archeologist’s shoulder.
“Just a storm. . .” Janice mentioned softly, turning from the rain beaten window to the disoriented southerner, who rubbed her eyes.
“A storm?” Mel repeated worriedly, jumping at the next, loud crack of lightning. When the plane suddenly dropped in altitude, Mel strangled Janice’s forearm.
“Yeeow, sweetheart.” Janice yelped with surprise. “I’d like to be able to use my arm again.” Janice smirked, making the embarrassed southerner release her death grip. “Here,” the archeologist added softly, handing the southerner her glasses, correctly concluding Mel would no longer be able to sleep.
“Oh. . . Thank you,” Mel said softly as she took her glasses.
The plane suddenly dropped again. Gasps escaped from many concerned passengers, including Mel. “Oh dear,” Mel blurted nervously, grabbing Janice’s hand.
“Pressure change. . . .” Janice offered vaguely, glancing at the southerner’s hand holding hers before staring out the window into the stormy darkness.
“Can’t they fly where it doesn’t change?” Mel countered with irritation, making Janice grin slightly. Wisely, she wiped it off her face before turning to the southerner.
“This looks like a big storm, Mel. They may not have enough fuel to . . . ,“ Janice relayed then paused, realizing her explanation was not helping when the southerner’ eyes widened with concern.
“Don’t worry Mel, it’s just a storm,” Janice offered softly. “We’ll be through it before you know it.” Janice added with a warm smile and gentle squeeze of the southerner’s hand.
Mel looked at their hands then into confident eyes. “I knew we should have taken a boat,” Mel informed her flatly, making Janice chuckle. Mel smiled, feeling infinitely better. She hardly jumped at the next crack of lightening.
“You two all right?”
Mel’s smile faded when she looked up, finding the overly friendly stewardess hovering over them in her obscenely tight uniform. The southerner turned back to the archeologist with surprise and disappointment when Janice withdrew her hand from hers.
“You know, I think we could both use a drink right now,” Janice replied with a smile, glancing to Mel, who pushed up her glasses with her now-free hand and silently nodded with a dejected sigh.
“What will it be?” The stewardess asked Janice.
“What do you have?”
“Probably what you want . . . try me.” The stewardess challenged with a grin. Janice paused, thinking of possible responses.
Tired of listening to the two, an irritated Mel interjected “Janice will have a Scotch . . . and I. . .“
“Janice? That’s a pretty name,” the stewardess said, rudely interrupting the southerner. “You want Scotch? Is that all, Janice?” The overly friendly stewardess asked Janice, who noted the southerner’s furrowed eyebrows and white-knuckle grip of the armrest.
“No,“ Janice replied with a smile, pausing long enough for the stewardess to glance down at Mel with a satisfied smirk. “I’d like a Southern Comfort . . . for my companion,” Janice said politely, placing her hand over Mel’s, immediately relaxing the southerner’s furrowed eyebrows and clenched grip. However, the rest of her was far from relaxed; Mel’s heart began to race.
The stewardess’ grin faded as her eyes dropped to their hands. “Of course,” she said as briskly as she left.
“Hope you’re not counting on that drink any time soon,” Janice remarked with a smirk, her eyes drawn to the window upon another flash of lightning.
“Hmm? Oh . . . that’s ok,” Mel responded absently, noticing the differences in their hands, which fit together perfectly. You could tell a lot about a person from their hands, she believed. While hers were large and clumsy, Janice’s were strong and skilled, Mel marveled. Yet very gentle and comforting and. . . .
“Mel?” Janice asked, gently squeezing the southerner’s hand and snapping her out of her revere.
“Hmm?” Mel responded, startled.
“You’re not getting sick are you?”
Chapter 3 - I Love . . . NEW YORK
“GOD!” Janice groaned. “I hate customs,” Janice muttered as they stood in a line that had not moved for an hour. Mel sighed.
“You fly across the goddamned ocean and this is what waits for you . . . a bunch of bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through . . .” Janice complained, stepping out of the long line to see what the delay was in the front.
“There is a war on in Europe, Janice. They have to take precautions,” Mel patiently informed the uninterested archeologist, who shook her head as she returned to the line.
“Jesus, what kind of precautions are they taking with only one guard!?! You’d think they’d be more prepared for our flight.”
“Our plane was late, Janice,” Mel noted patiently.
“I KNOW. . . “ Janice moaned.
More people entered the waiting area after another flight pulled in. Mel’s eyes rolled in anticipation of a new stream of complaints from the impatient archeologist. However, to her surprise, she found Janice quietly contemplating the crowd with a devious glint in her green eyes.
“The wait wasn’t so bad after all,” Janice mentioned happily as she shoved a sizable roll of bills in her coat pocket. “What do you say to a night on the town. . . my treat?” Janice asked enthusiastically.
“I can’t believe you, Janice,“ Mel blurted with exasperation, looking around with concern as they finally left the luggage area and more than a few disgruntled travelers.
“What!?! I was only trying to pass the time. . . “
“Janice, I know it’s been a while since we’ve been back in the States but I am pretty sure gambling in the airport is still ILLEGAL.” Mel relayed in an annoyed whisper, anxiously glancing around. “I am just glad we didn’t get arrested our first day back . . . “
“Actually, the day isn’t over,” Janice joked, looking at her watch then the clock on the wall. It was only eight PM.
Mel was not amused. “Will you PLEASE promise me you won’t break any laws while I go over there and call the hotel?” Mel asked, pointing to the row of phone booths.
“Mel, I don’t make promises I am not sure I can keep,” Janice relayed honestly as she fixed the time on her watch. Seeing the frustration level in Mel dangerously high, the archeologist quickly added. “All right Mel . . . I’ll try not to break any laws . . . I’ll just bring the rest of the luggage over here and wait . . . right here,” Janice pointed to the bench. “OK?”
Mel eyed the shorter woman skeptically, nodded briskly and left for the phone booths.
Janice sighed with defeat, knowing Mel wouldn’t want to spend her winnings on a night on the town. No smoking, no gambling . . . Jesus, she’s worse than Burt, Janice grumbled as she lugged over the last of Mel’s mountain of luggage. With a weary sigh, she sat down and stretched her arms along the back of the bench. Watching the travelers should meet the definition of an acceptable activity to the proper southerner, Janice considered with growing irritation. Well, if Miss Pappas didn’t want to go out - that was just fine with her, Janice concluded with annoyance. She would just go out and enjoy her winnings alone.
“Excuse me, do you speak Polish?” An old man politely asked in halted English, interrupting Janice’s thoughts.
“Yes,” Janice responded curiously, noticing two woman standing closely behind him. Both smiled at her answer. The man sighed with relief and continued in his native language.
“I am Stanislaw Raczkiewicz. We do not speak English well yet. My wife and daughter and I have come from Poland.”
“A difficult trip these days,” Janice noted with sympathy, evoking nods from the travel-weary family. From the looks of them and their worn clothing, their travel was very hard.
“I am trying to get to Los Angeles in California to stay with family. The man at the counter doesn’t understand me . . . .“ He said wearily. “Could you . . . ?” He asked with hope in his weary eyes.
“Sure,” Janice answered with a small smile. The relieved family followed the American to the ticket counter.
“When is the next flight to Los Angeles?” Janice asked. After a long, silent moment, the man at the counter glanced up at her, over to the Polish family, then back to his papers, which he shuffled more.
“What, don’t you speak English either?” Janice snapped, slapping her hand on top of his important papers in mid-shuffle.
“May I help you?” He asked coolly.
“Yes. How much for three tickets to Los Angeles.” Janice relayed with narrow green eyes.
The Polish immigrant heard a curt response from the man at the counter, who was eyeing him with incredible disgust. The immigrant sighed. Either he was the wrong religion or the wrong nationality. Though familiar with this reaction, he could not comprehend where such hate came from. He looked at the kind American woman, with a pretty face. She asked to see his purse. In response, he opened it and carefully showed her. He became worried when she sighed at the contents: ten American dollars, one pound, a few shillings, and a used train ticket.
“Not enough?” Stanislaw asked with concern. “What about a bus?” He suggested uneasily.
“No bus.” Janice shook her head and responded firmly, making the man fear he was never going to get to Los Angeles in California. “You will fly,” she added in Polish, stunning the family and renewing their faith.
Hearing unintelligible gibberish from the customers, the man at the counter looked at his watch with a sigh.
“How much for three first-class tickets?” Janice asked, surprising the man at the counter.
“They are very expensive, especially at the last minute,“ he responded with amusement, eyeing the khaki-clad woman.
“I asked how much,“ Janice said through clenched teeth.
“You don’t have enough,” he said smugly.
Janice reached in her pocket, retrieving the roll of bills. The man at the counter stared with wide eyes. “Three . . . first class tickets to LA coming up.” He responded and furiously filled out the paperwork.
“Oh. . .NO. . .No,“ the old immigrant blurted with concern. “We will find a way. . . there is no need.”
“You have found a way. Accept it. From one traveler to another,” she said sincerely. Shaking his head at the continuing gibberish, the man at the counter finished up with the tickets.
“No. . . “ the man started to continue with his objections, but stopped when his wife gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you Miss,” she interjected softly. “Our travel has been long and difficult.” She spoke simply, but the weary look in her eyes revealed their trip had been anything but simple. “Thank you for your gift.”
Janice nodded and payed the man at the counter, who sighed as he handed over the tickets to her. “If you ask me, you are wasting your money,” he muttered drawing a sharp glare from the archeologist as she took the tickets.
“I didn’t ask,” Janice cooly responded and left the counter with the family and three plane tickets.
The archeologist handed over the tickets and the last of her winnings. “No . . . you have already given us too much,” the man protested.
“Take it. You need it.” Janice eyed him, firmly holding out the money.
“Stanislaw, she is right. We do.” His wife stepped up and took the offering. “Thank you.”
“You’d better get going,” she quickly informed them, uncomfortable with their gratitude. “You don’t want to miss your plane,” she added.
Mel hung up the phone and felt better having contacted the hotel and her family. Her grandmother was rather surprised to find out Janice was with her, but relieved her globe-trotting granddaughter was finally coming home to Columbia. Mel had to admit, she was too . . . on both counts.
Mrs. Pappas exhaled slowly as she hung up the phone. Janice Covington. . . her mind repeated the name. Why would Melinda invite that woman here?
“Something wrong?” Reverend Baylor asked the long-time member of his congregation.
“Oh. . . No Reverend,” Mrs. Pappas smiled politely, finding comfort from her two concerned guests. “Melinda is back in the States. She’s finally coming home,” she added with a relieved smile as she sat down across the coffee table from the two men.
“Thank the lord.” Reverend Baylor mentioned clutching his bible, evoking a nod and amen from the older woman.
“Melinda?” Reverend Hammond asked curiously. Mrs. Pappas and Reverend Baylor looked at each other, then grinned at the handsome, eligible young man.
Mel left the phone booth and quickly spotted Janice, sitting on a bench by their mound of luggage. She didn’t appear to be in any trouble, Mel sighed with relief, never sure what to expect with Janice.
“Did you get us rooms?” Janice asked, looking up at the tall figure when she arrived.
“Of course. And I, for one, am looking forward to a nice long, hot bath.” Mel announced, visibly more comfortable.
“Yeah. Sounds good.” Janice said with a nod and stood up.
“Really?” Mel asked skeptically. “I thought you were interested in a night on the town.”
“Plans change,” Janice informed the southerner as she picked up her two bags. “You know, if you plan on making it to the cab in one trip, we’re going to need some help with those,” Janice smirked, eyeing the large pile of the southerner’s luggage. “Hope you don’t have to tip by the pound,” Janice muttered with amusement.
“What ARE you saying, Dr. Covington?” Mel asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Hope it all fits in one cab,“ Janice added thoughtfully, still eyeing the southerner’s belongings.
As Mel started to respond, a young woman interrupted her.
“Janice. . . Janice!”
The southerner watched the pretty young woman run towards them, waving. Mel’s eyes rolled. Gone only fifteen minutes. . . .
“Something wrong?” The concerned archeologist asked in Polish, surprising Mel. The woman shook her head no.
“Mother wanted me to give this to you. As a thank you.” She held out a delicate hand-made lace handkerchief. Mel silently listened to the exchange.
“That isn’t neces . . . .“ Janice held out her hand to refuse the gift.
“Please, do not make me go back to her and try to explain why you would not take it,” The young woman interrupted her.
“I . . . “ Janice tried to refuse again but saw the worry in the young woman’s eyes. “It is very beautiful. Thank you,” the archeologist relented and took the item. “Thank you.” Janice repeated sincerely to the pleased young woman.
“I do not know how we would have gotten to California without your generosity,“ the young woman relayed gratefully. “We will remember you in our prayers,” she added sincerely.
“Have a good trip,” Janice responded awkwardly, believing those prayers would be wasted on her. The young woman smiled warmly at Janice and politely nodded to Mel before leaving for her plane.
Janice stared at the lacy object in her hand a moment before tucking it away in her pocket. She could feel the southerner’s eyes on her. “You mentioned something about a hot meal and hot bath?” Janice said, meeting the southerner’s gaze for only a moment before glancing at their luggage.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go out, Janice?” Mel asked softly. “My treat,” she offered, knowing where the archeologist’s recent winnings went.
“I could really go for a hot meal and a hot bath.”
“Janice, I really don’t mind,“ Mel countered, certain the proud archeologist was once again being stubborn about who paid.
“Mel,” Janice spoke firmly, then sighed. “All I want right now is to enjoy a hot meal, good company and a hot bath,” Janice informed her. “And not forget how lucky I am,” she added softly with a glance in the direction the young woman had left. Returning her gaze back to the southerner she found unnerving blue eyes staring at her. Janice quickly broke her gaze, scratching the back of her neck as she looked around the airport.
Mel wished the guarded archeologist would one day feel comfortable sharing her feelings with her. But today was not that day. Pretty certain her strong desire to hug the daylights out of her friend and praise her unselfish act would just push that day further away, Mel refrained.
“Well . . . “ Mel relayed with a thoughtful pause, slowly pushing up her glasses. “I’d strongly suggest the hot bath first . . . if you intend on having good company during your hot meal.”
A relieved Janice looked at her with an amused glint in her eyes. “Jesus Mel, if I stink, just say so,” she informed the taller woman, who’s eyebrow raised.
“I’m a lady, Janice. I would never TELL you you stink.” Mel politely smiled.
Chapter 4 - The 505
Parked near the platform in the small South Carolina train station, Robert Thomas waited for the evening train to bring Miss Melinda home. It was over a year ago when he drove the young lady to the train station to begin her adventure. All because of one small message she found from some Dr. Covington requesting her father’s help in translating some old Latin, or something, Robert recalled.
He smiled, remembering Miss Melinda’s determination about leaving. He knew she was serious, or else she would never have found the nerve to ignore her family’s objections and head overseas alone. He sighed remembering how harsh the family was, scoffing at her for thinking she could actually fill her father’s academic shoes. Even his wife, Ruby, took the Pappas’ side, saying a southern lady had no business carrying on in Europe.
“What you need is to settle down with a good man and start raising some babies before you’re too old,” Ruby would tell her, the common opinion of her family. Robert knew that it was Ruby’s lack of support that probably hurt Melinda the most.
They all thought Melinda would realize her mistake and come running home within a month, he remembered and smirked. It was one mighty long month.
“Pick a card, any card,” Janice fanned out the deck for Mel. The annoyed southerner’s eyes turned from the train window and narrowed on the archeologist.
“Janice,” Mel sighed wearily. “Oh all right,” she quickly relented under the persistent green gaze. “But this is the LAST time.” Mel firmly informed the archeologist, who grinned slightly.
“Sure, whatever. . . pick a card,” Janice repeated with enthusiasm, holding out the cards.
Mel sighed again, picked a card and immediately showed Janice.
“Ah Mel! Don’t SHOW me. . .” The archeologist complained, snatching the card back and shuffling it back into the deck.
The well-dressed man sitting behind them snickered as he turned the page of the Wall Street Journal. He had found the red head’s continued attempts at the card trick most amusing.
“Well I’d thought I’d help you,” Mel relayed innocently. “Since you’ve been unable to find the card I picked - the last ten times.” She added flatly.
“Pick a card. . . ,“ the persistent archeologist repeated, fanning out the newly shuffled deck.
“Janice, I’m going to powder my nose. . . “ Mel informed her firmly and got up.
“Oh come on Mel, I am sure I know how to do it now . . . just pick a damn card.” Janice held up the cards to her.
“Of course you do, Janice.” Mel said with a thin smile as she stepped around the archeologist and her cards to enter the passageway.
“I do! Just let me show. . .” Janice responded adamantly, then sighed when Mel continued to walk away. “. . . you.”
Janice sighed and shuffled her cards.
“Well little lady,” the well-dressed southern man who sat behind her spoke up. “Just how confident are you?” He challenged smoothly, twisting his gold pinky ring.
Janice turned in her seat and looked over the man in the expensive suit, noticing something she hadn’t before. The diamond tie tack on his matching silk tie was actually in the shape of a small horse-shoe. She tilted her head with a small grin.
“Very confident,” she relayed.
“Confident enough to put your money where your mouth is?” He asked silkily.
“You mean . . . bet?” Janice asked, making the man grin.
When the train finally appeared, Robert glanced at his watch. The 5:05 train from New York City finally arrived at 5:53. Already behind schedule, he sighed, considering he’d have to step on it all the way back to the Pappas’ if he was going to get Miss Melinda back in time to freshen up for dinner. Mrs. Pappas would not be pleased if anything interfered with her welcome home dinner for her granddaughter.
The train slowly rolled into the station, finally screeching to a
stop. The conductor jumped down from the train and quickly laid out the
bottom steps for the passenger cars. Within moments, a wave of travelers
spilled onto the platform.
As Janice and Mel got up from their seats, the well-dressed man stood and politely waited for them.
“Dr. Covington,” his deep voice rumbled.
Janice tensed slightly and looked him in the eye. “Ed,” she responded.
Melinda glanced between the two curiously, unaware of their recent acquaintance. The man finally grinned at the archeologist. “You had me pegged as soon as I sat down, didn’t you?” He asked with curious amusement.
“Pegged?” Janice repeated innocently, making him shake his head and chuckle.
“I’m glad you turned out to be a graceful winner,” he mentioned, absently touching the gold pinky ring he still had on his finger. “Thank you.”
“It’s not hard to be graceful . . . when you win,“ Janice grinned slightly.
“I suppose not,” the man smiled politely at the two women, tipped his hat, and left the passenger car.
“Janice, I can’t believe you!” Mel exhaled indignantly.
“I won,” Janice offered with a shrug.
“That doesn’t make it any better,” Mel blurted, tucking her purse under her arm.
“It does for me. . . “
“Janice! It’s still illegal. . . and I want no part of it,” Mel countered with exasperation and headed towards the exit.
“God Mel, you make it sound like I killed someone.” Janice shook her head, following the irritated southerner out of the passenger car.
Robert smiled broadly. Miss Melinda emerged from the railcar and stood at the top step for a moment, closed her eyes and breathed in the southern air. She was just as he remembered her . . . a beautiful and elegant lady. Well, until she moved, he corrected himself, sharply sucking in a breath when she stepped down, caught her heal in the metal grating and stumbled forward.
A breath of relief escaped the concerned family driver when a quick-thinking young woman wrapped her arm around Melinda’s waist and steadied her, preventing a nasty fall onto the platform.
“It’d be a shame if you killed yourself so close to home,” Janice joked softly into Mel’s ear. “And before I had a chance to apologize,” she added sincerely, then slowly released her firm hold on the southerner.
Mel cleared her throat and regained her balance and most of her composure. “Uh. . . it would be . . . yes.” Mel responded. Pushing up her glasses, she gazed into apologetic eyes, which quickly made her irritation fade.
“You ok, Miss?” The porter asked the southerner, offering his hand to help her down the final step.
“Uh . . .yes,” Melinda responded sheepishly and added ”I’m fine, thank you” as she declined his hand and descended on her own. Janice was right behind her.
“So this is Columbia?” Janice asked, adjusting her fedora and glancing around the tiny station. “The capital,” she added flatly, eyeing the southerner skeptically.
“Yes, Janice. But if you’d like, when we get home, I’ll show you on a map.” Mel said with a polite smile and added, “It’s the city marked with the big ol’ star.”
Getting his aged frame out of the Pappas’ 37 Packard as quickly as he could, Robert waved and called out with excitement. “Miss Melinda!!”
Melinda immediately spotted the older man and took an excited breath. “Robert!” She burst out with equal enthusiasm and vigorously waved back. She glanced at Janice with a smile that radiated pure joy and rushed to greet the driver.
The powerful smile washed over and through the archeologist, who quickly focused on the luggage. Oh GOD, Janice swallowed hard. What the HELL was I thinking? Maybe there was another train leaving for New York city soon, she thought, looking up at the ticket booth.
Mel practically strangled the family driver in a bear hug. “Oh Robert! I’ve missed you so much. How ARE you?” She bubbled as they broke apart.
“Well, I’ve been better and I’ve been worse. Cain’t complain I guess.” He said thoughtfully, making Mel grin at his standard answer.
“How’s Ruby? And Beryl and Robert Jr. and your grand children and . . . “ Mel started her interrogation on his family but stopped when she noticed Robert looking curiously at the young, fedora-capped woman standing behind her, staring intently at her luggage. “OH . . . where are my manners! Janice??“
‘I could say she was right and I should see my brother . . . yeah right, she’d spot that lie a mile away. . . ‘ Janice considered with growing frustration. ‘What the hell was I . . . ‘
“Janice?” Mel called again. Janice’s head snapped up, finally hearing her.
“Robert, this is Doctor Janice Covington.” Mel proudly introduced her friend.
“Janice, this is Robert Thomas. He’s been our family driver since . . . well . . . forever,” Mel relayed happily.
“Before you were born, Miss Melinda.” Robert noted warmly. “Pleased to meet you Doctor Covington,” the graying man took his hat off and nodded shyly at her five and almost a half foot frame. From Miss Melinda’s letters, he had expected someone . . . taller.
“Call me Janice,” she relayed with a warm smile, extending a hand. Staring at the offered hand with surprise, he quickly wiped his hand on his white shirt and firmly grabbed it.
“Ok, Miss Janice,” Robert responded with a smile and shook the surprised archeologist’s hand. “I’d better get to your bags. Ruby would have my hide if I didn’t get you home in time to freshen up before dinner,” he added, quickly picking up two of the southerner’s bags and whisking them to the car. “There’s going to be a feast tonight, Miss Melinda,” he called over his shoulder as he placed the bags in the trunk.
“Miss Janice?” Janice questioned Mel softly with a raised eyebrow and picked up her two bags.
“Well, you didn’t want to be called ‘Doctor,“ Melinda said with amusement, also picking up two bags from her large collection.
“Now, now, Miss Melinda, let me take those,” Robert quickly scolded her into relinquishing her bags, which he quickly placed into the trunk. “No need to bother with your bags either, Miss Janice. I’ll get ‘em for you,” he informed the archeologist.
“That’s ok Bob,” Janice said, surprising the older man. “I packed light,” Janice announced with a smirk towards Mel.
“I packed light. . . “ Mel interjected defensively, making Janice’s eyebrows lift in amazement. “I did,“ Mel repeated as she got in the car.
Leaving the station, they drove West on Main street. The archeologist glanced out the rear window at the capital building as they left the city limits, amazed at just how small the Capital of South Carolina was. And it certainly had a different feel from Athens. Hell, it had a different feel from New York City for that matter, she mused, noting a friendly elderly couple waving as they exited a Krispy Kreme.
Mel smiled and waved back.
Robert glanced in the rear view mirror and smiled. “Ruby and I appreciate your letters Miss Melinda. Nobody ever wrote to us from Greece before.”
“It was my pleasure Robert. And getting letters from home really helped me get through my homesickness. I don’t know what I would have done with out them,” Mel relayed, surprising Janice.
Janice wondered why Mel never said anything to her. ‘Cause I was an ass,’ Janice concluded as her eyebrows furrowed.
“Well, I have to warn you Miss Melinda, Ruby kept every one of your letters. She’s gonna grill you on everything you wrote about. You know how she is. . . .”
Great, Janice considered wryly, imagining what Mel might have written about her the first few rocky months. It couldn’t be good.
The closer to her home, the more Mel seemed to smile . . . if that was possible, Janice considered. Her ladylike demeanor quickly dissolved into a girlish giddiness, Janice noticed with an amused smirk. A giddiness Janice was rather fond of.
“Janice! Look, there’s the ol’ Miller barn,“ Mel pointed out the window, grabbing Janice’s shoulder to ensure she looked. Janice indulged the southerner and leaned towards Mel’s window to get a good look of the dilapidated wood building.
“Nice barn,” Janice deadpanned.
Oooh boy, Robert thought with a cringe. Miss Melinda was always such a sensitive child.
“If you are not interested, Janice Covington, just tell me now, so I won’t continue to bore you with my babbling,” Melinda responded curtly, poorly covering up her hurt.
“Mel. . . this place is your home,” Janice responded firmly. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t interested,” Janice said sincerely.
Robert glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a small smile on Mel’s lips. He smiled too, pleased Dr. Covington was able to recover and lift her spirits so quickly.
“There’s gotta be SOME explanation for the way you are,” Janice added with a twinkle in her eyes.
Robert rolled his eyes as he silently moaned.
Mel sighed, feigning annoyance. “You know, Janice. No one has ever died from being nice. You should try it once in a while,” Mel said with a thin smile.
Good one Miss Melinda, Robert smirked with surprise, glancing in the rear view mirror at the young archeologist, who chuckled. When he returned his glance forward, his eyes widened.
“Miss Melinda! That’s Miss Christine’s car up ahead.” He announced pulling over to the side of the road.
“Good Lord . . . that’s . . . smoke!” Mel blurted with fear, glancing at Janice, who was already jumping out of the car before it came to a complete stop.
The archeologist sprinted towards the sky blue Cadillac, finding the female driver, hunched over the steering wheel and unconscious. Smoke billowed as flickers of flames escaped from beneath the hood.
Janice grabbed the door handle and immediately recoiled from the searing pain.
Yanking the bottom of her shirt out from her khaki pants, she wrapped it around her throbbing hand and attempted to open the blistering door. The shirt was no help. “DAMN!” She released her grip again and shook her hand. From the rapidly growing flames, Janice knew she didn’t have much time. She took a deep breath, grabbed the handle and yanked. Releasing a pained groan, Janice finally opened the door.
She quickly scooped the unconscious driver out from behind the wheel and heaved the thankfully petite woman over her shoulder.
Only a few yards from the car, Janice spotted Mel and Robert coming towards her.
"No! Take cover!" Janice yelled as the auto was quickly engulfed in flames. Her hurried retreat was abruptly interrupted when the car exploded, hurling Janice and the unconscious woman to the ground.