Deciphering The Scrolls
by Azurenon & Savanna Mac
Please see part one for all disclaimers.
Their glasses were empty and Janiceís thin, short cheroot had burnt down by the time Mel finished the story. Both women sighed at the ending: Xena and Gabrielle walking off into the sunset, as the bard said, "Youíre a Warrior Princess and Iím an Amazon Princess, thatís gonna make such a great story! Yeah, and it all starts with you and me finding those signs in the trees...."
"Wish I had lived back then," Mel sighed, as she started carefully rolling up the scroll.
"Yeah," Janice agreed, before it sunk in what Mel had just said. "Wait... what did... did you just say you wished youíd lived back then?" she queried, putting her cigar out in the ashtray on the side table.
"Uh-huh," Mel answered, fumbling with replacing the green ribbon around the scroll, in order to keep it together.
"You? A woman who can hardly stand getting dirt under her fingernails?" Janice prodded, as she glanced over at her friend. "Hmph," she added, taking in Melís altared appearance. Janice had been so caught up in the tale and her own thoughts, she had failed to notice that Mel had taken the pin out of her and opened the front of the shortwaisted jacket.
"Yes, but... it sounds so-o... romantic, donícha think?" Mel answered, stretching her long arms out above her head and yawning.
"Romantic, huh?" Janice softly queried, her gaze slowly wandering down Melís body, until her eyes lit upon the long skirt, which was hiked up around Melís knees, owing to the latterís bare feet being propped up on the ottoman beside Janiceís booted ones. The slit up the back of Melís long skirt was revealing far more of the backside of the brunetteís thighs, than Janice assumed their owner would be comfortable in displaying, had she been aware of it. "We... are talking about... two women, ya know," she added, unable to force her eyes away from what they most definitely found an intriguing sight.
"We-ell yes, I know tha-at," Mel responded. "I mean... romantic in the sense of..." She paused and closed her eyes; one leg inching further away from the other, as she wiggled it back and forth in contemplation. "The... free-ee-dom of it," she finally continued, "...sleeping under the stars... not having to worry about money or... I mean, you just donít hear of many women living like that, these days."
"Umm-hmm," Janice agreed, though she was only half listening now, as she raised the empty glass to her lips; her mouth suddenly quite dry. So intent was her gaze on Melís wiggling leg - catching brief glimpses of a pair of light pink underwear drifting in and out of view - that it took the doctor of archaeology a few moments to realize she was recieving no liquid satisfaction. "Hmph," she grunted, her eyes taking leave of the intriguing sight long enough to register what was wrong: her glass was empty.
"Iím not saying Iíd... be much for fighting," Mel continued musing, her eyes still closed. "But, traveling around...."
"Youíd learn to fight, like Gabrielle," Janice offered, her gaze now concentrated on Melís upper body; the beautiful smooth skin of her face; the long dark hair framing it so enticingly, before flowing over her shoulders.
"May-be," Mel said wistfully, as she turned her head and glanced over at her friend.
Janice slowly turned away from those blue eyes, feeling quite guilty now. Then suddenly, she jerked back around. "Hey! Youíre not wearing your glasses!" she announced.
Melís eyes grew large, as she reached up to her face. "Oh-h my-y," she said, giggling slightly, her face beginning to color.
"You donít need them, do you?" Janice accused, when Mel suddenly straightened up in her chair, her face turning beet red now, as if sheíd suddenly realized sheíd "let her hair down" so to speak, in front of Janice.
"You read that whole story without your glasses," Janice pointed out.
Mel cleared her throat, as she slipped her feet into her shoes
"So, whatís the deal with the glasses, hmm?" Janice prodded.
Mel stood up rather abruptly, the scroll falling to the floor. "Oh-h my-y," she drawled, her hand fluttering up to her face.
"Whatsamatta?" Janice queried. "Little too much to drink? Uh, I wouldnít..."
Janice was trying to warn her friend not to bend over, yet Mel was so intent upon retrieving the scroll, sheíd already bent down and was now starting to straighten up with the scroll in her hand.
"My-y w-wor-ord," Mel drawled, as she stumbled sideways into the ottoman.
"Uh-oh," Janice commented, as the tall brunetteís feet shot out from under her; her body twisting to right itself; her behind landing on the ottoman, which in turn slid backwards across the floor.
Janice quickly moved her legs out of the way, as the ottoman bumped into the front of her chair. A soft grunt issued from her throat, as Melís elbow collided with her chest and the tall brunette fell back into her arms.
"My-y Lo-ord," Mel drawled, batting her eyes, as if she were trying to focus on Janiceís face.
"Yep, too much to drink," Janice commented, looking down at the blue-eyed woman laying within the confines of her left arm.
"Is... the roo-om... mov-viní?" Mel asked, her blue eyes rolling around in their sockets now.
"Nope," Janice responded. "Itís just the alcohol sloshing around in your brain. "Iíll take this," she suggested, removing the scroll from Melís right hand and putting it on the side table.
"Itís so... ho-ot in he-ere," Mel commented, her eyes closing, while her hands went to her blouse, quickly unhooked the top bottom and was working on the next one, when Janice turned back around.
The light powdery scent of Melís perfume wafted up to Janiceís nose now and seemingly held her enthralled, as yet a third button was released from its moorings. Janiceís eyes drank in the smooth bronze skin of Melís chest, a small scar near her right breast attracting her attention. Her fingers itched to reach out and explore this area, while her mind wondered about its history.
"Oh-h Lor-dee Lor-dee," Mel said, as she opened her eyes to find Janice looking down at her chest. "Howíd I get... he-yer?" she inquired; the hands that had unbuttoned her blouse, now moving to put it back together again. "Iím... so-o sow-ry," she added, raising up.
"I wouldnít try to get up too fast," Janice warned, as Mel set up on the ottoman. "Let me help you to your feet, Ďcuz..."
"Oh, I think I can... take it from here," Mel offered, as she slowly stood up.
"Yeah, right," Janice added, watching the tall brunette start to sway on her feet. The former quickly jumped up, avoiding the ottoman and threw her right arm around Melís waist, just in time to keep her from falling over face first. "Time to... get you... to bed," she grunted, taking Melís left arm and putting it around her own neck.
The tall brunetteís head slumped against the side of Janiceís. "Iím so-o sow-ry," Mel uttered once again, close to Janiceís ear. "I donít know... whatís wíong... with me."
"Youíre drunk," Janice supplied, the feel of Melís breath tickling her ear, eliciting sensations she hadnít felt in quite some time. And didnít need to feel now. "Letís... just get you to bed, shall we?" she said, leading Mel away from the fire.
"Youíre... so-o swe-eet," Mel murmured.
"Yeah, well," Janice grumbled, knowing she was responsible for mixing Melís drink too strong. You wouldnít be saying that, if you knew what I was thinking, she added, only to herself.
"Oo-oops," Mel grunted, as she stumbled out of one of her shoes. "My-y shu-ue."
"Forget it," Janice advised, as she continued leading her now limping friend across the room to the sofa. "On second thought," she said, passing on by the uncomfortable piece of furniture.
"Hey... thatís... my-y ba-yed," Mel drawled.
"Yeah, well, not tonight, sister," Janice grumbled. "I donít wanna come in here in the morning and find you... sprawled out on the floor. You can sleep with me tonight. I donít bite, ya know. Iím not sure whether I snore or not, but... Iím certain I donít bite."
"You... re-eally should-ldnít do-o thi-is," Mel objected, as she stumbled out of her other shoe, without even noticing.
"Yes, I should, since itís my... fault.. youíre so... drunk," Janice admitted, manuevering them through the doorway of her bedroom.
"Umph," Mel grunted, as the doorknob caught her in the hip and pushed her backwards.
Janice nearly lost her grip, but then quickly spun around and caught her friend in both arms. Mel grunted, as their bodies came together rather abruptly; her head falling onto Janiceís shoulder; both arms going around her neck.
Not as tall without those shoes, Janice noted, And not as heavy as I thought youíd be, she added, a bit reluctant to push Mel upright, yet knowing she would have to in order to get her into bed. Of course, a few more moments couldnít hurt anything, she thought, as the sweet scent of Melís perfume engulfed her. She came to her senses abruptly, however, right before nuzzling her face into Melís long silky hair. Stop this Janice! she scolded herself. You know what happened the last time. Youíre headed for heartbreak again, if you keep this up!
"Umph," she grunted, easing Mel upright. "Just a little bit further now," she coaxed, resuming her previous position and leading her friend towards the bed.
It wasnít easy, but Janice finally got the tall brunette, who was quite close to passing out now, into the bed and covered up. Removing the latterís clothes, however, had not been an option. Although the enticing thought had crossed her mind.
And as she stood before the sink in the bathroom now, brushing her teeth, the memory of seeing Melís long bare thighs and her nearly bare chest played out before her mindís eye.
You canít let yourself think like this, she mentally scolded her reflection in the small medicine cabinet mirror. Memories of the last time sheíd had feelings like this for another woman flooded her mind now.
Janice had been in college then and her roommate, a rather lovely brunette from Ohio, had been her best friend. Theyíd shared everything together. Their thoughts, their fears, their secrets. And Amanda, whoíd been a very loving, touching individual from a close knit family, had often crawled into bed with Janice, while they shared these intimate secrets. Of course, Amanda had thought nothing of this and often sought solace in Janiceís arms, whereíd she cry herself to sleep on the latterís shoulder. Janice was like a sister to her, or so sheíd said. Yet for Janice, the feelings sheíd had for Amanda went beyond anything she might feel towards a sister. And it had taken her several years to come to terms with these feelings, but sheíd finally accepted that she wanted to touch Amanda in the same way a man wanted to touch a woman. The problem arose, however, when she finally admitted this to Amanda, one night, close to graduation. Her friend had been stunned speechless. She had gotten up from Janiceís bed, went back to her own and for several days after that, had hardly spoken to her longtime roommate. Janice had been heartbroken.
On their last night together, however, Janice awoke when Amanda slipped into bed with her. No words were exchanged, as her long time friend leaned over and kissed her. Not knowing exactly how to proceed, only knowing what she longed for, Janice had sought to satisfy her own, as well as, her friendís evident yearnings. And the young, soon to be doctor of archaeology, could not have been happier. The next morning however, her happy world had come crumbling down, when she awoke to find Amanda gone. On the bedside table they shared, was a note. Amanda had thanked her for the beautiful experience, professed her love for her and then informed her that she was going back to Ohio to marry her childhood sweetheart. Janice was devastated. And sheíd never gotten over this.
Of course, sheíd tried dating men and even going to bed with a few, while she was intoxicated up to her eyeballs, which was the only way she could go through with it. But, no one, in the past 8 years had been able to touch her or make her feel the way sheíd felt about Amanda. Not until now, that is.
"Get a grip!" Janice mumbled to her reflection. "Youíre just going to decipher these scrolls together... find whatever it is they contain... split the profits and... go your separate ways."
Then why in hell did you put her in your bed? her mind questioned.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she mumbled aloud. But... I can handle it... I know I can. And besides, I felt guilty with her sleeping on that small sofa.
Buy her a bed of her own, her mind suggested.
Thereís not enough room for another bed, she answered herself.
Janice, Janice, Janice, youíre making excuses. Youíre falling head over heels for her and you know it.
No, I wonít let that happen. Weíre just... partners and... I intend to keep it that way.
Then you better sleep on the sofa.
No, I can handle it, really. I will handle this. Iím strong enough. I know I can do it.
As the strong willed doctor slipped into bed - in her usual attire of white menís v-neck T-shirt and feminine underwear - and a hand eased around her waist, the doubts began to resurface once again.
I can do this and... I will, she maintained, as she reached down and slowly, reluctantly removed the hand from her waist.
Mel awoke to sunlight filtering in through the flimsy bedroom curtains. Where am I? she wondered, glancing around.
It was obvious from her surroundings that she was not on the sofa in the living room, but in Janiceís bedroom. And in her bed.
"Oh-h Jes-sus!" she gasped, turning quickly, clearly expecting Janice to be beside her. "Go-od Lo-ord!" she groaned, her head starting to pound, as if someone were inside it banging on a drum.
She closed her eyes, feeling safe in the knowledge that she was alone in the bed. Then again, if Janice wasnít in the bed, where was she? Her eyes fluttered open once again at the realization that Janice was more than likely already up and at the dig site.
"My word... what ti-ime iz-z it?" she drawled.
The small ticking alarm clock on Janiceís side of the bed read 9:30.
"Oh good lor-rd, Iíve lost half a day," Mel grumbled, as she eased up to a sitting position.
Her stomach did several flip flops. The tall brunette was soon up on her feet and headed for the bathroom. The pain in her head, now taking a back set to the lurching of her stomach.
Janice was having trouble concentrating. She hadnít had much sleep the night before, thanks to her considerate and yet selfish nature. And the mental image of Mel lying in her bed - before she left this morning - kept creeping into her thoughts at the most inopportune times. Long dark hair had been sprawled out across the white pillowcase, surrounding the light bronze skin - so smooth, so soft, so inviting - nestled against it. Full red lips had been slightly parted and emitting the soft, soothing sounds of its ownerís steady breathing in comfortable slumber. Janice had envied the hand lying so close alongside these lips, before reprimanding herself and shrugging into her work jacket. She had quickly turned her back on the scene, determined to leave it behind her, only to turn around once more at the doorway of her bedroom.
"My god, you are... beautiful," she had whispered, then abruptly turned and left, hoping to immerse herself in her work.
But, so far, that hadnít worked. And by noon, she was chopping her workerís heads off left and right. No one seemed capable of doing anything right. Finally, the foreman she had put in charge, Solanos, suggested that she might want to take a long lunch break. Janice had nearly pulled her gun on him for this comment, yet... she knew he was right. She definitely wasnít helping matters. Solanos could run things without her for now, since it wasnít like they were closing in on any monumental discovery, at the moment. And maybe not ever.
Janice walked into her cottage to find Mel at the desk, as usual. Yet, she could tell something wasnít quite right, by the hunched appearance of her friendís shoulders. She assumed this might be due to a hangover.
"Everything okay?" she queried, hanging her jacket up on the coat rack by the door.
"Um... yes, but wha..." Mel paused and sniffed. "What are you doing home... so early?"
"Thought Iíd... take a long lunch," Janice explained, walking towards her friend now. "Whatís with... are you crying?"
"Umm," was all Mel said, as she wiped at her eyes.
"You are," Janice announced, as she drew closer. "Mel, what in the world is wrong?"
"Just... this... scroll," Mel sniveled.
"Whatís in there that would... make you cry like this?" Janice asked, the concern quite evident in her voice, as she came up alongside her friend.
"Umph... read it... for your-self," Mel sniveled, as she quickly got up. "Itís so... sa-ad," she added, moving across the room to the chair she had occupied the previous night.
Janice flopped down in the chair Mel had just vacated; the seat still warm. She noticed the eyeglasses close by the scroll, which was something she wanted to confront Mel about, but not right now. Putting this thought aside for later, she began reading.
By the end of the scroll, Janice had wiped a few tears from her own cheeks. Sheíd read about Gabrielle being impregnated by an evil God named Dahak. The child had been born quickly and grown rapidly. Yet the bard could not accept the child was evil, even though Xena swore this child had killed within hours of being born. Gabrielle had run away with the child - named Hope - to keep Xena from killing it. Only the child had attacked her and sheíd allowed it to fall off a high cliff.
The next story had involved Xena and a debt she owed her mentor, Lao Ma. Xena had been evil in her early years, which came as no big surprise to Janice; for, anyone that tough had to have a checkered past. But, Xena leaving Gabrielle to repay a debt to someone else had captured her attention.
Coming back from the land of Chin on a boat, the scroll had eluded to the bard writing in a personal diary. Janice took note of this, but continued on to the next tale. This one involved Xenaís son, Solan and Gabrielleís daughter, Hope, whom Gabrielle had lied to Xena about being dead. Hope had slain Solan, with the help of Xenaís arch nemesis Callisto, just as Xena was about to reclaim this son sheíd given up years before. Xena could not forgive Gabrielle for lying to her about Hope, even though the bard had subsequently poisoned her own flesh and blood, finally accepting that Hope was indeed evil. The warrior knew what Gabrielle had done, but still blamed her friend for the death of her son. And the two friends had parted ways.
Janice carefully rolled up the scroll.
"Isnít it sa-ad?" Mel asked. Janice merely nodded. "And the worst part is... I canít find any other references that... tells how they made up." Janice merely grunted, as she got up from the chair. "Do you think... thereís a scroll missing?" Mel inquired.
"Uh... well, I suppose anything is possible," Janice responded, lighting a half smoked cheroot she had stuck back in her pocket that morning.
"You did get... all of them, didnícha?" Mel questioned.
"Yes," Janice exhaled. "Everything that was there."
"Jack helped you though, didnít he? You donít think he..."
"Why would Jack steal a scroll? He couldnít read word one," Janice scoffed, as she ambled over to the picture window and stared out at the dreary overcast day. Or at least he wonít be reading them, she thought, reluctant to let on to Mel that Jack had tried to make off with two small scrolls. Janice had stolen them back, however, becoming suspicious when Jack was too eager to leave, especially for someone who had come all that way. Janice had subsequently read one of the scrolls and didnít think it would be appropriate reading for Mel. Yet another reason for her to keep quiet, even if she was bursting to tell someone about what sheíd read.
"Youíre probably right," Mel agreed, sounding disappointed. "But, what... what about that piece of a scroll your daddy found? Doesnít that suggest that there may be more?" she asked, brightening a bit now.
"I guess, itís... possible," Janice conceded, hesitantly. "Only thing is... this is the site where he said he found it. And so far... weíve found diddly."
"Oh-h," Mel drawled, disappointment evident in her voice again.
"You said you canít find where they made up, which... suggests that you know they did, right?" Janice questioned.
"Well... yes, I would assume they did. I mean, thereís another story or two with references to their... grief and anger, but..."
"Well, then, maybe Gabrielle just... never wrote that part down," Janice interjected.
"Oh, but thatís so unlike her. I mean, so far all her stories end on a happy note. She ties up every loose end, that she can, like any good storyteller. Thatís why... I just canít help but believe sheíd write this down."
Janice grunted. "Well, isnít it enough to know they did make up?"
"I suppose it should be," Mel conceded. "But... you read the story... itís so sad and... there was so much left to be discussed. I mean... this was the first time theyíd parted ways in anger. A good storyteller like Gabrielle doesnít leave readers hanging like this."
"Maybe she never intended for these to be read," Janice suggested. "After all, they were locked away in that tomb... with Ares."
"We-ell ye-es," Mel drawled. "And behind that... shield," she added.
"That was good work finding those by the way," Janice finally admitted.
"All I did was... sit down," Mel countered.
"Yeah well... if not for you, we wouldnít have these now," Janice said, turning towards her.
"I suppose not," Mel admitted. "Ya know, that was really strange how we all met up at that place. I mean, all of us being related to someone in the scrolls and all. Do ya think we were... destined to find them?"
Janice merely grunted, as she turned back to the window.
"Sure wish I could find where they made up. This is like watching one of those cliff hanger serials at the movies, only... this time the loose ends donít get tied up all nice and neat."
"Have you read all the scrolls?" Janice queried. "Maybe, like in some of those serials, Gabrielle backtracks."
"Yeah, you know... tells the story through memories or something."
"O-Oh, I didnít think of tha-at," Mel said, coming out of her chair rather quickly and starting towards the desk again. "And I didnít read all of them. I only scanned the top portion of the others, thinking that sheíd pick up where she left off."
"Hmph," Janice grunted, as she heard Mel sit down in the chair at the desk. "This is pretty important to you, huh?" she queried, turning towards her friend now.
"O-Oh ye-es, theyíre such good friends and... I just have to know how they made up. How Xena forgave Gabrielle for lying to her and all. I mean... the death of her child... thatís a big deal," Mel said, tying a white ribbon around the scroll on the desk.
Janice briefly wondered about the color selection Mel was choosing for each scroll, but didnít feel the ned to ask at the moment. Nor did she think this was a good time to bring up the issue of the glasses. All she wanted right now was to take a long walk on the beach and see if she couldnít clear her head.
As Mel unrolled another scroll, Janice put her cigar out in an ashtray along her route to the bathroom; taking care of this necessity before leaving.
When she returned Mel was still hunched over the scroll. For one brief moment, Janice considered asking Mel to come with her, yet dismissed this idea. She then walked over to the coat rack to retrieve her jacket.
"Youíre not gonna eat before you go back to work?" Mel inquired.
"Iím not going back today," Janice answered honestly. "Iím going... for a long walk."
Mel abruptly turned around, the old chair squealing in protest. "Is there something wrong, Janice?" she asked softly. "Iíve been so wrapped up in this story that I..."
Janice shook her head. "Just need a little... time away from the dig," she answered, putting on her jacket.
"O-Oh, I se-ee. Um, you wouldnít want... well, no Iím sure youíd rather be alone," Mel mumbled, as she slowly turned back around, the old chair singing a long mournful tune.
"Not really," Janice corrected, pausing with her hand on the door. "I just... assumed you were too busy with the scrolls to..."
"Iím never too busy... for a friend," Mel interjected, as she quickly turned back around.
When Janiceís green eyes met Melís blue ones, she heard herself say, "Then get a jacket and letís get out of here."
To Janiceís astonishment, Mel was up and out of her chair in a flash. And within a few moments time, they were out the door and headed for the beach. Janice had noticed Mel exchange her pumps for a pair of flats and approved. Of course, she had also grabbed her glasses and put them on.
"Have you ever worn a pair of pants?" Janice asked, slowing her pace in order for Mel to keep up.
"When I was younger," Mel answered.
"You didnít like wearingíem?"
"Well, yes, I did, but... my daddy... he didnít approve of women wearing pants," Mel explained.
"Uh-huh. So, you donít do things that your daddy wouldnít approve of?"
"Well... I came here, didnít I?" Mel replied, sounding proud of herself.
"Hmph. And that reminds me... why did you come all this way?" Janice further queried, stepping over a low rock wall, dividing the road from the beach. "You could have just sent a telegram."
"Ye-es, but, you wouldnít have taken me seriously, now would you?" Mel responded, pulling her skirt up, in order to get her knees high enough to step over the wall. "No," she answered her own question. "You didnít even take me seriously when I showed up."
"Here... give me your hand," Janice offered, sensing the more feminine womanís predicament.
"Why thank you," Mel said, taking the proffered hand in one of hers and holding her skirt up with the other.
"You know, this is a perfect example of why Xena ripped your skirt up the sides," Janice put in.
"Yes, I can see that now. I suppose I should purchase more... appropriate clothing, shouldnít I?"
"If youíre gonna stick with me, kid... yes, you should," Janice commented, as she let go of Melís hand and started walking off.
Oh, Iím gonna stick with you, Janice Covington, Mel thought. And you can take that promise to the bank. Because I sure intend to. As soon as we find... whatever it is weíre looking for.
"Your father obviously didnít take me seriously," Janice said, when Mel caught up with her.
"He did save your letter, but... I suppose youíre right," Mel conceded. "My daddy never was one to... value a womanís opinion."
"Thatís obvious," Janice grumbled.
"Well, you werenít exactly thrilled about a woman showing up at your dig site, either," Mel observed. "Even if she was the daughter of Professor Pappas."
"Yeah well, you have to admit, you werenít exactly dressed for... digging around in the dirt."
"Thatís not what you asked for. As I recall, you specifically asked for help deciphering ancient manuscripts."
Janice merely grunted, as she gazed out at the ocean; the dark grey color of the water blending in with the dark grey clouds above. "So... whatís with those glasses?" she inquired, a few moments later.
"We-ell," Mel drawled, pushing the glasses up on her nose.
"Well, what?" Janice prodded, when Mel did not continue. "Itís obvious you donít need them," she added, glancing over at her friend.
Mel offered no reply, she merely stared down at her feet.
Janice abruptly stopped. "What are you hiding, Mel Pappas?"
"Hiding?" Mel asked indignantly, her head coming up quickly. "Why Janice Covington Iíll have you know Iím not hiding...." She paused, as Janice cocked one light brown eyebrow. "Well, I mean... Iím not hiding anything from you," she added, as she reached up and removed the glasses, slowly folding the earpieces down.
"Then why wear them?" Janice further prodded. "Hmm?"
"We-ell, itís... itís not easy to explain..."
"Try," Janice suggested.
Mel groaned, then quickly reached up and removed the pin from her hair, the long tresses falling harem-skarem around her shoulders. She shook her head slightly to rearrange them a bit. "Tell me what you see now, Janice Covington," she said, in a soft voice.
"What I see?"
"Um-hm," Mel answered, staring down at Janice now, a rather odd expression on her face. "Do you think Iím... pretty?" she inquired, when Janice didnít respond.
"Uh." Janice blinked several times, taken aback by this question. No, actually I think youíre drop dead gorgeous, she thought. But she finally said, "Well... yes, of course."
"And thatís exactly what most people see. A pretty face. Not me," Mel explained.
"I... Iím sorry," Janice stammered, looking away now. "But, I donít..."
"Ya see, all my life Iíve been told how... pretty I am."
"And thatís bad?" Janice interjected, staring up at her friend now.
"It is when what you want... is to be taken seriously," Mel answered. "Ya see, as far back as I can remember, men... and boys, they... well, this face is all they saw. They never seemed to consider that I had... a brain... an opinion or... even feelings," she added, rather sadly.
"I... I still donít..."
"Do you know when I was in college that young men would ask me out on a date and tell me not to open my mouth at a party? Just Ďbe beautifulí they said. All they wanted was... a good looking woman on their arm. But... Iím more than that, Janice. More than..." Melís voice broke and Janice noticed those blue eyes filling up with tears. "...an ob-ject... to be... hung on... some-oneís arm," she finished, as the tears began to flow in earnest now.
"I... see," Janice said, feeling sympathy for the beautiful brunette before her. She suddenly realized that for some, beauty could be a curse and not an attribute. And she herself had been guilty of not taking Mel seriously because of her looks. "Iím... Iím sorry, Mel," she offered, reaching out and touching her friendís arm. "I... I just... didnít understand."
"Thatís... alright," Mel sniffed, placing her own hand over Janiceís. "I probíly... shouldíve told you... before now."
"No, I... shouldnít have pried," Janice offered, softly.
"Yes... yes you should," Mel intoned, rubbing her hand. "Youíre right... I was hiding... behind these," she added, glancing down at the glasses in her left hand.
"Well, you had your reasons," Janice consoled.
"I thought these... would make me look... more intelligent," Mel sniffed.
"Well, they do.... in a... bookwormish sorta way," Janice teased.
Mel cut her eyes over at Janice and the latter smiled. "Yeah, I guess they do... look at bit... nerdy, huh?"
"A bit," Janice said with a shrug. "But, I can see your point in wearing them."
"You know that old saying, ĎMen donít make passes at girls who wear glassesí?" Mel asked, to which Janice nodded. "Well... most of the time, itís true."
"Guess men are too afraid thereís a brain behind the glasses, hmm?"
"Ex-xactly," Mel intoned.
"Well, you donít have to hide behind those with me any longer," Janice offered. "Because I know that you are one very intelligent lady."
The soft sensitive look in Melís eyes made Janice feel uncomfortable. She knew she could indeed fall head over heels for this woman and probably was doing just that, right at this very moment. She broke eye contact and eased her hand out from under Melís, then shoved it in her pocket.
"Sometimes, Janice Covington, you say the sweetest things," Mel admitted, as she slipped her arm through her friendís. "And you know what the best part is? I think you really meaníem."
Janice glanced down at the arm wrapped around her own; the glasses still clasped in Melís hand. She felt a bit uncomfortable and yet dared not change a thing. No sense ruining a tender moment, she thought.
The two continued down the beach in companionable silence, for awhile; Janice already having taken the side nearest the water, so that Mel would not get her shoes wet.
"Beautiful day, isnít it?" Mel asked, breaking the silence.
Janice glanced over at her, cocking one eyebrow quizzically.
"Well, of course, I realize itís cloudy and all that, but... days like this have... a beauty all their own, donícha think?"
"If you say so," Janice responded, gazing out at, what to her, was a bleak looking sky that foretold rain was on the way. Not that she didnít like rain, but... rainy days to her were a bit depressing.
"Just look at all the different shades of grey," Mel continued. "The misty grey fog blending into the darker grey of the clouds above and the nearly black water below. And those rocks over there... theyíre nearly hidden by the fog, but the part you can see is so damp that... the water makes it almost glisten in places."
Although Janice was looking at the same things, she couldnít see beauty in them. For her, it was as if, the world had no color.
"You donít see the beauty in that, do you?" Mel queried.
Janice shook her head a bit sadly. "No. Honestly... all I see is... a bleak and colorless world, at the moment."
"Janice," Mel said softly, pausing and waiting for her friend to look up at her. "Perhaps I shouldnít pry, but... I just have to ask... whatís wrong?"
"Nothing really. Just one of my moods, I suppose. Itíll pass."
"Youíre feeling down about the dig, arenít you?" Mel questioned.
Janice offered no response.
"Is it... because of what I said last night about..." Mel paused, as Janice glanced over at her. "... about your daddy being... misguided?"
Janice shook her head. "No. Thatís nothing I havenít heard before and... thought myself, from time to time. I just have to keep reminding myself that he was right about the scrolls. That they existed, I mean."
"Yes, he was," Mel admitted. "And Janice, Iím sorry for what I said. I... I guess I was feeling a bit... tired and... loose lipped."
Janice smiled. "Iím sorry I got you drunk."
"Oh, you didnít do it. I... I think I wanted to get... sauced, as they say." She was silent for a moment, then added, "Was I... a sloppy drunk?"
"Oh no," Janice answered with a grin. "Actually... I thought you were kinda cute. You kept saying things like ĎO-oh my-y and my-y goo-oodne-essí," she added, mimicking Melís southern drawl.
"Oh my," Mel said. And they both chuckled.
"Itís good to hear you laugh," Mel observed a few moments later. " Matter-a-fact, I think thatís the first time Iíve ever heard you laugh out loud."
"Hmph," Janice grunted, as she looked away.
"Oh well, now, youíve gone and done it, Mel Pappas," Mel grumbled.
"Done what?" Janice asked, turning back around.
"Put that frown back on your face," Mel answered, as she frowned herself. "I wish I knew a joke or something, so... I could make you laugh."
"You donít have to try and cheer me up, Mel," Janice consoled. "But, I do appreciate the thought. Like I said, itíll pass."
Once again, the two continued on in companionable silence, until Mel couldnít stand it any longer. "You said you traveled around a lot when you were young. Where all have you been?" she asked.
Janice sighed heavily. "Letís see... Egypt, many times. South America, for a short period. Then there was China. We spent a lot of time here of course... all over Greece really. There was a brief stint in Turkey. And... well, America, naturally, where my grandmother raised me."
"My-y goo-oodness," Mel drawled. "You have been around."
Janice grinned. "Well, I wouldnít exactly put it that way."
"What do you... oh, I... I didnít mean it like..."
Janice waved the apology away. "So how about you? Where all have you been?"
"Me? Oh-h, nowhere, really," Mel answered, staring down at the ground now.
"Oh come now, I wouldíve thought the daughter of a professor, a Nobel prize winner at that, would have traveled a lot."
"Well, no... not me. My father, he traveled a bit, but... Iíd never even been out of the state of South Carílina before I came here."
"My Mama was... sickly most of her life and... I usually stayed at home with her when Daddy traveled. I... helped take care of her, up until she passed away."
"Oh, Iím sorry,... I didnít mean to..."
"Thatís okay," Mel interjected, squeezing Janiceís arm lightly. "Itís been a few years now. And... as youíve probably noticed, Iím not one to hold things inside, so... I think Iíve dealt with the grief... over both of them."
Janice was quiet, afraid to pry anymore.
"So, looks like this is something we have in common, hmm?" Mel said, seemingly trying to lighten the mood. Janice glanced over at her. "I mean... weíre both all alone in the world."
"Uh yes, I suppose so," Janice agreed. "Um... if you donít mind me asking, Mel.... what made you leave home and come here?"
"Oh, Iíve al-lways wanted to travel," Mel answered. "And when I read your letter... well, a woman archaeologist looking for scrolls about a woman warrior... I just had to see this for myself."
Janice cut her eyes over at her friend.
" I mean... itís not everyday you even hear of a female archaeologist, much less an ancient warrior woman. And Iíve always been a supporter... well, deep in my heart, that is, of the womenís movement."
"Well, yes, but I was never one to join in any protests or anything. I mean... not with my daddy being dean of the university and all."
"Uh-huh, thatís... understandable."
"But, after he passed away, well... I thought it was about time the real Mel Pappas... broke out of her shell."
Janice grinned. "And so you hopped on a plane to Greece?"
"Yep. I just... up and did it!" Mel said, sounding very proud of herself.
"Well... that was pretty brave," Janice admitted.
"Not as brave as some of the things youíve done, I bet," Mel commented. "Tell me about these exotic places youíve been. What were they like?"
"Youíve seen one shithole, youíve seeníem all," Janice said, without thinking.
"Janice Covington, my virgin ears!" Mel gasped.
"Virgin, huh?" Janice said, with a slight grin, as she glanced up at Mel.
"Well, yes... I...."
"Really?" Janice interrupted, her grin now resembling that of the cheshire cat.
"Thatís what I j-ust...." Mel paused, as she took in Janiceís grin. "Why... youíre not talking about my ears anymore... are you?"
Janice merely shrugged and looked away.
"Well, if you must know... yes, of course, Iím still a virgin. Arenít you?" Mel queried.
Janice offered no response.
"Ja-an-nice," Mel drawled. "Yo-our pulling my leg... arenít you?"
Janice shook her head.
"I didnít know youíd been married," Mel concluded
"Uh, well, marriage is not a prerequisite for..."
"O-oh my-y goo-oodness," Mel drawled.
"Ah come on, Mel," Janice said sarcastically. "Drop the little girl right off the old plantation act. You canít make me believe that a woman with your looks, hasnít had her share of men."
"Well, not tha-at way I havenít," Mel answered, indignantly. removing her arm from Janiceís. "Iíll have you know I was saving that for... for the night of my honeymoon."
"Youíre for real... arenít you?" Janice questioned, stopping and turning to face her friend, who had already halted a few paces back.
"Aícourse I am. I wouldnít lie to you," Mel responded. "Aícourse I wonít say I... didnít come close a time or two, but.... no, I ne-ever went aw-ll the way," she added in a whisper, as if someone might overhear.
"Hmph," Janice commented. "Well, then youíre to be commended. What are you now.... twenty eight or so?"
Mel grunted. "Thirty, if you must know. And you?"
"Thirty two," Janice answered. "But, feeling a good bit older than that at the moment," she added, stuffing her hands deeper in her pockets. "Look... I... Iím sorry about that comment I made about the plantation. I shouldnít have said that," she apologized, toeing the sand in front of her. "That was... uncalled for."
"Thatís awl-right," Mel drawled. "I mean... I guess I do seem that way to someone as... worldly as you."
"Hmph," Janice grunted. "Worldly or... jaded," she mumbled.
"I prefer worldly," Mel commented, as she took a step closer.
Both women fell silent for a few moments, as they resumed walking down the beach side by side. Then Mel reached over and linked her arm in Janiceís again. "Wasnít there anything good about an-ny of those... shitholes?"
Janice glanced over at her friend and both women busted out laughing.
As they continued on, Janice began to reminisce about the places sheíd been and things sheíd seen. And listening to Melís enthusiasm and excitement concerning each place she described, she started to see her life through different eyes; those of a not so young girl anymore, but still fresh off the plantation. And before they returned to the cottage, the day that had seemed so bleak and dreary to Janice before, now began to come alive in varying shades of grey. Its beauty being something not so much seen with the naked eye, as through the tender places in the heart.
Upon returning to the cottage, they were both famished. Mel suggested that they put their heads together in the kitchen. But, Janice came up with a better idea; theyíd go out to eat. Mel was all for this. So, Janice changed into a clean shirt and pants, and even brushed off her favorite hat, the same one containing a bullet hole in the front top portion and a jagged knife wound in the upper right side, which had all transpired during their previous quest to locate the scrolls.
Mel groaned inwardly at Janice wearing the hat. Oh well, at least she put on clean clothes. And the pants arenít tan, even though the shirt is, she added, noticing the drab green color of the menís pants and the off-white manís shirt. The latter of which was complete with large pockets on the chest, that hid even a semblance of femininity.
It was a ten mile trip into the nearest town, over less than desirable road conditions, especially in Janiceís fatherís truck, which one could tell from the outside, much less the inside, had definitely seen better days.
"She just needs a new pair of shocks," Janice said, when the truck squealed a loud, prolonged protest, as it jostled them from side to side, traversing a very large washed out rut in the dirt road.
"Um-hm," Mel said, although she was thinking: Itíd take more than just shocks. I know bald tires when I see them. Sweet Jesus, I hope it doesnít rain before we get back or weíre gonna be slipping and sliding all over this road. Or maybe even stuck here.
Despite Melís fears, they were soon sitting in a small cafe, feasting on Grecian cuisine, which Janice had ordered; for, even though Mel could read the greek words and understood the language, she knew less than nothing about what the foods were like. And they were having a wonderful time just chit chatting about anything that came to mind.
After dinner, which included a fair amount of wine, Mel talked Janice into doing a little window shopping, since the shops were closed. The two women walked both sides of the street through the small village, sharing their thoughts on whatever caught their eye. The store they lingered the longest in front of was a menís clothing and sporting goods shop. Mel wasnít sure, but she thought Janice was admiring the selection of hats. Goodness knows, she needs a new one, she thought. Yet, when she mentioned something about this to Janice, the latter quickly said, "Why? I just got this one all broke in and comfortable." Of course, Mel wasnít sure whether Janice was just making excuses for not buying a new one, or whether she really meant it.
On the drive back, Mel began humming a tune, to break the silence between them, which had started the moment they left the village. With only a little prompting from Janice, she was soon singing out loud.
Janice was quite pleasantly surprised to find that Mel had been blessed with a talent she had heretofore not expressed. Her singing voice was wonderfully expressive and slightly alto in tone, which was quite a change from her normal speaking voice. And this was something Janice wanted to inquire about, but did not want to interrupt or break the mood. She was enjoying the unprofessional, earthy tone of her companionís voice.
Mel had started off with upbeat songs: Cole Porterís "Anything Goes". But before long she was crooning Billy Holliday and Irving Berlin. Then right before they reached the cottage, as the twilight was fading, she eased into Gershwinís "Someone To Watch Over Me." And oh what justice Mel did this beautiful tune, which was one of Janiceís favorites.
"Thereís a somebody Iím longiní to see
I hope that he, turns out to be
Someone whoíll watch over me
Iím a little lamb whoís lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one whoíll watch over me"
Janice was still hearing this in her head, as she crawled into bed, leaving the small electric lamp on the bedside table on, in the hopes that Mel would soon join her. She could hear Mel leaving the bathroom and saw the living room light go out a few minutes later. Upon hearing the squeak of the sofa springs, her hopes were dashed like a ship upon the rocks. Disappointment flooded her entire being, while memories of the beautiful day theyíd spent together slowly filtered through her mind.
Youíve gone and done it now, ya know, her mind admonished her. Youíve fallen for her.
Janice wanted to deny this, but knew it was no use. It was the truth. And the truth could not be denied for long.
I told you this would happen, her mind prodded.
Oh leave me alone, Janice thought, as she flipped off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness. So, Iíll get my heart broken, so what? Itís not like I donít know how that feels.
What are you doing, hmm? Playing the martyr now, are we?
Not the martyr, she answered, Just the condemned. Sentenced to a life of knowing nothing but unrequited love.
Poor, poor Janice, her mind chided, Should I play a sad tune for you? Feel sorry for you, when you could have avoided this?
Could I? Janice wondered. Could I truly have avoided this? Or... is this part of some... destiny or fate? Are we really in control of our lives? It sure didnít seem that way, sometimes. Especially when it came to who you fell in love with. Because more often than not, there didnít seem to be a conscious choice made, it just... happened. And so, itís happened to me, once again, she thought. But, this time I will handle it differently. Iíll never let my feelings be known. Then, at least, she canít reject me.
Mel was lying on her left side, her right knee drawn up in her usual sleeping position and hanging half off the sofa. She hadnít really given that much thought to how extremely uncomfortable the small sofa was, until tonight. She had been determined to sleep here from the beginning, so as not to inconvenience Janice. But now... since it seemed they were getting so much closer and she felt she understood Janice a bit better, she was starting to rethink that decision.
They were partners, after all. Why should she sleep here and wake up with neck aches and backaches? True this was Janiceís house, but wasnít she doing her share of the work around here? Didnít she fix their meals, clean the house and buy their supplies? So why was she punishing herself?
You know why, her mind supplied, as she shifted her head on the pillow. Donít get too comfortable here, Mel. Because you know, as soon as yaíll find... whatever it is Janice is looking for, sheís gonna be long gone. Sheíll get hitched up with some man and like all the rest, itíll be ĎAdios Melí, without even a backwards glance.
But Janice doesnít seem to be like the others. I mean, sheís not always talking about men. Matter of fact, she hardly ever talks about them. And we didnít hit it off right away, either. I donít even think she liked me when we first met.
So, why are you so buddy-buddy now, hmm? Sheís just using you, Mel, like all the rest. Using your loyalty and naiveté.
We-ell, no, now Janice didnít ask me to stick around.
True enough, which means she sure ainít gonna feel any obligation to hang around once sheís got what she wants. And she needs you for that, Mel. She needs your patience with deciphering those manuscripts. Spending hours pouring through all those stories. Face it, Mel... youíre being used and you know it. Now donít let yourself get comfortable or... you know whatíll happen. Heartache!
Mel considered this, while at the same time, the days events began playing out in her mind. She did like Janice, she had to admit that. Matter of fact, she liked her a lot. Seeing herself linking arms with Janice, she remembered the only other person sheíd ever felt that comfortable with: her best friend, Gwen. Manyís the time we walked arm in arm, she thought, smiling at the memory, as she rolled over on her back.
Gwen had been the only other person who had understood what it felt like to be different. For Gwen had been born with a purple birthmark, which covered only a small portion of the side of one cheek: "a wine stain", they called it. And yet sheíd been ridiculed, teased and shunned for this difference. Mel, on the other hand, had no physical deformities, she was merely so much taller than all the other kids and shy, to boot. So, through their mutual status of outsiders, so to speak, Mel and Gwen had become the best of friends, as early as the first grade. And they stayed this close until after graduation, when Gwen fell in love, over the summer. The plans theyíd harbored for so many years: to go to college together, to both become school teachers and get a place of their own, where the two of them could live out their lives as the old maids they assumed they would be, had all crumbled that summer, like castles in the sand.
A heartbroken Mel had went onto college, majoring in history, as planned, though changing her minor from the field of education, to the field of anthropology.
There had been other friends in college; some transitory, some lasting as much as a year or two. After college, however, friends had been few and far between; for, Melís motherís health had deteriorated, which kept her close to home. Of course, thereíd been boyfriends and men friends, but as sheíd told Janice, few had taken her seriously. Especially not, once she told them about her dreams of going to Greece and Egypt to work with those who were unearthing the past of the human race.
And this was something she hadnít felt comfortable confiding to Janice yet either, for fear the tough little woman would set her straight on just how naive she was. After today, however, she thought her friend might be a bit more understanding than sheíd first assumed. Because, although Janice put up this strong, tough, "donít mess with me" exterior, Mel had seen a bit of the tenderness she was protecting with this armor. And she had a feeling there was much more of this, where that came from. Of course, Mel envied Janice her tough exterior, her strength and her courage, for she desperately wanted these things for herself.
Mel rolled back over on her side and sighed heavily. Why am I doing this to myself? she nearly said aloud, as she started to get up off the sofa. Then suddenly it hit her that Janice was probably already asleep. Iíll probably wake her up, she thought, as she once again talked herself out of taking control of a situation and doing what she wanted. Am I destined to be like this, forever? she wondered, struggling to get comfortable again. Always so shy and unassuming that I never reach out and take what I want? She sighed heavily again, repositioning the small throw pillow beneath her head. Oh we-ell, she added, maybe one day things will change.
Continue to Part 3
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