Deciphering The Scrolls

part 4

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.

Chapter 6


Mel was seated in her chair by the fire, a small lamp illuminating the scroll in her lap. She had started over from the beginning, not skimming now, but truly reading each word carefully. By the middle of the first story, her two heros were moving beyond friendship and into the realm of lovers.

"My, my, my-my-my," Mel said, as she laid the scroll down on the side table. "I think... I need a drink."

After mixing her gin and tonic, to taste, she resumed her seat and picked up where she left off. At the end of the first story, she sighed heavily. "So, this is just a record of your dreams," she mumbled. "Hmph. Yes, that Illusia place, in the other one, it was a dream, too."

Mel took a long swig of her drink and began the next story. This one started off in the middle of another story from the larger scrolls, in which Xena was sentenced to persecution and madness by the Furies. Mel remembered this story well and fell into this extended version. Although she gasped several times at the bardís description of things Xena had said and done, at the end, she laughed out loud. She quickly silenced herself with her hand, hoping she had not awakened Janice.

This one doesnít exactly sound like a dream, Mel thought. But, the one before obviously was, because she says so. I didnít see any reference to this one being a dream, though.

Her eyes returned to the scroll, as she took another large swallow of her drink. The next story picked up when Xena and Gabrielle were returning from the land of Chin on a ship. Halfway through this one, Mel laid the scroll down in her lap, her eyes wandering to the dying fire. She knew immediately this could not be the reason for the warm feeling coursing through her body. And she didnít think this was caused by the alcohol, either; for, she hadnít added that much to her drink. No, this warm feeling was due to reading the tantalizing words written in this scroll, as well as, flashes of her memory, which were surfacing left and right.

She hadnít thought too much about that accidental kiss over the past few days. Of course, that wasnít because it hadnít entered her mind. No, it was because she had forced it from her mind, each time it camp up. And it had come up quite a lot, what with Janice being around every day. And now, it was back in glaring clarity, as were the feelings it had elicited. It seemed as if reading this story had broken down the door she had been repeatedly closing on them before. The floodgates were open, so to speak, and there was nothing she could do, but sit back and be swept away.

Her lips began to tingle and tremble slightly at the memory of their kiss. Her heartbeat increased and her stomach muscles tightened. "Oh-h goo-oodness," she whispered aloud, her fingertips involuntarily going to her trembling lips.

Her thoughts raced through what sheíd just read and intermingled with the memory. Whatís happening to me? she wondered, realizing sheíd never felt this way about any manís lips touching hers. Of course, sheíd felt something, but not with this intensity. Never had her lips trembled at a mere memory!

Shocked at her own behavior, Mel quickly rolled up the scroll and placed it carefully on the side table. She then picked up her drink and got up from the chair. Slowly, she began to pace in front of the fire, her eyes straying again and again to the scroll. Part of her wanted to finish the story. And yet another part was literally afraid to do so.

She had stopped reading at the point in the story where Xena had taken Gabrielleís chin in her hand and kissed her. Melís knees began to feel weak, as this fictional scene and her own accidental kiss became intermingled in her mind. How would it have felt if Janice had been the one to kiss me? she wondered. If Janice had taken my chin in her hand and placed her lips against...

Mel quickly resumed her seat, as a wave of sensations, at once delicious and at the same time frightening, washed over her body. She drained the glass of its contents, feeling the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears.

Is this what I inherited from my ancestor? she wondered. Is this why Iíve never found a man I wanted to marry? No, couldnít be. It just... couldnít be! These feelings are wrong, arenít they? Yes, of course, they are. I shouldnít be feeling this way. But, oh how pleasureable these thoughts are. Janiceís lips had felt so soft, so moist...

Melís hand went back to her trembling lips once again, seeking to still them. And yet, she soon found her fingers trembling, too, as they circled her lips. Her eyes then landed on the scroll. Xena and Gabrielle had obviously felt what she was feeling now. And what had they done about it? Perhaps they had learned how to fight this. Maybe the scroll would tell her how to overcome it. With trembling hands, Mel set the empty glass down on the table and retrieved the scroll. Unrolling it, she scanned down to where sheíd left off.

"Oh-h my-y," she whispered, a few moments later, wishing she had not already drained her glass.

She thought about refilling it, but found herself unable or unwilling to tear her eyes away from the story. She was too engrossed in it now; feeling things sheíd never experienced before. Not even while reading a dirty romance novel, a roommate in college had loaned her, had she felt such intense and pleasureable yearnings. At least not the kind that were flowing to one central location in her lower abdomen.

Mel could hear her own breathing; heavy exhalations passing over slightly parted lips; her chest falling in sync with the sounds and then rising once again. The deep inhalations were causing her nightgown to rub the now sensitive mounds of flesh beneath it. A shiver passed over her, as she read Gabrielleís description of her explorations of Xenaís body. At the same time, Melís mind handed her a mental image of Janice in the kitchen; her white T-shirt pulled tightly across her breasts, as she reached up into the cabinets on her tiptoes. And then the slight jiggle, as she relaxed back on her heels. She saw the firm, curvaceous contours of Janiceís behind; the smooth white flesh of one cheek showing, where her underwear was hiked up.

Mel paused briefly in her reading to calm her racing heart. She knew from what sheíd read in that dirty book in college, that what she was experiencing now was called arousal. And the erect protrusions on her chest were mute testimony to this fact.

"This canít be happening to me," she whispered, even though deep down, she was enjoying it.

Her mind drifted back to that accidental kiss once again. Her eyes closed of their own accord, as the memory repeated.

"Oh sweet Jes-sus," she murmured, when fantasy took over where reality had left off. She could see Janice reaching up and touching her face; pulling her down for another meeting of their lips. "Oh Lor-dee," she added, bolting upright, the scroll tumbling to the floor.

She let the scroll lay there for a moment and merely stared at it. In a way, she felt afraid to pick it up, as if what she was feeling now was somehow its fault.

"I need another drink," she mumbled, leaning over and carefully picking up the scroll.

She added a bit more gin this time. The bottle tinkled against the glass as her hands trembled ever so slightly. On the way back to her chair, her eyes strayed towards the hall and the bedroom doorway. Her mind then handed her a picture of Janice lying huddled beneath the covers, as she had seen her these last few mornings. She remembered staring at her friend in the morning light and thinking how much she cared about her; how close they had become over the past few days.

Mel eased back in her chair, holding the glass in both hands, as memories of Gwen now swam into view. Hadnít she felt the same things for Gwen? These tender feelings of friendship? Yet, never had she even considered anything physical happening between them. Or at least, not in a sexual way. She had loved walking arm in arm with Gwen; having her physically close; staring into her warm brown eyes while they talked. She also remembered watching Gwen change clothes, at the beginning and end of each Physical Education class. She used to admire Gwenís pert breasts, flat stomach and the curve of her hips. Yet, this had become such an everyday occurrence that, she really hadnít taken note of why she was doing this.

"Oh-h my-y," she said aloud, remembering how angry and jealous she had felt inside whenever Gwen paid any attention to boys or even other girls, for that matter.

Have I been this way all along and not known? she wondered, her mind now handing her images of double dates with Gwen. And how she had often wished that they were alone at those times, rather than with the boys.

Mel took a large gulp of her drink now. And yes, there had been female teachers sheíd looked up to, wanted to be like, loved to watch and be close to. One in particular had worn the same perfume Mel herself had adopted as her own in later years. The scent sometimes still reminded her of Mrs. Collier, her history teacher. Mel had always loved it when Mrs. Collier complimented her on her good grades and would sometimes even pat her on the back for a job well done. And Mel had been known to spend many an afternoon after school that year, dusting Mrs. Collierís erasers, just to hear her say, "Thank you, Mel, darliní, youíre such a sweetie."

Mel took another sip of her drink and glanced over at the scroll on the table. It almost seemed to be calling to her, begging her to finish the story. Yet, Mel wasnít sure she wanted to read anymore. She wasnít sure she could handle finding out anymore about herself.

Janiceís eyes fluttered open in the dimly lit room. Sheíd been sleeping late these past few days. But this morning she wasnít going to allow herself to languish in bed; she needed to get moving on the dig site. She needed to check it out for herself, order the timbers she was sure theyíd need to shore up the tunnel, if not the cave as well, and contact Solanos about getting the men back to work tomorrow.

She glanced over to Melís side of the bed, wondering if she was already awake or whether she should wake her. She was quite surprised to find her bed mate wasnít there. Her first thought was that she was already up. Her second centered on the scroll sheíd allowed her to read.

Uh-oh, she thought, this doesnít look good. I bet sheís back to sleeping on the sofa. "Shit," she murmured, crawling out of bed.

It was then that she finally noticed the faint illumination coming from the living room area. Hmph, she thought, breathing a sigh of relief, as she headed for the bathroom, maybe she did get up early.

After taking care of the essentials, she walked into the living room, fully expecting to find Mel in the kitchen preparing breakfast. But no, the tall brunette was slumped in her chair by the fire, her bare feet up on the ottoman and her head resting on her own shoulder.

"Hmph," Janice grunted, her gaze falling to the scroll in Melís lap. Sheíd obviously fallen asleep reading it.

Guess it wasnít exactly stimulating reading for you, hmm? she thought. Oh well, guess that answers that question, she added, referring to the one that had been running through her mind the past few days. A question that had formed, due to the fact that she and Mel had been getting closer and closer. And sheíd also caught Mel staring at her on many separate occasions, especially when they were in close proximity to one another. Both of these had caused Janice to begin wondering if it were possible that Mel might feel the same way she did. And the way Mel had snatched up the scroll and run off with it last night, had only fueled this, now obviously, absurd notion.

"Knew it was too good to be true," she mumbled, taking in the fact that Melís nightgown was hiked up on one side, far above her knee. Her eyes then roamed upward, noting how the silky pink nightgown was clinging to its ownerís body in several places. And Janice was quite shocked to realize she could make out one rather dark areola. Umm, I bet sheís even more beautiful without those clothes, she thought.

Janice shook her head and rubbed her sleepy eyes. "Too early in the morning for this," she mumbled to herself, then started to turn away, when her eyes skimmed over the side table and locked on the empty glass. "Hmph," she grunted, turning towards the liquor cabinet. The bottle of gin was sitting on top, which is not how Janice always left it.

Well, that stands to reason. Needed a drink to wash those stories down with, hmm? I needed one of those myself, when I first readíem. I just hope this doesnít change your mind about our partnership, she thought, because I need you Mel. Now more than ever.

Just as Janice turned towards the kitchen, Mel mumbled something and moaned. She glanced back over her shoulder, as her friendís eyes slowly fluttered open. "Good morning," she said, softly.

A slow, sweet smile spread across Melís face. "Umm... good morn... Owch!" she yelped, attempting to lift her head from her shoulder. Her left hand went to the side of her neck, as she sat up in the chair.

"Neck hurt?" Janice queried, noticing it was still cocked towards her right side.

"Um-hm," Mel answered, rubbing at the base of her neck now.

"You probably have a crick in it," Janice surmised, turning back around and moving towards her. "Here... let me rub it for you. Turn to your left a little," she directed, standing on the right side of Melís chair. Then she slowly moved Melís hair out of her way.

"Oh-h, Lor-dee!" Mel drawled as Janice lightly squeezed at the area between the base of her neck and shoulder. "Tha-at feels won-der-ful! Oh yeah... right there."

"What happened? You fall asleep reading the scroll?"

"Scro-oll?" Mel murmured. "Yes, I... " Suddenly Mel flinched, as if Janice had hit a tender spot, although she did not cry out. The scroll in Melís lap slid to the floor.

"Whatís wrong? Did I hurt you?" Janice queried.

"Uh... no... oh no," Mel stammered, quickly putting her feet on the floor and standing up. She then reached down and picked up the scroll.

Janice watched as Mel fumbled with trying to roll it up, rather quickly. "Are you sure?" Janice inquired again.

"Yes, Iím.. positive you... Ouch!" Mel yelped again, as she started to turn her head towards her friend.

"Then come sit back down," Janice suggested, patting the chairís back. "I think I can fix that for you."

"Uh... no... thatís... itíll be alright," Mel stammered, rapidly moving away from the chair, in the opposite direction of Janice. She then laid the scroll on the table on her way by. "I need to... go...." she added, heading in the direction of the bathroom.

"Oh, well, after breakfast then," Janice suggested.

Mel offered no response as she closed the bathroom door.

Janice shrugged and proceeded into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

What should have been breakfast for two, turned into breakfast for one, when Mel came out of the bathroom, saying she had a headache, wasnít hungry and just wanted to go to bed. Janice had the feeling there was more to it than this, yet she didnít press. Besides, if the scroll had upset Mel, then there was nothing she could do about it. Or at least, she hadnít had time to think up anything yet.

It had been a spur of the moment decision to give Mel the scroll. And Janice had to admit, maybe it hadnít been the right thing to do. But she was tired of listening to her friend gripe about not knowing how Xena and Gabrielle had made up. And on top of that, she was frankly tired of this particular secret she was keeping from Mel. It felt very dishonest. Then again, she wasnít about to share every secret with her new friend; especially none pretaining to her sexual preference, which was none of her business. The scrolls, however, were a different matter. Here again, though, if this scroll had upset Mel, she surely would not hand over the other one!


Chapter 7


Mel breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the front door close behind Janice. Liar, her mind accused. Although she felt bad, lying about the headache, she also felt too awfully confused at the moment to be around anyone, especially Janice. But, oh how good that hand had felt on her neck and shoulders. Its movements strong and sure and tender, all at the same time.

Mel placed her own hand where Janiceís had been, in an attempt to relieve the ache herself, but it just didnít have the same effect as someone elseís. And especially not the same effect as Janiceís.

"Just my luck," she said aloud, "I would have to discover something... strange about myself when Iím thousands of miles away from home."

Whatís home got to do with anything? her mind queried.

Well, nothiní, I donít guess, I... suppose I just... feel the need to run home... like a little child.

But youíre not a little girl anymore, Mel. Youíre a grown woman. And besides, what would you be runniní to, hmm? Thereís nothiní in South Carílina but an empty mansion filled with memories.

Feeling lost, alone and afraid, Mel began to cry. This kind of discovery was not at all what she had in mind when she left home. Sheíd wanted to decipher ancient writings and maybe even unearth bits of human history, not uncover things about herself that were better left hidden, even from her own self. But, like Pandora, sheíd opened the proverbial box now and taken a peek inside. And there was no going back.

"Innocence lost," she mumbled aloud. "Time to grow up, Mel."

Wake up and smell the coffee, her mind supplied.

"Yeah and the bacon and eggs, too," she murmured, as she remembered the smells emanating from the kitchen that morning.

And although she wanted to languish in bed, her stomach urged her feet up and out, putting her body in motion towards the kitchen.

Hmm... not bad, even cold, Mel thought, as she chowed down on Janiceís cooking. She may not be able to prepare dinner, but sheís good at breakfast.

And with this thought, she opened the door to guilt, which walked right in and took a seat beside her.

Now arenít you ashamed of yourself, Mel Pappas? Janice prepared a nice breakfast for you and you didnít even have the decency to share it with her. Why... youíre acting as if your feelings are Janiceís fault.

Mel took a swallow of her coffee, trying to wash down the guilty lump in her throat. Yes, she had been selfish. So caught up in her own confused and distorted world that she had not even stopped to think of Janiceís feelings. And on top of that, sheíd lied to her best friend.

"Best friend," she whispered. Havenít heard those words in a while, she thought. Havenít had a best friend in... years.

And if you donít straighten up, youíre gonna lose this one, her mind warned.

Oh, how awful, she thought, to be attracted to your best friend. It leaves you no one to talk to.

Gabrielle went through this and so did Xena, her mind suggested. Remember how Gabrielle described her feelings? She and Xena both were feeling the same thing, but neither was letting on to the other.

"No," Mel said aloud, "Iím not telling Janice." No, this will pass. I know it will, she thought. Why I never thought of such a thing until...

Melís eyes drifted over to the scroll. "Thatís what started it all," she said aloud. "That scroll!"

The one Janice hid from you, her mind added.

Yes, she had hidden it, she admitted. And now I see why.

Why? her mind queried.

Because itís... cursed. No, not cursed, itís... enchanted!

Think so, huh? Then do you think Janice has been enchanted by it, too?

Mel paused with her coffee cup against her lip. "Oh-h Lor-dee," she whispered. "Sweet Jes-sus, is this the... the power of the scrolls?!! "Oh my-y," she added aloud, sitting her coffee cup down now. "Janice will be so-o disappointed."

Mel, listen to yourself, her mind shouted at her. What are you saying? That a scroll has the power to make you feel something that is foreign to your nature? Now youíre trying to place the blame on a piece of paper with mere words on it. You donít really believe in all that hocus-pocus, do you?

The words "hocus-pocus" revived an old memory. And it burst full blown into Melís mind. It was the summer of her junior year in college:

On a lark she and a friend visited a Palm Reader, Madame Devina. The old lady, dressed in a gypsy costume, took Melís hand in one of her own and stared at it. She mumbled some unintelligible words, as she glanced up at Mel and stared deeply into her eyes for several moments. Her gaze then slowly returned to Melís hand, where she stared some more. Again she started to mumble.

"What?" Mel asked, becoming a bit concerned now. "What is it?"

Madame Devina blinked several times, then finally in a German accent said, "Thereís a very strong... female presence around you. I donít know whether this is sister, mother, aunt... or who," she added, her finger drawing a horizontal line across her own arm with each relation she named, as it moved upward, wrist to elbow.

Madame Devina then closed her eyes and spread Melís fingers out fully, touching each one in turn and saving her thumb for last. "True love... it will find you... later in life," she then pronounced and paused for several moments, her fingers now roaming over the palm of Melís hand. "You will travel... also later in life. You... hide who you are," she continued, with a frown. "But, this too... it will change. You long to run away... to up and take flight like a bird, but... there are strong, strong ties holding you here." Once again the old woman paused. She shook her head, then sighed. "Your strongest bonds... they will be with... women... with friends," she seemed to correct herself. "Patience... it is your greatest asset. It will serve you well."

Madame Devina then let go of Melís hand and sat back in her chair, as if she were quite exhausted. "That is all I see... for now," she added, extending her left hand, palm up in Melís direction.

The young college student placed three dollars in the womanís hand, which quickly closed around it, both disappearing under the table rather abruptly.

Mel had pretty much forgotten all about this experience, until now. For, the young man she was dating at the time had made fun of her, calling her "foolish" and Madame Devinaís predictions: "a lot of mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus, that anyone with even half a brain would never believe."

"Oh-h my-y," Mel drawled, as the fortune tellerís words took on new meaning. "Strongest bonds with women," she whispered. "You hide who you are. Oh sweet Jes-sus, whatís... wrong with me?" she asked aloud.

Maybe thereís nothing wrong with you, Mel, her mind answered. Could it be that... you are just now coming to terms with who you really are? And always have been? And if so... whatís so bad about that, hmm?

Iím supposed to be attracted to men, not women.

Supposed to be? Are you supposed to be just like everyone else?

Well no, everyone is... different. Be pretty boring if we were all alike.

So, who decides who you are supposed to be, hmm? Who you are supposed to love? Does anyone have that right? Or is it entirely possible that you are supposed to be exactly who you are? And that youíre just finding out who that is?

"I donít know," Mel groaned aloud. "I just... donít know anything anymore," she added, as tears filled her eyes and she covered her face with her hands.

A few moments later, she heard the front door hinges creak. Mel straighted up abruptly, then grabbed her neck.

"Oh, youíre up," Janice acknowledged, slipping in the door. "Howís your headache?" she inquired, softly closing the door behind her.

Mel quickly grabbed up her plate and headed for the sink. "B-bet... ter," she mumbled, wiping at her eyes, then turning on the water.

"Well, good. ĎCourse I see your neckís not much better though."

"Oh, itíll... be fine," Mel suggested. "Wha.. what are you doing back? I mean... I thought you were going to the dig site and then... into town?"

"I did go to the site, but... I forgot to make a list of what we needed from town," Janice explained, walking into the kitchen area. "Anything you know of right off hand?"

Mel turned off the water, then rubbed her neck. "No, I... canít think of a... thing."

"Somethiní... wrong?" Janice queried, coming closer now. "Other than a neckache, I mean?"

"No, no... I just canít... think of anything... off the top of my head," she answered, rubbing her neck again.

"Hey, come back over here and sit down," Janice suggested. " Let me see what I can do for your neck, hmm?"

"No, you... youíve got work to do. I mean... going to town and..."

"Mel, shut up and cumímere," Janice interrupted, taking her by the left arm and leading her over to the chair sheíd previously vacated.

Janice gently gathered Melís long hair and pulled it over her shoulders to the center of her back. "It was right... around in here, wasnít it?" she questioned, placing her hand in the same place she had this morning.

"Ooo," Mel squeaked, "your hands are... co-old."

"Sorry," Janice apologized, as she glanced around for some way to warm them. "Iíll be right back," she added, moving towards the sink.

Mel heard Janice turn on the water and took this opportunity to wipe her face, hoping to thoroughly remove any traces of her tears.

"Okay, this should be better now," Janice announced, after drying her hands. She then walked over to Mel and placed her hands lightly on her friendís shoulders. "Better?"

"Umm... much," Mel murmured, enjoying the moist warmth of Janiceís hands. "Oh yea-ah.. right... the-ere," she drawled.

"Tell me if I hurt you," Janice commented.

"Oh-h, that fe-els... wo-on...der...ful," Mel gasped, surprised at how good it did feel. "Whereíd you learn how to do this?"

"I used to do it for my father," Janice explained. "Heíd fall asleep at his desk pretty often."

"Umm..." Mel grunted, as Janice rubbed and squeezed on her left shoulder, her right hand merely resting on the other shoulder.

"I can feel the tension," Janice commented. "Relax, Mel," she urged. "You can trust me."

Janice was admiring Melís long, slim neck and her light bronze shoulders, while she worked. A slight hint of Melís powdery perfume wafted up to her nose. I love the way you smell, she thought. Good Lord, how much Iíd love to bury my face in your long hair and... kiss that beautiful smooth neck. To run my fingers over your bare shoulders... And with these thoughts, she noticed that her right hand was now moving in tandem with her left, both massaging the respective muscles beneath them.

"Umm," Mel murmured again and Janice felt her relax.

"Thatís better," Janice acknowledged.

Melís mind, which had been racing with thoughts, now settled on only one: Janiceís hands. She loved the slight roughness of the other womanís fingers; the slow movements as they massaged her sore muscles. This feels wonderful, she thought. Iím not afraid when Janice touches me. I know she wonít hurt me. Sheís doing this because she cares about me, not because she wants something from me.

And these were very soothing thoughts indeed. So much so in fact, that Mel soon found she could move her head to the right without much pain, at all. "Umm," she murmured once again. "I could... drift off to sleep like this."

"Thatís good," Janice uttered. "You can go back to bed, if you want. Iím sure you could use the rest. How late did you stay up reading, anyway?"

"I... donít know," Mel murmured.

"You finished the scroll though?"


"And it didnít change your mine about our partnership or.. anything?"


"You see now why I hid them, though, doníchu?" Janice prodded.

"Yes," Mel answered with a heavy sigh.

"Youíre not mad at me for doing that?"

"At first I was, but... no, not anymore."

"Thatís good," Janice said, leaning closer, the softness of Melís voice and the aroma of her perfume enticing her senses. "I wouldnít want you to be mad at me. I... I need you, Mel. I know I donít show it but, I do... want you here. Itís been... a long time since Iíve had a friend I could truly trust," Janice heard herself admit.

"Me, too," Mel agreed.

"Better now?" Janice inquired.

Mel could now feel Janiceís breath on her ear and neck. "Oh yes," she admitted, closing her eyes, as a tingling sensation trickled down the right side of her neck and spread across her body. "Feels... very good," she added. "I feel so... relaxed."

"Want me to stop now?" Janice asked very softly.

"No, please, donít," Mel heard herself respond rather quickly.

Oh my, Mel thought, as Janice began massaging further up on her neck. The thought of how Janiceís hands would feel on the rest of her body flitted through her mind. She didnít react to it negatively this time, however, but merely allowed it to pass over her, leaving a tantalizing trail of "what ifs" in its wake.

"I never did properly thank you for saving my life," Janice admitted.

"Itís not necessary," Mel responded softly.

"Well, thank you anyway," Janice commented, very close to Melís right ear now.

Again Mel felt her warm breath tickle her ear and neck, a more tantalizing sensation flowing over her body this time and landing in the pit of her stomach. Oh Janice, she thought, if you only knew what I was feeling, you wouldnít do that.

Sure sheís not doing it on purpose? her mind suggested.

No, of course not. Janice isnít like me, Mel countered, sheís been with men.

Sheís not with one now. Nor has she ever been married. Just like you havenít.

Mel considered this for a moment, then heard herself ask aloud, "Did that scroll shock you?"

Janice cleared her throat and paused for a moment, the question catching her off guard. "Well, it was... something of a surprise," she admitted, resuming her ministrations. "I assume it shocked you?"

"Um," Mel grunted and nodded. "I never thought theyíd be... like that."

Like that, hmm? Janice thought, but said, "Well, back then it wasnít so uncommon. At least not for men, that is."

"Really?" Mel queried, sounding geniunely curious.

"Yes, matter of fact, Alexander the Great was a... homosexual."

"I never read anything about that," Mel intoned.

"Itís not something they include in history books. At least not in the United States. In Europe... well, in parts of it, theyíre more liberal. There are actually many great personages from history who were... that way."

"Women too?" Mel queried, softly.

"Well... history, in general, doesnít tell us much about women, because... it was predominately recorded by men. But, I would assume there were. I mean... look at Xena... she wasnít recorded in history books."

"Hmph," Mel grunted. "And uh... what do you... think about their... relationship?"

Janice cleared her throat again. "Well... I think they... truly loved one another."

"And you donít think thatís... wrong or.. unnatural?"

Janice paused again in her ministrations, leaving her hands on Melís shoulders, however. "I guess for me... what a person believes or feels or... does - if it doesnít hurt anyone else - then... what business is it of mine? Or the worldís, for that matter?" Janice paused. "As for being unnatural... from what Gabrielle wrote, this seemed to come natural for her and Xena. Neither forced the other... or talked the other into doing anything. The feeling was.. mutual and... they finally acted on it."

"Hmph," Mel grunted.

"So you think itís unnatural?" Janice queried, resuming her kneading.

"I... I donít really know what I think," Mel answered, her voice hardly above a whisper now. "Did you... feel anything strange while..." Melís voice trailed off.

"What?" Janice queried, leaning down closer. "I couldnít hear you."

"It... nothing," Mel stammered, softly. "We need saltines and milk," she added, changing the subject. "And you may need more gin. I... drank some last night."

"Thatís fine. You know youíre welcome to anything here," Janice reassured. "Partners remember?"

"Um-hm," Mel agreed, turning her head to the left and feeling no pain.

Her gaze then fell on Janiceís rather large fingers on her shoulder. She felt an impulse to rub her cheek against them, but resisted, by turning her head the other way. Here, however, her gaze encountered Janiceís. For a moment Mel felt mesmerized by the tender expression within those blue-green depths. Slowly, her gaze drifted down to Janiceís lips. An involuntary action on the part of her tongue wet her own lips, as a memory of that accidental kiss resurfaced yet again. Mel could not help but admit to herself that she wanted to experience this again.

"You okay?" Janice queried, as Mel closed her eyes.

"Uh yeah, Iím... Iím fine," Mel answered, facing forward now. "Thank you, it feels... so much better now," she added, starting to raise up from her chair.

"Iím glad," Janice commented, her hands slipping from Melís shoulders, reluctantly and regretting the loss of this contact. "I guess, Iíll... start that list now," she mumbled, scratching her head and taking a step back.

"Sugar," Mel announced, turning towards the kitchen cabinets.

"Excuse me?" Janice asked.

"We need sugar," Mel answered. "And flour," she added, opening one of the cabinets.

"Oh," Janice commented. "Well, let me get a pencil and paper, unless... youíd like to... come with me."

"No, I..." Mel hesitated, staring into the cabinets. "I... I wouldnít be... in your way?"

"Heavens no," Janice replied, quickly. "Why would you think that?"

Mel shrugged, as she slowly turned towards her friend. "Iíd love to go with you," she heard herself say, as their gazes met.

"Well, good," Janice said with a smile. "Iíd enjoy the company."

"Iíll need to get dressed," Mel announced, unable or unwilling to tear her eyes away from her friendís.

"Iím in no hurry," Janice admitted, feeling captured by the look in Melís blue eyes. She had failed to notice this intensity before, but now she saw it clearly. Something was going on inside of Mel and Janice thought she knew what it might be. "Take your time," she added, her eyes darting down to Melís lips, as the latter wet them once again.

Janiceís heart skipped a beat, when Mel started towards her, the intensity of her gaze causing the archaeologist to look away. When she glanced back up to meet her friendís gaze, Mel had looked away, as well. Out of her peripheral vision, she watched her friend pass by and sighed heavily, once she was out of hearing range.

"Oh boy," she mumbled, starting towards the chair now, since her legs were feeling weak. She had thought that Mel was going to walk over and kiss her for sure, so intense was her gaze. But, it hadnít happened.

I wouldnít delude myself, her mind warned, One look does not a relationship make. And remember she read that scroll just last night. This could be nothing more than simple curiosity on her part. She may be thinking about things, but you and I both know... that doesnít mean squat! You made love to Amanda and she left you the very next morning. Be careful, Janice! Be very, very careful. Sheís never even been with a man, so... she probably has no idea what she wants, if anything!

"I intend to be careful," she whispered, getting back up now to get that pencil and paper.

Mel appeared a good while later, dressed in her usual attire, complete with hair pulled up underneath her hat and glasses perched on her nose. The only difference being the flats she was wearing instead of her pumps. And Janice assumed this was due to her sore feet.

Mel was all business now, going through the cabinets, calling out to Janice what to add to their list. And it wasnít long before they were on their way to town.

Their ride in was conducted in silence for the most part, after the usual chit-chat soon died away.

In town, Mel suggested that they part ways, so that Janice could conduct the business pretaining to the dig site, while she purchased their supplies. Janice wasnít thrilled by this, but knew it was a more practical solution.

The ride home was a bit more lively, each sharing their separate observations and experiences. Mel had took note of a harried looking woman with two kids, who was having a hard time keeping her small son from pulling anything within reach off the shelves. Mel commented about her love of children, but added that she wasnít sure she could handle one like that.

Janice had then related her tale of running up on an older gentleman who used to work for her father. The man was asking about her excavation of the old dig site and offering his observations about why the cave-in might have happened and how best to prevent future ones.

After arriving home and putting the supplies away, the air between them again grew thick with silence. Janice began to feel quite uncomfortable and decided she wanted to revisit the dig site; after talking to the older gentleman she was eager to get a better look at it.

"Wanna come?" she asked Mel. And to her surprise the later answered, "Iíd love to."

Janice now became animated at the site, talking about her plans for getting back inside the tunnel to find out what that metal was. Mel listened with apparent interest, asking if Janice would be sure to make it safer. The two then began discussing ideas for just that. And Janice was quite surprised at Melís ideas; for, they seemed as if they would be structurally sound improvements. When she inquired about her friendís knowledge of such things, the latter explained that sheíd taken a class in art history, in which architectural structures were discussed. Mel had found the subject fascinating and did a bit of outside research on her own. She was especially intrigued by Egyptian and Mayan pyramid building. And this then led into a conversation about the places that Janice had visited in both Egypt and South America. As well as, a discussion of the advanced societies that had spawned such awesome structures. Janice was quite pleasantly surprised to find Mel was well versed on ancient peoples. She found the tall brunette fascinating to talk and listen to, the latter of which was rare. For few people could hold Janiceís interest for long. Yet, Mel had her undivided attention for hours.

Back at the cottage, after the two had prepared dinner together, Janice sat down at the desk to draw out her plans. Soon Mel was hovering over her shoulder, because she had called her friend over, in order to offer her suggestions. This too was rare, because Janice seldom asked anyoneís advice about a dig. For to do so, would be to suggest that she didnít know what she was doing. But with Mel, she had no such reservations and did not get the same response she would have gotten from a man.

"Any idea what the metal might have been?" Mel finally asked, as she pulled the pins out of her hair.

"All I can say is... it was larger than the hole, because..." Janice paused, turning around in her chair, just in time to see Melís long tresses falling around her shoulders. "um... because I couldnít find any edges on it."

"Your daddy thought this was the site of the tomb you found at the other site, right?" Mel questioned, turning her back to Janice, as she unbuttoned her jacket.

"Well, he never really mentioned a tomb, per say," Janice replied, her gaze roaming over Melís backside.

"Howíd he even know about these scrolls?" Mel asked, stepping out of her flats, then bending over and picking them up.

Janice was so entranced that she heard herself mumble, "I have no idea." She quickly corrected this with, "I mean, heíd heard stories... from his grandmother. She was from Greece and... she raised him. She told him the myths and legends as bedtime stories."

"Hmph. Well, what made him pick this site?" Mel continued questioning, asking things sheíd always wondered about, but just now felt confident enough to inquire after.

Janice watched as Mel carried her shoes over to their usual place by her suitcases, stacked up neatly in a corner. "Why donít you use my closet?" Janice asked. "I can clean out some room in there, and in my chest-a-drawers."

"No, that would be too much trouble," Mel countered.

"My hind leg," Janice retorted. "Come on. You can help me."

And so, the next hour or so was spent rearranging Janiceís closet and drawers, in order to make room for Melís clothes.

"Whereíd you get those?" Janice asked, as Mel enfolded a pair of tan pants and a very wrinkled black jacket, from the bottom of her suitcase.

"My father," Mel answered. Then seeing Janice cock one eyebrow she added, "Theyíre for ridiní horses. Itís the only time he thought pants were a necessity for a woman. He loved horses," she mumbled.

"You know how to ride a horse?"

"Aícourse," Mel answered with a slight grin, realizing this had rhymed. "I even have a... few trophies I won for dressage."

Janice smiled and grunted. "Hard to picture you in pants... much less on a horse."

"And why not?" Mel asked indignantly.

"I donít know. Maybe because Iíve... never seen you in anything but those... long skirts."

Mel stared at Janice for a moment, then slowly raised one eyebrow. "Wait right here," she said, turning towards the bedroom door; the pants and jacket still in her hand.

"Hey, where you going?" Janice called after her. "I didnít mean to hurt your feelings or..."

"Just wait right there, Janice Covington," Mel called out, then shut the bathroom door.

"Hmph," Janice grunted, wondering if Mel was going to change into those clothes in her hand. Too bad you wonít change in here, she thought.

Janice was still rearranging her clothes in the chest-of-drawers, when she heard Mel clear her throat. She glanced around and nearly shut her hand up in the drawer, as she leaned against it, mouth agape, eyes wide open in astonishment. "Jes-sus H. Christ," she murmured.

Mel was standing in the bedroom doorway, her legs spread wide like a man, dressed in a skin-tight pair of tan riding pants; knee high black boots (Janice had never laid eyes on); the shortwaisted black jacket buttoned up over her white blouse; her hair pulled up underneath a black riding cap, something else Janice hadnít seen, as was the black riding crop she held in her right hand.

Mel tapped the side of her leg with the crop and asked, "Now do I look like I can ride a horse?"

You could ride anything you wanted, Janice thought, as she turned all the way around, admiring Mel from head to toe.

"We-ell?" Mel prodded, putting her left hand on her hip.

"Uh... yeah... oh yeah, I... I believe you can ride a horse now," Janice stammered, feeling as if she were about to drool on herself.

"Good," Mel said, as she turned to leave.

"Hey, wait... where you going?" Janice called after her, stumbling over a pair of pants lying in the floor where sheíd left them, when Mel showed up.

"To change, why?" Mel asked, pausing and glancing back over her shoulder.

"Well, wait, I... I just.... want..." Janice stammered, her eyes drinking in the skin-tight pants stretched across Melís behind, accentuating it to perfection. "Uh... donít run off.... just yet... I mean...." She started to move towards Mel, but the pants were wrapped around her left foot now. She kicked her foot out, trying to get untangled and struck the bedpost with her knee. "OWCH! God bless America!" she yelped.

Mel watched all this and snickered, then turned her back and walked on out.

"Hey, Mel... hold on, wait a... con-sarn-ded minute!" Janice grumbled, finally reaching down and untangling the pants from her ankle. "Hey, canít you just leave that on for...." Janice paused, as she entered the hall and saw the bathroom door was open. She peeked inside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mel changing, at least. But the bathroom was dark and empty.

"Wanna drink?" Melís voice called from the living room.

Janice quickly stepped into the living room. "Huh?" she asked, her mouth hanging open.

"I asked if you wanted a drink," Mel answered, laying her riding crop down on top of the liquor cabinet. "Do you?" she prodded, not even offering to turn around.

"Uh... yeah sure, I... I could use a drink," Janice admitted, slowly moving towards her chair. I could use a smoke too, she thought, reaching up and patting her shirt pocket. Oh thank god, she added, finding a partial cigar left over from that morning. She then fumbled her lighter out of her pants pocket, taking her eyes off Melís behind only long enough to light the cigar. She noticed then that her hand was trembling slightly. Yep, youíre shook, she admitted to herself.

"How do you mix yours?" Mel asked.

You could just hand me the bottle and save us both the trouble, Janice thought, exhaling the cigar smoke. But then, she said, "Um, here... Iíll show you." Oh good god, whatíd you say that for? she admonished herself, starting towards Mel, her legs trembling with each step she took. Good Lord, she looks... too damn good in that outfit, she thought, walking up behind Mel now.

Mel was watching Janice in the mirror over the cabinet and smiling to herself. When Janice walked up beside her, however, she erased the smile, as she glanced over at her friend and said rather softly, "You mix... Iíll watch." She then slowly slid the glass across the table towards Janice and handed her the bottle, while staring into her eyes.

Janice nearly let the bottle slip out of her hand. She was so mesmerized by the look in Melís eyes, that she could hardly think straight.

Mel cocked one dark eyebrow, as Janice merely stood there, holding the bottle. "Something wrong?" she asked, softly.

"Uh... no... uh-uh," Janice stammered glancing away. "Nothing at all. I... well, letís see I usually just put about this much gin," she commented, pouring about a fingerís width in the bottom of the glass. "And then... the tonic..." She continued to stammer through instructing Mel, as the latter listened intently. Or so it seemed, since she was almost hanging over Janiceís shoulder.

"Iíll have to remember that," Mel said, quite close to her ear, as she then turned and proceeded over to her chair.

Janice watched her friend sit down and stretch out her long legs, raising her booted feet onto the ottoman and crossing them at the ankles. Mel then glanced up at her, over the rim of her glass. Janice quickly turned her attention to the floor in front of her, making sure she didnít trip on anything on her way to her own chair.

"You never did answer me about how your daddy chose this site," Mel reminded, as Janice sat down.

"Uh yeah, well... Iím not... really sure," Janice admitted, easing back into her chair. "I assume he got the information from his grandmother."

Mel set her glass down on the side table. "And the other dig site, where we found the tomb?" she queried, removing her hat now and placing it in her lap.

"Um," Janice swallowed audibly. "He heard about that one from one of the local legends, I believe."

"Then there are local legends about the scrolls?" Mel prodded, now taking her hair down.

"Uh-huh," Janice answered, her glass near her mouth, but unable or unwilling to take a drink, afraid sheíd miss something; like Melís hair falling around her shoulders. Even though sheíd seen it numerous times, it still had a tantalizing effect on her. She continued to watch as Mel placed the hair pins and the hat on the side table.

"Why are you staring at me?" Mel asked, without even looking up.

"Oh, Iím not... I mean... I didnít mean to... I.... you were..." Janice paused and now took that sip sheíd been putting off. And she made it a lo-ong one at that.

When she glanced back over at Mel, the latter was staring at her. Janice lifted her forgotten cigar to her lips, only to find that it had gone out. "Damn!" she cursed, then groped in her pants pocket for the lighter.

Mel watched all this intently, holding back her laughter. She was flirting with Janice and she was well aware of it. She was also, to her surprise, enjoying it immensely. Of course, this had not been her conscious intention in the beginning. It was the look on Janiceís face, as well as, in her eyes, when she first saw her in the riding habit, which had ultimately triggered something deep inside of Mel. The latter had already surmised from their conversation that morning, that Janice was no stranger to the questions Mel had posed about Xena and Gabrielleís relationship. Her answers had seemed well thought out. And Mel had assumed that only someone who had felt the same things as herself would have even entertained or posed such questions, much less their answers. And this, coupled with the extended tender looks Janice had been giving her all day, had slowly suggested to Mel that she was not alone in her feelings. Janiceís reaction to her riding habit had only confirmed this idea. And Mel could not deny that she loved the attention. She enjoyed knowing she had this effect on her friend.

Of course, Mel knew she had this effect on men, for sheíd done her fair share of flirting. Yet, with Janice the flirtation had a different feel. When Janice looked at her, Mel felt empowered, not intimidated. She wasnít afraid Janice would try to force her to do something against her will. She didnít fear her flirtation would "get her into trouble". Janice expected nothing from her. And from the way sheíd listened to and complimented Melís ideas about the dig site, as well as, other things, Mel felt that Janice respected her as a person; she was impressed by her mind, and not just her looks.

All of these things combined had offered Mel a sense of freedom, sheíd never known before. She could be herself with Janice and not have to be on guard. Even the riding habit had elicited a different reaction from Janice, than from men. Although she knew Janice was admiring the tight fit of her pants, just like a man would, she did not frown about the boots, nor the way Mel walked in them. Men, her father especially, had said she walked like she was still riding the horse. And this was one reason Mel always wore the long tight fitting skirts, which made her take dainty steps, instead of the long strides her legs naturally assumed in pants.

Do I even know what comes natural to me? Mel wondered, staring into the fire now. Iíve always been told how I should walk and talk and act. And all of it designed to attract a husband, she thought, remembering her mother and fatherís comments over the years. Comments which always included references to finding a good, descent, hardworking man who would strive to provide a comfortable life for Mel and her children. Her mother had stressed that Mel should always make herself appear smaller and especially delicate to men. "Never open your own door or do anything strenuous for yourself, when thereís a man around, sweetheart," she remembered her mother saying, "Because they just love doing these things for a woman. It makes them feel superior. And itís best to let them feel that way. Now, I know youíre a very smart girl, Mel, but you must ne-ever let a man see your intelligence. No, no, you keep that to yourself, dear. For, no man wants to marry a woman he feels is smarter than himself. Men are strange creatures, my dear, but we women need them to survive this life."

Mel had always felt that her motherís philosophy was dishonest. And she often wondered if part of her motherís many ailments had derived from this very same set of standards she lived by. For, her mother had been tall, though not as tall as Mel, yet she had kept herself small and delicate in appearance, by not eating as well as she should have and wearing the barest of heels on her shoes. Mel had even noticed once that her mother was hiding the fact that she was bending her knees while standing next to her father, underneath the long, full dresses she wore. Mel had never even heard her mother voice an opinion that was in opposition to her fatherís, while in his presence. Sheíd merely nod acquiescence or utter the phrase Mel hated to this day, "Yes dear, whatever you say." And then sheíd usually feign some headache or other ailment and return to her room.

Mel had often felt torn between feeling sorry for her mother and hating her for the way she was. But these days, she saw her through different eyes. She percieved her mother as being like a horse whose spirit had been broken; utterly destroyed, more like it. And because of this shattered spirit, her health had suffered; the physical body unable to survive without an uplifting energy from within.

When Mel finally looked up from her reverie, Janice was staring at her again, a strange expression on her face. Quickly, however, she looked away. "I need another drink," she announced getting to her feet. "How Ďbout you?"

"No, thanks," Mel answered, solemnly. "I need to go..." She gestured towards the bathroom.

Janice nodded acknowledgment and walked on over to the liquor cabinet. Melís eyes roamed over Janiceís backside, with a new perspective as to why this caught and held her attention. She realized sheíd always admired other womenís bodies, but had attributed this to wanting to be like them, even though that might not be possible. Now, however, she knew she had been admiring women all these years, because she actually enjoyed looking at the smooth curves of their bodies. Men didnít have these curves, and neither had her gaze ever lingered on their bodies, front or back. Her eyes had always been downcast most of the time around men. Only looking at their faces when they werenít looking at her or when prompted to do so. She realized sheíd hardly ever noticed the male form, because it had never really been interesting to her. Matter of fact, few things about men ever had, she suddenly admitted. A man had always been one of three things: a potential threat, a potential set of standards, or a potential husband with set of standards she needed to meet.

Mel glanced over at her glass and picked it up. Over the course of the next few moments, she drained it. "I think I will have another," she announced.

Janice looked around at her. "Gimme your glass, Iíll fix it, while youíre gone."

Mel got up and walked over to her friend, holding out the glass. Janice was looking the other way at the moment she reached for it and their fingers touched. Mel then held onto the glass a moment longer. Janice turned and looked at the glass, then glanced up.

"Not too much gin," Mel said and felt a very natural smile form on her face.

Janiceís lips slowly transformed themselves into a slight upside down grin, as she nodded acknowledgment.

Mel let go of the glass, albeit reluctantly and slowly turned towards the bathroom. She glanced back over her shoulder once, as she neared the doorway. Janice was looking at her butt. Mel smiled to herself and kept going. I love the way she looks at me, she thought.

"Umph," Janice grunted, hearing the bathroom door shut. "Whatís going on he-ere?" she mumbled. "Whatever it is, I hope to hell it doesnít stop."

Be careful, Janice, her mind warned.

Yes, yes, I intend to be just that, she thought, Iím not making any moves, thatís for sure.

Continue to Part 5

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