A Janice and Mel Adventure
By Cap'n Cat
Disclaimers: Story's mine, characters aren't (rats). This is an "alt" story so girls like girls here - if that bothers you or it's illegal for you to view due to your age/locale/whatever you should skedaddle on outta here.
If you want to listen to the same kind of music that Janice and Mel are listening to in this story, check out my Janice and Mel station on Pandora.
Comments etc. are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry, the bartender, was staring me down hard. I flipped him back a "what gives?" look, then realized that my right index finger was tapping out the equivalent of a Gene Krupa drum solo on the bar. I clenched my hand into a tight fist, muttering "Sorry, Jer," and nodded at my glass so he'd pour me another.
"Gladly," he said, flashing as much of a grin as Jerry ever gives, and dropped a couple of fingers of bourbon into my twice-emptied glass. I grabbed the glass left-handed and started to shoot the whole drink back. Getting jiggered isn't gonna make this one bit easier, Covington, I realized, and settled for a large swallow with the promise of more to come. My eyes leapt to the clock. Six-fifteen. Mel was late. This wasn't looking good. My stomach was doing loop-the-loops like a stunt pilot on too much joe.
"You waitin' on somebody, Doc?" asked Jer nonchalantly while wiping down a glass. I could feel him staring me down again, but this time it seemed to be more out of curiosity than annoyance. I tore my eyes from the clock to look at him.
"You could say that," I replied, swirling the bourbon in my glass a little.
"More work talk?" he asked, just as offhand as before, but I was getting unsettled by his questions. Jerry was normally the perfect bartender - talked about the game, maybe about weather, maybe about the day's headlines - but never a question about a patron's drinking companions or personal life. A lot of the Fifth Avenue types would come gammin' down to Jerry's with their latest dames - while the wife was at home - because Jer had a reputation for tight lips and unseeing eyes. I, however, appreciated his discreet nature for other reasons - his joint was one of the few spots I could go and talk honestly with my handful of supporters about the Xena Scrolls. Mel and I had not accumulated much of a following even after a full year and a half of hard work translating and publishing papers on our findings, and those supporters we did have preferred to remain anonymous to protect their academic reputations. General consensus in the Ivory Tower was that Mel and I were a bunch of frauds, off our nuts...anyway. Jerry had played host to me and several other Xena supporters once or twice a month for awhile now, and I guess our group had met enough times to attract even Jerry's unnoticing eye.
I took at hard look back at Jerry. He and I had developed a sort of friendship over the past year and a half. More of a mutual respect, I guess. I often came by in the afternoons regardless of whether I was meeting colleagues, just to relax and have a few before calling it a night. Jerry didn't usually like unattended ladies in his joint but…well, for starters, I'm not exactly a "lady," and besides, Jerry knows I'm a non-skid. I can keep up with the regulars without making a mess of myself. And I always clear my tab. Jerry and I had built up a slow appreciation for each other, and I was gonna be pretty upset if I had to switch locales on account of him getting personal.
"You could say that," I finally answered him, repeating my reply from before. My eyes flashed to the clock. Six-seventeen. I should have known she would never meet me at a joint like this. And I had so much I wanted to tell her. My stomach was roiling and I wished for a brief second that the bourbon was a glass of soda water. The bourbon wasn't settling my nerves much anyways; it would be nice to have a settled stomach at least when I spoke with Mel.
We had to talk because after two years, I had had it. To have to live and work with someone that you're knock-down-drag-out, down-for-the-count in love with ain't what it's cracked up to be. Oh, I had denied it and fought it for ages, leaving Mel alone all day at the hotel or the tent or the house to translate while I ran around, avoiding her by hunting for more Xena artifacts (and causing trouble, more often than not). I figured if I didn't see her, then she wouldn't get to me. Well, that worked out perfectly until I got back in the evenings and she was waiting there, ready to share all of the new things she had learned that day. The excitement and enthusiasm would light up her whole face, and I'd be done for once again.
My nights weren't much better than my days, what with my great-great-great grandmother, Gabrielle the Bard, using my dreams to show me her memories of her and her lover Xena (who happened to be a spitting image of our dear Miz Pappas). Watching them living and traveling together, just like me and Mel, was incredibly surreal. Watching them fall in love felt painfully familiar.
So this was it. Cost me what it may…my work, my friendship, my heart…I was gonna tell Melinda Pappas that I loved her. And she had better damn well show up tonight so she could hear it.
I pulled myself out of my thoughts, shook my head slightly, and looked back at Jerry. He was pulling out the usual number of glasses for my group.
"Nope, not the whole gang this time, Jer," I was forced to say. He raised an eyebrow at me. This was new.
"Just one," I said reluctantly, "for my work partner."
"Ah," he said, and placed the glass he had been wiping down next to mine on the bar. I shot down the rest of the bourbon without a second thought and managed to stop tapping my right foot just before I got another look from Jer. Jerry took my glass without a word and replaced it with a cold glass of lager, then picked up another glass and began wiping that one down as he had its predecessor. Jerry was a fanatic for clean glasses. Another reason why I liked this joint. That and the fact that he could tell just when I was at the point of belligerent and knew when to switch my drinks.
"I don't think I've ever met your work partner," said Jerry conversationally, and I really started to get steamed. This questioning routine was so out of the ordinary - he was acting like he was gonna snitch me out later to some suit or something. What was the sudden interest in my personal life? All of the questions were starting to make my head hurt. Or maybe that was the bourbon.
"Knock it off already, Jer, you writin' a book or something?" I growled into my beer and hunched over the bar, mostly to keep myself from fidgeting on the bar stool. My nerves were stretched taut like guitar strings. He shrugged and began to saunter away, still wiping that damn glass clean.
"It's just not like you to get so keyed up about a work meeting, Doc," he said, and I caught a hint of - mischief? - in his eye. Whatever it was, it sent me right over the edge. Belligerent? Say hello to Put-Up-Yer-Dukes-Pissed.
Like a bullet I was up and out of my seat, knocking over the beer and clambering up onto the bar, hollering, "Now you listen up, you son-of-a-"
"Janice?" Even down here in the Bible Belt South, there was only one woman who could drawl my name out just so. I closed my eyes, realized there was no way to disguise the fact that I was standing on top of the bar in a puddle of spilled beer, yelling my head off at the bartender. So I didn't even try. I spun as tight a half-circle as I could and jumped to the floor, stamping down hard with both booted feet and landing inches away from her black pumps. After two years together, she barely even flinched at my entrance, which made me grin. My Melinda.
I gave her what I hoped was a debonair smile and doffed my fedora. She rolled her eyes and tried to look exasperated, but her mouth quirked into a tiny half-smile, and I knew I was gonna be A-OK. With a quick glance, she took in the joint. I saw her sizing it up with her eyes, taking in the dark lighting, the small room, the sparse patronage - but noticing the clean glassware and tables. With a smart nod to me, she tucked her attaché under her arm more securely and strode off towards one of the tables in the corner. I watched her go for a second - it took a long time for me to admit this to myself, but Mel could slay me where I stood in her business suits and those cat's eye glasses.
Jerry, for his part, had stopping chewing his gums, but now he was eyeing Mel's gams as she walked away. I shot him a Look and tossed him some clams. "Another beer for me, and a martini for my work partner," I said firmly, hoping he'd get the hint that Mel wasn't here for him to ogle. I'd already been up on the bar once, but I'd do it again if he didn't lay off. To his credit, Jerry poured the drinks silently and efficiently, but as he leaned over the bar to pass them to me, he winked and whispered, "Toldja I never saw someone get so screwy over a work meeting before. That's a helluva skirt you got there, Doc."
I eyed him up for a minute - was this bullshit, or was Jer being serious? Were my real feelings for Mel that obvious? And was Jerry really not put out by it? There was no malice in his eyes, so I decided to take his words as the compliment they were. "Yeah," I said with a smile, "she's quite a doll. And she knows her way around Ancient Greek literature, too."
"You don't say," he said, shaking his head in amazement and turning towards the record player, switching out the Duke record that had been spinning. Now Artie Shaw came charging out of the record player, brass and winds blaring, and him riding above it all on the sweet notes of his clarinet. I picked up our drinks and followed Mel's steps to a corner table, my heart thumping like good old Gene on his drum kit, but I had some sense of inner resolve now. If Unseeing-Eye Jerry had noticed I was doll-dizzy for Mel, she must have figured it out too by now, right? And she hadn't run away screaming yet…maybe this wasn't gonna be as tough as I thought.
She was sitting there (working as always) examining the latest translation. Her fancy hat was off to her right and her attaché was on the table to her left. She looked up as I came over, squinting a little over the top of the frames, and smiled. She pushed all of her things over to one corner and I set down the drinks.
"Honestly, Janice," she said in a quiet voice after I settled in, "when you said you wanted to meet somewhere secluded to work on the latest scroll, I sorta imagined…" and she trailed off, ever the polite Southerner. I raised an eyebrow and waited. I wasn't gonna bail her out of this one. She stared back stubbornly for a few seconds before bursting out, "Oh, fine! Fine, already!" In a quieter voice she continued, "Well, I wasn't expecting…a…a…public house!"
I laughed then, a big, loud, belly laugh. Mel had been on an archaeological dig in the middle of the desert, had been caught up in car chases, had dodged bullets in shoot-outs, and had been temporarily taken over by the spirit of her long-dead great-great-great grandmother, Xena, the Warrior Princess...and yet I could still shock her by dragging her into a gin mill. And Jerry's wasn't exactly the lowest of the low-brow juice joints either.
Mel looked a bit hurt, so I boldly covered her hand with mine, and her half-smile returned. "Sorry, sweetheart," I apologized, and winked before letting her hand go. I got a full smile and an eye roll for that, and a questioning look.
"So why exactly are we at this…"
"Joint," I filled in.
"Yes. Why are we at this 'joint'?" asked Mel politely but pointedly. Mel and I didn't go out much but when we did it was usually to some swanky affair of her choosing, like the opera or a play. The societal rules down here perplexed me, but I knew Mel's family was sitting pretty, and she was used to those sorts of affairs. Mel wasn't as much of a high hat as most of those people were but she did appreciate the finer things, and me…well, I was getting sick of all the ritz. I wanted to go out somewhere I felt comfortable, and I wanted Mel to see what it was like out on the town with me at a joint I liked.
"You'll see," I promised. "You're gonna love it." Mel gave me a dubious glance, but took a large sip of her martini and we bulled around for awhile, asking each other about our days before getting down to talking about the latest translations. Other patrons began to filter in - some students from the university, some workings stiffs, some just regular folks - and the place took on a different energy. Jerry was pouring drinks steadily and his jazz records were wailin', and everyone began to mill around and have a good time.
I got up to get us another round and when I came back, a couple of the guys were setting up instruments in the back corner. I grinned; this was what I had been waiting for. I squeezed back into my chair and passed Mel her martini, which she eagerly accepted. "What's goin' on over there, Janice?" she asked, pointing to the group of men who were now tuning up.
"Jazz," I said, scooting my chair up against the back wall and adjusting my fedora. "I'm done working for the night. Let's enjoy the music."
"Alright," she agreed, sounding both a little uncertain and a little excited. This scene was something new to her, and I never suggested much in the way of evening entertainment. She packed up our paperwork in her attaché and hesitated for a second before moving her chair over next to mine. I relaxed a little and allowed myself to enjoy our close proximity for once. I lit up a cigarillo as Jerry's record player stopped abruptly, and the band jumped right into their first number. All of the sheiks and their janes hopped out onto the floor and started hoofin it. The band was hot tonight, blowing through some standards that everybody loved and cruising through some ones I hadn't heard before. I listened with rapt attention, nodding my head in time and working my way through the beer and cigarillo. This outfit had played Jerry's a couple times before and boy, were they hot. I stole a couple of glances at Melinda to try and gauge her reaction, and from the looks of it, she was enjoying herself. I caught her bopping along in her seat during one particularly swell number, and her toe was constantly tapping to the two-two cut time beat. "You ever listen to this much before?" I leaned in and asked Mel at one point.
She stopped moving immediately and looked almost guilty. "No, Daddy thought it would bring about the end of decent civilization," she mumbled, and I laughed.
"What would he say if he saw you now?" I countered, before I really realized what I was asking. My face fell as the thought sunk in: what would her father, the well-respected Doctor Mel Pappas, have to say about his debutante daughter frequenting a jazz gin mill in the company of one Doctor Janice Covington, daughter of Harry "The Grave Robber" Covington, a slinger of pistols and connoisseur of fine women, fine liquor, and fine cigars?
Mel looked at me oddly for a second, and I was sure I had offended her before she finally answered, "I guess he would be happy I was happy." And smiled. Right. At. Me.
My insides started jitterbugging as my mind tried to think of all the possible things she could have meant by that simple statement. I knew the way I'd like to interpret it, but was I just imagining things? Was she really happy being here with me? The band started to cool its heels and wound down into a slow waltz. Some of the real floorflushers resented the down-tempo turn and booed, but a lot of the couples happily slid in close and started to sway.
No time for words now. The entire speech I had rehearsed dried up in my throat and died. Words were Mel's game, action was mine. So action I took. Only one way to find out - time to die with your boots on, Covington, I thought, and stood up quickly. Mel looked up, startled by my sudden movements. I turned to her and unzipped my bomber jacket to reveal the sport coat and tie I wore underneath. I dropped my jacket on my chair and watched the surprise flow over Mel's face. I waited for what felt like an eternity for it to change to shock, horror, disgust…but it never came. She actually looked kind of shy and began to blush. That blush is what did it for me - made me see that I was right, that this was right, that this was what we both wanted, and that made me bold.
I extended a hand to Mel and grandly said, "Dance with me, Melinda?" Her blush deepened even more, and though she averted her eyes, her hand hesitated not even a second before sliding into mine. Our palms were both a little damp and my stomach was somersaulting as I led her out onto the dance floor, but as my arm settled firmly around her waist, and her arm rested across my shoulders, my body sidestepped my mind and began to move in time all on its own. We moved in the sea of couples, natural as can be, and in the darkness of the joint, and with my fedora pulled low, hardly anyone even spared us a second look. We sailed on through the waltz, my body burning the whole time, my mind barely comprehending that this was actually happening. I looked up at Mel and was rewarded with the most brilliant smile I had ever seen. As my heart tried to climb out of my chest, I pulled her in a little closer and discovered how wonderful it felt to hold to hold her tight after all this time spent wondering and wanting. This was heaven on earth, swaying on smoky waves in perfect three-quarter time with my Melinda. My Melinda.
The waltz was over before it had barely begun, and I reluctantly stepped out of the warm embrace we had shared. Mel's face was a picture of disappointment and she kept a tight grip on my hand as the music kicked back up into a slick romp. I wasn't about to lose the momentum we had built up, though, so I pulled her back towards the table and grabbed my bomber jacket and her attaché. She looked miserable at the thought of leaving, and I knew she was misreading my actions - thinking that I was thinking that I had made a mistake, or that I didn't want to dance with her anymore. Fix this, Covington!
I held out my jacket to her, and her eyes widened in surprise and gentle amusement as I gallantly helped her slip into it. As I slid the worn leather over her shoulders, I arched upwards and whispered into her ear, "I have lots of records at home. Don't think I'm settling for just one dance tonight, Miz Pappas." She shivered, partially from my breath on her neck and ear I'm sure, but if I was reading her right, there was much more to it than that. I handed her the attaché and motioned to the door with my head.
"Jesus H. Christ, let's blow this joint, dollface," I said, with all of the swagger and grit from our earliest days together pouring back into my voice.
Mel blushed and swatted at my shoulder, playing along good-naturedly. "Doctor Covington! My word, that mouth is gonna send you straight to Hell!" she said, just like she would have when we first met.
"Hades, not Hell, doll," I replied with a grin. Mel rolled her eyes and pushed me towards the door as we both laughed.
Jerry was watching us from his place behind the bar where he was still polishing glasses. He smiled rakishly at me and yelled out over the noise and music, "You kids have fun now!" I shot him a Look and made a mental note to speak with him the next time I was in. The Unseeing Eye seemed to have suddenly acquired a pair of glasses and I was not gonna stand for that.
I grabbed Mel's hand before she could blush any deeper and we ran out the front door of the gin mill into the cool autumn night, relishing the sudden feelings of freedom and excitement, and looking forward to spending the rest of the night dancing slowly together in three-quarter time.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition - Janice Covingon finally got her gal.
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