by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2002, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Janice and Mel belong to Renaissance Pictures, etc., etc. I am merely borrowing the characters for an uber spin cycle, so I don't mean any infringement. Of course, like most of my fiction, there are women in love, so consider yourself warned..
The story is set during some of the timeframe of The Past is Prologue", specifically in 1976, but is not mentioned in that story. Helen Pappas is in her senior year of college.
I dedicate this to Hoover the Houdini Dog (12/31/1984 to 07/05/2000). May you chase squirrels in peace.
Helen and Brigid Series
Helen Pappas had found that by taking heavy course loads during the fall and spring, and by taking classes in the summers, she would be able to graduate with her Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History in three years. It was a wonderful time for history majors, being the Bicentennial Year, they were asked to do many research projects to dovetail with the upcoming celebrations in July. Helen had done her share of additional research in American history, even though her real emphasis was on ancient Greek history. Still, there was a correlation with democracy angle and it was nice to read English instead of Greek at times, even if it was a little archaic.
But, spring was in the air and it was time to go home for spring break. Helen was a little surprised at how much she looked forward to visiting with her aunts, when just a few years ago she could hardly wait to go anywhere but South Carolina. She was sometimes ashamed of how she had acted around her aunts when she first came to live with them, but somehow, the two women put up with her and still loved her. "Only one more day," she said out loud, looking at her calendar, "only one more day, then I go home."
"Aunt Mel! Aunt Janice! I'm home" Helen called out as she entered the big old house. Funny, she had called them yesterday to say that she was coming home today. But, she had arrived about an hour faster than she expected, she was so eager to get home that she hadn't stopped for lunch. She set down her bag by the couch, then wandered through the house, looking for her aunts. They weren't anywhere to be found, no notes, nothing.
Helen had a prickly feeling at the back of her neck, hating walking through the empty house. She guess that Mel had gotten one of her "Let's feed Helen all of her favorite foods" kicks and had made Janice go with her to the grocery store to stock up. She tested the theory by checking the pantry and the refrigerator and the freezers. Nope, they were stacked to the gills with food, so dash that theory. Miffed and upset with herself for being miffed, Helen decided to go to the back porch and look for Argo, Janice's old German shepherd/collie/Heinz 57 dog.
"Argo, here girl!" Helen yelled from the back porch, waiting for the huge dog to come running from the pasture. Nothing. Puzzled, Helen looked around Argo's favorite sleeping places around the house and the immediate yard, but still nothing. Finally, she looked under Argo's favorite tree, a huge old magnolia, but didn't see any sign of her. Wait, there was a flat stone of some type under the tree with a few flowers in front if it. Helen approached the tree with a growing sense of apprehension, unsure of what she would find but uneasy for no reason that she could discern. She knelt down, reading the few lines on the stone.
Argo the Third
January 9, 1960 to March 15, 1976
Rest in Peace, old friend
Helen stared at the stone for several minutes, anger building within her. How dare they bury Argo without telling her! Rage suddenly burned its way through Helen's veins, Argo had just died on Monday -- just five days ago and no one had bothered to tell her! Trembling with the need to vent her fury, Helen raced to the woodshed and commenced to chopping firewood, funneling her emotion into splitting logs into to increasingly smaller sticks, finally driving the axe so hard into the stump that it quivered when she let go. She staggered back to the house, still angry enough to punch out someone, anyone would do.
Janice Covington noticed a car as her partner pulled up to the house. "Mel," she said nervously, "is that Helen's car in the driveway? I thought you said she'd be here later, that we'd have plenty of time to run errands."
The dark-haired woman looked as she pulled into the driveway, hitting the garage door opener. "Obviously, Helen had other plans, Janice, you know how impulsive that girl is." Mel pulled her Oldsmobile into the garage, turned off the engine, then turned to her blonde partner. "Janice, did you tell her about Argo?"
"No, I thought you did. You're the sensitive chat lady," Janice said hopefully, trying to head off the lecture she knew she was about to receive.
Mel took off her glasses, glaring at Janice. "You mean that you were too upset to tell her," she said.
"No, it's not that," Janice protested as she unbuckled her seatbelt.
"Then what?" Mel's blue eyes narrowed as she waited for an explanation from her lover.
Janice shrugged as she played with the seat belt buckle. "Guess I thought that you'd told her when she called yesterday."
Mel put her glasses back on, then silently got out of the car. Janice waited for a few seconds, then reluctantly left the relative safety of Mel's car, knowing that she was in double trouble, first from Mel for not telling Helen about Argo, then from Helen for not telling her about Argo. "Shit," she muttered under her breath as she dragged behind her lover, whose back was rigid with unspoken anger. "You could at least cuss me out," she called out to the unrelenting back. Southern women!
"Helen, I'm so sorry that we weren't home when you arrived, we were out running errands," Melinda said as she hugged and kissed her tall, dark niece. "I do hope that you had a pleasant drive, would you like anything to eat or drink?" she asked as she stepped back. Helen shook her head, hands clenched at her sides. "Would you like anything, dear?"
Helen swiveled her head, turning to glare furiously at Janice. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked in a dark voice.
"Tell you what?" Janice squeaked. God, not only does she look like Mel, she has Mel's 'don't fuck with me' voice Janice thought uneasily.
"You know what, Aunt Janice, about Argo!," Helen snarled, "what did you do, get tired of her and put her down?" She whirled on her other aunt, demanding, "Why didn't you tell me yesterday when I called, Aunt Mel?"
"Well," Janice started, but Helen stormed out of the house, slamming the door as hard as possible. They heard her car start up, then heard gravel spurting from under her tires as she sped back up the lane to the main road. Janice slumped down on the couch, face in her hands. "Guess I really fouled things up," she mumbled. She didn't even look up when she heard Mel's high heels clacking down the hallway. Janice sat quietly, not heeding the tears that were overflowing her eyes, too fatigued to follow either Mel or Helen.
Helen drove around aimlessly, considering then discarding the idea of getting drunk -- too much like Janice. She finally wound up in a park, swinging in a swingset, dragging her toes in the dirt. She had to concentrate fiercely on her anger to keep the sadness at bay, but memories of Argo kept overwhelming her, threatening to make the burning tears fall from her blue eyes. She felt like screaming, like throwing something, like beating the crap out of someone.
She couldn't believe that Argo was gone.
Argo, who had been her best friend through the tumultuous years of high school, Argo, who had run with her when she took up jogging, Argo, who had slept with her when her memories threatened to overwhelm her.
Helen had lost her parents to the war and had been sent to live with her mother's parents, the Millers, but that had not worked out. Helen had started running with a bad crowd, then had eaten some brownies her friend Sophia had made for her. Whatever Sophia had spiked the brownies with, it had nearly made hash of her mind, no pun intended. She still remembered the unreality of the moment, later waking up at the hospital and finding that she had nearly beaten a freshman boy to a pulp. Mel and Janice had taken her in, but it was Argo who listened uncomplainingly, Argo who let her vent and wail.
Deep breath, she told herself, do not cry. Argo was a dog, nothing more. Helen stood up, grabbed the swing in both hands, the viciously shoved it in an arc that made the seat swing around several times. The motion made her feel a little better, but the shadow of Argo's death still hung over her. She looked at the moon and stars, wondering if the dog was up there. Some of her initial anger was starting to drain, leaving her pleasantly fatigued. She yawned, her tall frame swaying slightly as she started back to her car.
It was time to go home.
Janice paced unceasingly in her office, worried about Helen, still grieving over Argo. Her beloved Melinda, who was rarely anything but gracious, had given her the cold shoulder, suggesting that she go look for Helen if she dared. So, Janice Covington, archeologist, professor, tough gal, paced the floor instead, too scared of what she might find.
She was used to Helen's tantrums, Helen had thrown some doozies when she first came to live with them, screaming and slamming doors, until Mel had told her in no uncertain terms to straighten up her act. She hadn't actually heard the conversation, but suspected that Mel had said it in that strange voice, that cold voice with no drawl, that voice of unquestioned authority. Helen had buckled down and behaved after that, finally consenting to talk about the death of her parents.
Janice was so deep in thought that she didn't hear her office door opening and shutting until Helen said, "Hey Aunt Janice."
"Helen, where the hell were you? You could have been killed!" the short blonde snapped, anger warring with relief. "Girl, do you know what time it is? Have you been drinking? Where have you been, I've been worried sick about you!" Janice's voice escalated in volume as she lashed into her niece, green eyes snapping with fury.
Helen cringed under the verbal assault, ready to yell back at her aunt, but wearily dropped into a chair instead. "I'm fine, I just went driving around, wound up at a park, swung a bit, walked a bit." She tried to look nonchalant, but knew that she couldn't pull it off. "At least I didn't go get drunk or get into a fight," she added.
Janice sat heavily in her chair, absently reaching for her box of cigars and her lighter. She stopped herself, remembering belatedly that she had recently promised Mel not to smoke inside any more. "I'm sorry, Helen," she said quietly, anger draining quickly, "I was just worried about you."
"You could have told me!" Helen snapped back, fatigue vanishing in her surge of fresh anger.
"Yes, I could have," Janice agreed, forcing herself to de-escalate. She fiddled with a pen, surprised to see that her hands were trembling. "Helen," she tried again, "I"m really sorry that I didn't tell you. I asked Mel to, but she insisted that since Argo was really my dog, that I should tell you. Knowing how Argo had become more of your dog while you lived here, I should have known to just tell you, but I couldn't."
"Why not?" Helen shot back, blue eyes still blazing with anger, crossing her arms defiantly across her chest.ÃŸ
Janice propped her head on one hand, staring at her beautiful niece. No wonder Helen and Mel were both so mad at her, she thought, she had somehow turned into a stinking coward over a dog.
She heaved a great sigh, then explained, "Argo was starting to fail after you left for the semester. Her heart was giving out and she was collecting fluid in her belly, not eating much, losing weight. She looked like a concentration camp victim, skin and bones and swollen belly. I personally saw too many people who looked like that in the war and never wanted to see it again. I took her into the vet, but he said that nothing could be done for her. Monday morning, I took her in one last time, she was coughing a lot and he said that her lungs were filling with fluid, that it would be the kindest thing to put her to sleep."
"I didn't know," Helen said quietly, anger draining, clutching the arms of the chair.
Janice took a few deep breaths, then gave up and reached for a tissue, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. "Helen, it was the hardest thing I had ever done, Helen. Mel wasn't even there, I kept hoping that he could make Argo all better, Mel had gone to the library to do some research for an article she's writing. I held Argo's head as the doctor shot her full of anesthetic. She finally at peace." Janice stopped to wipe her eyes again. "God, I miss that dog, I couldn't even say her name for three days without bawling like a damned baby. I'm sorry, Helen, but I just couldn't tell you, I couldn't let you hear me breaking down. Now, please, just go away."
Helen watched her aunt lay her head on her arms, trying to regain her composure. It hurt almost as much as Argo's passing, seeing her tough little aunt hurting so much that she was crying. In the years since she had come to live with Mel and Janice, Helen had never seen Janice cry or even show this much emotion. She had seen Aunt Mel cry at movies, at TV shows, even at stories in the Reader's Digest, but Janice had always been the one who could laugh off anything.
"Auntie, I'm sorry," Helen said softly as she came over to the desk, reaching out to touch her aunt's fading blonde hair. Janice continued to shake with the effort of not crying. Helen cautiously sat down in the chair next to the desk, awkwardly saying, "I shouldn't blame you, I'm just in shock I guess," she said miserably.
Janice let out a sob; Helen knelt by her aunt's chair and opened her arms, taking the small woman in, rocking her. "I loved Argo, Auntie, I hurt too." She felt tears starting down her cheeks as well. "I'm sorry I was so hard on you, I know that you loved Argo very much too."
Several minutes later, Janice pulled away, reaching for a handful of tissues, handing several to Helen and keeping the rest for herself. "Damnit, girl, I hate crying," she growled in a nearly normal voice. "Don't you dare tell Mel that I was crying."
"If you don't tell her that I was crying," Helen agreed, wiping her eyes.
"Okay. Hey, have you ever had a real whiskey? No? Then let me introduce you to the wonders of Jack Daniels," Janice said as she stood up, searching for her bottle and two glasses. "This should take your mind off of our troubles." She found the square bottle and two glasses, then poured a small amount in each one. "Bottoms up," she instructed.
"Oh God, that burns!" Helen coughed, "hit me again!"
Janice grinned as she poured Helen another drink. "Sometimes, you just need to get drunk," she said, tossing back her own drink. "Just don't forget to drink lots and lots of water before you go to bed."
The next morning, Mel came downstairs to find Janice curled up on the couch in the living room and Helen snoring in front of the fireplace, curled up on Argo's old dog bed. She could smell the faint odor of Jack Black, wrinkling her nose delicately as she moved into the kitchen to start breakfast. Mel knew that if forced, Janice and Helen would have to deal with their pain of losing Argo, she just wished that Janice hadn't introduced Helen to hard liquor in this manner. Still, they did look rather peaceful.
As the odor of coffee, bacon, eggs and biscuits wafted through the air, Janice stumbled off of the couch and into the downstairs bath. She emerged a few minutes later and made a beeline for Mel, hugging her tall, slender partner fiercely. "I'm sorry, love," she mumbled into Mel's chest, "I should have told her myself before she came up."
"Did you two talk things over?" Mel asked, stroking her lover's hair, kissing her head delicately.
"Yes," Janice mumbled into her cleavage.
"Good." The two women stood, arms around each other, taking comfort in each other. Mel's head popped up when she heard Helen padding into the kitchen. "Sweetheart, are you okay?" Mel called out.
"Yeah, just hungry," Helen mumbled as she slid into a chair. She lifted her head, blue eyes bloodshot with whiskey and tears. "Don't ask," she warned.
"I won't," Mel promised as she disentangled herself from Janice's grasp. "But are you okay?"
Helen considered the question as she went to fill her plate. "No, not really," she admitted reluctantly."
"Then, my beloved niece, you are going to be fine. You have to admit to your grief before you can heal," Mel said as she sat down. "Remember, give yourself time to grieve. That goes for you, too, Janice," she said, shaking a finger at her partner.
"Yes ma'am," they mumbled in unison.
Argo smiled down at the scene, then turned to follow Xena and Gabrielle to the Elysian Fields.
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