by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2002, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: email@example.com
Disclaimer: Helen Pappas and Brigid Anderson are my creations, though they are uber-type characters. I claim all copyright to my characters & situations, blah, blah, blah. Yes, the two women are in a long-term relationship and consider themselves married, so get over it.
Time: Just a few months after The Past is Prologue, around the Christmas season.
Copyright Â© 1999 by JS Stephens. All right reserved.
Helen and Brigid Series
Brigid approached Helen in the den, where she was sitting and reading on the couch. "Helen, can we have a dog?"
"No," Helen said without looking up from her book.
Brigid persisted, "Why not? I'm sure Aunt Mel won't mind and we have plenty of acreage for a dog to roam."
"I said no," Helen repeated, still looking at her books.
"Why not?" Brigid asked, a slight whine creeping in her voice.
Helen set her coffee mug down, bookmarked her place, laid down her book, then turned her full attention to her partner of twelve years. "Brigid, dogs are a pain. They jump all over you, need constant attention and exercise, have to be picked up after, chew everything and are just-"
"Not cats?" Brigid suggested, looking pointedly at the black and white cat in Helen's lap.
"Clark is not just any cat, he adopted me," Helen explained for the millionth time. "I was out weeding the gardens, as you suggested, and he just came up to me, insisting that I adopt him." She stroked the cat fondly, unaware of how soft her angular face was as she regarded the cat. "Besides, cats are independent creatures, fastidious in manner and don't need a fence to keep them close."
Brigid threw up her hands in exasperation, making a dramatic exit rather than continue the argument. Helen scratched Clark's chin thoughtfully, asking the age old question, "What did I say to make her so mad?" Clark merely yawned, stretched, then resettled himself in Helen's lap as she picked her book back up, indulging in the guilty pleasures of reading a murder mystery.
Melinda Pappas had overheard bits of the argument and knew that within minutes, her niece's partner would come storming into her office, demanding an explanation as to why "That damned niece of yours" wouldn't listen to "a perfectly reasonable request." So, Brigid wanted a dog. Mel smiled; she knew why Helen didn't want a dog, but she would never tell Brigid, as much as she loved her niece's partner. She really had no desire to set off World War III.
As predicted, Brigid came storming into the room, demanding, "Aunt Mel, why won't that damned niece of yours listen to a perfectly reasonable request? All I want is a puppy, you yourself have said that you won't mind one! This is still your house after all, not ours, why won't she listen to what I really want?"
"Honey, Helen just isn't a dog person, she prefers cats instead." Mel motioned for Brigid to sit down in the chair beside her desk. "I love both of you, but I can't force her to acquiesce to your desire for a puppy. Besides, in my declining years, I'd rather not hear repeats of the types of battles that Helen and Janice had when Helen was living with us."
Brigid's natural curiosity overtook her hurt, reporter's instinct sensing a story. "Battles? Helen always spoke fondly of you and Janice."
Mel saved the file she had been working on, then took off her bifocals and directed her attention to Brigid. "Brigid, Janice and Helen fought over everything and anything. They both had quick tempers in those days and nearly always took opposite sides of any issue. Helen was going through such a rough time, having lost her parents, then being sent to live with us after her grandparents could no longer handle her. Janice had no conception of how to be a parent, coming from a broken home herself. I had been sheltered until Mama died..." Mel lost herself in memories for a moment, then snapped back. "Just believe me when I say don't bring up the issue of a puppy again."
"Why not?" Brigid demanded. "Didn't y'all have a dog when Helen lived with you?"
"Yes, but that was Janice's dog, Argo the Third. Janice always had a dog named Argo, I think we were up to the fifth Argo a few years back. Anyway, Brigid, just trust me on this one, as you young people say. Helen does not want a dog."
Brigid looked at Mel, still so beautiful and elegant, a glimpse of how Helen might look in another forty years or so. One thing she had learned about Mel, however, in the three months that she and Helen had been living in the house was that Melinda Pappas was just as stubborn as her niece, just in that quiet, Southern lady way, the way that would have you convinced that you agreed with her initially. Still, Brigid was just as stubborn as the aunt and niece and really wanted a dog. "Aunt Mel, come on, you can tell me, you've told me other stories about Helen's past and childhood. Please?"
Mel smiled, but shook her head no. "Brigid, I'm too old to listen to the battles that would result from bringing a dog on the place. Now that we have that settled, would you like to look over this Christmas card list with me? I want to make sure that I haven't forgotten anyone." Defeated, Brigid stood behind Mel, looking over her shoulder at the list on the computer screen. Southern belle: 1, Midwestern reporter: 0.
Christmas was a lot harder for Helen than she thought possible, the perfect topper for a miserable year. First, Aunt Janice had died in the middle of the spring semester. Second, she had been outed at the private university where she had taught at for seventeen years and was given the choice of being fired or resigning. Third, she was able to take the Janice Covington Professor of Ancient Greek Women's Studies in the College of History and Archeology at the university near Mel's home, which was proving to be a very satisfying position. Fourth, Brigid was able to retain her job with NewsTime magazine as a features writer. Aunt Mel continued to be in excellent health, Helen and Brigid's house had sold quickly, Mel was letting them live in her home rent free ("just do the yardwork, please"), so why was she so depressed?
Helen tried to snuggle back against Brigid the day after Christmas, but Brigid wouldn't let her. "Honey, it snowed last night!" her blonde partner crowed, dragging her out from under their pile of quilts. "Let's go play in the snow!"
"Sourpuss. Get dressed, I'll go down and see if Aunt Mel wants to join us." Brigid flew out of the bedroom and down the stairs, leaving Helen to stare blearily out the window at the soft blanket of snow. If I don't get up and get dressed, she'll come back and pout. I just can't stand to see Brigid pouting, Helen thought grumpily as she finally crawled out of the toasty bed.
Cavorting in the snow with Brigid and Mel wasn't as bad as Helen first imagined. She had forgotten than her aunt had a deadly aim when she put her mind to it, thus was the recipient of several well-placed snowballs. Brigid wasn't too bad of an aim either, but Helen could run much faster than Brigid and enjoyed overtaking her beloved and wrestling her to the ground. "Take that, you little sneak," Helen growled as she rolled in the snow with Brigid, "see how you like snow down your back."
"Not as well as you do, my love," Brigid replied as she stuffed a handful of snow down Helen's neck. They could hear Mel laughing at them as they each tried to gain the upper hand.
"Y'all sure look like a couple of kids," Mel's voice floated over the yard from the porch, where she had retreated. "Don't you think y'all have played enough for now? I've got some hot apple cider ready for you, come on up to the house."
With a final playful growl, Helen released Brigid, then raced her to the porch. Brigid managed to trip Helen, barely beating her to the porch. "I don't see what's so funny," Helen said as she brushed the snow off her jeans before clumping up the steps, glaring at her partner and her aunt.
"You are, my love," Brigid said as she handed Helen a mug, "pretending to be so mean and grumpy, but enjoying every minute of the snow and the playing. I bet you were a handful as a child."
"She sure was as a teenager, Lord, the troubles we had with that child!" Mel chimed in, a wicked gleam in her eyes. She poured herself another mug of cider from the insulated thermos, then caught a glimpse of something red in the trees. "Girls, what is that in the woods? Can y'all tell?"
Brigid shaded her face and stared, but shook her head. Helen glanced out, then carefully set her mug down and started walking toward the trees, intent on finding the red streak. She caught repeated glimpses of a red animal, first thinking it was a fox, but then realizing it was a puppy. "Well, I'll be damned," she said softly as she crouched for a better look, "just a little puppy dog." At the sound of her voice, the puppy threw himself full tilt in her arms, happily wiggling and giving her a few kisses before heaving a sigh of relief at being found. Startled, Helen held the puppy, stroking his head and wondering where he had come from. "Do you have a name, puppy? Are you lost?" The puppy answered by wagging his tail fiercely against her side as he tried to bury his cold nose in her coat. "Well, you are a friendly guy, you must belong to someone around here. I'll take you back to the house, Aunt Mel will know who you probably belong to."
Helen brought the dog back to the porch where Mel and Brigid cooed over him and fed him bits of their sandwiches. The dog snapped up each tidbit neatly yet gently, politely waiting for more until the sandwiches were gone and he was full. "Aunt Mel, who do you think the dog belongs to?" Helen asked as the puppy followed them into the mudroom. "No boy, you need to stay outside, I'm sorry." Helen pushed the dog back out the door before returning to her inquiry.
Mel dropped her boots on the floor before answering, "Honey, I don't know, but I'll call the local paper and put an ad in, see if anyone has lost a dog. Most of my neighbors either go to Florida for the winter or aren't the type to keep dogs around, unless they're those silly show dogs, like poodles or something. Janice would never have a small dog in around, but she'd probably like a puppy like this one."
"Yeah, whatever, I'm going up to change. Brigid, are you working today?" Helen asked.
"No, Helen, I'm taking vacation, remember? I had nearly two weeks left this year," Brigid reminded her.
"Oh. Think I'll head over to school to work on my classes for next semester after a shower." Helen leaned down and kissed her blonde partner, then walked upstairs in her stocking feet.
Brigid waited until Helen was out of sight, then filled a bowl with water and took it out to the puppy, who had made himself at home in the wicker couch on the back porch. When she got back inside, she joined Mel in the den in front of the fireplace, plopping down beside the older woman and resting her head on Mel's shoulder. "Auntie, if we don't find out who this dog belongs to, can I keep him, even if Grumpy doesn't like him?"
Mel wrapped a long arm around Brigid, hugging her close. "Brigid, we'll work on Grumpy together, but we must be subtle. I have to be fair, though, and put the ad in the paper to see if he has owners or not."
"I saw her, she liked the puppy, so why doesn't she agree to having a dog around? It's your place, you could choose to have one-" Brigid broke off as she heard Helen flying down the stairs and out the door, shouting, "I'll be home in time for supper!" Brigid sat up, looking into Melinda's blue eyes, asking quietly, "Please tell me why Helen is so evasive on the dog issue."
Mel got up and piled another log on the fire, taking time to bring the fire up to a roar before coming back to the couch. She looked into Brigid's green eyes, so similar to her beloved Janice's eyes, wondering again if the two had been distantly related somehow. "Well," she started slowly, "when she first came to live with us as a teenager, she had lost her parents, then been kicked out of her high school, all within a year. The Argo at the time was a mutt, probably German shepherd and collie and something else. Anyway, whenever life got to be too much, Argo would come push her nose in Helen's hand and whine until Helen petted her, making Helen love on her. Helen was devastated when she went to college and we had to put that Argo to sleep, her heart murmur had gotten so bad that she was collecting fluid in her abdomen. Back then, they couldn't do much, so Janice took Argo to the vet to have her put to sleep. Helen never quite forgave Janice for doing that, even though she knew why."
"Oh," Brigid said. "I knew that cats were okay, but we never had enough time in Asbury for a dog, so I never thought to bring it up. So, she's still mad at Janice. I know that she misses Aunt Janice a lot, but she won't talk to me about it much, just in passing. I don't think she's ever really cried for her, said I did enough crying at the funeral for both of us."
Mel nodded. "That's true, Helen cried only once that I know of in the entire time that she lived with us. Janice used to tease me for being so weepy and sentimental, then ask Helen if she was really related to me since Helen was so reserved. I sure miss Janice, miss her teasing." Mel sat a moment, lost in memories of her partner of fifty-seven years, then shook herself mentally. "Well, let's get up and place that lost dog ad, shall we?"
New Year's came and went, but no one replied to the ad about the lost dog. The puppy stayed around the house, rarely venturing very far and eventually became part of the family. Helen called him "Red" due to his coat color, but otherwise would have nothing to do with him. Mel and Janice finally took Red to the vet for his shots and his operation. Red was growing rapidly, showing signs of being part Doberman, part retriever and part mutt. He was an intelligent dog, rarely having to be shown a new command twice, but also a bit of a Houdini in respect to cages -- whenever they tried to pen him up, he always managed to escape somehow. Since Mel had forty acres, they finally gave up and let him roam at will. Red always managed to come home at dinnertime.
One day in early February, Brigid took Mel to the doctor for a lingering cold. Helen came home after teaching to an empty house and a note that simply said, "I'm taking Auntie to the doctor, back by supper time. Love, Brigid." Helen read the letter, then went about changing clothes, hoping that it wasn't serious. Mel had been coughing a lot lately, just like Janice had before she died. "Stop, don't go there!" Helen commanded herself as she hung up her suit. "Can't go around borrowing trouble."
Helen wandered around the house aimlessly, not wanting to grade papers, work on lessons, or do anything else useful. She finally landed in Janice and Mel's old office, touching various books and artifacts, feeling unsettled and uneasy for some reason. She finally sat down in Janice's old office chair, slowly swinging around as she'd see Janice do so many times. "What's this?" she wondered as her eye caught a box buried under a precarious stack of papers. Helen slowly reached for cigar box, wondering if she should open it. "Probably just some old cigars that Janice never smoked," she mused out loud as she decided to open it anyway.
"Oh, God," Helen whispered in a strangled voice. It was full of pictures and letters from her to her aunts. She recognized her childish writing and her gawky school pictures, starting in first grade, through her senior portrait from high school. As she dug through the piles of pictures and paper, she uncovered other photos of herself with her parents, herself at holidays, even a picture of herself with Janice on Helen and Brigid's wedding day. Then, she found a half-completed letter in Janice's cramped handwriting. Curious, she smoothed it out and started reading.
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Miller,
Your granddaughter will do fine now, but thanks for your concern. I know that Mel usually handles the letter writing detail, but I thought I'd try to take my hand at it now. Helen has shot up several inches since she came to us and is still pretty broken up about her parents' deaths, but I think she's on the road to recovery. I know she'd kill me if she knew that you saw this, but she finally cried the other day, just bawled like crazy. I had to slip away before she saw me bawling too, I usually let Melinda handle those details. She's so reserved usually, Helen I mean, so to see her in such pain is nearly more than I can stand.
The letter ended there, as if Janice had been interrupted or had decided not to pursue it. Helen smoothed the paper over and over, then started sorting through the pictures again. She came to the wedding pictures again, finding one of just Janice and herself, Janice hugging her fiercely, a huge grin on her face. Helen traced her aunt's face in the picture, remembering how pleased Janice was that Helen had not only accepted her own sexuality, but had "married that good looking girl" as well. "Damn it, I miss you!" she suddenly screamed as the room started blurring. Helen tried to will away the tears, but they refused to obey. "Janice, you left us, now I'm scared that Mel's going to die too!" she sobbed, dropping her face in her hands, rocking in the chair.
"Rowr?" A soft puppy head bumped into Helen's thigh. Helen wiped her eyes, then looked down at the Houdini dog, who was sitting there with a puzzled look on his face. "Hey Red, what are you doing in here?" Helen croaked. Red swished his tail slowly, then laid his head on her knee. "No," she moaned as the tears renewed, "don't be so understanding." She slid down onto the floor, facing Red. "Don't do this to me." He tentatively licked her face once, then pressed his body against her. Helen gave up and wrapped her arms around the dog, letting go of her pent up grief.
Several hours later, Mel and Brigid came home to find Helen and Red asleep on the office floor together. Clark, Helen's cat, was calmly washing the puppy's ears as if to say, "Okay, you can stay in my territory and share my mom." Brigid shook Helen's shoulder gently to wake her up.
"Brigid, Aunt Mel!" Helen sat up, feeling fuzzy as Red yawned and tried to bury back against her. "What did y'all find out?"
"Just an acute sinus infection," Mel said, "I'll live, I'll just be miserable for a bit longer."
Helen sighed with relief, then stood up and grabbed her aunt in a fierce hug. "When I saw the note, I was afraid that you'd come down with pneumonia, like Aunt Janice," she explained, sniffing slightly.
Mel smiled at her niece. "No, sweetheart, I'll be fine. Seems that you've made a friend, though."
"Oh. I don't know how he got in, but Clark doesn't seem to mind," Helen answered as the cat yawned and stalked off.
Brigid smirked, but managed to wipe it off before Helen saw the expression. "So, can we keep him?"
"Oh, if Mel doesn't mind," Helen replied.
"Don't mind at all," Mel said. "If you girls will excuse me, I'm going to take my horse pills and lay down for a bit."
"Horse pills?" Helen asked, confused.
"Her antibiotics." Brigid patted the dog's head, then turned to her beloved. "So, I can beg for a dog, only to keep him when the cat okays it. Yeah, I see how it is now."
Helen smiled and gathered her partner in her arms. "Well, let's just say that Red managed to worm his way into my heart." Brigid didn't answer, just snuggled against Helen's shoulder. "Silly Houdini dog."
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