by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1999, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
(un)Usual Disclaimer: Okay, once again I am wrecking merry havoc with Renaissance Pictures' creations, Xena & Gabrielle. Yup, I taking the uberstory idea for yet another spin, this time pulling in not only Xena & Gabrielle, but also Mel & Janice (also from the fertile imaginations of Renaissance Pictures), Laura & Ruby (from That Texas Summer and The Revival), Helen & Brigid (from Helen of the Plains). As you are beginning to suspect, it might be a good idea to at least skim the aforementioned stories in order to understand what will happen in this tale (or is that ubertale? ubertail?)
Other housekeeping details: Yes, once again I am claiming copyright for my original characters, their stories, their backgrounds, etc. I'm just borrowing Renaissance Pictures' characters, I promise to return them. Subtext? Heck, yeah, what is a good fan fiction story without it? Of course, I am one of those maintext types, myself, therefore there will be some hot & heavy scenes, but only as appropriate to the character development.
Thank you for your patience with this long-winded introduction.
Helen and Brigid Series
"Yes ma'am, might I speak with Brigid Anderson for a few moments? This is Dr. Melinda Pappas, I'm a friend of hers," Mel said, waiting impatiently. She heard, "One moment, Dr. Pappas," then various clicks and snatches of what passed for music until she heard Brigid answer "hello?" rather distractedly.
"Brigid," Mel began, "I know you are the detail oriented one in your family, so I thought it best to speak with you first. You see, Janice has started sliding downhill rather quickly and isn't expected to live much longer. Can you make the arrangements for you and Helen to fly out here? I'm afraid you'll have to rent a car as well, I simply don't have the time to pick you up and I'll most likely be at the hospital when y'all arrive. Just use your key and go to your usual bedroom, I'll pop home in a bit to leave you instructions on the dresser."
"Shit!" Brigid exclaimed, the apologized quickly. "Sorry, Aunt Mel, I really didn't mean to cuss at you, but we had no idea that Aunt Janice was even sick. What happened?"
Melinda sighed heavily. "Well, her resistance seems to have been weakened by that bout of lung cancer last summer, she has pneumonia again. The doctors don't think she'll last for more than a couple of days at the most."
"Oh, Lord, I'm so sorry, Auntie. I'll make the arrangements, then go drag Helen away from campus. I think I can get us in tonight. Thanks for calling," Brigid said as she started taking notes.
"Sorry it had to be such bad news, sweetie, but Janice wouldn't let me call last week, said she would lick this so no need to bother y'all. Well, I'd better go back to her room. We love you girls." Melinda's southern-tinged voice faded away.
"We love you both, too," Brigid replied. She hit the switch, then stared into space for a few seconds before calling her assistant. Janice Covington, dying? It couldn't really be happening, could it? But it could, both women had to be in their seventies or eighties now, but they seemed so healthy at Christmas...she shook her head, then punched the speed dial for her assistant, Barbara Woodbain.
"Barb, I hate to ask this, but could you make arrangements for Helen and me to fly to South Carolina? Yes, tonight. Yes, we need a rental car. I don't know how long we'll be gone, her Aunt Janice is dying. Don't worry, I'll tell Patrick myself, he'll probably want me to make it into a story or something. Yes, we'll be careful. Thanks, you are a sweetheart." Brigid hung up, drumming her fingers on her desk at NewsTime magazine, where she had been employed since graduation.
She took a deep breath, then called her editor, Patrick James, to explain that she needed to leave immediately. He merely said, "Be careful and give my love to Helen," then hung up. She logged off her computer, grabbed her briefcase and jacket, then realized that she didn't have the plane tickets yet.
Before Brigid could finish the thought, Barbara came into her office, saying, "Your flight leaves at 8:45 tonight and the tickets will be waiting. I've reserved the car under your name, a rental agent will meet you on the other end. You have just enough time to go home and pack before you pick up Helen. I'll change your voice mail message and forward your calls to my desk. Anything else?"
Brigid felt a little tension leave her neck as her hyper-efficient assistant laid out the travel plans. "No, that seems to cover it, thanks Barbara, I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Forget your brain, probably. I'll see you when you get back." Barbara patted Brigid kindly on the arm, then gave her a little push. "I'll hold down the fort for you, don't worry about a thing."
Several hours later, Brigid and her partner, Helen Pappas, were on the plane to South Carolina, where Helen's aunt Melinda Pappas and her partner, Janice Covington, lived. Brigid boldly held Helen's hand during the trip, not caring if anyone else noticed, but in truth, the flight was empty enough that no one saw them. Helen, her tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed partner of twelve years, sat staring miserably through the tiny airplane window, not seeming to even notice Brigid's hand.
Brigid noticed for the first time that Helen's dark hair was getting a lot of gray, enough to notice now, unlike her aunt Mel, who she resembled. Helen was also built more like a swimmer, broad shoulders and slim hips, whereas Melinda had more classic curves to her figure. Brigid's musing was ended by the captain announcing that they would touch down in a short time and that their baggage could be claimed just outside the gate. She felt Helen take a deep breath, then turn to her and say, "Are you ready for this?"
Helen blinked, coming back from brooding thoughts. "Not really, and I hate to admit it, but I'm apprehensive. Suppose Aunt Janice dies before we get there? We still have to collect our luggage, our rental car, drive to their house, then on to the hospital. Suppose she's in ICU and they won't let us see her? I mean, Mel's my aunt by blood, but Janice isn't, you know."
"Helen, it will work out, I promise," Brigid said, "and I'm sure that their doctor won't mind, they've been going to him for years."
Helen glanced around, then lowered her head until her forehead touched her partner's. "Sorry, I'm just pretty tense, but I'm so glad you could come with me."
"Hey, I love you, 'wither thou goest' and all that," Brigid reminded her.
Helen jerked upright, looking out the window. "I think the plane just landed."
"You going to be okay?" Brigid asked.
Pain-filled blue eyes met concerned green ones. "I have to be okay, Aunt Janice helped raise me." Helen squeezed Brigid's hand, then dropped it in order to unbuckle her seat belt. "Do we have a rental car?"
"Yes, Barbara made all the arrangements for us," Brigid reassured her nervous partner.
Helen relaxed a tiny bit. "Nice lady. Wish I could be that open at my job."
"Yeah, but it's just Barbara and Patrick that know, although Patrick wants me to write a story on this. I mean, write one on Janice and the Xena scrolls, something, what did he say? 'dignified, with a hint of mystery.' Think I can do that?" she asked, thinking ahead to her assignment.
Helen nodded. "My love, you are genius with words. The seat belt sign just went off, let's get out of here."
An hour later, they arrived at the hospital after having driven to the house, dropped off their luggage and retrieved the directions. Helen couldn't help but think of the last few times she went to a hospital, twice in the same year as her grandparents died, and once with Brigid when Brigid's grandfather died. She gritted her teeth unconsciously until Brigid wrapped her arm around her in the elevator. With an effort, she unclenched her jaw and tried a crooked smile at her beloved partner just as the elevator doors opened.
Brigid consulted the note from Mel, then pointed down the hall, pushing Helen to get her going. They walked through the door to the room ("thank God it's not ICU," thought Helen) to find Mel sitting primly on the edge of the bed, holding Janice's hand. Mel looked up, then stood up to greet them. "Girls, I'm so very glad to see you," she said as she hugged and kissed each one in turn. "I'm afraid Janice is worse tonight than she was this afternoon. Janice, honey, Helen and Brigid are here to see you."
Janice weakly opened her eyes, then croaked, "Sorry I'm such a mess. Doc Simon says very little time left. Please, sit." They did as bidden, then Janice panted for a moment, trying to draw strength. She took Mel's hand, then said quietly, "Please take our chakrams. You are our heirs." Brigid looked puzzled while Helen looked shocked as Janice continued, "Brigid, please write. Talk to Mel, write our life. Helen, a new scroll has appeared, you and Mel read it." She coughed hard, then laid back, drained.
Mel started to say something, but Janice held up a shaky hand, silencing her. "Melinda, I love you, but I'm gonna have to leave you. The dead can hear, you know. Love you girls." She dropped back, slipping back into a troubled slumber.
Melinda motioned for the other women to follow her out into the hallway. As soon as she closed the door, she said softly, "She will probably sleep for several more hours now, why don't y'all go to the cafeteria for a bite to eat?"
"Aunt Mel, have you eaten anything to day?" Helen asked.
"Well, I had some toast and coffee for breakfast," she allowed.
"Then join us, we insist," Brigid replied. "We have to take care of you if you won't take care of yourself."
"But what about Janice?" the tall southerner asked.
"We'll come back soon, I promise," Brigid said, "I think she'll last for a bit longer."
Mel bit her lip indecisively for a moment, then said, "All right, let me tell her that I'll be gone for a few minutes. Y'all stay right here, now." Mel went back into the room for a few minutes, then came back out.
"Janice says she wishes she could eat with us, she loves to eat, you know," Mel told them. "For hospital food, it's pretty good, just not as good as what Pandora used to cook for us. Helen, you remember Dora, our housekeeper, don't you? She helped bring me up, rest her soul, and was the first to know about me and Janice, the first to call Janice my wolf." Mel smiled at the memory as the elevator doors shut.
The past: 1924
Janice Covington scowled fiercely as she looked around her room at her great-grandmothers' farm house, very upset not to be with her father and mother this season. Life was changing rapidly for the Covingtons, arguments between her father, Harry, and her mother, Cora, broke out at all times of the day and night.
"Damn it, Cora, I'm taking Janice with me this summer!" Dr. Harry Covington yelled at his wife. "At least she'll be doing something practical, helping me at the dig."
Cora yelled back, "You will NOT take our daughter this summer, Harry! You'll forget she is there and won't keep an eye on her. I'll send her to Texas, to my grandparents' house. If anyone can handle our rambunctious girl, it will be Laura Wilkins!"
Thus, a week later, Janice wound up in Texas, facing the window, looking up at the big Texas sky. She couldn't stand being a moment longer, she had to go outside, look at the stars for herself, pretend that she could be helping her daddy digging for artifacts, so she carefully pulled on her jeans and shirt, then snuck out to the front porch, breathing deeply of the roses that Grandma Ruby planted so many years ago, breathing the faint cigar smoke...
"Hey squirt," Laura's voice sounded lazily from the shadows, "what brings you out this time of the night?"
"Grandpa Laura," Janice asked, "how do you sneak out so quietly?"
The woman motioned for the child to join her in the porch swing. After Janice hopped up in the swing, Laura looked at her, smiling. "Practice, Janice, practice. When George, Peter and I moved here after the war, we still had to face Indians, so I learned to be very quiet." She paused, her cigar glowing as she drew on it, then blew out a perfect smoke ring. "Now, answer my question."
"Why?" Janice said, defiantly.
Unruffled, Laura answered, "Why answer it? I am your elder by many years, plus I'll tell Ruby not to make you any more nutbread."
Janice considered the threat, then decided that Laura really would tell Ruby not to make any of the delicious bread. She looked into Laura's laughing blue eyes, then answered simply, "I can't sleep, Grandpa, I'm worried about my parents."
"Ah." The word floated on the air, buoyed by a stream of smoke. Laura took in a deep breath, then said calmly, "Janice, you are old enough to know the truth, although your family would scalp me for telling you. Your parents are splitting up, possibly divorcing, so everyone thought it would be best if you weren't in the thick of things right now. Harry's parents are dead, Leslie and Elisabeth would love to have you but their apartment is too small, so Ruby and I drew the short straw and here you are."
Janice considered this information, chewing her lip as she thought it through. Finally, she asked, "Why can't they get along?"
Laura looked into the child's green eyes, (which were so similar to her partner's eyes!) as she tried to frame a reply. If this were Leslie when he was a boy, she would have pulled him into her lap and cuddled him, but Janice rarely let anyone hold her. Damn, why didn't she send Ruby out to deal with this hurting child? Ruby was so good with words, just like their daughter-in-law Elisabeth, but no, she had woken up when she heard the door opening...she grinned, then wiped the grin off her face.
The older woman laid it out as simply as she could. "Janice, Cora needs more from a man than your father can provide. From the time she introduced him to the family, I was afraid this would happen; Cora needs a more stable environment, less adventure. She thought that Harry Covington would be a professor like her father, but your dad couldn't stay cooped up in the classroom. Thus, another summer in the heat of Greece did not settle with her, so she decided to take off."
"Don't they love me?" Janice asked.
Laura answered seriously, "Child, they love you, we all love you, but sometimes two people can love each other but not be able to live together. Or, they thought they loved each other, but really only liked each other, or for some reason couldn't ...well, hell, Janice, I can't really explain it."
The small blonde pondered this, finally asking in a small voice, "Will Mom ever come home?"
"I don't know," Laura answered.
Janice sighed, fighting tears, she didn't dare cry in front of this intimidating woman. She could cry in front of her Grandma, but not Grandpa, even though there was a lump in her throat that refused to dissolve. She ducked her head, balling her fists in her determination, hearing her grandpa leaning over to put out her cigar. No, the tears couldn't be coming, they just couldn't! She was shocked to feel Laura pulling her into her arms, allowing her to burst into frustrated tears, wrapping her small arms around Laura's body, crying as if she would never stop. She could feel Laura soothingly stroking her back, smell the tobacco, feel her shirt under her face, feel Laura's head resting on top of hers.
Finally, the tears stopped and she sniffled, feeling a hand thrusting a handkerchief in her hands. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose, then just rested in Laura's arms, feeling safe for the first time in ages. Her eyelids were starting to feel droopy and her head light, just like she was about to fall asleep. She heard the soothing rumble of Laura's soft laughter, then felt her grandpa pick her up and carry her into the house, past her room, to the room she shared with her grandma. As she fell asleep, she heard Laura saying, "Ruby, we'd better let the little one sleep with us tonight, she's mighty upset..." The last thing she remembered was being placed between the two women, safe and warm at last...
Janice's breath was getting more shallow with each passing hour. Mel sat on the bed next to her, not really talking much, just holding her hand, knowing that the end was near. Helen and Brigid had folded out the ubiquitous hospital bed/chair and had fallen asleep several hours ago. Melinda pondered the past as she watched the two women slumbering, thinking of her life with Janice and how she would never in a million years think of changing one thing. She touched her chakram pendent, thinking about Janice's earlier request that the girls take the chakrams.
Janice was rarely sentimental about anything, she mused, but she had always managed to keep her chakram pendent close to her heart all these years, even though she steadfastly refused to wear any other piece of jewelry "without a damned good reason", as Janice so eloquently put it. Somehow, though, it seemed fitting to pass them on to the girls, their love seemed as strong as as destined as hers and Janice's had, maybe they would also be together for fifty plus years.
Melinda jerked up her head, hearing her lover's voice. "Yes, Janice?"
Janice looked up at her life long partner, then over at the sleeping women. "Tell them the whole story after I'm gone. Then give them the chakrams." She took a deep breath, then pointed to the door. "Look."
Mel looked and saw the ghostly image of two women, warrior and bard, standing side by side. She turned back to Janice, leaning over to kiss her one last time, then turned to address the other couple. "Are y'all here for her?" The warrior and bard nodded. "Let me wake up the girls, then, so they may say good-bye." She stood up and walked over to the chair, gently shaking Helen's shoulder. "Hon, you and Brigid better wake up, Janice is about to leave us," she said softly.
Helen and Brigid untangled themselves and went over to the bed, leaning over to kiss the older woman. "Hey," Janice croaked up at them, "don't cry for me, I'm pretty well used up. Just carry on my work, won't you? Mel's gonna give you the chakrams and explain, I love you two very much. Brigid, keep Helen out of trouble." She took a deep breath, then said, "Melinda, I'll always love you, keep thinking of me." Mel nodded and leaned over for one last kiss, then closed Janice's eyes for the last time.
"She's gone," Mel whispered. Helen and Brigid took the older woman in their arms, not realizing that Mel saw Janice's spirit walking out with the warrior and bard. "I'll see you later," she whispered to her departing lover. The grief would come eventually, she knew, but for now, her upbringing required that she take care of the business of death and take care of her beloved nieces.
The past: 1926
The rain lashed against the windows as if an angry, living thing. Ten year old Melinda Pappas stared out at the storm, feeling a similar storm inside of her, wanting to lash out as hard as the rain, wanting to scream and be angry, to hit something, anything. She felt lonely and deserted in this big old house, especially since her mother was now dead.
Virginia Pappas had just died hours ago in childbirth. Melinda could still hear the awful howls of pain, then the sudden silence ringing through the air as if it were an endless loop of terror renting the air. Just a few hours ago, her father had come from the room and had told her that her mother had just died and they didn't know if her little sister would live either.
Dora, the housekeeper, had taken Melinda back to her room and let the girl cry in her arms, telling her to let the tears out now, but her daddy would need her to be strong later. She had held on to Dora with all of her young might, burying her face in her arms, trying to cope with a grief too strong for her young mind to grasp. Dora finally picked her up, taking her to the old rocking chair, then rocking her like a baby, just as she had when Melinda was first born.
"Child, child, I know it's tough, but your daddy needs you," the woman said as she rocked her. "I'll be here to help you, just as your daddy helped me by giving me this job." Melinda finally stopped sobbing, content to just sit in Dora's lap, looking at the contrast between her pale hand on Dora's chocolate brown arm.
Now she stood, watching lighting tearing through the clouds, wishing she were dead too. It wasn't fair, she thought, it just wasn't fair! She had been so excited about getting a little brother or sister, but now her mother was dead. Melinda was so lost in thought that she didn't hear her daddy until he tapped her on the shoulder, saying, "Honey, your sister just died too."
Melinda looked up at Thomas Pappas, seeing tears rolling down his face, crying for the first time she could remember. Her own grief seemed doubled as she stared at her beloved daddy crying, but she suddenly felt compelled to protect him from further grief. She squared her shoulders and said, "I'll take care of you, Daddy, really I will." Thomas Pappas just nodded and pulled his daughter close to him, glad that he had been left at least one member of his family.
Mel had lost all track of time after Janice died. There were forms to fill out, arrangements to complete, people to notify, finding the prepaid funeral plans, just so much to do. She was surprised that her niece Helen was so grief-struck that she couldn't function, but Brigid seemed strong enough for both of them, taking matters neatly in hand, helping Mel with the paperwork, making calls to friends and relatives, arranging for the catering (what was a Southern funeral without a huge meal?), generally being helpful.
She finally put Helen to work in the yard, directing her to mow, edge and weed so that the place would look nice. Mel was grateful to the reporter for knowing just how to handle her niece. And, at some point, Brigid had led Mel to bed, telling her to get some sleep before she collapsed. Mel had no idea she was so exhausted until the young woman had insisted on tucking her in bed; Mel fell asleep before Brigid had shut the door.
The day of the funeral dawned bright and cool, perfect weather to celebrate a life. Mel woke up, feeling refreshed by her sleep, but fighting not to roll over to kiss her beloved partner. She knew Janice could still hear her thoughts, so she sent greetings to her partner of fifty-seven years, then stood up and stretched lazily and reaching for her glasses. She walked over to the window, looking at the now pristine lawn, not really thinking of anything yet, just letting her gaze wander over the property until it settled on the small family graveyard. She could just make out the headstones of her parents, baby sister, Dora and her husband Lee, and the new double headstone she had made for herself and Janice. Reality kicked in, punching her in the stomach with the knowledge that her fiery lover was soon to be laying in the ground without her. She leaned her head against the window, allowing the tears to fall freely, thinking, "I'm trying, Janice, but I miss you so much, your touch, your love, your mischief."
Mel turned around, seeing her niece framed in the door. "Come in, Helen," she said, wiping her face with her hand. "What do you need?"
Helen walked into the room, unsure of herself, but needing to say something to her aunt. Damn, she was so good with history, with writing academic articles, yet when it came to talking to people, it was always Brigid who knew exactly what to say. Why couldn't she be more like Brigid? She unconsciously straightened her shoulders and spine as she crossed the room, hesitantly laying a hand on Mel's shoulder. "Um, I'm sorry I wasn't much help yesterday with the funeral plans and all," she said quietly, "I guess death kinda freaks me out."
"Child, you don't have to apologize, we all deal with death differently," Melinda answered softly. "Janice bawled for days when Dora died. And you should have heard her carry on when her dog, Argo, ran off at the ripe old age of sixteen. We never saw the dog again, I suspect that she went into the pasture to die, animals do that, you know."
Mel cupped Helen's face in her hands. "Helen, Janice and I have always loved you as our own, more like you were our daughter than our niece, so it is natural that you are upset. Each person has a different way of dealing with grief, you just have a hard time with the paperwork of death. Don't worry, honey, you made the lawn look lovely with all your work yesterday, I appreciate it very much." She kissed Helen's cheek, then said, "Go on, I'll be down for breakfast in a few minutes."
"No buts, Helen. Death is a part of life, just part of the circle of life, to quote the Disney movie. I know that Janice can hear my thoughts, so I take comfort in that. Now you and Brigid go on and eat breakfast, just make sure that Brigid leaves a little for me."
Helen sighed and wrapped her arms around her aunt. She felt Mel stroke her short black hair, then pull back and laugh. She looked at Mel quizzically, who explained, "I sometimes think that Brigid is related to Janice, with that appetite of hers."
Helen smiled for the first time in days. "I think you are right, Aunt Mel."
The past: 1933
Janice Covington caught herself staring at Cherie Fletcher for the umpteenth time that night. Janice still didn't know what had compelled her to ask Cherie to go to the movies with her, but Cherie had simply smiled and said yes. Janice couldn't remember the plot of the movie, all she could remember was the warmth of Cherie's arm against hers, Cherie's faint perfume tickling her nose, the dimple in her cheek as she smiled and their hands colliding over popcorn. Now they sat in Cherie's apartment (being a graduate student did have its privileges) sharing a few beers, knee to knee at the tiny kitchen table.
Cherie was talking about one of her professors but Janice was having a very hard time concentrating on the words, it was easier to concentrate on Cherie's bobbed blonde hair and dancing brown eyes, her lovely sweater filling breasts, her long luscious legs. Janice swallowed her beer in long gulps, on fire with the need to do something, but not sure what. Oh, she had noticed girls before, but had assumed it was a passing stage before she moved on to men, but now confusion and excitement warred within her.
"Darling," Cherie drawled in her soft Georgia accent, "you haven't listened to a word I've said in the last ten minutes."
"Huh? Sorry, do you have any more beer?" Janice said, hoping to drown these unwanted feelings in alcohol.
Cherie looked at Janice for a long time before replying, "No, darling, I do believe you've had enough, you act like you are drunk on one beer."
The blonde huffed angrily, "Cherie, I've been drinking since I was a kid-"
"Yes, I've heard about your travels with your famous father, but you are a seventeen year old kid still-"
Janice bounced out of her chair, fists cocked and ready. "I'm not a kid, damnit, I'm an adult! Hell, how many other 'kids' do you know who are carrying a twenty-one hours a semester? I'm already a junior-"
Cherie stood up, taking Janice's fists in her hands. "Touchy, aren't you? But so much fire, so much passion for one little woman," she said, leaning closer. "But, I can feel you trembling, can nearly see your heartbeat soaring, my dear. Don't you like me near you? Haven't you been staring at me all evening?" Janice stood, jaw dropping, blushing deeply. God, was it that obvious? Before she could think of anything to say, Cherie closed the distance between them, her brown eyes boring into Janice's green eyes, asking softly, "Aren't you curious about how it would feel to kiss me?"
Against her will, Janice nodded once, mouth going completely dry. Cherie kissed each fist, then kissed Janice's lips, barely touching them, but enough to set off an explosion of fire licking through her entire body. Janice kissed back, not sure what to do except kiss the woman for all she was worth.
Suddenly Cherie broke off the kiss. Janice started to protest, but Cherie took Janice by the hand and led her to her bedroom and started kissing her again, this time more hungrily, as if she wanted to posses Janice's body. Janice put her arms around the woman, clinging to her like a life raft, never wanting this dizzying kiss to end. She whimpered when Cherie pulled back again, but Cherie smiled as she started slowly undressing, daring Janice to watch.
Janice was awed by the other woman's voluptuous body, her perfect breasts, the slight swell of her belly, the round hips, the dark thatch between her legs. She was overcome with a fierce desire to shed her own clothes, but when she tried to take them off, Cherie shook her head no. Janice was frustrated until Cherie smiled again and reached over to unbutton Janice's blouse, taking her time to uncover Janice's compact, muscular body, not touching her until all of her clothes were removed, then taking the smaller woman into her arms and kissing her again, this time more demandingly.
Janice felt like her entire body was on fire. The feeling of skin against skin inflamed her senses to a fever pitch, making coherent thought impossible. She felt Cherie push her on the bed, then start to explore her way down Janice's body with her lips and hands, soon worshiping her breasts with lips and tongue, turning the fire up even higher and hotter. Janice surrendered to the sensations that Cherie was creating, never wanting this to end.
After what seemed like hours of slow torture, she felt Cherie's hand slip between her legs, then a finger slowly slip between her nether lips to touch the slick flesh within, then slowly rubbing, rubbing, until the sensations inside started whirling out of control. Janice felt herself bucking like crazy, feeling a powerful clenching ripping through her abdomen, causing her to clamp her legs around Cherie, rubbing herself against Cherie's leg until another set of powerful contractions ripped through her, leaving her senseless and near unconscious.
"God, what was that?" Janice finally croaked several minutes later.
Cherie smiled as she stroked Janice's belly. "That, my dear, was an orgasm. Haven't you learned about sex yet?"
"Ah, I guess not that, but I've heard the men in their tents with women from town," Janice managed to reply.
Cherie chuckled as she ran a finger across Janice's lips. "Well, I guess you need to complete your education," she said as she lowered a nipple into Janice's mouth. "We really need to complete your education."
Janice kept busy over the next few months with classes and Cherie. She and Cherie spent most of their free time together, arguing about different historical theories, eating out, reading each other's papers and engaging in terrific sex. Janice had no idea that sex could be so powerful or that two women could generate such heat and desire until she had met Cherie, which sometimes led her to wonder about her mother's grandmothers, if Laura Wilkins and Ruby Bills had been lovers. God knows they had been together a long time, about fifty something years, if she remembered correctly, but no one had ever said anything about them being lovers. She sometimes wished they were still alive, so she could ask them about their relationship, especially since she couldn't talk to anyone about Cherie.
Spring break was looming quickly and Janice had already promised her grandparents that she would visit them in New York. As she lay in bed with Cherie, tracing lazy patterns on Cherie's body, she asked, "What do you think of going to New York City with me to visit my grandparents? They've moved into a new apartment and have a guest bedroom now and there's lots of fun things to do. What do you say?"
Cherie stopped Janice's hand and said slowly, "I appreciate the offer, Janice, but I have to go back home for spring break, I promised my folks." She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, pushing herself up and reached for her robe before continuing, "I also promised Hank I'd see him."
"Hank? Who the hell is Hank?" Janice spluttered.
"My fiance. We are engaged to be married right after I graduate, then I will follow him to Chicago where we both will be teaching history. I'm sorry, honey, I just never thought to mention him before now."
Janice stared at the other woman, shocked, then furious, charging out of bed and pinning Cherie against the wall. "You mean to tell me that you've been using me for all these months? That I never meant anything to you than a bed partner? I trusted you, I even fancied myself in love with you, but now you tell me that you have a goddamned fiance?" She turned away from Cherie, then grabbed the small dog statue she'd bought Cherie for Christmas and hurled it against the wall, satisfied with the way it shattered into a million pieces. "I don't appreciate being used, couldn't you have told me before now?"
Startled, Cherie tried to calme the younger woman down. "Darling, I didn't think-"
"It's fucking obvious you didn't think," Janice shouted as she started grabbing her clothes, "it's very fucking obvious." She started dressing haphazardly, stuffing her stockings into her jacket pocket, picking up her shoes and stuffing them into her book bag. "Hey, you aren't the only fish in the sea," she growled, "I'll just find another woman to have sex with." Fury still raging through her veins, she hurled her book bag against the bedroom door, then turned to glare at the frightened woman. "Just be glad that wasn't your head," she snarled. Janice stomped across the floor, retrieved her bag, then stormed out of the apartment, not daring to look back for fear that she would burst into tears of rage and pain.
Several hours later, Janice stumbled through a park, pulling heavily on a bottle of whiskey that she'd stolen from the dorm mother. She had pulled on her favorite khaki pants and shirt, the ones she'd worn last summer while helping her father at his latest dig site, the ran off to the park to drink away her misery. Women! She really thought that Cherie loved her, cherished the lazy Sunday afternoons in bed, loved the feeling of Cherie's body arching under hers, trembling with impending orgasm...she shook her head to rid herself of the vision, then looked up to see her roommate staring curiously at her. "What the hell do you want?" Janice slurred.
Abigail sat down shyly, answering, "I heard that you were pretty mad, I just thought I'd see if you needed someone to talk to, Janice."
Janice stared at the girl, then tipped the bottle to drink the rest of the whiskey. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve, then answered, "No, I don't think you can help, no one can help."
"You act like you have a broken heart," Abigail said bravely, "I know you've been hanging around with Cherie Fletcher a lot lately, did the two of you have a fight or something?"
Janice laughed harshly, a scary sound, but the other woman bravely waited for an answer. Janice finally put the bottle down with exaggerated care, then replied, "Yeah, we had a big dust-up, Abigail, thanks for asking. I'm just drunk, pissed as hell and ready to get into a fight at the least provocation. But, I'm going to visit my grandparents soon, so life should be just so damned peachy after that."
Abigail tentatively touched Janice's arm, saying, "If you need anything, let me know, okay? I know we're not best friends or anything like that, but I appreciate your covering for me when my parents made that unexpected visit last weekend. They didn't need to know that I was with George at the ball game."
Janice waved it off, mumbling, "Hell, parents can be a pain in the ass. Dad I can stand, Mom ran out on us when I was small." She stared at the other girl for a minute, then hauled herself to her feet, steadying herself on the back of the bench. "Fuck, I'd better go now, get back to the room and sleep this off. I'll have a mammoth hangover in the morning, so don't disturb me, all right?"
"Okay." Abigail stood up, taking Janice's elbow and steadying her. They walked most of the way back before Janice asked how Abigail knew how to steady a drunk so well. "My mother drinks a lot," was all Abigail said, so Janice dropped the subject. Too damn much pain in the world, she thought, just too damn much pain.
Brigid slipped from the bed after Helen fell into a fitful sleep, unable to fall asleep herself, so she decided to go downstairs to see if she could round up a midnight snack. She noticed that the study light was on and decided to investigate, finding Mel sitting at her desk, looking at what had to be an ancient scroll.
Mel heard her and motioned for her to come in, drawling, "Brigid, have you ever seen one of the objects of Janice and mine's? This," she said, tapping the scroll with a cotton glove covered finger, "is what is known as a Xena scroll, written by Gabrielle, bard and one time Amazon queen. Companion of Xena, righter of wrongs, seeker of truth." She stroked the scroll lovingly, then motioned for Brigid to sit down in her visitor's chair. "This is the last scroll we found, it turned up at a dig just a few years back, but we never got around to translating it. The funny thing is that the handwriting is different like someone else was writing. I couldn't sleep anyway, so I thought I'd start translating it tonight."
"Oh. Who do you suppose could have been the other author?" Brigid asked, intrigued.
Mel looked at the younger woman and answered, "Based on the boldness of the strokes, I'd venture that Xena herself wrote it. Let's see, shall we?" She adjusted her glasses, frowning in concentration, then started reading from the scroll, translating on the fly.
I'm pretty bad with words, but I wanted you to know something, if you ever get this scroll. I've messed up pretty badly from time to time, misjudging that Najara creep, letting myself get arrested, allowing us to go on this strange journey against my better judgment. I sit across the fire from you and contemplate the vision of death, the vision of us both on crosses, yet you insist that it won't come true. Well, I don't trust any gods, my love, I can't even trust myself these days. I keep trying to send you away, but it seems that our destinies are intertwined, like some sort of fable or something. That last little adventure in India, the mendhi drawings, weird stuff, that woman stating that our souls would always be drawn together, that nearly freaked me out, my love.
Anyway, if anything ever happens to me, know that I've loved you since I first saw you fighting back against those slavers, I just wasn't aware of it yet. Then when Death was held hostage and you cried in my arms, cried for the boy who was freed from pain by Death. I'm no good with words, but you kept getting under my skin. I thought it was hero worship for the longest time, at least until after you married Perdicas and Callisto killed him in cold blood. You were so hurt, I was hurting because you were going to desert me for him, I think it is pretty safe to say that we were both confused.
But then we holed up in that cave for several weeks and we found our love for each other. Gabrielle, I'll always remember those days fondly, shining like gold in my memory. I want to believe that we'll always love each other, like I said, we've been told we're destined to stay together. Wouldn't it be strange if Krishna got it right and we do get reincarnated again and again? Will we have to fight to share our love each time, or can we fall in love like two ordinary people? Will we always be drawn together? What if this life is just a prologue to the rest of our lives?
"It just ends there, as if the author was interrupted or something," Mel concluded as she carefully laid the scroll on the desk. "Based on most of the scrolls we can find, it would seem like this one was written just a year or two after Xena and Gabrielle married, after they nearly broke up while trying to reconcile from some great rift in their lives."
Brigid scratched her nose thoughtfully, then asked, "Do you think it is possible? Are the spiritual descendents of Xena and Gabrielle drawn together over and over again?"
Mel smiled at the younger woman, answering with conviction, "I know it for a fact, my dear, you see, I am a descendent of Xena and Janice was a descendent of Gabrielle. I think we were fated to meet and fall in love, even though it was really frowned on in those days. I had been engaged and Janice had slept with many other women, but when we finally came together, it was like setting a spark to a powderkeg. I think my daddy suspected that I'd never marry a man, he always insisted that I try to find the best love, not just the best social or economic match for myself." She took off her glasses and polished them on a square of cloth, then resettled them on her nose. "Didn't you and Helen feel drawn to each other, as if you knew each other was the perfect fit?"
Brigid thought back, then answered, "Well, I did feel more comfortable around her than I did most other women and after we met, I wound up turning to her for help several times." She thought for a moment about the first time she stayed with Helen, how Helen had rescued her from a party, taken her home, then wound up sleeping with her when Brigid had cried out in a nightmare. She smiled at the memory, how they had woken up kissing and were both scared out of their wits by the passion they'd felt...she reluctantly dragged herself back to the present, noticing that Melinda was looking very tired, and much older than usual. "Hey, Aunt Mel, are you okay?" she asked.
Mel looked up, tears shining in her beautiful blue eyes. She didn't answer, just reached for the younger woman's hands, clenching them with surprising strength, obviously fighting the tears. "Auntie, you can let go," Brigid said softly. Mel took a deep breath, then stood up and led the younger woman to the old sofa and sat down, still holding Brigid's hands in her own. Brigid saw the tears starting to roll down Mel's face, moved deeply by the older woman's carefully controlled grief, freed a hand and pulled Mel closer, until Mel dropped her head on Brigid's shoulder and finally let go of her grief, keening in the manner of her Southern ancestors. Brigid cradled the older woman in her arms, giving her safe harbor to vent her anger and pain...
The past: 1934
Melinda Pappas was thrilled to be part of the Democratic campaign, even more excited that she was going to meet Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt themselves tonight at the fund raiser. Her daddy had managed to hang onto the money he'd inherited, selling most of his stocks shortly before the crash in 1929, stating at the time that the market was too good and was bound to crash eventually. Melinda wasn't sure of all the financial details, but she knew that he would be able to send her through the rest of her bachelor's program in ancient history as well as make a healthy contribution to the Democratic cause. She waited for her daddy at her assigned seat, slightly worried that something would prevent him from coming since he was already late. Thomas Pappas was rarely late to anything, a virtue he had passed on to his daughter.
"Hi, Mel, sorry I was so late," Dr. Pappas said as he slid in the seat next to her, "but I got held up in a meeting at school. That crazy Harry Covington was begging for more money for another go at the Xena scrolls. Have cocktails been served yet?"
"Yes, Daddy, a man just went around with them, but I'm sure he'll be around again," Melinda replied distractedly. Before she could say anything else, a cheer went up through the room as the Roosevelts walked into the room, Franklin on the arm of one of his sons, Eleanor a few paces behind them. Melinda found herself standing up and cheering with the rest of the room, knowing in her heart that this man was the future President of the United States of America. Besides, it was high time there was another Democrat in office, even if he was a Yankee Democrat!
After a short speech, Mr. Roosevelt motioned for everyone to be seated and for the waiters to start passing out the first course. Melinda picked up her water glass and started to take a sip when the table moved, causing her to jerk and spill water down the front of her suit. "Oh, dear," she muttered as she dabbed at it with her napkin, "at least it wasn't red wine."
"I am so sorry, I didn't mean to jolt the table," a woman's voice said. Melinda looked up, blinking in surprise at the woman who had appeared across the table from her. The woman had the most remarkable auburn hair and hazel eyes that Melinda had ever seen, a strikingly handsome woman. Melinda caught herself staring and blushed, quickly looking down to dab at her suit jacket again. "I'm sure it will dry soon, it was only water, wasn't it?" the woman asked.
"Yes ma'am, it was only water, I'm sure you're right," Melinda answered, her drawl stronger than usual, as it always was when she was stressed. She could feel the woman's eyes on her, probably laughing at her clumsiness, Melinda decided as she looked back up. The woman was indeed smiling, but it was a kind and understanding smile, not one to make fun of a person. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself, I am Melinda Pappas and this is my father, Dr. Thomas Pappas."
"Oh, such luck, I was needing to interview Dr. Pappas, I'm Kelly Stanwyck from the Boston Morning Advance Sheet, I'm covering the dinner tonight. I was planning to visit your father tomorrow at the university." Kelly smiled again, showing brilliant, strong, white teeth.
"Hmm, did I hear my name?" Dr. Pappas asked absently as he turned from talking to his seatmate.
"Daddy, this is Kelly Stanwyck, a reporter from the Boston Morning Advance Sheet, she says she has an interview with you tomorrow," Melinda filled him in.
Dr. Pappas furrowed his brow, thinking, then smiling brilliantly as he remembered the appointment. "Ah, yes, Miss Stanwyck, I remember chatting with you over the telephone this morning, so glad to make your acquaintance. I see that you have already met my daughter, Melinda, who assists me with many of my translation projects. You might consider interviewing her as well, Miss Stanwyck."
"Oh, Daddy, I'm not that important," Melinda protested.
"Yes, you are, Mel, you just don't give yourself enough credit," her father answered fondly. "Say, why don't you come by the house tomorrow evening instead of coming by the university? It would be a much more pleasant atmosphere and I'm sure Dora wouldn't mind setting an extra plate. Tell me, Miss Stanwyck, why would a Boston newspaper send you to interview a Southern professor?"
"Because our chief editor is an archeology buff and your name is among the up and coming experts on Greek history, that's why. I just happened to be here to cover the Roosevelts on my way," Kelly explained. "I see our main course coming up, I hope to God it isn't chicken." The rest of the evening went pleasantly, with Kelly lightly bantering with the Pappases all evening, then finalizing plans for the next evening at their home.
The next evening, Dr. Pappas patiently answered all of the reporter's questions, then finally excused himself to get ready for his lecture the following day. Melinda was reluctant to let the reporter leave, she had so few friends except her daddy and their housekeeper, Dora and she felt that Kelly might be a friend. She racked her brain for an excuse to keep the striking woman there for a bit longer, then remembered that the hydrangeas were just now in bloom, even though one really could see very little of them in the moonlight. Nevertheless, she suggested a stroll through the garden before Miss Stanwyck left the house, which she readily agreed to.
"Melinda, what a perfectly lovely name for a lovely woman," Kelly said as they sauntered down the path, "so why does your father call you Mel?"
"Oh, Daddy called me Mel since I was knee high to a grasshopper, Miss Stanwyck, he's always given people nicknames or shortened their names," Melinda explained nervously.
Kelly smiled full force at Melinda, then suggested, "You might call me Kelly, you know, we are not that far apart in age." She stopped at a bench set near the fountain in the middle of the garden. "Shall we sit for a few minutes?"
Melinda gratefully sank down on the bench, then realized it was a mistake, she was far too close to the striking reporter. She just hoped that Kelly couldn't see her flushing in the dark. She had no idea why she felt so giddy and nervous around the woman, but somehow, Kelly affected her differently than other women did, made her long to talk for hours, something she rarely did. "Um, did you get enough material for your article, Kelly?"
"Yes, thank you, Melinda, I certainly did. Tell me, though, why isn't your name on the articles your father has written? He said that you did quite a bit of the translation of the scrolls he's come across, that you are much better with the more common variety of Greek than he is, that you can even translate on the fly. I find that very unusual and most intriguing," the reporter said.
"Oh, well, that's not anything special," Melinda said modestly. "Daddy taught me everything I know, I suspect he was just trying to keep me busy in the summers after my mother died."
Kelly noted the flare of sadness in Melinda's eyes and impulsively reached over and touched the younger woman's cheek. "I'm sorry about your mother," she said quietly, "I lost my mother when I was very young as well. It hurts like hell, doesn't it?"
"Oh, I'm quite over it, I assure you, that was many years ago," Melinda said carefully. "I've just had my hands full taking care of Daddy."
"Ah, no time for you to be a little girl, then," Kelly said, seeing her remark hit the spot with remarkable accuracy. Melinda stiffened defensively, but Kelly persisted. "Like I said, it hurts like hell, doesn't it? I know your kind, you are allowed by your society to weep and wail for a year, then you must take every else's feelings into account, even to the point of ruthlessly squashing your own. True, my dear?" Melinda's eyes widened, partly in horror of being seen through, partly in an effort to keep the sudden tears at bay. Kelly relented a little. "Melinda, I'm sorry, as a reporter I tend to cut to the heart of the matter, I can't help it, but I feel like you need someone to talk to, so here I am."
Melinda lowered her eyes and balled her fists, fighting to keep her composure. Slowly but surely, her composure cracked and the tears started sliding down her face. She tried to hide her face in her hands, but Kelly pulled them away, softly saying, "Don't fight it, Melinda, please don't fight it, honey." She guided Melinda's head to her shoulder, then put her arms around the quivering young woman.
After a bit, Melinda stopped crying and just let her head rest on Kelly's shoulder, tentatively putting an arm around the other woman's waist to steady herself. They sat like that for some time until Kelly started laughing and said, "My rump is numb, can we get up?"
Melinda had to admit that the stone bench wasn't the very most comfortable seat in the world and stood up, somehow winding up in a long embrace. She could feel the heat of Kelly's body against hers, touching off exciting little quivers through her entire body, a most unfamiliar feeling. She pulled back, and saw the moon striking Kelly's features, hooding her eyes and bringing out her cheekbones, feeling herself swaying toward the woman as if they were about to kiss...
...and somehow managed to trip. Melinda blurted, "oh, shit!" then clapped a hand to her mouth in absolute horror. Kelly helped her stand back up, managing not to laugh at the young woman, but instead patted her back in a friendly manner, "I should be leaving now anyway, morning will come far too soon as it is."
Melinda hesitated, then asked, "Will I get to see you again?"
"Probably not for a while, I have to go back to Boston in the morning, my train leaves pretty early. I had a lovely time, Melinda, just lovely. Tell your father thank you for me, won't you?" She started walking back up the path, causing Melinda to hurry to catch her, which she did at the back door. "I'll just grab my coat and keys, then be on my merry way," Kelly said as they walked through the house, "Besides, I need to return my friend's car tonight so she can take me to the train station. I had a great time, Melinda, best of luck with your future."
"Thank you," Melinda said as they passed through the front door. Kelly paused, leaned over and kissed Melinda on the cheek, then turned and got in the car. Melinda watched as she drove away, feeling like something was interrupted, something important.
The past: 1956
"Miss Mel, there is a gentleman here to see you, he says his name is Captain John Pappas. I put him in the library," Dora said.
"Thank you, Dora, did he say what he wanted?" Mel looked up from her work, blinking back in the present.
The elderly caretaker said, "No, ma'am, he didn't, but he sure reminds me of your daddy."
Mel frowned, wondering who he could be. "Hmm, and not that many Pappases around. Thanks, could you bring me some iced tea?"
"There's already a tray with him," Dora said stiffly.
Mel Pappas nodded absently as she took off her hat and smoothed her raven hair, adjusting a few bobby pins as she walked to the library. Mel was curious, she didn't know a John Pappas, but then again, she knew very few members of her father's family. She walked into the library, intent on introducing herself, but when she saw the man, her jaw went slack, it was as if she were looking in a mirror and seeing her face and body as a man.
The tall, dark-haired smiled at her as he stood. "Startling, isn't it? I'm Captain John Pappas and I have an interesting tale for you, if you'd care to hear it," the man said in a mid-western accent. He motioned at the other wing chair and Mel walked over, sinking gratefully into the chair. He poured her a glass of tea and handed it over, saying, "I just found out recently that many of my suppositions about my life are false. Ah, I'm starting off badly, let me try again."
He twisted his hat in his hands, searching for the right words, then spoke again. "I recently found out that I had a half-sister when I went through my mother's papers. She died last week, just as I received my orders to go to North Carolina to report to a new position with the Army Corp of Engineers. I found that my father, Thomas Pappas, did not die as I had been told, but instead my mother divorced him. I know this is a shock, it was a shock for me as well. Despite the divorce, Mother kept up with him for a number of years, it seems that they loved each other but couldn't stand to live with each other, and in her papers she mentioned that my father remarried and had a daughter named Melinda. I found a more recent article, dating back a few years, about your receiving your doctorate and it mentioned where you were teaching, so I decided that on my way, I would look you up. So, here I am."
"My brother? You are my brother?" Mel blurted out, heart hammering wildly. She had always dreamed of having a sibling, and now one appeared out of the blue.
"It seems so," he answered, smiling and revealing dimples in his cheeks. Before he could say anything else, Mel heard the door slamming open and Janice bellowing, "Mel? Where are you?"
Mel set her glass down and went to find her partner, who had already started stripping off her hose. "My goodness, Janice, can't you wait for a few minutes? We have-"
"-been separated all day, you lovely dish, you," Janice purred as she ran her hands under Mel's suit jacket. "Gods, I've missed you today," she mumbled into Mel's chest.
"Let me take you directly upstairs and-"
Mel whirled around, trying to untangle Janice's hands from her waist as she said weakly, "John, meet Dr. Janice Covington. Janice, meet my brother, Captain John Pappas."
Janice took in the uniform, the body and face so similar to her lover's and his quirking eyebrow as she started buttoning Mel's blouse. "Um, hi, I'd offer to shake hands, but I'm a bit busy," she stammered.
John smiled broadly, then winked at Mel. "I can wait in the library for the two of you," he said smoothly. "Or, I can go to the kitchen and grab another glass and ice, I'm sure you'd like a glass of tea to cool you down."
"Yeah, sounds great," Janice muttered as the captain headed toward the kitchen. After he left, she lead Mel to the library, then sank down on the couch, pulling Mel down to sit beside her. She took a deep breath, then asked, "Where'd you dig him up?"
"I didn't, Janice, he just appeared today and was telling me that he is my half-brother. I guess Daddy was married before and neglected to inform me that he had a son. He seems nice enough, but now you had to, well..." Mel reached for her glass and drained it, then held the glass to her forehead. "My stars, Janice, what will he think of us?"
"I guess we can't say that we're sisters or cousins, then?" Janice offered, half-joking.
Mel smiled weakly. "No, honey, I don't quite think he'd buy that. I think I hear him coming back." She straightened up as John re-entered the room with another tray, this one filled with a large tea glass, three smaller glasses and a bottle of whiskey.
John set the tray down on the tea trolley, then quickly poured more tea and shots of whiskey, handing them around. Janice drained her whiskey in one gulp, then followed it by half a glass of tea. She placed both glasses on the table, then said, "Well, then, you're Mel's long-lost unknown brother."
His dimples showed as he smiled. "Yes, I am, Dr. Covington. As I started to explain, I was cleaning out my mother's papers after she died and found out that Melinda and I share the same father. My parents divorced before I was born, it seems that my mother didn't even tell Thomas that I existed, but they did continue to write letters to each other and my mother kept clippings on Melinda, which is how I tracked her down here." He paused for a sip of tea, then said, "I must say that I'm pleased by having such a smart sister."
"Why, thank you John. So, do you have any family?" Melinda asked, her usual good manners reappearing.
He reached for his wallet, flipped it open to a picture, then handed it over. "Yes, my wife, Katherine and our daughter, Helen. Helen just turned two and is such an intelligent youngster. I know it sounds like a proud daddy talking, but she is already picking out words from the newspaper and such. If you like, I'll bring her up to meet you two some day." He took his wallet back from Mel, then glanced at his watch. "Good heavens, where has the day gone? I need to be back on the road soon. Melinda, do you mind if I keep in touch with you?"
"No, I'd enjoy that," she said, echoing his smile.
"Good." The three stood up, then looked awkwardly at each other for a long moment until John stepped closer and shook hands with both women. "I'll save the brotherly hug and peck on the check until I know you better," he said, dimples showing. "Well, I'd best be off to Fort Collins. I'll drop you a line or have Katherine write a longer letter, she really enjoys writing. Thank you so much for the hospitality."
"You're mighty welcome, John. I'll show you to the door," Mel said automatically. Several minutes later, she returned and sat down on the couch next to Janice, saying, "My stars, I have a big brother."
"Humph," Janice snorted.
Mel's eyes narrowed at her suspicious partner. "Now Janice-"
"Mel, he could be just someone wanting to get your money, he might not even be in the Army," the small blonde professor pointed out.
Mel pulled Janice into her arms and kissed her. "No, honey," she said seriously, "I believe him. I felt a connection to him. Besides, how often does a stranger come to your house who looks as much like yourself as John does me? And that picture of his family, Helen looks just like I did at that age."
"Be careful, please?" Janice asked.
Melinda promised, "I will be, Janice, I promise I will be." Her smile turned wolfish as she added, "Now, how about we go take a long afternoon nap?"
Janice smiled happily, reaching to lazily unbutton one of her partner's buttons. "I'd say I'd love one of our afternoon naps," she growled. "Race you upstairs!"
Brigid sat at Janice's desk, looking through her papers, sometimes making notes on a legal pad, but mostly scanning them with a reporter's eye for a story. Janice Covington was a rather contradictory character, she thought, so tough, yet so insecure. She reached back in the archival box and pulled out what seemed to be a diary and opened it, curious to see what Janice had written in it. The first entry, in a rather childish hand, said:
February 2, 1925.
I hate writing. It's a fact, I just hate stringing words together, but my grandmother tells me that it will make life easier to put feelings down on paper. I don't want to be emotional, I'd rather take everything with the same grin that Grandpa Laura had, sitting back and watching everyone. But, Grandmother Elisabeth insisted, buying me this diary for Christmas.
Guess I'd better explain a bit. My parents are Harry and Cora Covington, although we don't know where Mother is right now, she left Daddy. His parents are dead and have been for years, I don't remember their names. Mother's parents are Dr. Leslie and Mrs. Elisabeth Bills, who are really neat people. Granddaddy just retired from teaching classics in New York at the university and Grandmother taught classics many years ago in Texas. She still tutors students in almost any subject except medicine, I think. Anyway, Granddaddy's parents were Ruby Bills and Laura Wilkins, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather, whom everyone calls Grandma and Grandpa. Granddaddy's real father was a minister with a Greek first name, Lycurgus. He died in a fire and Grandma moved in with Grandpa.
This is the part that Grandmother insists that I need to write about. Grandpa died a few days ago, she was pretty sick. I don't know what with, but she coughed a lot and I think it started with the cold she caught over Christmas. I lived with Grandma and Grandpa this past summer after Mother ran away and learned lots about horses, shooting pistols and even a little about research. I really miss Grandpa, even though I didn't see her and Grandma very often, usually just during the summers and holidays. But, the farm will stay in the family, according to Granddaddy. The old foreman, Seth Terrill and his wife, Bella, had five children, the last of which was Colleen, who just married Uncle Robert. I think they'll take over the ranch, so strangely enough, it will be back in Wilkins-Bills hands.
Brigid carefully closed the diary, then re-opened it and re-read several sentences. She heard Mel enter the room and asked, "Aunt Mel, who were Laura Wilkins and Ruby Bills?"
Mel leaned over to kiss Brigid's cheek, then settled in the chair beside Janice's desk. "They were Janice's great-grandparents. I assume you've read at least the first entry in the diary?" Brigid nodded, leaning back for the coming story. "Laura Wilkins moved to Texas with her husband, George, to start a ranch after the War Between the States. They had a son, George Jr., but the two Georges were killed in an Indian raid. Laura took over the running of the ranch with her foreman, Peter, then eventually met Ruby Bills, who had come to Texas with her husband, Lycurgus Bills."
"The minister?" Brigid clarified.
"Yes, he was a Methodist-Episcopal minister, ME South, of course. Getting back to my story, the reverend was killed in a fire at a picnic when Leslie was but a few months old. Laura took them in and helped raise Leslie." Mel smiled, continuing, "We found Ruby's diary soon after we came back to the States, and of course, read it. Actually, we discovered it was a series of diaries, but I'm digressing. It seems that the two women were lovers, life-long partners. When Janice was in college, she suspected that the women were lovers, but didn't know for sure until she read the diaries." Mel put her hands together, steepling her fingers. "Leslie apparently called them 'Ma' and 'Pa' all his life, so Janice called them 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa'."
Brigid scribbled a few notes down, then asked, "Aunt Mel, let me ask you something, in this article I'm supposed to write, should I be blunt about the fact that you two and Aunt Janice were lovers, or gloss over it?"
Mel looked steadily at the young woman for several seconds before answering. "My dear, you have my permission to state the facts baldly. I'm too old to give a damn anymore; Janice never gave a damn who knew she loved women. It might help other women to know that we managed to love each other for so many years, so go ahead and tell the truth. Let me ask you, have you and Helen ever really come out?"
Brigid sighed heavily. "Ah, the sore point, Auntie. My secretary and my boss know, I've brought Helen to office parties, we've consolidated our finances, but Helen refuses to take me to university functions or to admit to anyone that she's gay. I'm not sure why, either."
"Because it is no one's business but ours," Helen snapped. The other two women looked up, startled. "I overheard the last comment, my dear, you may not use the article on Janice to out us at home. I teach at a church supported university, for crying out loud! Even with tenure, they'd fire me in a minute!"
"Helen, don't you think they know by now?" Brigid countered.
"Not if I don't flaunt you in their faces," Helen snarled.
"Girls, calm down," Mel interposed. "Helen, I understand, I was afraid for Janice until she got tenure, but I doubt they would have fired her, the president and dean were afraid of losing my money. Now, Helen dear, would you like to help me with some scrolls? I had forgotten them after our last dig in Greece, they seem to be from someone different altogether, I pulled them out of the attic this morning."
"What? Aunt Mel, you have no business being in the attic, you could have fallen and hurt yourself-"
Mel stood up and said in a flat voice, "Helen, I may be old, even ancient, but I am still very healthy and strong, thank you very much." Her blue eyes blazed into her niece's, anger making them darker than usual. "For your information, I still work out in the gym in the basement every day, which I seriously doubt that you do. Just don't tell me what to do and don't treat me like an old fool!"
Helen sagged against the door, feeling properly chastised. The last time she'd heard her aunt speaking in that strange, non-accented voice was when she was sixteen and had come to live with them after losing her parents. Oh, how she hated that voice! "Now," said Mel in her normal soft drawl, "would you like to help me with the scrolls or not?"
"I guess I can, Auntie. I just didn't want to lose you, too," Helen admitted.
Mel's face softened. "Apology accepted, Helen. Come on in and pull up a chair, we have a lot of work to do." Helen walked into the study, cautiously taking a seat beside Mel's desk as Mel moved to her desk chair. "Oh, heavens, I nearly forgot the cotton gloves for you, I'll be back in a moment."
After Mel left the room, Helen turned to Brigid and asked, "Was I being a total ass?"
Her lover grinned and answered, "Yep, you sure were, darling."
The past: 1972
Sophia was crooning "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" along with the radio to Helen as they drove back from the movies to Helen's place. Helen rolled her eyes as Sophia sang, finally growling, "Will you shut up and drive? That is one of the sappiest pieces of shit that has come across the radio in some time."
"I thought you said 'Bridge over Troubled Water' was worse," Sophia retorted.
"Never mind, drive. My grandparents are trying to be tough and said I have to be in before 11:00 and it's ten 'til. I don't want to get into trouble again," Helen said as she made a face.
"What will they do, send you to a military school?" Sophia teased. She loved to rile up her friend.
Helen made a face. "Ha, ha. No, they'd probably send me to South Carolina to live with my aunts, the really tough ones. Military school would be a piece of cake compared to those women."
"Oh." Sophia drove in silence until they came to the house, then pulled into the driveway to let Helen out. "Do you want to hang out tomorrow? It's Saturday, you know."
"I'm not sure, Grandmother was saying something about getting the beds ready for flowers, so I might be pretty busy." Helen unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. Before shutting it, she said, "don't forget our study date Sunday night, we do have a pretty big test in history."
"Yeah, thanks for reminding me," Sophia said sarcastically. "Well, I'll see you Sunday night, then."
Helen walked slowly into the house, mentally girding herself for the inevitable questions about the movie and how her evening went. As she hung up her jacket, her grandfather called out, "Helen? That you?"
"Yes, Grandfather." She walked into the den where her grandparents were watching a late night movie and slammed herself into one of the armchairs. "The movie was stupid, but it served to occupy time."
"Is that so? At least you made it before curfew," he concluded, "but your grandmother and I aren't sure we like you hanging around with Sophia, we've heard some nasty rumors about her."
Helen felt her temper flaring up and struggled to keep a lid on it. "Like what? Do you have evidence of anything?"
Her grandmother added, "Dear, we're just concerned. Why don't you invite her to dinner Sunday night before you two start your studying? We could get to know her a little better and she would have a chance to disprove the rumors your grandfather and I have heard from the neighbors."
"Wonderful," Helen said stiffly, "I'll call and ask her in the morning. I'm off to bed."
Frank and Lauri Miller watched their granddaughter stomp off, then heard her run up the stairs and slam her bedroom door shut. "Oh dear," her grandmother said, "she's so unhappy these days, she doesn't know what to do with herself."
"I know, sweetheart, but with Thomas and Virginia both gone, we had to take her in. She sure looks like Thomas, more so every day."
"Do you think she'll get his height?"
"She might, dear, remember that her Aunt Melinda is very tall for a woman."
The couple fell silent, then went back to watching their movie, neither one expressing their deeper fears that Helen would explode and go wild. The child had never truly grieved for her parents, her father had died in Vietnam a year ago, then her mother had been sent overseas for a Red Cross mission and had been cut down by snipers just six months later. Ever since the Korean war, battle was somehow different, they mused, with police actions instead of all out wars. No wonder the US could not win.
The Sunday supper had actually gone fairly well. Sophia had managed to charm the Millers, then actually stayed focused on the history test for the remainder of the night. Helen was relieved that all had gone so well, Sophia's friendship was very important to her.
Sophia was the first girl to befriend her when she came to Asbury three months ago, thrown into a completely different culture from the Army. She was used to having to make new friends in a hurry, but always could find at least a couple of other service brats to hang around with, but this time, there were no other Army brats. She yawned as she turned back the covers and slid into the bed, feeling fairly well prepared for once. She hated to admit it, but history was one of her favorite subjects and she usually did very well in her history classes.
Several hours later, Helen heard a faint scratching at her bedroom window. She rolled out of bed and opened the window to let Sophia in. "Damn, girl," she whispered, "can't sleep again?"
Sophia shut the window behind her, then sat on the bed to remove her shoes. "Nope," she whispered back, "Daddy tried to beat me again, but Mom convinced him to lock me in my room instead. Good thing that tree is so close to my window. Hey, can I borrow a nightshirt?"
"Sure, let me grab you one," Helen whispered as she started rooting through her dresser. She pulled out a long t-shirt, then turned around to hand it to Sophia, who had already stripped down to her underwear. Helen never could get over how comfortable Sophia was with her body, never bothering to go into the bathroom to change when she popped in to sleep with Helen on nights that her dad beat her. Helen managed to focus on Sophia's hazel eyes and not look at her breasts or slender waist, or imagine what the boys that Sophia dated would do with her breasts. Helen, at the grand old age of nearly seventeen, still had small breasts and was on the dumpy side, or so she felt. Why couldn't she look sophisticated like Sophia? She crawled back in bed, waiting for Sophia to crawl in with her. "Good-night, Sophia," she mumbled.
"Good-night, Helen," Sophia said as she squeezed the other girl's hand. Sophia suppressed a sob after Helen turned over to face the edge of the bed, how she longed to be held comfortingly by her friend. She waited until Helen fell asleep, then lightly stroked Helen's black hair, noting the fine texture and exquisite shine, blue-black in the moonlight, fighting the urge to take Helen into her arms and -- what? What would she do?
Would she trail kisses down Helen's jawline and slip her hand under Helen's shirt, like Rob did on their dates? What would Helen do if she casually slung her arm across her in her sleep? Would she wake up and kick Sophia out of bed? Why did she have these powerful urges toward Helen? She contemplated these thoughts as she watched Helen sleeping, watching her eyes darting back and forth while Helen dreamed, wondering if Helen ever had the same feelings. Could she ever get Helen to experiment? She rolled over to face the other side of the bed, tears slowly coursing down her cheeks...
"Hey Helen, have a brownie," Sophia said as they finished their lunches on the front lawn of the school.
"Don't mind if I do," Helen said, reaching for a couple of brownies. "That test wasn't too bad after, admit it."
"Well, whatever," Sophia said as she munched on a small brownie, waiting expectantly. She didn't have long to wait; the world started shifting pleasantly, taking on a whole different meaning. She smiled to herself, thanking Rex silently for such a good stash, a new blend, he had said.
Helen polished off the second brownie, chastising herself for not being able to control her appetite, but the brownies were so tempting and so good, such a nice thing for Sophia to do for her. Helen beamed at her friend as she wiped her hands on her napkin, about to thank her when she noticed that the school was turning funny colors. Curious, she watched as the clouds started dancing in the sky, laughing at the funny faces that they were making, leaning over until she was nearly laying in Sophia's lap when...
...it came swooping down from the trees, screeching at her, extending its horrible claws in an effort to grab her legs. She sat up, heart pounding, watching as the thing swooped down on her again, this time clawing her face until the blood ran freely. She staggered up, swinging her book bag at the hideous monster, trying to scare it off, but it kept coming at her, diving again and again, like the guardians of hell.
Another figure appeared, looking like Satan himself, stroking his black beard and saying, "Honey, what time is it?" He laughed a terrible laugh, sending her temper flaring as he reached for her hand to draw her close to his hellishly perfect body. She could feel her skin sizzling from the contact and started panicking, fighting for all she was worth, somehow drawing on skills her dad must have taught her, whirling around and catching the devil on his head, hearing her foot making solid contact...
...and the world went black. The devil, now dressed completely in black leather, shook his shaggy head, saying, "You'll never learn, Xena, I don't go down that easily..."
...and waking up in a hospital bed, surrounded by her grandparents and her aunts. She blearily looked at the tubes running down from several bags to her arm, feeling like she'd had the hell knocked out of her. She barely focused on Aunt Janice, who stared at her with those fierce green eyes, looking at her with exasperation. "Hey, looks like our favorite niece decided to rejoin the land of the living," she said sharply.
"Oh, honey, you've been out for several days, how do you feel?" Aunt Mel asked in her soft southern drawl. Helen's eyes shifted to meet her aunt's blue eyes, so much like her own blue eyes, suddenly feeling ashamed. Mel stood by the edge of the bed and brushed Helen's bangs away from her eyes. "Your friend fed you some hallucinogenic drugs in the brownies and you beat up a young man," Mel continued as she touched Helen's cheek. "The police were called and had to finally shoot you with a tranquilizer dart, you were so high. Your friend is now in reform school and you are coming home with us."
"What?" Helen struggled to sit up, stunned at the news.
"In other words, you blew it big time and we're gonna straighten you out," Janice supplied cheerfully. "Hey, you can join us in Greece for part whatever of our excavations." Helen turned to face the smaller woman, apprehensive at the glee in her aunt's voice. "Yup, I'm gonna work your ass off, young lady, and if you fuck up this time, you go to jail. Drugs or not, you're about to make some huge mistakes and we're not gonna let you."
"Oh." Helen couldn't think of anything else to say, except, "I think I aced my history test." Then she was puzzled why everyone laughed at her...
Brigid was busily typing on her laptop, feeling the story starting to gel. She was so entranced that she didn't hear Helen come in until the other woman looked over her shoulder and exclaim, "What do you think you are writing?"
She blinked, wrenching herself out of her story to answer her lover. "Helen, Mel gave me permission to write the real story behind the discovery of the Xena Scrolls."
Helen said nervously, "But honey, you are portraying them as lovers."
"Dearheart," Brigid said as she turned away from the desk, "they were lovers for over fifty years. They became lovers while trying to recover the scrolls and several artifacts from Dr. Calisandra Leesto. Yes, Aunt Janice was pretty famous in archeological circles for finding the evidence that Xena and Gabrielle actually existed, but most people just know her as the 'female Indiana Jones', not as a woman. Besides, I think it will do a lot of good for people to read about two women who lived together and loved each other for so many years, despite the homophobia they faced."
She tried to pull Helen into a hug, but Helen stiffened and resisted. Brigid threw up her hands, snapping, "Helen, why are you so nervous about this? I wrote that series on the anniversary of Stonewall and we didn't get hate mail or bombs or anything like that. What is so different about this?"
Helen sank down in the side chair, trying to pull her thoughts together. She knew she wasn't being fair to her partner, yet she was reluctant to share her unconventional family history with the world. On the other hand, she was a historian and should understand the need to explore the past and hold it up to the illumination of the present. Finally, she took Brigid's hand in hers and kissed it gently, then answered, "I guess I'm afraid of ridicule."
"Ridicule?" Brigid repeated.
The history professor sank down in the chair. "Yes. Brigid, my dear beloved, what would you say if you knew that various members of this family have experienced contact with Gabrielle and Xena? That Xena and Gabrielle briefly inhabited Mel and Janice's bodies? It sounds so ridiculous, yet it is almost as if their souls keep living in their descendents somehow, drawing people together time and again. But, Aunt Janice swears that she actually talked to Xena in Aunt Mel's body and that Gabrielle talked to her. Doesn't that sound crazy?"
Brigid took a deep breath, then answered quietly, "No, it doesn't. There is so much we still don't know about--"
"Oh, there y'all are," Mel's voice floated over to them as she entered the room. "I take it that you are working on the article about Janice together?"
"Something like that," Brigid smirked.
"That is so nice, maybe you can share a byline," Mel mused as she sat down at her desk. She smiled at the two women, observing, "You know, Janice and I sat just like that many a time, arguing over the translation of various scrolls. Do you remember, Helen?"
Helen reluctantly said, "Yes, I do." She cleared her throat, then muttered, "I give up, I just give up." She stood up and walked out of the room without another word.
Brigid watched her lover, then turned to Mel. "Why has she been so jumpy since we got here?"
Mel picked up one of Janice's journals and stroked it fondly before replying, "She's having trouble letting go of Janice, honey, just like she had trouble letting go of her parents. She'll come around, but the storm might be pretty intense, we thought she might go over the edge for sure when she first came to live with us."
"So, sounds like it was pretty bad. Aunt Mel, how are you holding up? You seem to unruffled, so calm to have lost your spouse," Brigid asked, natural curiosity bubbling back up.
Melinda took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then replaced them. "Brigid, I miss my Janice fiercely, her ghost is haunting me all the time; I have cried myself to sleep many night. But, I have to remember the good times and bless the gods for letting us have so much time together. Besides, cracked idea or not, I truly believe that Xena and Gabrielle are looking after my Janice now and I will join them in due time. Also, a lady just does not let her emotional state drag down her guests, it is impolite," she finished with a small smile.
The past: 1973
"I hate school, I hate my life, I'd be better off dead!" Helen screamed at Janice. Janice merely shrugged her shoulders and returned to her cigar, rocking slightly in the porch swing as she watched her niece pacing back and forth. "You just don't understand, do you? I've lost everyone, absolutely everyone and my grandparents kicked me out. Damn it, Aunt Janice, what the hell am I going to do?"
Janice rolled her cigar between her fingers and thumb, contemplating it before answering. "Well, let's work from the first screaming fit, that you hate school. I hated school until I was in college and discovered girls, then things were much better. Have you found anyone that you are interested in?"
Helen stared unbelievingly at her aunt. What did her nonexistent dating life have to do with anything? "Exactly what do you mean?" she asked cautiously, approaching the porch.
Janice shrugged expressively, then puffed contently on her cigar, watching the young woman. Finally, she laid her cigar in the ashtray and said, "Just what I said, Helen, are you interested in anyone? Dated anyone? I don't remember you bringing anyone around here, I didn't know if I just missed your friends or if you didn't have any yet."
Helen slumped in one of the wicker chairs, stretching out her long legs. In the six months she had been in South Carolina, she had grown five inches taller and had slimmed down quite a bit. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that Janice insisted on those long workouts every day, including martial arts. She ran her fingers nervously through her long black hair, then admitted, "I haven't dated anyone, Aunt Janice, and most of the kids ignore me. What am I doing wrong?"
"Oh, probably nothing, except living with two lesbians," Janice said mildly, watching for any reaction.
Helen stared at her aunt, confused. "Lesbians?"
Janice laughed softly. "Honey child, to use one of Mel's expressions, didn't you ever wonder why Mel and I share a room? The whole town knows that we're together and have been for thirty years. Why, does it bother you?"
"I just never stopped to think about it," Helen said lamely, "I just knew that y'all were always together." Her blue eyes widened at Janice's mild mannered revelation. "Oh my God, you two are really queer? Isn't that a sin or something?"
"Depends on your definition of sin. My definition is from the original meaning of the word, an archery term meaning 'missing the mark'. Good definition, shows that we're all human underneath the skin. But, let me ask you this: is it truly sinful for me to love your aunt so much that I'd go to hell and back for her? Or that I gave up wandering from dig to dig in order to teach and research? Or that Mel gave up several chances to marry other wealthy Southern gentlemen to stick with a damned Yankee? I'm not the easiest person in the world to live with, Helen, but Mel puts up with me and even helped me smooth over the rough edges of my manners." She grinned. "Just a little bit, though."
Helen shifted uneasily in her chair, trying to wrap her mind around this new information. She had been going fairly faithfully to the little Baptist church up the road, more out of a feeling of duty than anything else, but Janice and Mel never went to church. She scratched her nose, then asked, "Have you always been interested in girls? How did you know that you were, um, gay?"
Janice stubbed out her cigar, then answered, "I had always noticed women's bodies, but assumed that it was a passing stage, at least until I was in college. Then, I met Cherie Fletcher, who was the first woman to seduce me, who taught me much about the art of sex. Note I say of sex, not love, I didn't really learn about love until Melinda Pappas waltzed into my life." She grinned at the blushing youngster, then asked, "Hey, you asked. What, did you think that I was chaste until I met Mel?"
"I guess I never gave it any thought," Helen mumbled.
Janice grinned at her niece's obvious discomfort. "Well, anyway, Cherie dumped me for her fiance, Hank, whom she conveniently forgot to mention during the three months we were together. I had a crush on her, after she broke my heart, I dated and fucked lots of girls and women, but always guarded my heart until Mel crashed the barriers. I fought my attraction to her, but it was our destiny to be together."
"Wow, that sounds romantic," Helen said. Janice going to bed with women? Yeah, she could see that, but her proper Aunt Mel?
"It was terribly romantic," a softly drawling voice said. Helen and Janice looked up to see Mel smiling at them through the back porch screen door. Mel stepped outside and sat on the swing with Janice, affectionately pulling the other woman into her arms. "To tell the truth, Janice was the first woman I ever kissed, and that was under the most horrendous circumstances and with me wearing a tuxedo!"
"But you were so cute!" Janice protested happily.
"Quiet, Dr. Covington, I'm tellin' this tale. I did feel an attraction for a woman reporter once, but it was so brief that I managed to forget about it quickly, until I met Janice." She stopped to kiss Janice lightly on the forehead, then continued, "I was shocked the first time she kissed me, but I became accustomed to it rather quickly."
"Yowza!" Janice agreed.
"You really are a wolf, Dora was right," Mel replied affectionately.
Helen watched the two women banter lightly back and forth, really seeing their deep love for each other for the first time. She had always known that they loved each other and were partners in at least the academic sense, but she never had considered that women could be lovers as well. They did look so cute together; would she ever find anyone to cuddle with, to share her life with? Unbidden thoughts of Sophia climbing in bed with her rose to the surface, glimpses of Sophia's elegant body as she changed clothes, followed by thoughts of vandalism and being feed hallucinogenic brownies. She shook her head slightly to get rid of the images.
Dora appeared at the door, calling, "Miz Janice, telephone call for you, it's the dean."
"Thanks," Janice replied as she got up. She leaned over, kissing Mel lightly on the lips, then followed Dora into the house to answer the phone. Helen got up and started pacing restlessly again, suddenly feeling very bereft of affection.
"Honey, what's wrong?" Mel asked quietly. Helen shrugged in that ancient teenage way. "Helen, please tell me," she said, a note of steel entering her voice.
Helen stopped and looked at her aunt, then asked, "Can I drop out of school? I can help Janice dig in the summers, get a job somewhere doing something, I'm just too bored in school."
"No, you may not drop out of school," Mel answered cooly. "If you want to help Janice, you need to complete your education. Why, she insisted that I complete my doctorate-"
"Yeah, I've heard that song and dance before, but everyone makes fun of me, I'm taller than half the boys and-, well, shit, Auntie, no one wants me, they just keep deserting me!" She suddenly grabbed a wicker chair and hurled it across the yard, breathing heavily in her anger.
"Nice toss, Helen, but you don't impress me," she heard her Aunt Mel say. Or, rather, she thought Mel said it, but the voice was somehow flatter, with absolutely no soft drawl to it. Helen felt a chill run up her spine as she slowly turned to face her aunt, who was leaning against the house, looking like a relaxed snake, ready to strike.
"I've seen much worse, Helen, much worse. You don't scare me, you don't scare Janice, so stop trying and straighten up your act." Helen actually shivered, feeling authority ringing behind her aunt's words, practically seeing power radiating from Mel's body. Mel quirked an eyebrow, asking lightly, "Are you planning to toss any other chairs, or shall we sit and talk about your problems?"
"Um." Helen stared at her aunt, who was now striding over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know, Auntie, I just don't know," she said brokenly. She took a ragged breath, aware that tears were very close to the surface, tears that she had been avoiding since receiving the news that her father had been shot down over Vietnam. "No, I guess I'm not okay," she concluded.
"Dear, I lost my mother when I was very young, then I lost my father shortly before I met Janice," Mel said in her normal genteel voice. "Janice's mother left her father when Janice was about eight, then the next year her beloved great-grandmother died of flu. We do know about death, how it kicks hard, how you feel so deserted," she said as she reached up to touch Helen's cheek. "Believe me, Janice and I have lived with losses, please let us help you with yours," she added.
Helen tried to hold back, but her chest was aching so much and Mel's hand was so soft on her cheek. She clenched her fists, then gave up and blindly reached for her aunt as the emotions crashed down her self-control, battering at the self-imposed walls. She felt Mel holding her, heard her humming softly, just letting her sob out her sorrows until the tears ran dry. Finally, she pulled back and whispered, "Thank you, Auntie."
Mel smiled, then kissed her cheek. "You're welcome. Oh, by the way, love is also taking in your niece, who is in the verge of making huge mistakes, because you want to see her have the chance to make use of her brains and her talent." She looked into the blue eyes, so similar to her own, then asked, "Did I ever tell you how I met your father?" Helen shook her head, curious about this. "No? Well, he was on his way to Fort something or another and had just discovered that he had a half-sister, namely, me." Mel steered her niece back to the swing, sitting down with her and wrapping her arms around the tall young woman as if she were a baby. "I believe it was 1956..."
Brigid and Helen reluctantly said good-bye to Mel before they drove back to the airport, Brigid had received a call from her editor saying that he needed her back to work on a breaking story immediately. Mel promised to come to Asbury in a few weeks and spend a little time with them, but said she needed to get some more of Janice's papers in order first. "You girls be good and don't worry about exposing my love for Janice," she said more to Helen than to Brigid. "A southern lady can handle anything, especially if she has the right hat and gloves to wear."
"Hat and gloves?" Brigid questioned.
"Old traditions, Brigid, not truly observed any longer, much to my dismay," Mel replied. "You two better hurry or you won't get your car turned in on time." She hugged and kissed both women one more time, then said, "y'all better get a move on, you hear?"
"Yes, Aunt Mel," they chorused.
Several days later, Helen was grading papers in her office at school, half-listening to a Patsy Cline c.d. that Janice had given her for Christmas a few years ago. Patsy was singing, "I fall to pieces / how can I be just your friend?" as one of Helen's students timidly knocked at the door frame. "Dr. Pappas?" she queried, "may I come in for a few minutes?" Helen looked up and nodded. The girl shut the door behind her and carefully laid her backpack in one of the chairs and sat in the other one. "Um, I've been debating whether or not to ask this, but I'm about to go crazy and you seem pretty nice, Dr. Pappas." She fell silent, twisting the tail of her denim shirt until Helen prompted, "What did you want to ask me, Darlene?"
Darlene took a deep breath, then asked softly, "Dr. Pappas, I'm scared."
A long silence ensued, so Helen finally asked, "Darlene, why are you scared? What can I do to help you?"
"Dr. Pappas, I think I've fallen in love." Darlene grabbed a tissue from the box on Helen's desk and wiped her eyes before she continued. "Oh, God, it's awful, I'm in love with my best friend, Janet. I'm so ashamed, I know I'm damned to hell, but I can't help myself! What am I going to do?"
Helen felt her pulse racing, unsure how to reply. Damn, why did the girl come to her? What did she expect? "Darlene, I'm still in the dark as to how I can help you," she finally said.
The girl sighed noisily, then replied, "I don't know either, Dr. Pappas, but I've always been taught that it is sinful just to be gay, so I'm condemned to hell no matter what I do. Oh, I'm not putting this well, I know, but you've always told us in class that if we needed help, just to come to you during office hours, so here I am. You have the reputation on campus of being pretty open-minded, so I thought you might not kick me out for admitting that I'm gay, or at least I think I am. You won't do anything, will you?"
"No, what you tell me is confidential," Helen assured her. "Now, why do you think you are in love with Janet?"
"Well," Darlene said as she pulled a small stuffed tiger from her backpack, "Janet has been my friend since we were both freshmen here at Asbury, now we are juniors. She gave me this tiger for my birthday last week, saying that I always remind her of the big cats. Well, that sounds kind of dumb, but she arranged a party at her apartment for me and let me stay over after everyone else left for the night, saying that I'd had too much to drink and shouldn't drive. I know, I'm still underage, but Janet isn't, she worked for several years before coming to college."
Darlene stroked the stuffed tiger, trying to gather the courage to say the rest. She could feel Dr. Pappas's kindly blue eyes on her, giving her courage to go on. "Janet didn't have any clean sheets for her sofa, so I slept in her bed. Oh, God, I'm so embarrassed! I woke up the next morning, holding her tightly, my hand on her breast. I was about ready to die on the spot, I was so ashamed of my actions, that I got up and snuck out before she woke up. I've been avoiding her since then."
Helen ran her fingers through her short black hair distractedly, knowing exactly what the girl was feeling. Should she let the girl know that she could truly sympathize, or just make general comments? What would Aunt Mel or Aunt Janice do? Maybe the middle road would be the best bet..."Darlene, have you ever felt any attraction to Janet before the party?"
Darlene cuddled the tiger to her chest and answered miserably, "Now that I think about it, I've always been affectionate with her, you know, always hugging her and stuff like that. Since the party, I've had dreams where I found myself kissing her and enjoying it. I've never really dated many guys and they never really tried to get too far with me, so I'm completely out of my depth here."
"Has Janet ever shown signs that she didn't like your hugging her?" Helen asked.
Darlene cocked her head, thinking, then slowly blushing. "Um, no, not that I can think of, but she did hold my hand at a movie last semester. We went to see a scary movie at Halloween and during one scene, she grabbed my hand and seemed to forget that she was holding it. Do you think that she might like me that way?"
"I can't speak for her, but I would go slow with this. I personally don't believe that people are damned for being gay or for loving someone of their own gender," Helen said slowly, heart racing with fear as she spoke. "As far as religion goes, I haven't set foot in a church for years, even when my aunt died recently, that funeral was in the funeral home. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we sometimes have to follow our hearts, but be careful, there are lots of crazy people out there. Talk to her, try to work in something subtle to see how she feels about the whole issue."
"Like the discussion on homosexual behavior between teachers and students in Greek history?" Darlene asked.
"Something like that," Helen agreed. She glanced at her watch, realizing that she had only a few minutes to wrap this up before she met Brigid for lunch at home. "Did I help any?"
"Yes, thank you," Darlene said happily.
"Good, if you want to talk any more, just let me know. I'm sorry, but I have lunch plans now and should be shoving off," Helen said as she stood up.
"Thanks, Dr. Pappas, you're pretty cool," Darlene replied as she picked up her pack. She stuffed the tiger back in it, then waited as Helen put on her jacket and walked around the desk. She impulsively hugged the professor just as the door swung open and a voice asked, "Dr. Pappas, could you..."
Helen gently disentangled herself from Darlene's embrace, saying, "I'll see you in class." Darlene walked off, not seeming to notice the shocked look on the department chair's face as he stood with his hand on the door knob. "Yes, Dr. Barry?" Helen asked, wondering what he wanted.
"Dr. Pappas, why were you hugging that young woman, behind closed doors?" Dr. Barry whispered furtively.
"Dr. Barry, Darlene wanted to talk to me in private. Why did you open the door without knocking?" Helen replied, anger seeping into her voice.
"Well, I am your department chair," he answered huffily, "and we must take care not to meet with our students under such private conditions! Just what was so private?"
Helen looked down at the professor, suddenly envisioning a banty rooster with a bow tie. Stuffing the image down for future reference, she answered frostily, "It is none of your business, Dr. Barry, Darlene just needed a sympathetic ear. Now, why did you need to talk to me? I'm late to meet a friend for lunch."
"Oh, yes, my reason," he snapped back, "is that Dr. Skye Gable is coming into town for the history conference that Asbury is hosting and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to pick her up from the airport and entertain her." He thrust a sheaf of papers at her, adding, "This is her schedule. Would you mind hosting her at your house, our funds are nearly depleted and her university can't afford a hotel."
Helen took a deep breath. Just what she needed, to house some unknown professor at her house. "I guess so," she said reluctantly, "I really do have to go now." She stepped around the man, running her fingers through her hair. Damn, Brigid would be furious with her!
"Hey sweetheart," Brigid called out as she heard Helen walk into the kitchen, "how has your morning gone? I just got here myself, I grabbed sandwiches on the way over. Roast beef okay with you?"
"Sure," Helen replied as she set down her briefcase on the floor. She walked over to the table and kissed Brigid on the cheek, then sat down in her chair. "How has your day gone?"
"Pretty good, actually," Brigid answered before taking a big bite. After she swallowed, she continued, "I just finished up that article on the abortion protestors and have been given the green light to do the article on Aunt Janice. Isn't that great?"
"Yes, honey, it is," Helen answered as she unwrapped her sandwich. "Damn, they put tomatoes on again! Would you like them?" Brigid just grinned as she swiped the offending vegetables from Helen's sandwich. "I had a couple of interesting conversations this morning," Helen continued as she put her sandwich back together. "First, a junior from my introduction to Greek history class came by, then the chair came by just as the student was leaving."
Brigid laid her sandwich down, turning to look at her lover, picking up on the tension. "So, talk. Why did the conversations bother you?"
"Did anyone tell you that you are too damn sensitive for your own good?" Helen groused. "Just like Aunt Mel. Anyway, the student, Darlene, wanted advice, it seems that she thinks she's in love with another girl and was wondering if she was damned to hell. I told her no. Then, as I was trying to leave, she hugged me just as Dr. Barry poked his sorry head in to tell me that I am hosting a Dr. Skye Gable at our house for a history conference."
"No hotel rooms open?" Brigid asked, quirking a sandy eyebrow.
"Naw, nothing like that, he's just so tight with a penny that he can't stand to spend good money on a hotel room for a visiting professor. All of the other visiting professors for the conference are having their way paid but it seems that her university is short on funds, so he decided to stick her with me."
"Sounds rather sexist, I bet that he would have found the funds for a male professor," the reporter scoffed.
Helen bit into her sandwich, not really tasting it as she chewed. "Brigid, what are we going to do? I don't want anyone else in my house whom I don't know, who doesn't know about our relationship."
"Well, maybe you should pay for a hotel room yourself, or, just not worry about it. Just don't get any ideas about making me give up my favorite pillow," Brigid teased. Helen shot her a look, which Brigid completely ignored. "Hey, we could put her in the downstairs bedroom, there is a bathroom nearby."
"But no shower or tub down there," Helen argued, "she'd still have to come upstairs to shower."
"Details, details, honey. You like your little plans, don't you?" Brigid finished her sandwich, then looked at Helen's untouched half. "Can I have that?"
"Huh? Yes, you may," Helen said as she handed over the sandwich half. "I guess we'll figure something out. I was afraid you'd be mad."
"Just upset that you misplaced your backbone again, Helen." Brigid reached for her lover's hand. "My beloved, if Mel and Janice could survive some of the most homophobic decades of our nation's history, certainly we can survive these times of more open acceptance."
Helen drained her iced tea, then pulled Brigid's hand over to kiss it. "I guess you're right, I'm just so skittish about all this, you know."
"I know," Brigid answered softly. "But remember, I love you and will back you in whatever you do." She rubbed her hand against her lover's cheek, then asked, "What prompted this student to confide in you?"
"She said I was open-minded and kind," the dark-haired professor said.
"She got that right," Brigid said gently, "especially about the kind part." She got up and came behind Helen's chair, pulling her up. "I have an extra hour for lunch since I went in so early and I happen to know that you don't have another class until tonight. Care for a nap?"
"I'm not sleepy," Helen said, mind still on the issues from the morning.
Brigid grinned devilishly as she slid a hand into the neckline of Helen's shirt. "Neither am I, darling," she cooed as she stroked the soft flesh. "But I know just how to relax you, Dr. Pappas. I understand it's an old family tradition of yours..."
The past: 1966
Debbie Jackson listened sympathetically as her brother, Ed Anderson, poured out his tale of woe over a couple of beers at their parents' summer cottage. Ed was complaining that his wife, Marcella, did very little with their daughter, Brigid, and Brigid was getting to be too big to take to school with him. "Hell, she's been a good girl, but even good girls start walking around, which can be rather distracting for students when I'm trying to lecture." Ed looked down at the sleeping child in his lap, stroking her hair gently. "Debbie, what do you suggest? Do I find good daycare for Brigid, or do I quit my job and make Marcella support us?"
"Ed, you know that Marcella wouldn't do that," Debbie chided. "Besides, what could she do?"
"She could work more hours for that real estate office. I guess I forgot to mention it in my letters, Marcella went to work for a real estate agent as a part time secretary. She says it is to bring in extra income, but I have my doubts." Ed looked down at his sleeping daughter, so perfectly formed. He silently counted is blessings as he looked at the eighteen month old, the light of his heart. Sometimes, he wished he could just take Brigid away, far away from her mother, but everyone knew that mothers were automatically awarded custody of children in any divorce, so he stayed married to Marcella.
Debbie pondered her next question for a long time before she asked it, watching her beloved younger brother and her niece. Ed had been a surprise child, born on Debbie's sixteenth birthday. She had fallen in love with the him from the time her parents brought him home from the hospital, eager to help her mother take care of him until she went off to college. Each summer, she would spend a lot of time with him, watching him grow and change, always eager to indulge Ed's fascination with reading and books, taking him to the public library for children's time, buying him books from her allowance, teaching him when he had questions of the world.
Ed was fascinated with history, but also with economics, always asking why things cost this, why was everything taxed, why, why, why. After graduation with her bachelor's in library science, Debbie had married her college sweetheart, Bobby Jackson, an engineering student, and they had moved away, but she kept close tabs on her little brother, eventually moving back to Asbury after Bobby's death and her sons leaving home to start their own families.
Debbie pulled herself back into the present and asked, "Ed, would you like for me to come help take care of Brigid? I've been thinking of selling the house and moving to a smaller place anyway."
"You would do that? You would come and take care of my Brigid?" Ed asked eagerly. "Oh, Sis, that would be wonderful, just like old times! The house we're renting right now has three bedrooms, so there should be plenty of space if you'd like to move in with us." His face fell as he thought of his wife. "But suppose Marcella doesn't agree?"
Debbie stifled a growl at his wife's name. "Ed, be a man, just tell her that you decided to ask me to move in, at least until Brigid is in kindergarten. That would only be a few years, maybe I could go back to school and get my master's degree after that. I miss working in libraries, I quit when Bobby Jr. was born. Bobby left me plenty of money, so don't worry about me, I can pay rent and help with the groceries."
Ed protested, "But shouldn't that be-"
"Both of the boys are doing well, don't worry about them, I divided up their share after the probate came through," Debbie assured him. "Besides, even though I loved Bobby dearly, I can't see ever remarrying." She shuddered as she pictured her persistant suitor, the lecherous Mr. Goldsmith, with his cruel smiles. "You would be rescuing me and I would have an excuse to sell the house. It's too big for me anyway."
"I'll think about it, Debbie," Ed said. "By the way, are Mom and Dad coming to the cottage this year?"
"No, Dad's knees are acting up again. They might come for a day next week, but nothing more," Debbie said.
"Oh. Too bad, I wanted Brigid to see her grandparents again," Ed commented wistfully. "Family is so important to me."
"I know, little brother, I know," Debbie said, giving in the to temptation to ruffle his dark blonde hair. She did love her brother dearly.
Later that same year
Debbie was surprised at how quickly her house sold, but one of her sons reminded her that she put in on the market just as families who were transferring jobs were desperate to find something in a good school district. So, she packed her clothes, her bedroom suite and a few books to move to Ed and Marcella's house. She was excited and sad all at the same time, but looked forward to spending more time with her beloved little brother and niece.
The October morning dawned bright and clear, cool but beautiful, the type of fall day that poets rhapsodize about. Debbie usually walked back and forth to the church, it was less than a mile each way and good exercise and besides, there was a nice little bookstore on the way that carried her favorite authors. Debbie left the church after she had putting in volunteer hours and decided to stop to see if the latest Agatha Christie mystery had come in yet. As she walked into the store, a new voice called out, "May I help you?" She turned to find a strikingly beautiful woman, probably in her early thirties, standing there smiling at her. "Is there some particular book or genre you are seeking?"
"Ah, yes, the latest Agatha Christie, is it in?" Debbie asked, finding herself smiling back at the woman.
"Not yet, it should be in next week. In the meantime, I was about to make myself a cup of tea, would you like to join me?" Debbie nodded. The woman motioned for Debbie to follow her to the back of the store, saying, "I usually don't stop for tea in the afternoon, but this has been a rather slow day and David told me I could even close early if there weren't enough customers. Oh, my manners, my name is Betty Riker, I'm a cousin of David's. He is kind enough to let me work while I finish my engineering degree at the university."
"A woman engineer?" Debbie blurted out.
"Yes, dear, a woman engineer. My father was an engineer and I've always loved it, I even helped him with designs when I was in high school. I know that it is difficult for a woman to get hired, but I figure that more electrical engineers will be needed to design computer circuit boards in the future, so I'm aiming that way. What is your name?" the auburn-haired woman asked.
"I am Debbie Jackson, I'm in town helping my brother and sister-in-law take care of their daughter. I've been at loose ends since my husband died and our sons left home," Debbie explained.
"I'm so sorry to hear of your husband's death, Mrs. Jackson. Has he been dead long?" Betty asked sincerely.
"Just a year, but do call me Debbie, please."
"Debbie, is that short for Deborah?" Betty asked.
Debbie laughed as Betty poured the tea into two mugs. "No, it is just Debbie, Debbie Ann, actually. Is Betty short for Elizabeth?"
"No, I'm in the same boat, although I'm Betty Sue. Betty Sue Riker. Would you care for any sugar, Debbie?"
"Just one lump, please." Debbie watched Betty's delicate hand pick up the sugar tongs and precisely deposit one lump in her mug, then just as precisely deposit a lump in her own mug. Debbie stirred her tea, finding herself staring at Betty's sparkling gray eyes, which practically danced with laughter and mischief. She scolded herself for rudely staring at the woman, yet couldn't help herself.
"So," Betty said after she took a sip of tea, "what else do you do for fun?" She listened intently as Debbie outlined her church volunteer work, her babysitting, her gardening and her reading choices. She admitted that she had worked as a librarian for several years before getting married and sometimes really wanted to get back into it, but who would hire someone who had been out of the field for so long? "Hmm," Betty mused, "you could get your master's degree, I hear from my mother that the master's of library science is starting to replace the bachelor's degree these days. Had you considered going back to school?"
"Yes, but Ed really needs me to help him with Brigid."
Betty reached over and patted Debbie's arm. "My dear, you don't have to keep your niece if you don't want to."
Debbie protested, "But I love her, she is so precious."
"Why doesn't her mother take care of her, then?" Betty asked.
Debbie chewed her bottom lip, unsure whether or not to tell the truth to this bright young woman. Finally, she merely said, "Marcella is working part-time, you know how assistant professors are not paid so well. This way, they don't have to put her into daycare."
"Dear me, I should be leaving. Thank you for the tea, Betty, I thoroughly enjoyed it," Debbie said as she glanced at the wall clock. Then, boldly, she said, "Maybe we can do this again some time."
"Yes, I would like that," Betty said as she stood up. "I work every Monday afternoon, then I have classes every morning. Say, do you like bowling? I'm on a Saturday night league and we have an opening, would you consider that?"
"I might," Debbie said. Impulsively, she pulled out a pencil and piece of paper, writing down her name and Ed's phone number. "Give me a ring later this week and I'll think about it. Bobby and I used to bowl a lot on the weekends," she said wistfully.
"I'll do that," Betty said as she helped Debbie with her coat. She watched as Debbie hurried out of the store and down the street, then murmured to the store cat, "That is one terrific woman, looks just like Maureen O'Hara." She sighed as she scratched Old Tom's ears. "I think I'm in love."
Fall segued into winter as Debbie and Betty gradually became good friends. Debbie joined the bowling league, over Marcella's protests, and started meeting Betty for dinner at least once a week, usually between Betty's classes. Betty had a grand sense of humor; Debbie found herself laughing more than she had since Bobby had died, it felt good to laugh so much. She had also never had a girlfriend to be so affectionate, Betty was always hugging her, touching her arm, kissing her cheek goodnight. She missed the easy affection that she and Bobby shared, even though she got to cuddle her niece every day, it just wasn't the same.
Thanksgiving finally came and Ed announced that their parents were going to be at the cottage for the holidays. Marcella was displeased, she wanted to go to her parents' for Thanksgiving, so Ed finally compromised: Thanksgiving with his parents, Christmas with hers. He spontaneously told Debbie that she could invite Betty as well, there should be plenty of room. Marcella argued in private over his invitation, saying that it meant that Debbie would have to share a bedroom with Betty. Ed finally told his wife that his sister was old enough to make up her own mind, besides, she probably wouldn't keep everyone up with giggling fits like young girls had at slumber parties.
"It was really nice of your brother to include me in the invitation," Betty told Debbie as they unpacked their clothes. "This is a really nice place, I thought a cottage would be much smaller."
Debbie smiled as she shut her suitcase and stowed it away. "We used to host even more folks in the summers, we'd set up several tents in the back yard for the kids to sleep in. The adults would take turns sleeping in one of the tents to make sure we didn't get into too much mischief. Ed didn't get to see as much of that, poor brother was betwixt and between, too young for my generation and too old for the grandchildren." She dropped on the bed, tired from the long ride.
Betty finished putting away her clothes and laid on the bed beside Debbie, laying on her side so she could face the other woman. She watched as Debbie fell asleep almost immediately, eyelids covering the dark green eyes, face smoothing out. She had been surprised by the invitation, she knew that she didn't want to go home to face her sullen sister and cranky mother. It never surprised her that her father had deserted them when she was small, but he had written to her faithfully, at least until his heart attack last year. She rubbed her eyes to banish the memory, then concentrated on watching Debbie's chest rising and falling slowly, nearly hypnotized by her breathing. Did she dare lay her head on Debbie's shoulder? It looked so inviting, but she best not dare, that horrid Marcella might come in and screech "Rape!" Betty smiled at the notion, then finally closed her eyes, chastely keeping her hands to herself.
The next day was full of food and activity. More families showed up, making the cottage ring with love and laughter, with the sound of children running through the house and yard, with the murmur of the older generations reminiscing. Betty felt almost comfortable, letting her guard down a bit, listening quietly as Debbie spun the most incredible stories for the children. She had no idea that this beautiful woman was such an imaginative storyteller, a natural bard. Finally, night fell and snow started falling with it, gradually giving the landscape a Currier & Ives quality to it. Debbie sought Betty out, whispering, "Let's take a walk in the snow." Betty grabbed her coat and gloves, following Debbie out into the wooded area nearby.
They walked along, boots scrunching the snow, until they came to a clearing. "Betty, this is the magic clearing, or at least my cousins and I called it that," Debbie explained. "See the ring of stones? We would build fires there and roast marshmallows in the summer and just warm ourselves in the winter. I used to make up stories about heroes and tell them around the fire at night." She turned to face her friend, chuckling softly. "Good memories, I just wanted to share them with you."
Betty looked around, entranced by the silent snowfall and the filtered moonlight. She reached for Debbie's gloved hands, holding them in her own, trying not to stare at Debbie's beautifully sculpted cheekbones. "So," she said quietly, "tell me a story."
Debbie laughed, a rich, joyous sound. "Oh, Betty, you don't want to hear any of my tales!" Betty urged her on. Debbie smiled, then led her friend over to one of the split log benches. "Well," she said as they sat down, still holding hands, "I usually retold the stories of Paul Bunyun and his ox Blue, or stories of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, but there was one that I dreamed about that I never told anyone. I'm a little embarrassed by it, but..."
"I don't know, maybe you'd like it," Debbie finished shyly. She smiled again, then started, "Once upon a time, there was an evil woman who had rampaged over the land, dealing pain and misery to all who dared cross her army's path. This woman was seen as an absolute devil, evil incarnate, yet she hid a secret pain, the pain of having her village leveled by another warlord. This woman, Xe, finally ran across an opponent she could not subdue: a girl from a small farming village."
"Go on, this sounds good," Betty encouraged, enjoying the tale so far.
"Okay. Um, this girl, Gabs, defied Xe, standing in her path, refusing to let her pass. 'Xe, I know that you could easily slaughter me with your mighty sword, but I refuse to cower and let my people be terrorized by you.' Xe was furious with the girl, growling that she should stand aside. Gabs held her ground and challenged Xe to a battle on her terms. Xe, thinking that Gabs could never defeat her, agreed. 'Xe,' Gabs said, 'I challenge you to a duel of wits, to a story telling contest. Whoever tells the best tale, wins.' Well, Xe was not very happy, she was not that good with words, but she did have a code of honor that she followed, which included not backing out of challenges issued to her. 'I will accept,' she finally said, 'the contest begins tonight.'"
Debbie paused dramatically, noticing how Betty's clear gray eyes hung on to her every word. She wished for a moment that her cousins were all around, just like old times, but then decided that sometimes an audience of one was better, more intimate. She cleared her throat and continued her tale. "That night, Gabs and Xe met at the village square, surrounded by Xe's army and Gabs' village friends and family. Xe went first, telling a bloodthirsty tale of conquest, replete with flashing sword and sizzling whip. Gabs listened quietly, then finally got up on the stage to tell her tale.
" 'Once upon a time,' she began, 'all people had two heads, four arms and four legs. They were happy, content, living harmoniously in the golden age of men. All was well until the fire at one of the temples went out. The god of the temple became angry and shouted, "I will punish you, from henceforth, you will be split, always seeking your other half!" ' The audience was quiet, waiting for Gabs to resume her story. 'Thus, our life long goal is to find our other half, our mate, so we may be whole once more. I ask you, Xe, have you found your other half, your soulmate?' The audience looked expectantly at the warlord, then Gabs added softly, 'Xe, look around you, all of us are seeking our other half, seeking to be made whole. Have you found your other half? Is that why you pursue violence, to avoid finding that which will make you whole?' Xe stared at the girl, then finally admitted, 'I am not whole, Gabs.' Xe took a deep breath and admitted, 'you have won. I will not destroy your village. You have shown courage in the face of adversity, I can respect that.'
"Gabs smiled, then asked, 'May I join you on your quest?' 'What quest?' Xe asked. 'The quest for the other half of your soul,' Gabs replied, 'the quest for your life and to find the goodness in your heart once more.' Xe thought for a long moment, then finally answered, 'If you are willing to face the hard road I must travel, I am willing to let you tag along.' Gabs nodded, then dismissed the villagers. The next morning, they took off on a new path, a path that they trod together."
"That was a beautiful story," Betty said, "did you make that up yourself? There are some elements that sound familiar."
Debbie replied, "The story of the people being split and looking for their other half is old, but the rest came from my dreams. Funny, sometimes I feel I can see the two women, travelling the same path, always together, almost as if...well, as if they belonged together, like their souls were connected."
Betty leaned forward, whispering, "Like soulmates."
They sat on the log, each becoming more aware of the other's physical presence, slowly drawing closer as if magnetized until their lips touched in a soft kiss. They stayed like that for a moment, then Betty stood up, pulling Debbie up with her, drawing her into the circle of her arms, kissing Debbie with gentle butterfly kisses all over her face and neck. Debbie felt her pulse start to race, felt drawn to Betty, feeling the reawaking of desire, wanting to share herself with this woman. They kissed again, this time with hints of passion, with hints of what could be, hints of connection. As if sharing the same thoughts, they walked back to the cottage in silence, holding hands until they were in sight of the building, then when they were safely in their bedroom, slowly started exploring each other's bodies.
Helen waited impatiently at the airport for Dr. Skye Gable to arrive. Not only had Dr. Barry volunteered her house, but he had also volunteered Helen to pick Dr. Gable up from the airport. She stood by the gate, shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she half-heartedly held up the sign that had "Dr. Skye Gable" written on it. An eternity (actually twenty minutes) passed before the door slowly opened and the people started straggling up the ramp. One short, slightly plump woman detached herself from the crowd, looking around, the spotting the sign. She came up to Helen and announced in a warm, friendly voice, "I believe you are looking for me, ja? I am Skye Gable, you must be Dr. Helen Pappas."
"I am Dr. Pappas," Helen replied laconically. "Shall we go fetch your bags?"
"Yes, that would be ever so kind for you to assist me, Dr. Pappas. But, if you will allow me a quick detour, I shall rejoin you forthwith." Before Helen could reply, Dr. Gable took off for the nearest restroom, re-emerging several minutes later. "There, much better. I believe my bags are at 23, or at least that is what I heard on the speaker as we descended. Shall we go?"
"Sure." Helen led the way, not bothering to see if the shorter professor was keeping up with her long stride, still steaming over Dr. Barry's treatment of her that morning, hell, over the past few weeks. It was only when she arrived at the baggage area that she remembered to look for Dr. Gable, who had somehow kept up with her. "I'm sorry, I sometimes get in a hurry and forget that others don't have my long legs," Helen muttered.
"No harm done, none at all. Oh, the gods must be smiling upon us, my luggage is the first up the chute." Dr. Gable neatly yanked her luggage from the carousel, the turned to Helen. "Lead on, dear professor, let us go forth and explore your town." Helen's mouth quirked slightly, she nearly smiled in spite of herself at the relentlessly happy professor. As they walked to Helen's car, Dr. Gable asked, "Tell me, does your Dr. Barry always claim poverty when hosting other female professors? I don't mind camping out on your sofa, but it does seem a tad sexist."
Helen unlocked the car and helped the other woman stow her gear before answering. "Not always, but he has managed to do this several times, this is the first time I've been so blessed with his hospitality commands. Never fear, I have a guest bedroom, so you will have some privacy."
"Bless you for your kindness. And, please, do call me Skye, hearing 'Dr. Gable' makes me look for my late father. What shall I call you?" the bubbly woman asked.
"Helen would be fine, actually."
"Helen. Such a lovely name, my dear, and so familiar. Helen Pappas, where do I know thee?" Skye wrinkled her brow in deep thought as Helen navigated the busy airport traffic, finally heading out to the interstate. "Ah, yes, do you happen to be related to one Melinda Pappas? You must, you have such similar features to hers."
"You know my aunt?" Helen blurted out, nearly unintentionally changing lanes.
"Yes, such a gracious woman! She and her companion, what was her name, Janice Covington, I think, were on a dig with my father back in the 1950's. I was a small child then, but she told such wonderful stories! Janice would try to terrorize me with stories of Nazis and angry Greek gods, but Miss Melinda would shush her, saying, 'Dear, don't scare the child, poor thing!' She would then scoop me in her arms and rock me to sleep." Skye chuckled happily at the memory. "How are dear Janice and Miss Melinda? I used to keep up with them, but we've done little except exchange Christmas cards the last few years."
Helen waited to answer until she had entered the highway, then announced bluntly, "Janice died a few weeks ago, she had pneumonia."
"Oh, dear," Skye replied quietly, "please accept my deepest sympathy." She glanced over at Helen's determinedly stoic expression, sensing a "do not disturb" sign being hung up. This one does not wish to discuss her grief, the professor thought to herself, so I will not ask questions now. "Tell me, Helen, how do you like Asbury University? I've heard that the history department is fairly strong."
Helen shrugged noncommittally. "It's okay as far as programs go. The best thing I can say is that I have tenure and have just been promoted to full professor. In this day and age of cutbacks, downsizing, and hiring adjuncts instead of full-time professors, that's pretty good."
Again, the do not disturb sign clanging down, Skye thought as she fell silent. She contented herself with watching the world zoom by as Helen drove down the highway, eventually turning into an older neighborhood and into the driveway of a beautiful two-story house. Helen pulled into the garage, then got out, announcing, "We're here," then popped open the trunk and grabbed Skye's suitcase. "Follow me," Helen added as she headed toward the door.
Skye followed the younger woman through the beautiful old house, feeling very much at home immediately. The house seemed to be furnished in sturdy antiques or near antiques; the upper half of the walls recently papered in soft beige paper bearing tiny sprigs of flowers. The original wood beams and half-paneling were dark, yet showed the pattern of the wood clearly. "This is a lovely home," Skye commented as Helen set the suitcase down in the downstairs bedroom. "Did you do the work yourself?"
Helen smiled slightly as she answered, "I had help, but yes, the walls were recently papered and re-varnished. The next task is to strip the floors and put a new coating of polyurethane on them. This was my grandparents' house, I inherited it just before I started teaching at Asbury University. Feel free to hang up your clothes in the closet and use the dresser, I keep this as a guest bedroom. There is a half-bath down the hall, you can use one of the bathrooms upstairs for your showers. Let me know if you need anything else."
Before Skye could say anything, a door slammed; Helen glanced at her watch as if puzzled. A vivacious woman bounced through the door, saying, "Hey, you're home from the airport already!" She turned to Skye and held out her hand. "I'm Brigid Anderson, you must be Dr. Gable, welcome to Asbury. Helen, did you two just get here?"
"Yes, I was just showing her the room," Helen explained.
"You will have to excuse Helen's manners, she sometimes forgets them. Are you hungry or thirsty? Would you like a chance to clean up and rest before we trot you all over town?" Brigid asked cheerfully.
Skye watched Helen's uncomfortable reaction, gauging that the woman was deeply in the closet, as her best friend Scott would say. She smiled at Brigid and answered, "I'm fairly well rested and am not hungry at the moment, but I would like some water while I unpack. I'd love to see the town later."
"Just holler if you need anything. Helen, come on, I'm starving and it's past lunch time." Brigid led the silent professor out of the guest room, leaving Skye to start unpacking. As soon as they were in the kitchen, Brigid asked, "Were you doing your best Xena imitation or something? Were you going to offer her anything?"
"Knock it off," Helen answered irritably, "I would have in a few minutes. I'll get her a glass of water while you fix your Dagwood sandwich."
Brigid smiled at her lover. "Okay, it will give you a chance to play hostess." She playfully grabbed Helen's arm and pulled her close, kissing her cheek lightly. "Now you are free to play hostess. Sometimes I swear that you were really Janice's niece, not Mel's, you have no Southern manners at all."
Helen merely growled, then took a glass of water to Skye as bidden. "Thank you, my dear," Skye said as she took a long drink of water. She set the glass down, then watched a brief flicker of pain cross Helen's face. She sat down on the bed and patted the place beside her. Helen sat unwillingly as Skye searched her face. "Helen," she said softly, "I don't mean to pry, but how is your Aunt Melinda doing? Is she holding up well?"
"Yes, she's fine," Helen answered curtly.
"Then the next question, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine," Helen responded sharply.
"No, you aren't," Skye stated. Helen glared at the older woman, who merely patted Helen's leg and stated, "Before I went into history, I studied psychology. You are shoving your grief down, probably not even letting Brigid help you. Don't worry, I know that you have a deep connection to Brigid, I don't care how it is expressed. You need to let go of your grief sometime, you might as well tell a stranger."
Helen rubbed her face, trying to will away the sudden tears. She took a deep breath, shoving down the emotions, then answering quietly, "Let me deal with my grief in my own way. I appreciate your offer, but I'm not ready now." She stood up, then said, "We'll call you in time for supper," then left the room. Skye watched her retreat, then turned back to the task at hand. Such a lovely woman, yet such a powderkeg, she thought. Ready to blow at any time.
"Melinda Pappas, if your head wasn't tied on, you'd lose it," Mel grumbled to herself as she found the chakram necklaces. "I can't believe I forgot to give them to the girls before they left." She sat down on the bed that she had shared with Janice for so many years, dangling the necklaces from her fingers, watching them catch the light.
"Should I mail them, or just pop in on the girls myself? Should I give them any warning? I suppose I should, Helen has always been such a private type." She smiled. "Maybe I'll just tell Brigid, then fly or drive up." She carefully tucked the necklaces in their soft chamois bag, then laid the bag on her nightstand. "It's high time I went to see them, they've come here so many times, besides, it's almost Thanksgiving." Mel walked over to the window, looking at the fallen leaves, sighing. "Guess I'll have to hire the raking out this year, Janice isn't here to cope with it," she whispered. "Oh, baby, I miss you so much..."
The past: 1967
"EDWARD ANDERSON! GET IN HERE THIS INSTANT!" Marcella bellowed. Ed ran up the stairs, wondering what the hell he had done wrong this time. He found his wife standing in the doorway of his sister's room, fists planted on her hips. "Edward, tell your, your, sister that this type of disgraceful, unnatural behavior does not belong in my house!" Ed peeked around his wife's shoulders to find his sister Debbie and her friend Betty in bed together, obviously interrupted. "How dare you indulge in this type of unnatural intercourse in my house! Edward, toss them out, right now."
Ed stared at his sister, then his wife. "Marcella, let's give them some privacy while we talk."
"No, they obviously don't need privacy or they would have locked the door," she shouted.
Ed said wearily, "Marcella-"
Marcella shoved her husband out of the room, then hissed at him, "Either get them out today or I'll file for divorce and take your daughter with me."
"No, not Brigid," Ed moaned, "you can't take my daughter!"
Marcella sneered at him. "Oh, yes I can," she purred, "just watch me. Get your sister and that beast out of here or I will file for divorce. Just think of how that would screw up your chances at the university." She flitted down the hall toward their room.
Ed went back to Debbie's room, knocking lightly on the frame. "Are you two decent yet?" he asked softly. Hearing a "yes" he walked in and sat down on the love seat, facing the two hastily dressed women. "I'm really sorry about that," Ed said quietly, "Marcella can be quite a bitch at times. I take it that you are more than friends," he added shyly.
"Yes, we are," his sister replied with quiet dignity. "I would have laughed last year if anyone told me that it was possible to fall in love with a woman, but I have fallen for Betty."
He sighed, dropping his head in his hands. His beloved sister, one of those deviants! Maybe Marcella was right, maybe Brigid shouldn't be around such women. But this was his sister, whom he loved as much as he loved his daughter, the sister who did so much for him when he was young. Ed raised his head and stared at the women, wondering what drew them together.
Without thinking, he asked, "Sis, how could you do this to me? I give you a place to live and...I'm sorry, I'm not sure what I'm saying. Miss Riker, Debbie, I apologize for my wife, but if she says you have to leave, then you must leave." He ran his fingers through his dark blonde hair, trying to put his world back together. "I'll miss you terribly," he muttered as he stood up to leave, "but please let me know where you land."
"Ed, there's nothing wrong here-"
"Sis, please don't even try."
Debbie's temper flared as she stepped closer and grabbed Ed's chin and jerked his head around to force him to look at her. "Edward, I'm disappointed in you, you lost your backbone when you married that woman. Well, I hope you grow some before Brigid gets too big. Oh, I'll keep in touch, but you'll have to live with your cowardice for the rest of your life." She dropped her hand, then turned to Betty. "Let's pack up, I'll move into your apartment today."
Betty looked from sister to brother and back, then said, "Okay, I'll see about adding you to the lease." She picked up her coat and purse, slipping past the siblings.
Debbie continued to glare defiantly at her younger brother, then finally said, "Ed, I'm very angry with you, you know that. Yes, I loved Bobby, but now that I've been with Betty for several months, I know what I've missed. It's a long, hard path, but I can't lie to myself any more, I love women, relate to them sexually and emotionally, and I don't think I'm going to hell for it either, like the church would have us believe." She clenched and unclenched her fists, adding, "Remind your wife that if she tries to mess up my life or Betty's, I'm coming after her with both barrels. Betty will finish her degree in another month, we'll move somewhere and maybe I'll get my master's degree."
"Debbie, I've never heard you talk like this before," Ed stammered, stunned as his sister's temper.
"Get used to it, Ed, there's a revolution coming and I'm with it. Haven't you paid attention to the news? Minorities are demanding their civil rights, demanding what is due them. Homosexuals are a minority and we will demand our rights as well."
Ed stared at his hands, unable to face his sister. "But aren't homosexuals perverts?" he asked in a small voice.
Debbie sat beside him, suddenly exhausted. She wanted her brother to understand how much she loved Betty, how she realized that even though she had a good marriage with Bobby, something had always been lacking, something that she found in the arms of another woman. "Sweetheart," she finally said softly, "I love you very much, I love my niece, but I've been doing for other people a long time. I married Bobby, raised two fine boys, then came to live with you and Marcella to take care of your daughter because it was my duty. Well, I never took time for me, and that is part of the revolution. I don't really believe that homosexuals are perverts any more than heterosexuals are perverts. If you're worried, I'd never do anything to Brigid." She smiled slightly. "And I'd never come on to Marcella." She was rewarded by a slight grin. "Edward, this will be hard, sexual preference just isn't discussed openly, which is the main reason I'm leaving rather than staying and fighting to make you understand. I do love you, I'm not doing this to hurt you."
Ed looked up at his sister, still trying to get used to the idea that she was one of those women. Part of him said that he should never see her again, part of him declared that she was his sister so it didn't matter who she slept with, just that she was happy. "Debbie," he finally said, "I can't promise I'll understand, but I will find a way to keep in touch. Maybe I'll rent a box at the post office on campus, that way Marcella won't see any letters."
"I'll keep in touch," Debbie replied as she stood up. Ed sat a few seconds longer, then stood up, wondering why he felt like weeping. "I was pretty scared when I realized what loving Betty meant," Debbie said gently, "but it's the best thing for me right now. Leaving you and Brigid feels like desertion, but Ed, I'm a grown woman and I can take care of myself." She saw the glint of tears in his eyes, she pulled him into her arms without thinking, gently rubbing his neck like he was a child. "Shh, it will turn out for the best, I promise," she whispered. "I have to pack now," she reminded him. "I'll leave money for groceries, then I'll be gone."
Ed nodded miserably as he watched Debbie get up and start packing. It just wasn't fair, just when he had found a buffer from the storms of life, she was ripped away from him. Why couldn't he find the courage to tell Marcella to go fly a kite or something? As he stood there trying not to cry, he heard Brigid calling out for him. Numbly, he left his sister's room to take care of his daughter. At least Brigid loved him unreservedly, unlike his wife, maybe even unlike his sister, why else would she desert him like this? "Coming, Brigid," he called down the hall. "Daddy's coming to his sweetheart."
Brigid slid in the booth next to Helen, facing their guest. It was Brigid's favorite restaurant, serving a wide variety of home made foods in large servings for a reasonable price. Helen picked up her menu, reaching absently for her reading glasses, then realizing that she had left them at home, asked, "Brigid, can you tell me what is good on the menu?"
Brigid smiled wickedly, asking, "Should Skye just hold the menu on her side so you can read it?" At the glowering look from her lover, she muttered, "no sense of humor whatsoever." She picked up the menu, scanned it, then announced, "I'm having the chicken fried chicken, you'd probably like the grilled pork chops, honey."
"Chicken friend chicken?"
"Yes, Skye, boneless chicken breasts with a batter, lightly fried, with a white gravy on top. Wonderfully decadent, I'll do penance in the gym tomorrow morning. I do love breasts!" the reporter said playfully.
Helen glared at her lover, but with a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Dr. Gable, I apologize for my partner, she forgot her manners today."
"Helen, you may call me Skye, as I requested. I find Brigid's humor most refreshingly honest, if a bit racy." The three fell silent as the waitress approached, giving their orders one at a time. Skye continued, "Brigid, will you be covering the history convention?"
"No, I usually don't cover conventions and I'm starting on my Janice Covington story, it should keep me busy for weeks." Brigid glanced at her lover, then added, "I may even interview Helen, as an 'unnamed source'."
Helen rolled her eyes, answering, "Hey, I might even let you name me as a source, if you're nice to me."
Brigid leaned her head against Helen's shoulder, responding, "I'm always nice to you, Helen, why wouldn't I be nice now?" She straightened back up, then asked Skye, "May I interview you as well? I'd like to hear a different opinion, one from someone who knew Janice years ago."
As Skye was assenting, Darlene and Janet were being seated across the room. Darlene caught sight of Brigid leaning against Helen, then waited while the hostess recited the specials de jour before commenting to Janet, "If you saw one woman leaning against another woman, what would you think?"
Janet frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I see my professor over there and the woman sitting with her leaned her head against Dr. Pappas for a moment," Darlene clarified.
Janet turned around to see what Darlene was talking about, but she didn't see what Darlene did. "I didn't catch it." She turned back around, looking at the menu. "Okay, kiddo, it's your birthday, get what you want."
Darlene looked at the menu, deciding that answering, "I want you" was not the appropriate response. "I guess the pork chops, unless you want to split the rib sampler with me." She snuck another look at the table across the room, watching Dr. Pappas and her dinner companions laughing about something. It occurred to her that even though Dr. Pappas was rather animated in her lectures, she had never heard the woman laugh. It was a marvelous sound, rich and low, floating through the room. The dark blonde woman beside her wrapped an arm around Dr. Pappas' shoulders, patting her cheek with the other hand. The older woman across from them must have said something, since the blonde started laughing even harder, her laughter a lighter counterpoint to Dr. Pappas'.
"Earth to Darlene, come in, Darlene," Janet called, shaping her hands like a megaphone. Darlene looked at her, blinking rapidly. "What's so fascinating, my friend? Here I offer to take you to dinner for your birthday and you don't even pay me any mind," Janet mock pouted.
"I'm sorry, Janet, I guess I was busy people-watching, one of my bad habits," Darlene replied as she looked at her menu, unable to meet Janet's dark brown eyes with her own gray ones.
Janet glanced over her shoulder and said nonchalantly, "I think that is Brigid Anderson, the reporter for NewsTime." She watched for a moment longer, then turned back around. Before she could comment further, the waitress came back for their orders. They placed their orders, then made small talk about other classes until their meal came. Janet caught Darlene watching people again, then saw the professor and her party leaving the place, the blonde placing her hand briefly on the tall professor's back as they went through the door. She smiled at Darlene, who also noticed the small gesture.
A little later that evening, Darlene sat contentedly on Janet's couch, watching the Discovery Channel as Janet was busy fixing coffee in the kitchen. The dinner had been very good and Janet had nearly forgotten about the mysterious blonde with Helen Pappas, but now she wondered about the two women. Were they possibly lovers? Her overactive imagination provided her with a brief picture of the two women kissing, interrupted by the aroma of rich coffee. "Here you go, Darlene," Janet said as she extended the mug toward Darlene. "Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks," Darlene replied as she took a cautious sip. She closed her eyes in approval, allowing the rich combination of coffee, cream and a hint of cinnamon roll over her tongue. "That's good," she purred in a lower voice than normal, "very good." She sat, relaxed, sipping in companionable silence until half of the mug was gone. She finally opened her eyes to set the mug on the table, tensing slightly as she realized how close Janet was sitting to her. "This has been a wonderful birthday," she commented, "thanks for everything."
Janet set her own mug down. "You are welcome, my friend. Oh, I nearly forgot," she said as she jumped up and went into another room. She came back with a small box, handing it to Darlene. "What is a birthday without a gift?"
Darlene eagerly accepted the box, carefully peeling back the paper. It was a small, flat, jewelry box with a silver necklace in it. The necklace had a small silver teddy bear charm on it, just like the one she had been admiring at the mall the other day. "It's wonderful, Janet, how did you know I liked bears so well?"
Janet chuckled as she picked up the necklace. "Lucky guess," she said as she leaned forward to fasten the necklace around Darlene's neck.
"Let me go look," Darlene said as she jumped up, dashing into the bathroom to see in the mirror. Janet's dark face appeared over her shoulder in the mirror as Darlene admired the necklace in the mirror, touching the teddy bear lightly. "It's beautiful, Janet, thank you so much!" She turned around, throwing her arms around her friend. Darlene pulled back after a few seconds, saying, "You are wonderful, I love you, Janet."
Janet smiled, wrapping her arms around Darlene's waist and squeezing her briefly before letting go. "What are friends for, if not to indulge each other on birthdays?" she asked. "Come on, the coffee will get cold." Janet nodded, but stood looking at herself in the mirror for a few seconds before venturing back into the living room. Did she just say "I love you" to Janet? She leaned her head against the door frame for a short time, wishing she could take it back. But, Janet didn't freak, maybe she thought it was the friendship kind of love.
"I thought you weren't coming back," Janet said lightly as Darlene sat back down on the couch, "are you okay?"
"Yes," Darlene replied slowly, "I was just admiring the necklace."
"Oh, well, that's fine. Want a warm-up on your coffee?"
"Sure, why not?" Darlene handed her mug to Janet. Their fingertips touched for a second; Darlene felt a brief surge of electricity through her body. Damn, how much longer could she hold out before screwing up her courage and finding out if Janet felt the same way she did? She picked up the remote control and surfed through the channels while waiting for Janet to come back with their drinks, finally landing on what appeared to be a movie. She felt herself blushing as two women started kissing, then stroking each other, intercut with pictures of one of them biting the other one.
"The Hunger, a classic vampire movie," Janet announced as she put the mugs on the coffee table, "but a rather strange tale, somewhat noir for a vampire flick. Did you ever watch the entire thing?"
"I guess not," Darlene mumbled as she picked up her mug, taking a sip. "I think I was in elementary school when it came out."
"Oh, I guess so," Janet said with a smile, "I was in junior high. I watched it on cable with my best friend during a sleep over, we played vampire that night." Darlene blushed as her imagination supplied the action. "Darlene?" Janet queried softly, putting a hand on her thigh, "is something wrong? You're pretty jumpy all of the sudden."
Darlene carefully set her mug down, turning to face her friend. Taking a deep breath, she asked, "Janet, did you see how Dr. Pappas and the blonde lady looked at each other, how the blonde lady would touch her from time to time?"
Janet set her mug down, looking frankly baffled. "I guess so, but you had a better view, I just caught brief glimpses of them."
"Did it appear that they were, um, together?"
Darlene blew out a frustrated breath, then gestured toward the television. "You know, together, like those two women!"
The light dawned. Janet looked steadily at Darlene, then answered, "I really wasn't paying much attention, but I suppose it could be true. Dr. Pappas is a beautiful woman and very intelligent, which does not preclude her being a lesbian." She watched Darlene's nervously lick her lips, then asked gently, "Are you questioning your sexuality?"
Darlene looked away, whispering, "Yes, I am. I'm scared that I'm gay, scared that I'm in love with someone and she doesn't know it."
"Come here," Janet requested, pulling the quivering girl into her arms, "it's okay, sweetheart, there is nothing wrong with being gay. At least, I don't think so, is that what you are afraid of, that I will reject you?"
"Yes," came the muffled reply.
Janet tightened her hold, asking, "Am I the one you are in love with?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, I'll leave now."
"No, sweetie, you don't have to leave." Darlene started to pull away, but Janet took her hands, saying, "I said you don't have to leave, Darlene. I care about you a great deal, but not that way. I think of you as a little sister, not as a lover, I'm sorry if you got the wrong impression. I could see the anguish, the confusion in you, that's why I've spent so much time with you, tried to give you a place to run away to here." She reached up, gently wiping away Darlene's tears, continuing, "Someday, your princess will come, but I, my dear friend, I am straight."
"God, I'm such a dolt!"
"No, you just haven't faced anything like this before." Janet waited until Darlene settled back in her arms before saying, "I am flattered by your attention and I do love you, but just as a friend." She kissed Darlene's cheek, then rested her head on top of Darlene's head, wishing that things could be different.
The Past: 1987
"Helen, for god's sake, hold still!" Janice commanded. "There, that's better, why Melinda insisted on real ties instead of the pre-tied ones, I'll never fathom." Janice stood back, studying her niece with a critical eye, then finally announcing, "you pass my inspection, Helen. Damn, you remind me of Melinda in a tuxedo, you look good enough to eat!"
Helen Pappas turned away from her aunt to look at herself in the full length mirror on the back of the bedroom door, stunned at the transformation. She had always been partial to suits, but had never gathered the courage to try on a tuxedo before. The tuxedo was not the traditional black and white, it was midnight blue with a white shirt, white tie and black velvet cummerbund. The deep blue of the suit made her eyes a deeper, more mysterious shade of blue and made her hair seem blacker than usual. "Aunt Janice, I can't believe it, how did you get this for me?"
Janice grinned as she pulled on her own tuxedo, a more traditional black with white tie and vest. "Remember when your Aunt Mel insisted on getting you fitted for some suits for Christmas? Well, she had the tailor make the tux for you, determined that you and Brigid were going to get a real wedding, even if there won't be many people in the audience. Wait until you see Brigid!"
"Now, honey, you know that she isn't supposed to see her bride before the ceremony, it would be bad luck," drawled Mel in soft tones as she entered the room, smoothing her own deep blue dress as she sat down on the loveseat. "Helen, sweetheart, you are beautiful. Oh, I nearly forgot, Janice and I have a present for you, honey, will you fetch the box?" Janice left the room, coming back almost immediately. Mel opened up the small box, saying, "Sweetheart, will you wear these tonight?"
Helen gasped as she looked at the box; it contained earrings made of two strands of diamonds and deep blue sapphires. "My God, Auntie, this must have cost a fortune!"
"No, not really, Helen," Mel smiled, "your father had left several treasury bonds in my name and I had forgotten about them. I ran across them last week and decided to buy presents for you two. There should be enough left over for that trip you wanted."
"No, not Hawaii!" Helen exclaimed, starting to get excited.
"Believe it kiddo, what Mel sets her mind on, she does," Janice smirked as she plopped on the loveseat next to her lover. "I should know, we've been together for forty-five years. Just smile sweetly and say 'thanks'."
Helen turned to the mirror again to put the earrings in, then reached for her aunts. She was overwhelmed by love and gratitude for the two women, nearly on the verge of tears, very unlike her usual stoic demeanor. They surrounded her in a three-way hug for a long time, then Janice finally said, "hey, you'd better get out there, this show needs to get going."
"Oh, yes," Helen mumbled as she opened the door and turned down the hall. She managed to make it down the grand stairs and to the formal living room, vaguely aware of the many guests, concentrating on reaching her spot in front of the minister. She was almost unaware of Janice slipping in beside her as the wedding march started and Brigid started her grand descent down the stairs.
Brigid was a lovely sight in a simple, floor-length, white gown, carrying a small spray of white roses, her free hand tucked through her father's arm, with Melinda Pappas bringing up the rear. Helen could feel her knees shaking as Brigid was escorted up to the altar, a vision of beauty. She noticed that her intended also had new earrings, but hers were diamonds and emeralds instead of diamonds and sapphires. Her dark blonde hair was caught up in an elegant bun with tendrils of hair softly flowing over her forehead and ears, her green eyes were shining luminously in her face. Helen almost didn't hear the ceremony start, pulling her attention back to the woman behind the altar just in time for her to say, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God to join these two women in holy matrimony. In lieu of asking who gives away the bride, I will ask, who stands behind these women, supporting them in their relationship?"
"We all do," answered Ed, Mel and Janice. Ed kissed Brigid on the cheek, then turned and kissed Helen on the cheek. "Take care of my baby," he whispered. Helen barely nodded.
"Do you, Brigid Anderson, take Helen Pappas to be your partner, to love her and stand with her, in sickness and in health, in wealth and in poverty, in times of joy and times of sorrow?"
"Do you, Helen Pappas, take Brigid Anderson to be your partner, to love her and stand with her, in sickness and in health, in wealth and in poverty, in times of joy and times of sorrow?"
The minister then gave a mini-sermon, concluding with the words from the Book of Ruth,
Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.
May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.
She reached for the rings, then held them up in her hand, stating, "Brigid and Helen, these rings are an outward and visible sign of your everlasting love for each other, circling your fingers in a comforting reminder that you are with each other always and forever. Take these rings and place them on each other's fingers and repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed."
They repeated the vow, carefully sliding the white and yellow gold rings on each other's fingers.
"By the power vested in me by the love of your friends and family, I now pronounce you partners for life. You may kiss each other!" Brigid grinned, grabbing Helen by the back of the neck, pulling her down for such a long kiss that the minister finally stage-whispered, "Save some for the honeymoon!"
Brigid led her new partner outside into the soft South Carolina evening, where a band was already playing on the large patio. She couldn't believe the number of people in attendance; friends of Mel and Janice's, her father, her aunt Debbie and her lover Rose, several friends from school, a few friends of Helen's, her friend Sophia and her lover Loretta. It was absolutely magical, Helen even danced with her without a complaint.
Several hours later, Janice tapped Brigid on the shoulder, asking, "May I have this dance?" Helen released Brigid reluctantly and Janice swung Brigid onto the dance floor. As they fell into the rhythm of the waltz, Janice said very seriously, "Brigid, this is probably the only chance I will have to say this for a while, so I'll plow ahead without regard to fancy words. Be very careful. There are still lots of homophobes out there, especially with that damned actor in the White House, people who would tear you and Helen apart, deny you housing, deny you a job, deny you your basic civil rights. Helen will naturally be secretive about your relationship, you may have to do the same. But, there will come a day when you have to acknowledge to some cretin with an IQ of a wet rag that you are gay, and that moron may try to destroy you both. Don't let it happen, fight back until they are hurt, not you. You are a journalist, use words as your weapon, just like my ancestor Gabrielle did. I know you and Helen love each other with all your hearts, just make sure that you love each other with your souls as well. If you even need help, don't hesitate to holler and Mel and I will be rescuing you as soon as possible."
"Why, Aunt Janice, I'm not sure what to say," Brigid said.
"Just say that you won't let your love for Helen hamper your life, even though you will have to be careful. Mel's money insulated us more that I care to admit, you won't have that luxury. Oh, speaking of luxury, be ready to hop on board a plane in the morning," Janice said, grinning.
"A plane?" Brigid repeated.
Janice grinned at Brigid. "Yup, Mel and I are sending you two to an all expense paid trip to Hawaii for ten days. Just don't get sunburned on the first day there."
Brigid stared, shocked by the generosity of the present. "I don't know what to say."
"Try, 'thank you, Aunt Janice.' Or, just a kiss on the cheek, make both our women jealous," Janice smirked. Brigid laughed, then kissed Janice lightly on the cheek as the song was ending. Helen came over, putting an arm around Brigid, pretending to frown at her aunt. "Hey, can I help it if women won't leave me alone?" She smiled at her niece as she left them to find Mel.
Helen asked curiously, "So, what was that all about? You and Janice looked like you were having a serious discussion."
"Oh, honey, she was just warning me that life might not all be roses and sunshine, to be careful." Brigid hugged Helen and kissed her lightly on the lips. "It is pretty hard not to let everyone know how I feel about you, but I can handle it."
Helen nodded as she wrapped her arms around her partner. "Yes, but at least with you at my side, the rest doesn't matter. Have I told you in the past hour that I love you?"
"My beloved Brigid, I love you with my heart, my soul, my very being; I could never stand to be parted from you. You are my alpha, my omega, the missing part of my soul," Helen declared fervently.
"Helen, I never heard anything so poetic from you," Brigid said, genuinely touched.
Helen shrugged slightly, running a hand lightly through Brigid's dark blonde hair. "Well, I rarely speak from my heart, love. Shall we dance?"
"Yes," Brigid answered, "I'll always dance with you. The missing part of your soul, huh?"
"Yep. Now and for always."
Helen noticed that Darlene didn't pay much attention during class. She kept staring out the windows or staring down at her notebook, but rarely wrote down anything, looking like she would burst into tears at any moment. After Helen dismissed the class Darlene hung back, slowly stuffing her notebook into her backpack, but not looking up at Helen, who had already finished repacking her notes in her briefcase. "Darlene," she said quietly, "do you have any other classes today?"
"No," Darlene answered listlessly, "I guess I'll go get some lunch somewhere, then go study. I'm sorry I was so distracted during class. I promise to listen better next time."
"Darlene, I wasn't commenting about your attention or lack thereof, I was planning to ask if you could assist me this afternoon." In for a penny, in for a pound, Helen thought, something about this girl reminded her of Brigid. Or, maybe, herself. "You know the history conference is going on and I'm helping one of the visiting professors, Dr. Skye Gable. It seems that the airlines lost some of Dr. Gable's materials and I need someone to help me run to the copy shop and get more copies run off. Would you like to help?"
Darlene looked up at her professor's kind face, quiet understanding radiating from her incredible blue eyes. "Sure, I'd be glad to," she said, "where should I meet you?"
"Well, I'm hungry now, would you like to join Dr. Gable and myself for lunch? Just something quick from the student union, but that would keep us from trying to meet somewhere. I'll even let you stash your backpack in my office."
"Oh, Dr. Pappas, that would be wonderful!" Darlene gushed. She walked over to Dr. Pappas and hugged her, then, much to her horror, burst into tears.
Helen disentangled herself from the girl long enough to shut the door, then came back, drawing the sobbing student into her arms. "Hey, it's okay," she murmured, finding herself gently stroking the girl's back. The back of her mind screamed a warning, but her heart said that the girl needed comforting, for whatever reason. She held Darlene until the sobs stopped, then turned her loose and handed her the box of tissues from her desk. "What's bothering you, Darlene?" she asked gently.
"I'm sorry," Darlene gulped, "but it didn't happen."
Helen was puzzled for a moment, then remembered their conversation in her office. "Janet?" she asked.
"Yes, Janet. I read the signs wrong, Janet is straight, not interested in me that way. God, I feel like such a fool, Dr. Pappas, Janet took me out for my birthday, then gave me this necklace." She pulled the necklace out for Dr. Pappas to see, then continued, "I told her about seeing you with Dr. Gable and that blonde lady at dinner, trying to gauge if she picked up on what I thought...oh my God, I didn't mean to tell you that, Dr. Pappas."
Helen felt shaken, like someone had suddenly stripped away her protective coloring. She looked down at her ring for a moment, then forced herself to look back at Darlene and say, "Go on, Darlene, I'm listening."
Blushing, Darlene said, "Well, I basically hinted, then Janet finally asked if I was questioning my sexuality. We talked about it for a few minutes, then I confessed that I loved her and she said she loved me too, but just as a friend, not as a lover. Damn it, I felt like I was two inches tall, then to make it worse, she held me in her arms and told me that I could talk to her any time I needed to. I wound up staying over, sleeping in her arms all night. I'm so confused, I love her but she can't return my love that way. What am I going to do?"
Helen pondered the question for a long moment, not sure how to answer. She could see the pain written in the girl's eyes, the heartbreak. She remembered the same expression on Brigid's face when she tried to kick her out of her life, after that party. Finally, she answered, "I don't know what to tell you, Darlene, but I'm sure there is someone out there for you, and you may find him or her when you least expect it."
Darlene cranked up her courage, then asked, "So, who was that with you? Your partner?"
Helen sighed, confronted with the question she had managed to duck in the nearly seventeen years she had been teaching at the university. Cornered, but concerned about her student, she answered honestly, "Yes, Brigid is my partner of almost twelve years."
Darlene digested this for a long moment, then asked, "So why didn't you say anything the other day, when you told me it was okay to be gay?"
Helen picked up her briefcase, then answered tersely, "Because I've been in the closet for a very long time. Because I fell in love with Brigid when she was still in high school. Because it is still dangerous to one's health and job security to be out and open. Most of all, because I am a coward. Shall we go to lunch?" She walked over to the door, waiting for Darlene to follow her. Darlene stood there, stunned, then finally followed her professor out the door. She hadn't meant to pry, really she hadn't.
The past: 1982
Brigid had called Helen from a Christmas party, begging her to come pick her up, saying that things were out of control. Helen had driven over, rescued Brigid from a would-be Romeo, then taken her home. Brigid's parents were out of town and she was supposed to stay with a girlfriend, but the other girl was still at the party, so Helen wound up putting Brigid in her guest room upstairs.
Hours later, Helen heard a moaning coming from across the hall. She sleepily tried to place the sound, knowing it didn't sound like the house settling or the wind whipping through the chimney. She sat abruptly as she remembered that her neighbor was staying over. Was Brigid having a nightmare or something?
Helen pushed aside her covers to get up as she heard the moaning change to sobbing, which propelled her quickly to her feet and across the hall. She burst into the room asking, "Brigid? Are you okay?" She could dimly see the outline of the girl sitting up in bed, sobbing into her hands. "Hey, I'm here," she said as sat on the edge of the bed, pulling Brigid into her arms. "I'm here, you're safe with me," she whispered as she gently stroked the girl's back.
Brigid slowly got her sobbing under control, vaguely aware that Helen was holding her, murmuring something about being safe. She started waking up more completely, the tatters of the dream sliding away from her mind as she became more aware of the woman holding her. She laid her head against Helen's chest, unable to look up. How embarrassing, waking Helen up because she'd had a nightmare! She sighed, snuggling closer, feeling the terrors of the night receding as she sat in this safe spot. She could feel Helen lay her cheek on top of her head, completing the feeling of being cocooned in warmth. Her mother had never held her like this when she had nightmares as a child, she had merely told her to go back to sleep and quit being so childish. The thought of her mother made her shiver, which caused Helen to tighten her grip.
Finally, Brigid looked up, seeing concern in those amazing blue eyes. She tried to smile, saying, "It was just a bad dream, Helen, I'm fine now." She didn't really feel fine, though, and it seemed that Helen saw that. "No, really, I'll be okay," she tried to reassure the older woman.
Helen cocked an eyebrow, asking gently, "Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?"
Tears threatened again as Brigid admitted, "No, I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if I want to talk about it, Helen." She belatedly realized that Helen didn't even have on her robe or slippers and it was rather cool in the room. "Would you like for me to scoot over? Your feet must be freezing," Brigid offered. Helen hesitated, but took the girl up on her offer, sliding her long legs gratefully under the covers. Brigid snuggled back up against the woman, saying, "I found out tonight that Jake was only pretending to like me, Rodolfo made a bet that Jake could get me into bed. Jake tried, then stopped when I told him no, but I guess Rodolfo had different ideas."
"So, that was Rodolfo attacking you outside the house?" Helen asked.
"Yes." Brigid trembled again, thinking how close she came to being attacked or even raped by the dark boy. "He has a bad reputation as a drug pusher and one of his brothers killed a man in a drug deal. I don't know why Jake ever listened to him." She turned slightly to look at Helen. "Why can't people stay away from bad influences?"
Helen looked at her and answered honestly, "Because evil is so seductive, Brigid." She thought back to Sophia and the wild times they'd had, doing drugs, fighting with other girls, smashing windshields, generally being destructive. "I had a friend who got me in a lot of trouble, Brigid. Sophia was the most beautiful girl in school and one of the most popular wild girls. Why she picked me out to be her friend I don't know, but the attention was so flattering. My parents had died, Dad in Viet Nam and Mom during a peace-keeping mission and my grandparents didn't really know what to do with me. I loved them, but they couldn't discipline me enough."
She sighed, running her hands through her hair as she thought back to those unhappy times. "But when Sophia fed me acid-laced brownies, I had a bad trip and tried to beat up a boy. My grandparents hustled me off to my aunts in South Carolina." She smiled at the memory of Janice and Mel forcing her to toe the line. "Janice treated me like a boot camp sergeant while Mel pampered me with kindness. Together, they managed to get me through those days of hell. But, you really didn't want to hear my life history."
"Oh, no, I do," said Brigid, her journalist's instinct waking up. "What happened next?"
Helen yawned and answered sleepily, "I grew five inches in one year, then went to college and discovered I really enjoyed learning. You'd better get some sleep, honey."
"Okay, I'll try," Brigid replied. She pulled Helen's arm around her and laid her head on Helen's shoulder. Funny, she thought as she drifted into sleep, this feels so right, wish I could always sleep with Helen.
Helen was dreaming about Sophia. In her dreams, Sophia was stroking her face, saying, "I've always wanted to kiss you," so Helen kissed Sophia, first hesitantly, then passionately. She felt a raw bolt of desire sizzle through her belly, thrilled and terrified at this first contact with her friend. She moaned as she rolled on top of Sophia and started kissing that slender neck, letting her hands wander over Sophia's small breasts--wait, Sophia had large breasts, not small ones. Helen's eyes flew open as she realized that she had been kissing the girl next door.
"God, I'm sorry," she croaked as she jumped out of bed. "You'd better get dressed and go," she said as she ran back to her own room and slammed the door. Helen leaned against the door, shaking with interrupted desire and fear. God, she wasn't any better than the boy who'd tried to rape Brigid. No wonder Marcella didn't trust her around her daughter!
Brigid was confused. She had been dreaming that Jake was kissing her again, but when she opened her eyes and realized it was Helen, she didn't have time to react before the older woman dashed off and slammed her own door. Brigid was torn between awakening desire and fear that the rumors were right, that she wanted women, not men. She could still feel her lips tingling where Helen had kissed her, could feel the warm dampness between her legs, wanted to run but also wanted to fling that door open and finish what they had started.
She finally got out of bed, deciding that the best course of action would be to get dressed and leave. Maybe she should shower first, she thought, then leave. She shut the bathroom door behind her, then burst into tears of confusion, covering her face with a towel so Helen wouldn't hear her.
An hour later, Brigid finally descended the stairs, intending to sneak out quietly, but was stopped by the smells of breakfast. She hung her coat and purse on the entryway coat rack, then followed the smells into the kitchen. "Hey, smells good," she ventured.
Helen silently dished up eggs, bacon and biscuits on a second plate and handed them to Brigid. "Milk's in the fridge," she said tiredly. Brigid went over and poured herself a glass, then sat down at the table. Her hunger overcame her shyness as she tucked into the meal, not daring to look up at her neighbor.
Finally, Brigid finished eating and put down her fork. She could feel Helen watching her, so she looked up to find red-rimmed eyes boring into her own. "I'm sorry about this morning," Helen said hoarsely, "I'm not sure what happened. It would probably be better if you didn't come over for a while."
Brigid moved her fork restlessly around the empty plate, then finally answered, "I think it was as much me as you, Helen. I was dreaming about Jake, then about..." She hesitated, unsure how to say what she had been feeling."Does this mean, well, we're, um, lesbians or something?"
Helen rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, then looked bleakly at the girl. "I don't know, to tell you the truth. I haven't let anyone get to be friendly with me since I left here, except my aunts. Maybe I should leave for Christmas break early, I've already given finals and turned in my grades. Honey, I made a mistake. I'm sorry, I'm as bad as Rodolfo, taking advantage of you. I should have gone back to my own bed, but I was so tired and you were so cute and so warm."
The older woman started to reach for Brigid's hand, then stopped herself. "Look, I'm an adult and you are a high school student.You're not eighteen yet, are you?" Brigid shook her head no. "Your parents could raise a stink, statutory rape charges, worse than if a man did the same thing. Let's just leave each other alone, our lives could be ruined if we do anything else."
"Do anything else? Helen, I'm confused."
"So am I, Brigid. You'd better go now. Please go now," Helen said.
Brigid slowly stood up and took her plate to the sink, emotions swirling through her brain. Did that mean that Helen felt the same desire that had run through her? Was her feeling for Jake, or was it really for Helen? She paused behind Helen's chair, then leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. "Good-bye," she whispered.
"Good-bye," Helen whispered back. She heard Brigid go to the door and leave, gently closing the door behind her. Helen sighed, wondering what she had done to deserve all this. Finally, she picked up the phone and called the airlines. "Yes, I'd like to move my flight from Monday to today. I know I'll have to pay a penalty, I don't give a damn, just do it, please," she said into the phone.
The past: 1880
Leslie Bills was so excited that he woke up and dressed himself before anyone else was stirring. After all, it was his birthday, and his parents had promised that he would go on a picnic with his friends right after church. He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, carefully applying water to his hair to slick it down, sticking his tongue out slightly as he concentrated on combing through his hair. As he concentrated, he became aware of a figure behind him; it was his pa.
"Happy birthday, scamp," Laura rumbled as she picked up the boy and hugged him. "So, you will be five years old today, do you feel any older?"
Leslie nestled in Laura's strong arms happily, giggling as she tickled him lightly on the ribs. "Silly Pa, I'm really just a day older, that's what Ma says." He leaned way back, dangling from Pa's arms, delighting in watching the world from an upside down perspective. "Do you think Pete will make the biscuits with sugar and cinnamon this morning?"
"We'll see, Leslie, we'll just have to wait and see. Hey, you dressed yourself this morning, pretty good." She set him back down on the floor. "Run along now, I'll see you at breakfast." She lightly swatted his rear as the boy dashed out, slamming the door behind him. Laura chuckled to herself as she started washing up, grateful for the chance to help raise Ruby's son. Leslie was such a happy child, curious about the world but usually pretty well behaved, at least as well behaved as any five year old boy could be.
After the church service, Ruby led Leslie out of the church building to wait for Laura to pick them up for the picnic. Several of Leslie's friends ran up to him, enticing him into a quick game of chase before Laura showed up. Ruby gave her permission for him to play as long as he didn't tear his Sunday clothes. As she stood in the shade of the old sycamore tree, she overheard Mrs. Groves and Mrs. Lee, mothers of some of Leslie's friends, talking between themselves. "Are you sure it is alright to let your little Arthur play with Leslie? I mean, only his mother, his real mother, that is, comes to church with him," Mrs. Groves said worriedly.
"Mrs. Groves, Mrs. Bills and Mrs. Wilkins may be a tad strange, but I feel perfectly safe allowing Arthur play with Leslie. Mrs. Wilkins may dress like a man, but she is very protective of Leslie, treating him like her own son," Mrs. Lee said.
"But Mrs. Lee, she never sets foot in church."
Ruby heard Mrs. Lee sigh. "You do have a point, she does not seem to embrace the Gospels, but she is kind to children. I hear a wagon, that must be Mrs. Wilkins now, so what are you going to do?"
"I guess I'll let him go. Are there any other parents going?" Mrs. Groves asked her friend.
"Just the minister and his wife. Speaking of which, I think we're getting a new minister next month during annual conference," Mrs. Lee confided.
The voices faded as the two women came around the tree, suddenly stopping short when they saw a very angry Ruby Bills staring at them. Laura walked up just at that moment, asking, "Is everyone ready for the picnic?"
Ruby arched an eyebrow, replying, "I'm ready, dear." She defiantly tucked her hand in the crook of Laura's arm, glaring at the other women. Laura lifted both eyebrows in surprise, looking first at Ruby, then at Mrs. Groves and Mrs. Lee. "Laura, let's go round up the children. Mrs. Groves, Mrs. Lee, would you and your husbands care to join us? Pete probably sent enough for an army, he is used to cooking for all of the ranch hands."
Laura had a hard time keeping her face straight as the two women tried to find the correct reply. Their struggle was cut short by the arrivals of their respective husbands, whom Laura knew well from business. Mr. Lee grinned broadly when he saw Laura, saying, "So, the lad turns five today, are you going to teach him to ride soon?"
"Sure, I think he's tall enough, that is, if Ruby agrees," Laura replied smoothly. "Ruby was just extending an invitation to Leslie's birthday picnic to your families, would you gentlemen care to join us?"
"That sounds like a splendid idea," Mr. Groves enthused, "where is it being held?"
"Down at the fairgrounds near the creek," Laura replied, "Pete and I made new tables to donate to the town, the old ones were getting a little rickety."
"Splendid! Dear, since little Michael is going anyway, why not join them? We were going to have a cold lunch anyway and it is such a beautiful day," Mr. Groves said to his wife. She looked like she was going to decline, but nodded yes. "Good, I'll bring the buggy around. Mr. Lee, would you and your wife care to ride with us?"
Hours later, most of the children were running around while the women chatted together about their families while the men talked about politics and livestock prices. The picnic had somehow been transformed from a simple birthday party to a church outing, with nearly all of the members attending. Laura was off smoking her cigar with the men while Ruby went to visit the outhouse. Mrs. Lee caught Ruby on the way back, asking, "How can you stand her smoking a cigar?"
Ruby stopped in her tracks to give her full attention to the woman. "How can I tell her what to do or not to do? Laura Wilkins does what she wants to do. I don't mind her cigars since we have an agreement: I don't complain and she smokes them outside, never in the house."
Mrs. Lee looked around, then asked, "Mrs. Bills, why does Leslie call her 'Pa'?"
"Because I am his mother," Ruby said, enjoying the confused look on Mrs. Lee's face.
"Does that mean that you two have a 'Boston marriage'?" the other woman whispered.
Ruby clenched her fists, trying to remain calm. "Mrs. Lee, the friendship that Mrs. Wilkins and I enjoy is our business, not yours. If you are curious, we are raising Leslie together, Laura had a son at one time, so she does know something about children. Leslie adores her, which is good enough for me."
"But she never comes to church with you. I mean, it's bad enough that she is pretending to be a man, but to not be a Christian as well, isn't that setting a bad example for Leslie? Aren't you afraid that he won't turn out to be manly, being raised by two women?"
Ruby's green eyes started sparking with anger. "Helga Lee, my son has plenty of men in his life. There's Pete, the ranch foreman and chief cook, there's all the ranch hands, there's the men that Laura does business with, including your husband. As to the state of Laura's soul, she has been a better Christian in actions than anyone else in this town! She took us in when my beloved Lycurgus was killed five years ago, when Leslie was six weeks old. The church members didn't even lift a finger to help, so why I'm still going, I can't fathom!"
"Oh, dear, I didn't mean to upset you!" Mrs. Lee said helplessly.
Ruby's temper finally got the best of her. Glaring at the woman, she replied in a low voice, "Yes, you meant to upset me, Helga Lee. Let me tell you something, we work together, we raise Leslie together, we share our joys and sorrows, we try to be the best people we can be. I heard you and Mrs. Groves talking earlier, are you afraid that Laura will do something with your little boy? Don't worry, I can arrange it so that you don't ever have to see me or Leslie in church ever again!"
Just then, Laura walked up to the women, placing a hand on Ruby's shoulder. "Hey, Leslie and the boys want to go swimming, it that okay with you? The reverend and a couple of the other men volunteered to take them downstream to the swimming hole. Sometimes I wish the women would go swimming, it's pretty warm for May."
"You wish they would go swimming so you can look at their bodies?" Mrs. Lee sniped.
Without thinking, Ruby slapped Helga across the face, shouting, "She's no pervert!"
Laura grabbed Ruby, restraining her, saying, "Honey, I don't think that was a very wise thing to do."
"You should heard what she's been saying about us!" Ruby argued as she strained against Laura. "It's women like her who didn't lift a finger when you took us in after Lycurgus was killed!" By this time, a small crowd started gathering, listening. "None of you dared help, Laura was the only one who showed any Christian charity at all, helping me arrange the funeral, then taking us in, providing us with food and shelter."
"Mrs. Bills, please calm down," the minister said as he worked his way to the front of the crowd. "We shouldn't be fighting on the Lord's day. What is going on, anyway?"
Before Ruby could answer, Mrs. Lee shouted, "I believe she has an unnatural relationship with that other woman, moreover, she slapped me for daring to question her. I say we kick her out of the church!"
Leslie heard the shouting and ran back, seeing his ma being restrained by his pa. He wormed his way through the crowd, finally making his way to his parents. "Pa, what's wrong?" he asked in a quavering voice.
"See? The child calls her 'Pa'!" Mrs. Lee screeched.
Leslie looked at the adults, wondering why they were so upset. Sure, he had called her "Pa" all his life, why was that wrong? "Ma, why is everyone shouting?" he asked.
Laura picked him up, saying gently, "Adults aren't always sensible, Leslie. Your ma got in an argument with Mrs. Lee."
"Because she doesn't see how much I love your ma," Laura replied calmly, "she only sees evil." She turned to the crowd and said, "I'm taking my family home." She shifted Leslie to one side, then placed her other arm around Ruby's shoulders. "She's right, you know, you so-called Christians didn't do a damned thing to help when Reverend Bills was killed. If it was so un-Christian for me to take them in, to offer them a home, then why didn't some of you fine Christians help out? Seems mighty shameful not to help a minister's widow."
Laura started to lead Ruby away, then turned back and added, "If any one of you get any notions about retaliation, don't." She turned and surveyed the men in the crowd and grinned wickedly. "Remember, I do business with most of you and know quite a few secrets. Come on, sweetheart, let's go home."
Barbara Woodbain stuck her head around the door of Brigid's office, calling out, "Hey, boss, someone's here to see you and she looks a lot like Helen."
Brigid clicked on save, saying, "Looks like Helen? Could be her aunt, send her in. Oh, could you be so kind as to bring some iced tea as well? If it is Aunt Mel, she likes a little sugar with her tea." Barbara nodded, then came back in a moment, escorting the older woman. Brigid's face lit up as she stood up to hug her aunt. "What a pleasant surprise, what brings you out here to Asbury, Aunt Mel? Oh, this is my assistant, Barbara Woodbain. Barbara, this is Helen's aunt, Dr. Melinda Pappas."
Mel gently disengaged her right arm, holding her hand out to Barbara. "I'm so pleased to meet you, Ms. Woodbain, Brigid speaks so fondly of you."
"Oh, just call me Barbara or Barb, ma'am. Brigid speaks highly of you as well. Brigid, I'm off to round up some tea, back in a jiffy."
After the door shut, Mel sat down in one of the visitor's chairs as Brigid perched on the edge of her desk. "Well, you asked what brought me here. It is several things, one being that I completely forgot to give you the necklaces as dear Janice requested and the other being I came across another scroll, one that Helen actually found when she was in college. We had gone on a dig, actually one of the last ones, and Helen dug this one up. Janice never paid it much mind, since the handwriting was not similar to Gabrielle's or Xena's. I started translating it, but thought that the honor really should go to Helen."
"Wow, Mel, what can I say?"
"Oh, and I also brought more of Janice's diaries and workbooks with me. I went by the house first, hoping to find someone at home and was pleased to find little Skye there. I hadn't seen her in ages, it was splendid to catch up with her, but gracious, it is hard to fathom that she is a grandmother! I dropped off everything there, in the upstairs guest bedroom. I can take a hotel room if you like, since you already have a guest," Melinda offered.
"No, Auntie, please stay with us, I'll tell Helen later. Oh, I nearly forgot, she's probably at the history conference or gone to pick up Dr. Gable now. Do you want to wander over there with me?" Brigid asked.
"I'd be delighted, dear, but I really need a bit of a rest, I drove all night to get here."
"You drove?" Brigid asked, surprised.
"Why, yes, dear, I didn't dare entrust Janice's things to the airlines! I'm afraid you'll have to get another key for Skye, she gave me hers." She yawned and stretched, then consulted her watch as Barbara came back in with two plastic glasses of tea and several sugar packets. "Oh, tea, how sweet of you, Barbara, thank you." She dumped the sugar in, then stirred with the straw as Barbara started to leave. "No, don't leave, what do y'all say to a spot of lunch? I guess I can eat a bite before going back to your house."
"I've got an ever better idea, why doesn't NewsTime take us out? Barb, grab the tape recorder and we'll conduct an interview during lunch, say, at the Tower Club?"
Barbara eagerly agreed and left to make the necessary arrangements. "Brigid, honey, you didn't have to do that for me."
Brigid kissed Mel on the cheek and said, "Sure I did, it's the little I can do to repay you for all of your kindness. Just nod yes and eat heartily." Mel smiled and took Brigid's hand, squeezing it gently, thinking how grateful she was that Helen had found such a wonderful partner.
After a wonderful lunch, Mel and Brigid went over to the conference center at the university to find Helen and Skye. Barbara reluctantly went back to work, saying that she never got to have any fun, but Mel laughed and said that history conferences could be deadly dull, so talking to live people had to be better. Brigid finally spotted her tall wife over the crowd, tugging at Mel's hand to alert her to Helen's presence, saying, "There she is, talking to Dr. Barry. Strange, I didn't think he usually came to anything but the opening and closing banquets, wonder what's going on?" As they reached the professors, Brigid called out, "Hey, Helen, enjoying the convention?"
Dr. Barry turned to see who was speaking, then frowned. "You aren't connected with the university, are you?"
"No, I'm a reporter with NewsTime, I've been interviewing Dr. Pappas. Dr. Melinda Pappas, that is, Helen Pappas's aunt. I'm Brigid Anderson and you are..."
"Dr. Roland Barry, chair of the history department." He looked curiously at Brigid, then turned his attention to Mel. "Now where do I know your name from, Dr. Pappas?"
Mel smiled and drawled, "Well, I've written a few papers with Janice Covington on the Xena scrolls, perhaps you heard of me that way."
Comprehension dawned; Dr. Barry held out his hand for Mel to shake, pumping hers enthusiastically but carefully, as benefited a potential donor. A potential donor of large amounts of cash. "Ah, yes, welcome to Asbury, Dr. Pappas, I've very pleased to have you at our little university. We have thoroughly enjoyed having your niece on our faculty these past twelve years--"
"Pardon?" he said, confused.
Helen cleared her throat and repeated, "I've been here seventeen years, Dr. Barry, I joined the faculty in 1982."
"Oh, many pardons, I guess I was thinking of how long you've been tenured, you did get tenure in five years, correct?" Helen shrugged and Dr. Barry continued. "I'm sorry for the confusion, but Helen has been a fine addition to our faculty, Dr. Pappas, I'm sure you're quite proud of her as well. I assume you know that she is the only authority on ancient Greece and Rome here, we'd love to have others and build up a good ancient civilizations major."
Mel managed to withdraw her hand gracefully, murmuring, "I'm sure you would, Dr. Barry, I'm sure you would. Helen, dear, is this your research assistant?"
Helen raised a surprised eyebrow, but answered smoothly, "No, Aunt Mel, this is Darlene, she is one of my students in the introductory Greek history class. She was kind enough to help me lug over some stuff that Dr. Gable left at the house."
Mel frowned, asking in a puzzled tone, "Helen, I had no idea that you had guests, I guess I'll just have to find a hotel room, I was planning to stay with you while Miss Anderson interviewed me this week. I do apologize, I just assumed your guest room would be free."
Brigid managed to keep a straight face while Helen looked properly confused. "Guest? Oh, Dr. Gable. Auntie, she is here for the conference, Dr. Barry said the budget wouldn't allow putting her in a hotel room."
"Goodness me, Dr. Barry, is that true? I'd much rather stay with my niece than to trot off to a hotel, she lets me stay on the first floor. Miss Anderson, would you be a dear and take me to a hotel? I believe my luggage is still in the trunk of your car," Mel said, pouring on the southern charm.
"Wait, Dr. Pappas, I think I might be able to arrange something," Dr. Barry said hurriedly. "The department does have some discretionary funds that we can use to put Dr. Gable in a hotel, I think there was a misunderstanding here. Helen, I wouldn't dream of depriving you of a visit with your aunt. Let me call my secretary to make the arrangements right now," he babbled as he pulled out his phone and walked away to place the call.
As Dr. Barry walked away, Skye Gable walked up to the group and said delightedly, "My word, if it isn't Melinda Pappas in the flesh! So, what was going on over here?" Helen quickly filled her in on what had just transpired. "So, I'm to go to a hotel now? Mel, you are a dear, but watch out, you are starting to sound like Janice."
Mel smiled broadly. "Well, one could have worse teachers. At least I didn't start smoking cigars," she said with a wink. "I suppose I'll have to make some sort of donation just to keep Dr. Barry off your back," she said to Helen. "Now, give me a key, Dr. Barry is coming back this way." Helen just grinned as she reached for her key ring as the department chair came back to announce that Dr. Gable did have a reservation now, did she need a ride? Mel smoothly intercepted by offering Brigid's services as taxi, saying that they could take the luggage to the hotel so Dr. Gable wouldn't have to miss her next program.
Roland Barry finally made it back to his office later that evening, shuffling through various printouts and copies of articles and bibliographies that he had requested from the graduate library. He propped his feet on his desk as he started skimming the articles, impressed with the amounts that Melinda Pappas had parted with in the past in donations. It looked very good for him, she seemed to like to donate money for history, especially Greek history. No problem, if he got the money, he'd have to hire another professor and see that Helen Pappas's name was tied more prominently to various books that were coming out of the Asbury Press catalog.
He started dreaming as he continued to leaf through paper, noting that Melinda Pappas had left a pretty impressive trail of articles, many of them co-authored with the famous Xena scholar, Janice Covington. He idly picked up a newspaper article from 1993 about the March on Washington that those damned queers did. He skimmed it, wondering how this article had gotten in with the rest, was it a mistake? No, it wasn't, he realized as he read,
Two of the oldest marchers, Drs. Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, both of South Carolina, remarked that they had come out in support of the younger generation. Dr. Covington remarked that it was "a damned shame" that their niece had to stay closeted to keep her job at an unnamed school, so "We're marching for her. Mel and I have been together for nearly fifty-one years now and have seen things get bad, then good, now a little bad again."
Dr. Pappas added, "We've both taught history on the college level and for many years, had to skip over the fact that many historical figures were gay. It is just heart-rending when you can't tell a student, 'I know what you are going through, these people also had to hide their lovers, their sexuality, anything that would mark them as different.' Janice and I were somewhat open, even in the early days, but my father's money and Janice's scholarship insulated us pretty well." The two women, both 77 this year, also remarked that they've spent a small fortune having custom wills, trusts, and other legal instruments drawn up.
Dr. Barry dropped the article in a panic, Melinda Pappas was a lesbian! He picked it back up, Pappas was not a very common name, he was sure that this was talking about Melinda Pappas. He reread it, then turned pale as he realized that Janice had probably been talking about Helen Pappas. He reached for his mouse and called up the requisition form for sending flowers. Yes, the flowers were sent for Janice Covington's funeral, Helen had mentioned in passing that an aunt (bad pun, he realized) had passed away.
"Oh God, we have a queer on the faculty," he whispered out loud. He then remembered seeing Helen hugging her student. Suppose she was preying on susceptible young women? No one had ever complained, but what innocent young woman would complain about her female professor making a pass at her, or, worse yet, having an affair with her? "I must investigate this," he said to his computer, "I must pursue this investigation myself, no matter how much potential money I lose."
Darlene literally ran into Dr. Barry the next day. He had been waiting for her outside of her last class of the day and walked up to her just as she turned to try to catch up with Janet. "Darlene, may I have a word with you in private?" Darlene glanced after Janet, then shrugged her shoulders. "Thank you." Dr. Barry led her to his office, asking his secretary to hold all calls. "Now, I'm sure you are wondering what this is all about, Darlene." He picked up a paperweight, rolling it in his hands as he spoke. "I've noticed that you seem fairly close to Dr. Pappas, Darlene, closer than most non-history majors would be."
He paused. Darlene gripped the arms of her chair and said cautiously, "Dr. Pappas is a good listener. I, uh, had a fight with a friend and needed someone to talk to about it, so she's let me talk to her a couple of times. Didn't you ever have a fight with one of your friends?"
Dr. Barry set the paperweight back down, asking, "Are you sure that's all it was? You were in a rather intimate embrace with her the other day, are you sure she is not, shall we say, forcing her attentions on you?"
Darlene stared at the man for what felt like forever, unable to answer immediately. She was first puzzled, then scared, then angry at the implication. Dr. Pappas, flirting with her? Not likely! She finally said, "Dr. Barry, Dr. Pappas is an excellent professor, but as I said, I just needed someone to talk to. For the record, I hugged her, not the other way around." She gripped the chair harder as her voice started shaking with anger. "If you are trying to pin something nasty on her, don't try, she's too much in love with--" Her hands flew up to her mouth as she realized that she nearly blurted out Brigid's name.
"With whom, Darlene?" he pounced.
"I can't say, Dr. Barry, I really can't," Darlene stammered, "but Dr. Pappas would never make a pass at any student, her moral standards are way too high for that. I have to go to the library, big project." She nearly fell over her chair in her haste to get away from the office.
Dr. Barry started to take after her, but sat back down instead, wondering whom Helen was in love with. If not Darlene, then maybe another woman? He shuddered as he tried to picture the tall, cool professor making passionate love to another woman, taking her in her arms, leaving wet trails with her tongue...
"Dr. Barry?" Helen called out as she knocked on his door, "I need your signature for my expense report."
Startled out of his fantasy, Roland Barry stared uncomprehendingly at the beautiful professor for a moment, then blurted out, "Are you having an affair with Darlene?"
Helen stood very still, heart suddenly racing with fear. She swallowed several times, then hoarsely answered, "No, I have never had any inappropriate relationships with my students. Why do you ask?" He picked up the article he had read the night before and passed it over without a word. Helen took it, then sank down in one of the chairs as she read the circled paragraphs. Time stopped for a short time, then re-started with a jolt. She looked up, then asked numbly, "What do you want from me?"
"The truth," he replied, "the truth. Are you the unnamed niece?"
"What if I am?" she asked.
"If you are gay, you cannot continue to teach here," he answered primly, "you know the morals clause, that even tenured faculty can be dismissed for immoral behavior. This is a private university, after all."
Fear and anger started warring in the pit of her belly as she repeated, "I am not having an affair with any student."
He leaned forward and hissed, "But if you have any lover, any lesbian lover, I can get you dismissed in a hurry. Don't think for a moment that your aunt's money will work here, like it did in South Carolina, I'd rather give up donations that to have an unnatural woman on my faculty!" He glanced at her ring, then asked, "Is that a wedding ring? If so, it seems that you may be breaking your vows if you are chasing women."
Helen looked at her ring, then felt rage starting to build as she realized that her professional life was on the balance here. She could either dismiss the significance of the ring, admit to her relationship with Brigid, or threaten a lawsuit for slanderous lies. Suddenly, she stood up and squared her shoulders, answering, "Yes, it is a wedding ring, given to me by my beloved twelve years ago."
"Then what is his name?" he demanded.
Helen raised an eyebrow and with an answer, opened the door to her professional ruin. "Brigid Anderson." She turned and left his office, waiting until she got back to her own office to start shaking.
All hell broke loose in the next twenty-four hours. Roland Barry charged Helen Pappas with immoral conduct and recommended to the board of regents that she be fired immediately. The board agreed to a hearing after the history conference concluded, but not before, reasoning with Dr. Barry that there was no reason to stir up the academic world or sling mud while others were around. Helen was notified that she was to appear before the board for a hearing on the charge of immoral conduct and she was not to talk to anyone about it.
"They can't do this to you," Brigid fumed as she read the document, "they just can't."
Mel took the paper from Brigid and read it over. Helen was still sitting numbly on the couch, unwilling to contribute any comments. Mel took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then put them back on, thinking deeply. She suddenly burst into laughter, exclaiming, "They don't want anyone to get wind of this before the conference is over."
"What?" Helen asked, looking up from the floor.
Mel handed the paper back to Brigid and said sweetly, "What does your editor think about a sidebar to Janice's story? How about running it this week? What is the deadline for this week's issue?"
Brigid looked puzzled for a moment, then caught on. "I'll call Patrick and ask, but most of the article is finished, Aunt Mel. I can whip together a side story, tying in your and Janice's struggles to keep homophobia from ruining your lives in the past to homophobia still ruining lives, then print this little jewel," she said, waving the paper around for emphasis. "We'll just let a little hell of our own break loose!"
Roland Barry nervously smoothed his hair as he entered the ballroom of the conference center and walked to the front table. Nervous because he was the speaker for the closing banquet, nervous because he was daring to attempt to fire a tenured professor, nervous because he had not waited until next week to bring up the charges. So far, though, Helen had been silent about the charges, none of the other professors seemed to know what was going on. He sat down at the head table, glancing at the sheaf of papers before him: the timetable for the dinner, a list of awards to be handed out, a reprint from NewsTime.
Before he could start to read the reprint or wonder what it was doing there, Dr. Gable approached him. "Ah, Dr. Barry, I just wanted to thank you for inviting me," she said as she pumped his hand enthusiastically, "I've always wanted to meet Dr. Pappas, I knew her aunts when I was small and had heard about Dr. Pappas from Mel. So kind of you, Dr. Pappas is such a wonderful person, such a fine scholar, I'm glad I got to meet her. No time to chat, I must find my table."
He stared at her retreating back. Dr. Gable had known Dr. Pappas? The elder Dr. Pappas? Before he could wonder what it meant, several other convention goers came up to chat with him, telling him that Asbury seemed such a fine place, one for true scholarship and community service. He agreed pleasantly, wondering what they meant by community service. Every time he started to look through his papers, it seemed that someone else came to chat with him, leaving him a little more nervous, afraid that he would leave out something as he acted as the master of ceremonies tonight. Finally, Dr. Melinda Pappas herself approached him, smiling, saying quietly as she shook his hand, "It was such a pleasant surprise to see Skye, Janice and I knew her as a child, her parents worked with us on one of our digs back in the 1950's."
"Um, glad I could bring you together with your friends," he replied weakly.
Mel continued to hold his hand, squeezing a little harder than necessary. "I would hate to see Helen fired unnecessarily," she said in a slightly deeper voice, her soft accent disappearing. "But, then again, it would free her up to take the Janice Covington chair at my university in South Carolina." She dropped his hand, eyes dancing. "See you later," she said in her normal voice as she left the table. Dr. Barry rubbed his hand under the table, the woman had quite a grip, who would think that an elderly lady could grip so hard?
"Dr. Barry, you're on," whispered his secretary, "I found your glasses."
"Thank you, Betty," he whispered back as he picked up the papers and his reading glasses. He approached the podium, adjusted the microphone, then announced, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the closing banquet of the Ancient History Association. Asbury has been very please to host each and every one of you, and we hope that your stay has been a very informative one." He glanced down at the program, then announced, "Our first speaker is Mr. Patrick James, senior editor for NewsTime magazine." He frowned, what was a journalist doing speaking? Wasn't Dr. Henry Smith from Utah supposed to deliver the first speech?
"Dr. Barry, thank you," the editor said smoothly as he took over the podium. Dr. Barry went back to his seat, still puzzled. "I am not the original speaker, but just bear with me for a moment. I am here tonight because history is about to be made. I am proud to say that our very own Brigid Anderson, graduate of Asbury High School and the University of South Carolina, currently employed as a senior journalist with NewsTime, managed to secure an extensive interview with Dr. Melinda Pappas, the famous Greek historian and translator. Many of you know that Dr. Pappas and her partner, Dr. Janice Covington, broke the story of Xena and Gabrielle, Warrior Princess and Amazon Queen, many years ago. NewsTime was the first news magazine to break the story, so we thought it fitting to print their story. Unfortunately, Dr. Covington died before we could start the story."
Patrick looked around the room, then held up the reprint. "As you can see, we have given each and every one of you an advance copy of the article, complete with sidebars and list of contributors to this fascinating story. This is not just the story of two scholars and their fascinating discovery, it is the story of two women in love, two women who stayed together despite the odds, despite the homophobia that followed them all their lives." Patrick opened up his copy, holding it up.
He continued, "As you all know, homophobia is not a thing of the past, just a part of history. We are breaking the story of one of your own, Dr. Helen Pappas. Helen Pappas is about to be tried on a morals charge at your own university, where she has diligently served for the past seventeen years, for the crime of loving a woman, just as her aunt before her. You may ask why I am so interested; I'll tell you, her partner of twelve years is my best reporter, Brigid Anderson. Of course, I'm sure that the Board of Regents will dismiss the charges, after all, Helen Pappas is one of the best known scholars in the arena of ancient Greek women's history and is about to be published in several journals. She is also co-authoring a new book on Xena and Gabrielle with her esteemed aunt, Melinda Pappas, one with translations of newly discovered scrolls."
A buzz rose from the audience. Patrick waved his arms for silence. As the audience became quiet again, Patrick announced, "I nearly forgot, NewsTime is offering a scholarship and internship as we do every year. I just thought I would take advantage of the podium to announce this year's winner, Darlene Fisk! Darlene, are you in the audience?"
Darlene, who was sitting at Helen's table, stood up as if in a dream. She had just changed her major last semester to journalism, how could anyone know her well enough to put her up for the scholarship? She accepted it, then walked back to the table, accepting handshakes and hugs from everyone. Janet kissed her cheek, whispering, "Congratulations, darling."
"Okay, I'll turn the program back over to our MC. Dr. Barry?" Roland Barry walked up to the podium, face ashen. His career had just disintegrated before his eyes, the damned lesbians had won! He cleared his throat and managed to announce the next speaker, then the next, and even managed to make it through the end of the banquet before he slipped quietly away to lose his dinner in the men's room.
The next few weeks were very tense for all parties involved. Despite the outrage of her professional colleges, Helen was not convinced that she would keep her job. Mel said to just have faith, that it would work out fine. Brigid polished her stories and NewsTime ran the Janice Covington/Melinda Pappas story as the cover story.
The faculty of the university took sides, as did the students, with a slight majority of both saying that Helen's relationship with Brigid didn't matter at all. Darlene started her internship under Brigid, even though it was not supposed to officially start until the spring semester was over.
The day of the hearings finally dawned, unseasonably cold and damp. They were supposed to be closed, but there were quite a few people there who were not witnesses, but there to support one side or the other. Mel and Brigid insisted on being there, as did Patrick James, Brigid's editor. Helen defiantly held Brigid's hand as the proceedings started, drawing strength from her lover.
The provost finally called for silence, then intoned, "We are here to listen to the charges against Dr. Helen Melinda Pappas, professor of history, charges of immoral conduct. Dr. Roland David Barry, the chair of the history department, is bringing these charges, alleging that Dr. Pappas has been in an immoral relationship for many years and thus is poor example for our students. Further, he charges that Dr. Pappas may have been harassing one Darlene Fisk, a student in Dr. Pappas's introduction to Greek history class. Dr. Pappas, how do you plead?"
Helen squeezed Brigid's hand before standing up and walking to the front of the room. She allowed herself to look slowly around the room, piercing the audience with her vivid blue eyes, before turning to the regents and saying in a clear voice, "I plead not guilty on both counts." The assembly buzzed with whispers, any fool could see her holding hands with a woman just before her statement!
"You may be seated. Dr. Barry, will you present your evidence?"
An hour later, Dr. Barry mopped his brow with his handkerchief. He had a pretty good case, he decided, despite the scare at the closing banquet. He had presented evidence that Brigid Anderson was openly gay, and that Helen Pappas had managed to deliberately hide her relationship with Brigid for many years. But the most damaging testimony was about to come. "I call Marcella Anderson to the stand," he intoned. He ignored the gasp from Brigid as he put her mother in the witnesses chair. After she had been sworn in, he asked, "Mrs. Anderson, tell the board what you told me yesterday afternoon, please."
Marcella glared at her daughter, then answered, "Dr. Barry, Helen Pappas was dating my daughter before Brigid had graduated from high school. Further, my ex-husband allowed and encouraged this outrageous behavior, even though he was a professor here at the time and knew that both of them could get fired. He encouraged that creature to molest my baby, to turn her from a relationship with a fine young man to a lesbian relationship. That woman seduced Brigid into a lesbian lifestyle, so what would stop her from seducing other young, vulnerable women?"
"Order!" the provost shouted about the crowd, banging his gavel on the desk. When the noise finally died down, he asked, "Do you have proof?"
"Yes," she answered as she produced a sheet of paper from her purse, "I do." She passed it over to the provost, who read it, then passed it back, giving her permission to read the letter out loud. "This was a letter I found that Brigid had written to Helen, but never mailed, when Brigid was still a senior in high school. It says:
I am so confused that I don't know which way to turn. Just last night you were snuggling in bed with me, banishing the nightmares that invaded my sleep, but this morning you were completely different. I had never kissed a woman before this morning, you were my first. I was surprised, but I wanted more and only you can give me more. I know you are planning to fly away for Christmas, but won't you reconsider? I need you, I need to talk about this, you are the only one I can turn to, I sure can't talk to my parents. I can't go back to Jake either, much as I loved him.
Without thinking, Brigid jumped up and yelled, "That's not the entire story!"
The provost wearily rubbed his eyes, then asked, "Do you have any other proof?" She answered no, so he waved for her to step down. "Folks, this is going on too long. I'm going to ask Dr. Barry to stop his witnesses and call on Brigid Anderson. Will you come to the stand?"
Brigid marched up to the chair, swearing to tell the truth. The provost took over, asking her directly, "Miss Anderson, what really did happen? Is the letter authentic?"
"Yes, the letter is authentic, it has been missing for seventeen years," Brigid spat out. "To make a very long story short, I was dating a boy in my class named Jake, but when I went to his Christmas party, he tried to rape me. I called Helen to rescue me, since my parents were out of town, and wound up spending the night at her house, since the friend I was supposed to stay with was still at the party, too drunk to drive."
Brigid looked around, getting into the rhythm of the story. "Another boy also tried to rape me just as Helen was driving up, she simply told him to leave and he did. She took me home, showed me the guest room, then left me to fall asleep. I woke up with nightmares and she came to comfort me. I was the one that suggested she stay, it was cold that night. The next morning, we did wake up kissing, but Helen put a stop to it and kicked me out of her house."
"Wait, you mean that she forced you to leave? What about the other accusations?" the provost asked.
"Mother never did like Helen, sir. Dad, God rest his soul, realized I was in love with Helen and Helen with me, so he arranged chaperoned dates for us," Brigid explained.
"I'm confused," the provost said, "you dated a young man but left him for Dr. Pappas?"
Brigid looked over at Helen, then back at the provost. "Sir, it took me nearly four years to get Helen into my bed, then I had to marry her!"
The noise level rose dramatically as the provost banged his gavel so hard that it shattered. The noise finally died down and the provost wearily called for silence. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to cut this short," he announced, "Dr. Pappas, it is clear that you are engaging in an immoral relationship with Miss Anderson, even if honorably conducted. There is no proof that you tried to seduce any students, and you do have tenure. I am calling a recess to discuss the findings with the rest of the board."
The board left, then reconvened twenty minutes later. The provost stood up and announced, "Dr. Helen Melinda Pappas, we find you guilty of conducting an immoral relationship, one of the few firing offenses at Asbury University. You will be placed on probation, however, instead of being fired outright. If you cease your relationship with Miss Anderson, you will no longer be on probation. If you continue, we will have to fire you." Helen squeezed Brigid's hand, but made no comment.
He turned to the department chair. "Dr. Roland David Barry, you have brought serious charges against Dr. Pappas, but never satisfied the board as to why. Since it seems that you maliciously chose to persecute Dr. Pappas, we are recommending that you be stripped of the office of department chair. You will retain your seniority and pay, but will never be eligible for any administrative office again. Case dismissed."
Roland Barry fainted. Helen Pappas waited until the crowd cleared out, then approached the table, sparing an amused glance at the fallen chairman. She handed a piece of paper to the provost and said softly, "I am tendering my resignation, I will not work anywhere that my employers attempt to dictate the boundaries of my personal life to me."
The provost motioned for the rest of leave. After the room was cleared, he asked, "Does she mean that much to you?"
Helen smiled proudly, answering, "Sir, Brigid is my soulmate, my lifetime partner. I cannot live without her, I tried that before. I love her with the depths of my being, with my entire heart."
He smiled back, saying, "Few of us ever find our soulmate. You are one of the lucky ones. Good luck, Dr. Pappas, don't hesitate to use me as a reference."
"Oh, but I have a job lined up."
"Yes, you are looking at the next Janice Covington Professor of Ancient Greek Women's Studies," she replied. "But I thank you for attempting to give me an honest trial."
He smiled gently. "You're welcome, Dr. Pappas." He looked at the floor, where the inert former history chair was still unconscious. "Do you suppose we could get someone in here to drag him off?"
Patrick poured a glass of champagne for each person in the room, then announced, "A toast! Thanks to the scandal that hit our fair city, this issue of NewsTime, with its story on Pappas & Covington, and on Pappas vs. the University, has broken all previous sales records. Helen, you are one hell of a subject!" Helen smiled, sipping her drink. Patrick stepped down from the conference table, mingling with the rest of the people the room as Helen went over to where Brigid and Darlene were deep in discussion of a possible story. "Hey kids," she called out.
"Hey yourself," Brigid answered, pulling Helen down for a brief kiss. "I guess you know that I'm going to get to be a roving reporter now, thanks to Patrick."
"Yeah, that's great," Helen answered. "Where did Darlene go?"
Darlene had watched the toasts, then wandered into the hallway for a drink of water, she hated champagne. As she finished drinking and turned around from the water fountain, she literally ran into one of the newer journalists, a woman with deep brown eyes, dark red hair, and a huge smile. She stared at the woman, feeling strangely drawn toward her. The woman held out her hand, saying, "I don't believe we've met, I'm Kate Miller."
"Darlene Fisk," Darlene replied, still holding Kate's hand. "I'm an intern under Brigid Anderson and Patrick James."
"Ah, did you get to work on the Pappas/Covington story?" Kate asked excitedly. She belated realized she was still holding Darlene's hand. "Sorry about that. Say, I'm hungry, want to go grab a bite to eat?"
"Sure," Darlene answered. Could a woman fall in love instantly? she asked herself as she ran off to grab her bag. Maybe, the answer floated in her head as she followed Kate out to her car, falling in step just like they had known each other for years.
Mel waited for Helen and Brigid to get back from the party, anxious to see them before she went to bed. They finally appeared, asking why she had left so early. "I wanted to get ready for something else," she answered mysteriously as she ushered them into the den. The couple looked at each other, then at Mel. "Darlings," she said as she pulled out two jeweler's boxes, "Janice and I wore these necklaces for fifty-seven years. Before Janice died, she asked me to give them to you. Wear them in love and good health, and remember our love for you, and the love of Xena and Gabrielle."
Helen teared up as her aunt handed over the chakram pendants. Sniffing, she helped Brigid on with hers, then let Brigid put the other one around her neck. The patterned circle felt warm against her skin, as if Mel had been holding them for a long time before handing them over. "Auntie, I don't know what to say," she said.
"Just believe, and help me translate that last scroll," Mel answered as she kissed each woman on the cheek. "Then, when your life is at its end, find two other soul mates to pass these on to. I love you both," she said as she rose, "I need to go to bed, I am leaving in the morning."
"Wow," Brigid said softly as she looked at the necklace, "wow."
Somewhere across time and space, Xena and Gabrielle, Laura and Ruby, and Janice and Melinda smiled.
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