Southern Hospitality


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Chapter 5 - Columbia General

Sitting in the waiting room, Mel felt helpless.  Her homecoming was not turning out like she had expected.  How could she expect this?  This sort of thing only happened someplace like Athens or at a site, she considered.  But here. . . in South Carolina?  Nothing ever happened here, she thought.  Until now.

Mel considered it was a good thing for Christine that Janice was there.  The ever quick thinking and fast acting Janice, Mel thought with relief.  Well . . . for most things, she reconsidered.

She moaned impatiently as she glanced at her watch, hoping the wall of silence at the nurses’ desk was not an indication of problems.  >From the short ride to the hospital, she was pretty sure Janice was ok. . . for she did keep telling her that.  But Christine . . . Mel sighed with worry.  She had not regained consciousness since they found her in her Cadillac.

Hearing Robert hang up, she looked up as he returned from the phone booth.  “Your Grandmother is relieved you are all right, but . . . she’s rather disappointed about the dinner,” Robert said uneasily, looking down at his hat in his hands.  Mel rolled her eyes.

“Was that Melinda?”  Mrs. Baylor asked.

“No.  It was Robert.”  She said with a sigh.  “They are in the hospital,“ she informed her as a group of her guests gathered around uneasily.  Reverend and Mrs. Baylor looked at each other with alarm.

“Oh dear, I hope everything’s ok,” Mrs. Baylor spoke with concern.

“Yes.  Yes.”  Mrs. Pappas rubbed her temples.  “Robert said Christine was in some sort of car accident. . . they are with her now.”  She glanced into the dining room full of guests and sighed.

“Oh dear,”  Mrs. Baylor shook her head.  “You know, I knew all that carousing was going to catch up to Christine.  Her mother and I used to just worry about her reputation but now. . . .”

“We should pray the good Lord heals her body. . . and her misguided soul,” Reverend Hammond offered solemnly, making everyone nod.  Reverend and Mrs. Baylor smiled proudly at the young man.

“Well, no sense in letting the food go to waste just because the guest of honor is not coming,“ Mrs. Pappas announced and took Reverend Hammond’s arm as they returned to the dining room.  “So tell me, Reverend, what did a fine young man like you do in Greenville, when you were not busy with the Good Lord’s work . . . ?”

“Any word?”  Robert asked.

Mel sighed and shook her head no.  She glanced over to the nurses’ station then at her watch once again.  “This is ridiculous, surely they must have some news by now,“ Mel relayed briskly, surprising the driver when she stood and marched over to the head nurse.

The Miss Melinda he remembered would never have been so bold.  Hardly, Robert considered.  She would have quietly waited for as long as she had to.  But the woman he watched now, who stood tall and confident at the nurses’ desk, was not the same one he dropped off at the Columbia train station over a year ago.

Robert smiled.  Good for you Miss Melinda.

Janice sat on the edge of an emergency room examining table, closely watching a doctor tend to Melinda’s friend, Christine.  She was conscious but a bit disoriented.  When the doctor shone a light in Christine’s eyes, she groaned with annoyance and weakly tried to swat the light away.  The young doctor mumbled something to the nurse, who nodded and took notes on the patient’s chart.

“Is she ok?”  Janice finally asked the doctor.  Christine blinked and turned her head towards the unfamiliar voice.

“She’ll be fine. She’s a lucky woman,“ he added and turned to his nurse.  “Move her to a room.  The staff should keep a close eye on her this evening.  If there are any changes give me a call,“ he relayed routinely and looked at his watch.

“Yes, Doctor Reed,” the nurse added the instructions to the patient’s chart.

“No broken bones?”  Janice probed as the doctor walked towards her with the nurse in tow.

“No,“ the doctor mentioned absently as he inspected Janice’s hands, cringing sympathetically at the left.  “Hmmm,“ he looked up, seeing surprisingly intense green eyes.

“So Christine has no injuries beyond a concussion and a few cuts and scrapes,” Janice asked tenaciously.

“Miss Witherspoon will be just fine,” the doctor mentioned with a warm southern voice and equally warm smile.  Janice sighed and glanced over to Christine, who rubbed her eyes and tried to focus on her.

“She’ll need to take better care of her next car though,”  he added with a smirk, getting an amazed look from the archeologist. “But you should worry about healing yourself.  That’s a nasty burn.  You’ll need something for the pain and some salve will speed the healing.  The nurse will finish up and you’ll be on your way,” he mentioned with a smile and glanced at his watch again.  The doctor quickly turned and headed out of the emergency room.

“Thanks,” Janice said flatly to the doctor’s back and shook her head.

The nurse looked through a few drawers for the salve and moaned.  “I need to go get some more salve and bandages.  SOMEbody didn’t restock. . .”  She relayed testily, glancing suspiciously at the other nurse in the room and left.  Janice sighed and looked over to Christine, who was now staring at her.

“How are you feeling?”  Janice asked.

“My head hurts, my body aches and I’m as confused as hades,”  Christine relayed bluntly then with a polite smile and a sweet southern voice she added, “And if you don’t mind me asking, who are you?”

Janice grinned slightly at the spirited southerner.

“Janice Covington.  I’m a friend of . . . “

“YOU’RE Dr. Covington?”  She interrupted with amazement, before she flinched at the sudden movement to sit up and get a better look.

“Yeah.  She wrote to you too, huh?”  Janice asked with a thin smile.

“So you’re THE Dr. Covington who lured our Melinda away from home?” Christine asked with great interest.

“Lured?”  Janice responded with surprise.  “I didn’t even know Mel when she showed up at my  . . . What?!?”  the archeologist blurted with some annoyance, finding the woman staring curiously at her.

“Nothing,” Christine answered innocently with a smile, surprised the archeologist wasn’t . . . bigger.

The tall southerner waited at the nurse’s desk for what she considered a polite amount of time before interrupting the nurse.

“Excuse me,” Mel started firmly.  The older nurse looked up from her paperwork and sighed.

“I haven’t heard one word on the condition of my two friends since we brought them here,” Mel complained.

“Miss, once the doctor is finished with the examinations, he will tell you what you want to know.  Until then, please wait in the lounge area.  We are very busy,” the nurse said wearily, dismissing Mel as she shuffled several sheets in a folder.

Mel’s eyes narrowed as she took a long, calming breath.  “And how long do examinations usually take?”  She asked slowly with a thin smile.

The nurse looked up from her paperwork, surprised at how unnerving the blue stare was.  “Uh, I’m guessing it will only be a few more minutes,” the nurse offered uneasily.

“Rather than guessing, do you think you could go check for me?  I would be most grateful,” Mel said very pleasantly through her still cold gaze.  The older nurse glance at her paperwork then the tenacious southerner.  “I’ll go check,” the nurse finally answered.

“Thank you,” Mel smiled.

Robert smirked, watching Miss Melinda return and sit next to him.

“What?”  She asked.

“Rather than guessing. . . “ he repeated with a chuckle.  “Good one, Miss Melinda.”  He relayed with a smirk.  Mel gave a small smile and uneasily clenched her purse as she glanced over to the hallway to the emergency room doors.

“I’m sure they’ll be all right, Miss Melinda.”  Robert said softly.

“I’m glad you’re here, Robert.  I always hate waiting alone,” she relayed with a sigh, surprising the driver.  Before he could ask her what she meant by ‘always’, an impatient patient escaped from the emergency room.  Spotting Mel in the waiting area, she marched straight for her.

“JANICE!”  Mel excitedly bolted out of her seat.

“God, this place is incredible,” Janice complained.

“Are you all right?”

“I TOLD you.  I’m . . . “ Janice repeated with slight annoyance.

“How’s Christine?”  Mel interjected, ignoring the stubborn archeologist’s response as she carefully assessed the archeologist for herself.  She immediately focused on the younger woman’s left hand.  “Show me,” Mel ordered, pushing up her glasses.

“I said I’m fine,” Janice countered with irritation, keeping her hand to herself.  “Christine is conscious and talking.  But she’ll need to stay over night for observation.  A few days rest and she’ll be as good as new,”  Janice mentioned to the relief of Mel, who surprised the archeologist by swiftly grasping her wrist and turning up a burned palm for an inspection.

“Janice,“  Mel cringed sympathetically.

“It’s ok, Mel.  A little salve and a bandage and I’ll be back to digging in the dirt before you know it,” she added confidently.

Mel nodded slightly and sighed.  “I guess I should look on the bright side, it wasn’t a bullet wound this time,” Mel said, slowly releasing the archeologist’s hand.

“I’m pretty happy about that myself. . . “ Janice mentioned with a smirk.

Bullet wound??  Robert Thomas’ eyes widened, not recalling reading anything in Miss Melinda’s letters about that.

“Miss Covington!” The emergency room nurse barked as she approached them in the waiting area.  “You haven’t been released yet.  Get back to the emergency room so I can finish you up,” she scolded.

“That’s DOCTOR Covington,” Mel corrected the surprised nurse, not liking her tone.
The nurse looked curiously at Janice, who rolled her eyes.

“Uh, I’m sorry Doctor Covington, but you should know, I still need to tend to your hand,“ the nurse said uneasily.

“Yes, of course,” Janice glanced over to Mel with slightly narrowed eyes.  “I was just anxious to relay to Miss PAPPAS the news about her friend.”

“Pappas?”  The woman said with surprise, recognizing the important family name as Janice expected.  Mel smiled politely, throwing a quick glare at Janice, who grinned with satisfaction and continued.

“Perhaps you could let her in to speak with Miss Whitherspoon herself, since she is awake now,”  Janice asked, getting a worried look from the nurse.

“We don’t normally allow visitors in the emergency room.”

“Well, you’ll be moving her to a room shortly.  Perhaps Miss Pappas could accompany  Miss Whitherspoon.  I am sure it would ease your patient’s mind to talk with a close friend,” Janice said with authority and smiled warmly.

The nurse looked around the waiting area uneasily, then returned her gaze to the important southern lady.  “We don’t normally do this but. . . , “ she said hesitantly, then nodded.

“I would really appreciate it,” Mel interjected, glancing over to Janice with a thankful smile, then turned to the driver.  “I won’t be long, Robert.”

“I’ll be right here, Miss Melinda,” he mentioned warmly.  Watching the two women leave with the nurse, Robert scratched his chin thoughtfully.

Mel walked down the third-floor hallway, looking for room 303.  As she stopped and inspected the number next to the door, she heard her friend’s voice.

“I should come to the hospital more often,” Christine said, then noticed her friend in the doorway.  “Melinda!”  Christine blurted happily as she was being lowered into her bed by two handsome orderlies.  “Thanks boys,” she said silkily with a grin as they left with the nurse, who shook her head.

“Christine,”  Melinda responded with a big smile.  “How are you feeling?”  She asked as she came in the room.

“A little woozy still, but the doctor says I’ll survive,” Christine offered.

“That’s wonderful,”  Mel responded, giving the long time southern friend a welcomed hug.  “You had us so worried. . . .“

“Us?. . .Oh YES!  I couldn’t believe it when I met your Dr. Covington in the emergency room of all places . . . what a coincidence!”  Christine relayed with amazement.  “I had no idea you were bringing her home with you . . . .What happened to her?”  The southern patient suddenly asked with concern.

“Well, she burned her hand . . .  pulling you out of your car.“

Christine’s eyes widened with surprise.  “She pulled me from my car?”

Mel nodded.  “Yes, just in time too. . . your car exploded.”

“It did?!?”

After finishing wrapping Janice’s left hand, the nurse stood in front of the archeologist holding up a small pill bottle.  “Take one every six hours with plenty of water, until the pain or the pills are gone.”  She relayed to the bored redheaded patient, who was looking around the ER at the empty beds.  Not as busy as Athens’ General, she considered with a yawn and looked up at the clock.

“Doctor, I know you know all this but please. . . I still have to do my job,” the nurse scolded her.  Janice looked at her with surprise and nodded.  “They are small but very strong, so be careful not to drive,“ the nurse continued, droning on about application of the salve and bandages to Janice.

“Are you sure you don’t remember how the accident happened?”  Mel asked her friend, as she sat down on the edge of the hospital bed.

Christine weakly shook her head no, uncomfortably looking down at her hands.

“Well, maybe when you’re better,“  Mel offered softly, squeezing her friend’s hand.  Christine nodded slightly and looked up at her long time friend’s face and grinned.

“Melinda, you must tell me all about everything you’ve done and EVERYONE you’ve met since you hightailed it out of South Carolina last year,” she asked enthusiastically.

Mel chuckled at her friend’s appetite for gossip.  “Well, a lot HAS happened. . . “ she admitted, pushing up her glasses, not exactly sure where to begin or how much to relay.  The fact she personally had come face to face with armed gold smugglers, Nazi’s and various other dregs of humanity never quite made it into her letters home.  She suspected those worldly experiences would not go over well with her family, who never wanted her to leave in the first place.

“I can imagine. . . look at you!”  Christine smiled broadly, motioning to the tall woman.

“What?”  Mel asked, looking down at her outfit curiously.  Same old clothes. . . .

“You positively beam!  I’ve never seen you like this before.  Travel must be agreeing with you,” Christine offered with a grin.  “Either that, or you’re pregnant. . . .“ Christine teased.

“Christine!  Honestly!”  Mel responded, mortified at the accusation, even if only a joke.

Christine chuckled.  “Well then, it must be the traveling.“

Mel shook her head and revealed a small smile.  “I guess it is.  I enjoy seeing new things and meeting new people,” she responded enthusiastically.  “And I love the work.  Janice says . . . .”

“Work?!?  PLEASE Mel,” Christine interrupted and rolled her eyes.  “I’d much rather talk about the people you’ve met . . . any I should know about??”  Christine grinned.

“Well, you’ve already met Janice,“ Mel responded with a warm smile.

“No honey, of the MALE persuasion,”  Christine corrected her with a weary sigh.

Mel looked blankly at her old, predictable friend.

“I’ll take that as a no. . . . Mel Mel MEL!  You finally got your chance to meet all sorts of interesting MEN and you didn’t even find ONE that you fancied?”  Christine shook her head with disappointment.

“I left to do something important, Christine.  I didn’t go to find myself a man,” Mel responded crisply.

“Why NOT? I would have!”  Christine countered with amazement.  “Just think, an Italian or OH . . . a Frenchman calling on you. . . wee wee mademoiselle,“ Christine relayed in a French accent and sighed dreamily.  “Maybe I should travel there. . . what do you think?”

“Well, Christine . . . it may not be the best time for traveling Europe now.  Oh did I mention? There’s a war on.”  Mel informed her dryly.

“OH honey, even better!  A man in UNIFORM!”  Christine grinned.  Mel rolled her eyes.  Christine hadn’t changed a bit.

Janice sat quietly in the waiting area with Robert Thomas.  Awkward but determined, she turned the page of her magazine with her bandaged hand.  Glancing up she found Robert’s eyes on her.  He smiled and dropped his eyes to the hat he lazily tossed in his hands.  Her eyebrows furrowed as she glanced back at her magazine.  Looking up, she found Robert’s eyes on her again, then they dropped to his hat.  After a few minutes of this, Janice got annoyed.

“What is it?”  She challenged, closing the magazine.

He smiled warmly.  “You sure I can’t get you anything, Miss Janice?”  He asked softly, making her feel like a heel.  After a thoughtful moment she answered.  “A stiff drink.”

He chuckled.  “We’ll, after today, you’ve certainly earned it.“

“After today??  Hell, I’m talking about having one before I meet her family.”  Janice relayed dryly, evoking a hearty belly laugh from the older man.

“Great . . . I thought it was just a joke,“ Janice added with a weary smile.

“Don’t you worry Miss Janice.  They are good people,” he said with conviction.

“I kinda figured. . . Mel’s the best,” Janice mentioned warmly, then with a sudden attack of awkwardness she continued.  “Jesus, you’d think they checked her in . . . I’ll go see what’s going on.”  Janice quickly stood up.

“If you wait a moment, maybe she’ll tell you,” Robert informed the archeologist when he spotted Melinda and slowly stood his older frame up.  Janice turned to watch the tall woman approach.

“Everything ok?”  Janice asked.

“She’s all settled in. . . “ Mel announced with a smile and long exhale.  Her eyes dropped to Janice’s bandaged hand.  “How are you doing?”

“Peachy.“  Janice smirked.  “You ready to go home?”

Mel smiled.  She liked the sound of that.

Chapter 6 - Home Again

“What road is this?”  Janice asked, squinting out the window at some lights in the dark distance, wondering when they would get to Mel’s house.  It seemed they had been driving forever.

“It’s the driveway . . .we are almost there,” Mel mentioned happily, though a bit disappointed Janice could not see the place for the first time in daylight.  It was a wonderful view with the long, tree-lined driveway that warmly welcomed visitors.

“Oh. . . “ Janice said in a small voice.  ‘God,’ her mind moaned, when she finally saw the house. . . uh. . . mansion.

Robert finally stopped the car at the front of one of the most impressive houses that the  world-traveling archeologist ever saw.  Four majestic columns guarded the front entrance, which was aglow in the silvery moonlight and the golden lantern suspended from the porch ceiling.

“A bit late . . . but we’re here.  Looks like they left a few lights on for you,“ Robert announced as he stopped at the front door a little past one am and quicky got out of the car.

Janice could hear Mel take a long breath and exhale slowly.

“I sorry this isn’t the homecoming you wanted,” Janice offered softly, knowing how the southerner was looking forward to having a fuss made over her, even if she didn’t admit it.

“Well, a visit to the hospital was not on the agenda . . .  true.  But I’ve learned it’s important to be flexible,“  Mel relayed knowingly as Robert opened her door.

“When did you get so wise?”  Janice joked as they got out of the car.

“Janice dear, I’ve always been wise,” Mel relayed over the roof of the car.   “You just haven’t noticed.”  Mel added absently with a surprising trace of sadness.  Janice’s smirk faded.

“Well, you’re wrong there, Mel.”  Janice countered firmly, then added softly.  “I’ve noticed. . . . “

Mel’s lips slowly formed a hopeful smile.  Janice suddenly focused on Robert, who was walking back from the house for a second load of luggage.  Mel released a small, disappointed sigh and pushed up her glasses.

“Why is it then, you don’t take my advice more often, Dr. Covington?” Mel challenged and waited.  Janice looked at her and slowly grinned.

“Because, Miss Pappas, I enjoy my cigars too much,“ Janice explained with a smirk and walked back to the trunk, where Robert was unloading the last of Miss Melinda’s items.  Janice reached in the trunk for her two bags and was waved away.

“Don’t you worry yourself about these, Miss Janice.  I’m not too old to handle a few more bags.  Besides, Miss Melinda hardly packed a thing,” he said with a shrug, his labored gasps contradicting his words.

“Right.  And I’m Cinderella. . . .“ Janice snorted.

“Told you,” Mel interjected with satisfaction, vindicated by her driver.  “Come on Cindy, let’s go inside,” Mel grinned.

“How charming,” Janice responded flatly, causing a moan from the southerner.

Robert followed them with the last load of luggage, chuckling.

As Mel and Janice entered the house, they abruptly stopped, coming face-to-face with an intimidating grey-haired man standing tall with his arms crossed.  A stern look crunched his face.

“Well it’s about time, young lady,” he scolded as his stern look dissolved into a grin.

“GRANDFATHER!!”  Mel jumped into his welcoming arms.  Janice smiled at Melinda’s joy.

“Oh Melinda, I’ve missed you,” he said softly, returning the big bear hug.

“And I’ve missed you!”  She relayed as she let go of her embrace.

“Well from the time you’ve spent away from home, I was beginning to wonder.”  He mentioned, making Mel’s smile fade slightly.  Janice cleared her throat.

“Oh! Grandfather, I want you to meet Doctor Janice Covington.  Janice, this is my Grandfather.  Colonel William Pappas, US Army, retired.”  Mel introduced them both with obvious pride.

“Dr. Covington.”  Colonel Pappas stood straight and extended a hand, which she shook.  His eyebrow raised at her surprisingly firm grip.  “What happened to your hand?” He asked, noticing the bandage wrapped around it.

“Forgot my oven mitt,” she responded, receiving a sharp look from Mel, then added, “Just a little burn.  I’m pleased to meet you, Colonel,” she relayed with a nod and smile, looking up into eyes that were strikingly blue, but not as striking as Mel’s.

“Doctor Covington, we’ve heard a lot about you,” he said.  Janice smiled weakly and  glanced to the prolific letter writer, who was happily gazing at her grandfather.

“Good things I hope,” she responded, noticing he was staring at her with slightly furrowed brows.  “Something wrong?”  Janice challenged evenly, wondering what the hell Mel wrote.

Mel looked at her grandfather uneasily.

“Oh. . . no, no,” he chuckled with some embarrassment.  “I guess I just thought you’d be . . . older.”

Janice eyed Mel, who exhaled the breath she held and shrugged.

“We’ll I’ll leave you two to get settled in,” Colonel Pappas smiled warmly and got another hug from his granddaughter.  “Oh, there’s lots of food in the kitchen, if you two are interested,” he mentioned.

“Thank you, grandfather,” Mel said warmly.

He bid them good night and nodded at Janice, who was yawning.  She silently nodded back at the man, who smiled before ascending the stairs.

“Well, I’m off.  It’s good to have you back Miss Melinda.  We’ve all missed you.”  Robert said, receiving a good-bye hug from the tall woman before he left the two women alone.

“Let me show you to your room,” Mel said, smiling warmly at the archeologist. “You must be exhausted.  You’ve had a very long day,” she added sympathetically, as she led the way down a long hallway on the main floor.

“The length of my day was exactly the same as yours, Mel,” Janice informed her, looking around curiously.  Between the family portraits, expensive antiques were displayed on carved wooden pedestals, whose beauty rivaled the object it supported.  It was very impressive.  But the house lacked something. . .it wasn’t homey, Janice observed.

“You know what I mean,” Mel responded wearily, glaring back at her friend’s bandaged hand.

“Only sometimes, Mel,” Janice countered.  Mel looked at the archeologist, sighed wearily and continued to the room.  Janice couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, here we are,” Mel blurted, awkwardly gesturing inside the room.

“Perfect,” Janice said, noticing the room’s convenient location . . . next to the kitchen.

“I thought you’d appreciate it,”  Mel mentioned with a pleased smile and walked over to the large four post bed.  Janice saw that even the bed was a piece of art, noticing the intricate pineapple designs on the carved head board and posts.

Janice lingered in the hallway, quickly glancing around then back at the southerner, who turned on the reading light on the night-stand and happily continued as she turned down the covers.

“It is also the most private room in the house. . . . through that door is your bathroom.”  Mel informed her guest then started to fluff a pillow.  “The desk is a bit small.  I think you’ll like the one in the library better, which . . . .”

“Mel?”  Janice asked as she took her fedora off and entered the room.

“Hmm?”  Mel responded, stopping her pillow fluffing.

“Did Christine talk about the accident any?”  Janice asked casually, placing her hat on the bureau.

“No . . . I asked her about it, but she couldn’t remember anything.  Why?”

“Just curious,“ Janice said with a sigh and started to take her leather jacket off.

“So you don’t think it was an accident?”  Mel suggested with amusement, walking to the always suspicious archeologist, when she got her bandaged hand caught in her coat sleeve.

“I don’t know what to think, Mel,” Janice said wearily, watching with a frustrated sigh as Mel gently freed her hand and took the coat.  “But her car didn’t hit anything . . . .“

“You don’t actually think someone could be out to . . . oh listen to me!  This is South Carolina for goodness sake.”  Mel chuckled, neatly dismissing the possibility as neatly as she hung the jacket on the back of the desk chair.

“So . . . you’re telling me cars blow up all the time in South Carolina?”  Janice asked with a raised eyebrow.  Mel’s chuckling stopped.

“Oh my.“

“Mel, it may be nothing . . . but maybe we should check a few things out . . . like the car,” Janice offered.  “And whether Christine can remember anything tomorrow,” she added, evoking a thoughtful nod from the southerner.

The two women stood in uncomfortable silence for a moment, until Janice offered the first good night through a yawn.

“Good night,” Mel responded warmly, taking the cue to leave.  Janice followed her to the door.  “I’m really glad you’re here, Janice,”  Mel said softly, abruptly stopping and turning in the doorway, almost causing the archeologist to collide into her.

Janice looked up into sincere eyes, not sure of what to say.  Finally, she offered a smile, easily bringing one to the southerner’s face.

“See you in the morning, Mel.“

Janice noticed the tall woman’s smile fade, replaced with an odd expression she hadn’t seen before.

“Janice?”  She asked, blue eyes searching green a silent moment before she spoke again.  “Do you really want me to leave?” Mel asked.

Jesus.  What the hell kind of question was that?  The archeologist’s mind raced to assemble an answer, finding it difficult with the tall woman so close.  So very close, Janice swallow hard.  And she was getting closer, the archeologist realized.

Oh God.  Mel was going to . . . .

The kiss was not a ‘peck-on-the-cheek-have-a-good-night’ kind of kiss, but a ‘full-on-the-lips-no-room-for-mistaking-her-intentions’ kind of kiss.  When the southerner slowly broke the intimate contact, Janice gasped with disappointment and saw the southerner’s eyes intently search hers for the answer to her question.

Before Janice’s mind could think about the repercussions, her heart had decided Melinda should stay.  Urged on by the unanimous agreement of the rest of her body, with some parts urging more earnestly than others, Janice swiftly reached up to bring the tall woman’s lips back to hers. . . driving her bandaged hand squarely into the headboard.

“AHGG” Janice blurted, jolted awake from the intense pain in her hand.

“FUCK!”  She spat, stumbling out of bed.  With her legs still entangled in her jumbled sheets, she fell down in a thud, further aggravating her wounded hand.  “God DAMN it!”  She moaned, rocking with her cradled hand until the violent throbbing subsided.  When her rocking finally stopped, she stared at the ceiling and sighed with incredible annoyance.  ‘I finally get to sleep without any of those stupid pills and I had to go bang my GOD DAMN hand right in the middle of. . . .’

Janice’s eyes widened as she sat up abruptly.  What the hell was I thinking!  Her panicked eyes looked around the room as if she might find where she left her common sense.  Oh, Covington . . . you are in so much trouble, she silently moaned, raising her hands to clench her disheveled head.

“Ugggh. . . shit!”  The throbbing in her hand finally became too much to ignore.

Admitting defeat in her battle with the pain, she groaned and angrily ripped away the sheet still clinging to her as she got up.  Grabbing the small vial of pills from her jacket pocket, she dragged her exhausted body to the bathroom.  Not bothering to turn the light on, she filled a glass with water and washed down a small pill with a large gulp.

Water dribbled over her lips, which still tingled from the imaginary kiss.  She stared at the half-full glass a moment, sighed wearily, and splashed the remaining water on her face.  After a watery exhale, the archeologist placed the glass down, wiped the water from her face with the sleeve of her night shirt, and returned to the bedroom.

She glanced at her jumbled bed with a sigh.  There was little chance of sleeping until the pill kicked in, she considered with a groan.  Migrating to the kitchen, Janice carefully scanned the moonlit room.  Spotting a promising container she hoped contained cookies, she grinned and walked across the cool marble floor.  Suddenly, she stopped in her barefoot tracks.  Her eyes darted to the dark shadows of two men at the kitchen door.

One of them had a rifle.

Chapter 7 - Kitchen Diplomacy

Finding the kitchen door locked, the first dark figure cursed under his breath and motioned toward the window.  “The window?!?”  A second dark figure whispered with concern.

“Eddy, we’ll be in and out before anyone notices,“ the bolder man announced as he slid open a window.  The second nervous man watched as the first quietly slipped into the dark kitchen with his rifle.

The quiet abruptly ended.

A resonating crash and a pained moan pierced through the calm night.  After a few more crashes, a couple clunks and some groans, all was quiet again.

The kitchen door slowly opened to the relief of the second man, who rushed into the dark house.  “Brian?  Brian??”  Eddy whispered loudly, scanning the dark room.  Then he felt a firm tap on his shoulder.  Turning, he only saw the blur before a fist squarely contacted his jaw and felled him to the floor.  He found Brian.

Mel rushed into the kitchen, with one arm through a robe she hadn’t finished pulling on.  “Janice!  Are you. . . ,” she called as she flicked on the lights and put on her glasses.  “Oh my,” she gasped, seeing the bare legged archeologist, in her sleeping shirt with a rifle in one arm, pointing it at two moaning masses on the floor.

“Call the police, Mel.  These two idiots were trying to rob the place,”  Janice announced, then yawned.  Mel nodded and started for the phone, but froze hearing a familiar voice from the floor.

“We weren’t trying to rob ANYBODY” Eddy protested nervously, holding his throbbing jaw.  Janice pointed the rifle towards window man, who tried to stand.

“Not so fast, twinkle toes,” Janice blurted, shoving the tip of the rifle barrel against his chest with just enough force to cause him to plop back down.

“MELINDA!  Call your damn guard dog off of me!”  An angry voice mumbled through his hands that covered his throbbing nose.

“Brian?”  Mel asked in amazement, as she squinted at him through her glasses and took a few hesitant steps towards them.

“Yes, Dammit!”

“Who the hell is Brian?”  Janice barked with frustration.

Mel cleared her throat and pushed up her glasses.

“My brother.”

Janice removed the shells from the rifle, and placed them along with the rifle on the kitchen table.  Just fucking wonderful, Janice thought with a heavy sigh as she watched Mel help up her brother.   A perfect end to a perfect . . . .

“What is going on here!”  Mrs. Pappas demanded as she and her husband arrived.

. . . day.

The grey-haired matriarch immediately noticed the scantily clad archeologist and her eyebrow raised in surprise.  Mrs. Pappas expected the single, career-minded woman Mel constantly wrote about to be much more . . . homely.  And certainly wearing more clothes.

“Well, I just beat the crap out of your grandson and his friend, Mrs. Pappas,” Janice offered bluntly, shocking Mrs. Pappas, annoying Brian, making Mel’s eyes shoot up to the heavens in prayer, and evoking a grin from Col. Pappas.

A long, painful silence ensued.

“So...anyone hungry?”  Mel offered with a weak smile, gaining a room full of stares.

“Well, no sense in everyone staying up, I’m going back to sleep,” Col. Pappas announced, then eyed his grandson. “And Brian, in the morning we’ll discuss why you felt it necessary to take your hunting rifle to that business conference you were supposedly out of town for,” he mentioned and turned to his wife.  “Come on dear, it’s late,” he offered softly.

Mrs. Pappas looked at the disheveled group in the kitchen, obviously still disturbed by the entire situation.  Facing her husband, she finally nodded and silently retired upstairs with him.

Mel looked at her brother knowing he had chosen hunting over her.

“Look, Mel. . . I . . . “ He started an awkward apology, not sure what to say.

“I’ll get wash cloths for your faces . . . “ Mel briskly interrupted and retreated into Janice’s room.

“Well, so much for getting in and out before anyone notices,“ Eddy mumbled to Brian, who told him to shut up as he continued to hold his nose.

Mel entered Janice’s bathroom and retrieved two wash cloths.  She paused, exhaling heavily and fought the wave of tears welling up in her.  She had never really been close to Brian.  But she had hoped he’d care enough to be there when she came home.  Taking a deep breath, she quickly wiped away a tear that escaped.

“Just say the word and I’ll beat the crap out of him again,“ Janice offered, appearing in the doorway.

A startled Mel looked up into mischievous green eyes.

“I suppose ‘kill’ wouldn’t work. You’ve already told me you’re too much a lady to tell me I stink,” Janice explained as she closed the lid and sat down on the john.  “What about hand signals?“ Janice suggested.  “I’m sure I can come up with at least ONE gesture a lady could use,” she added and scratched her chin, feigning deep thought on the subject.

Instead of a wave of tears, a chuckle welled up and escaped from the southerner.  Music to Janice’s ears.  The pleased archeologist stood up.  “Well, I guess we should go clean them up,” Janice sighed wearily at the prospect as she took a wash cloth from the southerner’s hand.

“Thank you,” Mel said softly to the young woman, who had lifted her heart.  Her eyes held the archeologist’s for too brief a moment.

“No problem, I clean up my . . . ” Janice quickly said, glancing towards the kitchen, presenting the southerner a cheek which Mel gently kissed before leaving.

“. . . messes.”

Mrs. Pappas arrived at the table for the morning meal.  Brian and Col. Pappas, already seated, politely stood until she sat at the Colonel’s side.  Ruby came out of the kitchen with fresh coffee and poured it for the matriarch.  Colonel Pappas went back to reading his paper.

“Thank you, Ruby,” Mrs. Pappas smiled.  “I certainly need a cup after all the commotion last night,” she added, eyeing her grandson whose eyes were starting to show the purple rings from his encounter with their . . . guest.

Brian sighed with irritation as he stared at his plate, still sore, both physically and mentally, by the embarrassment that woman caused.

Colonel Pappas quietly smiled as he turned the page of his newspaper.

“What commotion was that, Mrs. Pappas?”  Ruby asked curiously, wondering if it had anything to do with Brian’s puffy face and odd coloring.

“Well. . . ,“ Mrs. Pappas started but stopped when she saw Melinda finally arrive.

Colonel Pappas politely stood, sternly eyeing his grandson, who caught the glare and made a half-hearted effort to stand.

“You know breakfast is at eight, Melinda,” Mrs. Pappas scolded her.  Brian smirked as he returned to his seat.

Mel looked at her grandmother with amazement before sitting down.

“I am certain civilization will continue despite my tardiness to breakfast, grandmother.” Melinda smiled thinly and placed the napkin in her lap.

Brian coughed in the orange juice he was drinking.  Ruby’s mouth dropped.  Colonel Pappas looked over his paper a moment, then went back to reading . . . with a grin.

“MELINDA!  I do not care how old you are or how worldly you may think you’ve become young lady, but I will not tolerate any sass,” her grandmother snapped.

Brian grinned.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, grandmother.  I just think . . . .”

“Coffee, Miss Melinda?”  Ruby interjected quickly.  Mel and her grandmother looked at the woman, who was not so subtly trying to avoid an ugly battle.

“Thank you, Ruby.  I’d love a cup.”  Melinda sighed and decided to let it drop, making Ruby relieved.

The poor dear is probably still tired from the long trip, Ruby rationalized the young woman’s odd behavior.  “I’ve missed you, sweetie,”  Ruby whispered in Mel’s ear and squeezed her shoulder as she poured the fresh brew.  Mel smiled broadly at the maid.  “Made your favorite, too,” Ruby added softly, pointing to the corn muffins.

“You just think...what?”  Mrs. Pappas asked briskly, not ready to let it drop.  Melinda’s smile faded as she looked at her grandmother.  The confident gaze surprised the older woman.

Colonel Pappas peaked over his news paper.  For the first time, Mel did not flinch and avert her gaze from the matriarch.  His eyebrow raised with interest.  Maybe traveling was a good thing after all, he considered.

“I just think . . . that I need a strong cup of coffee too . . . after last night,“ Mel glanced over to her brother with a thin smile.

Colonel Pappas smirked at the skillful deflection and returned his attention to the sports section, concluding travel was good for her.  Maybe Brian should go away for a while, he considered.  He needed something.  He was nearly thirty and still acted like a teenager, William sighed.

Mrs. Pappas turned her unwanted attention to Brian.  “Yes, well . . . an unfortunate situation,” Mrs. Pappas mentioned with a glare, which she was pleased still commanded respect from at least her grandson, who dropped his gaze.

“What unfortunate situation?”  Ruby asked with annoyance.  Mel grinned slightly and sipped her coffee.

“Grandmother, did you tell Melinda about the new pastor at church?”  Brian quickly offered.  Ruby sighed wearily and returned to the kitchen.

“What happened to Reverend Baylor?”  Melinda asked with concern.

“Nothing dear, he’s training a nice young pastor, Reverend Hammond, from Greenville.  Someone you would have met last night.”  Mrs. Pappas smiled thinly as she looked at her watch. “It seems your archeologist friend is a late sleeper,” she noted with a disapproving tone.

“She isn’t,” Mel mentioned, curiously glancing in the direction of her room.  “She’s probably exhausted from the busy day she had. . . rescuing Christine, protecting the house from intruders. . . ,“ Mel relayed, glancing at Brian, then her grandmother with a polite smile.  “I’d say that would exhaust anyone, especially someone who had just traveled around the world.“

Mrs. Pappas stared blankly at this young woman.  She looked like her granddaughter.  She sounded like her granddaughter.  Yet, she did not act like her granddaughter.

“Christine?”  Brian repeated, perking up at the name.  “What happened?”

Her family stared in amazement as the normally reserved young woman told them with unabashed enthusiasm of how Janice rescued Christine from the car just before it exploded.

“Exploded?  Robert never mentioned anything about an explosion . . . did he?”  Mrs. Pappas looked at her husband, who shrugged.

“Thank the Lord they are ok.  I’m going to pick Christine up from the hospital today.  But she’ll need a few days rest, like Janice. . . If I can convince her of that.”  Mel sighed and sipped her coffee.

Brian shook his head and chuckled.  “Right.  You ought to sell that to one of those magazines, Melinda . . . THEY might buy it.”

Mel’s eyes narrowed dangerously, surprising Brian.

“Well Brian, Robert knows better than to tell ME stories and said the same thing last night,“ Ruby interjected as she poured Mrs. Pappas another cup of coffee, surprising everyone.

“Excuse me,” Melinda said through clenched teeth, looking at her grandparents, who nodded.

Ruby’s eyebrows furrowed when she noticed Mel hardly touched her food, including  the corn muffins.

After their grandchildren had left the table, Mrs. Pappas sighed heavily and looked at her husband.

“What’s wrong, dear?”  He asked.

“She has changed, William,” she announced gravely.

Chapter 8 - Raising the Dead

Melinda knocked on the bedroom door.  Hearing no answer, she opened it and peaked inside.

“Janice?”  She called, cringing guiltily when she saw the archeologist on the bed, tangled in the sheets, still sound asleep.  As Mel started to retreat, the archeologist moved.  The southerner curiously watched as Janice drove her bandaged hand into the headboard with a solid thunk.

“AGH . . . SHIT!”  Janice barked, sitting upright and grabbing her throbbing hand.

“Janice, are you all right?”  Mel quickly came over to her bedside.

“Mel!”  Janice jumped.  “Oh. . . uh, hi . . .”  Janice blinked groggily at the southerner, cleared her throat and glanced everywhere but in those eyes.

“Good morning to you too,“ Mel responded with amusement.

“What time is it?”

“A little past ten.”

Janice’s eyes widened.  “Christ,“ she moaned as she awkwardly tried to untangled herself from the tenacious sheets.

“Janice, you don’t need to get up.  You obviously needed sleep or you wouldn’t have slept this late,“ Mel offered, sitting on the edge of the bed, blocking Janice’s initial route of escape.

“I slept late because of the God Damn pain pills.  We’ve got things to do Mel,”  Janice responded with furrowed eyebrows as she escaped out the other side of the bed.  At the foot of the bed, the disoriented archeologist paused and glanced around the room.  She sighed wearily and looked down at the bare legs beneath her.  ‘I guess I need pants,’ she concluded and walked towards her khakis draped over the chair, on top of her jacket.

“Janice. . . “

The archeologist turned, watching the beautiful southerner walk towards her.  Janice was startled by her lingering feelings.  Damn pills, she silently muttered.

“I can’t be sleeping the day away, Mel,”  Janice snapped, grabbing her pants as she quickly turned away . . . a little too quickly.  “Whoa. . . “  Janice blurted with surprise at the rush of dizziness.  Mel reached out and caught her before she fell.

“Whoa is right.  You are not going anywhere as long as you are feeling dizzy, Janice.  Now I won’t have you falling because you’re too stubborn to slow down,“  Mel announced sternly, firmly holding the surprised archeologist, who looked directly up into her best friend’s concerned face. . . . her incredibly beautiful. . . face.

Oh God. . . .

Ruby gasped in shock as she bustled into the room, almost dropping the tray of food for Melinda’s friend.  She saw a scantily clad woman holding her sweet Melinda  inappropriately close.

Janice felt a surge of panic, along with the cold draft from the open door.

“She’s ok. . . just a little dizzy from the medication,” Mel informed her maid with a warm smile and eyed the tray.  “Thank you for the food, Ruby.  I’ll see to it Janice eats every bit.”

“Yeah. . .thanks,”  Janice croaked as she awkwardly stepped back from Mel.  She smiled weakly at the maid whose eyes narrowed.  Janice Covington was exactly as Ruby pictured her from Mel’s letters.


“Well,” Ruby smiled thinly.  “I hope you feel better. . . Dr. Covington,”  the maid relayed and started to leave.  She stopped at the door and opened it a little wider, glancing back at the two with a polite smile.  Mel looked at the older woman curiously.  Janice rolled her eyes.

“Just making sure there’s plenty of air.  Good circulation in a room is important . . . for SICK people,”  Ruby explained, eyeing Janice, whose eyes dropped to the floor.

What the HELL was I thinking?

“You hardly touched your breakfast, Janice.  Are you sure you feel up . . . “ Mel asked as she followed the briskly walking archeologist, who was putting on her jacket as she marched through the hallway.

“Yes,” Janice blurted and came to a sudden halt, making the southerner nearly collide with her.  Looking around the huge house, she chose a direction and charged for it hoping it was the front door.

“Janice!”  Mel called with frustration, pushing up her glasses.  The archeologist turned to glare at the southerner.  “That’s the library, the front door is this way,”  Mel offered, pointing to where Janice was now heading.  Mel shook her head with a sigh and followed.

The sight of Robert by the family car was like a breath of fresh air for the archeologist, who received a warm smile from the older black man.  “How you doing today, Bob?”  Janice asked.

“Well, Miss Janice, I’ve been better and I’ve been worse, cain’t complain I guess,” he answered easily, making Janice smirk.

Ruby stopped making the bed and looked out the second floor window.  Her eyebrows furrowed as she watched the two women get in the family car.  Robert shut Melinda’s door, walked around the front, and smiled broadly as he talked with Janice.  Oh Robert, mark my words, you and I are going to have a talk about that woman, Ruby promised herself.

When they drove off, Ruby shook her head and sighed heavily.

“What’s wrong, Ruby?” Mrs. Pappas asked as she tried on another pair of earrings and caught the maid’s sigh in the mirror.

Ruby looked over to the matriarch, who was busy getting ready for yet another social event.  This time it was a fund raising lunch for the new wing for the Baptist church.

“I’ve got a bad feeling, Mrs. Pappas,” she spoke ominously.  The matriarch turned in her seat towards the maid.

Robert pulled over to the side of the familiar road.  The three got out and looked around with surprise.  Christine’s car was gone.

“Where could it be?”  Mel asked aloud, as she and Robert watched the quiet archeologist walk along the skid marks.  Janice knelt down to get a closer look at the marks then sighed, shaking her head.

“My guess is it’s at Darryl’s junk yard, just down the road.”  Robert offered. “Guess you want to go to Darryl’s junk yard now. . . “

Both women nodded.

“Edgar, how are you dear?”  Mrs. Pappas asked politely.  Hearing the family lawyer prattle on a bit about his family, she pulled the uncomfortable phone away from her ear as she sipped her tea.  She sighed, looking around the large library.  Besides the large volume of books neatly stacked in rich, hand-carved mahogany book cases, the library sported assorted plaques, trophies, and family pictures with famous people, including two presidents and their wives.  To Victoria Irene Pappas, it represented everything the Pappas’ stood for.

She’d be damned if she’d let that strange archeologist ruin her family.

Hearing Edgar finish up discussing the latest events with his family, Victoria put down her cup of tea and returned the phone to her ear.  “. . . so what do I owe the pleasure of this call, Mrs. Pappas,”  Edgar asked warmly.

“Well, I have a little research I want you to do for me.  I want to know everything about Dr. Janice Covington, she’s . . . .”

“Dr. Covington?  I met her during my trip to Athens,”  Edgar relayed fondly, impressed by the young woman.

“You did?”  Mrs. Pappas asked with surprise.

“Oh. . . “ Edgar blurted, concerned with his slip up.  “Uh. . . Melinda asked me for a favor . . . uh. . . .”  He stopped, nervous about mentioning anything to Mrs. Pappas and breaking his promise to Melinda.

“Edgar, I’ll be blunt.  I don’t trust Dr. Covington.  I’ve heard about her father and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I am very worried Melinda is being . . . misled. . .by this woman and I will do anything and everything I can to protect my family.  Do you understand?”  She asked.

“Yes ma’am,” he said uneasily, rarely hearing such passion from the older woman.

“Now, Edgar, you can start by telling me about your trip to Athens.  Tell me EVERYTHING,” Mrs. Pappas instructed him firmly.

Robert drove the women to Darryl’s junkyard.  He smiled at the arch of hub caps framing the entrance.  It was obvious the brothers were proud of their yard.

Mel looked over to Janice, who looked disturbed by something.

“Are you feeling ok, Janice?”  Mel asked.

Janice looked over at the southerner and smiled thinly.  “Wonderful.  You?”

Mel eyed her with a mixture of hurt and concern, making Janice feel guilty.  “I’m sorry, Mel.  A little tired I guess.”  Janice sighed, seeing amazing compassion in her blue eyes.  Mel nodded with a small smile.

“Well, perhaps later you can take a nap. . . “ Mel offered, getting an irritated look from the archeologist.

“A nap??”

“We’re here!” Robert interjected with more enthusiasm than was necessary as he stopped the car next to the junk dealer’s beat-up sign.  “Hey, isn’t that Reverend Baylor and Reverend Hammond?” Robert asked, seeing them standing outside the office with three other men, who started to follow Darryl’s brother Larry inside.

Reverend Baylor smiled broadly seeing Melinda get out of her car.  “Melinda, my child!  Of all places to see you.  The lord does work in mysterious ways!”  He chuckled and got a warm hug from the tall southerner.

“Reverend Baylor, how are you?”  She asked with genuine interest, briefly glancing to the handsome young Reverend, who smiled warmly at her.

“I’m wonderful.  And you look stunning,” he said, surprising Mel, who looked down at her outfit.  Same old clothes. . . .

Reverend Hammond looked over to Janice and smiled warmly.  She nodded politely.

“OH, reverend, I’d like you to meet Dr. Janice Covington,” Mel announced with proud formality.  Janice shook Reverend Baylor’s hand.

He looked at her curiously, finding it difficult to match the sweet angelic face before him to the intrepid archeologist Melinda wrote about.

Janice sighed, wondering how many people Mel wrote to.

“A doctor?”  Reverend Hammond asked, impressed she was not only beautiful but intelligent too.

“Of archeology,” Janice clarified, eyeing the southerner who grinned.

“Fascinating,” Wayne relayed with an enthusiastic smile.  “Maybe we could discuss it over lunch sometime,” he suggested.   A surprised Mel looked at the young reverend then her friend.

“I usually don’t accept lunch dates with people I don’t know,” Janice said with a thin smile.

“I’m sorry. . . Dr. Covington, Melinda, this is Reverend Wayne Hammond,” Reverend Baylor introduced them.  Janice shook his hand.

“Well?” Reverend Hammond asked Janice with a grin as he continued holding her hand.

“I’ll think on it,”  Janice said with a polite smile, and glancing down at her still captured hand, which Mel also focused on.

“Wonderful,” the reverend responded with a big smile and slowly let go.

Mel chatted with Reverend Baylor and Hammond as she occasionally glanced at Janice, who had gone with Robert and Darryl to look through a pile of wrecks for Christine’s car.

“Found the parts you wanted, reverend,”  Larry announced as he and three large men brought out heavy boxes which looked like they were full of scrap metal.  “Your lucky I found these. . . can’t find these parts this old in a store.  Did you consider you might be better off with a new furnace.”

“The Lord has seen fit to provide us with most of the funds for a new wing.  We don’t want to get too greedy now.  These parts should help keep us warm until HE provides for the new heating system we have our eye on.”

“Should we put these in the truck, Reverend?”  One of the three large men asked.

“Yes, thank you Tom,” he smiled.  The man smiled back and left to load the truck.

“A new wing?”  Mel asked with interest.

“Yes, new offices, classrooms and a gymnasium for the youth,” the older reverend informed her happily.

“That’s wonderful!”  Mel relayed enthusiastically.

“It’s important to give youth a place to gather and develop a strong sense of community,”  Reverend Hammond added, pleased Miss Pappas was so supportive.

“Reverend Hammond was instrumental in gaining support for the project . . . in months he has developed quite a faithful and generous following,” Reverend Baylor glanced over to Tom and his brothers Tim and Chuck, as they placed the boxes in the back of the old flatbed truck.  “Including your grandmother, Melinda,“ Baylor relayed proudly.  Mel smiled weakly.

“I only pointed out the obvious need to the congregation, Reverend.  They have done the rest and Mrs. Pappas has been extremely generous,” Reverend Hammond noted, smiling shyly at Mel.  “I only wish I could convince Reverend Baylor we should have a church bazaar, I am sure we can get that new heating system for the old building too!”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Mel said.

“Well, perhaps you will have better luck convincing my mentor of that,“ Reverend Hammond grinned at Reverend Baylor, who chuckled at the young man’s tenacity.

“I used to love those church bazaars when I was little,”  Mel recalled fondly, eyeing her pastor.  “What ever did happen to them?”

“They were a lot of work and didn’t bring in much money, frankly,” Reverend Baylor shrugged.

“Have FAITH, Reverend.  The Good Lord will provide!”  Reverend Hammond encouraged him happily.  “And the Good Lord also helps those who help themselves. Will you two excuse me?”  Reverend Hammond said, suddenly compelled to join the group by the car wrecks.

“He’s a good man and a fine minister.  I thank the Lord he came to us,” Reverend Baylor easily sang his praises as Mel watched him seek out the archeologist’s company.

“. . . even if he only drops a subject after he gets his way.  Don’t tell him, but I’ve already decided to give in on the bazaar,” Reverend Baylor mentioned with an amused chuckle, then noticed Mel’s attention was elsewhere.

Mel really couldn’t blame Wayne for being interested in Janice.  Janice was a very beautiful, strong, and intelligent woman, Mel considered.

“You know, your grandmother was hoping you two would get together,” Reverend Baylor mentioned softly, nodding in the direction of the group.

Mel looked at Janice, then Reverend Baylor with confused surprise.

“But it seems your friend has interested him,” he said apologetically.

“Well, Janice is a very interesting woman,” Mel noted with a small smile, looking back to the group by the pile of cars.

“Yeah, the police were here.  They had me to tow it here, fill out some paper. . . and that was pretty much it,”  Darryl noted quickly to Janice and Robert, who looked at each other and sighed.  Darryl pulled a flask from his pocket and looked at the two.  “You mind?”  He asked.  Janice and Robert shook their heads no, making Darryl smile and take a quick swig.  Before he could take a second gulp, his eyes widened.

“Reverend!” Darryl sputtered with an uneasy smile as he quickly shoved the flask back into the back pocket of his greasy overalls.

“Darryl, how many times have I told you?  You must learn to restrain yourself, it’s still morning Darryl.  Remember Ephesians 5:15 . . . ‘And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit.“

“Yes Reverend,” Darryl droned.

“Actually, that’s Ephesians 5:18," Janice offered.  “Ephesians 5:15 is ‘See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.”

Robert smirked.

The young reverend eyed the red head with amazement, recognizing his mistake.  “You are absolutely right!”  He grinned happily, surprising the archeologist, who was much less receptive to being told she was wrong.  “Are you a student of the bible?”  He asked.

“I’ve studied it,“ Janice admitted with a sigh, making the reverend very pleased.  Beautiful, intelligent AND a student of the bible.  Definitely someone he should get to know better.

“You all seem interested in these cars, I’m pretty good at auto-mechanics. . . I could help you, Doctor Cov. . . ,” the reverend offered.

“Reverend,” Janice snapped with irritation, then sighed and forced a smile.  “I appreciate your offer, but we’re fine here,” Janice informed him, then walked around the remains of the powder blue Cadillac, trying to ignore the annoying young man trailing closely behind her.

“What happened to your hand?”  He asked, still attempting to engage in conversation.   Janice was amazed he was so dense.

“Burned it.”


“Touched something hot,” Janice said flatly.  Robert bit his cheek.

As they were pulling away from the junk yard, Melinda noticed Reverend Hammond smile and wave at them.  Janice grimaced and gave a half-hearted wave with her bandaged hand, which started to throb again.

“So. . . Reverend Hammond seemed like a nice man,”  Melinda casually mentioned as she pushed her glasses up.

“Mighty friendly too.  Isn’t that right Miss Janice?” Robert chuckled.  Melinda sighed with irritation.  Even Robert noticed.

“Hmmm,”  Janice grunted, rubbing her eyes.

“Did you find Christine’s car?”  Mel asked, somewhat relieved by Janice’s response.

“Yeah . . . what was left of it.  This whole thing just doesn’t feel right, Mel,“ Janice sighed, closing her eyes.  “Maybe we can find out more from Christine,“ Janice suggested wearily.

“Should I head towards the hospital?”  Robert asked, getting opposite answers from the women.  Ooh boy, Robert thought, waiting patiently.

“What do you mean ‘no’?”  Janice challenged Mel.

“No,” Mel said plainly.  “We are going back to the house and you are going to get some rest, Janice Covington.”

“Now wait a damn minute,“ Janice noted with irritation.

“Now you wait, Janice,”  Mel countered quickly.  “There is no reason for both of us to go pickup Christine.  And I am fully capable of talking to Christine on my own  . . .  or are you saying I’m not?”  Melinda challenged cooly, her hands neatly folded in her lap, on top of her purse.

“I never SAID that,” Janice said with annoyance.

“Well, then. . . it’s settled,” Mel said firmly, with an equally firm nod.

Janice sat quietly, trying to understand at what point in the conversation she lost control to the southern bulldozer sitting next to her.

Robert smirked and drove towards the house.

Chapter 9 - Chit Chat

“Melinda!” Christine called, fastening the final button on her tailored suit and adjusting her hat.

“Christine. . . are you ready?”  Mel asked with a smile as she entered the hospital room.

“Absolutely!  I’m not sure I would have been able to survive another meal here,” she remarked with a shudder and turned to her friend.  “How do I look?”  She asked, displaying herself for inspection.

“Very nice.  New outfit?”

“Nah.  Had it for months.  But I guess you haven’t seen it, have you?”  Christine smiled thinly, pulling out her compact to powder her nose.  “And I had to go shopping all alone,” she sighed heavily, feigning a great burden.  “You know, I should be furious with you for being gone so long,“ she pouted.

“Well, you’ll have to stand in line. . . “

“Granny giving you a hard time?”  Christine smirked.  Mel chuckled at her friend’s irreverence, surprising Christine.  “You know, there was a time when you would have scolded me for being disrespectful to her,” Christine noted.

Mel nodded and sighed.  “They are really giving it to you, aren’t they?”  Christine asked.

“Enough of me,” Mel eagerly changed the subject.  “What about you?  You seeing anyone . . . this week?”  Mel added with a grin.

“You make variety sound like a bad thing, Melinda dear.  May I remind you, it’s the spice of life!”  She proclaimed as she put her compact into her purse.

“Well, you know it’s not good for your reputation,”  Mel countered.

“You sound like my mother . . . or Mrs. Baylor.  Thanks to them, Reverend Hammond won’t even touch me with a ten foot pole.”

“Reverend Hammond?”  Mel asked with surprise, Christine nodded and sighed heavily.

“He’s been scared away by all that talk about my ‘Jezebel ways.’ He won’t even have dinner with me,”  Christine shrugged and sighed.  “His loss.  I was hoping to give him something to praise God about.”

“Christine, REALLY!”  Mel said indignantly.

“You are such a prude, Melinda,”  Christine relayed with a smirk.

“So you asked HIM to dinner?”  Mel asked, ignoring her friend.

“You’ve seen him right?”  Christine mentioned with a smirk.  Mel nodded hesitantly.  “An absolute dreamboat. . . .“  Christine noted then smiled.  “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get out of here!”

“She treats me like a five-year-old,“ Janice muttered to herself as she finally took a pain pill with a gulp of water.  Looking in the bathroom mirror, she noticed the dark rings under her eyes.  Yep, she looked exactly like she felt - like hell.  No wonder Mel was on her case.

“But Christ!  I’m not a five year old,” she muttered again.

Taking her boots off, she sighed as she wiggled her toes and leaned back into a large and comfortable chair next to the wood-framed bed.  She picked up the newspaper, and sighed, eyeing the bed.

“Nap,” she snarled with disgust and shook her head.  She returned her focus to the paper and waited for Mel to get back from the hospital.

“I’m not that disappointed though,” Christine rambled on as they left the hospital.  “He does have his problems, besides listening to Mrs. Baylor.  He seems a little too self-righteous if you ask me . . . No smoking, no drinking. . .”  Christine said wearily as she arrived at the car.

“Those are not exactly bad qualities, Christine,” Mel informed her friend, who sounded a little like Janice, though without the cursing.

“Miss Christine, glad to see you feeling better,“ the driver smiled warmly.

“Me too, thank you Robert,”  Christine responded as she looked at her reflection in the car window and picked off a stray thread.  Robert patiently waited until she was done before opening the door for her.

“Mel, I’m not just talking about him being a stick in the mud,“ Christine continued, making Mel wonder if she had just been insulted.  “He’ll break into bible quotes and preaching at the drop of a hat,” Christine said, shaking her head as she got into the car.

“Well, he is a reverend, Christine,” Mel replied with a relieved grin.  She couldn’t picture Janice lasting a lunch with this man.

As they drove away from the hospital, Christine continued gossiping with her old friend.  “Some of my friends in Greenville said he didn’t like Reverend Jamison’s running of the church, told him so, packed up and left for Columbia . . . I would have loved to have been a mouse during that discussion.”  Christine chuckled.

Maybe they did have something in common, Mel thought.  Janice was never afraid to speak her mind and apparently Reverend Hammond wasn’t either.

“But apparently Reverend Baylor can’t say enough good about him,” Christine added, then quickly changed subjects. “Hey!  Are you and Janice busy for dinner tomorrow night?  I was thinking it would be nice to celebrate my release and thank your friend for helping me,“ Christine remarked.  “Mel?”

“Hmmm?”  Mel was interrupted from her thoughts.

“Dinner?  You, me, Janice . . . my house?  Tomorrow?  I’ll have Eunice whip something good up. What do you say?”  Christine asked.

“Oh . . . sounds nice. . . I’ll see if Janice is up to it.”

As long southern fingers gently explored her face, Janice let out a soft moan.


A long heavy exhale escaped from the archeologist upon hearing the southerner’s rich voice.  Her eyebrows furrowed at the next unexpected sound. . . sheets of newspaper slipping onto the floor from her lap.

“Janice, are you ok??”  Mel asked with concern, gently shaking the archeologist awake.

Janice’s eyes popped open to see the southerner’s face inches from hers.  When Mel felt her cheek and forehead for fever, Janice took a sharp breath and held it a moment.  Finally exhaling, she cleared her throat.  “I’m fine,“ Janice croaked as she stopped the southern hand.

Mel eyed the stubborn archeologist with frustration.  Just once she wished Janice would let her take care of her without a battle.

“You don’t look fine,” Mel said flatly, then sighed and knelt down to pick up the newspaper pages that had sailed under the bed.

“Well, I am,” Janice argued and quickly knelt down to help pickup the newspaper. Looking up she found Mel uncomfortably close and leaned back to increase the distance between them.

Mel looked uneasy as she pushed her glasses up.  “Christine has invited us to dinner tomorrow night.  Do you want to go?”

“Do you?”

“Only if you . . . “

“For Christ’s sake. . . “

“Yes, I’d like to go,”  Mel finally admitted, wondering what was bothering her friend.

“Ok.  We should go,” Janice said, getting up.

“Is there anything you want to do tonight?”  Mel asked, taking the extended hand of the archeologist, which really wasn’t necessary, but Mel was not going to complain.

Janice looked into blue pools, which looked at her expectantly.  The archeologist  blinked then noticed an amused smile on the southerner’s face.  What was the . . . oh, Janice remembered.   “Uh . . . how about a walk?”  Janice suggested.  “You can show me some of your favorite haunts,”  Janice said, pulling the delighted woman up to her full height.

“Oh, we can go by the river!  Christine and I used to have picnics there all the time,”  Mel said excitedly with a brilliant smile, then struggled to temper her enthusiasm, not wanting to influence Janice if she wasn’t up to it.  “Are you sure?”

Janice’s eyes dropped from the radiant face to their still clasped hands.  She awkwardly let go.  “Sure.”

A small southern grin emerged.

Part 1  | Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5 | Part 6 - Conclusion |

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