Southern Hospitality


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Chapter 24 - A Helping Hand


He shot me.

What the hell was I thinking?  Janice blinked with amazement as she felt the bloody chest wound beneath her leather jacket.  She grimaced and sighed with resignation as she dropped her head back on the carpet.  Staring at the church ceiling, she noticed it glowing oddly.  “So much for never being caught dead in a church,” she mused.  Good thing the carpet was red. . . .

“Just like my Janice.  If there’s a bullet flying, it’s probably at you,” a man said.

She struggled to lift her head and found a fedora-capped man, smoking a cigar.

“Dad?”  She said softly.

“That was really stupid you know,“ he said, shaking his head with disappointment.

“Christ, I’m in hell aren’t I?”  Janice said, once again touching her sticky red chest beneath her leather jacket and straining to glance around the now empty church.  She had always suspected hell would somehow involve church.

“You know, I could be very offended by that remark,” he said with a grin.

“So . . . you made it to heaven?”  She asked with cautious hope.

“Believe it or not,” he chuckled happily.

His relieved daughter smiled warmly.  “Good.”

“You know, Melinda was right.  HE doesn’t count the number of times you go to church.  And you don’t get any extra credit for being a certain religion, either,”  Harry informed her and puffed his cigar.  “Good thing for me . . . and you, for that matter,” he added thoughtfully.

Janice’s smile faded.

“You’ve listened in on what we’ve said?”  Janice asked with annoyance.

“Yeah . . . and thought,” he said with a shrug, getting a more annoyed look.  “Now don’t get mad, Janice.  It’s not like I was looking to invade your privacy or anything.  The dead hear your thoughts . . . and I’m dead.  It just comes with the territory.”

Janice looked at him with a furrowed brow then sighed.  “Am I dead now?  Are you here to take me with you?”  She asked, looking down at her red-stained shirt.

“Not yet, Janice.  But if you’re not careful, you will be soon.  Man, that was really stupid.”

“I had to do something . . . he was pointing the gun at them,“ she said defensively.

“But did you have to ask that nutcase to shoot you?  Because guess what, he DID!”  Harry bellowed with annoyance.  “Man . . .”  He exhaled and shook his head.

“Are you here to haunt me about my stupidity, Dad?  Cause if you are, you don’t have to waste your time.  I’m well aware of how stupid I am,” she said testily.

“Are we talking bullets or women now?”  He asked with an amused smirk.

“Does it matter?  Neither are good for your heart,”  Janice said bitterly, absently touching her wound.

“Now you are just being stupid.”

“Harry, what the hell do you want?”

“What I’ve always wanted . . . your happiness.  And you’ve found it.  She’s the one Janice.”

Janice blinked, then got angry.  “How the hell do you know that?”

“Inside information,” Harry mentioned, with amusement.  “. . . And the way she puts up with your shit,” he added with a frown.  “You’re going to give her gray hair, you know.”

“Well then, for the sake of her hair color, perhaps it’s best we part company,”  Janice snapped.

“If you think that, you’re about to screw up the best thing that has ever happened to you.  I know you love her, Jan.  That’s why you hurt so much.”

“And here I thought it was the bullet in my chest. . . “

“Janice . . . , “ he said with irritation.  “You are letting your past heartache affect your judgement now.  Please Jan, don’t let your fear or that stupid pride of yours screw up your happiness,” he pleaded.

“So you’re saying, if I’m not a jerk, we’ll live happily ever after?”  Janice asked skeptically with a thin smile.

“No.  Unfortunately not.  You will have a lot of heartache ahead of you, Janice.  More than your share,” her father said with sadness.  “But you have a choice.  Face it alone or face it with someone, who loves you deeply.  And she does love you deeply,” he said with conviction.

“Do yourself a favor, Jan.  Let her,” he added with a small grin and wink and faded into a puff of smoke.

Janice’s eyes abruptly opened.

“No!! “ Mel cried out with panic, rushing to Janice’s side.

Wayne stood in shock, staring numbly at the woman that he loved.  The woman he just shot.  He slowly glanced at the revolver in his hand.  A revolver that was easily taken from him by the police that rushed in after hearing the gunshot.

“Oh . . . William,” Victoria called to her husband as he rushed in with his small army.

They abruptly stopped and stared at the archeologist lying in the aisle.

“She was shot . . . right in the chest,” Victoria explained nervously.

“Dear God,“ he said, pulling his wife close as his heart dropped.

Tears fell from Christine’s eyes as she and the others watched Melinda frantically check for the bullet wound beneath the hole in the archeologist’s leather jacket.

“Ow,” Janice complained as Mel felt around, finding no blood or wound.  Mel’s watery eyes blinked in confusion.

Family and friends looked at each other curiously.

Janice gently pushed the startled southern’s hands away and slowly sat up with a moan.  She grimaced as she slid her fingers under her jacket, over the extremely tender spot that Melinda had found.  It was about the size of a . . .  “

Janice looked at the confused southerner with surprise and reached in her breast pocket.  She pulled out a Zippo lighter with a noticeable dent in it.

“Oh thank you dear Lord,“ Melinda gushed with incredible relief, her body still trembling nervously.

Janice looked into Mel’s eyes and found exactly what Harry said she would.  Deep love. She was the one.  When her own eyes started to water, she blinked a few times and glanced down at the lighter.

“Thanks, Harry,” Janice whispered with profound gratitude as she rubbed her finger over the dented inscription.  ‘Luv H.’

He always did look out for her, she thought as a tear splashed down on the lighter.  Looking back up, Janice found worry flooding Melinda’s face.  The southern had never seen the archeologist shed a tear before.

Mel prayed she had not destroyed Janice’s trust.  She prayed Janice would let her explain.  She prayed Janice would tell her . . . .

“And you thought my smoking was a bad thing,“ Janice said, holding up her lighter as indisputable proof it wasn’t.

The surprised look on Melinda’s face caused Janice to shake her head and softly chuckle.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Colonel Pappas chuckled and started to leave, pulling his still stunned wife with him.  “Move out people,” he ordered his small army.  “I don’t think Dr. Covington needs our help anymore,” he announced, getting an amused smirk from Robert.  Colonel Pappas’ brow furrowed and he coughed.  “Yes, well, we should go home now,” he added gruffly.

As they left the church, Robert noticed his wife still seemed uneasy.  “You ok, honey?”  Robert asked Ruby, who looked up at him with a weak smile.

Full of so many emotions, Mel couldn’t speak.  She just wrapped her arms around the archeologist and hugged her tightly and let the tears fall.

“You know, I’m going to be an insensitive ass from time to time,” Janice warned her crying partner as she closed her eyes and gladly returned the hug.

Mel slowly pulled back and looked into her love’s eyes.

“Yes, Janice.  I know,”  Melinda said with a sniff as she wiped her tears from beneath her glasses.   Janice smirked.

“And I’m still going to nag you about all your bad habits,” she added, glancing down at the lighter then the archeologist with a raised eyebrow.

“Sounds like you’ve got a life-time of work cut out for you,“ Janice mentioned softly, tenderly caressing the southerner’s cheek.

“I hope so . . . ,“ Melinda whispered and received a kiss of thorough agreement.


“Janice, are you coming?”

“Do I have to?”

Mel’s raised eyebrow of annoyance answered the archeologist, who reluctantly got out of Mel’s car and joined the tall southerner at her grandparents’ front door.  It was only two days since the events at the church and Janice didn’t think she’d have to endure another dinner at Mel’s grandparents’ so soon, if ever.

“Mel, honey, you know I love you, right?” Janice asked softly, before Mel opened the front door.

“Of course I do, Janice,” Melinda responded, shaking her head at the silly question and reached for the door.

Janice sighed, not particularly pleased with that response.

“You know I’d do anything for you, right?” Janice said with a hopeful nod, gaining a slow nod from the tall woman, who curiously looked down to her hand the archeologist had taken.

“I have one question.  Something I need to know before you open that door, ok?”  Janice asked.  The question surprised Mel, whose heart beat with heavy expectation as the archeologist gently kissed her knuckles.

“Mel, do I really have to have dinner with your family?  I’m not really hungry,” Janice whined.  The very annoyed southerner yanked her hand back from the archeologist.

“Janice Covington, you know very well my family is important to me,”  Mel said with irritation.

“I know that,” Janice responded with exasperation.  “You should visit, catch up, do . . . whatever you Pappas’ do.  But I have an awful lot of work to make our place livable.”

“It’s a barn, Janice,” Melinda said flatly with a heavy sigh.

“You said you loved the old place,” Janice responded defensively.

“I wasn’t planning on living there,” Mel relayed with amazement.  “It’s a barn,” Mel repeated flatly.

“Yes, NOW.  Just wait until I finish.  It will have everything. . . “

“You bought the ol’ Miller barn without even asking me,”  Mel interrupted with great irritation.

“Oh, so THAT’s it.  You’re forcing me to have dinner with your family, to get back at me for buying the barn without your permission!”  Janice accused her.

“No, Janice.  That’s not why I am forcing you to have dinner with my grandparents.  Although, I would have liked to been consulted about our future home,” Mel said with a thin smile.

Janice sighed, knowing she should have asked, and looked down at the ground.  “I’m sorry.  I’m just not used to . . .  I . . . you know that if you don’t like it, we’ll find someplace you like better,“ she offered quickly glanced up briefly then looked back down at the ground. “I just wanted to build something for us,” she added with a shrug.

“I know, Janice,“ Mel said softly, her heart melting at the sincere thought.

“So, I can go build now?”  Janice’s head popped up hopefully.

“Absolutely not,”  Melinda said firmly.

“But why?”  Janice asked, making Melinda roll her eyes in frustration.

“Because, as you have said yourself, you can’t choose your family.  Since you are a part of mine now, my grandparents are your grandparents and you have no choice and have to come to dinner,”  Melinda explained firmly.


“It wouldn’t be a family dinner without you, Janice,” Melinda said wearily.

The next argument at the ready on Janice’s lips was never uttered.  Instead, Melinda heard a sigh and a small “oh,” before Janice surprised her by opening the door for her.

Melinda smiled and started to enter the house but found a gentle hand on her arm holding her back a moment.   “So if they are family, I suppose I’ll have to buy them Christmas presents now . . . ,”  Janice asked with a grimace.

Mel rolled her eyes and sighed as she went in the house.

“I’m just asking. . . .”

William sat at his usual spot at the head of the dining room table.  On the opposite end  was his quiet and uncomfortable wife.  Seated across from the archeologist was an also quiet Brian, who stared at a curiously fascinating spot on the table.

As Ruby served Mrs. Pappas then Brian, Melinda noticed the uneasy housekeeper occasionally glancing at the archeologist.

Melinda shook her head with a sigh as she looked at Janice, who was talking with her grandfather.

“I think Wayne being immediately sentenced to the Greenville psychiatric hospital was a good decision,” Colonel Pappas said as he received a plate from Ruby.  “Thanks,” he looked at her with a smile.  “You’re welcome, Colonel,” she responded and glanced again at the archeologist.

“Yeah,” Janice responded with a nod.  “It’s funny.  He believed he was doing the right thing.  Except for the murdering, he was a pretty decent guy,” Janice relayed to the Colonel, who shook his head as he thought about the disturbed young man.

“Thank you, Ruby,” Melinda mentioned as she received her plate.  “Your welcome, sweetie,” she said softly, once again glancing at Janice.

“Something wrong, Ruby?” Melinda asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh . . . no, uh, nothing’s wrong,“ Ruby said, then smiled unconvincingly.

“Here you go, Dr. Covington,” Ruby said as she finally served the archeologist’s plate.

Janice noticed Ruby’s hand shake as she set down the plate on the table, which caused an accidental thunk and a couple peas to jump onto the table cloth.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Covington, that was clumsy of . . . ,“  Ruby nervously blurted an apology as she quickly cleaned up the small mess in front of the surprised archeologist.
“It’s ok Ruby, no harm done . . . yet,” Janice responded and quickly grabbed Ruby’s arm to prevented her from knocking over her water goblet.  The sudden movement concerned Brian and Victoria, who nervously looked up Janice and Ruby.

“It’s ok, Ruby.  Really,” Janice said softly, looking directly into Ruby’s concerned face.  “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it,” she added with a smile, moving the goblet out of harm’s way and releasing the errant arm.

Ruby began to breathe again as a relieved smile grew on her face.

“I hope you’re hungry, Dr. Covington,” Ruby said.  “I heard you liked Eunice’s pound cake and I know you’re gonna love MY recipe,” she said with pride as she left for the kitchen.

Janice glanced around the table and found everyone eyeing her, curiously.

“Don’t worry.  I’m sure I’ll be able to manage a piece . . . or two,“ Janice said with a smirk.

“Shall we pray?”  Mrs. Pappas said to the diners, who started to hold hands.

Mel took Janice’s hand with a big smile.  She knew what she was thankful for - Janice came home to her.

Janice was surprised when Victoria took her other, bandaged hand.  The matriarch immediately let go, seeing the archeologist’s surprised look.

“Uh . . . is it still sore?”  She asked uncomfortably.

“No . . . Not anymore.  Luckily, I heal pretty fast,” Janice said and glared at Brian.  “Most of the time,” she added with a thin smile, causing the concerned brother to glance back down to the interesting spot on the table.

“Good,”  Victoria said sincerely as she took the archeologist’s hand once again and began the prayer.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for your many blessings.  And we ask your forgiveness for our many sins.  Please guide us,  strengthen us, and protect this family from whatever trouble we face in the future,“ she paused and looked at the archeologist.

“Do you have anything to add . . . Janice?”  Victoria asked, surprising Janice and Melinda.

“Amen?” Janice offered.  Victoria nodded with a smile.  Melinda beamed.


The End

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