Janice Covington rolled over, stretched leisurely, and blinked a couple of times as she noted the morning's sunlight filter through the blinds and strike the bed covers. Sunday. Love it. No classes, no nothing, just some time with Mel. She cast a look to one side and perceived that she was alone. She must have let me sleep. Hell, wonder what time it is? A glance at the large, softly ticking clock on the bedside table told her that it was slightly after eight o'clock. Hot damn, I smell coffee. Bet she's reading the Sunday paper. Come on, Covington, shake your buns.
She lifted back the covers and sat on the side of the bed, sliding forward and allowing her feet to touch the cool hardwood floor and guide her toward the bathroom. Minutes later, she emerged, face newly-washed, blonde hair brushed into some semblance of order and "necessaries" seen to. She rummaged in the closet for her robe, wrapped it loosely about her petite frame, then headed toward the bedroom door, stopping abruptly. Jeez, almost forgot. She pulled open the single drawer on the bedside table, moved her loaded revolver aside and picked up two envelopes and a small box, shoving them deeply into the pocket in the front of her robe before resuming her trek down the short hallway and into the kitchen of the cottage which she and Mel shared.
Melinda Pappas sat at the table in the sunlit, pleasant kitchen, a half-eaten sweet roll and a cup of coffee on the table next to her elbow. She sat at an angle to the table, her long legs and slippered feet protruding from beneath her robe as she adjusted the wire-rimmed eyeglasses on her nose and frowned down at the editorial page of the paper. Detecting the soft padding of feet heading toward the kitchen, she looked up just in time to see Jan wander around the corner and make a beeline for the coffee-pot, watching her as she poured a cup and added milk and sugar. Only after she saw Jan take the first heavenly sip did she speak.
"Let me rephrase that. Morning, grumpy."
Mel felt the corners of her mouth turn up in a mischievous smile as she studied her mate over the tops of her eyeglasses. "My goodness, we're conversational this morning, aren't we? All right, you just sit and have some coffee. I'm sure you'll speak English in a few minutes."
"Umph." Jan sat in the chair across from Mel, leaned her elbows on the table, and held the cup to her mouth, sipping the hot coffee as Mel returned her attention to the paper neatly folded back in her hands. After a few minutes' quiet, Jan set the cup on the table and uttered her first intelligible words. "Morning yourself, gorgeous."
Mel put the paper down in her lap and glanced over at Jan. "Well, I see that the gypsies have taken their troll away and replaced it with my cutie. I take it you slept well?"
"Must have. Don't remember a thing. How's about you?"
"Hardly a wink." Jan cocked her head questioningly, and Mel continued, "I shared my pillow last night with a little blonde who sounded like a sawmill in full swing."
Jan's expression was slightly shocked. "You did?"
Mel raised her eyebrows innocently as she glanced down at her paper. "I did."
Damn, I don't snore that bad, do I? Jan scratched her head, a deeply chagrined expression on her face, until she noted a twitch at the corner of Mel's mouth which resembled a smile attempting to stay hidden, and bright blue eyes peeking at her from the face behind the eyeglasses. Mel, you're a tease. "Well, when I find out who you slept with last night, they're in big trouble."
At that, Mel looked up from the paper and caught the twinkle in Jan's eye. The laugh which had been hiding with great effort now burst forth, a marvelous peal which seemed to come all the way from Mel's toes. Jan just held her cup in front of her, peering over the rim with an expression combining impish humor and knowing familiarity. Mel noted the look and replied, "I can't fool you for a minute, can I? I remember when you used to believe things like that."
"We've known each other too long." Jan placed her cup down and reached for a section of the paper. "So, what's new in the news? Is the world still out there?"
"I fear so." As Jan glanced at the paper, she heard Mel continue. "Jan, what section do you have?"
"What's the date of today?" The question was delivered in an offhand manner, but Jan inwardly smiled a bit. Oh, yeah. Here comes the dance. This is going to be fun. With nonchalance, she glanced at the top of the page.
"Um, February fourteenth, nineteen forty-six."
"Um-humm." A moment's silence followed at the table, and then Mel's voice continued her gentle interrogation. "Jan?"
"Do you know what today is?"
Jan put the paper down and assumed a puzzled look. "Sunday?"
Mel rolled her eyes. "Besides that."
"Well, let's see. It's not our anniversary and it's not your birthday, I know that much."
Mel eyed Jan skeptically. "Are you quite sure, darlin'?"
"Yeah, Mel. I got those dates tattooed on the insides of my eyelids so I wouldn't forget them."
"A wise move. So, now that you've eliminated those days, what's left?"
"It sure ain't Christmas. I just got finished paying for your present."
"And a most lovely phonograph it is, too. I can't thank you enough."
"My pleasure, Mel. I love it when you put that Frank Sinatra record on."
"Why, I didn't know you liked Frank Sinatra."
"Yeah, he's okay, but I just love the effect it has on you, you romantic fool, you."
Mel's mouth fell slightly open at that. "Janice Covington!" She then recovered her demure expression and leaned slightly forward. "Speaking of romantic fools, darlin', you never answered my question. What day is today?"
Jan squinted up toward the ceiling, lost in thought. After a moment's pause, she looked across the table excitedly. "Ulysses Grant's birthday?"
Mel just raised an eyebrow. "I'll have you know you're speaking to a southern girl."
"Sorry, Mel." Jan retreated slightly behind the paper. "Robert E. Lee's birthday?"
Mel raised a finger in the air, seeming about to agree, then pointed it at Jan. "No."
"That just passed. Besides, that's a Yankee custom, if I remember correctly."
Jan chuckled. "Sure. Who else would stand around, freezing and waiting for a big fuzzy rat to come out of a hole?"
"What on earth possesses one to do it?"
"Ah, Mel, those long northern winters make ya crazy."
Mel eyed Jan askance. "I would imagine so. Now answer my question, Jan."
"Well, now. What day is today?" Jan again studied the ceiling for a moment, then turned toward Mel with a pleased expression. "I know. It's national 'Be-kind-to-an-archaeologist' Day."
Mel sighed. "I thought every day was that, in this house."
"Thanks to you, love. Let's see, what is today?" Jan pursed her lips in thought, sitting quietly.
"You don't know?" Mel asked, her quizzical smile slowly fading and being overtaken by a slightly hurt countenance. After due time, she stared incredulously at Jan from across the table, her voice raised a pitch in exasperation. "Do you really not know?"
The doorbell judiciously rang at that moment, interrupting the interrogation. Jan breathed a small sigh of relief, her eyes traveling from the spot on the wall which she was studying toward the traces of storm clouds which she perceived were gathering in Mel's bright blue eyes. They both sat unmoving for a second, and then the doorbell rang again. Janice summoned her best puppy-dog eyes and implored, "Mel, would you do me a huge favor and get that?"
Mel shot a disapproving look toward the petite blonde. "You're closer, little Miss Forgetful."
"Yeah, but I've got a feeling it's for you. Please, Mel?" She intensified the puppy-dog look just a bit, and Mel relented, rising from the table.
"Well, all right, Janice Covington, but you're definitely not saved by the bell." Melinda left the kitchen and strode toward the front door, disappearing around the corner and muttering stormily under her breath. Jan, for her part, rested the paper on the table and breathed a sigh of relief. Mel was starting to get ticked off. Damn, Covington, you cut it close that time. Let's hope that's who I think it is at the door. Jan sipped her coffee, just waiting quietly, as she heard a short muffled conversation at the front door. After a moment, the door clicked shut and footsteps softly announced Mel's return to the kitchen.
She slowly walked back into view, one hand holding a vase containing a dozen red roses and the other grasping a card. She stopped in the kitchen and studied Jan for a long moment with an enigmatic expression, then sniffled slightly. Her eyes misted, and a tear tracked its way down her cheek. Jan studied her from her seat, a soft smile forming. "Happy Valentine's Day, Mel. I love you."
Melinda responded with a soft sniffle, then rested the vase of roses on the kitchen counter, wiping the stray tear from her cheek. With a muffled "I love you, too," she picked up the small towel at the kitchen sink and, holding it to her eyes, quickly disappeared back around the corner heading toward the living room. Jan watched her go as she wondered at the abrupt change of behavior in her friend. Oh, oh. Have I just screwed up? What was that all about? What's with the waterworks? Rising from her chair, Jan walked carefully into the living room. Mel sat on the couch, back to Jan, gazing out the window at the morning sun and sniffling softly.
"Mel? What's up? I haven't done anything to upset you, have I?"
The dark hair shook slightly. "No, dear. I just feel like such an ass. Here I was, about to bite your head off for forgetting today, and you come through like a champ." She turned and looked at Jan. "I didn't give you any flowers."
Jan sat down next to Mel. "Sure you give me flowers, Mel. Every time that garden of yours blooms in the back yard, you give me flowers." The blue eyes, still slightly misty, studied her skeptically. "Those flowers wouldn't bloom if you weren't here, you know." She saw the eyes begin to warm to her. "None of this would happen. This house wouldn't be so warm and friendly. I wouldn't come home in the evenings and thank my lucky stars that I was alive if you weren't here. Jeez, I probably wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for you. You give me a lot more than flowers, every day of my life."
"That's sweet of you to say, but I still feel like a total ass."
"Don't. And it's the truth. You give me a lot more than I ever return, and I intend to try to make it up to you."
"Oh, Jan." Mel turned slightly and rested her head on Janice's shoulder. "You've nothing to make up for."
"Sure I do, Mel." Jan reached into the front pocket of her robe. "Let's start with this." Her hand withdrew an envelope and handed it to Mel. "I've got a present for you."
"You do?" She accepted the envelope carefully, studying Jan with questioning eyes. "What is it?"
Jan just grinned. "Open it and see."
Mel turned the envelope over and flipped the flap open. Reaching inside, she pulled forth two tickets and gazed at the printing on the faces of them, then arched her eyebrows in surprise. "Oh, Jan, tickets to the theatre. What are they performing?" She sat up, reading the tickets. "Blithe Spirit? I love Noel Coward. Why, I haven't seen one of his plays in years. How.......?"
"The Theatre Department at the university is staging it. They always do a great job. You up for it?"
"Wild horses couldn't keep me away." Mel squeezed Jan's hand. "My goodness, it's tonight. It starts at seven o'clock. We'll have to leave no later than six."
"Five," Jan corrected. At Mel's raised eyebrow, she continued, "We've got reservations at that Italian restaurant you love so much."
"You've thought of everything, haven't you?"
Jan shrugged, then noticed the sparkle shining through the remnants of tears in Mel's eyes. "I like to think so. Hey, that's not all." She reached down into the pocket of her robe, but Mel's hand restrained her.
"Now, Janice, I have something for you. No, it's my turn now." At Jan's hesitation, Mel dug down into the pocket of her own robe and her hand emerged holding a small box. She placed it in Jan's palm, then took a breath before continuing. "I know it's not much, but it's from the heart."
"Mel, you shouldn't have. What is it?"
"Open it and see." Jan studied Mel for a moment, then turned her eyes down toward the small box, the black velvet cover soft in her hand. She slowly lifted the lid, and as it clicked open, took in a breath. Shining in the box was a gold band ring, intricately decorated in a twist of Celtic designs.
"Mel, it's gorgeous. I....I'm floored. You got this for me?"
"Only the best for my cutie. Now give me your hand. No, the left one." Jan, struck speechless, simply offered out her left hand. Mel took it in both her own and studied it for a moment. In that hand, she could see strength and gentleness combined. It was a hand full of character, from the occasional healed scar to the short, unpainted nails. It was a hand that she adored. She lifted the ring from the box and slipped it on the third finger, and as she did so, she held the hand tightly. "Janice Covington, will you be mine forever?"
Jan felt an uncharacteristic surge of emotion tug at her throat. Her hazel eyes traveled up to lock with bright blue, questioning ones, and she could only respond by nodding her head enthusiastically. They sat that way silently for some few moments, hands clasped, words seeming somehow quite inadequate, until Jan cleared her throat and lifted a hand to reach into the pocket of her robe. "Now, Mel, I have something for you as well." The hand returned with a red velvet box which she placed on Mel's leg.
"Why, Jan, what's this? You've done enough for me already."
"Open it, Mel."
Slowly, hesitantly, Mel picked up the box and lifted the lid. Inside, she viewed an identical gold ring, the twisted Celtic bands worked with exquisite craftsmanship. Her eyes wide with question and surprise, she opened her mouth to speak, only to be silenced by the finger that Jan placed over her lips before reaching out to lift the ring from its box. Mel sat, stunned, as Jan slipped the ring onto Mel's left hand. Quietly, she began her thought as she did so. "Mel, will you........?"
"Oh, Jan, I'm yours without asking." She then leaned forward and kissed Jan, a kiss which neither of them would ever forget as long as they lived. When they finally parted, foreheads resting together, Mel laughed softly. "How....when......?"
She felt Janice shrug and begin her explanation. "We were downtown shopping a month ago. Do you remember?" Mel nodded. "We passed by the jewelry shop window, and you admired the ring."
"I remember. Then we split up to go in different directions, and met later for lunch."
"Yeah. That's when I snuck back to get it for you."
Mel lifted her head and gave Janice a conspiratorial look. "Shall I tell you a secret? That's when I snuck into the same shop to buy the ring for you. We must have just missed each other."
"So that's why you were late for lunch. Funny, but when you said how you liked the ring, I never dreamed that you were thinking of me. I just imagined how nice it would look on you."
"Well, it's a good thing that he had two of them."
Jan looked down at the two hands, fingers intertwined, rings gleaming. "A good thing. Almost as if someone was looking out for us." Jan sat straighter suddenly, her eyes wide with the next thought. "Oh, hey. Speaking of which, I was going to save this for dinner tonight, but it seems that I'm 'on a roll'." The petite blonde dug down into the pocket of her robe, producing a folded envelope. With a wide grin, she handed it to Mel. "You up for a trip this summer?"
"Why, Jan, what is this?"
"Read it and see."
Mel accepted the envelope and withdrew the letter folded inside. Casting a curious glance Jan's way, she carefully unfolded it and perused the text, starting with the university's official letterhead. After a few seconds, she squealed in delight and hugged Jan close. "Oh, Jan, that's wonderful. The university has agreed to fund your next dig."
"That they have. First American dig in Greece since the war ended. You coming with me, love?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world. Anywhere you go, I want to be as well. Do you think that it will prove to be as much of an adventure as our other trips have been?"
"I'm counting on it."
Melinda raised an eyebrow at that. "It would seem that anywhere you are, there's an adventure just waiting to happen." After a pause, she chuckled and continued, "Even Sunday morning at home."
"I try. One thing that I never want you to be is bored with me, Mel."
"Darlin', that will never happen. I'd bet the rest of my life on it."
Jan looked down at the ring on Mel's finger, and touched it lightly. "You already have."
Mel noted the suddenly earnest expression on Jan's face, and leaned back to stretch her legs out on the couch luxuriously. "And I've always been a lucky gambler. Now come here and lie with me for a bit. We've got plans to make, I do believe."
Jan lay down, wrapping herself around Mel's taller form. "Happy Valentine's Day, gorgeous. I love you."
"Happy Valentine's Day to you too, you cutie, and the feeling is most definitely mutual."
The End. -djb, February, 2004