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The elderly lady closed the scrapbook and rested gnarled hands on the cracked leather cover, fingering the gold filigreed design. She had little more than the memories of her exciting youth to keep her company any longer. Her joints and muscles had stiffened with age and made it difficult to keep up the traveling and long hours associated with her profession and her passion. But it had been her children, her own flesh and blood, who had driven the final nail into the coffin of her retirement.
She had fought against the retirement concept tooth and nail only acquiescing when her children had threatened her with legal recourse. The university had thrown an elaborate bash, wishing their leading Agean civilization specialist a fond and permanent farewell.
Only two people had backed her up, the two friends she had managed to retain through all the long years of excavation and research, her long-standing colleague and the eldest of her granddaughters. Janice had growled and cursed for weeks after the retirement party and Xena Xandria, the grandchild she unabashedly adored more than any of the others, more than her own children even, Xe had faced her parents and aunts and uncles and had told them all just what she thought of them; her language alone had been enough to cause heart palpatations in the conservative group. The child had refused to attend any family gatherings held since and went so far as to send her young son to visit with his grandparents with his uncle, Xe?s younger brother, Lyall.
Her winter and summer champions were they.
The gentle chime of the doorbell drifted through the old farmhouse, disturbing her reverie and rousing her from the kitchen table. Slowly creeping down the hall and into the foyer she paused at the front door and reluctantly reached for the handle. She wished to be left alone to shroud herself in the past, self pity wasn?t generally her style but in the several months since the forced retirement she?d done little else, preferring to slip ever more deeply into the black abyss of despair.
"Mel!" Dr. Janice Covington shoved the door open and clasped a hand on her old friend?s arm. The smaller woman was just as ancient in her appearance although much more spry, but then her family had never dared to even suggest the idea of retirement for fear of the rage and retaliation it would evoke.
"Come on, Mel. Pack a bag, you?re coming with us." Janice stomped past Mel and ascended the stairs, her movements echoing through the house.
"What are you?I can?t go?"
"Of course you can, Gran-Mel," Xe poked her dark head through the open door, "Enki?s at his grandparents? for the summer, my classes are done until fall and Granma Janice has a site in Macedonia." A grin brightened the young woman?s face, erasing the seriousness which generally resided there.
Reading the wariness in her grandmother?s eyes, Xe?s smile melted into controlled fury. A year earlier the woman would never have thought twice about an excursion with Janice, but now?She shook her head in anger, the woman?s own children had robbed her of her independence, her sense of adventure.
Grinning again, she prodded the elder woman , "you?d best go after Granma Janice. She?s liable to pack all the wrong stuff."
"But I?" icy blue eyes, filled with trepidation, met warm black-brown ones, eager for the taste of adventure.
The honeyed tones of Mel?s voice surprised even herself, "Alright, Darlin?. But we must leave word of where we?ve gone. No need to upset the children needlessly."
"I?ll see to it."
Mel breathed deeply the warm air or Georgia?s early summer. She suppressed a chuckle as Janice struggled to arrange suitcases in the trunk of Xe?s car as the youngest member of their trio bounded down the stairs and into the polished foyer.
"Got a note for those people!" Xe brandished the sheet of paper much as one might a sword on the battlefield. Mel?s heart laughed at the thought of her best-beloved girl defending the weak and innocent in a battle of swords rather than her weapon of choice, words. Except for her ability and willingness to use the English language (and at times the German, French, Italian and ancient Greek languages) to defend those who required help, the young woman?s personality was an exact replica of what they knew of her namesake.
A sudden surge of melancholy washed over her, "Xena Xandria? Perhaps they?re right?"
"Just get in the car, Mel!" Janice glared at her friend before taking her own advice.
"Sorry, Gran-Mel, but it?s for your own good." Xe took her grandmother?s arm and escorted her down the porch steps, "besides, Brie is already on her way to the site. You promissed to help her with sanskrit, remember?"
Assured that both her elderly passengers were secure, Xe cast an evil grin at the note she?d tacked to the front door, and turned the car out onto the road.
A heavy breeze carried billows of dry dust across the ancient porch as the car slowly disappeared down the road, tugging at the slip of paper until it slipped from the tack and drifted down to the ground.
She?s gone to Macedonia with Janice and me. You can all go to hell.
Most sincerely, Xena