"And what, dare I ask, is a Cheese Maiden?"
Ravenswood chuckled. "Sorry. They were the cheerleaders at my high school." He sat up in the bed to face Melody. "I grew up in an area that was little more than a bunch of dairy farms. Pretty much everything in town had a name relating to cows, milk, or cheese. So my school newspaper was The Daily Moo, the football team was the Rustlers, and the cheerleaders were Cheese Maidens."
Melody smiled coyly. "So it would really turn you on if I dressed up as a cheerleader?"
Ravenswood hid his face in embarrassment. He was still uncomfortable talking to his wife about his sexual leanings, even though the number of suggestions she had made about bedroom activities far outnumbered his, and were generally much more adventurous. "Yeah," he admitted.
Melody thought for a moment, then asked, "So, was there any girl in particular?"
She propped herself up on one elbow. "Was there some 'Cheese Maiden' you had a crush on? Is that why you want me to dress like one?"
"No," Ravenswood snorted. "Well... There was this one girl... Are you sure you want to hear about this?"
Melody smiled. "This was before you met me. I'm not gonna be jealous or anything."
"OK... Her name was Krystal. She was out of my league, though. I would have never stood a chance with her, so, I didn't try. I never even spoke to her. But I would see her in the hallways or at lunch. On game days she'd be in school in her cheerleading outfit. I never thought of cheerleaders as being sexy before seeing her."
"Did she look like me?"
"Nah. She was brunette, and... taller. Also, she always had her hair all poofy, you know... 80s hair."
Melody giggled. "What about any other costumes, like superhero? I mean, I know you like my Zephyra get-up, but I could try something more comicbooky."
"No, you don't have to do that." Ravenswood hugged her. "Actually, believe it or not... The Cheese Maidens are superheroes."
"Well, they're cheerleaders, of course. But they're also superheroes. They saved the world once."
"What are you talking about?"
Ravenswood leaned back on the headboard, which turned out to be not as comfortable as he'd hoped, and said, "Have I ever told you the Legend of the Cheese Maidens?"
"I've never even heard of them before tonight, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, right. Well, this all happened years before I went to school there. Before I was even born, in fact...
<<< It was 1958. The Rustlers were coming home from a game against North Judson High. Both Lincoln High and North Judson were in the middle of nowhere, but unfortunately, they were in two completely different nowheres, with a lot of nothing in-between. So by the time the bus reached the school, it was very, very late.
Normally, some of the parents would have met them outside the school, but when they got there, they didn't see anybody. "I'm sure they're all inside," said the football coach. "To get out of the cold."
The students exchanged nervous glances. It wasn't cold at all.
Going in the front door brought them to a stretch of hallway just outside the office. Nobody was there, either, and now everyone was really starting to worry.
The coach turned to the assistant coach and said, "Take everyone to the gymnasium. I thought I heard a noise coming from the cafeteria. I'm gonna check it out."
Soon the football players, cheerleaders, and the assistant coach were in the gymnasium. As they arrived, they heard strange noises from the cafeteria, followed by the coach screaming.
As you can imagine, everyone was really scared now. The assistant said, "All you kids stay here. I'm gonna go see what's going on. There's a phone in the office. Maybe I can call the police."
As soon as he left, one of the football players stood up on a riser and said, "Listen, guys, whatever's going on, he's gonna need help. Have you ever seen one of those movies where one person goes off on their own, and then another and another? They always get picked off one by one. What we need to do, is attack all at once, all of us in a big group. Now, I don't know what's in there. It could be Russians, or thieves, or... just some big guys... But we're all football players. And we're really good football players. We can take them on. We beat North Judson, and we can beat whoever these guys are."
"Yeah!" shouted the other players.
"All right. Everybody get your shoulder pads and helmets on. Let's go!"
"Yeeeeaaaaaaahhhhh!!!" they all yelled and charged out of the room.
Now, yelling like that meant that they couldn't make much of a sneak attack, but it was a battle-cry. It united and strengthened them. They charged into the cafeteria and saw the strangest thing they'd ever seen in their lives.
Yes, you heard me. Space aliens. And they looked exactly the way aliens are supposed to look: Green skin, tentacles, and no hair. All the humans in the room were unconscious. When the football players rushed in, the head alien waved a tentacle at them and they all froze. None of them could move a muscle. The head alien said, "Are you this world's champions?" I don't know if the aliens learned English or if they had some kind of translation device. At any rate, he said, "I came here to fight Earth's champions, and all they send me are football players?" He turned to one of his lackeys and said, "Keep sending the signal. Tell the humans that if Earth's champion fighters don't get here by sunrise to fight us, we'll destroy the planet!"
Meanwhile, in the gymnasium, the cheerleaders were getting worried. Of course, they didn't know about any of this. All they knew was that something was horribly wrong, and they were scared.
One girl, her name was Kathy, said, "Okay, we've gotta get out of here. Who lives the closest?"
Another girl named Janet said, "I only live two blocks away."
"OK," Kathy said. "We're all gonna sneak out of here, and head over to Janet's house. All right?"
So, the cheerleaders all started sneaking through the school, heading toward the nearest exit, and, of course, avoiding the cafeteria. They were actually almost outside when they ran into one of the aliens. Presumably, he was guarding the exit. The guy was extremely tall. That's actually what scared them at first. They screamed, and turned and ran away, and it was only after they had started running that it occurred to them that he had green skin and tentacles instead of arms.
Of course, this was a lot to take in. In fact, it was such a shock that the girls completely failed to realize that they were now headed towards the cafeteria.
Janet was the first to notice. "Guys..." she said, but it was too late.
The girls burst into the cafeteria, and when they saw what was in there, they screamed and stopped short.
Fortunately, the head alien interpreted their screams as a battle cry. "Please don't hurt me!" he shrieked. "You are Earth's champions? I should have realized! I've read your planet's comic books, I know that Earth is protected by superheroes in brightly-colored costumes! Please let me go! I promise I'll never come back to Earth again! No-one from my planet will!" >>>
"And with that," said Ravenswood, "the aliens all ran out of the school, hopped into their spaceship, and flew away. And, as the head alien promised, no-one from his planet ever came to Earth ever again."
Raising an eyebrow, Melody sat up fully. "Did you just make that up?"
Ravenswood looked shocked. "No! Of course not. It's all true."
His wife giggled and hit him with a pillow.
"I can prove it," said Ravenswood. "How many reports have their been of tentacled, bald, green-skinned aliens on Earth between 1959 and today? None."
Melody smiled. She was chuckling at his story, but inside her mind was planning.
* * * * *
The next day, Ravenswood was working at the Tower and Melody was at the coffee shop. There were enough employees around for Melody to disappear into her office for a while without causing them to become short-handed. She sat down at her computer and searched the internet for cheerleader outfits.
These are a bit racy, she thought as she looked over the first website. Are these real cheerleading outfits? Or sexy costumes?
A few clicks confirmed that she had, indeed, found a legitimate cheerleading uniform company, and people did expect teenage girls to wear these outfits at school functions.
"If I had a daughter, I wouldn't let her dress this way," Melody muttered as she clicked to another company.
This one was no different than the first. What the hell?
She decided to try a different tactic. She searched on the name of Ravenswood's high school.
This is more like it, she thought, as images of modestly-dressed cheerleaders filled her screen.
When Melody first heard the name "Cheese Maidens" she assumed their primary color would be yellow, like most cheeses, or that the girls would look like milkmaids. Neither of these were true. The girls wore traditional cheerleader outfits in the school colors, blue and white. They did have a logo on the chest, however: A yellow wedge of cheese sporting two cow horns. The cheese wasn't alive, it wasn't shaped like a cow, and it didn't have eyes or a mouth. It was just an ordinary piece of cheese, with cow horns.
"That's pretty weird," Melody muttered.
As much as she had been scandalized by the sexy appearance of the other cheerleader ensembles, Melody had to wonder why so many men, and her husband in particular, found cheerleaders so sexy. Everyone has their own tastes, I suppose.
After a bit of hunting around, she found a link that said, "To order cheerleading uniforms, click here."
Here we go, she thought.
The next page said, "All orders should be placed through Shelby Maple at extension 358."
"I was hoping for a website or something. I guess it's worth a shot," she said as she grabbed the phone.
Melody swallowed nervously. "Hi. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to buy a 'Cheese Maidens' uniform."
"Oh, certainly." The woman's voice was cheerful and bubbly. "What's your daughter's name?"
"Oh, um, this is embarrassing. It's... actually for myself."
"Oh, I understand. Trying to hold on to your youth. I'm just as bad. I still have my Maidens outfit from nine years ago. I'm sure it doesn't fit me any more."
It took Melody a moment to grasp what the woman was saying. "Right," she said. "Yes, it's silly."
"When did you graduate?"
"What, from high school? Six years ago."
"Oh! You would have been a freshman when I was a senior. Did you have Miss Phelps for History?"
"Oh, you lucked out, then."
Melody didn't want to be rude, but she felt the conversation was getting away from her and she wanted to steer it back on-track. "So, um... about that Cheese Maidens uniform..."
The other woman's voice lost some of its exuberance. "Well, the thing is... I can only get them for girls who are on the squad this year. I'm sorry, but that's the rule. I can't sell you one."
Melody was disappointed, but almost immediately an idea popped into her head. "Wait a minute... You said that you still had yours from when you were a teenager. Could you sell me that one? I'd be buying it from you personally, not the school, so no rules would be broken."
"I don't know... Gosh, do you think it would fit you?"
"Well, I'm pretty thin. I'm not trying to brag, I just... am."
"Well... You could try it on first, I guess. No harm in that."
"That would be wonderful. Thank-you. Um, I'm sure you don't want a stranger coming to your house, so... we could meet somewhere else. If you can think of anywhere near you."
"We could just meet at the school. I could bring it tomorrow, and you could drop by after the school day ends. Around 3:30?"
"Great. I'll see you then."
* * * * *
The next day, Melody drove out to the town Ravenswood grew up in: Mundane, Indiana. Getting there was simple: From Gale, drive southeast until you get lost. It takes about an hour. If you see anything other than a cow or a cornstalk you've driven too far. She'd only been there once before, when she and Ravenswood had gone to his father's house for dinner one night a few months before they were married.
Melody had forgotten to ask Mrs. Maple where the school was, but then she realized that the woman thought she used to be a student there and would have known. She was able to get the answer from the internet easily enough. Though, as she made it inside the city limits, she realized she needn't have bothered. The town was nothing more than a small cluster of houses, a few stores, three churches, and two schools. She could have found it in a few minutes by driving around.
The receptionist in the office directed Melody back to the school gymnasium. Mrs. Maple's office was in a small alcove attached to the gym. Looking inside, Melody saw a woman in her late 20s and a teenage girl. Both had auburn hair.
"Oh, hello," said the woman. "You must be Mrs. Cadavre."
"Call me Melody."
"Oh, well call me Shelby. And this is my niece, Jennifer. She's a student here. She helps me out in my office sometimes."
Melody smiled at the girl. "Are you a cheerleader?" she asked.
"Not yet. I'm going to try out next year."
Shelby nervously fumbled with a box on her desk. "Well, let's get to it, I suppose. Everything is in here. You can change in the girls' locker room."
"All right. Back in a sec."
Melody sat down on a bench right off the shower area and opened the box. The item on top was a blue and white sweater with the ridiculous cow-horned cheese logo on the chest. Melody chuckled. It looked sillier in real life than it had on the website.
Digging through the box, she was surprised that it also included sneakers. She had bought a pair of saddle shoes earlier in the day, assuming that it wouldn't.
After she changed, she stuffed her regular clothes into her duffle bag and headed out into the gym. "How do I look?"
"Well, it seems to fit," said Shelby a bit hesitantly.
"You look great!" Jennifer chimed. Her face then contorted. "What's that noise?"
Melody realized she could hear something, too. Yelling and pounding feet... and it was getting louder. The gym doors burst open and a middle-aged, balding man ran in. "Help!" he screamed. He was followed by a man in his mid-twenties, stocky and muscular, wearing grey slacks and a brown vest and carrying a gun.
The young man fired his gun upwards. Everyone flinched at the noise, and the older man stopped running. "Don't shoot me!" he begged, dropping to his knees.
The younger man smirked. "Don't shoot me," he repeated in a mocking tone. "Wuss."
Shelby and Jennifer had been too terrified to say anything. Melody had been quiet for a different reason. She was trying to analyze the gunman, figure out his motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.
"You three," said the man with the gun. "Don't try anything. This is a large gymnasium. If you run, I'll get a clear shot long before you reach the door... Any of the doors," he added as an afterthought.
Melody stepped forward. "What's this all about?" she asked.
Mrs. Maple reached out to her, as if trying to pull her back. "Oh, Miss. Please don't!" she said fearfully.
Melody waved her hand towards her in a gesture that meant "Don't worry."
The younger man turned towards Melody, but glanced back at the older man as he spoke. "Do you take Mr MacQuaid's English class?"
He thinks I'm a student, thought Melody. She smiled at the compliment. "No."
"You're lucky. He failed me." He turned back to MacQuaid. "And because of that, I couldn't graduate."
"So?" asked Melody, hoping the enraged man wouldn't notice that she was now a few paces closer to him.
"So," he said, turning to face her, "I got fired from my job today."
"That was your own fault, Warren," said the teacher. "You're the one who lied to them about it. You should have told them the truth from the start."
Warren turned back to the older man. "No, you idiot. If I had done that, I would have never gotten the job in the first place."
While his back was to her, Melody crept towards Warren.
Mrs. Maple was, apparently, the type who could not keep quiet under pressure. "Ooooohhhh," she squeaked.
Warren turned and saw that Melody was now much closer than she had been before. "Hey!" he cried.
...but still not close enough. She rushed towards him.
Warren swung his gun around and pointed it at Melody.
Which is exactly what she hoped he'd do. She kicked the pistol out of his hand, sending it high in the air towards the far corner of the gymnasium.
Warren's eyes were on his gun as it sailed through the air. He wasn't looking in Melody's direction when she lashed out again, kicking his ribs in the side.
"Aaugh! You bitch!" he screamed, lunging towards her, his fist swinging out to connect with her jaw.
Melody dodged to one side. As Warren's fist sailed harmlessly past her, she grabbed the back of his head and pushed down. As the momentum of his punch carried him forward, he now found himself falling. The woman's knee came up sharply into his face.
Warren snapped back into a standing position, clutching his nose. Melody kicked him in the stomach with the type of karate kick used to break boards in half. He doubled over, clutching his stomach, and fell to the floor. She then carefully placed her foot on his neck and pushed down with just enough force to slow his breathing. It was a technique that would allow her to keep an opponent incapacitated for a long period of time without harming him.
Jennifer couldn't help herself. She jumped up and squealed, "That was amazing! How did you do that?"
Melody smiled broadly. "Didn't your aunt tell you? All Cheese Maidens are superheroes."
* * * * *
The police arrived and arrested Warren.
After they left, Melody said to Shelby, "I still owe you some money. We had agreed on $100, right?"
The woman smiled, but with a bit of sadness mixed in. "I really don't know if I want to sell it, to be honest." She sighed. "I really should let go of the past, though. I'm sorry for waffling like this. Of course, I agreed to sell it and you drove all this way... Yes, $100 will be fine."
"Great. I'll be right back."
Melody went to the girls' locker room and returned carrying her purse and her duffle bag. She still had the cheerleading outfit on.
"Here you go," she said, holding out five twenties.
As Mrs. Maple took the money, she said, "I've been thinking about something. I know most of the people around town and you don't look familiar. You were never a student here, were you?"
"No," Melody grinned. Then she whispered, "But my husband was."
A knowing smile crept across Shelby's face. "Are you going to change before you leave?"
"Nah. I'll just wear this home."
Shelby and her niece walked Melody to the front of the school, and watched as she drove away.
Jennifer turned to her aunt. "Is it true, what she said?"
"Is what true?"
"All Cheese Maidens are superheroes?"
Mrs. Maple smiled and turned to her niece. "Oh, yes! It certainly is true. They saved the world once. It was 1958, and the Rustlers were coming home from a game against North Judson High..."