The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy)

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Chapter Forty-Three: Exchanges at the Excavation

July 2023The Billings FarmRedwater, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

By the third Shovel Test pit, Wahya gives Morgan a break and takes up shoveling, while Morgan mans the screen. As Samantha had predicted, the finds have been minimal thus far, and Morgan is glad they don’t have a whole field of pits to dig with nothing substantial to make it interesting. She can’t help but wonder what Wahya really thinks about digging holes, sifting through the dirt, then filling the hole in again, only to repeat these steps twenty-five feet further away. He doesn’t seem to mind, she thinks. After screening two holes and now digging his first, he seems to be more relaxed, and much to her delight, has become more talkative himself. She’s sure he still feels terribly out of his element, but when he relaxes enough to simply talk, despite the language barrier, she feels his trust and assurance, and that relaxes her as well. She senses an understanding between them as well - at least a better understanding of the general gist of their sporadic spoken thoughts to one another. And also, she determines that the simplicity of his company is equally satisfying - not that the flirty smiles sneaked in here and there had been lost on her either.

After noting that Wahya has reached subsoil, Morgan stops him from digging further and empties her screen of debris. She’s about to send him over with the screen and shovel to start on the final pit, while she fills out the paperwork on this one, and points out the last pin flag to him. But before letting him go, she checks to see that Samantha is otherwise preoccupied, and gives him a flirty jab with her elbow. It’s the closest thing to flirtatious touching they’d done since picking Samantha up this morning, and Morgan couldn’t help herself.

Wahya’s eyes spark with mischief, though he simply smirks in return, taking his tools over to the next marker. Morgan, needing a break, takes a large drink of her water, then stands with her hands on her hips, watching Wahya as he pockets his gloves in his back pocket and gets the screen situated where he wants. He catches her stare and smoothly gives her a ‘what’s up’ head nod. And she returns a heated smile, at which he flashes a brilliant smile of his own, before turning to the orange flag, preparing to begin work. Then, just to spite her, she feels, he pulls his sweaty t-shirt over his head, tossing it over on the grass by the lunch coolers.

“God, he’s got a body!”

With sweat-glistened and ripped muscles, Wahya begins to break ground with the shovel, seeming to ignore her completely now. Morgan soon realizes why, as she catches Samantha coming her way, a small smile playing on the older woman’s lips.

“You can put your eyeballs back in now,” the young professor says teasingly.

Morgan clears her throat, pretending that she doesn’t know what Samantha is talking about.

“I may be in my late thirties and married with a baby, but I’m not blind. I just know how to ogle less obviously than you.”

Morgan tries not to choke on her stifled laugh, and Samantha continues, “So, let’s see what your paperwork looks like.”

Back on task, Morgan reports, “You were right, we haven’t found much. Most of it being 19th or 20th century stuff.

Samantha examines the shovel test profile drawings and notes, and nods, “Great! I want you to let Wahya finish filling this hole when he’s done with that pit over there, so you can get started on opening the Test Unit.” She’d already used twine and metal spike-nails at each corner to mark the boundaries of the three-foot square unit, and Morgan begins on the larger unit by taking off the first few inches of topsoil with her shovel. Noting the change in coloration at the second layer, Samantha shows her what to look for, so she knows when to stop digging deeper. Unlike Shovel Test pits, artifacts from each Test Unit soil layer must be bagged up separately, as each layer represents a different time period or historical event.

Seeing that Morgan has things under control, Samantha glances over to their more-silent excavator at Pit 4. “Looks like Wahya is done. I’m gonna see if he found anything and write up the paperwork for it and have him fill in Pit 3. After I’m done with Pit 4, he can fill it in as well, then we can break for lunch.”

Morgan nods, then takes a big drink of water and wipes the sweat from her face with the back of her arm as she watches Samantha interact with Wahya, while he shows her the few things he’s found that might be keepers. Trying not to groan too loudly from the ache in her muscles - the rest of her body catching up with the muscles already exerted from last night - she knows she’s going to be all kinds of sore tomorrow, after not having done field work in so long.

Shoveling away at more of the top-most layer of dirt, Morgan throws it up onto the large screen with the rest she’d already dug. Now on her own, her mind starts to wander. What if Samantha is right, and they should test the gorget theory further? Trying to weigh the pros and cons objectively, Morgan realizes that there’s probably more to her instantaneous irritation and hesitancy towards the subject - something deep and very emotional.

“What if the warp was trying to take him back? Like right the wrong that happened? But I don’t want him to get hurt. For all we know it could kill him! I’d be devastated if something happened to him!”

This dredges up deeper emotions, and Morgan swallows heavily, wondering if the physicality of their budding relationship has gotten the best of her senses. “What have I gotten myself into? I can’t seem to think straight around him and even if Samantha and James would disapprove, I don’t want to change a thing!

“Maybe it’s just infatuation. Or am I... No, it can’t be that - not yet, right?. It can’t be love. It’s way too soon for that. Could it really have been love-at-first-sight? God, I feel like I already need him to live and to breathe!

“How in the world is this going to work out? I guess just one day at a time that’s how...”

She’s so caught up inside her mind that she doesn’t realize the screen is getting full. Bringing her back to the real world, Samantha’s voice wakes her from her thoughts. “Whoa! Don’t forget you have to screen the dirt, too!”

Morgan looks up embarrassed, not so much by the full screen, but by her thoughts as she wonders if Wahya feels the same. “Right!” She quickly replies, dropping the shovel to start sifting through the dirt in the large screen setting on wooden legs. Her mind instantly floats back to Wahya, sure that he must care about her somewhat to make love to her the way he had yesterday and last night. The way he kissed her and handled her, she knew it was more than just sex. “But how much does he care is the question,” she muses.

“Wahya’s done,” Samantha calls after a while. “It’s time to take a break.”

Morgan claps her hands together a few times to get the dirt off her gloves, then takes them off. Glancing up at Wahya, who’s come to stand beside her - still shirtless, with only the gorget laying against his smooth, but dirt-flecked chest, she smiles, patting her stomach and motioning in the universal sign for food. “You hungry?”

He nods, giving her an affirmative, “Vv.” So, picking up her thermos with water from the edge of the Test Unit, she points to the shady log where their lunch awaits in the cooler, and the two walk over, while Samantha stays behind to scour through the few finds Morgan had unearthed from the Test Unit thus far.

Using some of the water from the water cooler to wash their hands and faces, Wahya sits on the log while Morgan rifles through the lunch box, procuring a couple bags of leftover pizza and another with baby carrots. Straightening again, she holds out a bag of cold pizza for him to take. As their eyes meet, the off and on nerves she’d had around him prior to yesterday afternoon’s brazen show of affection, suddenly resurface with the insecurities of her deeper feelings for him, and the heat rises in her neck and face. Could there really be love between them?

She moves to sit next to him on the log, divvying up the food. Handing him a slice of pizza, she can’t help but notice that his dark eyes are bright with energy and so very close. He leans towards her, speaking quietly in her ear, his deep voice low and raspy, and so pleasing to the ears, causing a thrill of goosebumps to run along her arms at the feel of his breath on her skin. Before she can determine what he’s talking about, he backs away, but the assurity that he gives her quells the nerves she’d started to build again. In contrast, all the pent-up sexual energy since this morning, quickly rises to the surface once more. Though hot and sweaty from laboring in the summer heat all morning, Morgan feels her heart begin to race and her temperature rise further. And she suddenly could care less about the words coming from his mouth, the desire to feel those lips on hers overcoming her instead.

She quickly glances at Samantha, whose concentration is in her notebook, then looks back at Wahya regretfully. To her relief, the crinkle of a smile on his face tells her that he understands they don’t want to be compromised, regardless of how much they’d both like to have a romp in the seclusion of the small, wooded area. And so the pair sit in silence, as Wahya carefully takes a tentative bite of the food he’d only tried hot for the first time a few days ago, then decidedly takes another, savoring the unusual, but delicious combination. Morgan, in turn, savors the moment, enjoying the chance to share in Wahya’s experiences with the world around them.

~~~

After lunch, the three get back to work, with Samantha helping to screen dirt while Morgan and Wahya take turns shoveling layer upon layer of soil. Finally, reaching subsoil, Morgan uses her trowel to scrape the bottom and sides of the Test Unit, making it as smooth and even as possible. She takes out her Munsell color book for the last time to record this final layer’s soil color on her Excavation Register form, then uses her engineering ruler to measure the thickness of the layer. She completes the Test Unit profile drawing with Samantha’s help, then takes a few photos, while Wahya begins to pack the rest of the gear into the car. Just as she signs her initials to the form, her phone rings.

“It’s the lab. Must be Emory.” She knows he normally works on Thursdays, but wonders why he’d be calling. “Hello?”

“Hey, Morgan! Hope I’m not bothering you. I thought you’d want to know that Professor Clark just called for you a little bit ago.”

“Oh? Was everything okay?” She queries, not expecting to get a phone call from the professor until next Monday, as he usually does once-a-week call-ins, unless something’s up, communicating primarily via email.

“Oh yeah, he’s good. I guess he’d been expecting to hear from you over email. Sorry to spill the beans, but I kinda told him you were on leave, thinking he already knew.”

This catches Morgan off guard, and without thinking, she blurts out, “Actually, I’m working. Samantha and I are doing some archaeological testing...”

She catches herself, not sure if she should have revealed that much. As she puts the cell on speakerphone, so Samantha can hear, he continues, “You’re in the field with Dr. Warner?!”

“Uh, yeah, we decided to do a little preliminary testing for a project we’re working.”

Emory pauses when she doesn’t elaborate. “Okay. Well, you should email Dr. Clark as soon as possible to let him know what you found out about that stone gorget he’d left for you.” Then as an afterthought continues, “You might want to let him know what you’re up to, since you’re not on leave and apparently neither him nor I know about your little project.”

Morgan hesitates before answering. “Yeah, I’ve been working on gathering information on the gorget - just gotta send it to him. And no big deal about the leave mixup. It was all a bit confusing when we talked last. I’ll get with him as soon as I get back into the office. Well, thanks for calling!” She hopes her upbeat attitude will give him the impression that everything is as perfectly normal as can be.

“What are you all working on, Area 51 or something?” Emory prods quickly, not allowing her to hang up so easily.

Morgan gives a less-than convincing laugh. “You’re funny! Hey, I’ve got to go help fill in this Test Unit. Thanks for the message and I’ll talk to you later!”

She hangs up quickly, giving Samantha a panicked look.

“You are a terrible liar, Morgan,” Samantha shakes her head. “Why didn’t you just tell him that we’re investigating where the gorget was found? There’s nothing out of the ordinary about that, and it’s the truth. It’s not like he won’t be the one to wash up the artifacts we bring back anyways.” Then scrutinizing her some, Samantha adds with concern, “Are you okay?”

Morgan cringes. She shouldn’t feel like she’s doing anything wrong, but guilt still seeps into her gut. “Ugh, I don’t know! I just... well, the more I tell Emory about the gorget, the more I feel like he’s going to end up knowing the truth about Wahya. And now I feel bad. Professor Clark is going to think I’m just taking off work whenever I want with him gone! Keeping secrets has never been my thing.”

Internally, she knows that keeping her relationship with Wahya a secret from Samantha, James, and Jessica is also whittling at her conscience, making her a complete nervous wreck inside.

“Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, and if Professor Clark were here, he’d have agreed. How about you email him tomorrow morning when you go to work and let him know what you do know about the gorget, archaeologically speaking, of course. Then tell him that I’m bored out of my mind and after we started talking about the gorget, I decided to do some investigating and had you come with me. Be honest about your nephew having to stay last minute yesterday and that you spent the rest of the day helping me get ready to go to the field. Then I’ll email him myself tonight, filling him in on the possibility that we could get Ned to hire us to survey his property this fall, since he’s interested in archaeology and is planning on further developing his land.”

“What about Wahya? I’m assuming Emory told him I was taking time off because my, quote-unquote, friend is in town.”

“Okay,” Samantha continues matter-of-factly, “Just say we’re letting him tag along since he’s interested in archaeology and we needed the muscle with me just having the baby.”

Morgan nods wishing she’d come up with all that in her head a minute ago. “God, you made that all sound so easy! And it’s not really too far from the truth anyways.” Then as an afterthought, she remarks, “Oh! And I could ask him if it’d be alright to take a few days off next week when I’m not busy with the lab.”

“Or,” Samantha interjects, “just say that I already approved your request to take some time off and that you’re just letting him know.”

Morgan smiles, a wave of relief washing over her, “Thanks!”

“No sweat! It’ll all work out, especially if you keep your cool and don’t let Emory get to you. Now, let’s get out of here!”

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