Summary:Picks up near the end of 'The Wrong Way Home' where all the action is centered in the middle school gym and continues the story for the remainder of the day.
Disclaimer:All the characters belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Enterprises. I don't own them and have no rights regarding them. This story is partially based on the script 'Wrong Way Home' written by George Geiger and contains segments from that script. The fillers and extension are just figments of my imagination that flowed out through my fingertips.
Author's Notes: A special thank you to my beta readers: Emily and Mikki. Thank you both for your corrections, your wisdom and your insight. It was a delight working with you.
Early morning around 7:50 a.m. in the gymnasium at
the middle school.
Entering the gym from the outside door, Lee, along with the Prime Minister of Estocia, and Joe King, arrived in time to see Darrell Prescott holding Jamie at gunpoint. Philip was immobile beside them. In the opposite doorway, Amanda and the Principal were standing frozen in place, afraid to move for fear of what might happen. Prescott's attention was on the women, and so he didn't see the men entering behind him. Seizing the opportunity, Lee acted quickly, tackling him from behind, sending the gun flying. Shoving Lee out of the way, Prescott looked around frantically for his gun, finally spotting it on the floor a few feet away. Noticing the direction of Prescott's glance, Joe made a dive for the gun, knocking it out of the way and ended up getting decked in the process. Pulling the attacker off Joe, Lee resumed his struggle with Prescott, while the Prime Minister rescued the boys, guiding them over to Amanda. Picking himself up, Joe headed for his sons. In the meantime, Lee had managed to knock out the would-be kidnapper.
After receiving congratulations from the Prime Minister, Lee turned, and glanced across the gym to where Amanda was standing with her arms wrapped tightly around Jamie, while Philip clung to his Father. Amanda and Joe were sharing a warm look of relief. They looked like a picture book family.
Taking out his phone, Lee dialed and spoke into it "Francine move in on Foster. Prescott's been nailed."
"Roger," came Francine's efficient voice from the phone.
Keeping his eyes half on Amanda, Philip, and Jamie, Lee cuffed Prescott and dragged him to his feet.
With a gentle squeeze of reassurance to Amanda's shoulder, Joe disengaged himself from his son and strode across the gym towards Lee.
"Mr. Stetson, I can't thank you enough for all your help. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have been able to prove my innocence, and my family. . ." his out swept arm included both Amanda and the boys, "well, my family would still be in danger or worse. I don't know how we can ever express our gratitude."
Taking Joe's outstretched hand in a firm shake, Lee eyes sought out Amanda. She was occupied explaining things to the principal beside her. She still hadn't let go of her youngest boy.
"Yeah, well . . . that's my job." Lee responded, trying to keep his voice and manner professional. "I'm just glad things worked out the way they did. You understand that we'll need you to come with us and answer some questions, as well as turn over the evidence that you brought with you."
"Yeah, I know." concurred Joe. "That won't be a problem, what with the Prime Minister's records and mine, along with all this," he gestured around him. "We should have enough to put them away for a long time. Hopefully, all this won't hamper the effectiveness of the EAO."
Joe followed as Lee pushed the handcuffed man towards the door. Glancing at the three people waiting for him by the doorway, Joe hesitated for a moment. " Listen. . . tell your people I'll be there as soon as I take care of my family. Amanda and the kids are still pretty upset. I'm going to take them home first. I think they've had enough excitement for one day."
Glancing at the trio, still clinging somewhat together, Lee reluctantly nodded his agreement. "Yeah, you're probably right. We can send someone over to get their statements," he added, knowing this would be easier on Amanda. "I'll have one of our men follow you to the house and give you a lift down to the Agency."
"That would be fine, Mr. Stetson," agreed Joe. Turning, he headed over to place one arm around Philip. The other he placed around Amanda's shoulders, turning her towards the exit talking softly. Lee watched as the four of them left. The way they all leaned into each other reminding him of other families he had watched so many times before. He knew that Amanda was still shaken up about her children being held at gunpoint. Her reluctance to let loose of the younger boy proved that.
He'd liked to have gone to her, but he couldn't. It wasn't his place. Yet, somehow, it just didn't seem right that Joe King should be the one allowed to do so.
The hall outside one of the interrogation rooms at the Agency
A couple of hours later at the Agency, Joe had finally finished answering all questions and turned over all the evidence he had brought with him. Billy and Lee escorted him down the long corridor towards the exit.
"Thank you for coming down, Mr. King." Billy said, flashing Joe a courtesy smile. "We appreciate all your cooperation."
"Yeah, well, I appreciate the Agency's help as well, believe me." Joe responded warmly. "When I headed for the states I wasn't sure what the best way to proceed would be. I just knew that until I could get this cleared up, it would be dangerous for my family to be around me. I never dreamed they might be used to get to me. I can't thank you enough. It's because of you that this has been cleared up so quickly and my family is safe again."
"Well, we were glad to be of service," stated Billy, formally, before adding with a bit more warmth, "And we're very glad that Mrs. King and the boys are safe. One of our agents went out to her house and got their statements while you were being debriefed. So we're finished with them. They won't be needed at the trial."
Then, getting back to business, he continued, "However, you will be needed, not only to testify, but to clear up any further questions that may arise during the rest of our investigation into Foster's activities. From what we can ascertain, these thefts have been going on for several months now and weren't contained to just Estocia. It will take quite a while to sort it all out."
At this, Lee's eyes snapped quickly from Billy to Joe, in dismay. He had forgotten that Joe would need to stick around for the investigation and trial.
"No problem," replied Joe, "I was planning on hanging around for a while anyway. I have some things to clear up in my office over at EAO. And some decisions to make. Besides, there's Amanda and the boys. I've been away for far too long, and I need to make up some lost time with them." He shrugged, sheepishly shaking his head, "Sometimes you plan your life all out. Doing what you think is the right thing to do. Then, out of nowhere, something happens that makes you realize where your true priorities should be. It's not everyone who gets a second chance." he commented with a wry grin. "I don't plan on blowing mine."
Billy held the door open for him to go through. "Well, good luck. Mr. King." A guard was waiting on the other side, and Billy motioned him towards Joe. "Carter, will you see that Mr. King gets to wherever he's going." With a handshake and a quick nod goodbye, Joe followed after the guard.
Billy turned to Lee. "You did a good job on this Lee. Why don't you tie up loose ends down here and then go home and get some sleep? I know you didn't get much last night." Billy hesitated giving Lee a searching, rather knowing look, before turning and heading back down the hallway. Lee could him shaking his head slightly back and forth as if amused by something. "You really did handle yourself well on this one," Billy tossed back over his shoulder with what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. "I have to admit, I was impressed Scarecrow."
Lee stared after him, unsure of just what Billy meant
by that last crack. Surely Billy couldn't possibly know how this particular
assignment had been affecting him, or could he. Lee found the thought unsettling.
Amanda's House - early evening, that same day.
Dotty and Amanda were just finishing up a late afternoon task of repotting some plants when the sounds of whooping and cheering filled the air. "The boys are home!" Dotty stated the obvious, tossing Amanda a grin. The boys had been ecstatic earlier in the day when Joe had shown them the baseball tickets.
"Well, I think we can safely say that the game has taken their minds off the trouble this morning," laughed Amanda, turning to watch the oncoming trio.
"Well, well, well...How was the game" she questioned, enjoying their excitement and already knowing the answer.
"It was fantastic," hollered Philip. "The Orioles won and it was close!"
Jamie jumped in to add, "Dad said it was a moral victory."
"It was rad!" yelled Philip, cutting him off.
Removing the baseball cap he was wearing Joe shoved it down on Jamie's head with affection. "Thanks for letting me use your hat."
Stripping off her gloves, Dotty began herding the boys toward the door. " I'm going to keep up the theme, we're going to have hotdogs for dinner," she informed them, drawing another chorus of cheers from the boys.
"Thank you Mother," Amanda tossed over her shoulder not taking her eyes off the smiling man in front of her.
As Dotty turned to follow the boys inside, she glanced back over her shoulder, thinking how right it looked to see the couple standing there together. 'Just maybe' she thought to herself before shutting the door behind her, leaving the pair alone.
"Well, you had a good time," observed Amanda warmly, seeing the fact on his face.
Joe nodded his agreement, "I sure did."
"Good." Amanda was truly glad that he and the boys had such a great afternoon.
Joe looked over at Amanda, enjoying the pleasure sparkling from her face. In the time he'd been gone, she seemed to have come into her own. He smiled over at her shyly, somewhat unsure of himself. "How about you and me going for a pizza?" he asked, holding his breath as he waited for her answer.
It was quick in coming. "I would love to," she smiled her agreement as she brushed off her hands and turned towards the door to clean up a bit.
Short time later.
"How about Dooley's?" Joe asked as he guided Amanda to his rental car.
"Sure. It'll kinda be like old times." Amanda laughed in agreement.
As they talked about the ball game and how much the boys enjoyed it, Amanda noticed that Joe seemed somewhat nervous. He kept glancing sideways at her as if he just couldn't figure her out. For her part, she felt completely comfortable in his presence. It had been a long time since they'd had a chance to just relax and enjoy each other's company. 'Life sure was funny,' she thought.
Arriving at Dooley's, Joe escorted Amanda to one of the tables that they use to sit at back when they were dating and ordered a plain cheese pizza. It was the same kind they had always ordered back when money had been so lacking. Watching him as he asked questions about her and the boys lives, Amanda was reminded of all the times they had sat here just like this and discussed their day, and their plans and their dreams. It had been so incredibly long ago. Actually, it had been another lifetime ago.
As Joe continued to talk, he turned the subject to old times. Amanda let him, willing to be drawn into his reminiscing for a while. They had so many shared memories. Yet, even as they laughed and remembered the distant past, Amanda couldn't keep her mind from meandering back to the here and now.
Eventually, the talk dwindled down to a comfortable silence. Setting aside her unfinished plate, Amanda smiled in amusement as Joe just toyed around with his last piece. Obviously, he had something distracting his thoughts.
Finally, he glanced up at her, flashing one of his boyish smiles. "Well I guess I'm just going to have to face it," he finally said, his eyes warm and twinkling.
Amanda glanced up at him questioningly. "What?"
"You're not the woman I married. You're not even the woman I divorced." Amanda smiled back in total agreement, and couldn't help being slightly amused. Had he really expected her to remain stagnant in his absence "You've changed Amanda King." Joe continued.
"That's an understatement," Amanda thought still slightly amused. "Well I just developed some outside interests," she informed him with sparkling eyes and a secret smile.
"Well whatever they are, they suit you." Joe paused for just a moment looking at her quizzically. "You mean you don't want to go back?" he questioned gently, taking her hand in his.
Amanda looked into his eyes, shaking her head slightly, some of the answers to questions she didn't even know she had, finally falling into place. "No, I want to go forward. It's going to be a great future," she stated with absolute conviction, realizing that it was true. She didn't want to go back. She wasn't sure what the future held for her. She just knew that she was looking forward to each day and whatever it might bring.
Joe just nodded in agreement, not quite sure how to take her statement. She really had come into her own, he admitted to himself, watching her. She was still just as charming, just as caring and just as beautiful as she had always been, but there was a new awareness, a new confidence about her. She just seemed to glow with an inner light.
"How about some music?" He asked, rising to his feet. He allowed his hand to slowly slide from hers, unwilling to break the contact. Amanda nodded her agreement, smiling at the slight caress of his hand on hers.
After selecting a song, he turned and held out his arms to Amanda, who had already risen to her feet in anticipation. Amanda rested her softer form against his frame, allowing him to pull her close. She closed her eyes as they began to dance, allowing the enjoyment of being with him to wash over her.
As she rested her head on his shoulder, she smiled gently, mostly to herself, glad to have had this opportunity. If he had never returned to the states with this trouble, if they hadn't agreed to go out, and if they hadn't chosen this place of special memories, she would never know what she knew now. She loved Joe and she probably always would. They shared some great memories and two wonderful sons. When he held her close, she could feel all the gentleness of his spirit surround her.
She loved him.
But she wasn't in love with him. It was more like the love she would have for a brother or a special cousin, someone she greatly admired and respected. However it was not the love of a woman for that one special man. Somewhere, in a small place of her heart, she had always wondered if they would someday be able to put the pieces back together. Now she realized that it was merely a remnant left over from wanting that happily ever after, fairy tale marriage. Unfortunately, it had colored all her relationships since.
She now knew for sure what her heart had been telling her for a long time. She just hadn't been ready to listen. She remembered a conversation she and Lee had shared ages ago. Lee had asked her how you knew when an affair was over. She had told him that you just knew. Smiling to herself she recalled his gleeful relief when he had later told her that it was over between him and Eva. Now she knew partially how he had felt. Her romantic relationship with Joe was definitely over.
He was her past, but he wasn't her future. It was a bittersweet thought to her soul. She felt like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon ready to fly free and yet all evening she had sensed Joe trying to pull her back to the past. While she was no longer in love with him, she still cared enough to hate the thought of possibly hurting him.
As nice as spending time with him was, and as comfortable as she felt in his arms, there was no magic. She wasn't breathless at each anticipated touch. His voice didn't make her insides curl with warmth, and his smile didn't melt away the uncertainties in her life. While being in his arms was nice, they no longer made her feel safe and secure and when she looked at him, the world around her didn't cease to exist. Being with Joe just didn't fill her with magic and mystery and excitement. It didn't give her a sense of joy and peace.
That incredible feeling that all was right with the world didn't enfold her. She just didn't feel the same way with Joe as she felt with Lee.
Amanda's heart skipped a beat as the thought flitted across her mind. She did feel that way with Lee. She caught her breath in disbelief. Where had that come from? She had known for a long time that what she felt for Lee was a genuine love, but she had always compared it in her mind to the love she felt for her mother or for the boys or a special friend. They had one of those rare, beautiful friendships that transcended explanation.
It was a relationship she treasured and was careful not to press. She had thought that he was attractive and charming, right from the beginning. But she had also considered him to be a little weird, like some the friends he kept. He had been living in the land of glitz and glamour for so long that he was out of touch with the real world, or at least the people who resided there.
He had reminded her of a beautiful, but lost, little boy, and she couldn't help but reach out to the loneliness she sensed in him. He was brash, cocky, and convinced that he could take on the world all by himself. He had quickly grown on her, and she had found herself genuinely liking him. And she had known, despite what he kept spouting, he liked her too. Even when she screwed up royally, he had been there for her.
Occasionally, she had found her mind drifting into 'No Man's Land'. Wondering what it would be like to take that step leading them beyond the bonds of merely friendship. But whenever the desire for anything more than friendship had arisen, she had quickly chased it from her thoughts, reminding herself how different they were, and how uneven the match would be.
They were like Caviar and Tuna Fish. She was nothing like the exotic young women he favored; he was nothing like the normal professional men she dated. She realized now that she had felt safe with him because of the distance between their worlds. She could enjoy spending time with him, working, teasing, sometimes flirting, sometimes arguing, and even allow herself to become attached to him, because there was no real chance of it going any further.
They had been on a few dates recently, but while she had enjoyed them immensely, she had reminded herself, often, that it was just friendship. It was just two people out enjoying an evening together. Falling in love with Lee Stetson had not been on her agenda. Only an idiot would open herself to that kind of torture. Surely she couldn't be in love with Lee. It just wasn't possible. She had only just realized that she was no longer in love with Joe.
All of a sudden, the evening's revelations, coupled with the events of the last two days seem to overwhelm her. The phone call from Joe, his being in trouble, seeing him again, helping Lee search for the truth, seeing her boys being held at gunpoint, seeing Lee and Joe together. Having Joe tugging her one way while her heart wanted to go another.
She had watched as Lee risked his life to save her sons. That gun could have gone off and killed him when he tackled Prescott. She could have lost him before she even realized she was in love with him. Yet, she could have lost one or both of her sons if he hadn't acted so swiftly. All the thoughts falling one on top of the other were just too much. She felt as though she were being pulled down into a vortex. She had read about people holding up just fine in difficult situations, only to fall to pieces later, but it had never happened to her with this kind of intensity.
In her mind, she could see the events of the past two days flashing by like slides in a projector. Each picture was accompanied by a burst of raw emotion. It reminded her of being on a carousal, spinning faster and faster, everything around becoming like one big kaleidoscope. Then the events of the past few years seem to join the ride and she was flooded with memories and feelings from the breakup with Joe, putting her life back together, her relationship with Dean, that fateful meeting with Lee and all that had followed. Good and bad, past and present, all blending and blurring together.
She felt a lump swell in her throat causing it to ache, and her eyes began to sting. Funny, that she felt so emotional all of a sudden. She was unsure of what she was feeling; relief, joy, fear, sorrow, wonder, so many emotions and thoughts began flooding over her.
She only knew she wouldn't be able to hold herself together much longer. Pulling back slightly, to speak to Joe, she was startled to catch a glimpse of Lee out of the corner of her eye. She turned to get a better look, but he was gone. Stopping in the middle of the dance floor, she glanced around the room quickly. It must have been her imagination.
She looked up at Joe to smile weakly. "Joe, is it okay if we call it a night? It's been an awfully hectic two days, and I think. . .I think I just need some time to myself, okay?"
Glancing at her with surprise, Joe nodded and led her off the dance floor. They drove back to her house in silence. Joe unsure of what had just happened, while Amanda was still feeling like she was spinning out of control. It was as if everything around her was ceasing to exist, while a storm of emotions just whirled her about as if she were in the midst of a hurricane. "Hurricane Amanda," she almost giggled at the thought, before simply giving in and allowing her mind to shut down for a time. Silently, she just watched the lights of the cars on the road, as they flickered past her, and shut out all thoughts - all feelings. Neither noticed the silver sports car following at a respectable distance.
As he pulled the car to a stop in front of the house, Joe reached over and touched Amanda's arm in concern. "Amanda, honey, are you okay?"
Glancing up at the house, Amanda noticed that everything looked quiet, with a soft glow coming from downstairs. Her mother must still be up watching TV. Taking a deep breath, Amanda tried to swallow the lump in her throat, and hang onto the nothingness for a moment longer. Turning she gazed up at Joe, her face unreadable. "Yeah, Joe. I'm fine, really. I'm just tired." She gave him a tiny smile. "Tonight was nice, but it's been a rather long day."
Remembering her earlier statement about needing some time to herself, Joe just smiled back at her gently. "Well, let's get you inside then," he replied, reaching for his door. Getting out, he walked around the car to open her door.
Walking with her to the house, Joe hesitated at the step, knowing she wouldn't be inviting him in. "I had a great time tonight Amanda." He assured her tenderly. "Thanks for coming with me." Leaning forward he gave her a quick hug and a soft kiss on her cheek. Amanda allowed the brief encounter before reaching for the doorknob.
"Goodbye, Joe," she spoke the words softly, almost with a sense of regret knowing that they carried a much deeper meaning than he realized. Sometimes dreams are hard to give up, even when the future looks like a beautiful place.
She quickly turned and let herself in before he could see the tears shimmering in her eyes. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it for support. Things were happening too fast. She still wasn't sure if she should be feeling sadness or joy at being able to say goodbye to Joe and the relationship they once shared. As for the new insight on her feelings for Lee, she wasn't sure how she should feel about that either.
So many things made sense now, and yet everything was suddenly so much more complicated and confusing. She felt like she was mourning a lost dream. When she added in the events of the last two days, and the fear and panic of her children being in danger to the equation, it was almost too much to cope with. But it didn't end there. Now she had her feelings for Lee to deal with, along with the onslaught of all the emotions and memories they invoked. "Doesn't life ever get easier?" She questioned in a mere whisper. Unfortunately she didn't have an answer to that one.
"Amanda, dear, is that you?" Dotty called from the other room.
"Yes, Mother." Amanda answered, trying to keep her voice steady and get a grip on her emotions.
"Did Joe come home with you?"
"Oh...Well did you two have a good time?"
"Yes, Mother," Amanda assured her, stepping away from the door, positive that the inquisition wasn't over yet. If she could just make it through the next couple minutes without falling apart.
"That's great, her mother was saying as Amanda made her way into the den. Dotty was moving around in the kitchen, fixing popcorn. "The boys went to bed an hour ago. They sure were wiped out." Chuckling, she shook her head at her thoughts, before continuing. "I just finished watching 'Hill Street Blues.' That actor who plays Detective LaRue is such a hunk. I just love those dimples of his," she informed her daughter with a wicked grin.
"And now I'm getting ready to treat myself to a late night movie. Want to join me? I'm fixing some popcorn and we could have a nice mother/daughter time," Dotty urged, dying to hear all about Amanda's evening and how things had gone between her and Joe.
Amanda made her way to the kitchen and draped her sweater over one of the chairs there, hoping her mother wouldn't notice her emotional state. "No thanks, Mother," she turned down the offer gently. "I think I'm going to fix myself some tea and then take a quick stroll around the block. It's a really beautiful night," she finished, trying to sound sincere and cheerful.
Dotty wasn't fooled, but decided to let it slide. "Sounds like a good idea, dear. The water's still hot in the kettle." Amanda quickly fixed her tea, while her mother pulled out a large bowl and dumped her popcorn into it.
"You know, Amanda," Dotty felt for her words carefully, unsure of Amanda's mood. "The boys are really delighted to have their dad back in the States again."
"Um..hmm," came the half-hearted response.
"Philip said Joe is planning on staying here for a while." Dotty was fishing for a reaction, but was disappointed when Amanda merely nodded her head in agreement.
"Yeah, he has to be here for the trial and so he decided that he would take care of his responsibilities stateside for the time being. He'll only have to make a couple of short trips here and there." Amanda answered absentmindedly.
"It sure will be nice to have him around. Won't it?" Dotty continued to fish.
"Mo-ther," Amanda sighed.
Dotty added some salt to her popcorn, and watched in some concern as Amanda put five spoonfuls of sugar in her tea and added a dollop of orange juice instead of milk.
"Sure you won't join me for the movie?" she asked hesitantly, turning towards the den. When Amanda shook her head once again, Dotty decided to play her trump card.
"It's a James Bond," she stated with flourish as if that made it irresistible.
"Figures," Amanda mumbled to herself, before turning to her mother and pasting on a smile. "No thanks, Mother. I really just need some time to myself. You know. . .to think," she finally admitted quietly. "I wouldn't be very good company right now."
Dotty relented, although she was still a bit disappointed and extremely concerned. She hadn't seen her daughter like this for a long time. Amanda let out a sigh of relief, but then felt a bit guilty. "Which one is it this time?" She asked over her shoulder as she headed for the door, trying to soften her rejection of the mother/daughter time.
"It's that one we saw when the boys were little." Dotty replied. "'The Spy Who Loved Me'. I really think it was one of the better ones don't you?" she called. "Amanda?" She was talking to dead air. Amanda had already grabbed her sweater and had bolted out the back door.
Closing the door behind her, Amanda turned to lean up against the wall. It had been an incredibly long and difficult two days, and now it looked to be an even longer night. Giving herself a mental shake and trying to pull her frayed emotions together, she took a sip of her tea, grimacing at the taste.
"Ugh." She looked at the cup, trying to decide what she had done to make it taste so awful. "Definitely too much sugar," she decided, answering her silent question out loud.
Suddenly, from inside the house she heard the opening music from the movie drifting out to her. Standing there, in an emotional jumble, she listened as the voice of Carly Simon seductively crooned the title song. Frozen in place, she let the words flow over her for a moment. The part about hiding from love and being found anyway hit to close to her own circumstances.
With a thump, Amanda set her cup down on a shelf and moved away from the house. "Oh Mother," she whispered, "why did you have to pick that movie, tonight of all nights," moving further into the back yard.
In the middle of the yard she stopped unsure of what to do next. She didn't really want to go for a walk. "And I'm definitely not going back inside," she finished the thought out loud.
Glancing around, she spotted her car in the drive and turned that direction. "Better than nothing and at least it's quiet and no one will bother me," she mumbled, knowing she needed somewhere where she could allow all the feelings inside her loose.
She never made it to the car. Stopping at the side of the garage, she allowed herself to just sink down into the grass. Pulling her knees up, she dropped her head on top of them and wrapped her arms around her legs. It had been ages since she had felt even remotely close to this way, so overwhelmed.
Sitting there, hunched over, she felt the first tears squeeze their way past her lashes. Past memories, present thoughts, and future dreams seemed to be all jumbled together and vying for her to listen to them. It was almost too much. Leaning her head back against the wall, she allowed the tears to flow silently down her face.
At the side of her house, Lee stood frozen, watching her, unsure of what to do.
The past two days had been incredibly difficult for him. Now standing there, a silent spectator, he realized that it had been equally as difficult for Amanda. No, he corrected that thought, it had obviously been much worse for her.
When he had found out that Joe King was the man wanted for the murder of the Estocian Prime Minister, he had asked Billy for the case. Not because he wanted to clear Joe's name, but because he wanted to be there for Amanda. They had been getting a little closer over the past several weeks, and he knew that although she and Joe were divorced, this would still be hard for her because of the boys.
She rarely spoke of either her marriage or her divorce, and he had assumed it was because they both were so firmly in the past. Or more realistically, he corrected himself again, he just preferred not to think about it.
When he had questioned her in the Q Bureau, about Joe's involvement in this mess, he had been fairly surprised not only to hear her staunchly defend Joe, but to also insist repeatedly that Joe was a really a great guy. Then, when they had spoken of her divorce and he had pressed her on the reasons behind it, she had all but refused to answer, saying that it made her uncomfortable to talk about it with him.
Although slightly hurt by her refusal, he had tried to be understanding. Her relief when Shamba knocked on the door had only increased his frustration.
In Lee's book, any man who wasn't around to cherish and protect his family did not deserve any type of loyalty from that family. Evidently Amanda didn't see it that way.
When he first met her, he'd found Amanda's code of loyalty and honesty surprising. Sometimes it had been downright inconvenient. In his world, you did or said whatever was necessary to get the job done and you didn't trust anyone. Believing in the goodness of others could get you killed. Everyone was suspect, even your closest friends and co-workers.
Amanda's view of life was different; she hated lying to anyone, and chose to see the good in everyone. She believed in people until they proved her wrong. And for a very select few, the lucky ones, she believed in them so completely, that her loyalty remained strong and intact, even when they let her down.
Lee felt very fortunate to be among those few, although it had taken him a while to realize what a treasure her unwavering trust in him was. Her ability to see the best in people, and to forgive their shortcomings, still astounded him.
Several times over the past few years, he had found himself on the receiving end of that forgiveness. It still astounded him how quickly and completely she forgave. With Amanda, it was as if something had never happened once she forgave you, as if you had never let her down or hurt her feelings. She never brought it up and rubbed your nose in it.
He had come to treasure her trust in him as a priceless gift. He had allowed himself to trust her completely because of it. And he realized now that he had taken it for granted that her belief in him was stronger, more concrete than her belief in others.
Even knowing her sense of loyalty and that incredible ability to forgive, her sincere belief in Joe's innocence had astounded him. He had always considered her feelings for Joe to be in the past. Now he didn't know what to think.
He had been totally unprepared for the affection and deep friendship that existed between the two. Most of the divorced people he knew harbored either a deep bitterness or a total indifference toward one another. With Amanda and Joe, that wasn't the case. They seemed to be genuinely fond of each other and to be totally at ease in each other's presence.
They spoke to each other with warmth. They smiled and touched with a friendly casualness that bespoke a deep bond.
When he and Amanda had spoken together in Dooley's, she had glowed with the memories of those early days with Joe. When he had again pressed about the details of her divorce, he could see that it was still difficult for her to speak of it. In the end she had glossed over it, saying that life had turned out okay. Lee could feel the pain behind her words as she spoke. In his book, okay just wasn't good enough for Amanda, and he had told her as much.
He might have said more, but Joe came into the restaurant at that moment, and before he knew what was happening, Amanda was taking off after Joe. Having to get rid of Shamba again had been a cruel twist of fate, in Lee's book.
When he had heard the gunshots, he had been alarmed, thinking that something might have happened to Amanda. He had been so relieved when he found her safe. Then he had seen Joe.
As he had listened to Joe's story, he wanted to be skeptical and he also wanted to spare Amanda the disillusionment should Joe be guilty. She was so protective of him, so sure that he was telling the truth that Lee found himself gritting his teeth in frustration.
Leaving them alone together was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. Lee was honest enough to admit to himself that if it hadn't been for having to deal with the man they thought was Shamba, he wouldn't have left them alone for even a moment.
When he had returned to the rooming house, he had walked in on what looked like a fairly intimate scene. The two of them were sitting closely on the bed quietly talking and holding hands.
It had been difficult for him to watch them together. They seemed to reach out for each other automatically and as they spoke, the terms sweetheart and honey seemed to fall freely from their lips.
It was as if they were still married.
It made Lee feel like an outsider.
"Admit it," Stetson, he silently chastised himself, "you didn't like it because you've gotten used to it being just yourself and Amanda." He smiled at the thought, acknowledging that he had never been any good at sharing.
It didn't help matters that she had to pretend she didn't know him. He couldn't reach out to her the way he wanted to, and had found himself wondering who Amanda would reach for given the choice.
She seemed to be slightly uncomfortable with the situation, as if unsure who to align herself with.
During the time he had known Amanda, she had dated several different men, and although Lee hadn't really liked any of them this was totally different. Amanda and Joe had been married for ten years, they had lived together and had children together. It was obvious that they still had some sort of feeling for each other, but what were those feelings and how deep did they run?
Lee wished he could hate the man, but even that hadn't worked out the way he wanted. Joe King was just what Amanda had claimed he was, a really nice guy. He was unassuming and gentle in nature, appearing to have a staunch sense of honesty and a sincere commitment to helping the people of Estocia. It was very hard not to like him.
It had been difficult this morning in the gym, seeing them all standing there as a family unit.
While he waited at the agency for Joe King to be brought in for debriefing, he had been irritable and snappish to those around him. It still didn't seem that Joe should be the one allowed to comfort Amanda and see her home. Lee was used to that being his place, and had finally admitted that he was jealous of Joe King.
When Billy had informed him that Amanda had requested the rest of the day off, he hadn't been surprised. Seeing her sons held at gunpoint would have been difficult for her. But when Joe had made those statements about family and new beginnings before he left and made it obvious that he still considered Amanda part of his family, Lee had a hard time hanging onto his control.
He had decided to go and check on Amanda earlier this evening, only to see her driving off with Joe. Unabashedly, he had followed them, not even trying to excuse his behavior as anything but the need to know what was going on between the two.
Joe King did not deserve Amanda. Yet Lee knew that the man was going to try to convince her that they should give things another try.
"One strike and you're out, buddy," Lee had thought angrily. "Where were you these past few years, all the times Amanda and the boys needed someone to be there for them? You weren't there while she was struggling to make ends meet and cover both ends of being a parent. You weren't the one who coerced Pretzel the Clown to show up for Jamie's birthday party and made sure Philip got a Wizard Whopper." Lee had banged his hand against the steering wheel in frustration.
He had sat in his car for almost an hour while they were in Dooley's. It was a small place and Lee didn't want to take a chance that Amanda would discover that he had followed her.
Then, he saw a large group of students walking towards the door and found that he couldn't resist the open invitation. He had slipped in, hidden by the group, only to find Joe and Amanda dancing closely to what must have been their song. Amanda's head was on Joe's shoulder and her eyes were closed, her mouth curved in a gentle smile.
He had been watching for just a moment, when she suddenly lifted her head to talk to Joe. He had seen her glance his way and had quickly ducked behind another group of patrons. That was too close.
He had quickly left and went back to sit in his car and wait. A few moments later they had come out. He had followed them home, pulling up just down the street in time to witness their little good night scene.
He sat quietly in his car for almost ten minutes after Joe left, before finally deciding to take a quick peek in her kitchen window to make sure she was okay.
He never made it to the window. Just as he was cutting across the neighbor's backyard, he had seen Amanda come out onto the service porch. She seemed so deep in thought, so solitary. He had hesitated where he was, just watching her. Then, to his surprise, she had set her cup on a shelf and strode into the yard looking around as if unsure of what to do with herself.
When she had sunk down beside the garage wall, Lee moved quietly toward her, watching as she dropped her head against her knees. As he reached the corner of her house, she had lifted her head to lean back against the wall.
The sight of tears glistening in the moonlight as they slid one after another down her face, brought him to an abrupt, astounded stop.
She could have been a statue so quiet and still was she sitting, except for those tears streaming silently from beneath her lashes. He didn't think he had every seen Amanda cry in this manner. She rarely cried at all, she was usually so strong.
Now, she looked so fragile, so all alone, almost breakable. He hated seeing her this way. It made him ache inside. It made him uncomfortable. Watching those silent tears flow, he was filled with anger. Anger at himself, anger at Joe, anger at their job. Anger that anything should affect her this way.
Without consciously thinking about it, he moved forward until he was standing right in front of her. She was so lost in her own world that she didn't even sense him.
He knelt down in front of her unsure of how to proceed. Then, he did the only thing he could think of to do, the very thing he had been wanting to do all day. He reached out to gathered her into his arms.
Maneuvering into a sitting position, he gathered her close. Sliding an arm under her bent knees, he lifted her so that she was sitting sideways on his lap.
Gently pushing her face into his shoulder, he dropped his chin on top of her head, and wrapped his arms around her. He could feel her tears through his shirt, and the slight trembling of her body. He wanted so desperately to right her world for her, but he didn't know how. So, he just sat there, holding her, relieved that she wasn't resisting his offer of comfort.
The onslaught lasted for another ten minutes. Then the storm raging in Amanda calmed itself. She hadn't tried to stem the torrent, knowing that it was better to get it all out.
When Lee had first approached, she had been unaware of him or of anything at all. But when he had reached out to gather her close, she had known immediately that it was Lee's hands on her. She had felt that small slight current that passed between them. This was Lee. Somehow it seemed right that he should be there - that he should be holding her.
Now, she lay quietly against his chest, with her head tucked under his chin and her arms wrapped tightly around his torso. As her emotions began to cease their clamoring, she could feel his heartbeat under her cheek and feel his breath as it gently stirred her hair. She could feel his arms around her and could sense the strength he was allowing to flow from his spirit into hers.
She knew that eventually she would have to say something, but for now, this was enough and she allowed his presence to flow over her, and through her, helping to calm her ragged emotions. She kept her eyes closed and let all the thoughts and feelings tumble around inside. Slowly they quieted and began to settle into their proper places.
How long they sat entwined like that, neither one of them knew or cared. Lee could feel the dampness from her tears soaking through his shirt and the warmth of her body pressed against him from neck to mid thigh. Any other time he would have reveled in the feeling of holding her like this. But he was too concerned for her.
He had seen Amanda in so many moods. Happy, sad, embarrassed, angry, hurt, frightened, celebrating and even grieving. However, nothing in his experience with Amanda gave him a clue on how to proceed now. She was so still. So silent.
Wrapping her closer, Lee admitted that the silence was what unsettled him the most. Amanda was always so animated, and so talkative. The worse the situation was, the more she seemed to talk. Only now she lay quietly in his arms, not moving, not speaking. If it wasn't for the fact that he could feel each gentle breath she took he might have been tempted to check for a pulse. He had known her for three years and he couldn't remember even once when she was so silent. The silence bothered him. It scared him. He didn't know how to handle it. So he just sat there, holding her.
As her thoughts began to settle into place, her emotions followed suit. Slowly, but steadily, everything seemed to fall into perspective for Amanda. With a deep sigh, she gently pushed a bit of space between herself and Lee, glancing up at him from under her lashes, feeling slightly embarrassed.
"Not your best day, I take it," he gently teased, not knowing what else to say. Amanda let loose a very short laugh as she fished in her pocket for a tissue.
"I believe, I've had better." Her attempt to return the quip fell slightly flat, as her voice was unsteady. Glancing up, she caught the look of concern in Lee's eyes and was transfixed. Trying to ascertain that she was all right, Lee allowed his gaze to hold hers for a moment, and then let it flicker over the rest of her, just drinking in the sight of her there in the moonlight.
The tears followed by the tissue had left her face devoid of makeup, except for some light smudging around her eyes, which were still a bit misty. Her hair was slightly mussed with several loose tendrils framing her face. She looked pale and so very fragile. There was a slight unsteadiness about her movements and he had heard the quiver in her voice. Never had he seen her looking so utterly defenseless.
Unsettled by this inspection, she glanced down, only then noticing that she had dampened the left side of his shirt with her tears and left several smudges of makeup and mascara. "Oh my gosh, your poor shirt," she whispered in dismay.
Lee just shrugged and flashed her one of his roguish smiles, attempting to add a little levity. "Lent willingly for a good cause, I assure you," he quipped. Amanda just continued to stare at the damaged area, embarrassed.
"Amanda." He gave her a gentle shake. "I'm not worried about the shirt, it'll dry. It's you I'm worried about." His sincerity was unmistakable.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he gently questioned, reaching up to brush a strand of hair off her face. He watched, waiting, as Amanda shut her eyes, trying to think. Coming to a decision, Amanda reopened them and lowered herself off his lap and onto the grass beside him, shifting so they were still facing each other. Lee didn't try to stop her, sensing that she needed the space her position provided.
Attempting to calm the last of her frazzled nerves, Amanda took several deep breaths and then crossing her legs, Indian style, lifted her hands to smooth back her hair. Gazing up at Lee, she hesitated, unsure of where to begin. "I'm not sure where to start," she confessed. "It's kind of complicated."
"How about at the beginning," suggested Lee.
Amanda gave a short half-laugh. "That's the problem. I'm not sure where the beginning is."
"Okay," Lee hesitated, and then decided to go for it. "Did Joe do or say something to upset you? Has he hurt you in some way?" He voiced the thought foremost in his mind.
Realizing what he was trying to ask, Amanda hurried to reassure him. "No, of course not. Joe wouldn't hurt me!" she exclaimed, then qualified it with, "At least not in the way you're thinking."
"Then, what is it, Amanda? Come on, you're scaring me here. Something is obviously very wrong. You're not someone who falls apart over nothing." "Lee." Amanda tried to interrupt him, but he ignored it.
"I want to help here, but I can't help if you won't tell me what the problem is," he continued.
"Lee!" Leaning forward, she reached out to touch his thigh, finally succeeding in getting his attention. "Lee, it's not really a problem. At least it's not a problem that can be fixed as such," she amended her statement.
Lee just stared at her. "What do you mean it's not a problem that can be fixed? All problems can be fixed one way or another."
Amanda shook her head thinking, that's a man's logic for you. "Lee, it's not really a problem. It's just . . . it's . . . Oh look, I'm not sure I can explain it so that you can understand it."
"Amanda!" Lee groaned in frustration.
Resting her elbows on her knees, Amanda sat her chin on her folded hands. Although still a bit unsettled, she was feeling calmer by the minute. "I'm really not sure where to start," she exclaimed softly. "Like I said, it's complicated, everything gets tangled up between the past and the present. Besides, I'm not sure you really want to hear all this," she finished, causing Lee to smile slightly, because frustrating as this conversation was, she was definitely starting to sound like his Amanda again. One of the things he appreciated about her was her ability to bounce back quickly from a trying situation.
"Okay, it's complicated," he repeated her statement. "So just pick a spot and start."
Heaving a sigh, Amanda paused to think, and realized her thoughts actually made sense. She really was beginning to feel like herself again. "Okay," she began. "Have you ever had a time when everything going on around you just seemed to be too much and everything just sorta came crashing down around you?"
Lee nodded. Yeah, he could remember a few times like that in his life.
"I guess you could say I had a delayed reaction to everything that's been happening over the past two days. You have to remember that yesterday morning was just a regular morning. The boys were on their way to school and I was getting ready for work. Normal. Then the day just splintered into a million pieces.
I get this call from Joe, telling me he's back in the States, but that he's in trouble. He won't tell me where he is. He informs me that I can't contact him, because it could be dangerous for the family. Then, on top of that, he tells me that people might come looking for him. Next, I get a call from Mr. Prescott asking if I can meet him at the EAO offices. When I get there, he tells me that the father of my children is wanted for murder in Estocia."
Pausing only long enough to grab a quick breath, she continued listing her trials. "When I get to the agency, Billy tells me that you're already on an assignment. Then I find out that this thing with Joe is the assignment." Lee offered her a slightly sheepish smile as if to say, "sorry". "From there, it was like entering a time warp. Being in both the present and the past. Trying to remember anything that might help locate Joe, without getting bogged down in all the old memories."
She paused, pinning Lee with her eyes. "Besides, some of those questions were pretty personal and I felt a little awkward trying to answer them. It wasn't the most comfortable situation, believe me."
Giving her an understanding look, Lee smiled apologetically. "I know, and I'm sorry," he whispered, needing to say it, but not wanting to interrupt her thought process. Nor did he want to admit that some of the more personal questions hadn't been a bit necessary to the case.
"The next thing I know, we find Joe and things get really strange from there." She glanced up at Lee, undecided on how much she should tell him. Sensing her indecision, Lee gave her hand another encouraging squeeze, watching the emotions play across her face. She was so incredibly expressive.
That was one of the things that had attracted him in the beginning. She was animated, cheerful, and caring, and her enjoyment of life just spilled over onto those around her. Most of the women he worked with walked around all day with polite professional expressions glued to their faces. Not Amanda. She handled herself professionally and yet she didn't try to hide that she was a human being and a woman.
"I felt like I was on a roller coaster." Breaking away from his thoughts, Lee realized that Amanda was speaking. "Everything was happening so fast that I didn't have time to think, just react. It was only tonight that I started to dwell on all the things that happened and realized how many things could have gone wrong. It was just too much to emotionally handle. Does that make sense?" she was earnestly trying to help him understand.
"Yeah," he indicated that it made sense.
"Joe could have been shot that night in Estocia," she began gravely. "Philip and Jamie's father could have been thrown in jail and convicted of murder," she added. Lee began to wonder if it was only concern for Joe which had led to her earlier state.
Fortunately, for his peace of mind, she continued. "Lee, I could have lost my kids this morning. Prescott could have gotten to them before we realized what he was doing. Or they could have been killed right in front of my eyes, if it hadn't been for you." Leaning forward, she once again placed her hand on his lower thigh ensuring his undivided attention. "I don't think I've ever been so terrified in my whole life."
"I know we have been in plenty of tight situations before, but none of them included my children like this. I'll probably have nightmares for weeks. I can still see him holding that gun to Jamie's side. And you. I could have lost you." By now she was almost whispering, her throat tightening up again. "When you tackled Prescott, he could have easily shot you."
Lee felt the knot in his gut, created by her earlier concern for her ex, begin to ease. He could hear her obvious distress and concern for his well-being in the strained tone of her voice.
"Lee," Amanda continued earnestly, "you must know that you're my best friend in the whole world and I could have lost you today. Not only to some crazy gunman, but because of my own stupidity."
Lee looked at her sharply, not understanding what she meant by that last statement. She hadn't done anything stupid this morning; she had done everything right. She had kept Prescott distracted enough that Lee had been able to get the drop on him and then she had stayed out of the way and let him handle it. It didn't make sense to him that she thought she had behaved stupidly.
"Amanda, you didn't do anything stupid," he rushed to reassure her, but she cut him off.
"Yes, I did, " she insisted, placing a finger across his lips to keep him from protesting. "Lee, let me finish, okay? This is where is gets complicated, at least for me."
Lee nodded his agreement to remain silent, but couldn't resist giving her finger a light kiss before she removed it, causing Amanda to smile. "I did behave stupidly," she started again. "Not just today, but yesterday as well."
At Lee's questioning look, she took a deep breath determined to explain, to share some of her new insights. But what words do you use to tell someone how much you care about them without scaring them off?
Smiling up at him a little uncertainly, she decided to plunge right in. No guts, no glory, right? "I behaved stupidly by hanging onto a dream from years ago that I didn't even know was still there," she informed him.
She hesitated, not knowing how to explain the rest in a way that he could understand, without giving away the depth of her feelings. Lee started to speak, but she held up her hand to stop him, still trying to decide how to proceed. "No, if I don't say this now, I'll probably never say it." She waffled for a moment, almost chickening out, and then forged ahead, starting with the past because that was the easiest route.
"You remember I told you that when we were married, Joe and I didn't agree on everything." Lee nodded. Dredging up her courage, Amanda continued. "Well one of the things we didn't agree on, at least to begin with, was the divorce."
Lee nodded to indicate that he was with her so far, and continued to listen. This was a topic that interested him immensely, the very one he had been trying to get her to open up about yesterday, only she hadn't been ready, then. Apparently she was now, and he wasn't about to stop her.
"Joe wanted it, but I didn't," she told him softly and plainly. Lee let that sink in, hoping she wasn't going somewhere he wouldn't like.
"At least not at first. Then, I realized that it wasn't really what he wanted, but more what he needed. Joe had been working with the EAO for a few years by then. He is really good at what he does, mostly because he cares so much." Amanda's eyes met Lee's and he could see that she was firmly convinced of what she was telling him. "He has so much to give and the more severe the disaster, the more underdeveloped the country; the more his heart bleeds for the people who have to live in those deprived conditions.
But because of me and the boys, he was being torn between two worlds, so to speak. It was destroying him. He couldn't be his best here, because he felt he should be there. And he couldn't do his best in the places he was stationed because the guilt of leaving us here alone was eating him up. It took a while, but I finally realized what it was doing to him. And so I agreed to the divorce."
Lee wanted to reach out and wrap Amanda in his arms as she was speaking. He could see her weighing the decision in her mind and deciding to let go of her dream of being a family, no matter how much it hurt, in order to make Joe's life easier. She really was the most incredibly giving woman he had ever come across in his life. Amanda had paused for a moment, her thoughts deep in the past, reliving that moment in time.
"Dean never did understand," she murmured softly, thinking out loud. "He just kept saying how incredibly selfish Joe was being. I think he even told him so on at least one occasion," she finished, with a small laugh to herself.
Lee knew he was supposed to be just listening, but this last revelation brought him up short. "Dean? That doofus you were dating when I first met you? You were involved with him before your divorce?" The words burst forth before he could stop himself.
He couldn't believe what he was hearing. This didn't sound like the Amanda he knew. It didn't fit with what she was saying about her marriage and divorce either. It was totally out of character. He remembered how skittish she had been on those early assignments, how incredibly proper. Even while he had been angry with the inconvenience of her principles, and had occasionally mocked or teased her, deep down inside he had admired and respected her all the more because of them.
"Um?" Amanda glanced up, pulled out of her thoughts. "What was that?"
Lee gritted his teeth and wasn't sure he wanted to ask the question again. Somehow this just didn't make any sense. "Ah," he hesitated, took a breath and plunged in. "Did you just say that you and Mr. Local Weather Boy were seeing each other while you and Joe were still married?" Lee wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer and yet he did.
Amanda couldn't help but be amused. "His name was Dean," she reminded him, "and he was a meteorologist, not a weather-boy."
"He was a stick in the mud," Lee muttered under his breath, causing Amanda to grin outright.
"Lee, that isn't very nice, you never even met him. Dean is really a very fine man and he was a good friend when I needed one."
Lee emitted a rude "humph" at that statement. Curling her legs underneath her, and leaning forward a bit, Amanda pinned Lee with a stern look.
"Lee, please don't belittle his place in my life. He loved me and the boys with his whole heart, and was there at a time when we desperately needed someone. And no, we were not having a thing while I was still married. You should know me better than that. Dean and I did not start dating until almost six months after Joe and I were divorced. And regardless of what you think of him, he doesn't deserve your contempt. I really hurt him when I turned down his proposal."
Lee was beginning to feel like a real heel under Amanda's gentle reproach, but he still wasn't ready to let this go. "Let me guess, he loved you from afar for years." The statement came out with a bit of a sneer.
Lee had never liked Dean, and no matter what Amanda said, his hanging around before her divorce was still suspect in Lee's book.
"Not that I know of," came the quick retort. "Dean was just a friend back then. A friend of mine and Joe's," she clarified firmly. "Actually he was more Joe's friend, than mine at the time. You know, one of those friends who comes to dinner and never seems to go home." Lee gave another rude snort. Trying to make him understand she continued. "Lee, they were best friends in college. Joe was in pre-law and Dean was studying Broadcast Journalism and Meteorology.
"A friend of mine was dating Dean and brought him to a sorority party we were having. Dean thought Joe and I would hit it off, so he introduced us. Joe and I started dating and a couple of years later we got married."
Amanda grimaced to herself realizing that she sounded as if she were reciting a rundown from a case-file, but it couldn't be helped. She needed to get through this if Lee was going to be able to understand what things had been like for her. The fact that she desperately wanted him to understand didn't escape her notice.
"We lived in an apartment those first few years and Dean was around quite a lot," Amanda continued her narrative. "He and Joe remained really close. You know, going to games together, helping each other with their cars, playing football in the park. He even went on a couple of camping vacations with us. He was great with the boys."
Realizing that she had been distracted from the original discussion, Lee was sorry that he hadn't kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to talk about Dean, at least that wasn't his primary interest right now. It was just that her statement had caught him so off-guard, that the words had just burst forth before he could stop them, but now he wasn't sure how to get her back to what she had been saying earlier.
He heard a soft sigh coming from Amanda and looked over at her. She was sitting there in the moonlight, looking slightly haunted. Her legs were once again crossed in front of her, but now her hands were resting on the ground behind her and she was leaning back slightly, looking up at the night sky, still deep in thought.
"I think it was Joe's taking the job with EAO that put the first strain on their friendship," Amanda spoke her thoughts out loud again as she thought back.
Lee felt relief for this little idiosyncrasy of hers. Maybe he wouldn't have to find a way to get her back on track after all. She would eventually meander her way back on her own, if he could just remember to keep his mouth shut. So he settled back, drinking in the sight of her, and waited.
"When Joe first told me he was interested in the EAO, I wasn't too surprised. He had been working as a lawyer for the EPA and while he enjoyed his work, it was mostly pushing paper. The opportunity to actually participate in the relief efforts wasn't there, and Joe really wanted to make more of a difference. 'To be able to get his hands dirty', I think is how he phrased it. He wanted to be a part of actively changing the lives of people, not just handle the paperwork end. I think that was probably our first major disagreement."
"The job meant constant travel. Six months here, four months there. Never knowing for sure from one month to the next where you might be sent." Lee had heard most of this yesterday, and found himself hoping she would expand on this part of her life as well, giving him the insight into her divorce he wanted.
"There was so much unrest in some of those countries. The news was constantly running stories about Americans being held captive or even being killed. I just didn't think that it would be right to subject the boys to all that. They were so little. They didn't deserve to be shuffled around that way. Constantly in danger, never knowing whether you could trust your neighbors, not really having a home." Amanda paused, trying to gather her thoughts.
Lee couldn't help but cringe a bit inside as he listened to her talk about being placed in danger and not knowing whom to trust. Unknowingly, he had pulled her into the very type of lifestyle she had been trying to avoid.
Absently, she reached out and smoothed out Lee's lower pant leg. Leaning forward, she once again rested her elbows on her knees and dropped her chin on top of her interlaced hands.
With a calm, even tone, as if she were telling someone else's story, she continued. "After almost an entire week of arguing about it, I finally told him that I wouldn't go. That I wasn't going to uproot the boys, to drag them from their home and routine and place them in constant danger."
"It would have been different if it were just the two of us." Lee's head snapped up, at those words, searching her face as she continued.
"We were adults and could take care of ourselves, but the boys needed some stability and security in their lives. I felt like I was in a Catch-22 situation, no matter what choice I made, I lost. I tried to tell Joe that there must be a way for all of us to win." She looked up at Lee, her eyes taking on a hint of a smile. Reaching out to caress his knee in emphasis she added softly, "I mean, we seem to have managed it. Our job sometimes get dangerous or involves travel, and yet the boys still have a home with all the stability and love they need." Her words gave Lee a moment's pause, he had never thought of things in quite that way.
"Joe didn't want to compromise," Amanda continued. "I remember pointing out that there were plenty of people right here in the states who could use his help. I suggested that he volunteer for some of the shorter trips that various organizations make every year." She paused, giving a small shrug.
"Then a couple of days later, Joe came home and told me that he had accepted the job and would be leaving the following week. I was devastated and hurt. I felt like he was choosing people he didn't even know over his own family. I know that he and Dean argued about it as well, but Joe stood firm. He knew he could make a difference in the lives of others, so he left.
Over the next couple of years, he was gone more than he was home. It was hard on us, but we managed. Mother moved in to help out. And Dean pitched in for those times we needed a little extra muscle, or when the boys needed a man to relate to. I think in a way he felt somehow responsible. He was the one who had introduced us. He was so incredibly angry with Joe during that time."
She paused, lost in thought. Lee couldn't remember when she had revealed so much of herself to him in one sitting. It was like having a window opened into her past. He knew a million facts about her life, and over the last few years he had learned a lot about the type of person she was.
So many times she had helped him deal with the issues from his past. She had always seemed to be able to look right into his soul, to see all the pain and loneliness within.
Yet in all that time, she had never bared her own soul to this extent. And selfishly, he had never realized how much her ability to understand the pain of others was based on having felt deep pain and losses herself.
After a few moments of silence, she continued, "At first Joe came home every couple of weeks, then it became every couple of months, and so on. The time between his visits just kept getting longer and longer. That last year he was only home the one time and that was for his father's funeral. It was then that he brought up the subject of divorce," she paused, giving Lee a wry smile that never made it to her eyes.
"He explained that he felt it was in the best interest of the boys and myself, saying it wasn't fair that we should have to put our lives on hold for him. He felt, rather strongly, that we should have the opportunity to move on with our lives.
I think he honestly believed it was in our best interest. By this time, he had been stationed in Africa for over a year. We discussed all the options available, but couldn't come to an agreement on any of them.
I didn't like things the way they were, but I didn't think a divorce was the answer. However, I didn't want to move the boys to Africa either. There was so much turmoil going on over there; riots, ransacking, people being dragged out of their homes and killed. And Joe was still moving from one place to the next, being posted in the most unstable areas. But Joe was adamant that it was one way or the other. We continued to argue about it until it got to the point where we were barely talking to each other."
As she hesitated, Lee reached out to place a comforting hand on her ankle. Her legs were stretched out beside his, with the ankles delicately crossed. She was reclining back on her elbows by his feet, apparently lost in thought. She seemed to need some separation for the telling, but he needed to have some point of contact as he shared her memories. After a moment, she shook off whatever thoughts were holding her hostage and continued.
"I finally realized that while he was with us in body, he was still in Africa in spirit and heart. I think by then, the people there were more family than we were." Lee glanced into her eyes as she spoke, expecting to see the pain and unshed tears he had witnessed yesterday. Instead of the pain, though, he found her gazing back at him with an expression of calm reflection. It was as if she were telling him about something that no longer caused her soul to bleed.
"So you agreed to the divorce," he prompted quietly, causing Amanda to smile at him somewhat wryly.
"Eventually, yes," she agreed, "after a lot of consideration. As I said, I fought it until I realized what it was doing to Joe, what it was doing to us. Then, I relented and gave in. I loved him, and I couldn't stand to see him so incredibly divided. And I like to think that it was his love for us that made him want to give us a chance to move on. In a way, I understood how he felt. I didn't like it, but I understood it. In the end we parted as friends, agreeing to disagree, each of us wanting the best for the other. Joe headed back to Africa and I resumed my life, only this time, we were no longer married." She gave a gentle shrug of her shoulders, coupled with a tiny smile as she finished this last statement.
Glancing into Lee's eyes, she continued to share, "I think looking back, I missed the marriage, more than I missed Joe. He had been gone so much. I was already used to not having him around. It was the divorce that finally destroyed the friendship between Dean and Joe. They argued bitterly over it. In fact," Amanda gave a little laugh. "I think the two of them argued over it every bit as much as Joe and I did. Finally Dean just threw up his hands and said that he didn't know Joe any more and he didn't think he wanted to." Amanda sighed softly. "I don't think they spoke much after that," she added the side thought.
"Dean and I started dating about six months later. We had known each other for what seemed like forever. Those first few months after the divorce were really rough and he was there doing what he could to help me and the boys get through them. I guess our feelings just grew from there. It just seemed natural. He really loved all of us, and at the time, I really needed to feel special to someone," she reflected softly.
"Do you remember that car accident in '83 when I got amnesia and didn't remember that I worked for the Agency?" she asked him, seemingly out of the blue. Lee nodded, remembering how worried he had been until she had been found in the hospital.
"Well, the Agency wasn't the only part of my life I didn't remember," Amanda explained with a dry smile. "I didn't remember Dean either." Lee smiled back, rather liking the fact that if she had to forget him during that time, at least she hadn't been thinking about what's-his-name either.
Catching the look, Amanda rolled her eyes and continued her explanation. "Later, I could understand not remembering my relationship with the Agency because it was my job that had landed me in the accident. However, I couldn't understand not remembering Dean, and my relationship with him." Lee scowled slightly at the mention of the word relationship, but didn't interrupt her.
"He had been a part of my life one way or another for years, and yet I didn't have a clue who he was." A counselor friend of mine helped me to realize that the reason I had blocked him out was guilt. I just didn't love him the same way he loved me." Amanda gave a slight apologetic shrug as she made the statement as if still feeling slightly guilty. "I finally understood that I had settled for a safe relationship where I couldn't get hurt emotionally. It wasn't fair to Dean to continue on like that, so I turned down his proposal and ended up hurting a really nice man."
She had shifted positions, pulling her knees up, wrapping one arm around them and using them as a prop for her chin. Her other hand reached out almost absentmindedly and one of her fingers began to make little circles on Lee's knee. Glancing up, she smiled shyly at him, shaking her head as if to say, 'I can't believe I'm telling you all this.'
"And so ends the saga of my life," she spoke softly, in an almost teasing tone, a tinge of embarrassment mingled in. Lee placed his hand over hers, stilling the gentle movements on his knee, and gave it a squeeze, before lifting it and drawing it between both his hands as he leaned gently towards her smiling. "Amanda King, you are one remarkable woman," he told her. Amanda just sat there for a moment allowing her eyes to roam over him before giving a self-depreciating laugh.
"What I am, Stetson," she told him with a shake of her head and dancing eyes, "is one incredibly stupid woman."
"Amanda," Lee groaned. "Are we back to that again?"
Amanda just continued to smile at him, nodding her head that yes they were back to that. "We never left 'that'," she grinned, "we've only been working our way up to it."
Lee gave her a look of exasperation. "Well you sure have a round about way of getting to things," he muttered, not really sorry that she did. He had learned a lot about her in the past few moments. She really was an incredible woman.
"Okay, I'll bite. What was the stupid thing you did and how does all this stuff about you and Joe figure in?" he replied.
"I'm not sure if this is where it gets complicated or simpler." Laughing a little, she continued. Throwing her head back to look up at the night sky, she rolled her eyes upward and pressed her lips together, searching for the right words. Lee could tell, watching her, the exact moment they came to her. He had watched her do that so many times, he couldn't help but smile.
"Okay. It's kinda like when you wreck your car running into a tree. You can see that you damaged your car, right? Everyone can tell that you damaged your car hitting the tree. I mean, it's pretty obvious." She paused to see if he was following. Lee wasn't, but he nodded his head in agreement anyway. He rarely followed her when she first started trying to explain something. However, from experience, he knew that eventually it would probably make some sort of sense. "But the hitting the tree, isn't the real reason you crashed."
She was still watching him closely. He still wasn't following. "It's not?" he questioned, totally baffled.
"No it's not. Well it is, but it's really not." She paused for effect. "The real reason you dented your car is because you were driving down that particular road at that exact time of day. Your car was traveling at a particular speed and you were distracted at that particular moment, causing you to drive off the road and into the tree. She finished with a flourish. "Now do you understand?"
Lee just looked at her, beginning to nod his head, but changed his mind. He was still lost. "No," he told her.
Amanda heaved a huge sigh. This was harder than she had thought. "Okay, let me try again." Suddenly her eyes lit up. "It's like, 'All roads lead to Rome'," she crowed softly, delighted to have come up with something that made sense, at least to her.
Lee just rolled his eyes and waited.
"Look," began Amanda. "It's not really that hard. It's just that I wouldn't be where I am today, dealing with this whole situation," she waved her hand around in the air, to encompass everything around her. "If all the things that happened in the past hadn't brought me here."
Lee finally understood and he agreed, acknowledging that all the things in his past had also brought him to where he was.
They smiled at each other and Amanda shrugged her shoulders as if to say 'so you see'.
Inside the house the phone rang. A moment later, Dotty leaned out the kitchen window. "Amanda?" she called. "Are you out there? Dean's on the phone."
The pair on the ground froze. Amanda didn't want to be spotted sitting there on the ground with a man her mother didn't know. Lee wondered if she was going to take the call or stay.
Then they heard the back door opening. "Amanda?" called her mother again. "Darling, are you out here?" She moved across the patio, scanning the yard with her eyes. Reaching out, Amanda touched Lee's leg. "Get down," she hissed, ducking quickly and moving further into the shadows so she wouldn't be seen.
A scant second later, they heard Dotty mutter to herself,"It doesn't take an hour to walk around the block. I sure wish I knew where that girl keeps taking herself off to. " The mumbled comment was followed by the click of the door closing behind her.
Carefully they both sat up, looking toward the house to confirm that Dotty had indeed gone back inside, then back toward each other.
Lee looked at Amanda, "How about going for a cup of coffee?" he offered.
Amanda glanced down at herself unsure, "Lee, I look a mess," she exclaimed. Lee looked her over and smiled gently. She looked pretty good to him. She appeared slightly rumpled and mussed, but incredibly cuddly looking. Suddenly Lee realized that being spotted by Dotty wasn't the only good reason to find somewhere else to finish this talk. "Definitely someplace public," he told himself, "very public."
"You look beautiful," he voiced the understatement, hoping she wouldn't notice the hoarseness of his voice. At Amanda's raised eyebrows, he added a teasing, "Just slightly smudged around the edges."
"Look, Amanda," he continued more seriously, "no one's going to notice or care how you look. Denny's is open, why don't we go there? At least then we won't have to worry about your mother spotting us. How about it?" he cajoled, wiggling his eyebrows at her.
Amanda just shook her head, smiling at his antics. "All right," she agreed, giving in easily. Lee sprang to his feet and then reached down to give Amanda a tug up. Still holding her hand, he turned toward the neighbor's yard. "My car is just down the street," he told her, pulling her along behind him in that direction.
As Lee drove, Amanda flipped down the visor and quickly fixed her hair in the small mirror implanted there. Noticing a few faint mascara smudges lingering beneath her eyes, she pulled her tissue back out, and wetting it with her tongue, gently wiped them away. Lee kept glancing at her as she repaired the damage. Finally, smiling he just shook his head at her, grinning.
"Amanda, will you quit? You look great," he assured her. Giving him a disagreeing look, she flipped the visor back up. Sighing, she settled back in her seat. There wasn't much else she could do anyway.
A few moments later he was guiding her into a booth and taking the seat opposite her. Amanda smiled wryly to herself. Two dates in one evening, what was she coming to? Seeing the smile, Lee raised his eyebrows in question. "It's nothing," she assured him, "just a passing thought."
Before he could press her any further, a waitress approached the table. "Two coffees," Lee told her, tossing a questioning look towards Amanda. "Do you want something to eat?" Amanda just shook her head. Turning back to the waitress, Lee repeated, "Two coffees," flashing the waitress one of his charming grins. She smiled back.
"Two coffees it is, then." Turning, she left to get their order. Lee and Amanda barely had time to do more than smile at each other before she was back. "Sugar and cream are on the table. Enjoy."
They fixed their coffees in companionable silence. As he stirred in his cream, Lee watched Amanda with a speculative look. Taking a sip of his coffee gave him time to search for the right words to begin. He couldn't think of any, so he just spouted the first think that came to his mind.
"So, did you and Joe have a good time earlier?" He wanted to kick himself once the words were out. Amanda's eyes widened and then narrowed.
"How do you know I was out with Joe?" she questioned, wondering if she had seen him earlier this evening after all.
Lee wasn't about to admit that he had been following her and Joe, so he opted for a partial truth. "I pulled up down the block just as Joe was seeing you to your door." he told her.
"Spying on me, huh?" she half teased.
"Well...yeah, I guess," he admitted, really glad he hadn't told her the complete truth. "I was worried about you after this morning, so I decided to stop by and see if you were okay." He reached out and let his hand cover hers. "Amanda, whether or not you know it, you're important to me. You're much more than just a partner. You're my best friend too; I really needed to know that you were all right. And I'm glad I did stop, because obviously you weren't okay." He searched her eyes as he spoke.
Finding only acceptance, he relaxed. "Can you finish explaining about whatever you did that was stupid?" he asked the question, not wanting to press her if she was unwilling, but really desiring to know what had happened earlier.
"You said earlier that things just came crashing down on you tonight, is it just this thing involving Joe or is there more to it." His concern and curiosity were evident in both his tone and he expression.
Amanda found herself responding to his concern, although for her, the confiding mood created while sitting in the moonlit grass had been broken. She was pleased by his concern, but she wasn't sure that she was ready after all to share all of the insights she had learned tonight. Feeling like a chicken, she opted for sharing the less private ones. Maybe her courage would return later.
"Come on, Amanda," Lee implored her. "What is it?"
Coming to a decision, Amanda slid her hand out from under his, only to lay it on top, as if trying to give him some comfort in advance. "Look, I'm not sure I can explain this right and you may not like parts of what I'm saying...but if you just listen, then maybe I can put it in a way that makes sense." Her eyes met his, totally serious. "Okay?"
Suddenly, Lee wasn't sure he wanted her to continue, but he nodded his agreement. Giving his hand a final squeeze of gratitude, she picked up her coffee cup in both hands, as if trying to draw strength from it.
Taking a deep breath, she looked up into Lee's eyes. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" She questioned, unsure of whether she is stalling for time or hoping Lee will let her off the hook. He didn't.
"Well, I guess, first you have to understand that up until the job with the EAO came up, Joe and I had a really good marriage. At least I thought we did," she qualified the statement, not wanting to speak for Joe. "We loved each other and we had two beautiful babies and life was...well...pretty good. Oh, we argued sometimes, but we always made up. We really had a lot of good times together. And just because we got divorced, didn't mean that my feelings for him just ceased to exist."
Amanda was deep in thought, feeling for her words carefully, trying to express herself as clearly as possible. Across from her, Lee was beginning to get the uncomfortable feeling that he wasn't going to like where she was going with this.
"And I guess that over the past four years since the divorce, my life has been pretty good." Flashing him a smile, she modified that statement, "Actually, parts of my life have been more than just pretty good." The warmth in her eyes left Lee in no doubt that she was talking about their relationship.
"What I didn't understand until I was thrust into this situation with Joe, was that even though I really enjoyed my life and was moving on, I still had this tiny little thread tying me to the past. I didn't even realize it was there until I saw Joe again, and was thrown into a situation where I had to spend so much time with him. Then, all of these 'what if' questions started popping into my head." She allowed her gaze to travel over Lee's face trying to gauge his reaction to what she was saying, but his expression was now closed to her and difficult to read.
Difficult, but not impossible. It was as she had feared, he was having a hard time with this. She could sense him preparing himself to be let down and that wasn't what she wanted. She searched her mind, trying to find a way to relieve his anxiety and yet be able to finish what she was trying to tell him. This sure was harder that she had expected when she started.
Turning loose of her coffee cup, she reached over to once again lay her hand on top of his, thinking furiously of how best to go about this. "Lee," she pressed on his hand and stared at his face willing him to look her in the eyes, but he was avoiding eye contact. Then inspiration struck. Knowing they needed to get through this, she gathered her thoughts and began again.
"Lee, do you remember how you felt when Eva came back into your life?" she questioned. Lee's eyes immediately swept up to meet hers. "How confused you were?" Lee quietly stared into her eyes, nodding his head that he remembered.
"You weren't sure whether or not you still loved her, whether or not your affair was over. Remember?" Again, he nodded, continuing to maintain eye contact.
"I think that was because you didn't have closure with her. You had always wondered in the back of your mind whether or not you two could have made it as a couple." Amanda was speaking seriously and gently.
Lee was listening intently now, waiting to hear where she was going, hoping he was guessing right. He turned his hand over, capturing hers in his grasp and smiled slightly. "Yeah, I remember," he told her.
Amanda felt relief swirl through her as she noticed some of his stiffness leave. "I think, that without realizing it, a small part of me has been clinging to a dream of Joe returning and our being able to become a family again." She sent him an apologetic smile, as she tightened her clasp on his hand, almost clinging now.
"Seeing Joe again, having to relive so many memories, brought it all to the forefront. We divorced, but we never really had closure. I guess, maybe, I have always secretly harbored the thought of us getting back together, and having a real home again."
Then she flashed him a smile, determined to be ruthlessly honest, with herself at least. "Or maybe I hung onto the dream as a way of protecting myself from being hurt again. I mean, maybe being tied to the past that way kept me from having to commit myself to the future. It kept me safe from risking my heart so completely with someone else."
Amanda stopped talking, and took a sip of her coffee, grimacing at its coldness. Catching the waitress's eye, she motioned with her cup.
Lee couldn't help himself, he just had to know; the waiting was killing him. "So, have you figured it out?" he questioned, trying to sound just casually interested.
The waitress appeared at that moment, refilling both their cups.
Amanda thanked her and then turned back to Lee. "You mean are things over between Joe and myself?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah." Lee nodded, watching her closely. "That's exactly what I'm asking. Is it over or do you want to go back and try again?"
Smiling up at him, with slightly teasing, sparkling eyes, Amanda waited for a mere moment. "Joe asked me tonight if I wanted to go back," she confessed.
Lee felt as if he could barely breathe. "And?" he prompted her.
"I'll tell you the same thing I told him. No. I don't want to go back. I want to go forward. I realized tonight that Joe is my past, but not my future. Everything I have ever desired is already right here in my life. I love where my life is headed. I have two great kids who are healthy, I have a roof over my head, a great job and really good friends." Giving Lee's hand a tender squeeze as she added warmly, "And one very special friend, who kinda got a little lost in the shuffle this past two days, and for that I'm very sorry."
"Apology accepted," responded Lee, with a slight tilt of his head, a quick smile and twinkling eyes. "So you're no longer even slightly tempted to try again with Joe? He wants you back, you know." Amanda looked into the serious eyes of the man across the table from her, feeling somehow that the next few moments could be very important to their relationship and hoping she didn't muck this up.
"I don't know for sure what Joe wants," she replied with a shrug. "And I don't think he really does either. With everything that's happened over the past couple of days, he's in just as much of a jumble as I was. I think he was anxious and scared with this whole thing and I was just a light in the window for him." At Lee's questioning look, she attempted to explain what she was thinking.
"Look at it this way," she told him. "Joe was being set up to take the fall for a murder he didn't commit. Every law enforcement agency in two countries was looking for him, and he knew that the people behind everything were willing to play rough. He was running scared and didn't know whom he could trust. I was just someone safe and familiar to hang onto. He needed someone in his corner to believe in him and I was it."
"That's not the way he tells it," muttered Lee.
"Lee," Amanda's eyes showed her annoyance, "Joe is no more in love with me than I am with him. Eventually, he'll realize that."
Lee looked into her eyes, trying to read her very essence, wanting to believe what she was saying, but afraid that he was reading too much into her words.
"So you don't love Joe, any more?" he asked quietly, needing to know for sure, before he could really let his heart hope. Amanda's next words, were like having someone throw cold water on him.
"Of course, I love Joe. I'll always love him."
Lee felt like gnashing his teeth. Her words didn't make sense to him. "Amanda," he growled, "people don't love their exes. They hate them, they ignore them, they tolerate them, but they don't usually love them or enjoy spending time with them. You can't have it both ways. One minute you say your no longer in love with Joe and then the next you say that you do love him. Which is it?" he finished rather desperately.
Amanda tried to keep her smile in check, realizing that he really didn't get it. His life had been so different from hers. "It's both." As Lee's eyes flickered with warning, she allowed her smile to break loose.
"Lee, just because you're not in love with someone, doesn't mean that you can't love them. Joe and I had something really special at one time that produced two terrific boys and those memories will always be there. He will always have a place in my heart because he is the father of my children, and someone I have a lot of respect for."
Noticing that Lee's expression was closing up a bit more with each word she uttered, Amanda knew she needed to find a way to get his attention. She needed a way to bring home what she was trying to say. Or, she lit up with inspiration, a way to turn the table and put him on the defensive side.
"So, when's the wedding?" She tossed out the question brightly as if it fit right in with their conversation.
Completely thrown, Lee looked at her like she was going crazy. "What wedding?" he questioned, unsure of what was happening. Whose wedding was she talking about. One minute she was telling him how great Joe was and the next asking him a completely nonsensical question.
Amanda's voice was steady as was her expression, but her eyes were twinkling a little as she answered, "The one between you and Francine."
Lee felt like he had just been shoved into another universe. "Amanda, what are you talking about? There's nothing between Francine and myself. You know that."
"Oh?" Amanda questioned, pretending to be skeptical. "You'll have to excuse my confusion here. I mean, didn't you two use to be . . . hmm . . . didn't you two have a thing?"
Unsure of how they had gotten on the topic of Francine and his former relationship, Lee felt put on the spot. "Amanda, that was a long time ago. Long before I even met you. What does that have to do with anything?"
Amanda pinned him with a knowing look that had him squirming a bit, even though he didn't know why. "Well, you can understand my confusion," she started.
"Your confusion?" muttered Lee.
"Yes, my confusion, Amanda affirmed. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you and Francine still handle cases together?"
"Of course we do," Lee spoke the words more loudly than he had intended, drawing the attention of several people near by. He lowered his voice to finish fiercely, "We work for the same Agency."
Amanda nodded her head in agreement, as if taking in the information. "Okay, point made. But how about all the bantering back and forth you two do, and I'm sure I saw you dancing with her just few weeks ago at that Embassy party. That wasn't work," Amanda pointed out shrugging her shoulders and giving her head a little shake. "Looked to me like you were kinda of enjoying yourself, Scarecrow."
Shaking his head vigorously as if trying to clear away the stupidity of this conversation, Lee just looked at Amanda in disbelief.
"Amanda, Francine is a friend, you know that. Yes, we had a thing at one time," his expression and hands emphasized the word 'thing' in deference to Amanda's aversion to the word 'affair'. "But, as I just told you, that was over a long time ago." He heaved a frustrated sighed, still confused at this conversational turn. "Yes, we do still work together, we sometimes tease each other and we still dance together and enjoy each other's company." He glared at Amanda. She just raised her eyebrows at him questioningly, and continued to look at him, as if waiting for him to say something else. But he didn't know what else to say.
When she continued to just sit there watching him expectantly, he sighed in frustration. "Amanda, I like Francine as a friend, or like a sister. I am not in love with her, nor do I have any intention of marrying her, not now, not ever," he ground out the words.
As the outburst came to an end, silence hung heavy in the air between the pair at the table. Lee's eyes glaring into Amanda's, while hers looked back at him with a bit of a twinkle.
"Bingo!" Amanda voiced the single word quietly, bestowing a beautiful knowing smile on him. Then she sat silently, and just waited for things to sink in.
It took a moment for understanding to dawn and for the haze of confusion that was surrounding Lee to lift. When it did, he gave the woman opposite him an 'I'll get you for this' look and just shook his head in disbelief. "All of this," he motioned with his hand, indicating the preposterous conversation they had just been having, and then just paused, not knowing how to finish the statement.
Amanda just smiled at him in amusement. "Yes, all of this," she too waved her hand, mimicking his gesture, "was to make you realize how ridiculous your concern about Joe is."
"Lee, I love Joe like I would a brother, if I had one and he will always have a place in my life because of the boys. But, I am not the least bit attracted to him physically anymore, my interests lie," she hesitated for a mere beat. "Well, let's just say they lie. . . elsewhere. Yes, I enjoy Joe's company and want the best for him, but that's all," she finished firmly and sincerely, bringing a gentle smile to Lee's face.
"He already gave up the best." At Lee's quiet words, Amanda smiled up into his eyes, knowing that he was talking about her. "And I'm not going to let him have her back," he finished just as quietly, trying to let Amanda see the sincerity shining from his eyes, hoping that she could read a bit of his heart.
"Lee?" Amanda's startled response came. Her eyes held his as if trying to see into his very soul, trying to ascertain if he was trying to say what she thought he was saying.
Before Joe had shown up, Lee had been fairly certain of his place in Amanda's life. They were taking things slowly, but they were definitely moving forward. . . together Then this thing with Joe had happened, causing him to be uncertain of her feelings. Now he allowed his gaze to roam over her. She looked so beautiful sitting there with that soft questioning look on her face, a ray of hope dawning in her eyes, that he closed his eyes for a moment in relief. She wanted this as much as he did. He could see it in her expression, in her posture.
Picking up her hand and holding it in both of his, he gazed into her eyes, letting all the tenderness and love he felt for her shine forth. "Amanda, you must know how much I care for you. These past few weeks, spending time together away from work have been like glimpsing a slice of heaven."
The hope was shining stronger in Amanda's eyes. She felt sheer joy flood over her at his words. "I've enjoyed that time too," she told him smiling shyly.
The two just looked at each other, lost in each other's eyes, neither wanting to break the magic, neither knowing how to continue from here.
Suddenly, Amanda, felt a yawn coming on. It had been a long two days and she had only managed to catch about a half-hour of sleep earlier this morning. After that the day had flown by in a blur. It was now a little past midnight and her body was beginning to protest the lack of sleep. She was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.
Seeing her sway slightly, as she daintily caught the tiny yawn, Lee shook his head. Here she was, almost dead on her feet and he was keeping her talking like an idiot. His eyes filled with tenderness as he watched her stifle another yawn. Sliding out of the booth, he held his hand out to her. "Let's get you home, you're reeling where you sit," he told her allowing the tenderness in his eyes to spill into his voice.
He guided her to the car and they drove the distance to her house in warm companionable silence, Lee's hand reaching out to hold her's when he wasn't using it to shift. By the time they reached her house, Amanda was asleep, leaning back against her seat. He pulled up just past the completely quiet house, and turned off the car.
Looking over at Amanda, he wished he could just let her continue drifting in sleep and kidnap her to his apartment, but he knew they weren't ready for anything like that yet. Their feelings were too new, too fresh, too pure, like fragile flowers pushing their way up through the earth and he didn't want to rush anything. For the first time in his life, he wanted to take his time and enjoy the journey rather than rush straight to the goal.
Reaching out to awaken her, he allowed his fingers to carefully push back a stray tendril of hair, before moving to her shoulder. "Amanda," he whispered tenderly, shaking her shoulder a little bit, "You're home." She awoke almost too quickly for Lee, who wouldn't have minded a few extra minutes alone with her.
"Come on," he told her gently, "I'll walk you to your back door." Getting out of the car, he walked around to assist her out, tightening his grip slightly when she seemed to stagger a bit unsteadily. Quietly they made their way around back. Amanda was slightly more alert from the walk in the night air, but walking erratically, as if it was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. "You're almost there, Cinderella," he reassured her teasingly
When they reached her back door, Lee reached around her to open it. "Are you going to be okay, from here?" he questioned, concerned. "Maybe, I should help you up the stairs," he continued. "I could tuck you in!" he offered, only partially teasing.
Amanda gave a tired chuckle. "You are not going to tuck me in Scarecrow. I'll be fine." Even as she spoke the words, a wave of tiredness washed over her, almost bringing her to her knees. Lee reached out quickly to steady her. Glancing at her face, he realized that she was almost asleep standing up. He knew she would never make it up the stairs.
"Look Amanda," he told her. "At least let me help you to the couch. You're dead on your feet. I don't want you falling down those stairs trying to get to the top of them."
Not giving her an opportunity to protest, he quickly bent and lifted her in his arms. "Lee!" She protested weakly, but he ignored her.
"Shh," he warned her "you don't want to wake your mother, do you?" Shouldering the door the rest of the way open, he carried her through the kitchen and into the den. Feeling her body relax completely in his arms, he knew that she had already drifted off into sleep. Laying her gently on the couch, he removed her shoes, setting them haphazardly on the floor. He smiled as she curled up slightly and turned to get more comfortable. Glancing around the darkened room, he could just make out an afghan lying across a nearby chair, where Dotty must have thrown it. Lifting it, he quietly shook it out and then covered Amanda.
Squatting down beside the couch, he could see her sleeping face in the moonlight shining through a window. For a moment, he just stared at her, allowing all the tenderness, all the love, he felt for her to shine in his face. Reaching out to push that errant tendril back in place once more, he allowed his finger to slide slowly down her cheek.
"Amanda King," he told her quietly,. "You are one special
lady. Only a stupid fool would let someone like you get away." He smiled
tenderly, as he leaned forward to gently kiss her forehead. "And no one's
ever called me stupid," he assured her with all the sincerity in his heart.
Giving her one more caressing look, he turned and quietly let himself out.