A Brother's Promise

Author: Kim C.

Disclaimer: I don't own SMK or any of its characters. They belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. The story, however, belongs to me.

Timeline: Post fourth season. Marriage is still a secret (I know, I know).

Summary: Amanda's Uncle Chester tells his story and shares his insights.

Rating: PG

Archive: smkfanfic, anywhere else please ask

Feedback: Yes, please!

Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who assisted me with this story, from basic little things and characterization to finding Chester's 'voice'. Your feedback was invaluable, as always. Thanks also to Miriam for her terrific suggestions, which helped improve this story even more!

 

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Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Charles West, but way back in high school, an old girlfriend and some other friends of mine started combining my names and calling me Chester. As you can tell, it kind of stuck.

I'm 63 years old, the only living child of James and Margaret West. My younger brother, Jake, died years ago. At the time, I felt like a part of me died right along with him, and to this day, I miss him terribly.

Before Jake passed away, I promised him that I'd look after his wife, Dotty, and their daughter, Panda -- sorry, I mean Amanda. Panda is the nickname her father gave her. Maybe itís an old manís foolishness, but, in my heart, Amanda-Panda will always be a little girl. In reality, I know sheís all grown up now, with two fine sons of her own, Phillip and Jamie.

I take my pledge seriously, even though we live so far apart, me on a farm in Vermont and them in the suburbs of Virginia. Though it may not always be readily apparent, I do keep my word.

Amanda's the most challenging one to keep tabs on, especially for the past four and a half years. In fact, she seems to be a different person than she was before that. She runs all over the place, and, according to Dotty, sometimes takes off at the drop of a hat and at the strangest hours.

At this point, you're probably wondering how I know all of this if I live so far away. Well, it's a secret, but I'll tell you: I have spies in the neighborhood. There are a couple of delightful ladies who live on the block -- Edna Gilstrap and Phyllis Ferguson -- who gladly keep an eye out and report to me regularly. Those two are sharp as tacks! But that's a story on its own!

I've also had occasion to witness, first hand, odd events here and there. Believe it or not, I've always envisioned myself as something of an amateur private eye. That's right, Chester West: farmer by trade, gumshoe at heart. I have a feeling that kind of thing runs in the family -- but more about that later; I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.

I can pinpoint the very day my niece began to change. See, I was at the train station; my friend Gladys Larson had just dropped me off after a visit. I'd spent time with Dotty and Amanda and the boys, but I'd stayed, as I sometimes do, with Gladys. She lives in a charming mother-in-law cottage, with plenty of room for guests.

Gladys is one of my best friends. Since I lost Jean and she lost Henry, well . . . let's just say we've remained very close. Several years ago, Gladys moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. They live in Virginia, so we don't get to see each other nearly as often as we used to. Maybe some day, that'll change. I won't be able to run the farm forever, and it'd sure be nice to be closer to my family.

But I'm getting off track, aren't I? I do have a tendency to get off track and ramble, so Amanda does come by it honestly! Let's see, where was I . . . Oh, yes, the train station. I was just getting ready to board the train when I happened to catch sight of Amanda.

More than a little surprised to see her there, I raised my arm to wave and call out to her. Her attention was directed elsewhere, however, as she seemed to have been accosted by a desperate-looking young man in what appeared to be a waiter's uniform. They were rushing in my general direction, walking quite swiftly, and he had his arm securely around her.

At first, I thought that he was harassing her, because she looked mildly exasperated, and she's a fairly calm person, by nature. But as I watched them together, I saw her soften and agree to whatever he was asking of her. Good thing, too, because I was getting ready to belt that young man!

As I boarded the train, I saw that Amanda had gotten on board, too, in the car just ahead of mine. She obviously hadn't been planning to take a trip, because she was wearing what appeared to be a nightgown under her coat. I've since found out that she was only at the station to drop off Dean, her then boyfriend. I watched as the waiter was chased down and then tackled by a couple of thugs, and they all crashed into a luggage cart. It was just like something you'd see on television!

I wondered briefly if I should call to the conductor to get help, but almost as soon as I caught sight of the young man and his attackers, they were gone. I always meant to ask Amanda about that entire episode, but for some reason I never got around to it. More accurately, since Dotty never mentioned it, I was reluctant to bring it up with Amanda.

And like I said, Amanda was different after that. Not long after the train station incident, I was talking to Dotty on the phone. She told me that a 'client' of Amanda's had stopped by the house. I asked what kind of clients my niece had, and she told me that Amanda was in the business of pet and plant care. What an odd occupation! I said as much to Dotty, and she explained that it was all Amanda had time for, since she was so active in her club, Save the Clams. Save the Clams! Have you never heard of anything so preposterous? Why, I suppose such a group would give me heck about cooking up my famous clam chowder! I say famous, because my New England clam chowder can't be beat. But there I go getting off the subject again.

Dotty went on to say that the elegant, well-bred lady who had come by to see Amanda owned a chimpanzee. Imagine! I didn't say anything to Dotty, but I wondered if my sister-in-law truly was a bit . . . well, dotty. Later, I learned that Amanda had gotten a new job with a documentary film company, and that made a lot more sense to me!

I saw Amanda and the rest of the family a few months after that, when they flew to Vermont for a visit. I'd told her to invite her young man along. Dean was a nice enough fellow, albeit in my opinion a bit dull, and he'd come with them before. He was respectable, had a steady job, and appeared to love Amanda and the family.

Well, they showed up all right, only without Dean. When I asked Dotty about him, she said that Amanda had simply lost interest in the man. And my sister-in-law was not happy about that. After all, it was clear to Dotty that Dean truly had wanted to marry my niece!

I wasnít too pleased with this turn of events, myself. I really wanted Amanda to be happy, and, yes, I'm of the old school and firmly believe in finding your happiness in a good mate. Plus, there was the matter of Phillip and Jamie. Joe was a decent man, but I always held a grudge against him for leaving Amanda and running off to Africa. I mean, not having any children of my own, Amanda's like my very own daughter. So I was naturally disappointed that Dean was out of the picture.

Later, when just the two of us went for a walk, I talked to Amanda. I told her that her sons were obviously doing great, but couldn't they use a man's influence? She sighed heavily. I told her that I knew about her breakup with Dean, and that I was sorry for it.

I remember what she said, clear as day. "Uncle Chester," she said, "Dean was a very nice man, but I knew it wasn't going to work out. I just couldn't stay with a man who was so wrong for me."

The quiet conviction in her voice surprised me. Still, I was skeptical. "But Panda, you've been with him for quite a while. Do you mean to tell me that you're just now figuring out that he's all wrong for you?"

The sheepish look on her face reminded me of when I used to find her with her hand in the candy jar right before supper. "Yes . . . no. I don't know." She looked over at me. When I nodded encouragingly, she went on, "It's just . . . hard to explain. I started to feel so . . . bored. There was never any chemistry between us, no spark. He gave me bookends, Uncle Chester. Bookends! I mean, they were very *nice* bookends, but still! He was so . . . predictable."

"You predicted that he would give you bookends?" I asked, unable to keep my voice from rising in incredulity.

She laughed that wonderful throaty laugh that makes her sound exactly like her grandmother. "That's not what I meant, and you know it!"

"Then, is it because you found someone who's . . . unpredictable?" I asked pointedly, not even trying to suppress my grin. "Someone who sparks your chemistry?"

I've never seen her flush as becomingly as she did at that question. She replied, "No! Uncle Chester, no. I just . . . It's hard to explain." She paused and sighed dramatically. "I'm sorry. Do you mind if we don't talk about this anymore?"

Well, of course I let her off the hook, making some joke about how talking about the weather does get boring after a while. I believed Amanda when she said there wasn't anyone else. But only because I knew that it was what she believed.

She must have met someone else, someone to whom Dean paled in comparison. I was even fairly certain I knew who it was. I wondered fleetingly if she was having a . . . well, you know, a thing, but dismissed the thought immediately; she just wasn't that kind of a woman.

There were other things -- little things, mostly -- that happened, too. For instance, I called late one evening to ask Dotty how her sister, Lillian, was doing, because she'd been very ill. Amanda answered the phone before it even rang on my end. She sounded almost breathless, and said, in a hushed voice, "Lee?" as if she'd been expecting a call.

Needless to say, she became quite flustered when I said, "Nope! Guess again, Panda!" She tried to play it off, saying she'd been expecting a call from her friend "Shelly," but it's hard to pull one over on Uncle Chester!

Another time, much later on, I was in town on a spur-of-the-moment trip and decided to surprise the family, maybe get myself invited to dinner. I pulled up and noticed a fancy silver sports car parked down the street. There appeared to be someone inside it, just watching the house. Suddenly, as I started to get out of my car, his door opened, too.

I walked up to the front door and turned to see him standing beside his hotrod, a slight frown on his face. After a moment, he got back into his car and drove away. The thing is . . . I'm sure it was the same fella from the train station! My eyesight may not be what it used to be, but it's not that bad, yet.

Later that night, as I was helping Amanda with the dishes, I mentioned the mystery man in his silver car. Even though she denied any knowledge of him, she blushed like a schoolgirl and changed the subject. But I could tell she was very pleased that the young man had been there.

I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea. It was just a lot of little things here and there that didn't quite add up. Not to mention all the information Amanda's neighbors gathered for me on a continuous basis. They really took their "job" seriously. Edna, Mrs. Gilstrap, that is, even enlisted her grand-daughter, Molly, to report back to her after having lunch with Phillip! My sister-in-law says that she doesnít pry, but thank heavens these ladies have adopted the motto, ďWhatís the harm in prying?Ē

They told me about strange sights and sounds, late night visits, Amanda's odd behavior, Dotty's ridiculous stories about supposed documentaries Amanda was working on, a silver sports car in the neighborhood, and so on and so forth. And let's not leave out the fact that a handsome stranger was often seen sneaking and creeping around the house, but never going inside! They told me how Amanda would meet him outside, in the backyard, and the two would talk. Later, of course, they did a little more than talk!

The kicker was the fantastic story about my niece and this handsome stranger hurtling through the air from the trellis outside Amanda's bedroom window! They say Amanda was gone for quite a while after that, and that G-men questioned Dotty no end! Government agents, can you even believe it?

So you're probably wondering where all this is leading. I'll be happy tell you where it's leading. Amanda, Dotty, Phillip and Jamie just left from a week-long visit, only hours ago. As always, I'd encouraged Amanda to bring along her current beau.

She did. His name is Lee Stetson, and he's smitten with her, if ever I've seen a man smitten. I myself was surely smitten with my Jean, and Jake was completely smitten with Dotty.

Anyway, smitten. The look in Lee's eyes when he watched Amanda simply took my breath away. I'm a fairly romantic guy, believe it or not; I watch all the classic love stories, so I know what I'm talking about. It's like he just oozes love for her. I know -- that's a pretty sappy thing to say, especially for a tough old bird like me. But that's what I saw. They reminded me of Bogart and Bacall. And if Panda remembers how to whistle, if
she just puts her lips together and blows, that man will come running. Iíd lay money on it.

I watched Amanda and Lee together, gleeful in my secret knowledge that I'd been privy to the whole thing all along. They divulged to me that they work together and have done so for quite some time. The way Lee looks at her is . . . it's as if he's never seen anyone so beautiful in his life.

Funny thing is, they seem far more comfortable with each other than most couples. I can't figure out why they haven't gotten married yet, or at least become engaged. I'm still working on that particular mystery, actually. Something tells me there's more to the situation than meets the eye. One of these days, my "Gal Fridays" and I will crack that nut, too.

I got the chance to talk with Lee one day when Dotty and Amanda took the boys into town to do some shopping. He really enjoyed hanging out in the stable and outdoors with the horses. He's quite a good horseman, actually. Talked a lot about having horses of his own someday soon. There was something in his eyes when he talked about it -- as if he could just see it all.

I could tell he was completely relaxed and at ease. "Lee." I almost felt sorry for intruding on his peaceful moment. "Amanda's the closest thing to a daughter I've ever had. So, young man, what are your intentions regarding my niece?" I asked him bluntly.

He looked startled, and then he gave me a crooked smile. "My intentions," he repeated, his smile widening. Clearing his throat, he went on, "Well, they couldn't be more honorable, sir."

"Meaning?" I prompted.

He stared at the horses for a moment and then turned to me. "I in love with her. I've loved her for a long time. I'm going to marry her."

"That's what I wanted to hear," I replied, nodding my approval. "So," I paused for dramatic affect and spoke out of the side of my mouth, just like Bogie, "is that why you grabbed her in the train station that day? Because you wanted to marry her?"

He was clearly stunned. His mouth hung open as he gawked at me, and I could almost hear the wheels turning inside his mind as he struggled to understand. "How -- how do you -- did Amanda . . . ?"

I patted his arm to calm him. "No, she didn't tell me, son," I replied soothingly. Then I added, matter-of-factly, "I was there, actually. I saw the whole thing."

Instead of commenting on my revelation, he grinned and said, "You called me 'son'."

"Hope you don't mind," I replied, feeling somewhat embarrassed. It had just kind of come out naturally, as if I'd been calling him 'son' for years.

"No, I don't mind at all," he answered, a small smile on his face. Amanda had told me that he was an orphan. "So . . . you were at the train station that day?"

"Uh-huh," I said, nodding. "I saw everything that happened, up until Amanda got on the train in her nightgown, and you got tackled. What was going on? I hope you havenít gotten my niece mixed up in anything unsavory."

"I, uh . . . " He was obviously at a loss. I watched him as he frantically tried to come up with an explanation. Finally, he explained, "Well, you see, I needed her help. I, uh . . . " Pausing again, he looked me straight in the eyes and lowered his voice as he went on, "Look. I'm not going to lie to you Ė- I have a feeling you wouldn't buy it, anyway. I just canít tell you much, at least, not without talking to Amanda. But I can assure you that it was nothing unsavory. We were both doing a good thing."

"A good thing, you say," I repeated, and I knew instinctively that he was being honest with me. He's got very honest eyes, that young man. "Something Uncle Sam would approve of?"

One of my horses approached the fence, a shiny black stud named Elvis, and Lee reached out and rubbed the horse's nose. Looking at me, Lee replied, "Yeah, very definitely something Uncle Sam would approve of. That day at the station, I needed Amanda's help, and she gave it to me. The rest is history."

Part of me wished heíd spilled the beans, but another part of me respected him for not doing so without talking to Amanda. Shared decision-making Ė- thatís what a true partnership, especially one leading to marriage, was all about, wasnít it? At least Jean and I always felt that way.

If my niece and her young man choose to keep some secrets, well, they probably feel that it's for the good of the family. I'm not sure I agree, but not knowing the full circumstances myself, I have to leave that up to their judgment Ė and keep investigating on my own, of course.

I said slowly, studying him, "You can trust me, Lee. I'll never say a word."

"I know," he said, placing his hand on my arm. "I know you won't."

I looked over at him again, "I think you're good for Amanda. I've never seen her so happy."

He grinned, showing every tooth in his mouth, just like Elvis does when he sees me coming toward him with an apple. He said, "Really? I hope so. All I know is that she's good for me. She's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"Don't ever forget it, son," I told him soberly, clapping him on the back.

They left for home a couple of days later, promising to come back real soon for another visit. I'm already looking forward to it.

And that's it, at least for now. Something Uncle Sam would definitely approve of, hmmm . . . Well, thatís just one more piece of the puzzle that Iíve been working on all these years. I have a hunch that my niece and her young man may be G-men, themselves. I know I need a little more information to be sure, but I'll get it. By golly, I'll get it.

I think of Jean every day of my life, and more so nowadays, for some reason. What a woman she was. I remember her vividly, even after all this time. The love we shared was so special. Everyone deserves to have that kind of love in their lives. I can relax a bit now, knowing that Amanda's found herself a good man. She deserves the best, and I'm convinced that she's found it. I know she feels that she has.

Dotty, Amanda, Phillip and Jamie are my family. I made a solemn promise to Jake before he died that I would watch over them. Though I'm more than happy to carry out my promise, I know I won't be able to do it forever. It's such a relief to know that I now have a little help with my assignment.

The End