The Chill Of Winter


Time line:Post 4th Season (Late January 1988), The Marriage is not common knowledge.

Summary:The loneliness of a winter's day takes it toll on Lee and Amanda.

Feedback:Always welcome.

Archive:Yes! Yes! Yes! Anywhere is fine.

Disclaimer:I do not own the characters in this story.  They are the sole property of Warner Brother's Television, and of Shoot The Moon Productions. I make no money from this story, only enjoyment.

Author's Notes:I got the idea for this story from a snow storm that hit the East Coast, including the D.C. area, a few weeks ago.  It's just a little fluff piece.  I hope you enjoy it.  Special thanks to Zoe for being my beta, and my sounding board for this and other ideas that will be coming soon.

Chapter 1

"Four to eight more inches of the white stuff are expected to fall on the metro area before noon, with a one hundred percent chance of snowfall in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland over night tonight.  Looks like we'll be snowed in for some time, Gill."

"Thanks, Maria. I hope everyone has plenty of salt and shovels. This one looks like a doozy.  It's coming up on six thirty in the AM.   We'll be right back, after these words, with the latest school closings and delays, and weather with meteorologist Dean McGuire."

"Ohhhhh," sighed the sleepy voice now pulling the covers up under her chin.  `O.K,' Amanda thought to herself,  `I'll just stay here long enough to hear if the boy's school is closed. No reason to wake them up if it is.'

Amanda rolled over in bed, and looked toward her window.  She wanted to get up to see what the winter storm had done to her neighborhood, like she had done when she was a child, but the thought of getting out of her warm bed on a cold morning like this pushed her farther back under the covers, as the sounds of Marvelous Marvin's radio commercial played softly from her nightstand.  It was all she could do to keep her eyes open.  She just wanted to go back to sleep, and forget that she was waking up alone, again.  At least she could dream about waking up in her husband's arms.  The mystery marriage they had agreed to was taking its toll on them both.  Now, as their one year anniversary quickly approached, she wondered if they would even be able to spend that day, or night, together.

"Are all on a one hour delay...,"  the voice from the radio chimed into her thoughts.  "The following schools are all on a two hour delay; Annadale Local School District is on a two hour delay, Engleside, Franconia, and Groveton City Schools on Virginia are all on a two hour delay."

"Well, the boys won't be very happy if they have to go to school today," Amanda chuckled to herself, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"...School District in Maryland is on a two hour delay," the voice droned on in the background.  "Things are changing rapidly so stay tuned to WWDC, for the latest school information.  Now, the following school districts are closed today.  In the District Of Columbia..."

Amanda listened to the names of the schools that were closed throughout Washington.  She was listening for the names of the schools close to Lee's apartment, just to see how bad it was over there.  She also listened for Georgetown Schools, trying to decide whether or not to attempt the drive into work.

"Ummm," she yawned.  "Sounds like it's bad all over the city."

"These schools are closed in Virginia," the announcer continued.

Amanda turned her head toward the glowing numbers of the clock radio, and squinted at the soft brightness.

"Arlington City Schools...Closed, Arlington Exempted .....,"  the voice was cut off by Amanda's hand pushing the snooze button.  She rolled back over and placed her hand on the empty pillow beside her.  "You should be here with me,"  she said to herself, as she fell asleep thinking of her husband who would also be waking up cold and lonely in his apartment, separated from her by two towns, a river, and what seemed like the whole world.

Chapter 2

"Four to eight more inches of the white stuff are expected to fall on the metro area before noon, with a one hundred percent chance of snowfall in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland over night tonight.  Looks like we'll be snowed in for some time, Gill."

"Oh, Damn,"  Lee grumbled as the voice from the clock radio awoke him from a wonderful dream of his wife.  He slowly opened his eyes, and ran his hands threw his hair.  "I can't be with her, and now I can't even dream about her."  Slowly the scowl turned to a smile, as he thought of how beautiful his wife was waking up next to him in the morning.  He frowned again as he looked at the clock and realize that at this very minute Amanda too was waking up alone, and he knew that at this very minute she too was miserable.

"Thanks, Maria. I hope everyone has plenty of salt and shovels.  This one looks like a doozy.  It's coming up on six thirty in the AM.   We'll be right back, after these words, with the latest school closings and delays, and weather with meteorologist Dean McGuire."

Lee had to smile to himself. `I wonder how old Dan is doing these days,' he thought.  `It doesn't matter. I'm doing much better. I've got Amanda, and he's still doing the weather.'  A smile crossed over Lee's lips as he thought to himself about how Dan had never been good enough for a woman like Amanda, and about how happy the two of them were now.

Lee slowly sat up in bed, and began to toss the blankets aside. `Well, nothing like a little surprise visit to your wife's house in the morning,'  he thought to himself, as he threw his legs over the side of the bed, and sat in the dark listening to the Marvelous Marvin commercial play beside him.

Lee sat on the edge of his bed, yawning and stretching, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, and regretting more than ever the mystery marriage that had seemed like such a good idea just a year before.  `You should be here with me,'  Lee thought as he glanced over to the picture of Amanda that he kept beside his bed.  It was now illuminated by the soft red glow of the alarm clock. He reached over and picked up the picture, tilting it toward the clock to see his gorgeous wife better.  He hadn't told her that he said good morning and good night to that picture every time they were apart. He didn't know that Amanda did the same thing with the picture of him that she kept beside her pillow.

"Are all on a one hour delay..."  the voice from the radio chimed into his thoughts.  "The following schools are all on a two hour delay; Annadale Local School District is on a two hour delay, Engleside, Franconia, and Groveton City Schools on Virginia are all on a two hour delay."

"Hmm, sounds bad out."  Lee placed the picture back down on the nightstand and slowly crossed the room to look out the window.  The ground was covered with a white blanket, much thicker than the one that had been there last night when he got home from dinner at Amanda's.

"These schools are closed in Virginia." The announcer continued, as Lee turned his head toward the glowing red numbers of the clock radio.

"Arlington City Schools...Closed, Arlington Exempted Schools Closed, Arlington Parochial..."

"Well, there will be two very happy boys in Arlington today," he laughed as he thought of what Phillip and Jamie's reactions would be as they bounded down the stairs to see that their prayers had been answered.  He thought back to the night before, as the predicted snow started to fall.  Phillip was positive they would get a snow day, but Jamie reminded him that they hadn't had one in two years, and every time Phillip said he was positive they would have one, he "jinxed" it for everybody.

Lee laughed a little louder this time, thinking of how he and Jamie both owed Phillip five dollars.  He had taken Jamie's side in the debate, and it would cost him now.  `How does that boy do it?  He wins everything?' he thought, shaking his head, and looking back out the window.  His thoughts turned again to his wife, and how much he wanted to spend a morning like this snuggled under the blankets with only her to keep him warm.

Suddenly, a brilliant idea flashed through his mind, and he looked at the clock to make sure he could still pull it off.  He knew Amanda, and he knew she would probably push the snooze button a couple of times on a day like today.  But, if he were lucky....

"I may not be able to see her this morning, but maybe I can catch her before she falls back to sleep."  He walked quickly over to night table, and picked up the phone. His finger flew over the buttons as he punched in the numbers that were more familiar to him than his own.

Bringggg, Bringggg...

"Come, on Amanda, pick it up before it wakes up the whole house," he whispered, perched anticipatingly on the edge of his bed.


"Hello,"  the sweet sleepy sound of his wife drifted softly over the receiver.  A smile crept over Lee Stetson's face as he listened to the lovely voice of his Amanda.

"Good morning, beautiful," he replied into the receiver.

"Good morning to you too," Amanda breathed into the phone "I'm glad you called. I was feeling lonely over here."

"Same here,"  he paused.  "I wanted to wake up with you in my arms this morning, but I guess I'll have to settle for just hearing your voice,"  Lee sounded very disappointed.

Amanda's end of the line was very quiet, but she finally broke the silence by changing the subject. "So, is it bad over there?"

"It's always bad when you're not here,"  he teased knowing exactly what she was asking about.

"Lee, I mean the weather,"  Amanda tried to sound exasperated, but wanted to laugh.

"Oh, the weather.  Yeah, it looks like it snowed about a foot over here, and it's still coming down," Lee answered her question.  "How is it over there?"

"I haven't been out of bed to see, it's too cold.  I would have loved it if someone where here to keep to me warm,"  she whispered, trying to keep her voice down in case the phone call had awakened anyone in the house.

"Ummm, who did you have in mind?" he asked her with a smile in his voice that she could hear over the phone.

"Oh, I was sort of thinking of my wonderful husband, but I don't think he's going to make it this morning," she stretched as she spoke.

Lee wished more than anything that he were there with her.  He loved to tease her in the morning as she stretched by putting his cold hands on her warm, bare skin making her jump.  He closed his eyes in frustration thinking of what would have happened next.

"Believe me,"  he finally spoke again.  "You're husband wishes he were there just as much as his wife does."

A silence once again enveloped the distance between them, and they both sat in the darkness just listening to each other breathe over the receivers until Lee spoke again.  When he did he sounded like a defeated man.

"Amanda, we have to talk about this whole stupid mystery marriage,"  he began.

"I know...," Amanda began in a low voice, only to be cut off my her husband's voice.

"That was the worst idea I ever had.  Why didn't you try to talk me out of it?  I think I was sort of hoping that you would," he

"Lee, we did it for mother and the boys.  If the wrong people found out about us... well, it sounded like a good idea at the time,"  she knew she was saying what he wanted to hear.

"And now?"  he questioned.

"And now, I just want to wake up on a cold winter morning in a warm bed with you, instead of an extra blanket,"  Amanda replied, absently running her hand back and forth across the pillow that would have been on Lee's side of the bed, if he were there.

"Amanda, I want everyone to know that you are my wife.  Damn it, do you know what it's like to walk through the halls with you at work, and watch other men look at you, and I can't say anything, can't do anything.  I want them to know that you're off limits,"  he raised his voice along with his anger.

"Well, as a matter of fact I do.  It's probably a lot like watching the women watch you walk by.  You don't know how many times I've just wanted to stop right in front of the them, and give you a kiss they'd never forget."  Her voice was getting louder too,  but she remembered her mother and the boys sleeping just down the hall, and did her best to remain calm.

Lee hadn't noticed any of those women in a very long time. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd even thought of another woman besides Amanda, but he knew it was long before he had ever admitted his feeling to her.  "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that this secrecy was affecting you the same way at work.  I only look at one woman at work, and I want to do more than look at her.  But, I do see what it does to you at home.  I hate it that because of me your mother and the boys can't share in our happiness."  He sounded very sad.

"It's not just because of you,"  she comforted him.  "I agreed to the mystery marriage, don't forget.  I'm just as much to blame."

Again there was silence on the phone.

"What are we going to do, Amanda.  We can't go on like this for much longer.  I feel like we're having an affair, not a marriage.  Don't get me wrong I'm grateful for what ever time I can spend with you, but it's not enough.  I want you all the time,"  he sighed.

"I know, " she sighed too.  " I hate it that you're not here with us. You should be."

"I want to be.  You are all my family, Amanda,"  he growled into the phone, and Amanda could here the pain in his voice.

"Then things have to change,"  she  replied, although she wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know.

"Yes, they do,"  he almost yelled into the phone, until he remembered who he was talking to, and lowered his voice.

"But how, and at what cost?"  Amanda put into words what Lee could not.

"I don't know," he answered her honestly. "But I do intent to make this a real marriage, I promise you that Amanda Stetson."

"I'm counting on it," she laughed into the phone, but Lee could not see the worry in her eyes, and once again silence reigned over the phone line.

"So," Lee spoke first again.  "What are your plans for the day, now that you have two boys who have the day off?"

"Oh, you heard that,"  she chuckled into the phone.

"Yeah I thought I'd listen to the school closings today.  I had a lot of money riding on it,"  he laughed.

"You lost too," Amanda laughed again.

"Don't remind me," he replied.  "I'll never live this one down."

"Well, if it's any consolation, you and Jamie are in the same boat, except poor Jamie will have to borrow the money. He's broke. He never wins a bet with his brother,"  Amanda sounded sad for her younger son.

"Well, that's another thing we'll have in common,"  Lee replied, as they both laughed.

"Anyway, I thought I'd come in and finish those reports, and then stop over at your place.  I thought my husband might like a nice warm dinner on a cold day like today.  Besides, we have a lot of things to talk about," Amanda reminded her husband.

"Yeah, we do," he agreed.  Hopefully we can come up with some sort of plan about his whole thing.  But listen, it's too bad out. I don't want you coming all the way over here in this weather."

"Lee, may I remind you that we took my car to go skiing last year.  Remember it will go through anything,"  she stated seriously.

"Yeah, well, I'd just feel better knowing your were at home, safe and warm," he sounded worried.

"Oh Lee, I'll be fine.  I've driven in worse than this.  Besides, I'm a good driver," she reminded him.

"You are?" he questioned, trying to hide a laugh.

"Be quiet,"  Amanda said seriously,  "It's usually the passenger who gets me into trouble."

Lee laughed at her remark, and began to protest again, but he was silenced by Amanda.

"Lee, I'll be fine, and I'll drive slow. I promise,"  she teased, glancing over at the clock, that now said 7:30. "But," she continued.  "I'll never get there if I don't get off the phone."

Lee laughed again.  "OK, if I have to.  I'll see you in a little bit.  You be careful, coming into work.  I love you."

"I'll be careful,"  she began, and she smiled as she finished, "I love you too. I'll see you in a few minutes."

"Bye,"  Lee replied, and stayed on the line until he heard her receiver click down.

Both of them sat on the edges of their beds on opposite sides of town studying the carpets, and exhaling deeply.

Chapter 3

"Fellas," Amanda yelled upstairs.  "I'm leaving."

"Hey, mom," Jamie yelled from the top of the landing where he was joined by his brother. "Can we go out and shovel snow to make some money?"

"Yeah," Phillip joined in.  "He owes me a bundle."  They both ran down the steps to await their mother's answer.

"Oh, I don't see why not."  she answered to cheers of "Yes,"  "Alright," and "We're gonna be rich."  "Just make sure you stay warm," she added.

"And don't ask Mrs. Wyrick for fifty dollars like you did the last time,"  Dotty appeared in the doorway of the family room.

Amanda chuckled,"  Oh yeah, let's limit the price to...,"  she thought for a minute,  "Three dollars a drive way. How about that?" she questioned.

"Three dollars," Phillip whined. "Aww mom, that's nothing."

"Phillip, the driveways around here aren't that big.  Three dollars or I say no," Amanda looked sternly into the eyes of her older son.

"Oh, Alright," Phillip sounded disgusted.

"Good, now that's settled give me hug, both of you," she said holding her arms open.

Jamie gladly walked over to embrace his mother.  "Bye mom, have a good day, be careful."

Phillip was more reluctant.  "Bye mom. Yeah, have a good day."

Amanda knew that her oldest son thought he was getting too old for hugs, so she sadly reached out with her free arm and rustled his hair.  "Awww,  mom," was his reply.

`To old for that too, I guess,' Amanda sighed to herself, thinking back to the time, not so long ago, when both boys would run down the stairs when she left to make sure she had a big enough hug to last the whole day.

"You boys be careful shoveling driveways,"  she yelled as they ran into the family room to get their coats and hats, and disappeared out the back door.

Phillip stuck his head back inside.  "Hey, mom.  Don't forget to remind Lee that he owes me five dollars."

"Oh, I won't.  I don't think he's forgotten,"  she yelled back, as Phillip once again disappeared out the back door.

"Amanda," Dotty began, looking worridly out the front door. "I wish you wouldn't go in today.  Those streets are bad."

"Mother, we live on a side street. You know we're always the last to get plowed out.  I'm sure the main streets are fine," Amanda tried to ease her concern.

"Why don't you call Lee back and tell him you won't be in today,"  Dotty looked back at her daughter who was buttoning her coat.

Amanda looked up curiously,  "Call him back?" she questioned, raising her eyebrows.

"Yes dear," Dotty answered. "He was the one on the phone at 6:30 this morning wasn't he?"

Amanda didn't answer, but her shy smile told all.

"I thought so,"  Dotty laughed.  "I'm sure he'll understand."

"Yes, he would, mother.  He told me to stay home today," Amanda returned looking over he shoulder as she headed for the door.

"Well, there you go,"  Dotty looked relieved.

"But, I have a lot of work to finish at IFF, so I told him I'd be in," Amanda said.

"Amanda...," Dotty began.

"Mother, I'll be fine. I'll see you tonight,"  Amanda reassured her mother with a loving hug, and with that she was out the door, pulling her scarf closer around her neck to keep out the cold.

Amanda maneuvered her Jeep out of the driveway and slowly down the unplowed expanse of Maplewood Drive, and the side streets of her neighborhood.  She turned onto Symms Ave. only to find that it wasn't much better.  `Well,' she thought to herself, after the drive that only took fifteen minutes began to take much longer, `The turn off for the George Washington Parkway isn't far away.  It's got to be better up there.  I'm sure it'll be fine over in D.C.'  With that Amanda tightened her grip on the steering wheel and continued slowly on her journey to work, and to her husband.

Chapter 4

Lee stepped into the Agency foyer, kicking the snow off of his shoes, and shaking it off of his jacket. Grumbling the whole time.  He had slipped and slid the whole way to work, and he was glad that Amanda had a bigger car since she had to come from farther away.

"Good morning to you too, Mr. Stetson,"  The familiar voice of Mrs. Marsten intruded into his other wise bad morning.

"What?"  he glanced annoyingly at her.

"Good morning," she repeated.

"Good?"  he questioned. "There must be four feet of snow out there.  What's good about it?"

"Ummm," she answered.  She had been around long enough to recognize Lee Stetson's foul moods, and decided to quit while she was ahead.

Lee stepped over to the front desk, gave the word of the day, which was very ironic, and only worsened his mood. "Bermuda," he rolled his eyes as he said it, and Mrs. Marsten handed him his ID badge.

"I'll be in the Q Bureau if any body needs me," he growled as he headed up stairs. He couldn't wait to get to his office, and wrap his cold arms around his warm wife.

Lee opened the door to the Q bureau and called out, "Amanda,"  to which there was no reply.  "Amanda, " he repeated again, louder this time, then noticed the door to the vault was ajar, and walked over.  His eyes gleamed with mischief as he planned his sneak attack.  He slowly opened the door only to find the vault empty, and remembered that he had left the door open the previous day.

"Oh, where is she?"  He walked over to the window to watch the still falling snow. "Traffic must be really bad. She usually beats me here."  Lee continued to watch the snow, and the sky that signaled no end in site.  He looked over at the clock. `9:30,' he thought to himself.  `If I'm lucky I can stop her before she leaves.  It's too dangerous for her to be out in this mess.'

Lee picked up the phone on his desk, and dialed Amanda's house.  He was greeted by the sound of a busy signal.  `Phillip's girl friend,' he thought to himself.  Trying to think of another way to reach Amanda, as he placed the receiver back down in it's cradle.

His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of his phone.  `There she is, she hasn't left yet,' he thought very relieved.

"Aman...," Lee began, only to be cut off.

"Scarecrow," came the angry voice of Billy Melrose.  "Get down here on the double. I have some questions for you about the Valozkovich case."

"Oh, come on Billy can't that wait?  That case has been put to bed...," he was cut of again.

"Not according to Dr. Smyth," Billy hissed into the phone. "He's going to have both our hides if you don't get down here and explain this report to me."

Lee sighed loudly, not caring if Billy heard him.  "Alright, I'm on my way."

"Good," Billy's voice was only slightly calmer now.

"Oh, Billy,"  Lee started, before his section chief had time to hang up.

"What?" Billy sounded angry again.

"Is Amanda down there?"  Lee questioned, his eyes showing how anxious he was to see her.

"No, isn't she up there?" Billy answered Lee's question with a question.

"No, she's not up here,"  Lee replied.

"She was probably smarter than all of us, and stayed home today.  Now, get down here!"  Billy was yelling again.

"Alright, Alright," Lee said, and hung up the phone.

He tried calling Amanda's house one more time before heading down to the bullpen, but only got he same busy signal.  `Billy's probably right, I bet she did stay home.  She finally listened to something I told her to do,' he thought as he laughed to himself.

Chapter 5

Two hours, three cups of coffee,  and two aspirins later Lee was once again back in the Q Bureau, and there was still no sign of Amanda.  He tried yet a third time to get through to her house.  This time he was rewarded by the phone ringing.

"Hello,"  Dotty's cheerful voice eased his worry, but only slightly.

"Dotty, is Amanda there?"  Lee asked, trying to say the words in his calmest cheeriest voice.

"Amanda?" Dotty's voice sounded questioning.  "No, she left for work over two hours ago.  Isn't she there?"  Lee could hear the worry start to rise in her voice, and it matched his own.

He took a deep breath, trying to remain calm.  "Uh, no she hasn't shown up yet.  At least I haven't seen her."

"Lee, she should be there by now,"  Dotty breathed into the phone.

"Yeah, I know," he answered back, and stood on the phone in silence.

"Look,"  Lee continued, trying to ease his mother in law's worry, even though his was increasing.  "Don't worry, the traffic is moving pretty slow, and you know what that bridge is like even in the rain.  She'll probably be here any minute.  I'll have Amanda call you when she gets here."

"Please do that. I told her not to go out in this, but of course my daughter never listens.  She's just like her father that way... "

Lee laughed, and he knew if he didn't break into Dotty's speech he'd still be on the phone next winter.

"....Even you tried to tell her not to go out this morning,"  Dotty continued, taking Lee by surprise.

"What?"  He sounded surprised.

"This morning when you called.  That was you on the phone wasn't it?" She asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

"Oh, yeah,"  he said shyly.

"I will never understand the two of you," Dotty said sternly.  "You've been dating each other for over a year now, and you're still embarrassed to get caught talking on the phone..."

Lee didn't know what to say to that, all he could do was shake his head, and try to steer the conversation back to Amanda.  "Dotty, I'd better get off the line in case she's trying to call either one of us.  If she shows up there could you have her call me?"  Lee asked, knowing that if she went home, he would be the first person she called.

"I sure will.  Oh, I hope she's OK,"  the worry returned to Dotty's voice.

" Listen, don't worry. I'm sure she's fine,"  Lee knew she could hear the same worry in his voice. "I'd better get off the line."

"OK, bye, Lee," Dotty let the receiver click back into place.

Lee replaced the receiver on his end, and stared at the phone willing it to ring, trying to remain calm.

When it didn't ring Lee began to pace back and forth from the window to the door.  Looking out the window to watch the snow fall, and stopping at the door to listen for his wife's footsteps on the wooden floor outside, but he never heard a sound.

"Of course.  Why didn't I think of this before,"  Lee said knowingly to himself.  He walked over to the phone on Amanda's desk and dialed the number to his apartment.  The phone rang once.  `Give her time to pick up, Stetson,' he laughed at himself.  The phone rang again, and he let out a long breath.  On the third ring he had to swallow hard when he heard. "Hi, this is Lee leave a message."  His own voice greeted him, not the voice of his wife; the one he had hoped to hear.  He slammed the phone back down.

"Come on Amanda, where are you,"  he said out loud.  "You can be the most exasperating woman sometimes.  One thing, just one thing, that's all I asked you to do, just one thing, and you can't do that.  You can't even stay home on the worst day of the year, even when I ask you to,"  Lee was immediately sorry for saying those things about the woman he loved.  Even sorrier for thinking them.  He knew she hadn't left home in the snow because she wanted to come to work.  She had left because she wanted to see him, and he didn't protest more because he wanted to see her too.

Lee reached over and flipped on the radio to get the weather report, and to calm his nerves.  The endless commercials did little to sooth his mood, and in fact only made it worse.  "Finally,"  he said, still pacing, as the voice on the radio began to announce the weather.

"Wow, this snow is still falling and looks like there's no end in site,"  the annoying bodiless voice boomed into Q Bureau.  That and the sound of Lee pacing back and forth were the only sounds that could be heard. Lee rolled his eyes at the news.

"Look for temperatures to continue to fall, throughout the day and night.  These slushy road may turn to ice yet, folks.  As for the snow, we expect even more tomorrow."

"Damn,"  Lee hit the corner of Amanda's desk with his fist.

"Now," the announcer continued. "Let's go to Beth Abrams in the traffic center for a look at road conditions around the area... Beth, it sounds like it's mess over in Arlington."

Lee's pacing slowed, but his breathing quickened, as he ran his hand through his hair."

"It sure is, Charlie," the voice of Beth Abrams now filled the room.  "If you take the George Washington Parkway out of Arlington into D.C., you'll have to find a different route.

Lee's pacing stopped and he stood frozen still.  He knew very well the way Amanda came to work, and she almost always took the GWP.

"Police have the Parkway shut down in both directions as they clear away a massive accident," Beth Abrams continued.

Lee turned his head to stare at the dial of the radio, his eyes widened with fear.

"Arlington police tell us that at least three tractor trailers, and ten cars were involved in this accident that happened earlier this
morning during what would ordinarily be rush hour.  They have been unable to clear away the wreckage for dealing with the injured.  They have also told us that there are three confirmed fatalities from this terrible crash.  So, avoid this area of Arlington if at all possible.  In fact, if you do not need to be out, stay home today and tomorrow.

Lee stood in the Q Bureau in a daze listening to the meaningless words now coming from the small black box atop the book shelf.  All he kept hearing over and over were the words "injured", "crash", and "fatalities", as the face of his beautiful wife flashed through his mind over and over again.

"Oh my God, Amanda,"  Lee whispered when he was finally able to form words.  He couldn't move, his feet were like led weights, and his heart beat frantically in his chest.

His legs began to move on their own.  His mind sure wasn't telling them what to do.  All of his thoughts were on Amanda.  `Was she in that accident?, Was she hurt?, Was, she couldn't be. I'd know that, right?  People always say they know when that happens.'  Lee mechanically grabbed his jacket, and raced out of the Q Bureau, down the stairs, and past Mrs. Marsten.  He barely heard her yell after him as he headed for the door.

"Scarecrow!"  she hollered.

He turned around, annoyed that she would bother him when he had much more important things to take care of right now.  "What!" he hollered back.

"Your ID," she walked over to him holding out her hand.

"What," it hadn't registered in Lee's frantic mind, but then he understood, and was even madder than before.  "Oh, here," he ripped the badge off of his shirt, and tossed it at her as he left, slamming the door, leaving Mrs. Marsten staring behind him.

Chapter 6

The snow fell heavily on the already burdened streets of Washington D.C. as Lee Stetson not so expertly maneuvered his silver vette along the familiar path that would lead him across the Potomac to Arlington.  The wipers did little to improve his visibility, and neither did the panic that  gnawed deeper at his mind and heart as he drove nearer and nearer to the George Washington Parkway, and what he prayed he wouldn't find there.

One thought kept him company during his journey,  `Oh, God, let her be at home. Just let her be at home.'

It would normally have taken Lee about 20 minutes to get to the bridge and only a few minutes to cross it, but on this day the traffic crept along as if it were standing still.

"Come on, come on, move it!"  Lee spoke to the cars in front of him, hitting the steering wheel with the palms of his hands, and keeping an eye out the window on the other side of the street hoping to see the familiar Wagoneer heading in the opposite direction.  However, all that he saw was snow, snow, and more snow.

"Damn this snow, it's getting worse,"  he cursed as he finally made it to the on ramp of the bridge.  He strained to see Arlington in the distance, but could only see the tail lights of the car in front of his.

"Oh, Amanda, why didn't you listen to me?"  Lee sighed in desperation.

After another endless wait crossing the bridge, the signs marking off ramps into Arlington slowly and dismally loomed into view overhead.  They were barely noticeable for all the snow that fell in front of them.  Lee carefully pulled into the lane that would allow him access to the George Washington Parkway.  He kept looking out the window trying to focus through the haze of snow, and he thought he could make out blinking lights, but he wasn't sure.  Again, cursing the whole time, and praying for Amanda too, he slowly inched his way up the on ramp.

Finally, he was able to see more clearly up ahead.  `No, it can't be.  Oh come on,' he hit the the steering wheel in frustration again as he noticed the cars in front of him were being directed back into the lane he had just left, and away from the GWP.  Again he inched along and came to a stop just behind a police car.  "This is just great," he said to himself.

"Sir, the road is closed.  I'm going to have to ask you to merge to the left,"  the police officer spoke through Lee's opened window.

"Federal Agent,"  Lee replied, flashing his badge, and preparing to continue through, but he was stopped by the officer's hand on his car.

"Sir, right now I don't care if you're the President,"  the officer spoke sternly.  "You're not getting on this road."

"Officer...,"  Lee continued, but was cut off.

"Look, if you don't merge, I'll have to take you in.  I don't have time for this.  There was a big accident up there, and we need to keep this lane open to take the injured out,"  the officer hoped that this would get Lee to do what he asked.

Lee looked ahead into the distance. `Would this be the way his Amanda would be coming?' he wondered, but shook that thought back into his mind.

"Alright, Alright.  I'll go around." Lee begrudgingly told the officer.  All he wanted to do was floor his vette onto the GWP, and
get to Amanda, what ever condition she was in, but he knew he couldn't argue with what the officer was saying.  If they did have to bring Amanda this way he knew he wouldn't want anyone in their way.

Lee carefully moved back into the lane that would take him straight into Arlington.  As he crept over the overpass, he could almost make out the scene beneath him.  "Oh, my God, Amanda, Where are you?" he repeated for the millionth time since leaving the agency, as he saw the wreckage and police lights, obscured by the snow, and felt his heart leap into his throat.  For the first time that day he realized how very cold it really was.  Lee felt as if his blood had turned to ice, and he felt a cold hand grabbing him from behind.  `Was, she couldn't be. I'd know that, right? People always say they know when that happens.'  He remembered his thoughts back at the agency, and turned his eyes from what he saw.  If she was..., he didn't want to know...not this way.  He made up his mind to go to Amanda's and wait for the news.  He had to be with his family.

Chapter 7

"Oh, Lee,"  a very surprised Dotty West opened the front door. "Come in here before you catch your death,"  Dotty greeted her daughter's boyfriend, holding out her hand to take his jacket.

"Thanks, it's colder than I thought it would be,"  Lee sadly replied, handing Dotty his jacket, and sighing as he looked around Amanda's cozy warm house; his cozy warm house.  He had prayed that she would be there, but when he pulled into the driveway, and her car was gone, that familiar fear gripped him even more tightly.

"Well, I suppose that daughter of mine will be right behind you," Dotty looked out the door before closing it against the chill of

"Umm, Dotty, that's why I came over,"  Lee began.  "I was hoping she'd be here."

"You mean she didn't show up at work?"  Dotty's voice was now full of concern.

"No, she didn't," he paused, taking a deep breath.  "And when I heard what they said on the radio, I came over here,"  Lee finished, looking up at Dotty like a lost little boy.

"The radio, what did they say on the radio?  The boys have been in and out all morning, and the phone has been ringing off the wall for them. I haven't had time to listen to the radio," she informed him. "What did the weather report say?"

He followed her into the kitchen where she prepared to pour him a warm cup of coffee.  She stopped only to switch on the radio.  As Lee listened to the soft sounds of Cole Porter, Dotty's favorite, fill the kitchen, he realized she didn't know.  He reached over and switched off the radio.  He didn't know how to tell her what he hadn't even let himself think about.

Dotty eyed him quizzically as the music died away.  Lee saw the look she gave him, and made up an excuse.  "Tough morning at work, too much noise," he lied.

"Oh, well, you just sit down, and I'll get you some aspirin," Dotty left the room giving him a pat on the shoulder.  She was sure there was more that he wasn't telling her, but she didn't push the issue.

Lee sat in the silence of Amanda's kitchen.  He was always drawn to this house, to this kitchen.  Everything here was so much a part of her that he felt his heart break as he remembered the times he'd shared with his beautiful wife right here in this kitchen;  Looking at her through the window, comforting her after so many of their cases, standing at the sink like a real married couple doing the dished together.  He loved doing the dishes with her.  He felt so...normal when they were together in this house doing things that husbands and wives do. Even if they were the only two who knew they were husband and wife.  His thoughts were scattered to the four corners of the room at the sound of the back door crashing open.

"Doofus, I told you not to try that with a snow shovel,"  Phillip's voice filled the room.

"Shut up,"  was Jamie's only reply.

Both boys stood in the laundry room kicking off their boots, and wet jackets.  Neither one knew that Lee was watching them from just a few feet away.  Lee remained silent, as he watched the boys argue.

"Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,"  Jamie tried to make his brother see his side of the situation.

"Oh, yeah, worm brain,"  Phillip admonished Jamie, as Lee thought of how Amanda hated to hear either of the boys put each other down.  "You wouldn't be thinking it was a good idea if we had to pay for that," Phillip continued.

"Pay for what?"  Lee interrupted the warring brothers, who looked over at him with a mixture of  `I'm glad to see you,' and `uh-oh we just got caught' written all over their faces.

"Uh, was nothing. Just another one of worm brain's brilliant ideas,"  Phillip gestured over to Jamie, who looked down at the floor.

"You know, I'm not even going to ask,"  Lee began.  "I don't know what it was about, but I'm sure no one was hurt or killed, right,"  Lee eyed them forcing down a small laugh, that served to momentarily quell the anxious beating of his heart in his throat.

"No, it's nothing," both boys said in unison.

"Good,"  Lee set his coffee down on the counter and walked over to Phillip, putting his arm around the boy's shoulder.  "But you shouldn't call your brother worm brain,"  he said feeling very much like a father at that moment.

Phillip rolled his eyes, "Sorry," he mumbled under his breath.

"Yeah, whatever,"  Jamie mumbled under his, causing Lee to pass him a stern glance.

"Hey, where's Mom?" Phillip asked easing over to the fridge.  He opened the door and pulled out the left over cake from last night's dinner, while Jamie reached into the cookie jar and pulled out what looked like a dozen Oreos.

"Boy's, don't spoil your dinner,"  Dotty's spoke to Phillip and Jamie as she returned to the kitchen with Lee's aspirin.

Lee stood surrounded by his family, but felt so alone.  `They don't know. They haven't heard.  How can I tell them.  What if she's... no, she couldn't be.   I'd know that, right?  People always say they know when that happens.'  Lee ran his hands through his hair.  `How could he tell them, he couldn't.  Look at them, they're so happy.  Lee took a deep breath.  He knew he had to get it over with.  He was wasting time. He needed to be making calls.  He needed to go back out, and look for her.  He needed to be checking the hospitals.  He needed...he took another deep breath.

"Umm, guys, we need to talk...about,"  he stopped, trying to force the words out through his lips. "About your mom."

Dotty again, looked at Lee with concern in her eye, not wanting to hear what she was afraid might come next.

Phillip put the cake plate back into the refrigerator, and slammed the door. "What about Mom?" he questioned.

"Yeah, what about mom?"  Jamie asked, with a mouth full of Oreo.

Lee was silent.

"Lee?"  Dotty questioned.

"Lee took another breath, `You have to do this,' he thought to himself, and paused before starting again.  "I came over here looking for her.  I heard on the radio that there was,"  he paused again.. "There was an accide..."

"Oh, this weather. Spring can not come soon enough," a familiar voice cut through the air, as the back door banged open again.

Chapter 8

Phillip and Jamie ran to the back door.  "Hey, Mom, we made twenty-seven dollars,"  Phillip screeched, as both boys hugged Amanda hello.  Both so excited about the money they forgot about being too old for hugs.

"Oh, sweetheart, that's great," Amanda said, pushing the older boy's hair away from his eyes.  "How about making a little more money?"

"Yeah, how?"  Jamie replied, eager to make back the money he owed to his brother, which Phillip had already taken.

"Well," Amanda continued, taking off her coat and shaking the snow out of her hair.  "Why is it that you shoveled everyone else's driveway today, except ours?"  she gave each boy a quizzing look that only a mother has.

"Mom,"  Phillip started. "We get paid to do those."

"We have to shovel this one,"  Jamie finished.

Amanda put a loving arm around each boy's shoulder, and started to lead them back toward the kitchen door.  "Alright, just this one time," she emphasized one by holding her index finger in the air,  "I'll pay you to shovel our driveway too."

"Awww mom, we just came in.  We can do without three dollars.  We're tired,"  Jamie spoke for both boys as he started back into the kitchen for another Oreo.

"Oh, Ok," Amanda dropped her arms, and turned around to walk away. "I was going to offer you ten, but if you're too tired..."

Jamie and Phillip looked at each other with dollar signs in their eyes.  Quickly Phillip slapped his brother's arm with the back of
hand,  "Come on,"  Amanda heard him say, and when she turned around both boys were heading back out into the cold winter air, pulling their coats on as they ran out the door.

Lee stood in dumbfounded silence watching his family, too overjoyed to move.  `She's OK, she's standing right here in front of me, looking just like she did last night.  She's OK,'  he thought to himself trying to stay calm for Dotty's benefit, when all he really wanted to do was take his beautiful wife up in his arms and carry her upstairs where they could be alone.

"Hello, mother," Amanda said with a smile and a hug, as she noticed that Lee was watching them almost ready to burst.

"Rough day, darling?"  Dotty questioned as she returned Amanda's hug.

"Oh, you don't know the half of it mother,"  Amanda sighed.  "First, I got stuck on the GWP for almost two hours in the cold because of an accident.  Then, when I finally did get a chance to get to an off ramp, I couldn't get over and had to go into the city, so I finally decided just to go by work and finish up. You know, give them a chance to get the accident cleared away, but when I tried to get back home they still hadn't moved it.  Those poor people, that must have been really bad."

"Well, Lee certainly was worried about you,"  Dotty whispered into her ear.  Then louder she said, "You two must have just missed each other."

"Yeah, I think we did," Amanda agreed, as she looked over at her husband.  "At least that's what I heard," she replied, remembering how Mrs. Marsten had described the way "Scarecrow just stormed out , and slammed the door."  She'd remember to tease him about it later.

"Well, I think I'd better go keep an eye on where the boys are throwing that snow.  My bulbs will never come up if they pack it down on top of them."  Dotty lied, but knew it would give Amanda and Lee a chance to be alone.

Lee watched as she pulled on her coat and stepped out the back door, yelling instructions at Phillip and Jamie.  He then turned his gaze to Amanda, who was giving him that look that he knew was only for him.

Before she could even speak, he crossed the room and took her in his arms.  He heard a muffled delighted squeal as he deepened their kiss.  He had been so scared that he would never kiss her again. Now, he never wanted to let her go.

Finally, reluctantly they broke apart.  He looked into her eyes.  `God, I love you.' he thought to himself, as he gave her that look that she knew was only for her.

"So," Amanda finally spoke.  "I hear you were worried about me."

And with that Lee remembered the events of the day.  "Where have you been," he asked as he again pulled her into his arms and held her tightly.  "You have no idea, what I've been going through.  I heard on the radio there was an accident on the GWP," he paused, looking deeply into her eyes. "Amanda, I thought you were....I thought you were,"  he paused again,  "They said people were hurt, that some were..."  he couldn't bring himself to say the word, and have it connected to his Amanda.  He was too afraid that if he said it he would wake up from this wonderful dream.

Amanda clung to him tighter as realization of his words formed in her mind.  "You thought I was dead?" she asked astonished.

Lee looked at her again, but couldn't look into her eyes.  "Yeah,"  he whispered his answer as he dropped his head to look at the floor.

Amanda reached out and touched his face, tilting his chin up so that she could look into his eyes.  "Lee, I'm not going anywhere.  I'm not going to die."

"Amanda, how can you know that.  You don't know that.  When I thought about you dying in that accident, in the cold, it was like California all over again.   I just kept seeing your face, and my life without you.  It wasn't a life, Amanda. I couldn't live without you."

"Lee...," Amanda whispered with tears welling up in her eyes.

"No," Lee stopped her.  "When I drove past the accide..."

"You drove past the accident? " Amanda cut him off.

"I had to. I had to see if you were OK,"  he held her even closer.  "All I kept thinking was if you died no one would know how much I love you, and how proud I am that you are my wife, mine forever."

"But, I'm right here," Amanda said brushing the hair back off of his face.

"I know you're here, now, but what if you had been in that accident?  God, Amanda, I'm so sorry," Lee breathed as he rubbed his hands up and down her back.

"Sorry for what?" she questioned.

"Sorry for all of this, for this stupid mystery marriage.  It wasn't fair to you, it wasn't fair to any of us.  I want the world to know
that you are my wife.  I don't want to hide anymore.  I want to be a part of this family for more than dinners and ball games."

Amanda put her head on his chest, and breathed a long sigh.  "I want that too, more than anything.  I want people to know I'm your wife.  I want people to know how much in love with you I am.  I want people to look at us, and see how happy we are."   This time she paused,  "But you know we can't right now..., right?" she looked up questioningly into his eyes.

"I don't know, Amanda.  This has to change,"  he continued exploring her slender back with his hands, "All I know is this has to change. I want to wake up with you beside me every morning, not just with the memory of how you looked the night before.  I hate this, Amanda. It's not good enough for you. You deserve more.  I swear I'm going to give you more," he whispered into her ear as he dropped his head onto her shoulder, and stood just enjoying the feeling of his wife holding him in her arms.

"As long as I have you everything will be fine,  I promise," Amanda whispered back, as they stood in the kitchen lost to the world around them, leaving Lee to wonder how he had ever been so lucky as to win the heart of this wonderful woman.

They were so lost in each other that they didn't here the back door open or the shuffling feet of two teenage boys cross the room, and stop just far enough away for their intended purpose.  "Get em," Jamie yelled. bringing Lee and Amanda out of their contentedness just in time to feel the cold sting of a borage of snowballs.

"Ahhh," Amanda yelled, as the cold wet snow melted its way quickly down the back of her blouse.  She stood in shock, and watched as little blobs of white, wet snow trickled down the side of Lee's face.

Lee stood there looking from Amanda, who was looking back at him, to the boys, who were laughing out loud at the idea that they had put one over on their mom, and the cool guy she was dating.  "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he finally spoke to Amanda, as he looked at her seriously.

"Yep, "Amanda shook her head up and down,  "Let's get `em," she yelled, and before Phillip and Jamie knew it they were being chased out the back door.

Chapter 9 - Conclusion

"Way to go, Phillip. We're gonna get it now.  He's bigger than we are,"  Jamie shouted at his brother.

"Shut up, Jamie.  Just run," Phillip yelled back.

Phillip and Jamie ducked behind the big tree that held their tree house just as Lee and Amanda both grabbed up handfuls of snow and let loose with a borage of their own.

"Ha ha, ya missed me,"  Phillip yelled, as one of Lee's icy rockets smashed against the bark of the tree.  "Who taught you how to aim?  Man, that was weak."

Lee had to laugh at the boy's innocent comment.  `If he only knew,' he laughed to himself, catching Amanda's eye.  He saw that the irony of the comment hadn't been lost on her.  She started laughing.

"He has a point you know," she snickered.

"Oh, he does does he," Lee replied breathlessly ducking out of the way as another of the boys' snowballs whizzed past them and hit the house, nearly missing Dotty.  She was standing on the patio watching the war between the adults and the kids, smiling like only a grandma could.

"Here," Lee handed Amanda a snowball. "You think you can do better, go for it," he could hardly contain his laughter remembering all the times in the firearms training booth that Amanda had hit the side of a building, or a car, but never her intended target.

Amanda could hear Jamie laughing from behind the tree, and while Lee was keeping Phillip occupied she snuck around to where she heard the sounds of her youngest son.

Lee heard the boy scream as Amanda shoved her handful of snow down into the back of Jamie's coat and under his sweatshirt.  "Gotcha,"  she said with a big smile.

"Mom!!!"  Jamie screeched, trying unsuccessfully to get the snow out from under his shirt.  "Ahh, that's cold,"  he added jumping around.

Neither one saw Lee or Phillip, who by this time had joined forces, approach from the opposite side and rain a shower of snow down on them.

The battle waged on for what seemed like hours, with each taking sides against the others at one time or another, until finally cold and sheer exhaustion drove the four back into the house, where Dotty had already started the hot chocolate.

"Oh, man that was awesome,"  Jamie announced as he entered the house.

"James Daniel King!"  you take off that wet coat right there.  Don't you people track wet snow all over this house," Dotty ordered, trying to be serious, even though the boys could see the smile playing at her lips.

"Grandma, we creamed `em, did you see us?"  Phillip asked, as he shed his coat and followed his brother into the kitchen.

Lee could hear the joyous sounds of his family as he stepped onto the patio following them in.  He took Amanda by the arm and stopped her just before she entered the house.

She turned and stepped into his arms, looking up into his eyes.  He was forming a plan.  She could see it, but she was almost afraid to ask what it was.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked as a grin spread over her face.

"I'm thinking I know what I have to do now,"  he replied, gazing lovingly at her beautiful face.  "This is what I'm talking about, I
want it to be like this all the time, not just when we can get together," he emphasized the last words.

Amanda titled her head, and looked at Lee questioningly.  "And...?"

After a long pause Lee spoke.  "Amanda, don't be angry. Just remember I'm doing this for both of us, for all of us."  Lee let her go, and quickly stepped just inside the doorway to the house.  "Guys, could you come out here for a minute?  Dotty, you too."

Amanda stood silently watching as her husband stepped back out onto the patio followed by her sons, and finally by her mother.

"This is something I've wanted to do for a long time.  Something I should have done a long time ago,"  he announced as he stepped back over to Amanda and took her in his arms again.

"I love your mother more than anything in this world,"  Lee began.  "And, over the past year, I've grown to love all of you too,"  he added looking into the faces of Dotty and the boys. Who anxiously stared back at him.  "That's why I wanted you all to be here to hear this."  After a pause, he started again.  "Amanda King you are the best, the bravest, the smartest, most beautiful woman I have ever known.  Will you marry me?"  He stared deep into her eyes, hoping she wasn't angry by the way he had chosen to do this, but also not caring because now it was out in the open.

Amanda returned his stare with one that showed only the love she held for him and shaking her head up and down began to speak, "Yeah, I'll marry you."

Lee pulled his wife close and kissed her as the happy sounds of Dotty and the boys filled the snowy back yard.  He broke the kiss and gazed at his Amanda.  He saw her whisper, "Again,"  with a smile as big as the one he had seen form on her lips a just over year ago, when he had asked her the same question.  Bigger, in fact than a year ago, because now her smile held not only her joy, but also the joy of her family...his family.

"You're not upset?"  Lee whispered into her ear.

"How could I be upset?  This is what we both wanted. This is what we should have done to begin with,"  she replied, easing his mind, and filling his heart.

"I love you," they spoke together before their family rushed over to them.

Lee watched in awe of this group.  His world was complete because he was a part of this family, and they all knew that now.  Slowly they made their way back inside the house, the house where Lee and Amanda would make their home.  A home that would see many more snowball fights, quiet dinners, first dates, graduations, and even a child of their own.   Lee was the last to enter, he wanted to enjoy every moment. Finally, with his arm around her waist, he guided Amanda into the house.  The frantic events of the day were forgotten, replaced instead by happy thoughts of the future. Smiling, Lee Stetson closed the door to his house in Arlington, shutting out the cold, keeping it away from the warmth that filled the hearts of his family; thankful that he and Amanda would never again know what it was like to wake up alone on a snowy winter day.