Time Frame: Mid to late third season. Definitely after the Wrong Way Home.
Author's Notes: I'd like to thank everyone who beta read this story for me. I've been debating with myself whether or not to put an AU or 'what if' label on this story. In my opinion, this could have happened during that time period of the third season. Other people, however, might disagree with me. This could be considered AU or 'what if'.
Feedback: Feedback is very important to me. Positive and constructive feedback only. No flames (i.e., insults) please!
Lee Stetson entered his office to see an empty box on his desk and his partner Amanda King sitting in his chair.
"Amanda, what is this box doing on my desk?" Lee asked, perplexed.
"I had no other place to put it. If I had put it on the floor, someone might have stepped on it," Amanda answered.
"What do you need the box for?"
"'Mothers for a Safe Environment' is having a box social. The single, female members recycle a box and decorate it. The boxes are auctioned off; whoever bids the highest on a box wins a picnic lunch with the box decorator. I'm only doing this because they asked me to; they're hoping to raise a lot of money for the organization from this. Anyhow, the single women decorate the boxes, and the married women make the picnic lunches, and provide beverages for the auction. Since Jean Kearsley hasn't gotten over the Robert Castille incident, the other members let her be the auctioneer."
"Really," Lee said, trying not to sound too interested, "Are you allowed to tell which box belongs to which person?"
"No, why do you ask?"
'Because the thought of you with any other man irks me,' Lee thought. To Amanda, Lee shrugged his shoulders and said, "I know you aren't very comfortable in those kind of situations, and as your partner and your friend, I thought I could rescue you."
Amanda straightened and fixed his gaze with her own. "I don't need you to rescue me. I won't allow myself to be pitied by anyone, especially you, Lee Stetson," Amanda said as she grabbed her box and stormed out of the office.
Amanda couldn't believe it; she was getting tired of this. Whenever she thought Lee was interested in more than just a friendship, he would say something to prove her wrong. It was just getting way too old; changes would have to be made. On her way down the stairs she bumped into Francine Desmond.
"Amanda, you finally realized that you aren't cut out for this business. It's about time," Francine said cheerfully after noticing the box.
"Look here, Francine, I'm in no mood for your pathetic jealousy. Why don't you go pick on someone else for a change," Amanda yelled as she handed Mrs. Marston her pass and left the Agency.
The door slammed behind her. Francine stood stunned by Amanda's uncharacteristic outburst. She never expected the housewife from Arlington to have a temper. She didn't notice Billy Melrose coming toward her.
"Francine, what did you say to Amanda?"
"Don't give me that, Francine, I know better. They didn't make me the Section Chief because I could play the saxophone. Now tell me what you said to her, or else, you'll be filling out forms in Fargo by midnight."
"I noticed her carrying a box and I made a remark about her not being cut out for this business." She lowered her eyes and dropped her voice. "I said it was about time. She said wasn't in the mood to deal with me and told me to pick on someone else."
Before Billy could respond, Mrs. Marston asked, "Could you please take this discussion elsewhere? This is my office, you know"
"Of course, Mrs. Marston. Francine, apologize to Amanda tomorrow. That's an order. Get back to work. I'm going to the Q Bureau to speak with Lee. I have a strange feeling Amanda's outburst has something to do with him."
"Yes, sir," Francine acquiesced, still stunned at Amanda's outburst, as she moved to the elevator.
Billy headed up the stairs to the Q Bureau.
Lee leaned back in his chair. He couldn't believe that she was gone. 'What were you expecting? You gave her the impression that you pitied her,' he scolded himself. The door opened and Billy entered; he didn't look pleased.
"Scarecrow," Billy barked, "what's going on between you and Amanda?"
"Billy, nothing is going on," Lee jumped up.
Billy looked sternly at Lee; he knew better. "Amanda doesn't normally yell at Francine for tossing insults at her, and Amanda doesn't usually slam doors. Now, tell me what is going on, or I'll send you to Fargo along with Francine. Did you know there's an opening in the Fargo office?"
Lee took a deep breath and looked down at his hands. "I found a box on my desk. Amanda told me it was for a box social the 'Mothers for a Safe Environment' is having. She's participating in it. You know, Billy, that's where they auction off a box lunch with the maker, only this one sounded a little bit different." He ran his hand nervously through his hair. "I told her that I knew she wasn't comfortable with those types of things and, as her friend and partner, I suggested that I would rescue her. She got angry and told me that she didn't need anyone to pity or rescue her. That's pretty much it."
"Lee, what were you thinking? Forget that I asked that, it's obvious that you weren't." Billy stopped and thought for a moment. "You've got to try to figure out your feelings. Why don't you take tomorrow off and go talk to someone."
"I think I will, Billy. Maybe I'll visit Harry. Thanks," Lee mumbled, looking at the floor.
"I'll see you on Friday."
"Yeah, Billy, bye," Lee said as his boss left. "I better call Harry to see if he has any plans for tomorrow."
Francine was sitting in Billy's office, waiting for Amanda to come in. She had insisted on apologizing to Amanda in private. She had asked Billy if she could use his office while he attended a meeting and told Mrs. Marston to send Amanda straight to the office. She swore both of them to secrecy. The fewer people who had to know she was apologizing to Amanda, the better.
"Why didn't I just keep my big mouth shut?" Francine asked herself.
'Because of, maybe, your pride?' she thought to herself.
"Who else is given a package, and suddenly gets a job here? I went through years of training and lots of hard work to get my position. Yet, everyone here respects Amanda; I don't get half of the respect she does. The final straw was when she became Lee's partner. Lee wouldn't let me become his partner. A housewife from Arlington, with no training, got what I wanted, what I deserved."
'Francine,' she admonished herself, 'you've got to be sincere with your apology. You should have known better than to say what you did to Amanda. You don't have to admit she was right about anything.' Before Francine could respond to her thoughts, Amanda came in the office.
"You wanted to see me Francine?" Amanda pondered "Amanda, I'm really sorry about what happened yesterday. I shouldn't have said what I did. I hope you accept my apology. You had every right to yell at me."
"Francine, I appreciate your apology. I'm sorry for yelling at you. I was taking my problems out on you."
Billy entered as Francine and Amanda shook hands.
"Sir," Amanda turned to face Billy, "I want to talk to you about Lee."
Billy looked at Francine. "I need to talk to Amanda privately." Francine nodded her head and left the office. As soon as she was gone Billy asked, "What about Lee?"
"I don't think I can work with him any longer."
"Amanda, please wait a little while longer before you make any decisions." Billy gave her a weak smile as he attempted to convince her not to change her mind.
"Mr. Melrose, I don't know if I can wait any longer," she gave her head a shake, "I'm getting tired of the way he treats me."
"Please try. I'm sure things will change soon," He consoled.
"I'll try," Amanda sighed. "Good. Amanda, you can take the rest of the day off. Lee won't be in today."
"Thank you, sir," Amanda said as she left the office.
Thursday Afternoon "Lee, it's good to see you," Harry said.
"Thanks for meeting with me," Lee said. He met Harry at his cabin, and they planned on spending the afternoon together.
"My pleasure, Lee," he smiled warmly at his friend. "You said you wanted to talk to me about something?"
"Billy told me, practically ordered me to talk to you about . . . my feelings about… Amanda."
"How do you feel about Amanda?" Harry asked gently.
"She's my best friend." Lee looked up at the older man and smiled.
"Lee, you're not telling me the truth about how you feel about Amanda. Don't even try to fool me." Harry walked over to Lee and put his hand on his shoulder. "I know you have deeper feelings for Amanda. Why can't you admit that to yourself?"
"Harry, you told me to never become romantically involved with anyone I worked with," Lee tried to squirm around the issue.
"Lee, since when do you listen to me, or anyone else for that matter? From what I've heard, that hasn't stopped you before."
"Ah, yeah," Lee said nervously, "but this is different."
"How is it different?"
"Lee, is it because you have deeper feelings for Amanda than you're used to?"
"Yes. Are you happy?" he snapped. Harry fixed Lee with a fatherly look.
"Lee, you don't have to admit your feelings about Amanda to me, Billy, or anyone else, except yourself. Just realize that if you don't admit it to yourself, you can lose her. Could you live without Amanda in your life?"
"I don't know, Harry. As the old Lee Stetson who doesn't need anyone, yeah, I could, but the Lee Stetson I think I've become in the last few years? I don't' know."
"Okay, I'm going to get our lunch. You can use this opportunity to try and figure out your feelings about Amanda."
Harry left the room and Lee began to pace. "How do I feel about Amanda? Oh, admit it, Stetson, you're in love with Amanda King. I love her, I really love her." He stopped and took in a deep breath. A smile began to cross his face. "That wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I'm not ready to admit that to her, yet, but I already feel better."
Harry came back carrying a tray with some chicken salad sandwiches, cole slaw, coffee, and two cups. He looked over at Lee and arched an eyebrow. Well, my boy, were you able to admit your feelings to yourself? Please, tell me you did," Harry said as he placed the tray on the table. Lee looked up and offered a wan smile, then nodded his head.
"I did Harry. I feel better, but how do I show Amanda that I have feelings for her?"
"When you phoned yesterday, you told me that Amanda will be participating in a box social. Why don't you go to it and bid on her?"
Lee gulped and shook his head. "After what happened yesterday, she'll just think that I'm bidding because I pity her. Besides, I don't know which box is hers "
"Lee, this box social will be the best way to show Amanda that you care for her. You can easily beat out the competition," Harry reassured him.
"I don't know when it will be. I'm sure Amanda won't tell me." Lee danced around, trying to avoid committing himself to attending the social.
Harry would have none of it. "I'm sure you can think of a way to find out when."
"I know. I'll call and ask someone from 'Mothers for A Safe Environment.' for some information about the box social."
"You can do that later, now, it's time to eat."
After calling Billy and explaining why he wouldn't be in until the afternoon, Lee headed to the headquarters of 'Mothers for a Safe Environment.' He was grateful that he had been listening when Amanda told him that the organization had a permanent location for organized events, or he would never know when and where the box social would take place.
"Mr. Sampson, I haven't seen you since you moved away," a familiar looking woman said.
"You're Mrs. Courtney, right?" he answered.
"Mrs. Courtney, Amanda was telling me about a box social your organization is putting on. Do you know any of the details?" he asked, hoping that this woman would be able to provide the information he needed.
"Mr. Sampson, what incredible timing. This morning and afternoon we'll be displaying the boxes to be auctioned off tonight. Since the women participating are not allowed to tell which box is belongs to them, we thought it would be fun if the potential bidders could take a look at the boxes, and guess which box belongs to the person they want to bid on. Will you be bidding tonight?"
Lee was growing impatient with the woman's babbling, but he slapped a wide smile on his face and said, "Just tell me where and I'll come."
"We'll be holding the auction at the church we used to hold our meetings in, it starts at six. Come on, I'll show you where the boxes are."
Mrs. Courtney led Lee to another room, and left him to study the boxes. Lee inspected all the boxes in the room trying to figure out which one was Amanda's. He narrowed it down to two boxes. 'The box decorated with the floral wallpaper had to be Amanda's box,' he thought, not bothering to pay closer attention to the other box. Satisfied that he found Amanda's box, Lee left. A few seconds later Jean Kearsley and a volunteer entered the room.
"Jean, are you sure about this?" the volunteer questioned.
"Jenny, I have to move on with my life. I can't stay hidden forever. I need to do this," Jean said, picking up the floral papered box that Lee decided was Amanda's.
"Your box is very pretty. I'm sure that it will bid the highest."
"Thanks Jenny," Jean said, handing her the box, "Make sure this box is the last one to be auctioned off. I want to surprise everyone."
"Everyone will be surprised. I'll put the box at the end of the table," Jenny laid out her plans. "In fact, I'll put the boxes in order for the auction, and tell the people who come in not to move them."
"That's a good idea," Jean said. "The more organized we are for tonight, the better."
"Jean, do you remember which box is Amanda's?"
"It's this one," Jean said, pointing to a box with red plaid wallpaper.
After a quick lunch, Lee returned to the Agency. He entered the Q-Bureau. "Afternoon, Amanda," Lee said. He sat down and stared at Amanda. He ran his fingers through his hair a couple of times. "I'm sorry if I upset you on Wednesday," he apologized.
"That's okay, I overreacted. You were trying to be a good friend. Let's just drop it." Amanda said, not wanting to discuss it further.
"Are you sure?" he pressed.
"Amanda, I need to go to the Bullpen, you can stay here and finish your transcribing. I'll see you later."
"Bye, Lee," Amanda said as Lee left, taking a deep breath as the door closed behind him. She didn't know how much longer she could last, but she promised Mr. Melrose to wait a little while longer. If something didn't happen soon, Amanda would have no other choice, but to move on to someone else. She was determined not to wait forever. Nobody could be that patient, not even her.
"Harry, I don't know if I can go through with this," Lee said, pacing at a rapid rate, carrying the phone along with him.
"Everything is going to be fine," Harry's said reassuringly.
"How can you be so sure?" Lee challenged.
"I have a good feeling about this, call it gut instinct."
"Well, I better get ready if I want to get there early. I want to make sure I get a good seat." Lee stopped his pacing and stood looking at the phone in his hands. "Bye, Harry, thanks for helping."
"No problem, just get the job done."
Lee hung up the phone, put it down, and went into the bathroom. He lathered on the shaving cream, and then he picked up the razor. As he raised the sharp implement closer to his face, he noticed his hand shaking, so he put it down before he cut himself. After a few deep breaths, Lee picked up the razor, again, and progressed in his shaving. When he was done, he removed his robe and stepped into the shower. A few minutes later, he turned off the water, dried his hair, and brushed his teeth.
Lee left the bathroom and entered his bedroom. On the bed lay three different sets of clothes. He had a suit with matching tie and shirt, dress pants with a crisp white shirt and a sport coat, and casual slacks with a casual shirt to choose from. He didn't want to be too dressed up, yet, he didn't want to be underdressed. He went to his dresser drawer and selected his lucky blue boxer shorts. After picking out his lucky argyle socks, Lee went to the bed and started to dress. He decided that the dress pants with a shirt would set the right tone for the evening. When he was done, Lee went back into the bathroom to put on his watch and check his hair, making sure it was perfect. Walking into the living room, he went to make sure that he had his wallet and his checkbook. He then picked up his keys, and left the apartment.
Amanda sat in one of the offices in the church. Each auction participant had to stay in that room until her box was sold. They were told to meet the highest bidder at the payment table, and then go into a church anteroom to get acquainted before the picnic tomorrow.
'I hope I end up with someone nice,' Amanda thought, 'Maybe he'll help me forget about Lee.'
Little did Amanda know what the evening held in store.
Lee was one of the first to arrive. All bidders received a small wooden paddle with a number on it. Lee's paddle read eight. Lee eased himself into a seat in the front row, and watched as the other bidders arrived. He recognized the next four people that came into the room and realized that they would be his competition for Amanda. It didn't surprise him that Joe King was here. Since Joe's return from overseas, Lee had a feeling that Joe would try to reconcile with Amanda. What better way to get to spend time with Amanda, than to bid on her? He was a little surprised that Allen Chamberlain was here. 'How did he find out about this?' Lee wondered.
Lee was even more surprised to find Connie Barnhill, Amanda's high school admirer. The fourth person was the most surprising. "What the hell is he doing here?" Lee growled, lowly.
Lee was startled even further by the man who quietly slipped into the seat beside him. "Stetson, what a surprise."
"Why are you here?" snarled Lee.
"To bid on Amanda, of course."
"How did you find out about this?" Lee needed to know. He ran his hand nervously through his hair; this was getting out of hand.
"I heard about it on the radio this morning," the man beamed. I even know which box belongs to Amanda. I called her mother and told her that I was a coworker who was interested in her daughter. She was more than happy to oblige."
The smile on his face was unmistakable. "Beaman, when did you decide to get interested in Amanda? You always pester Francine at the Christmas party." Lee planned on doing everything in his power to dissuade Beaman.
"Lee, Amanda is one of the nicest people at the Agency and I've become fond of her. I see that I'm not the only one." Beaman sat up straighter in his chair.
"Beaman, I'm only here to make sure Amanda doesn't end up with the wrong person," Lee lied.
"You know she's not my type."
"Whatever, let the best man win."
With that Beaman stood and strode to the back of the room. 'Okay this is getting strange. Not only do I have Joe and Allen to worry about, I have to worry about Conrad and Beaman, as well. The next thing I know that Dan guy Amanda was dating when we met will show up.'
As soon as Lee had that thought, Dean entered the room. Lee shook his head, he couldn't believe it. Then, it occurred to him, 'there's at least one bright side to this. If, for some strange reason, I have the wrong box in mind, at least I'll know the right one when Joe, Allen, Darren, Conrad, and Beaman start bidding.'
Within minutes the room was packed and the auction began. The first three boxes went up for bid without any of Amanda's suitors raising their paddles.
"This box's contains a park picnic with fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits, and strawberry pie," Jean Kearsley said as she pointed to the neatly decorated package. "The bidding will start at twenty dollars."
Beaman waved his paddle first.
"I have a bid for twenty dollars." Jean called out. "How about twenty-five dollars?"
Joe held up his paddle next.
"We have a bid for twenty-five dollars. Do I hear thirty dollars?" Jean asked the crowd.
Conrad waved his paddle after Joe, a sheepish grin on his face.
"We have a bid for thirty dollars. Now, what about thirty-five dollars?"
Allen held his paddle up high, this time.
"We have a bid for thirty-five dollars. Any takers for forty dollars?" Dean wildly waved his paddle. Lee was surprised. The box being bid on wasn't the box Lee thought was Amanda's, but the other box, the red plaid one. He decided to let Beaman, Joe, Conrad, Allen, and Dean fight it out for a while before he started bidding. After $50 Conrad's paddle remained still. Several more minutes went by, and then Beaman stopped at $200. Even more time passed until Allen stopped his bidding at $500. Then, to everyone's surprise, Joe and Dean started an aggressive bidding war until Dean dropped out at a thousand dollars.
Lee smiled to himself. "I have a thousand dollars going once, going twice . . . "
Before Jean was able to say, "sold for a thousand dollars," Lee raised his paddle ever so nonchalantly. The audience gasped in surprise.
"We have a bid for two thousand dollars. Three thousand?" Everyone except Lee turned and looked at Joe. Joe shook his head; he couldn't go any higher.
Jean's voice broke out in true auctioneer's style, "I have two thousand dollars. Going once… going twice… sold, for two thousand dollars. Paddle number eight go to the cashier's table to pay and meet your date."
Lee rose and quickly made his way to the cashier's table where he wrote out a check. As soon as the check was in Mrs. Courtney's hands, Amanda came out.
"Lee, what are you doing here?" She asked in shock. "I never told you when or where."
"Amanda," he flashed her a crooked smile, "I have my ways."
Lee and Amanda sat at the nearest table. Jenny, the volunteer, came by and handed them each a cup of champagne punch and a plate of French pastries.
"You wouldn't believe who was out there bidding for you," Lee said as he took a sip of his champagne punch.
"Really?" Amanda asked. "Who?"
"Let's see," Lee replied slowly, "there was Joe and Allen Chamberlain, Conrad Barnhill, Don...."
Amanda interrupted, "Dean." She shot him a look. "Oh, my gosh! That many! Mother told me she was going to get someone to bid on me. I didn't think she would contact so many."
"Beaman was here to bid on you as well," Lee blithely let slip. Amanda's eyebrows arched in surprise.
"Beaman was here to bid on me? He doesn't even like me."
"Scary thought, isn't it" he chuckled.
Amanda demanded, "Tell me what happened."
"I let them fight it out for a while. Conrad dropped out first, followed by Beaman, then Allen. Donald and Joe started a bidding war until it got to a thousand dollars, then Dick stopped bidding." He stopped for a moment to study the statement on Amanda's face, then he looked down at the table, his fingers playing with his paper plate. "I made the winning bid of two thousand dollars just before Jean said sold."
"Oh, my gosh!" Amanda's eyes popped open wide. 'I can't believe he spent two thousand dollars to have a picnic with me,' she thought in shock.
"I should be grateful that they were there," Lee smiled. Otherwise, I would have had a date with someone else. I was convinced that your box was the flowered one, not the red plaid one. Do you know who I would have ended up with?"
"You would have had a French picnic with Jean Kearsley" Amanda said trying to keep from laughing. "She told me she decided to enter at the last minute."
Lee took a deep breath. "Listen, Amanda, I want to talk before our picnic tomorrow, over dinner tonight. I do want to say one thing, right now, Amanda . . . ." Lee began, not knowing what to say. He ran his fingers through his hair. He knew he had to say something now or he would never say it. He fixed his eyes on hers and plunged ahead, "Amanda, I want to advance our relationship further."
"What do you mean by that, Lee?" Amanda wanted to know, unsure of what he was thinking, hoping he wouldn't say his usual speech.
"I mean, I want to be more than just friends," Lee replied.
'Oh, my gosh, I never thought this would ever happen.' Amanda happily thought. She smiled warmly, reached for his hand, and said, "Lee, you don't know how long I've waited to hear that."
Lee smiled back. Harry was right; this was going to work out just fine.
The day was beautiful and unseasonably warm. Lee and Amanda sat on a large red plaid quilt, each holding a plate full of fried chicken, potato salad, and biscuits.
"Amanda, this is so good," Lee said as he took another bite of his friedchicken. Who's responsible for this wonderful picnic?"
"You have Mrs. Courtney to thank. She makes the second best friedchicken in the neighborhood, after my mother," Amanda said proudly.
"Well be sure to thank her for me," Lee's garbled words came from aroundthe forkful of potato salad he'd just put into his mouth.
"I sure will, although I'm sure she considers your high bid thanksenough."
"Amanda, can I be honest with you?" Lee asked hesitantly.
Amanda didn't know where this was going, She nodded her head and said,"Go right ahead."
Lee looked seriously at Amanda. "I've wanted to kiss you for the longest time," Lee admitted.
"Really?" she spit out the word in shock.
"Really," Lee assured her. "In fact, I want to kiss you right now."
They looked deeply into each other's eyes. They started to lean in for a kiss. They moved toward each other, closer and closer, their lips mere inches apart, when, suddenly, when a Frisbee whacked into them.
"Sorry," said one of the three guys who had been throwing the Frisbee as he bent down to retrieve it.
"That's okay," Amanda said in her usual understanding tone.
"This picnic should have been in the country. No Frisbees there." Lee grumbled, then, he again attempted to move in and kiss Amanda, but, again, the same Frisbee hit them..
"Sorry," said the second of the three guys throwing the Frisbee.
"That's okay," Amanda said again, this time, her voice was tight and not as understanding.
"Let's try this again." Once more, they leaned closer and closer for a kiss. This time, their lips were almost touching when the same Frisbee hit them, yet, again.
"The third of the three young men playing with the Frisbee came to recover it and said, "Sorry."
Lee had enough. He stood up, grabbed the Frisbee before the younger man could, and yelled, "If you and your friends throw this Frisbee in our direction again, I promise I will hurt you. Do you understand?" Lee stood there, hands on his hips, glaring at the teenager.
"Yes, sir," the Frisbee player replied taking a step back.
Lee handed him the Frisbee and the guy ran away. "If we don't kiss this time," Lee sighed, "I give up." Lee pulled Amanda to her feet, stepped toward her, and gave her a sweet, delicate kiss on the lips.
Lee then leaned down and picked up his cup. "Amanda, I want to make a toast."
Amanda retrieved up her cup and asked, "To what?"
"To more picnics like this, except for no Frisbees," Lee laughed
"To Frisbeeless picnics," Amanda joined in his mirth.
Together, they raised their cups and gently tapped them together.
That's all there is, there isn't anymore.