I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. 5 AM. The red numbers glowed back at me through the dark. I only wake up at five in the morning one day out of the year; our anniversery. Today was our seventeenth anniversary and the fifth one that I celebrated alone. That meant tomorrow was the sixth aniversry of Lee's disappearence. Everyone at the Agency thought that Lee was dead, but not me. I still continue to look for him on my own time.
I crawled out of bed and took my shower and got dressed. Today was the first day of my vacation, at least thatŐs what Billy and Francine assume it is. In reality today is the first day of hidden memories, of the thoughts about Lee that I repress fifty-one weeks out of the year. My eyes catch the picture on my dresser and tears begin to well up. It's ths last picture that I have of Lee and myself. It was taken on our twelfth anniversery just outside of their house.
February 12, 1999
"Don't peek," Lee warned as he got out of the car. He walked to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. He helped his wife of twelve years and best friend and partner of fifteen years, out of the car. Lee wanted the day to be special. He arranged it with Billy that they could have the weekend off and drove out to the new house. The original owners of the place had just finished building it when financial problems arose and forced them to sell. Lee had bought the house a year earlier and spent the time that he wasn't on a case or with Amanda on landscaping the property and putting up a stable. Although he knew Amanda was allergic to horses, he thought that it would be the perfect place to take the boys on vacation, even if they were in their twenties, or just to get away from everyone.
"Lee, can I open my eyes now?" Amanda asked interupting Lee's thoughts. She had heard the sounds of horses in the distant and was now really curious about where they were. Lee manuvered her so that she was standing with her back to the house before he said, "Okay, open them!"
Amanda opened her eyes and took in the view. It was breath taking. In front of her was a large pasture that was fenced in. At the far end of the pasture were three chocolate brown horses and a black horse grazing. Amanda turned around slowly taking in the meadows and woods that surrounded the house. When she turned one-hundred and eighty degrees, she gasped, "Oh, Lee!"
The house was a one story ranch with a greenhouse a few feet away in the middle of a rose garden. Lee watched her as she started to walk toward the house. He knew that she would be surprised but he didn't expect to see tears in her eyes as she turned back to look at him holding out her hand.
"Amanda, what's wrong?" Lee asked worried.
"Nothing, Lee. This is so beautiful. When did you find this place?"
"I came across it last year when you were on that assignment in Brussels. The owners were looking for someone to buy the place, so I did. I spent the rest of the year sneaking out here to get it ready for you. Do you like it?"
"Like it? I love it!" Amanda paused as the rest of what he said sunk in. "You bought it? Why? Where did you get the money? When did you find time to 'get it ready'?"
"Slow down, Amanda. Yes, I bought it. I bought it so that we could have a place where we could be ourselves. No Agency, no Francine, no Billy, just us. I have someone who rents the house on the south end of the property and he does the ranching," Lee paused trying to summon up the courage to tell his wife that he had been lying to her for the past ten months. "Remember all those top secret weekend confrences that I had to go to?" Amanda simply nodded her head. She remembered those conferences, more than once her weekend plans had been spoiled by Lee having to rush out on Friday to get to a conference. But if this is what the 'conferences' produced, she could forgive him. "They weren't conferences. I came out here instead."
"Oh, Lee. I love you." Amanda pulled his head to hers and gave him a passionate kiss. Lee had been expecting anything, an outburst of anger or her turning away from him so that he couldn't see the pain in her eyes that came from him lying to her, not a kiss. Stunned Lee took a few seconds to get over his shock before responding to her. When they broke apart, Lee whispered in her ear, "What do you say we take this inside?"
"I'd say that's a good idea."
They had spent the rest of the day inside. A few hours later, Lee got a phone call from Billy on his cell phone.
"Billy, I can't. No, Billy... but. Damn it!" Lee slapped his cell phone closed in frustration. Lee looked towards the kitchen where Amanda was getting the wine. He closed his eyes and thought, 'This was to be our night. Why did I have to bring the phone with me? How am I going to tell Amanda that her husband has to go to Italy in a couple of hours?'
"Lee? Is something wrong?"
Lee opened at his eyes and gave a small smile, "Yeah, Billy just called. He wants me to go to Italy. One of our Agents has been missing for three days and Dr. Symth wants me to head up the investigation. It should only take a week, but..." Lee trailed off. 'Why couldn't both of us go? The boys are out of school and on their own,' he thought.
"Oh." Amanda looked crestfallen, "I guess we better pack." Amanda put the wine glasses down on the coffee table and headed toward their room.
"We? I'm sorry Amanda, but Billy said that I had to go alone. He needs you to take over the Embassy case I was working on," Lee said pulling her into his arms. "I am so sorry, sweetheart. I tried to get out of it, but no one else is available."
Amanda looked into his eyes and sighed. This wasn't the first time something like this happened. In the past they had been able to convince Billy that both of them would be needed for a case if it fell on or shortly before their anniversary, but this time the Embassy case was too important to be handed off to anyone else. Lee had told her what was going on at the Embassy and what had to be done yet earlier that week in their office. She knew that she could handle it, but it would be hard. Swallowing back her tears she replied softly, "It's okay. I understand."
She leaned into his embrace and savored the feeling of safety that she always got when Lee held her. They stood in the living room for a good ten minutes, enjoying the nearness and the comfort of each other.
Two hours later, Amanda kissed Lee goodbye before he got on the plane. That was the last she saw of him.
February 13, 2004
I kissed my fingers and touched them to Lee's face before walking out of the room. Not all my memories ended in sadness. My mother had been hinting for eight years that Lee would ask me to marry him. Little did she know that I was already married to him. We had agreed that it was safer to keep our marriage secret. Even after all this time, I still kept my marriage to Lee a secret. I think Mother finally decided that I didn't want to risk my heart in a marriage and she eventually let the topic drop. The boys never did understand why Lee and I didn't marry. Lee had been as much a part of their life as Joe had, and in some cases more.
I stopped in the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and noticed the office picture sitting on the counter. I had finally found the time to frame the picture taken at Billy's retirement party. I remembered how often Billy had been there for me after we learned of Lee's disappearence. That first year was the roughest and I probably wouldn't have stayed if Billy hadn't been there for me to lean on.
May 15, 1999
It had been two months since we learned that Lee had never arrived his rendevous with Agent Palmetto. So far we had no clues and no ideas. Amanda's thoughts kept returning to the night he had left. Lee had looked so guilty about not being able to stay with her that she made him promise to make it up to her. Now, it looked like that wasn't going to happen.
Billy let Amanda handle the Embassy case as he promised, but when that was over, he kept her at the office doing paperwork and the odd carrier job that was usually given to new agents. Amanda wondered when Billy would stop treating her like she was fragile. She hadn't liked it when Lee was doing that to her shortly after they were married and she didn't like it now. There was a soft knock on the door to the Q-Buearu before Billy entered.
"I'm all right, Sir. Honest."
"Amanda, I.. uh... I have some bad news. They found Lee."
Amanda's eyes got wide. 'They found Lee. Lee was coming home!' "Sir, why is that bad news?"
"Amanda, the police in Rome found Lee's body in the river. I'm sorry, Amanda. Lee is dead," Billy chocked on those last words. It had taken him an hour to work up the courage to tell Amanda that her partner of nearly sixteen years had been found dead. Billy took the blame on himself; afterall, he was the one that had sent Scarecrow into an unknown situation without any backup. He had been following orders at the time and didn't realize the potential danger that at best cost the life of his best agent and at the worst may cost him the loss of another excellent agent.
"No," Amanda said softly. 'It can't be true. I would have felt him die. I would know if Lee was dead.' "It can't be true, Sir. I would know if..." Amanda trailed off. No one knew of their marriage. "Sir, I need to leave. I.. I'll be back tomorrow to finish this report."
Billy nodded his head. He would let her know that she should take the two weeks off that the Agency policy suggested tomorrow. Amanda picked up her purse and left the office.
Amanda climbed into her car and started to drive. 'He can't be dead. I would know. I would have sensed it.' Amanda's mind kept going through all the reasons why Lee wasn't dead. In her heart she knew that Lee was still alive, but she didn't have the proof that would be required to prove beyond a doubt that Lee had been kidnapped. Before she realized it, Amanda had arrived at Lee's apartment. Knowing that she didn't have anywhere else to be, Amanda parked in her normal spot and went up to his apartment.
Lee's apartment was just like she had left it last week. Amanda wandered around the apartment picking up different items and remembering all those few moments that they had together to be husband and wife. The walls of the apartment held their secrets, their moments in time when it was as if no one was in the world but them. Amanda sat down on the couch and let the tears that she had been holding back by sheer will fall. She cried for most of the night letting her grief take hold of her.
Time passed slowly for Amanda. She never took the two weeks that were offered by Billy. Instead she just did her job and also continued to search for Lee. Billy knew about her search for Lee, but never said a word. In truth, he wished that he could devote his time and his people to find Lee, but then the country that Lee served with his life would have been lost. Amanda was slowly being treated as a regular agent three months after the news of Lee's death. Billy never pushed her to accept a new partner, but continuely paired her with Francine when a situation called for two people.
Amanda spent her weekends when she wasn't supervising a security detail, at Lee's apartment packing up things and remembering the love of her life. Amanda had told Billy that she would go through his things and if there was anything of importance to the Agency she would bring it in. A few weeks earlier she found the key to Lee's safedeposit box which held the deed for the ranch that he owned, some photographs of his uncle and his parents, and a letter addressed to her. When she first opened it, she thought that there had to be a mistake on the date. It was dated three months after they had met at the train station:
If you are reading this, then that means that I've been killed in the line of duty. It's strange to write that: "killed in the line of duty." I can only hope that I have told you how much you mean to me.
I know what you're thinking, Amanda. How could you mean so much to me after only three months. I've been wondering about that myself. It hit me last week as I watched you from Billy's office. He was breifing me on a security detail when all of a sudden, I wondered what it would be like to just hold you in my arms. No case, just us. I tried for so long to deny my feelings, telling myself that you deserved someone better, someone that could provide you with the security and normal life that you deserved. I know I can never offer you that, but I can offer you my heart, my unconditional love for you. I made my last will and testement a few days ago and named you as my beneficiary. I wanted you and your boys to be provided for. I know, I should have asked for your permission, but I couldn't bear the thought of you not having something to remember me by. Be sure to tell Philip and Jaime, that they were terriffic boys and that they are under orders from me (I know, they don't know who I am) to take care of you. I love you, Amanda. Always.
April 13, 1987
It's hard to believe that we've been married a month, Amanda. I love you so much that it scares me. I have been setting aside some money for the boys education for the last year and will continue to do so until you read this. I have loved you for a long time and as hard as it may seem I love you more now than I did the day you said "I do."
I love you, Mrs. Stetson.
Amanda looked around the apartment. Everything was packed up, now she was set to move. Lee's will had been updated every year since he wrote it. In the last one he left the ranch to her. It took Amanda a while to decide to move. Jaime and Philip weren't sure that she should move out there by herself, but she convinced them that she would be all right. She would spend one last Christmas in her old house with her boys and mother and would celebrate the New Year in a new house.
February 13, 2004
The tea kettle whistle startled me out of my memory. I poured the hot into the mug that I had prepared and walked out the front porch. As I watched the sun rise to greet the new day I thought about what happened on my first wedding anniversary without Lee. It had started out with a beautiful sunrise just like this one in the east.
February 13, 2000
Almost everywhere I looked I was reminded of Lee. I was supposed to go into work to turn in a report and to update the computer files, but I couldn't. Not that day. I called Billy when he got into the office and told him that I needed to have the week off. He gave it me without a question. I guess he knew that this was coming, he just didn't know when.
I had spent the morning flipping through my photo albums and remembering all the times that Lee had told me to 'stay in the car' and of all the times that I never listened to him. He used to get so angry at me for not listening. I put down the album and I look at the fire place mantle and smile as I remembered the first time Lee and I met. On the mantle is a small red hat very similar to the one that got me into this thing that I call a career. I felt the tears coming as I relived the moment he gave me the package. I couldn't take it anymore. I got into my car and drove away from the ranch. The next thing I knew I was standing on the platform of the train station where we met and I felt somewhat calmer. It was almost as if Lee was there with me, giving me a hug and telling me that everything was going to be fine.
Long ago I had started to carry a pen and a pad of paper in my purse. Until that day I had never used it. I sat down in the coffee shop nearby and started to write. Three hours later I had written the story of how Lee and I met.
I felt renewed; somehow, by writing down what happened when Lee and I first met, I had felt that Lee was closer to me and that he would someday reach out to me and say that he missed me. With a renewed spirit I looked out into the crowded station and promised my self that if it was the last thing that I did, I would find Lee and bring him home.
The years passed by quicker than those first eight months. I had found my purpose, but in order to acomplish my goal I had to show everyone that I was ready to move on with life. When I had returned from my week off, I asked to see Billy privately.
February 21, 2000
"What can I do for you, Amanda?" Billy asked once they had entered his office.
"I was wondering what you would say to my writing a book about how Lee and I originally met, Sir," Amanda started off slowly. Before Billy could say anything she continued, "You see, Sir, I was at the train station where Lee and I first met and I suddenly felt the need to write down our story. I would change the names and dates of course, but I think Lee wanted this to be known to the world."
Billy didn't know what to say at first. He was stunned to see the Amanda King that he had thought he killed with the news that Lee was dead was making a comeback and not a slow one at that. "Amanda, are you sure you want to write a book?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Mr. Melrose, Billy, I need to tell someone about my life and Lee's and it might as well be the whole world, even if it is fiction."
"Very well, I just need to see all the manuscripts before they go to the publishers, understood?" Billy had rarely been able to say no to Amanda, but he could never say no to her when she used his first name.
"Thank you, Sir!" Amanda smiled for the first time in months at work. She left Billy's office and went up to her desk in the Q-Buearu where her first story, The Man In The Red Hat, was filed. She made the name and date changes, then continued to work on the report that she wanted to finish.
Time started to pass quickly and Amanda was getting more and more complicated cases, some that required her to travel to Europe. The trips to Europe were always the worst because she remembered how much Lee loved to go there. He had promised that they would go there together one day without a case.
In May of that year, The Man In The Red Hat was published under the name of A. Lee Cumberland. The dedication of her first book was to "the man who started the whole thing by giving me a package." Her book was so popular that it kept popping up at the Agency, though no one but Billy knew who the author really was.
Francine and Amanda were officially partnered a month later after a big bust, but they never worked together in the Q-Buearu at Amanda's request.
February 13, 2004
The sun had risen above the horizon by the time I finished my cup of coffee. It was time for me to write another adventure. The books that I had started writing four years ago were popular and the publishers wanted me to write two books a year, but I insisted that I be allowed to just write one book a year due to the research time that went into the books and they finally agreed.
Billy was the only one who knew about my books until he retired last September and asked me to take his place as Section Chief. He tried to understand when I refused by saying that Francine was the better Agent to take his position as she knew more about his job than I did. Francine was surprised that I would say something like that and told me that I should have taken the promotion, but I told her that I felt more comfortable out in the field than behind the desk. She just laughed and told me that she understood. Part of me just can't wait until I tell her that I've been writing all those books that she absolutely loves, but another part is dreading to tell her. I just hope she understands why I've kept it secret.
I look at my watch and sigh. I have an hour to get to the train station before it gets crowded. Picking up my mug, I head back inside to grab a few things from my study before I leave. My home office is somewhat messy from the reports and various leads that I've been following in my search for Lee. After four years, I'm still no closer to finding him than I was when I started. I grab my keys off the desk and lock the house up.
I start my annual trip to the train station thinking about what I am going to write about this year. I had grabbed the old case report before I left and reviewed it last night. I decided to continue writing about the first year that I worked with Lee. I had some found memories of this particular case. Lee and I went undercover trying to recover the Vigilant after it was stolen from my driveway. Francine will have a fit when I tell her about it.
The drive to the train station went quicker than usual. I got out and headed for my usual spot. Four hours later, I look up from my laptop and gaze out into the crowd. 'Happy anniversary, Lee. I love you and I will find you,' I think as I lean back in my chair and remember a happier time.