Disclaimer: Scarecrow & Mrs. King and it's characters belong to Shoot the Moon productions and WB.
Timeline: Post fourth season, five days before Thanksgiving. Marriage is still a secret.
Summary: Francine receives death threats so guess where she gets to hide out?
Note: Just a little fluff about Francine and Amanda. I want to thank DOAngel for the story idea. Thankyou! I hope you approve of what I've done with it!
Feedback: By all means! No flames, though. My ego burns easily.
Amanda sat in Billy's office on a cold Saturday morning waiting for him to join her. He had summoned her from her warm bed with something that just 'couldn't wait' until Monday. She didn't bother wearing a dress and heels. Billy had said this little meeting wouldn't take long and that she still had the rest of the day to be with her family.
Amanda was getting lost in her thoughts when Billy burst in with his coffee and doughnut. He was beginning to tell her about the long line at the doughnut shop when Amanda interrupted. "Sir, I don't mean to interrupt you but shouldn't Lee be here? I don't usually work solo."
He took a sip of his steamy coffee and replied, "You won't be needing Lee for this assignment, Amanda."
Amanda leaned forward in her chair and asked, "What assignment, sir?"
"Francine," Billy replied in the kindest way possible.
"I don't understand, sir," Amanda commented, "What about Francine?"
Billy walked around his desk and leaned on the front, near Amanda and explained, "Francine has been receiving some rather nasty death threats at her apartment. Normally I would just put her in the safe house until we know where the threats are coming from but, unfortunately, the safe house is temporarily out of commission."
"Out of commission?" Amanda asked.
"Flooded," Billy replied, apologetically. "The last storm left a couple inches of water in the basement which shorted out the furnace. It won't be operating again for another week or so. So, that leaves your house."
"But, why me, sir? Can't Francine stay with someone else? Lee? Efram? Leatherneck? Anybody?" Amanda begged.
Billy shook his head and replied, "I'm sorry, Amanda. Lee and Efram will be working on this case and Leatherneck is...well...he's Leatherneck."
Amanda was torn. She really wanted to help Billy in any way she could but the thought of Francine at her house the week of Thanksgiving was almost too much to bear. "Sir, I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything. I mean, you and this agency have done an awful lot for me over the past four years and I'd do anything to repay you but, well, Francine and I don't exactly get along and I've got family coming over for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday and there's an awful lot I need to do to get ready."
Billy put on his best smile and replied, "Well then, this would be a perfect opportunity to get to know each other! And it wouldn't hurt Francine any to get to know her way around a kitchen. I'll tell Francine to pack a bag and to take the long way to your house so she can be sure she isn't being followed. There will be a guard hiding in a van outside your house at all times for extra protection. And Amanda, I assure you that Lee will do whatever he can to wrap this thing up by Thursday. Are there any questions?"
Amanda nodded, "Only one. What am I supposed to tell my family? How do I explain Francine to them?"
"I'll leave that up to you, Amanda," Billy answered.
Amanda left Billy's office and headed up the elevator. She was shaking her head all the way to the Jeep with the same thought running through her mind over and over. 'This is going to be a terrible week.'
Half an hour later, Amanda was explaining the change of events to her family. "Mother, boys, we are going to have a house guest for a few days. She works with us often at IFF as an actress for our documentaries but her house flooded this past weekend and she needs a place to stay while it's being cleaned up. She's a lovely woman and I'm sure you'll all enjoy her company."
Dotty eyed her daughter curiously. "Amanda, dear, by any chance does this guest of yours know how to cook? It would be wonderful to have another set of hands in the kitchen this week."
Amanda smirked and replied, "No, mother, you know these actor types. They have their own chefs." Amanda managed to dodge the next question from Philip about what other movies she has been in by the ringing of the doorbell. "That must be her now!" Amanda quipped running for the door.
Amanda opened the door for her guest and was amazed at the amount of luggage one woman could pack.. There were two large suitcases, three garment bags, a duffel bag and a small toiletry case. Amanda figured she could just about fit her own entire wardrobe in there. "Welcome!" she faked her enthusiasm. "Come in, please!" She led Francine into the foray and began the introductions. "Francine, this is my mother, Mrs. West. Mother, this is Francine Denseman." Amanda immediately regretted her choice of a last name for Francine. She mouthed a 'sorry' at the glare she received from her guest.
"Dotty, call me Dotty," Amanda's mother gushed at the visiting 'movie star'. "Say, have we met before Ms. Denseman? You look awfully familiar?"
Francine shook Dotty's hand and said, "No, I don't think we have and please, call me Francine," she said giving Amanda another quick look.
Amanda placed her hands on her boys' shoulders and stated, "This one with the glasses is Jamie," Francine was greeted with a quick 'hi' from the younger son. "And this one here is Philip,"
"Charmed," Philip spoke in a forced lower voice and kissed the back of Francine's hand.
Amanda squeezed Philips shoulder a little harder in warning and then noticed the luggage still piled on the front stoop. "Oh, let me help you with those," Amanda offered, walking out the door and grabbing as much luggage as she could carry. "Boys," she struggled to speak with a garment bag handle between her teeth, "take a bag."
Francine just stood back and watched the humorous scene unfold. Philip swung a garment bag over his head, took the duffel bag in one hand and the toiletry bag in the other. Jamie took the remaining garment bag and Dotty relieved Amanda of the one between her teeth. "Where are we taking these," Philip mumbled from beneath the garment bag that had slipped over his face.
"To my room," Amanda answered
Francine protested, "Oh, no, I can't take your room from you."
"It's either that or the couch," Amanda threw the comment over her shoulder on her way up the stairs. Francine figured Amanda's room was better than the couch so she stopped her protest.
There was a roar of voices as the family ascended the steps. Philip was having a hard time navigating the stairs in his blind state so he was counting them off out loud as he went, "One, two, three, four..." Jamie was trying to make Philip lose count by saying random numbers for his older brother to hear. "Three, seven, two, twelve..." At the same time Amanda was reprimanding her young son with, "Jamie, quit confusing your brother." and Dotty was rambling compliments to Francine about her 'beautiful luggage'.
Francine was standing at the bottom of the stairs, mouth gaping at all the noise, wondering how Amanda had the patients for it all. She composed herself and followed the troop. She was more than curious to see what Amanda's daily life was like. Perhaps, she thought, it would explain some of her quirkiness.
Dotty led the way into Amanda's bedroom with a barrage of questions and comments for Francine. "Now, Amanda just put fresh sheets on her bed this morning and there are clean towels in the bathroom. You can put your things over by the window and there should be room in her closet for your garment bags. We wouldn't want to wrinkle up any of those beautiful dresses that are sure to be in there now would we? Now, I can't tell you how wonderful it will be to have you here, Francine. What did you say you will be filming again?"
"I didn't say," Francine answered, though it went unnoticed.
Dotty continued, "Amanda has told me very little about you, really. She mostly just talks about Lee. Are you new to IFF?"
Francine was growing silently disgusted with Amanda. "No, I've been there much longer than Amanda has."
"Oh, well that's nice," Dotty returned. The luggage managed to find itself intact and in a neat pile on Amanda's floor. Amanda ushered her family out of her room so she could speak to Francine alone.
"Francine, I told my family that you are an actress and that you are in many of the documentaries that IFF makes. I'm sorry if my mother comes on a little strong while you're here because of that and I have a feeling that Philip already has a crush on you. You can hang your things up in the closet here, there should be plenty of room towards the back. I would have moved some of my things to the downstairs closet if I had had time but Billy just told me about you coming here this morning," Amanda rambled.
Francine wandered around the room as Amanda spoke., half listening and half scrutinizing Amanda's things. She inspected a picture of Amanda's sons on her bedside table, a cross stitch throw pillow on her bed, and a small plastic trophy on her shelf that read 'World's Greatest Mom". She thought it was all rather boring. Francine had never really wanted any children and, although she loved her mother dearly, was glad she didn't live in the same house with her. For a moment Francine was feeling a little sorry for Amanda. She had a mother and two sons under the same roof but no man in her life. All work and no play. She smiled inwardly at her own carefree life. "Well, Amanda. I think this will do fine for a few days. I'm sure Lee will catch the creep who's after me in no time and we can both go back to our normal lives."
Amanda sensed her dismissal and, wiping her hands on her jeans said, "Okay, well, I'll let you get settled in. It's lunch time so I hope you're hungry. I'll be downstairs if you need me." And Amanda left to give Francine some privacy.
Francine headed straight for her garment bags. She didn't want any of her clothes to wrinkle because she hated to iron. She opened the closet door and peeked inside. There was probably enough room for her garment bags inside without disturbing Amanda's clothes too much but she was a little sore about the Denseman quip so she reached her arm inside and pushed all of Amanda's clothes together. Suddenly she had a view of the space previously hidden by the skirts and gowns. There, leaning against the back of the closet was a large frame with a tastefully done drawing of Lee and Amanda. She picked it up and looked at the back. It read 'With love and many thanks, Aunt Emily'. Francine knew that Lee didn't have an aunt Emily so it must be Amanda's. But why would she be drawing Amanda and Lee? She made a mental note to investigate the picture further but right now her stomach was complaining of hunger. She figured she had better join the Cleavers downstairs for something lunch. "Probably peanut butter and jelly and alphabet soup," she mused, wondering what a real family ate for lunch. She descended the steps to find out. Upon hearing Jamie's voice, Francine stopped midstride to eavesdrop.
Amanda was rolling out one of four pie crusts in preparation for Thursday's meal and Dotty was busy cutting up rhubarb and stirring a mixture of flour and sugar.
"Since when do we have rhubarb pie for Thanksgiving?" Jamie asked. "We always have apple and pumpkin."
Amanda sprinkled more flour on the dough and kept rolling as she answered, "We'll have apple and pumpkin too but Lee really likes rhubarb pie and since I had such a bumper crop this year I managed to store enough in the freezer for a pie or two."
"Lee?" Francine whispered to herself. She walked closer to the kitchen to make sure she didn't miss a word.
"Isn't dad coming for Thanksgiving this year?" Jamie asked.
"No, sweetheart, he is spending the holiday with Carrie's family," Amanda explained. "Is it all right that Lee comes over for dinner instead?"
Jamie nodded his head. "Sure. Actually, have you talked to him today? He said he would come over to help me with my model airplane."
Amanda had to think quickly. She was glad that Jamie was finally wanting Lee around but didn't really think having Lee over while Francine was here would be such a good idea. "You know, the last time I spoke with him he said he was coming but while I was at the office this morning things really got busy so he may not be able to make it. I'll give him a call after lunch and ask."
Jamie nodded and sat down at the table to eat. Francine was dumbstruck at the thought of Lee helping a young boy with a model airplane. She had really wanted to listen to more of the conversation going on but her stomach couldn't wait any longer. She decided to make herself known. She tiptoed back up the stairs and then noisily made her way back down.
Dotty was the first to notice Francine's entrance. "Francine, I hope you've been able to find everything you need. There's lunch on the table so help yourself. If you're not a milk drinker there's tea also."
Francine glanced at the table. There was a plate of lunch meat and cheese, some lettuce, mayo, tomatoes, wheat bread and chips. 'Well, at least it's not alphabet soup,' Francine thought. "Thank you, milk will be just fine," she commented on her way to sit down. She felt so out of place. She couldn't remember the last time she sat next to anyone younger than one of the Agency rookies. Eating lunch with children was going to be strange.
Amanda handed Francine a plate and said, "Help yourself, Francine. There's more of everything in the fridge so don't be shy."
Francine was reaching for some bread when she noticed Philip staring at her. His mouth was half open and there was a crumb of bread on his lower chin. Francine was beginning to feel uncomfortable under his gaze so she figured she should probably speak to him. Maybe then he would come out of his trance and finish chewing his food. "So, Philip, what grade are you in?"
Philip swallowed his mouthful and answered, with a cracking voice, "Seventh."
"And do you have any hobbies?" she asked, hoping to keep the conversation moving. "You know, sports, cars, girls, that sort of thing."
Philip finally blinked and eagerly answered her question. "I play basketball and I know a lot about cars."
"But he knows very little about girls," Jamie chimed in.
"Shut up, Pinbrain!" Philip retaliated.
"Philip, don't call your brother Pinbrain," Amanda reprimanded.
Philip blushed slightly at being scolded in front of Francine but recovered quickly. "Someday I'm going to play pro ball and own a 'Vette just like Lee's. And if Pinbrain over here is lucky, I might even give him a ride."
"Mom!" Jamie whined.
"Philip," Amanda warned again. "Now, if you two are done eating why don't you go play outside before it starts to rain again." Amanda hadn't thought to ask the boys not to mention Lee while Francine is here. Not that she could have really done that anyway. They wouldn't have understood why they had to keep him a secret. She'll just have to just do her best to keep the boys and Francine apart for the next few days. Her mother, on the other hand, was going to be a problem. Amanda decided she had better get her mother alone to explain a few things before she started in on the subject of Amanda's 'boyfriend'. She wiped her hands on her apron and went into the den. "Mother!" she called from by the other room. "Could you help me for a second? I dropped something under the bookcase and I need you to help me move it."
Dotty said, "Excuse me a moment," to Francine and went to help Amanda.
"Mother," Amanda whispered, "I need to tell you something."
"There's nothing under the bookcase?" Dotty asked
"No, there's nothing under the bookcase. I just need to ask you a favor."
"What? What kind of favor?" Dotty asked, slightly confused now.
"I need to ask that you not mention anything about Lee while Francine is here," Amanda explained
She racked her brain for a plausible reason. "Because, mother, Francine had a thing for Lee some time ago and he turned her down. I just think it would make her feel bad if we talked about him. Kind of like rubbing salt in the wound."
Dotty nodded her head and looked around the corner at Francine with a pitying look in her eye. "Poor girl," she whispered, "Okay, Amanda. Mum's the word."
"Thank you, mother," Amanda smiled at Dotty and reentered the kitchen.
Amanda quickly prepared the rhubarb pie and placed it in the oven. She cleaned off the countertop, hung up her apron and excused herself to make a phone call from her bedroom. "Francine, I'll be right back, I just need to get something from my room." Amanda climbed the stairs, eager to talk to her husband.
"Hi, Lee. How's it going?" she asked upon hearing her husband answer the Q Bureau phone.
"Lousy," he replied. "I'm supposed to be at your house helping Jamie with his model. Do you know that this is the first time HE has actually asked ME to do something with him? Now I'm stuck at work trying to save Francine's life. Oh, by the way, how are things with Francine there?"
Amanda laid down on her bed and hugged a pillow as she talked. "Not bad. I accidentally introduced her as Francine Denseman and she didn't like that too much." Amanda listened as Lee laughed. "She's downstairs eating lunch right now. Philip mentioned something about your car to her. I hope she didn't try to read too much into it but it's going to be hard to keep her from hearing about you from the boys. Especially Philip. You and your car are all he talks about. Well, and girls too, I suppose."
Lee leaned back in his chair and enjoyed chatting with his wife. "Could you tell Jamie I'm sorry I couldn't make it today. Tell him I bought the blue paint he needed for the wings. I don't suppose I can come over there tonight when Francine is hanging around, can I? Where is she sleeping?"
"She's sleeping in my room," Amanda answered. "I'll be on the couch. And no, you can't come over with Francine here, at least not during normal waking hours. Care to sneak in after everyone goes to bed so you can tuck me in?"
Lee smiled at the thought of being with his wife without having to climb the trellis. "It's a date," he promised. "Why don't you give me a quick call when Francine is down for the night."
"Deal, I'll see you then. I love you," Amanda smiled.
"Ditto," Lee replied.
Amanda frowned, "Ditto?! Someone must have just walked in."
"You got it," Lee replied in a suddenly business like tone.
"Is it Billy?"
"Is he waiting for you to get off the phone?"
"Are you thinking about our little rendezvous on the couch tonight and trying not to smile?"
Lee covered his giggle with a cough and said in a choppy voice, "I'll be there."
Amanda turned on her most soupy and seductive voice and drawled, "Miss me."
"Okey dokey," Lee replied, trying to maintain a straight face. "Bye bye"
Amanda hung up the phone and let out a giggle. Having a secret marriage was a lot of hard work but there were some fun perks. Trying to fluster her husband on the phone with Billy listening to his reactions was one of them.
Amanda got off the bed and opened her closet door. She wanted to make sure Francine had found enough room for her things. Noticing that all of her clothes were now scrunched to one side, Amanda let out a sigh of disgust and began spacing her clothes out again. She moved the garment bags over a little to make more room and that's when she noticed the drawing that Emily Farnsworth had made of them in Germany. They had helped her out of a jam and she thanked them with the drawing. 'Oh great,' Amanda thought. 'I suppose she saw this thing in there.' She picked it up and hid it under her bed. There were a few things of Lee's here and there hiding in her room but she doubted that even Francine would go rifling through her dresser drawers. Just before Francine had arrived, Amanda had been sure to get Lee's shampoo and deodorant out of her medicine cabinet and his robe out of the back of the closet and stashed it all in a box under her bed. Then she took her wedding ring out of her jewelry chest, placed it in the blue velvet box in which it came and put it in her underwear drawer. Her wedding photo was in her nightstand drawer which was always locked anyway because of her gun. She rarely took her gun home with her but there had been a time or two when it had been needed.
Amanda took a second glance around her bedroom, found it to be devoid of anything Lee, and went back downstairs. What Amanda found greeting her in the kitchen was enough to shock even the most highly trained agent. Francine was wearing an apron. She had a dumbfounded and almost frightened look on her face as her hands rested on the edge of a large ceramic bowl.
"Doing some baking, Francine?" Amanda teased, knowing that her mother had everything to do with the spectacle before her.
"Yes," Francine replied in an annoyed tone. "Your mother thought perhaps I would be of some help. I tried to explain that I'm not really that fond of the kitchen but she insisted."
Dotty placed an open cookbook in front of Francine and began barking orders. "All right, Francine, since you're not comfortable in a kitchen I picked the easiest cake recipe I could find. All of your ingredients are right here on the counter and the measuring cups and spoons are in this drawer. If you get stuck just tell me and I'll help you."
Amanda thought briefly about rescuing Francine from her nightmare but the idea of her baking a cake was just to inticing to pass up. Instead, she went in the laundry room to get a load of clothes out of the dryer. Laying the basket on the kitchen table she began the process of sorting and folding. This was a load of Amanda's wash. Ever since the sock episode she had been sure not to let her mother do her laundry anymore. She never knew what would come out of that dryer.
Francine read the recipe line for line. She hadn't baked a cake since she was a child and her grandmother would come for long visits in the summertime. Even as a child she had a distaste for baking. It didn't make any sense to her to put so much work into something that could easily be bought at the store. She cracked two eggs into the bowl and measured out the sugar. The vanilla and salt came next. She took hold of a large wooden spoon and began to stir. The spoon felt foreign in her hand. She silently hoped that Dotty wouldn't want her to scrub any bathrooms during her visit. Cleaning was definitely not her forte. She read the directions again and check the clock on the microwave. 'Beat for two minutes,' the recipe had read.
Amanda noticed the glance at the clock and stifled a smile. Amanda rarely even read the recipes anymore. Everything she made on a regular basis was stored in her memory. She was lost in her thoughts when she pulled a pair of men's silk boxers from the basket. As soon as she recognized them as Lee's her hands thumped down on the table top in a clumsy attempt to cover them up. Everyone looked but Amanda had managed to hide them under her hands. 'That was close,' she thought. She decided to take her laundry upstairs to fold instead of out here in the open.
With Amanda gone, Francine took advantage of the moment to ask Dotty a few questions. "So, I understand you know Lee?" she asked. She knew that Dotty was the talkative type so she didn't think it would be too difficult to get her to ramble.
But Dotty chose her words carefully. "We've met once or twice," she answered. "Sometimes when Amanda's car is in the repair shop he gives her a ride to work and back. That's how Philip knows about his car."
Francine started to formulate some theories in her mind. Either Dotty is covering for something or Amanda is hiding this little affair she and Lee must be having from her own mother. Perhaps the boys would be a better source of information. She would have to corner them later.
Dotty and Francine worked on their baked goods and kept up a continuous flow of small talk while Amanda ran back and forth between the laundry room and the bedroom. At two p.m. the phone rang and Dotty answered it.
"Hello?" She greeted cheerily.
"Hello, Mrs. West, this is Lee" Lee stated simply.
Dotty cleared her throat. Not wanting Francine to know who had called she replied with a simple, "Oh, hello! Would you like to talk to Amanda?"
"Actually, I need to speak with Francine," Lee said
"Oh," Dotty sounded surprised, "Sure thing, just give her a minute to wipe her hands. She's busy baking a cake. Hold on a second."
Francine gladly left her post at the kitchen counter, wiped her hands and took the phone. "Hi," she greeted under her breath, "Please tell me you need me to come in."
Lee laughed. "Billy wants to update you on the case and ask you a few questions. But, if you're busy..."
"No, no. I'll be right there." Francine hung up the phone and turned to Dotty. "Lee says I'm needed at work for a while. I'm sorry I couldn't finish the cake. Don't hold dinner for me."
Francine made a hasty retreat for the car. She waved at the agency guard so that she could be followed, jumped into the drivers seat and sped around the corner.
Amanda reentered the kitchen and asked, "What happened to Francine?"
"Lee called. She was needed at work. What is it you're filming now?" she asked, "It's a terribly cold day and she wasn't dressed very warm."
Amanda made up some story about Francine probably being needed in the editing room and moved to finish Francine's cake. "Okay mother, what's left to do with this?" she asked stirring the batter.
Dotty handed Amanda the cupcake tin and answered, "It just needs to be baked. I think it would be nice to make cupcakes so that Francine can taste her own creation. The rest can go in the freezer for Thursday."
Amanda was touched by her mother's thoughtfulness. Dotty was one of those ladies that would take anyone under her wing and make them feel special.
Amanda removed another pie from the oven, slid in the now filled cupcake tin and set the timer. She thought about what a good sport Francine had been about baking today. 'For her sake,' Amanda thought, 'I hope they're delicious.'
Late that evening Amanda had cleared up the supper dishes and put her boys to bed. Francine had been tied up at the agency all day but should be back anytime. She had told Amanda on the phone earlier that they thought they knew who was making the death threats and were just trying to catch him in the act. It was nobody too dangerous, just a small time crook Francine had butt heads with a couple of years ago. Amanda had hoped it meant Francine could go home but Billy wouldn't hear of it. He wanted to wait until the perpetrator was behind bars.
Amanda wiped the last of her supper mess off of the counter when the doorbell rang. She looked out the front window to see Francine's car in the drive. She opened the door and said, "Oh, Francine, you don't have to ring the doorbell as long as you're staying here. You can just walk in and make yourself at home."
Francine never wanted to feel that homey in Amanda's house and preferred to ring the doorbell like any other guest.
"Have you had a long day?" Amanda asked, always being the good host. "There's some fresh coffee if you'd like. Can I get you a cup?"
Francine took off her high heels and hung up her coat. She wearily wandered to the couch and replied, "Coffee sounds great, Amanda. Thank you."
Amanda went in the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. Then she grabbed something off the countertop and joined Francine in the living room. "Here you go, Francine. And here's something I thought you might want to taste."
Francine eyed the gift in confusion. "A cupcake, Amanda?"
"This isn't just any cupcake. It's YOUR cupcake. You made it. I just put it in the oven," Amanda smiled.
Francine picked up the treat and turned it around as if it were a precious gem. "I did this?" she asked. Almost unable to believe she could create such a thing.
"Don't look so surprised, Francine. Now, why don't you taste it? The boys each had one and they enjoyed them. They were upset that I wouldn't let them have more."
Francine took a bite and smiled. "Well, I'll be. Amanda, do you know how long it's been since I made anything from scratch?"
Amanda shook her head no.
"Not since I was a little girl and my grandmother would come for a visit. She used to make me spend hours with her in the kitchen. I hated every minute of it. Always felt like it was a waste of time. Of course, my grandmother never let me eat anything we made. She would bring them to her friends in the nursing homes instead." Francine paused at the memory. "Hmm. I guess this baking stuff isn't too bad if you get to eat it when you're done. Just don't ask me to make anything for the Christmas party."
Amanda found herself enjoying Francine's company for a change. She always knew there was more to this woman than fancy clothes and poor domestic skills. Perhaps she would use this time to get to know her better. The two ladies talked for another two hours over coffee and cupcakes. Francine had talked of her parents' career choices and their general lack of involvement in her life as a child. Oh, they were there. They made sure she did her homework and got good grades. They drove her to her after-school activities which were mostly things like the debate team and the chess club. Her father never wanted her to waste her time with frivolous events like music or writing. But her parents didn't seem to nurture her very much. Even when she was a small girl they expected her to act so grown up. Amanda was watching Francine's facial expressions as she spoke. She seemed almost sad when she talked of her childhood. 'Lonely,' Amanda guessed. 'Poor Francine,'
Amanda did her share of talking as well. Mostly about her friends in school, her father, her boys and some about Joe and their divorce. She was surprised at how easy Francine was to talk with all of a sudden. She had wanted to chat more but had glanced at her watch and found it to be after eleven already. "Oh my gosh," Amanda gasped. "I can't believe it's so late. I really need to get to bed. I'll go grab my things out of my room so I won't have to disturb you later." Amanda ran upstairs to her closet and pulled out her pajamas and robe. Next she quickly brushed her teeth and washed her face. "It's all yours," she said to Francine on her way back down.
Francine was walking towards the steps when she stopped, turned around and said, "Thanks for the coffee and cupcakes."
"Anytime, Francine," Amanda smiled. And they bid each other a goodnight.
Amanda waited about twenty minutes before calling Lee. "Hi Sweetheart. I'm sorry it's so late. Are you still willing to tuck me in?" Lee was more than willing and within five minutes was in the 'Vette and on his way.
Amanda turned off all the lights in the house and silently listened at each bedroom door to be sure the house was asleep. Satisfied that her 'date' wouldn't be discovered, she slipped into her pajamas and made the bed on the couch. She was just about to pick up a book when she heard the familiar tapping on the kitchen window.
"Come in, stranger!" she greeted while wrapping her arms around Lee's neck. "How was your day?"
Lee kissed Amanda and answered in a weary voice, "Same old, same old. How was your evening with Francine?"
Amanda recapped her night while leading her husband to the couch. "Now, let's skip the small talk and get down to the business of you tucking me in," Amanda whispered into Lee's neck. The two lovebirds sank down on the couch in a heated embrace.
"Are you sure everyone's asleep?" Lee asked.
Amanda giggled, "Definitely. There should be no interruptions tonight."
Lee continued to speak while planting kissed down Amanda's neck. "The couch is bad luck for us. We always get interrupted on the couch."
Amanda played with Lee's hair and replied, "Just put it out of your mind, Stetson. Concentrate on us. It's dark in here and even if someone did come down those stairs, they wouldn't be able to see you."
Lee complied and for the next hour and a half, he and Amanda played the role of husband and wife.
Roughly around three a.m., Francine awoke with a thirst. Amanda's house was dry and she needed something to drink. Finding no cup in Amanda's bathroom she headed down the stairs. She didn't bother turning on any lights because her eyes were already accustomed to the darkness and the street light seemed to illuminate the house as well as any nightlight. She tiptoed out of her room and down the stairs. The street light was even brighter on the main floor which made finding her way to the kitchen easy. She quietly reached for a glass and filled it at the tap in the sink. Her thirst sufficiently quenched, she placed the glass in the sink and made her way back to the stairs. That's when she heard the snoring. Francine smiled in the dim light at the outrageous noises coming from Amanda's couch. She stealthily crept into the living room.
Leaning over the back of the couch for a better look she gingerly moved the blanket from across her face and froze. It wasn't Amanda snoring at all. It was Lee.
Lee and Amanda were half dressed and intertwined like a loaf of braided bread. She stood for a few moments, unable to move. Mostly out of shock but also for fear she might wake them up. Just then Lee started to stir and Francine darted, as quick as she could, up the stairs and into her room. She stood in the middle of the floor in a daze, breathing heavily. Did she really just see Lee tangled up with Amanda's body, on her living room couch? It was almost too much to believe. Of course, what little bit of doubt Francine had felt about the two of them having an affair was totally erased now. She smiled at the sight that was now permanently etched into her mind. "Well I'll be damned," she whispered. "The housewife actually managed to snag the ol' bachelor after all." Francine could hear vague noises coming from the living room and assumed it was Lee leaving for the night. She waited a few minutes by the window before finally seeing Lee's car come to life and slowly drive away.
The next morning Francine got ready for the day and joined the family in the kitchen for breakfast.
"Good morning, Francine," Dotty's cheery voice called. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, very well," she replied. "How about you Amanda? You seem a little tired looking this morning. Did I keep you up too late last night?"
Amanda took a sip of her coffee and said, "Not at all, Francine. I guess I'm just not used to sleeping on the couch. It's a little cramped on there."
Francine poured herself a cup of coffee and replied with a mischievous smile, "Yes, I'm sure it is." Francine didn't feel much like hanging around the Cleaver household too long so she ate a half a piece of toast and excused herself for the day. "I need to go in to work today so don't worry about me for a few hours. Have a good day all."
As soon as Francine's car left the drive Amanda jumped up and ran to her bedroom to call Lee. "Lee, we may have a problem."
"You mean other than having to sleep in separate beds?" Lee quipped.
Amanda switched the phone to her other ear and continued, "What was it that woke you up last night, again?"
Lee was confused at this line of questioning. "I felt the blanket move. You know I always sleep lightly at your house. Especially last night on the couch. Why do you ask?"
Amanda wondered if her imagination was working overtime or if maybe she was just being paranoid. She didn't actually remember Francine there in her living room. It didn't even occur to her that she might have been there at all until she heard her comment this morning. Amanda has known Francine a long time and has gotten very good at knowing when she has a secret. And this morning, she definitely acted like she had a secret. "Well, I have a feeling that it wasn't me moving the blanket. I think it was Francine."
"What?" Lee shouted.
"I didn't actually see her but she made a comment at breakfast just a minute ago and I think she saw us," Amanda explained.
"What did she say?" Lee asked with a worried voice.
"It wasn't what she said, it was how she said it. Oh, never mind. Just keep an eye on her today and be prepared."
"Whatever you say, Amanda," Lee sighed. "Listen, we should get this case wrapped up today. Francine is going to go back to her apartment for a while and we're hoping the guy will make another threat. If he does then Francine can go home tonight."
Amanda was relieved. She really wanted her own bed back. "I'm so glad. I actually had a nice visit with Francine last night but really don't want her here on a regular basis. I don't think she wants to be here any longer either. Did you know that yesterday my mother had her baking? It was quite a sight. But she made some very tasty cupcakes."
Lee was glad that Francine and Amanda had had a nice evening together. He had always known that they could be good friends if they just gave each other the chance. "I think you might be good for her. She really doesn't have any close friends and her family lives so far away. Maybe we should invite her to dinner sometime?"
"Don't push it, buster," Amanda threatened.
Lee and Amanda laughed and talked for another ten minutes before Lee had to go. "I promise to come over tonight if this thing with Francine is over with. I don't suppose I could taste that rhubarb pie you made for me, could I?"
"No way, mister. Not until Thanksgiving. Listen I need to go. I hope to see you later," Amanda sighed.
"Me too. I love you," Lee whispered.
"I love you, too. Bye."
Amanda hung up the phone and was about to go back downstairs when she noticed something on her nightstand. She reached over the bed and picked up the 5x7 frame. It was a picture of a little boy, roughly the age of three. He was sitting on a front porch eating an icecream cone. He was in a little sailor suit that had chocolate dripped down the front and had a big sticky grin on his face. She opened the back of the frame and read the writing on the back of the photo. "James Walter Desmond, 1957" Amanda wondered who the little boy was. She knew that Francine didn't have any siblings. At least none that she ever spoke of. 'He must be special for her to take the picture with her to my house,' Amanda thought. Deciding to ask her about it later, she replaced the picture and went back downstairs.
Amanda went about her day like normal. There were chores to do and baking to be done. Her Aunt Lillian had called to say she would be coming on Wednesday evening and that she would be bringing the stuffing. Food was always a friction point between Amanda's mother and her sister Lillian. Dotty was proud of her stuffing but Lillian wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. So, every year she would bring her own to share. Philip and Jamie had both confided in Amanda that Aunt Lillian's stuffing was, indeed, much better than their grandmothers. But neither one of them ever had the guts to tell her. So, they would take a little of Grandma's and a little of Lillians to make them both happy.
Late that evening Francine dragged herself through Amanda's front door looking tired and frustrated.
"I take it your day didn't go so well?" Amanda asked as Francine sat down in the kitchen.
"Not at all," Francine answered, rubbing her sore feet. "I went to my apartment, hoping to get the guy to make another threat. I waited there for three hours...nothing. So, Efram had this great idea for me to go for a long walk. He assumed I was being watched by this guy so maybe if I went for a stroll they could catch him, I don't know, talking to me or something. Anyway, I walked around my block THIRTEEN TIMES before finally convincing him that he's just not going to show up today. After that we went back to the Agency to come up with another game plan for tomorrow."
Amanda sat down across from Francine and filled her own coffee mug. "I'm sorry, Francine. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Are you hungry? There's some leftover lasagna in the fridge I could heat up for you."
Francine sighed and looked at Amanda. "Lasagna sounds wonderful. Thank you, Amanda." Francine had never had anyone wait on her before. She was so used to going home to an empty apartment everyday that she had forgotten what it's like to have someone to talk to. To take care of you. Against her original assumptions, Francine was actually liking it at Amanda's.
She ate her dinner while Amanda sorted a pile of socks on the counter. They chatted about their day and the upcoming holiday. "Where are you going to be for Thanksgiving this year, Francine?" Amanda asked, suddenly realizing that she may have no where to go.
"Well, my mother invited me over again," she answered, " but she's getting old and has trouble making that big dinner. I think she only invites me over out of habit, and maybe partially out of pity, but her arthritis keeps her out of the kitchen most days and I just don't want her going through the trouble of making a big dinner just for me. So, I'll just make up some excuse and stay home."
Amanda could never stand for anyone to be alone on Thanksgiving. Not even Francine. The request slipped out of her mouth before she even had time to think about it. "Well, you're more than welcome to join us here."
If Amanda hadn't known better, she could have sworn that Francine looked like she was about to cry.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly intrude on your family dinner," she stumbled.
"Oh, nonsense," Amanda argued. "My mother loves you and you know Philip likes you and the only one that will be here that you don't know is my Aunt Lillian and she's mostly harmless. Come. You'll have a good time."
"Oh, Amanda. It does sound tempting," Francine said, her voice sounding cheerier with each word. "So, it will just be your family and your Aunt Lillian?"
Amanda made a face and said rather sheepishly, "Well, not exactly. Lee will be joining us as well."
"Lee?" Francine asked in faked surprise.
"Yeah, well. He doesn't have any family and I thought it would be nice to invite him. You know how I am. I can't stand the thought of anyone being along for the holidays."
Francine envisioned the odd bunch sitting around a big feast. The idea was intriguing, to say the least. And she really didn't have any other place to go. "All right, Amanda. You talked me into it. Thank you."
Amanda had been thinking about the small photo of Francine's all day and figured that now was as good a time as any to ask her about it. "Francine, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," she answered.
"Well, this is probably none of my business," Amanda nervously rambled, "and you can just tell me to shut up and drop the subject at any time because I know I don't really like people asking me really personal questions but while I was getting ready this morning I noticed...well...you brought a picture with you of a little boy and I was wondering...well...who it is."
Francine grew a nostalgic smile and Amanda saw a hundred memories flash before her eyes before she answered. "That was my little brother James."
Amanda softened her voice and asked, "Was?"
Francine looked down into her coffee cup and answered, "He died when he was four. I was six when it happened. We were playing by the pond near our house. We weren't supposed to be there but my mother had sent us out to play and we were upset with her about something so we darted across the empty lot and headed straight for the pond. I threw a ball to him and it went over his head and rolled to the edge of the water. He ran after it. Neither of us had ever actually been in the pond so I didn't know there was a steep drop off right at the edge. Jimmy fell in." Francine paused for a moment to blink back a threatening tear. "I ran for my mother and then tried to get back to Jimmy but the neighbor took me to her house and wouldn't let me go. I never saw him again. Two days later we buried him."
Amanda reached over the table and squeezed Francine's hand. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "That must have been terrible."
Francine got up to refill her coffee cup but Amanda could tell she was wiping the tears from her eyes. "I never forgave myself for that. From that moment on I did whatever I could to make it up to my parents. I got straight A's in school. Never got into trouble. Got my first job when I was thirteen and gave my paychecks to them. I never wanted to cause them another moment of sorrow."
"Francine, you know what happened was accident. It wasn't your fault," Amanda consoled. "You were only six years old."
Francine turned to Amanda and asked in a shaky voice, "Really?"
"Really. Surely someone explained that to you then."
Francine shook her head. "Actually, no one has ever said that to me before. In fact, it never even occurred to me that I was just a kid myself. I killed my own brother, Amanda. I've spent my entire life trying to make up for that mistake."
Now Amanda was crying. They weren't tears of sorrow though, they were tears of anger. How could anyone expect a child of six to take the blame for something like that! "No child should ever have to live with that kind of guilt, Francine. It wasn't your fault. No matter what someone might have told you when you were younger, what happened to your brother was not...your...fault." Amanda could almost see the years of guilt lifting from Francine's shoulders.
"Thank you, Amanda. I really needed to hear that."
Francine helped Amanda clear the table and load the dishwasher. "Boy, I'm really bushed. This has been an exhausting day. I think I'll turn in. Did you need anything from your room?"
Amanda nodded a quick 'yes' and ran to retrieve her things. On her way back down the stairs she met Francine. "Hey," Amanda said, touching Francine's arm. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to make you feel bad when I asked you about the picture."
Francine gave the first sincere smile Amanda had seen in two days and replied, "I'm fine, Amanda. Thank you for listening."
"That's what friends are for, Francine," Amanda whispered before bidding goodnight.
That night, Francine had the most peaceful night's sleep she has had in twenty-nine years.
The next morning was a blur of activity. The boys were getting ready for school and Dotty had a hair appointment. Amanda, of course, needed to get ready for work but had to get her boys on the bus first. "Don't forget your lunch, Philip. And Jamie, your math homework is still on the counter here. Put it in your backpack. Put your hoods on, it's raining out there and I don't want you sick for Thanksgiving." She planted a kiss on each of their cheeks and hustled them out the door.
Francine watched the choreography with a newfound respect for mothers. In the time it took for Francine to take a quick shower, Amanda had woken her boys, made them breakfast, thrown a load of clothes into the washer, emptied the dishwasher, made sure her sons had everything they needed for the day and got them out the door. Francine just sat back and shook her head in amazement. 'Still,' she thought to herself, 'I wouldn't want her life. Too much work.'
Amanda quickly pointed out Francine's choices for breakfast and ran to her room to shower and get ready for work. Francine was barely halfway done with her meal when Amanda returned with her makeup on and her hair done. Francine looked at her watch. It took her less than a half an hour. 'No wonder she looks so frazzled all the time,' she mused.
Just as Amanda was moving the wet laundry into the dryer her phone rang. "Hello?" she answered.
"Hi, it's me," she heard the familiar voice say. "I have good news."
"Oh yeah? What's that?" Amanda asked.
"We caught Francine's stalker," Lee stated excitedly. "She can go back to her own apartment at any time."
Amanda looked up at Francine and said, "It's Lee, he said he caught your mystery man. You're safe to go home."
Francine let out a sigh of relief. She couldn't wait to get to the Agency to meet this punk and give him a piece of her mind. While Amanda finished up on the phone, Francine put her dirty dishes in the sink and headed upstairs to pack. She hastily grabbed her things and fit them all snugly back into the suitcases and bags. Making one more quick look around the room to make sure nothing of hers was left she retreated out the door and down the stairs. It took her four trips to get all of the luggage out of Amanda's room and into her car.
Francine said a polite goodbye and thank you to Dotty and hustled out to her car. Amanda was leaving for the Agency at the same time so Francine jogged over to the Wagoneer for a talk. "Say, Amanda. Just so you know, I mean, I did enjoy our talks this weekend, but at work don't expect me be, you know, meeting you for lunch and swapping recipe's and such. Things between us will be just like they've always been, okay?"
Amanda knew she would hear this speech from her. It was just like Lee's 'We're not personally involved,' speech he used to give her. Amanda just nodded to Francine and said, "Don't worry, Francine. If you don't want us to be friends at work then we don't have to be friends at work."
Francine thanked Amanda and headed back to her car. Before Amanda drove away she mumbled to herself, "Someday, Francine. You will call me your friend."
Amanda, Lee and Francine spent the next two days doing paperwork and crossing their fingers that no new cases would arise to put a crimp in their holiday plans. Amanda and Lee were discussing Thanksgiving dinner when Amanda suggested, "I think we should quit hiding from Francine."
Lee leaned back in his chair and responded, "I was thinking about that, too. Thanksgiving dinner isn't going to be much fun if we have to act like a couple of platonic friends all day. She can know we're together without knowing we're married."
"My thoughts exactly," Amanda answered. "So, should we tell her? Or should we just let her figure it out for herself?"
Lee smiled, "It would be more fun to let her figure it out. She won't know what hit her."
The next morning, Thanksgiving day, Lee and Amanda were busy in Amanda's kitchen when the doorbell rang. Lee went to answer it.
"Come in, Francine. Make yourself at home!" he greeted. Francine was startled that Lee had answered Amanda's door. 'What does he think he is?' she asked herself, 'A member of the family?' Francine hung up her coat and found everyone else busy in the kitchen.
"Hello, Francine," Amanda greeted cheerily, "I'm so glad you could come. We're just doing some last minute cooking here. Help yourself to some coffee." Amanda pointed to the coffee pot and then to her Aunt Lillian. "Francine, this is my Aunt Lillian. Lillian, this is my coworker, Francine." The two ladies exchanged pleasantries and Francine sat down with a cup of coffee.
Francine watched the commotion in the kitchen with interest. Amanda was cutting biscuits, Dotty and Lillian were arguing over what to put in the Jello mold, and Lee was chopping onions and celery for the stuffing. Jamie breezed though the kitchen briefly to ask Lee something about his model airplane. Lee seemed so at ease in Amanda's kitchen. He seemed to know where everything was kept and never bothered to ask if he could use what he needed. 'Yes,' Francine said to herself, 'He's been here before.'
"Francine," Dotty asked, "Are you hungry? We won't be eating for another four hours but there are plenty of dunks to eat. Your cupcakes are delicious, by the way." Francine wasn't very hungry but took a cupcake all the same.
Amanda was darting back and forth between the flour container in the pantry and her biscuits on the counter. On one of her passes through she leaned in next to Lee and whispered something in his ear, then gave him a little love pat before walking back to her biscuits.
'Did Amanda just pat Lee's butt?' Francine raised her eyebrows in shock.
Lee had a handful of celery and dumped them into a large bowl next to Amanda. He kept one in his hands and sneakily tossed it down the front of Amanda shirt. "Lee!" Amanda shouted and laughed, fanning her shirt until the cold, wet celery slipped onto the floor. Lee was laughing as he grabbed another handful. He held it up threateningly and shook his eyebrows.
"Now, now children," Dotty scolded. "We will have no food fights on Thanksgiving!"
A still smiling Lee winked at Dotty and apologized to Amanda. "Sorry dear," he said, giving her a quick kiss on the lips before going back to his cooking task.
'Did Lee just call Amanda Dear?' Francine silently questioned. 'And then kiss?'
"No problem, Sugar." Amanda chimed. "Just don't try that again."
Even in her state of shock, Francine was enjoying this immensely. She had no memory of ever seeing a couple act so in love with each other. And even though it was Amanda and Lee, it was still heartwarming to see.
Of course, Lee and Amanda were having a ball. They had never been able to act like themselves in front of anybody at work before. Amanda's family was used to their behavior so they never looked at them in surprise. Francine noticed this too. It was apparent to her now that Amanda and Lee had been together for a very, very long time.
Francine offered her help with the food preparation but was politely declined. "There's isn't much left to do, Francine, but thanks for the offer. You just sit and relax," Dotty ordered.
Amanda put the last of her biscuits in the oven and turned to say something to Lee. He didn't give her a chance. "You have a little speck of flour on your bottom lip," he stated and proceeded to clean it off with his own lips. Amanda wrapped her arms around his neck and, lips locked, led him out of the kitchen and into the laundry room.
Dotty shook her head, put her hands on her hips and shouted, "Will you two quit acting like a couple of honeymooners and get back to work!"
Francine heard Amanda's muffled voice answer, "We're doing laundry!"
'Laundry my tush..." Dotty replied under her breath. "Those two act like a couple of teenagers!" She stated to Francine.
"So I see," Francine laughed. "They've hidden this little relationship of theirs for some time. It's nice to see them finally out in the open with it."
Dotty was so relieved to hear Francine say that. She hadn't been sure when Amanda had told her that they were going to come clean about being together to Francine. Dotty was worried Francine would be hurt, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
"Amanda, your biscuits are going to burn if you don't stop making out in the laundry room!" Dotty called.
Lee and Amanda came back in the kitchen holding hands and looking flushed. "Yes, mother," Amanda obeyed. Lee left the kitchen and Francine took the opportunity to corner him.
"So, when were you planning on telling me the truth about you and Amanda?" she asked, faking irritation.
Lee crossed his arms and replied, "I think we just did."
Francine playfully slapped Lee's arm and said, "You know what I mean. How long has it been going on?"
Lee sat down on the sofa and started to explain. "Well, we started seeing each other a long time ago but it didn't really get serious until the Stemwinder fiasco."
Amanda was still in the kitchen but could hear every word Lee was saying. She winced at the mention of Stemwinder and wondered if her mother was listening to the conversation as well. She didn't have to wonder for long.
"Stemwinder? What's that, Lee?" Dotty shouted through the kitchen.
Lee raised his voice a bit, though he was sure he really didn't need to, and answered, "Uh, it's the name of a documentary we filmed."
Dotty shook her head and commented, "Stemwinder, what an odd name."
Lee turned his attention back to Francine and continued talking, but in a much quieter voice. "Anyway, we've been together ever since. But we don't really want anyone at work to know so I trust you'll keep this a secret?"
Francine frowned. "Oh I suppose I could keep this to myself for the time being," she said. "You know, when Amanda had told me a few months ago that the two of you had broken up, I never believed her."
Lee patted Francine on her shoulder and replied with a smirk, "Of course you didn't."
The rest of the day went off without a hitch. The dinner was delicious and the conversation easy. For dessert the adults enjoyed their choice of pie and the boys devoured the rest of Francine's cupcakes. As the sun began to set Francine said her good-byes. "Dotty, the meal was fabulous. Thank you for everything."
Dotty gave Francine a quick hug and replied, "You're very welcome, dear. It was wonderful getting to know you and please, don't be a stranger."
Francine bid Lillian and the boys a goodnight and Lee and Amanda walked her to the front door.
"Thank you for inviting me, Amanda. I had a wonderful time," she said as she donned her coat.
"Well, we're glad you enjoyed yourself, Francine," Amanda smiled.
Francine reached for her purse and teased, "Now listen you two, I'm a little miffed about not being told about your little relationship so to make up for it, I expect to be the first one invited to the wedding."
Amanda and Lee looked at each other, neither one knowing quite how to respond.
Francine let out a small laugh, gave Lee a playful slug on his arm and said, "Goodnight you two. See you on Monday." Then she walked out the front door with a genuine smile on her face.
Later that night Francine was getting ready for bed. She pulled down her covers and leaned over to turn off the lamp. Before turning the switch, she picked up the photo at her bedside. She reflected back to all the talks over cups of coffee she and Amanda had shared over the past couple of days and thought back to all the friends she had known over the years. Remembering them now, they all seemed so fake and superficial. None of her friendships had gone very deep and nobody stuck around for long. She thought again of Amanda. She had been so welcoming and friendly. She even cried when Francine told the story about her brother. Francine had been touched deeply by Amanda's words of comfort. 'Perhaps, one day,' she pondered, 'we will be good friends.'
She held the photo close to her face and for the first time was able to remember him for who he was, a little boy of four, full of smiles and giggles, not just a reminder of her own terrible mistake. She gave the photo a light kiss and turned out the light. Then, letting out a heavy sigh, she smiled and whispered, "Goodnight, Jimmy."
SMK...ALL THE WAY!!!