I shouldnít have asked her about the dress. Why did I ask her about the dress? Maybe you can tell me...
It all started with Ďspring-cleaningí at the Agency. Or maybe it started with Francineís comment about my being the Ďmidnight ramblerí. Why does she say things like that in front of Amanda? I know - silly question. I tried to explain away my lateness and disheveled appearance to insomnia. Maybe it was because Iíd been late four days in a row, but Billy didnít buy it. Judging by the look on Amandaís face, she didnít either.
Billy asked me to tag along with Amanda on her spring-cleaning assignments. I told him she didnít need a nursemaid, but he pointed out her penchant for finding trouble, so I reluctantly agreed to go. It was dull work, mostly crackpots, and Amanda could tell it was boring me. Being the sweetheart she is, she soon offered to finish up for me. She asked if it was because of a date, but I was too embarrassed to admit it. Why does my dating now embarrass me? Maybe itís the hurt look I often see on Amandaís face, as if Iíve somehow let her down.
Anyway, I brushed my restlessness off as just pre-occupation, but Iím not sure she was convinced. Then, I goofed. Boy, did I ever goof! Why I didnít think first, before I opened my big mouth, Iíll never know. I asked Amanda about the dress sheíd worn to the New Yearís Eve party at the Russian Embassy. Sheíd taken my breath away with that dress. I guess I was looking to find that feeling again.
So, I asked her where she got it. That dress. That black dress with the, what did she call them, spaghetti straps. Her face lit up when I told her how beautiful sheíd looked in that dress. But my next words wiped that look off of her face. I wish I could undo it. I would never hurt her on purpose; it makes my heart ache too much. But the damage was done.
Smiling her heart-wrenching smile at me, sheíd proudly informed me that the dress was hand made, by her. Iíd been disappointed by that. Iíd so wanted to find a dress just like it for Leslie. Now, I think I know why. But my telling her that was pretty stupid. Watching the expression on her face change from elation to utter disappointment made me want to take it all back. We parted company after that.
Despite handling the whole situation badly, I was still determined to find that dress for Leslie. Looking back, I now see that the dress was simply window dressing - it was the woman inside it that mattered, not the dress. But I had fixated on that dress. So, while Amanda was out getting caught up in a dangerous situation, I was out buying a little black dress with spaghetti straps!
I canít go into details on the case Amanda was pursuing. Letís just say it had to do with the ill-fated ĎSave Our Bayí rally. Yeah, the one that ended with the explosion that took the life of the Secretary of Management Resources, Hamilton Rawlings. When I heard about the explosion, I was stunned. My first thought was for Amandaís safety. Especially after how Iíd left her that morning, the thought of her hurt, or worse yet, killed, left me feeling gut-punched. I rushed right over there.
Needless to say, I was tremendously relieved to find Amanda alive and well. She was quite shaken up, as was I, and suddenly there she was, in my arms. That seems to happen a lot, with us. Not that I mind, in fact, Iíd miss it if it didnít happen. Iíve come to depend on Amanda, as a friend, and partner, and... Well, thatís jumping ahead of myself.
After reviewing the surveillance photos taken at the rally, Billy told us to leave this case to the local police. Amanda, however, had other ideas, and told us so in no uncertain terms. Being the tenderhearted person she is, Amanda had become overly concerned for the prime suspect. And when sheís defending someone, she grabs on like a bulldog. I admire that trait - itís saved my butt more than once - but I was ready to let this one go.
I caught up to Amanda after she stormed out of Billyís office and told her I agreed with Billy, but the look on her face told me she didnít care. Then she accused me of being preoccupied with a new girlfriend, which I tried to deny, unsuccessfully. Damn, she can read me like a book!
Iím not quite sure why I went to the police station after that. I donít know if I was trying to prove something to Amanda, or to myself. Maybe I was trying to assuage my guilt over shopping for my date while Amanda was caught in the middle of a bombing. I pulled some strings, though, and got the suspect released. The look of gratitude on Amandaís face was enough to get me back into the case.
Later, as we followed up on a lead, we wound up in a sticky situation, nearly getting caught by the suspect. But, working as a team, we bluffed our way out of it. We were on such a high after that! Weíve been working better and better together and sometimes things just click.
Then the other shoe dropped. Still high from our success, we arrived back at my apartment to find my door ajar. Amanda instantly flattened against the wall as I cautiously opened the door, gun in hand. Looking back, I think I wouldíve preferred to find almost anyone else in my apartment. Attempted robbery, enemy agents, now those things I can handle, but emotional women, thatís another story!
Finding the preparations for a candlelit dinner on the table, I wasnít surprised to hear Leslieís voice. I must admit I came close to panicking, especially when Leslie spotted Amanda. I wasnít sure whom I should be explaining things to! Amanda, being the trooper that she is, quickly introduced herself as my secretary. But I, feeling as if Iíd been caught in a sniperís crosshairs, opted for a hasty retreat and went to call Billy.
Upon returning to the front room, I discovered that Leslie had set a third place at the table, which I summarily removed. The last thing I needed was a cozy dinner for three! Using Billy as an excuse, I practically pushed Amanda to the door, telling her Iíd see her tomorrow. Leslie stopped Amanda, though, asking her if sheíd be attending the Soviet Embassy party the following evening. Much to my relief, Amanda told her she wouldnít be going.
My relief was short-lived, however, because the next thing Leslie brought up was the dress! The dress that I had asked Amanda about, the dress that Iíd bought for Leslie that very day. That dress was going to come back and haunt me. As if Amanda hadnít already put two and two together, why did Leslie have to mention the dress?
After that I couldnít seem to salvage things with Amanda. Outside in the hall, she told me, in no uncertain terms, that Leslie was not my type, that she was too normal for me! Too normal? Being put on the defensive, I told her that Leslie was perfect for me, having top security clearance and all, but that just seemed to make things worse.
Amanda thought we should keep an eye on our suspect and hinted that I was shirking my duty by staying home with Leslie. So I told her to go home and wait for Billy to call. I donít think she liked that. I also donít think she liked that I told her we would get Francine to pose as her, if necessary. She left in a huff.
I was determined to enjoy dinner with Leslie. Sheíd gone to all the trouble
of cooking for me, and I deserved a relaxing dinner. Why did I need to explain
my actions to Amanda, anyway? Dating Leslie was my business, not hers. So why
couldnít I keep my mind off of Amanda? Why, when there was a perfectly
beautiful, intelligent, provocative woman sitting across from me, did my mind
keep wandering to my exasperating partner?
After dinner, Leslie said she had a surprise for me and went to change in the bedroom. Hoping to improve my mood, I decided to open a bottle of wine. As I was pouring, I heard the bedroom door shut. Instead of calling to Leslie, I heard myself saying Amandaís name. So what made her name jump to my lips? Embarrassed, I turned to see Leslie wearing the dress I had given her, the black dress with the spaghetti straps. Somehow, the effect fell flat.
Leslie was gracious enough to ignore my slip, but I knew I had hurt her. Feeling guilty for the slip, and for the lack of enthusiasm I seemed to be feeling, I tried to make amends. I pulled Leslie over to the couch and we were just warming to a kiss when the phone rang. Promising Leslie Iíd be back, I left to meet my contact.
I picked up Francine to go with me, posing as Amanda. I hadnít wanted Amanda involved anymore - it had gotten too dangerous. I also didnít feel like dealing with her right then, sheíd been the cause of more self- reflection that day than I felt comfortable with. I shouldíve known she wouldnít follow orders! Once again her tenaciousness saved my butt, and Francineís, too.
The suspect had somehow gotten the upper hand, and Francine and I found ourselves held at gunpoint. I didnít even know Amanda was there, until she suddenly appeared, holding Francineís gun! Iím still not clear how she got it; she mustíve found it where Francine dropped it. I watched, incredulous, as she pointed the gun at the ceiling! Why wasnít she aiming at the suspect?
I wouldnít have believed what happened next if I hadnít seen it with my own eyes! As she fired, the bullet hit a pulley in the ceiling. A net, suspended from the ceiling by the pulley, fell over the man holding us at gunpoint, temporarily immobilizing him. Taking advantage of the situation, I quickly disarmed him.
I was grateful, yes, but annoyed at the same time. She wasnít supposed to be there in the first place. But since she was there, why didnít she just shoot the suspect? When I asked, she said it was because she wouldíve missed. Based on her performance at the shooting range earlier that day, I could certainly believe that! It mustíve been an act of providence that she hit anything at all; especially since I could swear her eyes were closed at the time!
After wrapping things up we went our separate ways. I returned to my apartment with mixed emotions. I liked Leslie, and was looking forward to being with her, yet I couldnít seem to let go and enjoy myself. There was a nagging feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. Was it guilt for being with Leslie when I couldnít get my mind off of Amanda?
Looking back, I can see that Leslie was much more like Amanda than any of the other women Iíd dated. Scary, huh? I donít think thatís why I was attracted to Leslie, though. I donít think she was supposed to be an Amanda substitute, although some might say she was. Maybe being around Amanda so much had given me a taste of what a normal relationship could be like. Maybe I was beginning to see the merits in becoming involved with someone like Leslie, someone normal, someone with the potential to become more than just a one-night stand.
So why did I fail with Leslie? If Amanda had softened me up enough that I was almost ready for a normal relationship, why didnít it work out with Leslie? Well, Iíll tell you why.
I returned to my apartment to find Leslie waiting for me with the lights low, soft music playing. I was still coming down off of an adrenaline rush, so I was definitely in the mood. Although I had dated Leslie off and on for awhile, I had spent the last four nights getting to really know her, and was looking forward to a repeat performance. She was still wearing the dress, but nothing else, the black dress with the spaghetti straps. So we danced a little, drank a little wine, kissed a little.
Then things started to heat up. She unbuttoned my shirt, running her hands down my chest, just lightly grazing me with her nails. Thatís usually enough to drive me crazy! And when she started nibbling on my neck, her breath sent chills down my spine, temporarily distracting me from my earlier preoccupation. Kissing her deeply, I caressed her through the dress. Hearing her moan in response, I lost myself in the moment and called out her name.
But it wasnít her name I called; it was Amandaís. More effective than a cold shower, thatís me, Lee Stetson, ladiesí man. Feeling the sting of her slap on my cheek, I fumbled an apology. But, I knew it was over. What I had done was unforgivable. Watching, helpless, as Leslie gathered up her things and left my life forever, I had time to reflect on my actions.
What did this mean, this calling my partnerís name in the heat of passion? Of all the many times I had been with a woman, this had never happened before? Had Amanda King really gotten that much under my skin? Closing my eyes, I tried to envision myself being with Amanda. And, you know what? It was actually fairly easy. The picture that came to mind was rather agreeable.
I could suddenly see the dress Iíd been so fixated upon. But, it was no longer Leslie wearing it - it was Amanda. And it was Amandaís wearing of it that had caused my fascination in the first place. So why had it taken me so long to figure out? I guess Iíd gotten hung up on the window dressing...
So here I am. Iíve decided Iím going to take the plunge. Iím going to allow myself to explore the possibilities with this mysterious woman whoís so taken over my life these past two years. This infuriating, loyal, warm, sexy woman whoís managed to take me, Lee Stetson, playboy, and turn me inside out and upside down.
Now that I donít have a date tomorrow night, I think Iíll ask Amanda to dinner. Yeah, I think I will! A nice steak, bottle of red wine, baked potato on the side, no shoptalk for a change. That sounds nice.