© june 2001
disclaimer: lee stetson, amanda king, and th:she6le rest of the of characters we’ve come to know and love belong to warner bros. and shoot the moon productions and possible other copyright holders. i intended no true infringement on their copyrights; i only wanted to borrow these marvelous characters for a short time in my own scenarios and hopefully return them no worse for wear; the only things i’ve gained from this story are the satisfaction and pleasure of having written it and in knowing that others may have enjoyed it too…
summary: a look at several years of father’s days for lee stetson…
timeline: each “chapter” takes place during a different year but they all follow the basic premise that lee was born in 1950, was 5 years old when his parents were killed, and went immediately to live with his uncle…
warnings: while i haven’t actively killed off anyone, there are references to several characters’ deaths…i hope you’ll give the story a try anyway…
notes: there are references to specific characters or situations from the following episodes: “unfinished business,” “a relative situation,” “mission of gold,” “we’re off to see the wizard,” “lost and found,” “stemwinder,” “tail of the dancing weasel,” “no thanks for the memories,” “need to know,” and “ship of spies” which all belong to the respective authors of those eps…this would’ve been my first ‘smk’ fanfic but other stories continually interrupted and compelled me to finish them first…after nearly a year, i’ve finally come back to this one…my intention was to answer the challenge (by angela) of doing a story of lee celebrating father’s day…when i couldn’t select one specific idea to run with, i decided to combine a bunch of them into one story in a hopefully unexpected way and the story grew from there….please let me know if you enjoyed it and why and, if not, why not…and, please, don’t bother wasting your time or mine by sending any flames…
“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!” Lee Stetson bounced in place before his father as he anxiously awaited the look on his father’s face when his father opened his present. “I wrapped it myself.”
“I can see that,” Matthew answered with a smile as he toyed with the small rectangular box’s crude paper wrapping. “I wonder what it could be.”
“Open it,” Lee commanded as his father looked to his mother and grinned.
“Okay, okay, let me get the ribbon,” Matthew chuckled at his son’s impatience.
“It’s the one you wanted, isn’t it, Dad?” Lee asked excitedly as his father finally revealed the brand-new wooden pipe in the small box. “Mom helped me pick it out but I paid for it all by myself.”
“You did now, did you?” Matthew asked as he drew Lee into a bear hug. “You must have been saving up for a long time.”
“Well, maybe Mom helped a little bit, but only a little,” Lee conceded as he rubbed noses with his father. “Do you like it, Dad? The man in the store said it was the best he had.”
“I can’t think of a better present, son,” Matthew answered in a choked voice while he tightly hugged his son again, “and every evening when I use it to smoke, I’ll be thinking of you. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Daddy,” Lee responded while his mother lovingly stroked his hair, “I love you.”
Father’s Day ~ 1966
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves, wearing a dress suit and tie, and fiddled with his shirt collar as he tried to loosen it. He quickly glanced back, saw his uncle waiting by the car, and left the collar alone. “I’m not sure what I’m doing here. Every other time I wanted to come, the Colonel said no. He’s not much into sentiment, you know. Then, today, he does this about-face. Now it’s like I owe him or something. Not only that, but, he insists, no orders, this monkey suit. What difference does it make what I wear? It’s not like you care…I’m sorry, I know you’re not here by choice but how…how could you leave me with him? You must’ve known what he was like because I don’t remember him visiting often. And, when he did come, he never brought me any presents and barely even knew I was in the room. Wasn’t there anyone else who could’ve taken me? Do you know what it’s been like growing up with him? He may have volunteered for his patriotic duty but I didn’t sign up for it. All I wanted was to be a regular kid. But regular kids don’t end up in all corners of the world. Sharing quarters with hundreds of other men on bases not meant for raising kids….”
Lee paused, lost for a moment in his memories, before he continued, “At least Barney’s been around during this last post. Amazing we’ve even been here this long…Did the Colonel ever talk about him? They’ve known each other a long time and Barney’s been great. I can really talk to him. He says I shouldn’t be so hard on the Colonel and that I should get to know the real man. You know what I think, I don’t think there is a real man underneath the uniform. You know he calls me Skip? He didn’t even remember my birthday this year. But the guys did. They brought in a non-regulation chocolate cake, pizza, and beer which I had until I got sick. Do you think the Colonel even noticed? I’m telling you, I can’t wait ‘til I start college. I’ll finally be on my own. Make my own rules. Won’t have to be a good soldier anymore. That’s what it’s been like, you know…I just want the chance to be normal, Dad. Have a normal life…….I’d…I’d better go before the Colonel orders me to leave.” He stood awkwardly, unsure whether to turn away or say something else. Lee noticed the Colonel stare at his wristwatch and decided to walk away. Suddenly, Lee stopped, turned around again, and whispered with unshed tears in his eyes, “I miss you.” With a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, Lee turned away and slowly headed back towards his uncle.
Father’s Day ~ 1987
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves a moment and then he knelt and lay the bouquet of flowers he’d been holding on his mother’s grave. “Been a long time since I wished you that. I’m sorry, Dad, it was just too hard to come…Um, these are from Amanda’s garden,” he explained as he stood again. “She’s waiting in the car. We’re going to visit her father after we finish here. I told her I wouldn’t mind her company but she insisted that I spend the time with you alone; that it would be good for me. I’ll tell you what’s good for me, though, she is. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me and I still can’t believe she’s my wife. I never thought I could feel this way about anyone. I mean, I’ve been in love before but it was never like this; not with Dorothy, not even with Eva. Amanda’s different. She comforts me, trusts me completely, and she’s honest with me even if she knows it’s something I don’t want to hear. She can confuse me like no other and sometimes drives me up a wall but she makes me laugh, makes me smile. She makes me happy. She completes me and I had no idea that I was even missing a part of myself before I met her. Hell, even after I met her. It was so long before I could admit to myself that I liked her much less loved her. When I met her almost four years ago, I wasn’t looking for a permanent relationship. The Scarecrow had a woman or two in every city. I wasn’t the type to settle down and Francine would call me the most confirmed bachelor she ever knew. I had four black books! But, now, after only four months of marriage to Amanda, that all seems like ages ago. I guess once I started realizing how I felt about her, I lost interest in all other women and it’s like I’ve known her forever. Is this how you felt, Dad, when you married Mom?”
Lee paused a moment and let the warm breeze wash over him. Quietly, he began again, “I wish you were here, Dad. I love Amanda more than anything but I don’t know what to do. This ‘secret’ marriage has been a lot harder than I thought, than we thought. Not that I regret marrying Amanda. I’ll never regret that, not to my dying day. It’s just….I hate the secret. I hate having to hide the fact that my partner, my best friend, is really my wife. A wife I am so proud of and so lucky to call my wife. Ironic, isn’t it? I’ve made my life’s work keeping secrets without a problem but now…At work, we pretend we’re just friends. To her family, we’re just friends. Close friends but nothing more. Her mother’s been wondering for a while now what’s taking me so long in giving Amanda a commitment. She seems to have accepted me, yet, somehow, feels the lack of progress in our relationship is my fault. Little digs here and there, nothing I can’t handle, and she hasn’t come straight out and demanded anything yet. But what do I say when she finally has enough of our dragging our feet - ‘Sorry, Dotty but I’m already married to your daughter and have been for some time?’” Lee sighed, “At least the ‘extra’ time is helping improve my relationships with Amanda’s sons. The more time I spend with them, the easier it seems. Phillip’s a great kid to hang out with. He’s so open with me and, on the weekends, when we shoot hoops, we talk about anything - guys, girls, cars, sports, even his mom. And, Jamie, Jamie’s starting to open a bit more. Talks to me more. On his own, I mean. He isn’t just part of a conversation I’m having with Phillip or Amanda. He’s sought me out a few times, even asked me for help with his photography. I think he’s finally realizing that I’m not out to replace Joe in his life.”
Lee broke off with a chuckle, “Amanda told me it would take some time but it would work out. Did I mention how smart my wife is?…..But, Dad, finding time alone with her is near impossible. We’re swamped at work and we spend so much time with her family to let them get used to me being around that we don’t have time for each other. And even when we do have that rare free evening to ourselves, we’re usually so tired that we don’t have time to enjoy being together. And…I don’t know how much longer I can stand saying good-bye to her each night. I ache when she’s not around, Dad, and we’ve only been married four months. It’s worse than before we got married. Maybe we made a mistake in keeping our marriage a secret. We thought we would be keeping the people we loved from being hurt but the only ones being hurt are Amanda and me. Maybe we should go public. It worked for you and Mom, didn’t it? I was never put in the middle of danger. And it worked for Billy and Jeannie. Why should it be any different for us? Besides, wouldn’t it be safer for the family if I moved in and we were both there, together, to protect them?…But, is it worth the risk, Dad? Would we be too selfish to want this for ourselves?”
Lee stood there, lost in thought, when he jumped from the gentle touch on his arm. “Amanda?!”
Sheepishly, she answered, “I’m sorry, Lee. I called you but you didn’t seem to hear.”
Giving her a quick kiss, he smiled, “Sorry, I was caught up in some memories.”
“You’ve been here an awfully long time, I was starting to worry.”
Lee looked at his watch and was amazed that so much time had passed. “I didn’t realize. Look, we can go now and --”
“No,” Amanda interrupted, “I didn’t mean to rush you. We have the whole day. I was just worried about you.”
“Thank you,” Lee smiled again and gave her a hug. “I was just talking to my dad,” he said as he pulled away, “trying to figure some things out.”
Amanda frowned, “I knew there was something bothering you. What’s wrong, Lee?”
“I’m fine, really. Just some things --”
“Is this about the boys spending the day with Joe?” Amanda interrupted.
Lee shook his head, “Of course not. They should spend Father’s Day with their father.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Lee answered with a reassuring smile. “Besides, even with Joe living here now, I still seem to spend more time with the boys than he does. I think in some ways it’s been harder for them to get used to him being back than it is to get used to me being around.”
“I think they’ve finally realized that you’re not out to replace Joe as their father.” Lee laughed as she unknowingly echoed his earlier statement. “What’s so funny?”
Lee shook his head, “Nothing. Really.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Amanda asked in concern once again. “You’ve seemed so far away these past few days.”
“You know you’re right, don’t you?”
“Hmm,” Amanda murmured as she wrapped her arms around Lee’s waist, “now I know something’s wrong.”
“Oh? What makes you say that?”
“You’re never so quick to say I’m right.” Lee chuckled and Amanda continued, “So what am I right about?”
“One, it was good for me to spend time here alone.”
“I told you so,” Amanda said as she ignored Lee’s indignant glare. “What’s number two?” she asked as she brushed her lips against his.
“We have the whole day,” he responded with a smile that dazzled her. “With your mother visiting your aunt and the boys out for the day, we can pretend to be normal and do whatever we want.”
“Whatever we want, huh? So what do you say we finish visiting our dads and get to it?”
“Get to what?” Lee asked suspiciously.
“Oh, I’m sure we can find some trouble to get into while we’re being normal,” Amanda replied with a sparkle in her eye.
“Trouble, huh,” Lee responded with a quick kiss. “Guess I’d better stick close so I can keep an eye on you like I usually do.”
“I guess you’d better then,” Amanda laughed as she kissed him again.
With a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, and with his arm around his wife’s waist, Lee led Amanda back to his car.
Father’s Day ~ 1991
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and cradled the tiny bundle tightly in his arms. With a nervousness he couldn’t quite explain, he spoke again, “Mom, Dad, I’d like to formally introduce you to your grandson, Matthew Harry. He’s six weeks old today and this is his first major outing. I’m sorry I missed visiting last month, Mom, but we didn’t want to take Matthew out in the rain and I couldn’t yet bring myself to leave them, not even for a little while. Y’know, Billy was great about letting me rearrange my vacation time so I could be home with Amanda those two weeks after Matt was born. I know with Dotty living in our guest-house she was on-hand the entire time but I really wanted to be there myself. I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been. I mean I knew I loved Amanda and that she loved me but to watch Matt and know he’s…this sound’s so cliché, proof…of that love, it’s just…It’s like walking on air. And you ought to see Phillip and Jamie. Despite their initial embarrassment at being older teens with a pregnant mother, they have been so excited about having a baby brother and sometimes even argue over who gets to hold him or feed him. Of course, the fact that they have the ability to sleep through a nuclear war makes us feel less guilty about Matt’s nighttime feedings. This little fella sure has a powerful set of lungs.”
Lee carefully shifted the baby’s position in his arms and he continued, “Some days I wonder why we worried about how the boys would react to the baby. After all, three years ago, they took to the wedding and marriage so well and, last year, when we moved to the new house, they were so excited and looking forward to the change. I’ve got to admit, Joe’s been great too and has helped smooth things out when necessary. Amanda and I tend to forget Phillip and Jamie are no longer little boys but practically adults. Can you believe Phillip’s eighteen and starts college in September? And Jamie, sometimes I look at Jamie and still see that eight-year old little boy who wanted Pretzel the clown for his party instead of the high school junior he’ll be next year. I’ve really been blessed, Dad. So blessed, it’s sometimes a little scary. From the moment I met Amanda, my life was set on a course and I’ve wondered at times if I ever really had control over it. I didn’t want her help much less her friendship but, without my even realizing it, Amanda became my best friend, Dad. I didn’t have anyone like that in my life for so long that I’d almost forgotten what it was like. It sometimes seems that I’ve been married to her forever instead of four years. Well, three, according to everyone else. Except for Billy, no one knows our wedding day was actually our first anniversary. Sort of makes that first year extra special for us. Of course, we still haven’t told the family what we really do for a living. Only Joe knows that IFF is really a cover and he agrees that if keeping that cover provides an extra measure of security then it’s still in everyone’s best interest to keep the Agency a secret. It can be a little frustrating at times but at least this is a secret I can live with.”
Lee paused a moment, looked down at his sleeping son, and shook his head in disbelief. “My son. Growing up, all I wanted was to be normal. But somewhere along the way that changed and there were times I never thought or even let myself think that I’d want this. A family. A wife, kids, in-laws. When I first met her, I teased Amanda terribly about her normal life. Who’d have ever thought that one little package would’ve changed my life forever? I told you, she changed me, Dad. Made me a better agent; a better person. Suddenly, I wanted her normal life. Billy gave me this sly look on Friday when I gave him new pictures of his godson. He said he knew this would happen when he teamed Amanda with me. Best team he ever had, he said. Maybe he did know something about Amanda and me. I certainly didn’t. Not then anyway. He pushed so hard for me to accept Amanda as a partner and I’m grateful he didn’t give up on me. Not then and not later when he pushed to keep us together as a team after we announced our engagement. Did I ever tell you that it was Billy who confronted Dr. Smyth about my remaining partners with Amanda? Harry let it slip yesterday when I gave him his photos of his namesake. Harry was set to step in but Billy wanted to handle Smyth himself. Billy must’ve cited you and Mom as an example of how married agents could still work effectively together as partners. Of course, when that didn’t work, he told Smyth how some of our best work was done while we were secretly engaged and married and challenged Smyth to come up with a better solution than dissolving the partnership. Smyth, probably for the first time in his career, had nothing to say and, before he stalked away, he only insisted was that Amanda receive a code name. We’ve both made extra effort to prove Billy’s beliefs in us true and Smyth hasn’t been in our faces for a long while now. Funny, Francine’s the one who came up with Amanda’s name. Not terribly imaginative but it took no getting used to and still has a nice ring to it - Scarecrow and --”
A gurgle from the bundle interrupted Lee and he carefully adjusted his son’s blanket. He greeted his son’s big brown-eyed stare with a grin. “Hey, look who’s awake from his nap.” Lee received a yawn in return and he chuckled and kissed the baby’s forehead. “Bet you’ll be hungry soon. Y’know, your mom’s starting to call you the bottomless pit and you’ll probably give your older brother a run for his money. I never realized how much Phillip could pack away until I moved in. I was hoping the food bills might go down once he leaves for college but I don’t think you’ll end up helping much, little fella.” Lee looked away from his son and gazed at his father’s headstone. “I wish you could be here now. There’s so much I need to ask you, Dad. It’s scary. There are times I feel so out of my league but there’s also so much I want to share. The older I get, and the more settled I am with Amanda, I seem to miss you both more. This is all so new to me. I mean, the years I had with Phillip and Jamie weren’t always easy but at least the boys were older. What do I know about babies? It’s funny but Amanda’s just as nervous as me and she’s been through this twice before! I guess we never planned on having a baby and Matt took us by surprise. Not that it was a bad surprise,” Lee chuckled and turned as he heard someone approach.
“What’s so funny, big fella?” Amanda teased as she reached over to straighten the baby’s blanket.
“I was just remembering the night you told me you were pregnant.”
Amanda blushed, “I thought we agreed we’d never bring that up again.”
“Fifteen minutes I tried following you. By half an hour, I was completely lost,” he chuckled again.
“You might’ve at least put me out of my misery by telling me you sneaked a peek at the doctor’s reports on us after we wrapped the Blaine case.”
“Hey, you said there was something you wanted to tell me so how did I know you didn’t know? I figured you’d get around to it in your own inimitable fashion.”
“You know darn well I wanted to tell you about the medals they were awarding us for solving the Rokini kidnapping but when Doc called me into his office and told me about the blood test results, well, I guess I lost my train of thought. And you, you really shouldn’t have let me go on like that,” Amanda chastised again.
“I know, but you were so cute,” Lee insisted as he kissed the tip of her nose. Just then, the baby let out a little cry. “See, I knew he’d be hungry.”
“He’s always hungry,” Amanda grumbled good-naturedly as she lifted the baby from Lee’s arms.
“Must take after you,” they teased each other at the same time.
“I can’t wait till he needs me for something else,” she added as she temporarily popped a pacifier into the baby’s mouth.
“Does it count if I need you for something else?” Lee asked as he brushed some strands of hair from her eyes.
Amanda gave him a knowing smile, “Depends on what the something is. Let’s get going, Scarecrow, so I can have some time to decide.”
“Will forever be enough time?” Lee asked as he kissed her gently on the lips.
“No,” she answered softly with a smile, “but it’s a start.”
“Then maybe we’d better get started now.” After placing a kiss on her forehead, and with a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, Lee wrapped his arm around his wife’s waist and carefully led her to their car. “Let’s go home, Mrs. King.”
Father’s Day ~ 1993
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson wearily stood before his parents’ graves and straightened the sling supporting his right arm. “Not even noon yet and I feel like it should be night already….I’m okay. It’s just a bad sprain…..I’ve been doing a lot of thinking during the past twenty-four hours, Dad, and, when I see him, I’m telling Billy that I’m accepting his offer. For me and Amanda. I haven’t told her yet. She’s barely been awake and will need all her strength so I’m not about to lay this on her now. Work’s the least of our concerns right now. Oh, she’ll probably be furious with me for not discussing it with her first but she’ll agree with me. I know she will. It’s part of the reason we originally wanted to keep our marriage a secret. The danger. Besides, it’s not like I’m asking her to quit. I would never ask for that. Just like she wouldn’t ask me. The Agency’s part of who we are, Dad, you know that. And, it’s not like we’d be leaving the Agency, it’s just active field duty. Billy’s wanted me to accept this new section’s head position for a long while now. He even tried swaying me by declaring it a co-directorship with Amanda. Well, he doesn’t have to sway me anymore. What happened yesterday proves it. Maybe it worked for us when Phillip and Jamie were growing up but not now. Not when we’re trying to raise a two-year old and a - - God, what if he doesn’t make it. Please, Mom, Dad, you’ve got to watch over him, give him strength. Keep him safe. I don’t know what I’ll do if he - - if he - -” Lee broke off with a choked sob.
Lee spun around in surprise, “Dotty? What are you doing here? How’d you find me? Is it Amanda? Is it --?
“They’re fine, Lee, no change,” Dotty quickly interrupted as she patted Lee on his good arm. “I left the hospital because I was worried about you. I know you weren’t happy being ordered to go home.”
Lee sighed in relief as he wiped his eyes. “Thanks, but I’m not the one you should be worried about. Amanda and the -- How’d you know where to find me?”
“Amanda woke up and asked for you and, when we didn’t find you at home, she suggested trying here,” Dotty answered as she reached up and brushed some strands of hair from the bandage on Lee’s forehead.
“Sometimes I think she knows me too well…I had to come here.”
“I know,” his mother-in-law said with an understanding smile. “I’m afraid with everything that’s happened, I’d forgotten what today is. But Amanda didn’t.”
“It figures,” Lee responded with the hint of a smile on his lips. “Until Jamie called this morning and put Matt on the phone, I’d forgotten too. Seems Matt has a present for me.”
Dotty smiled and nodded, “I was there when Matthew made it. He’s been proudly showing us all week and can’t wait to give it to you. He’s woken up each day so excited that it might be Father’s Day it’s broken my heart when I’d tell him it wasn’t time to give it to you yet…Lee, you need to spend some time with him. And get some rest. You’ve barely eaten or slept in two days. Let me take you home.”
Lee shook his head, “The taxi’s waiting for me. I’m heading back to the hospital. I want to see Amanda.”
“I let the taxi go,” Dotty explained, “and before you start complaining, I’m telling you, Lee Stetson, that you are coming home with me. You’ll shower, change clothing, eat something, spend time with Matthew and the boys, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll even get some sleep.”
“Dotty, I can’t leave --”
“Uh, uh. No arguments,” Dotty insisted. “Amanda’s sleeping now and will be for the next several hours and you won’t do her any good in your exhausted state.”
Lee tried interrupting, “I’m not --”
“Yes you are and I also know how stubborn you can be. Just like Amanda. You were made for each other. Never have I seen a pair more…Look,” Dotty said, quickly switching gears, “Amanda’s stubborn and likes to do things herself and I know that won’t be any different this time. She’ll try to shoulder all the responsibility herself but she can’t, Lee. She’s hurt and needs time to recover physically and emotionally and she needs you. No matter what she insists otherwise. She needs you to be strong for her and for the baby.”
Lee hung his head, “This is all my fault. I told her to wait in the car. She never listens. She never waits in the car.”
“I told you she was stubborn,” Dotty said with a hint of a smile.
“Then why wasn’t she stubborn this time? You know, it was almost a routine with us. My ordering her to stay in the car; her disobeying. I’m not blaming her,” Lee quickly added for his mother-in-law’s benefit. “It’s just… This one time. Why did she have to listen? Why did she stay in the car this time?”
“You weren’t even supposed to be there, Lee. It was a hunch, Amanda told me. And you certainly didn’t know Kirsovick, was that his name, Kirsovick, was going to ram the car so it flipped it over.” Lee looked at her in amazement and she explained, “That was a pretty heated ‘discussion’ you had with that Dr. Smyth, was it, in the hospital hallway and I couldn’t help but overhear.”
“Still, I still should have expected something like this, Dotty. It’s my job.”
“Yes, well, we’ll talk about your job and Amanda’s job, later. As soon as Amanda and the baby are out of danger, you’re both going to tell me exactly what it is you do at IFF if that’s really where you work.” Lee nodded half-heartedly and Dotty quickly pulled Lee into a hug and rubbed his back while he relaxed slightly in her embrace. “He’s a fighter, Lee. Just like his mother and just like his daddy. He’s going to be fine and this will all be a bad memory.”
“He’s seven weeks early. He shouldn’t be in an incubator. He shouldn’t be hooked up to all those tubes and wires. He shouldn’t --” Lee said as he tried to pull away.
“Shh,” Dotty comforted as she hugged him tighter. “Remember, he’s strong. The doctors all said so. He’ll get through this. You can’t lose faith, Lee. Without faith, you won’t have anything. Believe me, the best thing you can do for him right now is to be there for his mother and the way to do that is to make sure she doesn’t worry about you and the way to do that is to come home with me and spend time with your sons.”
Lee pulled away, “You make it pretty hard to argue with you. Amanda’s the same way. She’s so much like you.”
“That, I will take as a compliment,” Dotty responded with a wary grin.
“As it was intended,” Lee replied with a smile of his own that faded just ask quickly as it appeared. “You know, Phillip came by the hospital late last night. I didn’t talk to him this morning but I know he was upset that he couldn’t see Amanda or the baby.”
“I know. Jamie’s been upset that he couldn’t see them either. But, Lee, they do realize she and the baby are in the best hands right now and that it’s more important they stay with their brother at home. Poor Matthew doesn’t understand what’s going on and the boys don’t know how much longer they can keep distracting him.”
“I’ll talk to him when I come home. Maybe tonight Amanda will be up to talking on the phone and you can put Matt on….Do you think…” Lee let his voice trail off.
“Do I think what?” Dotty encouraged.
“Do you think Phillip and Jamie blame me? Do you think they resent the fact that I’m the only one who’s been with Amanda?”
“Of course not, what happened was an accident,” Dotty quickly answered. “I told you, Lee, they understand.”
“But it wasn’t, not really, and --”
“No, buts, Lee. Yes, they’re scared for their mother and their new baby brother but they do know you’re not hiding anything from them. At least, not about the health of Amanda or the baby.”
Recognizing that look in her eyes, Lee suggested, “Maybe we should call a family meeting when we get home.”
“Good plan,” Dotty agreed. “I think there’s a lot we need to hear. So,” Dotty said as she began turning Lee away from the graves, “I think you should practice on me by starting from the beginning.”
“The beginning?” Lee slowly smiled, nodded, and, with a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, he allowed his mother-in-law to lead him towards the car. “Well, I guess, it started nearly ten years ago at the train station. You see, I had this package…”
Father’s Day ~ 1997
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and stuffed his hands into his jeans’ pockets. Looking down at the grass, he began, “It’s been a rough time, Dad, for us. It’s not like other arguments we’ve had in the past. Ever since the Davidson mess over a month ago, things haven’t been the same between us. We seem to be stuck in this pattern and I don’t know how to change it. I love her and I want things back the way they were but I guess I’m still angry with her and I’m pretty sure she’s still angry with me. She made that decision without consulting me and four agents ended up hospitalized in serious conditions. We’re lucky no one was killed. Maybe it was the right decision for her at that moment but if I would’ve been consulted the outcome might’ve been different…We work best as a team. She’s the one who told me that. That day in her bedroom and countless times after. So how could she make that decision without me? When we accepted these positions it was with the understanding that we’d share all major decisions. No actions would be taken by one without first consulting the other. I was only a phone call away. I know Davidson was ready to pull out and that we had to send in the agents but if she’d only have gotten to me, I might’ve been able to come up with another plan, maybe some variation of hers. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have reached the same conclusion in the end but she didn’t even give me the chance.”
Lee sighed, “So she was mad at me for being mad at her and I was mad at her for being mad at me. But now it’s more than that. Things were said, Dad. Things slipped out and old resentments were tossed into the mix. She even threw this job in my face, saying that I forced her into it because I got scared. That’s rich, coming from the woman who was constantly scared for her family’s safety. This job’s been the perfect compromise and she knows it. We’ve stayed with the Agency and go into the field on special cases but it’s mostly desk-duty and we’ve got a semi-normal life. It’s what we wanted - a chance to be like a normal family. She can’t even complain about being stuck with the paperwork and research because I do just as much of it as she does. And I attend all those boring administrative meetings that I always hated without trying to rope her into attending in my place. Well, almost all of them….I wish I could talk to Billy. I’m sure he’d understand. Besides, he loved giving out advice, especially when it came to the two of us.”
Lee gazed at his father’s headstone and spoke softly, “But Billy’s been gone a year. Already a year and it still seems like yesterday that we got the phone call from Jeannie about his heart attack. I sometimes find myself stopping short in front of his office door forgetting that he won’t be inside. I can’t even talk to Harry. He’s been gone three years now, just after Daniel’s first birthday, thanks to Gregory,” he added bitterly. Lee sighed and continued, “Francine’s not speaking to either one of us right now because we didn’t listen to her advice on last week’s Oakland case. That’ll pass; it usually does with Francine. She’s never mad at us for too long before finding some way to get back at us. Oh, it’s all friendly, after all this time, Francine’s practically family. Surprisingly enough though, she’s stayed out of this…So how do Amanda and I get past this? We barely talk to each other, see each other, anymore. At work, we’re like strangers and stay in our own offices unless there’s a meeting or some business to discuss. At home, we busy ourselves with the boys or work and avoid discussing anything we don’t have to. Later, in bed, if we’re not reading files from work, we don’t talk. We don’t even cuddle. The TV’s on and we stare at it until one of us turns out the light and goes to sleep. Not that I’ve been sleeping well. Actually, I don’t think Amanda’s been sleeping well either. I think we do a lot of pretending while we’re lying there wide-awake. I suppose I should be a man about it and apologize again but I didn’t really start this and I’m tired of apologizing. I’m not sure anymore whether she even wants things to go back to normal with us. I’m afraid…I’m afraid she’s decided that this is some sign she’s been waiting for and is for the best and…God, I miss her, Dad. I miss her laugh, her smile…her touch. It’s been so long since we, since we…I just really miss her.”
“Then why don’t you do something about it?”
Lee spun and found his stepson standing nearby. “Jamie? What are you doing here? How’d you know I was here?”
Jamie smiled, “I don’t have to be a spy to know that you come here every year on this day, Lee, and you really should brush up on your spy skills if you didn’t hear me approach.”
“I’ve never cared for that word, you know,” Lee answered with the hint of a smile.
“I know,” Jamie grinned. After a moment, he seriously said, “I figured it would be a good time to talk with you alone.”
“Something wrong?” Lee asked in concern. Jamie nodded and Lee asked, “What is it? Can I help?”
“I hope so,” Jamie answered. “The other day, Matt asked me whether you and Mom were getting a divorce.”
Lee paled, “He asked if we were getting a divorce?”
Jamie nodded, “Then Danny piped up and wanted to know what a divorce was and Matt answered that it’s when a mommy and daddy decide they don’t want to live together anymore and the kids have to live with one of them.”
“Where would he have gotten that from?” Lee wondered aloud.
“I don’t know. School maybe. Most of their friends have divorced or single parents. Does it matter?”
“I guess not.” Lee looked at Jamie, “What did you tell them?”
“Nothing really, I distracted them a bit and they forgot about it. But they know something’s wrong between you and Mom. I called Phillip and asked what he thought but he didn’t know what to tell them either.”
“We’re not getting divorced, Jamie,” Lee stated.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Jamie answered in relief.
“Did you really think your mom and I were considering divorce?”
Jamie hesitated before he shrugged, “Phillip and I weren’t much older than Matt and Danny when Mom and Dad split but we still remember what it was like before it happened. Look, I know your situation with Mom is different than the one with Dad but you’ve got to admit you’re having a major problem right now.”
“I know,” Lee apologized, “that things have been a bit tense lately but --”
“Tense?” Jamie asked with a mock laugh. “Is that what you call it? Lee, you’ve spent the past six weeks barely talking to each other. You’ve got to do something.”
Lee sighed, “I don’t know what to do, Jamie. We seem to be stuck in this limbo.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Lee smiled at his stepson’s concern but shrugged sheepishly, “I can’t. You know that.”
“I know it’s work-related, Lee, and need-to-know and all that. I’m not asking for details but --”
“Let’s just say,” Lee interrupted, “that I wasn’t given the opportunity to help make a major decision which affected and hurt a number of people and we’ve said a lot of things to each other since then that --”
“Do you love her?” Jamie interrupted.
“Of course I do. I love her more than anything,” Lee quickly answered. “You know that, don’t you?”
Jamie nodded, “And I know Mom loves you.” Lee let out a breath. “You were worried?”
“Maybe a little,” Lee reluctantly admitted. “I can’t read her these days. I don’t know what she’s thinking.”
“Well, she’s not thinking of divorce either. She got just as flustered by that idea as you did. And you know how she can be when she’s flustered.”
Lee didn’t react with a smile but, instead, asked anxiously, “Really? Did she say anything else?”
Jamie shook her head, “Pretty much what you said. She didn’t have any ideas how to get past this either.”
“So, what now?”
“Phillip and I talked about it. So, here,” Jamie handed Lee an envelope, “maybe this’ll help. These are for you.”
Lee looked at it and asked, “What is it?”
“Confirmed reservations for Mr. and Mrs. Stetson for next weekend at the Crystal Springs Inn.”
“Jamie, that’s nice but I don’t think --”
“It’s from Phillip and me,” Jamie interrupted. “Consider it our combined Mother’s and Father’s Day presents to you and Mom. We didn’t exactly celebrate this year.”
“I know but we can’t --”
“Yes,” Jamie insisted, “you can. You’ve got to. You need time alone. Time without any distractions or interruptions from anyone at work or home. You need to find your way back to each other before it’s too late.”
“Did you forget that your grandmother’s going away next week and won’t be home this weekend to watch --”
Jamie shook his head and interrupted again, “Phillip and I will be there from the time Matt and Danny come home from school and day care on Friday afternoon through Monday morning when they leave again. While you’re taking advantage of room service, we’ll be taking care of Matt and Danny. No girlfriends over. No parties. Just us and them. We’ll even make them do their homework and chores and eat their veggies. It’s a great opportunity for us to spend quality time alone with our brothers.”
Lee smiled, “You seem to have thought of everything. I don’t see how I can say no.”
“Do you want to say no?”
“No,” Lee answered quickly. Lee tentatively reached out and drew Jamie into a hug, which Jamie accepted wholeheartedly. “You really are a terrific kid, you know that, and I’m glad you’re part of my family.”
Jamie blushed slightly and pushed away, “Yeah, well, enough of the mushy stuff. Why don’t you go home and tell Mom about the reservations?”
“You didn’t tell her?” Lee asked in surprise.
“Phillip and I thought we should bring it up with you first. Just in case.”
“She’s not home now,” Lee realized. “She took the kids to Goofy Golf and they won’t be back for a while. You have any plans?” Jamie shook his head. “How about we grab a couple of burgers? Just you and me.”
Jamie nodded, “Sounds great. You go your way, I go mine, and whoever gets there last pays for the ice cream for the kids.”
“Not a mile above the speed limit,” Lee countered. Jamie nodded and Lee agreed, “Deal.” With a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, he placed his arm around his stepson’s shoulder and, together, they walked out of the cemetery towards their cars.
Father’s Day ~ 2001
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and smiled as he lay down a bouquet of flowers. “From Dotty’s garden. She’s especially proud of it this year and has even entered one of her peonies into a local flower competition. Dotty continues to claim that her flowers in the Maplewood house never stood a chance when they were constantly trampled on by a certain scarecrow and I continue to roll my eyes. She adores me and I admit the feeling’s mutual. She has quite the green thumb, though. She transformed the landscaping around our house and her little guest-house into a real showpiece. I tell her all the time that she ought to charge when she gives her little tours of the garden to her friends or inquiring neighbors to make up for any plants they trample on. But all she does is roll her eyes at me,” Lee laughed and shook his head. “Still, she deserves every bit of credit we give her. She even created little areas of the property with each of us in mind and, somehow, it all works. I think Danny still goes to the “secret garden” to hide out and has pretty much declared it as his own personal space. Suits Matt just fine since he now prefers the tree-house Phillip and Jamie helped build for them.”
Lee paused a moment before he sighed, “I’m still worried about her. Even though they never married, Captain Kurt’s sudden death last year hit Dotty pretty hard and she’s kept to herself and her gardens a lot more than usual. She hasn’t talked at all about flying again and that worries me. Not that I’ve ever felt comfortable about her flying, I’m the one who likes to be in control, remember, but I’m hoping she starts doing again some of the other things she’s enjoyed. I can’t remember the last time she took in a play or even went shopping with her friends. Amanda reminds me that we have to be patient and allow her mother to set the pace. The other day, I suggested to Dotty that she volunteer her time at the local nursery and she didn’t shoot down the idea immediately. I hope that’s a good sign. I’ve given Amanda my word that I won’t push Dotty into anything she’s not ready for but I love my mother-in-law and want her to be happy again. Speaking of happy,” he said as he checked his watch, “I can’t stay much longer because I promised Amanda I’d help set up for Danny’s birthday party, something I didn’t manage to do for Matt’s party last month. I can’t believe Danny’s eight. When I think of the day he was born and how scared I was that we might lose him…He’s our little tiger. He fought with everything he had and look at him now. Nothing fazes him. Nothing scares him. And he is so stubborn. Amanda complains that he’s too much like me while I complain that he’s too much like her.” Lee laughed and shook his head, “And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Just like each of his brothers, he’s perfect the way he is…Matthew, our little fella, is pretty amazing too. Like Phillip, he’s not really into school but, like Jamie, he does so well. Sometimes, when he’s playing in the back or with his friends, I watch him. When he thinks no one’s looking, I notice this subtle shift in his stance, in his eyes. Suddenly, he’s aware of everything around him. He’s absorbing, learning, and just as quickly he switches back to the happy-go-lucky kid he is. Amanda’s seen it too but we’re not quite sure what to make of it. All we know is that we have a very special ten-year old. Ten, already. Matt and Danny are as old as Phillip and Jamie were when I met them…” Lee pause a moment, lost in thought. “Where’s the time gone? They’re growing up faster than I’d like, Dad. I can still picture Matt taking his first steps or Danny getting his first tooth like it was yesterday. I love watching them discover new things and it’s fun being able to do different things with them now that they’re older but…I guess I miss them being babies. Do you believe that? The Scarecrow misses changing diapers and misses the --” A baby’s delighted cry interrupted Lee’s thought and he turned to find his oldest stepson approaching with a pink bundle in his arms.
“Phillip!” Lee greeted. “What are you doing here?” Before Phillip could answer, Lee reached for the baby and lifted her out of her father’s arms and left Phillip holding the fluffy pink blanket.
His stepfather’s goofy grin to the baby and the six-month old’s gleeful smile in response caused Phillip to smile too. “Thought we might go out for a spin and catch you before the party. Give you some private time with her.”
“Well I am mighty glad you did because when your mother and grandmother see her, I won’t stand a chance of holding her,” Lee said as he inspected the gurgling baby at arms’ length. “You know, I think she’s gotten bigger since I saw her last,” he claimed.
Phillip rolled his eyes, “You said the same thing when you saw her at dinner last night and I know babies grow quickly but she’s not that quick.”
Lee held the baby close to his chest and kissed the top of her head, “I wouldn’t be so sure of that if I were you. You just treasure these first moments before they’re gone.”
Phillip turned serious, “Is everything okay, Lee?”
“Fine,” Lee answered with a reassuring smile. Phillip smiled back but Lee sensed it was a bit forced. “How about you? Everything okay?” Phillip nodded but didn’t answer. “You didn’t just bring this little darlin’ here for some private time with her Grandpa Lee. What is it, Phillip?”
Phillip lightly brushed his daughter’s fine blond hair but she ignored his touch and continued to finger the button on Lee’s shirt that fascinated her. Still gazing at his daughter, Phillip hesitated before he quietly admitted, “I guess I’m scared.”
Surprised, Lee quietly asked, “Of what?”
“Of her,” Phillip answered as he slowly looked at Lee.
Lee smiled at Phillip, who stood only a few inches shorter than himself yet seemed, at that moment, very much like the ten-year old boy he once knew. “It’s okay to be scared, Phillip. It’s a huge responsibility to be a parent.”
“But Michelle and I must’ve read every book and researched every site on the ‘Net and I thought we were prepared but --“
“But,” Lee interrupted, “there’s no such thing as being prepared for parenthood. I read all the books too and even felt somewhat secure because I knew your mom was already experienced with babies. But as soon as Matt was born, I felt like I’d fallen into something way over my head and I was terrified.”
Phillip’s eyes widened, “You were? Really?”
“Of course,” Lee stated as he shifted the baby in his arms. “The first time I was alone with him, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to even do. I spent an entire hour just watching him sleep, praying he wouldn’t wake up crying.” Phillip sighed in relief. “You too?”
Phillip nodded, “The first night we were alone with her after Michelle’s mother left, Michelle was in the kitchen cooking dinner and I just stared at the baby and hoped she wouldn’t cry. I remember being so excited when Matt was born. It was fun to take care of him. Show him off for the girls. But this is different, Lee. I don’t just give her back when she starts to cry. I’m not her babysitter and I don’t leave her at the end of the day.”
Lee smiled, “No, no you don’t. This little one’s all yours. You’re her daddy. Forever.”
Phillip gently stroked his daughter’s soft hair and quietly said, “She’s six-months old now and there are times when I still can’t figure out why she’s crying and I can’t do anything to make her stop but Michelle will come in and, in an instant, she’s settled down.” Phillip took a breath before he added, “Sometimes, I’m afraid that I’m doing it all wrong and I’ll mess her up for life.”
“This angel?” Lee questioned while he indicated to the happy baby in his arms. “Not a chance. Sure, you’ll make mistakes but you’ll learn from them and it’ll be better next time.” Phillip shrugged and Lee continued, “You know you can reach out to one of us, don’t you? At any time. Just because you’re a father now, Phillip, doesn’t mean you’ve stopped being a son and can’t ask for advice or reassurance. Your mom, dad, and I, we’ll always be there for you.” Phillip still looked doubtful. “Don’t believe me?”
“I guess,” was all Phillip said as he gazed at his daughter.
“Did I ever tell you, Phillip,” Lee asked as he shifted the baby again slightly, “how much it means to me that her name is Jennifer?”
Phillip looked down in embarrassment, “You shouldn’t make it into such a big deal.”
Lee smiled warmly, patted Phillip on the shoulder, and said, “But it is. You could have picked your father’s mother’s name or either of Michelle’s grandmothers’ names but you still named her after my mother.”
Phillip looked up at Lee and spoke with a bit more confidence, “I love my dad and I’ve never regretted him being my dad but he wasn’t always there when I needed him. Not that he didn’t try, either. He did. He does. And I can’t picture my life without my dad in it. But…”
“But what?” Lee encouraged.
Phillip looked a little guilty as he admitted, “It was hard sometimes to let him be my dad when you were there instead.”
Startled, Lee commented, “I never meant to come between you.”
“You didn’t,” Phillip assured him, “it’s just that it, well, it was sometimes easier to talk to you or ask your advice than his. Lee, you’re…you’re as much my dad as he is. That’s why I wanted my daughter named after your mother. I just couldn’t think of any other way to let you know much you mean to me and that I can’t picture my --”
Mindful of the baby he was holding, Lee interrupted Phillip with a hug, “I love you, Phillip.”
“Love you, too,” Phillip whispered in return. The baby squealed and, as the men pulled apart, Phillip cleared his throat and added, “Maybe we’d better get going before Mom sends out a search party. She still hasn’t quite forgiven you for conveniently missing setting up for Matt’s party because of work.”
“Your mother has a very convenient memory at times,” Lee teased. He looked at the baby in his arms and suggested, “Tell you what, you take my car back to the house and I’ll take Jenny home in yours.”
“The ‘Vette? Really?”
Lee nodded, “Really. I remember many times after Matt was born when a spin in the ‘Vette helped relax me.”
After Lee fished out the car keys from his pocket, Phillip handed him the baby’s blanket. Phillip kissed Jenny and excitedly said as he left, “See you back at the house.”
“I expect it back in one piece,” Lee called out but Phillip was already half-way to the car.
“Same to you,” Phillip shouted back. “And, Lee, not a mile above the speed limit!”
Lee laughed and waved Jenny’s hand in farewell to her father. “Well, darlin’, before we go to your Uncle Danny’s birthday party, I want to introduce you to two very special people. Mom, Dad, this is Jennifer King, your great-granddaughter.” The baby laughed happily and Lee kissed her soft cheek. With tears in his eyes, and a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, Lee snuggled his granddaughter close to him and carried her towards Phillip’s car.
Father’s Day ~ 2014
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and held the umbrella over his head. “I’m okay. No broken bones, no bullet wounds, just some bruising and a concussion. Can’t drive yet and I didn’t want to take anyone away from the last minute arrangements for Danny’s surprise party so I took a taxi here. I guess you wouldn’t want me standing in the rain any more than Amanda did but I had to come. I had to tell you…It’s over. I didn’t know it would come back to haunt me again. I thought the nightmares ended when I killed Blackthorne almost thirty years ago. I had no idea it went further, Dad. I know Amanda’s been worried about me. Francine, too. She even called me obsessed. Maybe I was. It doesn’t matter. It’s over now. For good, this time…You’ve been on my mind lately, Dad. I’ve been remembering, a lot. Just like what happened after Blackthorne; the memories came flooding back. Overwhelming sometimes. I don’t know, Dad, maybe I’m just feeling old these days.”
“You’re not old.”
Lee turned to see his youngest son approaching, “Danny! Get under this umbrella. Your mother will kill me if you catch pneumonia.” The tall sandy-haired young man stepped in closer. “What are you doing here?”
Danny shrugged, “Figured you might need a lift.”
Lee shook his head, “You know I took a taxi.”
This time, Danny shook his head, “I let it go.”
“Danny…” Lee said in a warning tone.
“I’m sorry, Dad, I thought…I mean, I wanted to make sure…I wanted…”
“Wanted what?” Lee asked in a softened tone.
Instead of answering, Danny impulsively hugged Lee and threw his father slightly off-balance. “Dad,” he whispered.
“Danny?” Lee held the umbrella askew while he returned Danny’s embrace. As Danny softly cried, Lee ignored the rain pouring on them, rubbed his back, and repeated words of comfort, “It’s okay, son. It’s okay…”
After a few minutes, Danny pulled away and wiped his eyes with the back of his hands. “Sorry,” he croaked.
Lee straightened the umbrella over them both and shook his head, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I didn’t mean to lose it like that.”
“What is it, Danny?” Lee asked softly. “What’s wrong?” Danny hesitated. “You can tell me. You can tell me anything.”
Danny looked down at his feet and Lee barely heard him whisper, “The nightmare.”
Lee reached out and quickly pulled Danny into another hug. “Oh, Daniel,” he murmured. “It’s okay. You’re safe. I’m safe. Everything’s okay.”
Danny nodded into Lee’s shoulder, “I know but I thought you were…”
“I’m safe, son,” Lee said as he pulled away. “I’m all right and I’m here. How long have you been having it?”
“About a week,” Danny answered as he looked down at the wet grass.
“As soon as I left?” Lee asked. Danny nodded. “As bad as the original ones?”
“Not really,” Danny quietly admitted, “but bad enough, I guess.”
“Does your mother know?”
Danny shook his head, “I couldn’t tell her. She’d start blaming herself all over again for killing Baxter but it’s not her fault. She was only trying to protect me.”
“And protect me, too. But it’s not your fault either, Danny. Not for being kidnapped and not for what Mom did.”
“No buts, Danny. You were ten years old. Baxter was slime and deserved what he got and if I hadn’t have been unconscious, I would’ve done exactly what your mother did…Do you realize it took her twenty years to use deadly force? That’s a pretty amazing record for someone in our line of work, Danny, but she still had a hard time coping with her actions. And, if it had to happen, she never would have wanted you to witness it. Over time, and with help, she learned to accept what happened and she doesn’t blame anyone,” Lee paused as he watched his words register with his son. “Danny, what upset your mother more than what she did was how you suffered from what happened to you and from witnessing Baxter’s death. She would want to know if the nightmares came back and you were hurting. We both love you and only want to help you.” Danny shrugged and Lee asked in a concerned tone, “Is there more you’re not saying? Do you want to see Dr. Pfaff again?”
Danny looked up and answered quickly. “No. I mean, I talked to Jamie. He’s a shrink so it’s okay. Isn’t it?”
“Of course it is,” Lee assured him, “and I’m glad you spoke to Jamie. Pfaff may be semi-retired but if you want to talk to him too, let me know and I’ll arrange it.”
“I know it’s dumb to still get worked up over them,” Danny mumbled as he looked down again. “I mean I’m twenty-one now and they’re just dreams.”
“It’s not dumb,” Lee insisted. “It’s okay to be frightened by dreams no matter how old you are.”
“I guess I got scared when you disappeared last week and it brought them back.”
“I’m sorry, Danny,” Lee said as he brushed some wet locks from Danny’s eyes.
“Not your fault,” Danny responded as he continued to look down at the ground.
“You know, tiger, if you’d get a haircut, maybe I could see my beautiful eyes when I looked straight at ‘em.” Danny didn’t react to the familiar tease Amanda had started so many years before and Lee continued more seriously, “I couldn’t tell anyone where I was going, Danny, or what I was doing. I’m sorry.”
“I know. But…”
“But you were worried about me anyway,” Lee finished. Danny nodded and Lee added, “You know what happened to my parents. I couldn’t let this one go, Danny. I had to do this for them,” Lee indicated to the headstones.
“And for you,” Danny answered as he finally looked up at his father.
“And me,” Lee conceded. “You have to understand, Danny, I thought I’d put their deaths behind me. Twice. I missed out on a normal life when they were taken from me and it wasn’t until I got Blackthorne that I truly accepted the way it all turned out. Then, three weeks ago, new evidence turned up that indicated Blackthorne hadn’t really acted alone. I had to find out the truth. And I had to play it my way. Alone. Maybe some day you’ll understand.”
“Maybe,” Danny quietly agreed. After a moment he suggested, “Maybe we should get out of the rain and head back now.”
Lee didn’t move. “Are you okay?”
“I will be,” Danny answered. “Besides,” he added with a slight smile, “Mom’ll have a conniption if the guest-of-honor is late to his own birthday party.”
“Party? What party?” Lee asked in a mixture of relief and feigned innocence.
Danny rolled his eyes, “C’mon, Dad, I’ve got spy genes in my blood. I know Mom’s been planning this party for me for the past month.”
“Actually, hotshot, she’s been planning this for six weeks.” Lee laughed as Danny’s eyes widened. “You just act surprised and I won’t tell her you know.”
“You wouldn’t tell her,” Danny said with a smile.
“Wouldn’t I?” Lee asked with a gleam in his eye.
“Tell you what, you agree with me and I might forget all about telling your mother about your spying abilities.”
“Agree with you about what?” Danny asked suspiciously.
“Go camping with me, next weekend.”
“Just the two of us?” Danny asked with interest.
Lee nodded, “Your mom will be in New York for a conference, your grandmother will be staying with Jamie to help with the new baby, and Matt will be sailing for the weekend with the Newton twins. So, if it’s okay with you, I thought we’d do some father-son bonding. It’s been a while since the two of us have spent quality time together.”
Danny slowly nodded, “Sounds great but…”
“But, what?” Lee asked in concern.
“Are you sure you’re up for it? You being such an old guy and all,” Danny answered with a laugh.
“Old?” Lee glared at his son. “I’ll show you old,” he said with a laugh as he started after his son who ran out of reach. After a quick glance back to his parent’s final resting places, Lee quickly hurried after his son.
Father’s Day ~ 2021
“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and sighed. “Danny’s called in. Finally. Said he got tied up but that he’s filing the final papers with our agents in Austin and should be on a flight for home later tonight. Tied up,” Lee repeated with a chuckle. “I remember what that meant when Amanda and I used that excuse. I’m almost afraid to read his report. When it comes to finding trouble, that son of mine definitely takes after his mother. Funny, I’m worse than Amanda when it comes to Danny working at the Agency. She did her best not to get involved in the fights Danny and I had. She still says she’s not crazy about the idea but that it’s Danny’s life and we have to accept his career choice. Just because I have to accept it, doesn’t mean I have to like it. I didn’t want him getting involved in this business. I want him to have a normal life just like his older brothers. I want him to meet a nice girl, get married, settle down and raise a family. He can’t do that in this line of work. When Amanda hears me say that she gets annoyed and starts rambling on, comparing herself to chopped liver. Danny, meanwhile, winks at me and says he can’t help it; it’s in his genes. Of course, that finishes us both off and Amanda smiles and tells me he’s my son. I know he’s purposely lightening the mood but, Dad, I see there’s a part of him that’s serious. Between having us for parents and his kidnapping, the Agency has become a part of him. Maybe there is something to it being in his genes. Look what happened with me. You didn’t raise me and I still ended up working in the intelligence community just like you and Mom. So maybe it is the right thing for Danny. You’d be so proud of him, Dad. He’s accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. He’ll be one of the best. And I’m not saying that just as his father but as his superior. He’s --”
Lee turned around and saw his oldest son running towards him carrying a box. “Matt? What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
Matt skidded to a stop by his father and panted, “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong, Dad. Everything’s great.”
With a confused smile, Lee asked, “So, what’s the rush?”
“I had to give you this,” Matt answered as he gave Lee the box. “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”
“What’s this?” Lee asked in surprise. “I thought the new camera from you and your brothers was my present.”
“It was. This is something from me,” Matt said with a smile, “well, me and Lisa. Open it.”
Lee chuckled at his son’s impatience and carefully lifted the lid off the box. He pulled apart the tissue paper and discovered a pale blue ceramic picture frame that was painted with brown bears, yellow ducks, and alphabet blocks. Lee looked from the framed picture to his son. “Matt?” he whispered. Matt nodded enthusiastically and Lee quickly pulled him into a hug. “Congratulations, son. I’m so happy for you. For both of you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Matt answered before they drew apart.
“Why didn’t you say something sooner? Does your mother know? How does Lisa feel? Have you told your brothers and --”
“Catch a breath, Dad, you sound just like Mom,” Matt chuckled. “You’re the first one we’ve told. We wanted to make sure Lisa safely made it through her first trimester. After last time…”
“I know,” Lee softly said. “What did the doctor say?”
Matt smiled, “She said Lisa and the babies couldn’t be healthier.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Matt, because I, wait a minute -- babies? Did you say babies?”
Matt smiled, “You didn’t look carefully enough at the picture, Dad.”
Lee looked at the picture again. “Oh my gosh,” he murmured, “Matt, I…”
“Yeah, I know,” Matt said in wonder. “Dad, the ironic thing is that we weren’t even trying. After all the disappointments and heartaches we’ve had over the past couple of years between trying on our own and trying to adopt, it hurt to even dream anymore and I think we were both ready to give up hope. We needed a break from trying so hard and time to be ourselves again. And then this happened. And now, with each day that goes by, it’s becoming more real and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I think I can believe it’s going to be okay.”
“Believe it, Matthew,” Lee said confidently. “Faith’s pretty amazing. It can get you through just about anything. Your grandmother taught me that.”
“I remember,” Matt nodded, “Grandma used to say that if you didn’t have faith, you didn’t have anything. It’s just hard sometimes. I mean, Phillip and Jamie had no trouble once they decided they wanted to start their families and now they’ve got six kids between them and I’m happy for my brothers. I adore those kids. I really do. But…”
“But it’s not the same as having your own,” Lee finished.
“Dad,” Matt hesitated, “can I ask you something?”
“You know you can ask me anything.”
“Phillip and Jamie used to tease me that I was an accident waiting to happen and,” Matt raised his hand to stop Lee from interrupting, “it’s okay, Dad, they were kids. I know all about accidents happening. These twins prove it. What I wanted to ask, though, was…well…if I hadn’t come along when I did, would you and Mom still’ve had us?”
“That’s a tough one to answer, Matt,” Lee replied after a moment. “It’s not something I’ve really thought about.”
“I’m not even sure why I want to know,” Matt admitted, “and I guess it’s not really important. I mean, we’re both here and it’s a little late to be sorry now.” Matt noticed his father’s eyes darken slightly and he apologized, “I didn’t mean it the way it came out. I guess I’ve been feeling a little unsure lately.”
“Unsure about what?”
“About becoming a father. It’s not like Lisa and I wanted it that badly when we got married but when we found ourselves having such trouble it became something more and we became pretty obsessed with having a baby.”
“You weren’t obsessed,” Lee corrected.
“Maybe not but we were pretty close and we had to really work on holding our marriage together.”
“I didn’t realize it was so bad, Matt. Why didn’t you come to me or Mom?”
“I wanted to. We both wanted to lean on our parents but we realized that we had to work it out ourselves or our marriage wouldn’t make it. And then this surprise, this wonderful surprise, came along and now I’m scared I’m not ready for this. I’m scared that I wanted this more because we were having so many difficulties than because I really wanted to be a father. I’m scared I’m going to feel trapped by this parenthood thing and become such a hypocrite that my marriage will fail anyway. I’m just scared, Dad.” Lee smiled and Matt asked, “You’re happy?”
Lee chuckled and shook his head, “This is déjà vu for the third time.”
“I don’t understand.”
Lee explained, “Both your brothers were scared when they became fathers for the first time. Jamie admitted to me almost exactly what you did. That he was afraid he wanted the idea of being a father more than what it really meant to actually be a father. But, Matt, it’s perfectly normal to be scared at the prospect of becoming a parent.”
“But I don’t know if I’m really ready for it.”
“No one’s ever really ready,” Lee smiled. “I wasn’t. Your brothers weren’t. But you and Lisa are committed to each other and will be to your family. And with all the experience you have with all your nieces and nephews, I know you’ll be just fine.” Matt looked unsure and Lee continued, “About what you asked before, when I made the commitment to your mom that I wanted to share my life with her, I was also making a commitment to her family. Phillip and Jamie became my sons and we all had to make some adjustments in living together. Between coordinating our jobs, our marriage, and two teenagers, we had our hands full and, somehow, the subject of having a baby never came up. It’s not that we weren’t open to the idea but more that we never considered it in the first place.”
“Were you upset?” Matt quietly asked.
“Of course not,” Lee quickly stated. “Sure, we were surprised and in shock but we were thrilled by the news. Don’t ever doubt that, Matthew. We wanted you from the moment we found out you were on the way.”
Lee smiled as he recalled, “Once they got over the shock and embarrassment of what having a baby meant, Phillip and Jamie were really excited about your arrival. Of course, all Phillip thought about was how he could attract the girls but your brothers couldn’t wait to have a baby sibling. But, there was the age gap to consider. Even though they adored you, between school, their teams and activities, and their friends, it seemed like they were never home. Your mom and I didn’t want you to be alone as you grew up. So…”
“So Danny came along two years later,” Matt finished. “Thanks, Dad.”
Matt shrugged, “For talking to me. Supporting me. For being happy for me. For, I don’t know….everything.”
Lee smiled, “That’s what dads are for, Matt. Unconditional love and support. You’re on the road now, Matt, and, God willing, next year, you’ll look back on today from a totally new perspective.”
Matt hugged Lee and whispered, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, son,” Lee responded and then winked, “and I’m mighty grateful you came along and surprised us.”
Matt laughed, “Me too, Dad, me too.”
They separated and Lee suggested with a smile, “Now, how about we go home, get our wives, and celebrate the news. I can’t wait to see the look on your mom’s face when you tell her.” Matt hesitated and Lee’s smiled disappeared. “Something wrong?”
“Um, Dad, there’s something you should know. Lisa’s at the house helping Mom get a barbecue set up.”
“Great! Maybe we can get Phillip and Jamie and the gang over last-minute and you can tell everyone.” Matt shook his head. “What?” Lee asked, concerned. “What’s wrong? I know you’re both nervous but you won’t be able to wait much longer. People will see for themselves pretty soon.” Matt didn’t say anything. “Matt?”
“Mom knows,” Matt sheepishly answered.
“I thought you said I was the first one you told.”
“You are. Honest. We didn’t tell anyone. But Mom, well,” Matt shrugged, “she sort of guessed the truth about two weeks ago.”
“She kept this a secret for two weeks?”
“You sound surprised. I thought in your line of work you had to be good at keeping secrets.”
Lee frowned, “We are but your mom and I also had an agreement from before we were even married that we wouldn’t keep any secrets from each other.”
“Well, then,” Matt said with a smile, “don’t consider this a secret but something that was need-to-know.”
“Need to -- Don’t give me that,” Lee said exasperated.
“Dad, we didn’t want anyone to know until we thought it was safe,” Matt answered softly. “Mom just guessed and we had to confirm it for her.”
Lee’s tone immediately softened, “I understand, son.” Matt still looked wary so Lee smiled and clapped his son on the shoulder, “Let’s go home. Your mom’s probably waiting to see the look on my face when I walk in the door.”
“Lisa and I are planning a little dinner next weekend so we can tell our families.”
“A little dinner?” Lee asked skeptically as he mentally counted the number of people involved.
Matt grinned, “You know how my wife loves to cook. Besides, Mom’s already started helping by cooking a few things and storing them in the freezer.”
“I wondered what she was up to. ‘Oh, you never know when you might want something different.’ was her answer. I should’ve known she was up to something. Now that I think about it,” Lee realized, “a lot of things she’s said and done are starting to make some sense. I’m sure she enjoyed playing with me but, now, it’s my turn for a little fun.”
“Daaad, what’re you planning?”
“Planning? Me?” Lee asked innocently. “What makes you think I’m planning something?”
“Dad, don’t pull Mom’s routine. You’re up to something.”
“C’mon son, let’s go home,” Lee replied with a wink. After a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, Lee draped his arm around Matt’s shoulder and the two walked back to their cars.
Father’s Day ~ 2030 “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Lee Stetson stood before his parents’ graves and leaned against his walking cane. “I hate this damn thing,” he complained, “but my knee’s been acting up again and I don’t have much choice. Makes me feel old. I certainly don’t get any sympathy from my wife. She accuses me of being unable to accept life as a retiree and that I purposely overextend myself. I tell her there’s nothing wrong with me keeping an eye on what’s going on at the Agency. She tells me I’ve got to let go sometime. That may be but not now. Besides, I’ve caught her asking for status reports and checking in with some of the supervisors so she shouldn’t talk to me about letting go. She’s worried about me. Nothing new about that. I did promise her we’d go away once we settled things with the house. A real vacation. I can’t remember the last time we were away for more than four days at a time when it didn’t have anything to do with work. Between trying to retire and the kids and grandkids, we haven’t found the time. But, with this last flare-up, I promised her I’d take it easy so I’ve been looking into cruises. Amanda likes the idea as long as San Angelo doesn’t appear anywhere on the itinerary. I told her she made a beautiful bride and she smiles but doesn’t let it go any further until I promise no San Angelo. I wonder how she’ll like Alaska.”
Lee paused, lost in thought, “With the kids’ help, we finished packing up everything and moved into the guest-house yesterday while Jamie and his family moved into ours. They needed a bigger place now that the kids are a little older and in need of their own rooms and it was the perfect compromise. We have our own place that’s smaller and easier to maintain but are still near the kids. It is strange, though. I thought it was hard packing up my apartment when I moved into Amanda’s house but this was different. It wasn’t just my memories but Amanda’s and the kids’. It was hard leaving. And we’re still staying on the same property so it shouldn’t have affected me like it did. I was worse than Amanda…I hate feeling old,” Lee sighed. “It’s also strange being in the guest-house. Guess we’ll always think of it as the guest-house. But it was also Dotty’s place and, even though it’s been empty since she passed away, you can still feel her presence so strongly. Amanda misses her terribly and still sometimes catches herself from talking to her mother. I’ve told Amanda it’s only natural but it still hurts. I guess the hurt never really goes away. I still miss you both. Here I am, eighty years old, and I still miss my mom and dad. Lately, I’ve been reading Mom’s diary. Trying to get to know you all over again, Dad. My memories of that time can be so fuzzy at times so I’m trying hard to remember what you were like. I’m so lucky. So blessed. I’ve got a beautiful, smart, funny, wonderful wife, four sons I’m so proud of, four daughters-in-law who I love like my own, and ten grandchildren who prove that it’s all been worth it. Every loss I ever felt was worth it when I look into each of those faces. And, yet, I’d give just about anything to see you again. To hear your voices again. I wonder if you’d be proud of me, Dad. Of what I’ve accomplished. Of who I became. I hope you’d be…” Lee’s voice trailed off.
“Of course, he’d be,” his wife’s soft voice replied.
“I knew you were there,” Lee turned around and smiled.
“Of course you did, Scarecrow,” Amanda humored him.
“Don’t give me that look.”
“What look?” Amanda innocently asked.
“The look you give me whenever you think you’re indulging me.”
Amanda sidled up close to her husband and ran her hands up and down his jacket lapels. “Do I do that?”
Lee sighed, gave in, and wrapped his arms around her waist, “Yes, you do and you’re too damn cute to resist when you do and you know it.” He pulled her closer and kissed her tenderly.
“You okay?” she asked breathlessly. “I was afraid you overdid it yesterday. It wasn’t easy finalizing the move.”
Lee nodded, “You’re right, though. We’ll still be in the house often enough. I even warned Jamie he’ll see us so much he’ll regret moving in.”
“No, he won’t,” Amanda smiled. “I am worried about you, though.”
Lee turned towards his father’s headstone and said, “Told you.” Amanda looked at him quizzically but he said, “Never mind. Everything okay? I thought you were going to wait by the car.”
Amanda nodded, “I just wondered whether you wanted to go for a drive when we’re done here. Check out some things.”
Lee raised an eyebrow, “Surveillance work?”
“Not exactly,” she smiled knowingly.
“Amanda King Stetson, what are you up to?”
“Me? I’m not up to anything.”
“Uh, huh. I’m not buying it. But, I’ll tell you what. If we go to this party, we’ll cut out early and then we’ll --”
“Party?” Amanda interrupted.
“You know as well as I do,” Lee answered, “that the kids are throwing me a surprise Father’s Day party at Matt and Lisa’s house.”
Amanda looked disappointed, “And I thought they did a terrific job of keeping it secret. How did you know?”
“You know it’s not wise to reveal one’s source,” Lee teased. “Now, are we in agreement?”
“If you promise to act surprised,” Amanda agreed, “I promise to cut out early with you.”
“Good,” Lee grinned. “We’ll pretend to be normal and --“
“Lee,” Amanda interrupted. “How long have we been together?” Lee wasn’t sure where she was leading and didn’t answer so A
manda asked again, “How many years have known each other?”
“Almost forty-seven years,” he answered with a quick kiss.
Amanda stepped back slightly and he looked at her in confusion. “And in all that time, haven’t you yet realized how normal you are? You’ve had, well, still have, a job you love and are great at, a wife you adore, a --”
“I certainly do,” Lee interrupted as he pulled her close for another kiss.
“Children and grandchildren you’re proud of,” she continued. “Lee, that’s normal. Our jobs may have been a bit unconventional but you’ve had that normal life all along. You were just too busy to notice.”
After a moment, Lee smiled and brushed her cheek lightly with his hand, “I told my dad my wife was smart.”
Amanda covered his hand with hers and smiled too. Then she chuckled and teased, “Remind me to call Paul and tell him it took the Scarecrow nearly fifty years to discover he had a brain all along.”
“Smart, but with an attitude,” Lee glared. “I think we’d better do something about that.”
Amanda grinned, “Maybe you’d better.”
“Hmmph,” Lee muttered as he wrapped his free arm around his wife’s waist, “maybe I’d better.”
“After the party,” both added at the same time.
They laughed and Lee tenderly kissed Amanda again. Then, with a final glance towards his parents’ resting places, Lee and his wife slowly made their way towards their car to celebrate with their waiting, loving, family.