Summary: Lee tries to brighten Amanda's spirits.
Disclaimer: Scarecrow & Mrs. King and all related characters, including Lee Stetson and Amanda King, named in this fan-fiction do not belong to me, but are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. The concept of this story and its execution are the property of the author.
Discussion: Feedback is welcome.
Author's Notes: Special thanks to Shawn for betaing this story. Her suggestions were very helpful. EmilyAnn has my permission to archive this story, anyone else, please do not repost, distribute, or archive this story without the author's consent. Thank you. Thanks also to Beth, Sally, and Kim D. for all their hard work.
It was a beautiful, sun-filled April day, and Lee Stetson had a plan. His beloved wife of thirty-five years had no idea what he was up to, but that just worked to his advantage. Earlier this morning, he'd persuaded her to join him for a ride in his new silver Mercedes. While advancing age may have lessened his love of speed, he still enjoyed a responsive and stylish vehicle.
He'd explained to Amanda that he needed to run a few errands and that he could use her opinion on some of the things. She suspected nothing. With pride in his still sharp skills at deception, he buffed the nails of his left hand against the lapel of his sport coat. He was determined to set everything to rights.
He called her name and suggested that it was time to leave. She walked from the kitchen into the family room, slowly slipped on her sweater, and reached for her purse. "I'm ready for . . . whatever," she said as she turned toward him, her face a bland mask.
His heart ached to see her like this. Their two college-aged grandsons had come to visit them over spring break. Phillip and Jamie, along with their wives, had planned on joining the boys. They had planned a family reunion of sorts, but job demands reared their ugly heads and kept them away. Lee and Amanda had the boys to themselves for a whole week. Amanda reveled at having the two young men to cook for, to fuss over, to spoil. Their departure had come much too soon to suit her, and she had slipped into a dark and lonely place. Lee's little scheme was meant to bring her back into the light.
He pointed to the front door, and watched as she approached and opened it, then headed toward the car. After all these years, a glimpse of her could still cause his heart to flutter. A contented smile broke across his face.
To maintain the cover of his covert operation, Lee made stops at the hardware store, to pick up picture hooks for the framed photos the boys had brought with them, and at the wine shop, where he purchased a delightful Chardonnay. Amanda protested that he could have handled the tasks on his own, leaving her at home, in peace. He chuckled at her argument, a glint of mischief in his eyes.
They drove in silence, Amanda staring sullenly out the window at the passing scenery. Approaching their final destination, Lee settled the car into a parking slot, and eased out of his seat. He stood slowly and worked the kinks out of his aging knees. All those rough and tumble years as an agent had taken their toll, and he now found himself fighting the ravages of arthritis. Moving deliberately around the back of the vehicle, he opened the passenger door, and held out his hand to help his wife.
As their drive had neared its end, Amanda had become aware of their destination. Stepping out of the car, she caught Lee's eye with gentle reproach.
He ignored her quiet reprimand as his hand instinctively moved to its customary residence of the last forty years, the small of her back, and then guided her toward the entrance gate.
Amanda stopped and turned toward him. "Lee, what are we doing here? I haven't been here in years."
"Yeah, I know," he grinned. "I thought it might be just what you need."
She looked at him with puzzlement. He nodded his head at her unspoken question. "Amanda, my love, ever since the boys went back to school, you've been, well, down in the dumps. I just thought this might, I don't know, bring back some good memories."
"Memories, huh?" She stopped and looked around her, the hint of tears visible in the corners of her eyes. "Yeah, lots of memories here." She bit her lower lip, trying to contain the emotions welling up within her. Taking a deep breath, she spoke quietly, "When Phillip and Jamie were little, I used to bring them here all the time, but how did you know?"
Lee looked at her sheepishly and shrugged an apology. "I guess because I followed you here a few times. I'd never been to the zoo before; it was a real education for me." A playful look crossed his face making him appear years younger. "You always took the same route," he laughed, the sound resonating deep in his chest. "First, you'd head off to see the lions, then the tigers, then the bears. At the time, if I hadn't known better, I'd have sworn you knew I was right behind you."
She looked at him, love glowing in her eyes. "You followed us?" she squeaked, then shook her head in disbelief. "You followed us," she repeated softly to herself. "All these years and you never told me?" She reached out for his hand. "Lee Stetson? Have I told you lately what an amazing man you are?"
"Aw, shucks," he said, tossing his head. "How about we relive the old days?" He slipped his arm around hers and tucked her hand into his free one.
"So what shall we see first, Mrs. Stetson? The elephants? The giraffes? The rhinoceros?"
She pulled him closer to her, and leaned her head against his shoulder. "No, my wonderful Scarecrow, I think we'll head into the Haunted Forest and follow the boys' favorite path."
Confusion crossed his face. "The Haunted Forest?"
"Amanda raised her head to look into his eyes as mirth danced over her features. "You followed us and never figured it out?" A laugh escaped her throat. "Oh, Lee, you really never knew why we went the way we did?"
He shook his head and opened his hands to indicate his bewilderment.
She led him to a nearby bench. "Maybe you'd better sit down."
He looked at her, wondering what she could possibly tell him that would warrant such concern; then, he did as she suggested.
Amanda sat next to him and took his hand between both of her own. She lifted it and placed it over her heart. "Lee, Sweetheart, when the boys and I would come to the zoo, we would always play a little game."
"What kind of a game?"
"See, once, before we came, I'd just finished reading them a book. They were very small and became enthralled with the characters. Well, for weeks afterwards, everything they said and did revolved around that story."
"So?" he urged her to continue, ignoring the shout of the popcorn vendor walking past them.
"Well, you see, from that time on, until the boys were ten or twelve, every time we'd come to the zoo, we'd pretend to be the characters in that tale."
"Amanda . . ." Lee warned, his patience growing thin, "could you please get to the point?"
"I am, I'm getting to the point, honest." She smiled broadly. After all these years, she still had difficulty keeping her thoughts on track. She studied her husband carefully for a moment, concern now replacing amusement. Even at this advanced stage of their lives together, she hesitated to bring up memories of the past for fear that they might cause him pain. "Look, Lee, when we would come here, why do you think we went to see the animals we did, in the order we did?"
Lee shrugged, then replied, "I don't know."
"Think about it," she urged him, lowering his hand to her lap. She freed one hand and reached up to brush a thinning wisp of gray hair out of his eyes.
He shook his head at first, and then realization flooded across his face. "You don't mean?"
She nodded her head, and an enormous smile fanned across her face from forehead to chin. "Yep! I was Dorothy, Phillip was Scarecrow, and Jamie was Tinman. Didn't you ever notice us dancing our steps as we went along, arm in arm?"
Lee sat there, incredulous. Moments passed and he didn't move
or respond. Then, suddenly, he stood and pulled Amanda to her feet.
"What the heck, why not?" With a small bow, he waved his hand in
a gallant gesture. "After you, my dear." He looked deeply into
her eyes, reassuring her that, with her help, he had long ago recovered
from his past hurts. "Let us be off to
Oz." His hand, again, took its familiar place, and they headed down the road to enjoy the animals, the radiant warmth of the day, and each other.