"Coming," said a voice from inside. Good, thought Joe, Dotty was home. He checked his watch: 2:15. The boys wouldn't be home yet, but soon enough that his visit shouldn't be suspicious. Lost in thought, he was startled when the door finally opened. "Joe! How wonderful to see you today! Come in, come in," said his former mother-in-law.
Leaning over to give her a kiss, he asked, "Are the boys home yet?"
"No, not for another hour at least. Of course that depends on if they come straight home or if they stop over anywhere first, or if they just dawdle."
"Doesn't Amanda pick them up?" Joe asked.
"No, not anymore. They're too big, so they keep reminding us. Besides, she's never home from work early enough."
"I thought she was only working part time," Joe said.
He hoped that Dotty wasn't in a hurry today, and could fill him in on how Amanda had been spending her time lately. Amanda had certainly been reluctant to give him many details, but then again they had been a little busy trying to find out who had framed him. Joe thought back to the events of the past week and how despite the danger Amanda seemed so . . . exhilarated. And exhilarating. He hoped that Dotty would be able to help him find out more about this woman who used to be his wife.
"Well, that's what she claims. She doesn't work every day . . . but sometimes she gets so involved in those films of hers. Trips, long nights, I don't know why she puts up with it. I keep telling her, Amanda it's not good to always jump when your boss calls. He takes advantage of her, that Mr. Steadman," Dotty rambled.
"Mr. Steadman?" Joe asked. Stetson? No, it had to be a coincidence. Still . . . he wondered . . . they had seemed to know each other. "Have you ever met him? What is he like?"
"I've only spoken to him on the phone. He seems like such a nice gentleman, but still. He calls, and she runs." Dotty shook her head. "I'm glad you're back. What was going on last week with all of those government agents running around?"
Joe shook his head. "Long story," he sighed, "and most of it I can't discuss. I wish I could tell you about it. Do you know that I don't even know where I was this morning?" The debriefing this morning had taken longer than Joe had anticipated. He had expected Lee Stetson to conduct more of it but Stetson sat as a spectator. Joe had felt as if he were under a microscope the entire time, being watched for his every expression and reaction. It was unsettling, to say the least.
"Secrets . . . you sound like Amanda," Dotty said. "Would you like some coffee while you wait for the boys? There's a fresh pot on." Dotty went and got a mug before Joe had a chance to answer. "Listen, since you're here I'm going to run and get the groceries. I know Amanda will forget. She always does. Ends up running out to the store late at night." Dotty grabbed her purse. "Will you stay for dinner?"
Joe hesitated, unsure. "I don't know. I just wanted to check in with the boys and see how they were doing. I've still got to find an apartment. Maybe another evening?"
"If you're sure. I'm sure that Amanda would love for you to stay." Dotty looked at Joe. Oh it would be so nice to have a man around the house, she thought to herself. Of course, that meant Amanda would need to be around the house to appreciate it. Dotty gave Joe a kiss on the cheek. "Okay, I'm going to run. Tell the boys I shouldn't be gone too long. I'll get some extra food for dinner, just in case."
Once Dotty had left, Joe walked into the family room and looked at the pictures on the shelves. His sons were so much bigger than when he had left for Africa with the EAO. It was hard to believe he was finally back. Joe was so caught up in thoughts of earlier times that he didn't hear Amanda come in the back door.
"Joe! What are you doing here?" Amanda was startled to see her ex-husband in her family room.
"Hello, Amanda." Joe smiled. She looked good, he thought, flushed . . . excited . . . happy. "I came by to see the boys. Are you done for the day?" Maybe, he thought, I will stay for dinner.
"No, sorry. I have an evening shoot and just needed to run in and change. Is Mother around?" Amanda thought to herself that it had become so easy to lie about her life. She wondered if Joe had figured anything out this past week, or if he would take her at her word.
"Dotty ran to the grocery store. She said the boys would be home soon. She invited me for dinner . . . but I wasn't sure . . . . "
"You should stay, Joe. It will be good for Phillip and Jamie to have you here. Besides, I have no idea what time I'll finish up."
"Your mother mentioned that your job had some pretty strange hours."
Amanda shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to have this discussion with her ex-husband. "It's the nature of the beast. Listen, I'm sorry but I really do need to run up and change. I hope you can stay for dinner." With that, Amanda ran upstairs.
Joe went back to the bookshelves and continued his perusal of the pictures displayed. This time, though, he heard the back door open. He turned as Lee Stetson entered.
"Amanda - hurry up!" Lee yelled just as he noticed Joe King standing in the family room. "Joe." Damn, he thought. "Hi." Lee ran his hand through his hair. There went that little secret, he thought to himself.
Joe looked at Lee, dressed in black pants, turtleneck and jacket. He saw the edge of a shoulder holster peeking through the jacket opening. "Mr. Steadman, I presume?" Joe asked and Lee nodded. "It's a long shot but I take it you don't have a secret life working for a film company?"
"Um, no." Where was Amanda, Lee wondered, and how mad was she going to be at him for this? The last week had been decidedly awkward, and Lee was looking forward to getting their partnership back on track. Yet here was Joe King, in Amanda's house. Resisting the urge to ask Joe what he was doing there, Lee instead looked at his watch and began to pace back and forth. The silence was uncomfortable, but less so than any conversation might have been. Finally, footsteps were heard on the stairs.
"Okay, I'm off . . . " Amanda paused as she entered the room. Her black jeans and turtleneck mirrored Lee's outfit. The only thing missing from what she wore, Joe noticed, was the shoulder holster. "Lee, weren't you going to wait in the car?" Amanda definitely sounded annoyed.
Lee had to laugh, and Amanda even managed a smile as she realized what she said. She turned to Joe. "I'm sorry," she began, "this isn't how I wanted you to find out"
"No, it's okay. I guess when I said you had changed, that was a bit of an understatement," Joe told her. "How long have you been doing . . . this?"
"About two and a half years," Amanda admitted.
"And no one knows?"
"Not until now," she answered.
"Oh." Joe wasn't sure how to proceed. His ex-wife was a federal agent. A secret federal agent. A spy, really. At least that clarified many of the events of the past week. Still, it was hard for him to imagine Amanda as a spy. Joe looked over at Lee who was watching Amanda closely, and felt a surge of jealousy at the thought of his ex-wife involved in this life, with this man. "How?" he asked.
"Long story," Amanda began. She was about to continue but caught her partner's eye. "But I'm late, and we have to go. I'm sorry."
"Another time?" Joe asked, and Amanda nodded. "Don't worry. I won't say anything. Guess I owe both of you quite a bit anyway."
"No," Lee answered, "you don't owe anything." He left unsaid that his work on the case had been for Amanda and her sons, but Joe saw something in his eyes that conveyed the thought nonetheless. Lee continued, "But we are late, and we really do have to go. Goodnight Joe."
Joe watched as Lee opened the door for Amanda, and followed her outside. He walked to the kitchen, and watched as they ran quietly down the street, hand in hand. Their easy familiarity made him distinctly uneasy. He hoped that at some point he'd get more answers, but somehow he doubted it. For now, Joe knew he was part of the secrecy, and he wasn't sure how comfortable he was with that.