Dotty was the first to leave; just a few minutes later, with a bag in hand, and cautious smile on her face. Lee offered to carry her bag out to the cab, and she refused, but he continued to walk her out. “Lee, I don’t know you very well, but what I do know is that you have made my daughter very happy over the last couple of years. This *is* just a mis-understanding, isn’t it?” Lee nodded. “ Oh, thank goodness. It’s no wonder things never worked out with Dean. I mean he was so dependable, and stable, and nice, but she didn’t seem to have that spark for him like she does when you’re around. Well, between you and me, Dean *was* a little boring. And you’d better make sure that you work this out with Amanda, or you’re going to have to deal with me when I get back, Lee. You do not want to deal with me if you break my daughter’s heart.”
“Dotty, I promise you that you are right. This is a complete mis-understanding, and I should have explained what was going on weeks ago, but I didn’t think I was ready. And we didn’t think that our jobs would be hanging in the balance because of our relationship.” Lee mused on the comments about Dean, and made a mental note to share that with Amanda later. After he cleared up this mess that he was in. “I would never do anything to hurt Amanda. You’re right. You don’t know very much about me, but Amanda knows me and my history, and if she had any doubts she wouldn’t be in that house waiting for me to explain myself.”
Dotty nodded. She knew her daughter very well, and so, apparently, did Lee. “Well, I expect that you’re not going to clue an old lady in, are you?” She smiled hopefully, already knowing the answer.
Lee laughed. “Oh no, Dotty,” he said while shaking his finger slightly, “I said I wanted to speak with Amanda first. Then I will explain everything to everyone else. Believe me, I won’t be breaking her heart. That is a promise. Enjoy the next couple of days with Captain Kurt.”
“Lee, I wanted this time off for you and Amanda to be alone and for you to move in. If you work this out, I expect that you’ll be living here when I come back.”
“Not until the boys agree, Dotty. I won’t put any more pressure on them than they might be feeling already.” Lee smiled and helped her into her cab. “Don’t worry about us.”
As he walked back into the house, the boys came downstairs with backpacks in hand. Philip shot a glare over at Lee, not entirely sure that he was being on the level with everyone. He quickly headed out the door after giving a quick hug to Amanda. Jaime wished her luck in the conversation that she looked like she was about to have with Lee, told her that he believed Lee, that this was a misunderstanding, and headed after his brother. He also wished Lee luck, and said he couldn’t be happier. Lee could have floated on air with those words.
Joe had never came back in to say goodnight, Lee hadn’t seen him when he’d walked Dotty out, and in a couple of minutes, the two remaining occupants of the house heard his car start up and drive away. They looked at each other, sighed, and sat down on the couch at the same time, side by side.
4247 Maplewood was finally silent. For all of 3 minutes.
“Hmmm?” His head was tilted back on the couch, and his eyes were closed. All of a sudden he was incredibly tired, but he knew what he was about to face.
“We need to talk.” Amanda paused, “Now.”
Amanda’s tone of voice when she said that they needed to talk made Lee sit up and take notice. “Who is she?” Amanda couldn’t even look at him when she asked. She just stared at her feet.
Lee took a deep breath. How did those rumors get out? There was no way that anyone else could have known about Sarah Brawley. He had kept it so quiet, they met only at his apartment, and there was no way… except Smyth’s critters. That’s what happened. He hadn’t really been ready to tell Amanda about Sarah, but he supposed that there wasn’t any other choice after Philip dropped that little bomb about calling his apartment. “Amanda, god, how can I start without it sounding bad?”
“It’s true? Oh gosh, Lee, don’t let this be true!”
“Well it is and it isn’t. Yes, she is an old girlfriend, and I am seeing her, but not in the way you think,” Lee grabbed Amanda’s hand before she could get up and walk away. “I want you to hear me out. After what happened in California, I realized that I’ve had too many losses in my life: my parents, my childhood, Dorothy… I lost one partner, and I almost lost another. And regardless of what happened to you, I’m a stepfather to those boys. If something *had* happened, they would never know that. And I wasn’t entirely sure that I was ready to be their stepfather. I didn’t know how to handle all of this, and I didn’t want to talk with Pfaff or else Smyth would get hold of the files.” Lee paused. He tipped Amanda’s chin up to look in her eyes. “I needed someone to talk to who could help me.”
“Lee, you could always talk to me. I’ll always help you. I’m your friend, your partner, and your wife. I’ll always be here to listen to you.”
“Amanda, in our business, that’s not always true. I almost lost you as part of a freak accident that no one could have predicted. And I needed someone detached from the situation to talk to. So I called a couple of old friends and they recommended Sarah. I’d completely forgotten about her, she’s a therapist, an old friend, and she has some very powerful clients – she knows about The Agency and she knows how to be discreet. For the last couple of months, Sarah’s been coming over to the apartment. Otherwise her office and files would have to be regularly swept.” Lee got up and started walking around the room. He stopped at the mantle, where a picture of Amanda and the boys were. As he picked up the photo, he thought ‘This is my family. I won’t lose them.’
Lee continued speaking. “In the time I’ve spent with Sarah, I’ve come to realize that these losses aren’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault that my parents died, and there was nothing I could do to save Dorothy, or my first partner, or to prevent you from getting shot in California…”
“Why couldn’t you have told me about this?” He couldn’t put a definition to the look on Amanda’s face. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t sad, she wasn’t happy. It was just a blank look. She’d reverted to agent mode.
“I wanted to. Believe me. But I also wanted you to be involved in a couple of sessions, and I couldn’t do that until I was really ready and had told you. This is not the way I envisioned you finding out what was going on, but then, I didn’t expect a rumor at The Agency to be started. I expect it was Smyth and his little critters that prompted that. Amanda, I am so sorry that you had to find out this way.” Lee looked over at his wife, who know was finding *her* shoes a very interesting subject. He walked over and reached over for her hand, and started rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. “Believe me. This is forever, Amanda. You helped me burn those black books of mine a while back, remember? The old Lee Stetson wouldn’t have done that – he would have made sure that you never even knew that they existed.”
Amanda was silent for a couple of minutes. Her face was expressionless. Lee wasn’t sure what to do, and he softly called her name, not expecting a response.
“Call Sarah. I want to talk to her. Tonight.”
Two and half hours later, Sarah was starting to yawn, and started to collect her notes so as to get ready to leave the white house in Arlington that Lee had told her so much about. She had confirmed all of what Lee had to say about their discussions to Amanda, who had a few interesting insights about Lee herself. That’s when Sarah realized just how very lucky Lee Stetson had gotten in happening across Amanda King in a train station. He’d found his way to the human race – and was very different than the unfeeling agent she knew long ago. That chapter in his life was over, and the demons that went with it were being banished.
Lee had called her two months earlier to help get rid of those demons, at the advice of a mutual and discreet friend, and to eventually have Amanda involved in the process. After this one session, Sarah didn’t see the need to have Amanda present any further. And she didn’t see the need to see Lee anymore as a patient. She had finished reaching for her notes on the coffee table, stacked them all together, and fastened a large clip around them. She handed them to Lee.
“Why are you giving me your notes?” Lee queried.
“Because we’re done. Now if you don’t mind, could I have a hand getting out of this chair? It’s no walk in the park being 8 months pregnant, you know.” Amanda immediately got up to help her.
“Um, Sarah, shouldn’t you keep the notes on Lee’s sessions? After all, you’re his therapist?” Amanda seemed slightly puzzled at this turn of events.
“I don’t keep any notes for people who aren’t my patients anymore. That’s just a standard part of the way I practice. After a patient breaks off with me, they generally don’t come back. In the rare cases that they have, we just cover the same ground again, and a new perspective comes from it. And then I don’t have to worry about someone getting their hands on my session notes years later and using them against the patient. Besides, I don’t expect to have to see Lee anymore, though. He’s got you, Amanda. You’re better for him than I ever could be.” Sarah grabbed her briefcase, and started towards the door.
Lee was just staring at the notes in his hand. “Um, Sarah?” He got up and walked towards her. “Thank you. But what should I do with these?”
“Whatever you wish. Burn them, save them, frame them, publish them. They’re your thoughts, you own them, and you should keep them.” She rubbed the small of her back, as it was a little achy from sitting down too long. Thankfully, she didn’t have too long a drive back to her home ahead of her.
“Uh, ok. Give my best to Paul, please?” Lee gave Sarah a quick hug, and helped her with her coat. “In fact, let me walk you to your car.” They headed out the front door.
Amanda started clearing up the dishes and coffee cups. ‘What a night’, she thought. She heard the front door close softly, and waited for the inevitable sneak attack by her husband. When none came, she turned and looked into the living room. Lee was sitting on the sofa, staring at the papers in his hands.
“Lee?” Amanda started towards him. “What are you going to do?”
Lee got up, threw the papers in the fireplace and threw a match in after them. Who cared if it was the beginning of June, and they had started a fire, as long as those notes disappeared as ash on the wind. He turned to Amanda, hugged her and told her he was sorry for not telling her sooner. They ended up sitting in front of the fireplace, watching those papers and ghosts burn until they were gone.
The next couple of days flew by, while Amanda and Lee went back to his apartment to pack much of it up. They carted a few boxes of unnecessary items into her attic, but left the clothes and other essentials at his apartment ready to move at a moment’s notice. Lee mused that this would be a walk in the park since he was used to living out of a bag, briefcase or piece of luggage with so many years of traveling for The Agency.
Every night they fell asleep exhausted at Amanda’s house from all the activity. They had attempted to inspire a romantic mood by showering together on the second night, but they were so tired they ended holding each other up in the shower.
On the third day, when the boys were expected home, Amanda went outside to wait for Joe so that they could talk about what happened. He wasn’t very receptive to coming into the house, as he saw Lee’s Corvette parked in the driveway behind Amanda’s Jeep, but if he wanted to know the whole story, Amanda insisted, that was the only way.
Joe had taken the news of their marriage rather well, all things considered. He didn’t let on that he suspected that they had been seeing each other, but it didn’t matter. Amanda was happier than he had seen in ages, and that was what was important. Other than who was that other woman that Philip had told them about. The thought of that had Joe seeing red once again, but he had promised Amanda that he’d stay calm.
When Philip came in, he ran straight upstairs knowing that he’d avoid Lee if he did so. Jaime headed for the kitchen, and greeted Lee, who was having a cup of coffee. “Lee, are you and Mom all straightened out now?”
“You bet. Your mom and I will explain it all in a little while. First we need to talk to your father. Why don’t you head upstairs and try to convince Philip that I’m not such a bad guy?” Lee winked at his stepson – once, Philip was the one who had that role.
When Joe came in, Lee offered him a cup of coffee, and sat down with him and Amanda to hear about what was going on when Philip had called the apartment. Since Joe knew about Lee’s involvement with The Agency, it made explaining why he had sought out someone to talk to easier to explain. They all knew that it wouldn’t be that easy to explain it to the boys, however, but Joe promised to support Lee’s explanation. He did warn them, however, after getting back to his place, Philip had yelled for about a half hour, and then had been quiet the rest of the time. He wouldn’t even speak to Jaime about what was going on.
There was another topic besides the mystery woman that they needed to discuss, and after a quick talk about it, Joe agreed to stick around for that as well. Lee didn’t expect, however, that either conversation would go smoothly. When the boys came downstairs, the three adults called them into the family room to sit down and talk this out a little more. Philip certainly did not look happy about any of this, and moved to sit as far away from Lee as possible.
“Who is she?” Philip sounded exactly the same as his mother had a couple of days earlier.
“Philip, her name is Sarah, and she’s a therapist. When Lee was a little boy, both his parents died, and he’s lost a couple of other people that were very important to him as well.”
“Then your Mom was shot in California, and I thought I was going to lose her, without us every getting a chance to tell you about the two of us. I didn’t know how I was going to explain that I’m your stepfather without your mother being with us. And when she recovered, I realized that I was afraid of being a part of the family because I didn’t want to lose you guys either.” Lee looked from one boy to the other, and then to Joe, who nodded.
“But why did you have to talk to someone else besides Mom? She’s one of the best people to talk to?” Philip was curious.
“Sarah could be more objective than your Mom. Your Mom would just want to hug me and make it better, but what I needed was an objective opinion as to why I was feeling the way I did. And because your Mom, and you, were part of the reason I was seeing Sarah, it just didn’t seem right.”
“So, you were seeing this lady because you couldn’t talk to mom, and you were scared of us?” Jaime finally spoke up.
“Yeah, I guess you could put it that way.” Lee looked relieved.
“Oh.” Philip got up and walked over to Lee. “I’m sorry for being mad at you and jumping to conclusions. I should have just asked you what was going on.”
“Thanks, Philip. That would have saved a lot of distress the other night, but I should have told your mother what was going on too. Friends, again?” They shook hands.
“Fellas, we have something else to discuss with you too.” Both boys looked at their mother.
Lee knew that there was no avoiding this question, and that he had to be the one to ask it. “Philip, Jaime… I know this news is, um, was unexpected, and I don’t expect you to be comfortable with this for a while. As we said, we didn’t intend to keep this from you forever, and if you want to blame anyone for keeping this secret from everyone, then blame me. I was only concerned for your and your mother’s safety.”
“Lee, that’s not true, and you know it. Boys, he isn’t entirely to blame – he didn’t force me to not tell you boys. I went along with it, and I am as much to blame. But what he said about keeping us all safe is true. It’s the only reason we didn’t have a ceremony with you and your grandma all together.” Amanda looked from one son to the other. Jaime was nodding his head, as if life-altering secrets were dumped on him every day. Amanda was so proud at how far her youngest boy had come emotionally – he used to be jealous of Lee, now it seemed like he was his biggest supporter. Philip, who had previously been Lee’s champion, was studying his shoelaces.
Lee continued. “I’m not going to try and replace your dad, and I wouldn’t want to. But I do want us to be friends, and I think we were on the right track before your mom and I sprung this on you, and this misunderstanding about Sarah. I love your mom very much. And if it’s ok with you, if you’re ready, I’d like to move in. I think your grandmother had originally arranged all this time off so that I could do just that, but I won’t until I know both of you are going to be OK with it.” Lee stopped and looked at Amanda. She nodded and smiled. He was doing fine with approaching the subject, and wasn’t forcing anything on them.
Joe spoke up, “I know your mother doesn’t love you any less because she loves Lee enough to marry him. And this doesn’t mean that I’m going to see you any less, either. But it will make me feel better that there’s going to be someone else around who cares about you, and you can turn to for help if you need it.”
Jaime spoke up. “Lee, this is so weird. It’s going to be weird for a while. But if you want to move in, that’s ok with me.” He smiled shyly and looked down. He didn’t know what else to say, and thought that it was pretty cool for Lee to be asking their permission to move in with them. “You should live here now. After all, you married Mom, and it’s probably been weird not living together like you’re supposed to when you’re married. Uh, thanks for asking our permission.” Jaime felt really grown up at that moment – he had a part in an important decision, and Lee wasn’t going to make it an ultimatum. “I, um, think it’s cool that you’re going to be our step-dad. Uh, I guess you *are* our step-dad, huh?” He looked to his father cautiously, but Joe was smiling and nodded at Jaime.
Philip had been quiet again, and the truth of the matter was that he didn’t know what to say. “Mom, Lee… um.” He sighed. “I guess it’s ok with me too. I’m still not sure about this whole thing, but Jaime made a good point: Lee has a right to stay here. And, uh, I think he’s going to be a good step-dad too.”
Amanda could have cried at that moment for how understanding her boys were being about Lee’s role as their stepfather. It was exactly the support he needed. “Fellas, come here.” She held out her arms to hug the two young men. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Joe knew that this was the right time to leave and let everyone start to get settled and adjusted to the new lifestyle that was about to descend on 4247 Maplewood. Joe nodded at Amanda, who he noticed, was valiantly trying not to cry, and shook Lee’s hand, wishing him congratulations. He bid them goodbye, and showed himself out the door. Lee Stetson was a more sensitive man than he had previously given him credit for. Amanda and the boys were going to be in good hands, he thought as he looked back at the house just before driving away.
The End… until after they’re all moved in… but that’s another story for another day…