After they had explained the circumstances of why they decided to hide their marital status, and when the wedding had actually taken place, Billy had seemed to be a little more calm and rational about the whole situation. That didn’t, however, get them off the hook with Smyth.
Billy was about to review reports and had requested Francine’s assistance when his phone rang and it had been McFarland from IA. He was requested verification on the marital status on both of his agents in the Q-Bureau. “Divorced for Mrs. King, hopelessly single for Stetson,” had been Billy’s reply. Billy expected the laugh that he got from McFarland about Lee’s status, but hadn’t expected the reply, “Not anymore, he’s not. In fact-“ and that was the last that Billy heard as he had slammed down the phone. Francine looked up and asked what IA had found that Lee had done now. Billy wasn’t the only one who was going to get an unexpected reply that afternoon. Francine went into immediate shock when he muttered, “He got married,” as he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.
Both Lee and Amanda started laughing at Billy’s supposition that Francine was probably still sitting in his office in shock. He hadn’t looked back into his office or the bullpen after he left, and wouldn’t have spoken to anyone, if Dr. Smyth hadn’t stepped in his way. Smyth requested, in his usual overbearingly polite way, that “Stetson and the housewife” have a meeting with him and Billy first thing tomorrow morning. Oh, and to wish them a good afternoon when he sees them. Silence settled around the trio, as they pondered that thought. No good would come out of that meeting, and they all knew it.
Billy stood to leave; he had to go make sure that Francine was o.k. He wasn’t completely sure that she had heard what he said, but wanted to explain the whole truth before the rumor mills went into overdrive.
After he left, the house was quiet for a few minutes, and Amanda asked, “Well, what do we do now?”
“Now, *I* go back to my lonely apartment, pack a bag, and come over here so that we can tell your mother and Philip and Jaime the truth about our relationship.”
“Not so fast, big fella. What exactly are we going to tell them? That we kept our marriage a secret for no reason for almost 5 months? How do we explain that?”
“By coming clean about our jobs.”
“Which we may not have tomorrow morning.” Amanda sat down on the couch next to Lee. “We can wait one more night. Tomorrow we’ll know what Smyth wants to do to us, and then we can take it from there. Please?” She looked up at Lee with slightly widened eyes. She could do no wrong, or ask for the world and he’d give it to her when she looked at him like that.
“Ok. One more night.” Lee was struck with a thought. “Listen, Amanda, that’s a great idea. I can head home, clean up the apartment a bit, and pack a bunch of clothes up for moving here.”
“Do you need help?”
“No, that’s ok. I remember the last time you helped me clean out my closets. I think I can handle this. I have a few errands to run too – and some outside contacts to make before they hear of the news secondhand. T.P. would never forgive us.” Lee nodded at Amanda to further make his point as he made this last statement.
After driving a discreet distance from the house, Lee picked up the phone in the Corvette, and made a quick phone call. “Can you meet me at my place, now? We really need to talk. Great. Thanks.”
Amanda’s mind remained pre-occupied for the better part of the rest of the day. Dotty couldn’t figure out what was going on with her daughter, and this was the first night in weeks that Lee Stetson wasn’t present in the kitchen, or the den, or the family room, or in the backyard with the boys. Dotty stopped at this last thought. He tried so hard with the boys and they had come around to liking him with no problems. Both Philip and Jaime had said that they wouldn’t mind having Lee around on a permanent basis. So, when was he going to make a permanent commitment to Amanda?
Dotty tried to pry information as to what Lee was up to, but Amanda was casually vague about it. She seemed a little down, so Dotty started scheming. She asked Philip to call over to Lee’s place and invite him over for dinner as a surprise while she kept Amanda busy in the garden. Goodness knows, that garden needed more work from the neighbor’s dogs and the kids running through their backyard. It was a wonder that there was even grass back there.
Philip picked up the phone in the den and dialed Lee’s number from memory. Philip and Lee had hit it off right from the first time they were introduced, and he had given the boys his phone number in case they ever needed someone to talk to that wasn’t their mom or grandma. Philip had really appreciated it, and had called Lee a couple of times when it came to a problem with a girl at school, but they hadn’t let on to Amanda. She thought her oldest son to still be to young to worry about girls.
The phone in Lee’s apartment rang while he was in the kitchen making coffee, and his guest, who had been a frequent visitor, was polite and answered the phone. Thus, Philip was not expecting to hear the female voice that answered, “Stetson residence?” He was silent, not knowing what to say when the woman said, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Philip put the phone back down softly into the cradle. This was not something that Mom needed to know in her present mood, and not something for Grandma to start in on considering she was always pestering Lee as to when he was going to ask his mother to marry him. Lee had always artfully dodged answering the question either by changing the subject or laughing. Philip now thought he knew why. When Grandma asked, he would simply say that there was no answer. That would solve the problem for tonight.
But that wasn’t going to solve Lee’s problem with Philip when next they saw each other.
Lee picked Amanda up the next morning to head for work, and found that she, unlike him, had slept extraordinarily well. She had mentioned that she did wake up at one point because she had had a dream, well a nightmare, really, about what had happened in that warehouse. She had stayed awake to think about whether or not she could have done anything different, as Dr. Pfaff had suggested, and had come up blank. Having reasoned that out, she fell back to sleep quickly, and assured Lee that there was nothing to worry about in that aspect. She was a little worried about Philip – he seemed a little distant this morning. Instead of the usual banter between Lee and Philip, her oldest son had barely acknowledged him, and left the house without saying goodbye. Jaime didn’t know what was going on with Philip’s attitude either, just that he’d been that way since last night.
When they reached The Agency, Lee and Amanda walked into the noisy bullpen, and all conversation immediately stopped. They weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, but both agents became extremely self-conscious to the fact that they were the cause of the silence. Everyone had noticed Francine yesterday sitting in Billy’s office in shock, but no one had dared approach while Billy was gone. She had finally come out shortly after his return, looking a little dazed, and even this morning, she still seemed rather preoccupied with the news. It must have had to do with the rumors that everyone had heard – Lee and Amanda were going to be removed from service, and it had to do with either the two of them having a personal relationship, or Lee getting married. No one was sure whether one rumor had to do with the other.
The two agents headed straight for Billy’s office, where the door was waiting open for them. Billy had noticed the silence before noticing what had caused it, and came to stand in the doorway. He barked, “Back to work, people!” A few agents jumped when he slammed the door behind Lee, and immediately started closing the blinds.
Almost immediately, Lee set to the task of wearing a line in the usual place in the carpet, while firing off unanswerable questions regarding their partnership, and Billy kept telling him to sit down. Finally, Amanda couldn’t take it anymore, stood up, grabbed her husband’s arm, and asked him quietly to stop. Lee looked at her, nodded, and sat down next to her. Billy looked shocked at the result of her request. All she did was touch his arm, and he looked like he would do anything in the world for her. Yes, this was going to be a good thing for Scarecrow to settle down and be a family man. And if Smyth did anything to break up this team, The Agency would never be the same.
Just the simple fact that Lee Stetson had gotten married had been too much for Francine to handle when Billy had dropped the info into her lap before heading to find Lee and Amanda, and she had stayed seated in his office the entire time he had been gone. She had barely recovered from her shock when Billy showed up and explained that what she had heard him say was true, with one additional detail: who he had married. Amanda. That pretty much sent Francine’s mind into overload, and she sat on the couch with a dazed look on her face – she was again sitting in Billy’s office in much the same state that she was the previous day, and asking herself a lot of the same questions. It was shocking enough that Lee had started a relationship with the housewife, but married her? And even more shocking yet was the fact that they had been married for the better part of a year? And it wasn’t a cover? And… “Ugh,” she groaned, unnoticed by the others in the office. Her head hurt, and Stetson wasn’t helping matters with the pacing and the incessant questions.
Even in her shocked state, however, it hadn’t been lost on Francine that Amanda had managed to get Lee to stop pacing with just a touch and a couple of quiet words. And that sent her mind reeling even more.
“Billy, Smyth’s going to break us up, isn’t he? That’s the master plan that he has, isn’t it?” Lee’s questions didn’t tame down once he sat, but at least he wasn’t causing the others in the room to be so damn dizzy.
“I don’t know, Lee. Smyth’s never liked Amanda very much; he likes you even less. It’s possible that the very thing you want – your partnership – will have to dissolve at his whim. Or perhaps one, or both, of you will be forced to resign. But we’ll just have to wait and see – I don’t have the foggiest idea what he has planned.” Billy sighed. He hoped that wasn’t what Smyth had planned. If Amanda had to leave (which was the most likely possibility because of her short official tenure with The Agency), Scarecrow would probably go back to being partner less, and driving anyone crazy who was partnered with him for even a short time.
“Mr. Melrose, we know Dr. Smyth hates me, and he’ll have my job…” Amanda stopped at the sound of the door opening, and Dr. Smyth walked into the room as if on cue.
“Well, well, Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, Scarecrow kissed the girls and made them cry. I bet there are some girls crying today, Scarecrow. No offense Mrs. King. I hear that Scarecrow danced down the yellow brick road to move into your house. And if I remember the story correctly, the Scarecrow didn’t have a brain, so I guess it makes sense that he would lose his head.” Dr. Smyth puffed on his ever-present cigarette with a self-satisfied smile on his face. “The two of you were too good to be true, and the rumors were just too juicy. I was sure that something would come out from listening in to your apartment, Scarecrow, but I suppose that IA background checks are more effective than having agents listen to you two in Scarecrow’s apartment every other night.”
Amanda looked over at Lee. ‘What does he mean by every other night,’ she wondered. Lee stared at Smyth, with an expressionless face and Amanda could see the muscle in his jaw twitching. Billy held the same position as Lee – twin volcanoes ready to blow.
Lee managed a little more self-restraint than his boss. “Dr. Smyth! What do you mean in bugging my best team of field agents! What was there to gain in this exercise? And forcing the IA checks when they’re unnecessary is out of line!” The background noise from the bullpen went silent at hearing Billy’s raised voice.
“Just keeping an eye on the best interests of this Agency. You know as well as I do that it can lead to a compromising situation if agents get involved on a personal level. It’s too bad that you had to compromise your career, King, you were turning out to be a pretty good agent. Terrible shame that you’re not going to be able to continue with The Agency. As for you, Stetson, you’re suspended until further notice, with the likelihood to be out of a job too. I expect someone – “with this he looked pointedly at Billy”- will find a way to keep you on the job, but there’s no hope for your wife. Congratulations, forgive me for not sending a gift, but I wasn't invited to the nuptials. Sayonara, sweethearts.”
With that Smyth walked out of the office, and before he closed the door he stood looking out into the bullpen. Everyone out there quickly went back to work. Lee looked helplessly at Billy. “Billy, he can’t do this. Amanda’s my partner – she has been for the better part of the last 4 years. Whether anyone liked to admit it or not.” He looked from Billy to Amanda. “I’m sorry, ‘Manda. There was nothing I could do, I wanted to hide the paperwork, but…” His voice trailed off.
“I know, Lee. The only way to hide this whole thing would have been to marry under an assumed name, and then it wouldn’t be real. I knew it was risky, and that we could have been found out. It’s ok, sweetheart. Dr. Smyth would have found a way to be rid of me eventually.” She smiled weakly. “Mr. Melrose, Sir? Has Dr. Smyth seen anyone about his preoccupation with twisting nursery rhymes or did he have a twisted childhood?”
Billy and Lee both turned to stare at Amanda. Francine was still sitting on the sofa trying to digest everything that was happening. “I’m sorry, Mr. Melrose. I couldn’t resist, but he’s always talking in circles referencing nursery rhymes, and well…” Amanda’s voice trailed off.
Billy shook his head slightly as he addressed the senior agent of the team. “Lee, if you had at least told me that it was this serious, I might have been able to do something. I could have covered for you, or delayed checks, smothered paperwork for a while. But how could let this Agency, or me for that matter, find out via a background check?” Billy’s voice was starting to rise.
“Smyth’s probably known about us for a while, with those bugs,” Lee stated as he stood to start pacing again.
“All the more reason that you should have kept me in the loop!” Billy roared.
At this, Francine woke up from her trance in a stormy mood. “How could you? How could you keep this from us? We’re your friends! I mean it’s not like anybody didn’t know about you two!!” Francine’s voice rose with each statement. “We all heard the rumors around the office. You’d have to be an idiot not to notice it!”
Lee and Amanda turned to stare at Francine and then turned to look at each other. How could anyone have known? Had they been spotted somewhere together? Billy smiled, shaking his head. These two may be his best team of agents, but they certainly were stupid when it came to hiding their feelings for one another.
“What Francine means, I think, is that it got to be pretty obvious to anyone who paid attention to the two of you that you were involved. Lee, you’ve become so much more protective of Amanda—“
“She’s my partner. Before that she was civilian auxiliary. What was I supposed to do, leave her—”
“Scarecrow, let me finish,” Billy roared. Lee took a deep breath, looked down, and sat back down. “I was going to say that you’ve become even more protective of Amanda even after she joined the training programs and came on full time. You’d have to be blind to see how you react when she comes into a room… and let’s not get started on the Q-Bureau.” Billy stared Lee down, who immediately started turning red around the collar.
“For the amount of times I’ve almost caught you two,” Francine teased. “Lee, how could you be so dense? You give new meaning to the words ‘dumb blonde’. How long has it been since we last saw you drag in looking for aspirin and coffee after a late night? Now, half the time you walk in with a smile on your face, and the other half you walk in looking like you haven’t slept, but you see Amanda and you’re immediately walking on clouds. And you’d think you would have figured that we knew something was going on after all those warnings when you had to cozy back up to Elisa Danton.”
“What do you mean? I thought you guys were just trying to warn me off of her and her ‘intentions’?” Lee looked confused.
“We were,” Billy stated.
“And we were trying to protect Amanda,” Francine continued. At mention of her name, Amanda looked up at Francine with great interest. “I know. I know I warned you about getting involved with Lee, and we may not have gotten to be good friends, but I know of where I speak. Lee, I’ve seen enough of your broken hearts in the steno pool, and I didn’t want to see your team break up after you stomped on Amanda’s heart with Elisa and expected things to be the same. She deserves better than that.” Francine’s intent hung in the air: Amanda deserved better than the Playboy version of Lee Stetson.
“But I wouldn’t—“
“But they didn’t know that,” Amanda quietly interrupted. “They didn’t know that we were involved. Only we knew that. Only I knew that you’d given up those black books almost two years ago. And I know how much pressure Elisa was putting on you.”
“Amanda, you don’t know the half—“
“Two years ago!” Francine shrieked. Amanda simply nodded.
“She does, Lee,” Billy said. “I told her about Elisa cozying up to me to try and find out who had you wrapped around their little finger, because she wasn’t getting anywhere as fast as she would have liked. And Lee, we all remember that you had quite the reputation following you around. Still do, if you listen to the rumor mill.”
“Don’t remind me.” Lee looked almost stricken at that comment.
“What I don’t understand, are those rumors about you and Amanda, and then the rumor that you were going permanently off the market. We know they’re both true, but why didn’t they cross each other?” Billy thought about adding that last rumor about someone outside The Agency as an afterthought, but dropped it thinking that there was mis-information involved.
“Billy, you’re so out of the gossip loop.” Francine smiled. “That rumor about Lee being off the market was due to the first bit about him and Amanda. From the way they act around each other, and the way he’s settled down – even taking Amanda on as his partner last year? Come on, this was a foregone conclusion.”
“I wasn’t aware I was so transparent, Francine,” Lee muttered.
“Francine’s right, Sir. The rumors were true. Lee was seriously involved with someone and he was off the market. The only thing that was a mystery was *who* he was involved with.” Amanda looked up at Billy and smiled.
“Hey, Billy, we’re trained to protect secrets. Amanda and I kept this one fairly well protected, don’t you think?” Lee flashed a smile at his boss.
“You know, Stetson,” Francine smirked, “this is just like you. You couldn’t turn your head away from a challenge, and Amanda was the first woman in a long, long time who didn’t succumb to your charms immediately like some of the others I’ve heard about. I guess our little housewife was smarter than I gave her credit for.” At this statement, Amanda looked shocked and started to say something. “No, no, Amanda. I’m not implying that you were trying to catch Scarecrow, but you have to admit that you were way smarter than to swoon over him at first sight like some others have.”
‘If she only knew…’ Amanda and Lee were both thinking.
To Be Continued…