Remember that FB challenge way back in February? Two characters are having a serious discussion that turns into an argument. One character leaves in an all-out huff. This story more or less meets that challenge and also *finally* completes the plot I started back in "Opening the Floodgates", for those of you wondering if I'd forgotten that little plot bunny.
She looked up from writing her note and looked quickly back down so he wouldn't see the smile on her face. Lee had looked so panic stricken for that split second that it had almost broken her resolve to torture him for just a little longer. She knew she couldn't enjoy it for long – they had bigger problems than him venting his frustrations in stupid lists. She wondered again where he'd cribbed that ridiculous idea from – it had all the hallmarks of a supermarket checkout magazine quiz.
She glanced up and noticed he was approaching slowly as if afraid she might bolt.
"Do you have flowers behind your back?"
"No," he answered readily. She was surprised – she was sure he'd go for something classic to get back in her good books. Then she saw the pad of paper in his hand and felt a twinge of annoyance.
"No." He knelt down in front of her to look her in the eye. "It's a list of all the things I love about you."
She had to laugh then – he'd managed to surprise her again with his ridiculous romantic gestures. He'd relaxed as soon as he heard her start to laugh and then she'd put up one finger to keep him from moving any closer. "It had better be a long list." She took his face between her hands and kissed him. In reality, it could have been a blank sheet of paper for all she cared – she could see it in his eyes how much he loved her – she'd never doubted that. The intensity of his look reminded her of their wedding day –
"Oh my gosh!" She'd suddenly remembered what the note was about that she'd been writing when he'd arrived home and pushed him away to gaze wildly at him.
"Problem, Mrs. Stetson?"
She gave a hollow laugh. "That's the problem. I'm not Mrs. Stetson."
His brows drew together and he moved backwards slightly as if she'd struck him. "That's not funny, Amanda," he snapped.
"No, seriously. We're not married." She reached out to grab his lapel and bring him back closer as if that would negate what she was saying.
"Amanda, I was there – there was a judge, there was a witness, we said vows- of course we're married. The Commonwealth of Virginia says we are."
"No, actually, the Commonwealth of Virginia thinks we're not." She took a deep breath and tried to get her thoughts in order. "So today after we'd argued-" she took his hand when he winced, "Billy called me here to see if I could go pick up some depositions from the local sheriff's office that worked on the McMasters case."
"What do you mean he called you here? Here at the apartment?"
"Of course he did. You know he knows perfectly well where we spend our time off. We're not fooling him anymore. Anyway, that's not the point – I said yes because I figured the drive would help me calm down."
"That's a pretty long drive – did it take you the whole time?" Lee was smiling when he asked but she could hear the shadow of concern in his voice.
"Of course not. By the time I hit city limits, I had my own list written in my head and it was just as dumb as yours. But stop interrupting – this is serious! So I had to go to the sheriff's office to pick up all the paperwork on that case and I suddenly realized we'd never gotten the photo of our wedding from that clerk that was the witness, so I went down the road to Marion to find her and there was our picture on a bulletin board outside her office with this note that said, "Do you know these people?"
"What the hell?"
"Yeah, so much for all our efforts to be discreet, right? So I pulled it down and went to find her and she was so happy to see me, she almost cried. But Lee, the reason we never got the photo in the first place was because there was a burst pipe in the courthouse the day after we got married. All the paperwork was wrecked and they didn't have anything that could tell them how to contact us. All they had were the pictures she'd taken that day because she dropped the film off to be developed on her way home."
"What do you mean the paperwork was wrecked?"
"It was all destroyed in the flood – our paperwork, the license, the official register – everything. Our marriage never got filed with the state and although they were given a month's extension to find everyone and redo everything, they couldn't find us and they thought we'd get in contact with them, but of course, we didn't with everything that happened in California."
"That can't be right. We got stuff back from the State Clerk's office just last month, I know we did. Hang on." Lee got up and walked to the spare room that doubled as his home office and dug through the piles of paper. "Yeah, here it is," he said, walking back towards her. "I figured it was just our copy of the license so I never bothered to open it, I just put it aside to take to the safety deposit box" He ran a letter opener along the side of the envelope and pulled out a single sheet. As Amanda watched him read, she saw the shock on his face as he sank back onto the couch. "Oh crap"
"Not the license I guess?" she asked wryly.
"No, it's a notice from the state that the license we took out expired after 60 days and reminding us we'll need another one if we're still intending to get married."
"Mrs. Bowman did say that we could file in court to have the marriage recognized, but that it might just be simpler to do the whole thing over." Amanda paused and looked across at Lee. "So what do we do now?"
Lee was still staring at the letter he held in his hand and didn't appear at first to have heard her. He absentmindedly re-folded the sheet of paper and put it back in the envelope and then stared off into space, still lost in thought.
"Or we could pretend the whole thing never happened, I suppose," she added with a smile. For some reason, that appeared to get his attention and he turned his head to stare at her. Her smile began to falter as he said nothing but still appeared to be thinking.
"That's it!" he said suddenly. "Pretend it never happened! It's perfect!" He stood up and began pacing rapidly around the room.
"Excuse me?" said Amanda in shock. "That's the option you think is the best one? Pretending none of this ever happened?" She waited for him to deny it or to laugh it off, but with a sinking heart, she watched him continue to pace, barely listening, until he finally stopped dead and turned to her, still with that strange look on his face.
"Yes! It's perfect! Don't you see? It's like it never happened!" For the first time, he really looked at her and took in the expression on her face. "Oh my God, Amanda! I don't mean it like that!"
"Oh really? And what exactly do you mean?" For the first time since their marriage, she could feel real rage bubbling up at him. She had spent her day on an emotional roller-coaster already and now her husband – or rather her not-husband – was looking like the cat that swallowed the canary because it turned out they weren't even married. She felt the sting of tears starting up. "Because 'It's perfect- it's like it never happened' sounds pretty clear to me!" She got up and stormed to the door, trying to hold in the sobs she knew were coming. Lee was so stunned, she was halfway down the hall to the elevator before he caught up to her. Picking her up bodily, he carried her back to the apartment and deposited her on the couch, dropping to his knees in front of her, and grabbing up her hands in his.
"Amanda! I don't mean it didn't happen, I mean it's like it didn't happen!"
"There's a difference?" she asked skeptically.
"Of course there is. Look, you said we had two choices right? Go to court or pretend like it never happened?"
"Yes, but there was also a third one in there – do it over again"
"Lee, would you please get to your point because I don't know whether I'm coming or going anymore." She had to rub her eyes to keep the tears from starting again.
"Amanda, it's simple. We thought keeping this a secret would be the best idea because it gave the boys and your mother time to get to know me right? And we thought it would be safer? Well, it didn't keep you any safer and all it does is keep us apart when we shouldn't be."
She began to see the glimmer of where he was headed with this and took a deep breath, hoping she was right. "Keep going – I think I'm following you now."
"Ok, so if there's no paper trail that says we ever got married, we can pretend like it never happened and do it properly. Think about it, a proper ceremony with family, friends, then life with one roof, one bed." He paused after the last item and gave her his best sexy grin. "Unless you want to keep the apartment for weekends alone together," he added.
She stopped to think about the image he'd conjured up: a proper wedding and a proper marriage and no guilty confessions to her mother about how they'd eloped all those months ago. "That sounds like heaven, but can we really do it? There's got to be rules against agents being involved and if there isn't, I wouldn't put it past Dr. Smyth to create one."
Lee shrugged. "I wouldn't either, but I'm past caring what he does. Billy still keeps sending me notices about jobs coming up in State Department. If Smyth kicks off, we go somewhere else. Washington is full of opportunities for people with our skill set." He started to laugh. "And it looks like Harry just set a pretty good precedent that this sort of thing has been going on for decades anyway! At least my wife isn't a Russian defector!"
"Lee, your wife isn't even your wife right at the moment."
Lee squeezed her hands and looked intently at her. "My wife is my wife. You and I both know we're married already – bureaucrats and floods and paperwork don't get to say we're not. But come on, say you'll marry me again – third time's the charm you know."
She had to laugh at that. "This is twice you've weaseled out of being married to me because of faulty paperwork; why should I trust you a third time?" she asked.
"You can't. You know I'm terrible with paperwork, that's why I keep you around. This time you're in charge of that part of it. You can tie me up in as many miles of red tape as you want, just say you'll marry me again."
"I do enjoy getting to tie you up," she said in a thoughtful tone, her smile just barely showing. She thought that would get a laugh out of him and looked up to realize Lee wasn't smiling back. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
"You haven't answered me yet," he said
"Answered you about what?" she asked, honestly confused.
"Whether you'll marry me again."
Amanda started to laugh and then realized he was serious. "Lee Stetson! I love you more than anything else in the world – of course I'm going to marry you again! And this time, we're going to do it in front of as many witnesses as we can get because you are not getting out of it this time, Buster!"
Lee stood up and pulled her up out of her chair and into his arms. "I love you Amanda." He brought his lips to hers and kissed her gently, then more insistently as he felt her rise up like the tide against him. "And I'll marry you every year if it means I get to do this forever."
"It's a deal" She caught her breath as his hands snaked under her sweater and began to caress her rapidly warming flesh.
Then she said the one thing she never did in this situation. "Scarecrow?"
He knew without looking that she was smiling because he could hear it in her tone. He leaned back to stare at her with an expression of mock annoyance. He knew she could see right through him – she just looked more gleeful when she met his eyes and she began to laugh outright when he answered her, "Yes, Darling?"
"Take me to bed or lose me forever, you big stud." Lee burst out laughing. For some reason, Amanda had just loved that movie, despite his constant whispers through the whole thing about all the ways Air Force pilots were so much better than those Navy hotshots. She claimed her enjoyment was nothing to do with the volleyball scene – just that it was a nice romantic movie- but then she'd laughingly overemphasized that it also had nothing at all to do with Tom Cruise's dimples and beautiful, beautiful eyes. Lee continued to pretend he hadn't liked it just as much for the aerial fight scenes, but he knew she'd seen through him.
He leaned and dropped a light kiss on her lips. "Show me the way home, Honey."
She took his hand and began to back away towards the bedroom. "Always."