Written - May/June 2018 for submission in the SMKZine for the 35th Anniversary.
Rating - PG
Disclaimer: "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" is copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. The plot is mine, but not the characters. This story is meant for enjoyment purposes only. No infringement is intended.
A/N: I want to thank Taya for pushing me back into writing. You know I wouldn't have finished this if you hadn't kept nagging me (nicely, of course). I also want to thank my beta, my bestie, who doesn't belong to the fandom but knew enough of about Lee and Amanda to keep this in character and is a grammar fanatic who pointed out not only my many mistakes, my aversion to question marks but also made suggestions to strengthen it. You made this story better than I ever imagined. Thank you both!
Friday, March 13th, 1987
Reaching into his backpack, Lee pulled out a small tape recorder. Pressing record, he brought it close to his mouth hoping to catch every quiet word spoken without giving away his location to the locals.
"I, Lee Stetson, of sound mind but not so sound body, attest that this is my last will and testament." Lee recited the words he'd often heard on TV.
"To my Amanda, I leave…" Sighing heavily, he reflected on the many things he should give her. Everything he owned reminded him of her. Even his fish tank, long ago put into storage during one of his moves, held memories of her. Being his wife, she was entitled to everything he owned but he wanted to leave her something with meaning that she could look at and know just how special she was to him. Frustrated, he turned off the recorder and thought long and hard. With no luck in coming up with such an item, he turned the recorder back on.
"To Billy, my boss, but more importantly my friend, I leave…"
"Who the hell are you?" Scarecrow whispered threateningly into the ear of the person who had tackled him to the ground as a bullet whizzed passed them.
"Lancer," came the short response as the man rolled away to his side and carefully sat up looking around for where the gunman was hiding.
"Scarecrow," Lee replied to the unasked question.
Crawling to safety behind a car parked haphazardly in the parking lot, Lee asked, "Any clue why they are shooting at us? I thought this was just a milk run?"
"That's what our Intel led us to believe, but we got a call saying that the drop was hot so I was sent down here to save your ass. What the hell have they taught you in England? You should know better than to come to a drop without a partner?" Lancer hissed. "Did you at least get the information we needed or do we have to go back to square one?"
"I'm not a rookie." Off Lancer's look, "Okay so technically, I'm still a rookie but I know my job. I got the information and was just leaving the drop when you tackled me. Couldn't you have just shouted 'look out'?" Lee spat at the man who had just saved his life.
"If I had, you would've been dead," Lancer spat back. "Okay, from what I can see, we have two shooters. One at 12 o'clock and one at 3."
"Yeah, I see that. Which one do you want?"
"I'll take the 3 o'clock. You, Cowboy, can take the one at high noon."
Later, at Nedlingers…
"Ned, a bottle of your best Scotch," Lee bellowed across the bar, "And two glasses."
"Wow, they must be paying rookies better now than they did in my day," Lancer shook his head as he sat down at an empty table.
"Nah, just like to treat myself after I've almost been killed. I never did say 'thank you,' did I?" Lee sheepishly looked Lancer in the eye.
"All in a day's work. How did you like your stint with MI-6? Emily take good care of you?"
A smile crept across the younger man's face. "Yeah, she showed me the ropes and then Paul Barnes took over from there. I'm finally back to my home base, though I haven't spent much time here since I finished training."
"I heard you were recruited to the Oz network. Sorry to hear about Dorothy. I had met her a couple of times. She was one of the good ones."
Lancer noticed the look of despair that crossed Lee's face before he firmly put his Scarecrow mask on.
"Yeah, she was." Lee downed his drink before refilling both glasses and proceeded to once again down his.
"Now that you are settled, I would suggest you find a partner fast before the next section chief finds one for you. I hear he's a tough cookie, not like the interim we currently have."
"Really, I don't know anything about him but his name, 'Billy Melrose'. He'll just have to be told that I don't work with partners, well at least not long term. I don't need them holding me back." Lee went to fill his glass once more but Lancer moved the bottle out of reach.
Waiving to a young man who had just walked in, Lancer gestured to the empty chair.
"Hey, Billy, I just heard the news when I got back from my assignment in Germany. You'll make a great section chief. Can't wait to serve under you."
Smiling, Billy stood up and shook his hand, "Thank you, Eric. I'm looking forward to my first order as the new chief."
"Yeah, what will that be?" Eric picked up Lee's empty glass and poured himself a drink, ignoring Lee's grunt.
"Eric,I want you to meet Lee Stetson, codename Scarecrow. Stetson, this is Eric Owens, codename Warden, your new partner." A deep rumble of laughter followed Billy out the door as the two 'partners' stared each other down.
"...The unfinished bottle of scotch from the day we met; the day you saved my life for the first time." Lee shut off the tape recorder and wiped at his eyes.
The voices outside woke Lee out of the sleep he hadn't intended on taking. 'God, how did I get myself into this situation?' he thought.
Reaching down to assess his leg wound again, he felt the makeshift bandage soaked in blood. Removing it carefully, he tore another piece of cloth from an extra shirt he'd had in his backpack to replace the bandage, hoping to at least slow down the blood loss. 'What's the use, I won't make it back to the main road and nobody knows where I am. I'm really not getting out of it this time. Oh Amanda, I'm sorry.'
Bringing the recorder back to his mouth, he pushed the record button and continued his bequests.
"To my son, Jamie King, I leave…"
"Hey Sport, do you want to go to the park and play ball?" Lee called to his stepson who was sitting on the front steps watching his brother getting into a car with his friends.
"No thanks, Lee, I think mom is waiting for you. You have a date to the movies, don't you?" Jamie smiled up at Lee.
"Yeah, but we can go to a later show. I could use the exercise. I've been stuck behind my desk too much lately since your mom is still out on medical leave. She's much better at the paperwork than I am." Lee sat down on the step below Jamie and looked out at the front lawn just starting to wake up after the winter frost. 'It'll be an early spring', he thought.
"Nah, it's alright. I'm not any good anyway. Mom is really looking forward to getting out of the house. Grandma hasn't let her lift a finger for days." Jamie sighed. Why hadn't Phillip invited him along with his friends? Now he was stuck alone with Grandma for the night.
"Well, if you change your mind, let me know. We won't be leaving for a little while and can see a late show since it's a Friday night." Lee got up and headed into the house, feeling bad about leaving Jamie alone.
"Hey Beautiful, how are you feeling today?" Lee kissed his wife's cheek and gently wrapped his arms around her.
She turned on the kitchen stool to face him and returned his kiss. "I'm feeling good today, though a little stir crazy. Can't wait until the doctor releases me for light duty work."
"Amanda, you know that a gunshot wound and the two surgeries you had are not something that you can get over so easily. Your physical therapist is pleased with your progress but you still need to rest and not do anything strenuous," Dotty wagged her finger at her daughter. "Hello, Lee. I hope you agree with me and will make sure that Amanda follows doctor's orders when you're out tonight. Nothing strenuous."
"Mother," Amanda exasperated. "Now what would we do that would be too strenuous for me? We are only going to a movie."
"Well, I never asked, is it a drive-in? I wouldn't want you fogging up any windows until you are 100%."
Lee laughed, "Believe me Dotty, it's not easy to fog up windows in the Vette, no room to maneuver." Turning his attention back to Amanda, "Actually, I was hoping you would take a rain check on the movie until tomorrow night, or even just going to a late show."
"Lee," Amanda sighed, "you don't have to go back to work, do you? I thought you said that you were caught up and nothing was coming your way for the weekend?"
"No, it's not work related. I was hoping that Jamie would agree to do something with me tonight. He looked so lost out on the steps watching Phillip leave."
Amanda smiled. "You are such a good man."
"And he would make a great father." Dotty piped in from behind the refrigerator door, where she was pulling out items for dinner.
Choosing to ignore her mother, Amanda kissed Lee. "Did you ask Jamie if he wanted to do something? He might not want to."
"I did, and he did turn me down but I think he doesn't want me to disappoint you. He knows you were looking forward to getting out."
"Well if that's the case, he won't agree to go out with you even if I told him it was okay."
"I was thinking about that. What if we tell him you're not up to it? You're too tired to go out. We can order in pizza before we plan to leave and in the middle of dinner you tell me that you hate to disappoint me but could we postpone. He would feel like he's doing me a favor by keeping me company."
Pulling Lee in for a kiss, Amanda whispered in his ear, "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"
"Amanda, if you don't agree to marry this man soon, I'm going to propose to him myself." Dotty wiped a tear from her eye and picked up the phone to order the pizza.
About 20 minutes later, Jamie yelled into the house "Hey, who ordered the pizza? The delivery man is here."
Lee went to the door pulling out his wallet. "I did, Jamie. Your mom and I decided to have dinner with you and your grandmother before our movie. I hope that's okay with you?"
"Cool, Grandma has been cooking really healthy stuff lately for Mom. We haven't had pizza since Dad's house 3-weeks ago."
Dinner conversation was light with Jamie monopolizing most of it.
"Amanda, are you okay, you seem really tired?" Dotty asked looking at her daughter worriedly.
"I'm fine, Mother. I'm looking forward to going out tonight." Amanda tried to hide the yawn.
"Gee, Mom. You really do look tired. Maybe you and Lee should watch a movie in the den. I'll go up to my room and get a jumpstart on my homework. Oh yeah, Grandma, can you give me a ride to a bookstore tomorrow? I need to find a book for a book report."
"Sure, Jamie, I'll drive you tomorrow. I wouldn't mind getting a few books myself."
Amanda yawned again.
"Amanda, really why don't we plan on going to a late afternoon show tomorrow. You look like you need to head to bed early tonight. I'm sure I can find something to do with my time," Lee smiled at Amanda.
"No really, I'm fine. I wouldn't want to cancel on you on such short notice." Turning to Jamie, she asked, "What book do you need, maybe we have it from when Phillip was in 5th grade?"
"I get to choose any book from the American Revolution. I think I want to read Johnny Tremain."
"I remember reading that when I was your age. It's a good book but I think there might be a couple of others you'll enjoy more. I have an idea. Why don't we let your mother go to bed early and I'll take you to the bookstore tonight. I love American history and could help you pick one out." Lee suggested.
Though Jamie's eyes lit up at the suggestion, he shook his head in the negative. "I really think you and mom should watch a movie. She's been really bored and would probably like your company."
"Really, Jamie, it's okay. I'll go upstairs and take a nap. Maybe when you and Lee come back, I'll come down and we can all watch a movie. Since it's a Friday night, we could extend your bedtime a little."
"Are you sure it's okay?" the excitement evident in Jamie's voice.
"Yeah, go on but bring me back a sundae from that ice cream shoppe next to the bookstore." Amanda smiled as Jamie raced for his jacket hanging in the closet.
Getting up from her chair, Amanda wrapped her arms around her husband and whispered, "You never cease to amaze me. Thank you for making him so happy. When I'm medically cleared, I'll make it up to you."
Laughing, Lee kissed her and whispered back, "I'll hold you to it. See you in a little while. I love you."
As they left, Dotty turned to Amanda "I don't know what is stopping you, Darling. You need to lasso that man before someone else throws a rope around him."
After a quick trip to the bookstore and a longer trip to the video store, Lee and Jamie were sitting in the ice cream shoppe waiting for their order to be ready.
"Thank you, Lee." Jamie looked up from the book he was holding in his hands. "I would never have picked this one but it looks much more interesting than the ones I was looking at."
"Even though it's fictional, it's much more accurate. You'll get a better understanding of what actually happened." Lee picked up one of the other books from the table.
"You really like history, don't you?" Jamie pointed to Lee's pile of books.
"Yeah, I think you need to understand what happened in the past to understand the present and try to stop the same travesties from happening in the future." Lee looked at the young boy before him to see if he understood.
"I get that. It's like Phillip being late for curfew. The first time it happened, he didn't know what to expect but when he did it again, he knew what he was in for. Because I watched it, I know the consequences and can make an informed decision whether to be late for curfew or not," Jamie explained.
Smiling, Lee reached across the table and ruffled the boy's hair. "Right, Sport. I would suggest not explaining it like that to your mother. She might punish you harder because you knew what would happen but chose to do it anyway." He noticed the waitress had finished their sundaes. "I think our order is up. Let's get home before your mother's ice cream melts or I might find out the hard way what the punishment might be."
"You just called it home, is that how you feel about our house?" Jamie looked up at Lee hoping to have the answer he craved.
"That's exactly how I feel, Sport." Lee smiled and made his way to the counter to retrieve their order.
" … My history book collection. I hope that you get a better understanding of this world than I have. Read them while eating a bowl of ice cream."
Once again, Lee closed his eyes and thought about his wife. He wished that they had told everyone that they were married. How could they think that a mystery marriage was a good idea? She would need the support of her friends and family once they got official word that he was dead. Yes, they would be concerned for her losing a friend, a partner, a boyfriend but that's different than losing your husband, your lover, your best friend. He longed to hold her in his arms once more; to whisper "I love you" into her ear while making love to her. It had been over a month since he'd had that privilege. Closing his eyes, he let the tears fall freely. Now that he had finally found happiness, it was again being snatched from his hands, and likely for the last time.
Lee woke again with the first light filtering through the slats of the broken down shack that had been his refuge for the last 10 hours and would most likely be his final resting place.
Looking around for a better place to hide, he knew his instincts from last night were correct. There was nothing. Reaching into his backpack once again, he pulled out his canteen. Though he knew it was empty and had been for a while, he hoped that he was mistaken. He wasn't. Sliding his hand along the inside wall of the pack, he found the slit in the seam and pulled out the picture he always carried. It was of his family. They had taken it at Christmas, around the tree. Amanda had asked him to join them in the picture. Though he felt awkward doing so, his heart won out and he joined them for the final shot. The shocked look on his face was because Amanda had goosed him. At least he hoped it was Amanda and not Dotty. He drew his finger over the faces that smiled back at him.
Picking up the recorder once again, he began, "To Francine, my friend and confidant for many years, I leave…
"Well, good morning, Lover," Francine purred seeing Lee stir in his bed.
"Morning, what time is it anyway?" Lee grumbled. Turning to see Francine, wrapped in his robe sitting at his desk brushing her hair. "What are you using?" He sat up in his bed to get a better look at the shiny thing occupying Francine's hand.
Laughing mockingly, "Why Lee, I know you are partial to that particular comb with the missing teeth but I was sure you would recognize a hair brush."
"Francine, I know what a hairbrush is, but that brush, where did you get it?" Lee jumped from his bed and snatched the tarnished silver piece from Francine's hand.
"I found it in the top drawer of your dresser. I didn't think you'd mind. I figured you kept it around for your lady friends." The blonde looked at Lee as if he were crazy.
Lee stopped his angry pacing to turn toward her. Running his hand over his face which calmed him a little, he hesitated, "I'm sorry, Francine, I don't think this is working."
"It worked just fine until you jerked it from my hand."
Looking at the brush, Lee sighed. "Not the brush, us. I don't think we are working."
"Just because I used your precious brush, you want to end our relationship?" Francine rose from the chair and quickly moved to stand in front of him.
"No," Lee lamented as he sank to the bed pulling a towel from the floor suddenly aware of his nakedness, "Because if we continue our romantic relationship, when it does eventually end, we will no longer be friends. If we end it now, when it's only been a couple of weeks, we have a chance, albeit a slim one, to keep the friendship we have."
"Lee!" Francine stormed, "It's been six weeks not just a couple and why do you think it will end?"
"Calm down and listen," Lee got up, wrapped the towel tightly around his waist and then put his hands on Francine's shoulders. When she refused to look at him, he cupped her chin and lifted her face until he was staring into her drowning blue eyes. "Francine, you are one of the few good friends that I have. I would hate for this . . . thing," Lee pointed back and forth between them, "to ruin what we already have."
"But maybe it wouldn't, maybe it would grow and become the something we both need."
"It won't." Lee looked down at his feet as Francine turned and quickly escaped to the bathroom. "I'm sorry," Lee murmured to the empty room.
"...My mother's silver hair brush. Because of that brush, our relationship ended but our friendship survived and became stronger. I've never told you this but, I love you."
He turned off the recorder and let it slip from his hand. Somedays he wished he was still a loner. It would be easier to leave if no one would miss him.
Lee took a deep breath and firmed up his resolve. He needed to finish this. It would likely be the last time he'd be able to tell the people he cared about, the people who care about him, what they meant to him. Turning the recorder back on, he repeated the words with just the names changing. "To Dotty, my mother-in-law and my friend, I leave..."
"Lee, Dear, would you please reach that tin of tea on the top shelf? I don't understand why Amanda insists on putting it up there when she knows I can't reach it." Dotty pointed to the tin on the top shelf.
"Sure, Dotty, my pleasure." Lee walked across the kitchen to the counter to get the tin Dotty was pointing to. A smile appeared as he read the name on the container out loud, "English Breakfast Tea, that's was my mother's favorite."
Dotty took it from Lee and started the brewing process. "Why don't you join me in a cup, Dear? Amanda took one of those pain pills before she laid down and it might be another half hour before she wakes."
"She doesn't usually like to take them, is there something wrong?"
Reaching across the stove to where Lee stood, Dotty patted his arm to help relieve his obvious concern. "Physical therapy was a little rough this morning. She wanted to push through the pain and they allowed it for a little while. They said she would be sore but that it wouldn't prolong her recovery. It actually might shorten it. So tea? And maybe a little chat while we wait."
Not waiting for his answer, she reached for her tea service and added another cup. She filled the porcelain tea pot, added the cream and sugar dishes and carried the tray into the den. Lee followed carrying the poppy seed cake, ever present on the countertop.
"Amanda's poppy seed cake is truly her Sistine Chapel," Dotty crooned as she poured both cups.
Lee shook his head when Dotty pointed to the cream. "No, thank you. My mother taught me that adding anything to English Breakfast Tea is a travesty."
Raising the cup to his face, Lee enjoyed the aroma and then took his first sip, bringing him immediately back to his childhood when he would sneak a sip from his mother's cup, only to be admonished.
Dotty noticed his wistful look. "She was too young to go. Such a shame."
"She was and so full of life. Amanda is so much like what I remember my mother to be."
"Is that what drew you to her in the first place?" Dotty asked, hoping to find out a little more about her daughter's relationship.
"Actually, we met by accident and I tried to get rid of her but you know Amanda, as stubborn as they come. She wanted to be friends and so we were, no matter what I said or did." Lee shook his head but the turn of his lips told Dotty all she needed to know. Right from the start, Lee wanted her in his life as much as Amanda wanted to be there.
"Oh yes, that daughter of mine is quite stubborn. Really though Lee, what brought you two together? Amanda doesn't share much with me when it comes to you. I know you love her and have for some time. I could see that the moment I met you and confirmed it while we were in California.
Lee took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He tried to figure out how to share with Dotty his relationship with Amanda without giving away any clues to their real profession. "Well, from the beginning, she started helping me out as a gopher on some of my shoots and easily won over so many of my co-workers that she quickly made herself indispensable." Lee reflected back and smiled. "I guess when some of the other director's started asking to work with her, I finally figured out that I needed her more than I was willing to admit. Soon she worked almost exclusively with me."
"Okay, that explains the working part of your relationship, but explains nothing of your personal relationship." Dotty coaxed, hoping to find out more about this complex relationship she had only had the privilege of observing recently but knew it had been going on much longer.
"Well, she suddenly became indispensable in my personal life too. I found myself reaching for the phone to call her when something good happened or when I needed help with something. She also started to share more with me. I found myself driving by to see if she was home or would stop at the park and watch the boys play in their games."
"No wonder you seem so familiar to me. I must have seen you around. I know Amanda had been afraid to open up romantically to anyone since Joe. She will never admit it but he hurt her much deeper than she lets on," Dotty confided in Lee.
"I know. She would never say it, but I've seen it. I think that's one of the reasons she didn't push a relationship with me when I stopped pushing her away. Anyway, you asked because she reminded me of my mother if that is what drew me to her. I hadn't noticed how much they had in common until my uncle had pointed it out. He was in town on some business and we had dinner with him a couple of times. Just before he left, he gave me a key to a storage unit where he'd stored all my parents' belongings. When I asked him why he'd waited until then to give it to me, he explained that not only did I look like my father but I had the same good taste in women. He felt that Amanda would finally settle me down."
Dotty looked at the young man who sat in front of her and could see the child that was so lost long ago. "Did you ever go to the storage unit? Were there any hidden treasures?"
Lee smiled wistfully, "Yeah, I went almost right away. I had so little from my parents, their wedding bands, a photo taken on their wedding day, my mother's silver vanity set, my father's shaving brush. The Colonel had saved all of our family photos, some Christmas ornaments, my mother's china and a few antiques. Most of it is still in storage. I'm hoping to move it into my house if I ever move from an apartment."
"You know Lee, we could move some of this stuff into storage and make room for your antiques," Dotty hinted. "I'm sure your mother's engagement ring would look beautiful on Amanda."
"I know it will, and soon Dotty, I promise."
"What are you promising my mother, Stetson?"
"He promised to talk to you about moving my tea collection to a lower shelf. I was lucky enough today to have a tall man come to my rescue but since he doesn't live here, I can't always depend on it and I'm too old to be climbing on a step stool." Dotty got up from the couch but leaned over to give Lee a kiss on the cheek and whisper in his ear, "I'm going to keep you to that promise."
"...My mother's porcelain tea service. Please have a cup of English Breakfast Tea with Amanda and ask her how I fulfilled my promise to you. I wished I could be there in person when she is finally able to wear my mother's ring in public."
Lee thought over the last 24 hours. He'd met his contact in Santarilla and was given directions to a drop in the middle of nowhere. There, he was to pick up a package in a broken down shack. He waited until dusk and packed his jeep with plenty of supplies for the 2-hour round trip. With any luck, he would be on the first flight out in the morning to England and then onto DC. Billy and his contact were the only two people who knew he was in Santarilla.
He took a direct path to the drop but kept an eye out for anyone who might have been following him. Lee parked the jeep behind the shack and grabbed his pack from the back seat knowing he would need his flashlight. He stealthily made his way to the side windows to make sure there were no surprise occupants. Turning on the flashlight, he spotted the package in the corner and went around to the front door. Finding it unlocked, he let himself in and immediately headed for the corner where the package sat. He retrieved it and retraced his steps to the front door. The first bullet hit him in the leg, causing him to collapse. Falling back into the building, he pulled his gun and made his way slowly to the window.
Lee continued, "To my uncle, Colonel Robert Clayton, I leave two things, one tangible and one not…"
"Lee, come here and let me help you with that." Robert lowered himself to one knee to meet his nephew eye to eye. "I guess it's just you and me now, Son." The Colonel started to make a Windsor knot out of the tangled mess that his ward had made out of the blue striped tie that now hung around his tiny neck. "I can teach you how to do this when we get in front of the mirror. I'm sure your father would have wanted you to know how to tie a proper knot."
"Yes, Sir," The young man stoically replied, the first words he had spoken that morning.
"Did they explain to you that you will be leaving with me in the morning? We'll be getting on a plane. Have you ever been on a plane before?" It had been only two months since Robert had seen his nephew but it still amazed him how much Lee looked like his father. While Matthew had gotten his father's good looks and passed them on to Lee, Robert, the younger half-brother inherited HIS father's less than pleasing looks. Matthew's father had died before he was born. Their mother had gone on to marry Robert's father who had raised Matthew like his own. Now here he was, taking in a child that wasn't his own, like his father had done so many years before.
"No, Sir," The reply was short but respectful.
"You know, Son, you don't have to call me 'Sir'. You can call me Uncle Robert, or even Uncle Bert which is what your mother used to call me." A wave of complete sadness washed over both of them at the mention of Jennifer.
Robert cleared his throat, hoping to remove the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him.
Robert sighed as he rose to his feet. He'd hoped the boy would be a little more responsive than when he had visited a couple of months ago. His mother, Lee's grandmother, had talked about what an intelligent, curious, highly-spirited boy he was but around Robert he was reserved.
Once again Robert tried to make headway with the boy while putting a comb through the boy's unruly hair. "So Son, remember a couple of months ago, when I was visiting, Nonna explained that you would be travelling with me?" Feeling Lee nod, Robert continued, "We'll be going all over the world and learning new things. You'll be trying new foods and seeing how people live all throughout the world. You'll make lots of new friends. It will be like an adventure. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"Yes, Sir," was the sullen response.
"Son, I would like to teach you everything you need to be a good man, a gentleman, but a man that is strong in his convictions. A man your parents would be proud of." Kneeling once again in front of his young charge, he continued, "do you understand, we are family and family is very important?"
Finally losing the battle with his temper, the Colonel barked, "Why do you keep calling me 'Sir'? Call me anything but 'Sir'.
Lee looked him squarely in the eye. "Why do you keep calling me 'Son'? I'm not your son."
Remembering a nickname that his brother called him when they were young, Robert got up from his crouched position, "Alright, Skip, you're right. Now it's time to go to say your last goodbyes to your Nonna. You ready to go?"
"Yes, Colonel." Lee monotoned as he marched out of the house into the waiting car, never looking back at the older man who was shaking his head.
"….The tie I was wearing when I proposed to Amanda. You knew from the moment you met her that she was the one for me. If I'd only listened to you then, we would have had more time as husband and wife. Which brings me to my second bequest. Family. Keep a watch over my family as you did for my father. Teach the boys what they need to know to be good men. I've never told you this, but even the lessons you didn't think I learned, I did, and they shaped me into the man worthy of my Amanda. Thank you." The click of the off button allowed Lee the freedom to once again allow the tears. Tears for the missed opportunities, for not realizing earlier that he had people who loved him, people would now miss him.
A new wave of lightheadedness hit Lee. He figured the time before he blacked out for good was not long. He switched the recorder on and began again, hoping that he had enough strength to finish, though with full belief that the tape would never make it to where it belonged.
"To Phillip, my oldest son, I leave…"
"Hey, Chief, what are you doing to my car? I thought I told you never to touch it. How did you open the hood anyway?" Lee yelled from the front door, turning back into the house to grab his coat before joining his step son in the driveway.
"Just looking," came the muffled response from under the hood. Phillip then stood, "Didn't Mom ever teach you not to leave your keys in the ignition? It could be dangerous," Phillip smirked having heard his mother say the same thing many times.
"Yeah, but you never know when you might need to make a quick getaway," Lee laughed.
"So when are you going to let me drive?"
"About 2 years after you get your license, so about 5 years from now."
Crossing his arms in front of himself, Phillip stood tall. "Hey, I'll be 14 in a few days, so only 4 years."
"We'll see," came the short reply.
"I want to be cruising to my senior prom in this baby," Phillip looked at the car with a gleam in his eye. "I'll be captain of the football team with the head cheerleader in the passenger seat."
"I heard you were trying out for the football team in September. What position do you want to play?" Lee changed the subject while he closed the hood of the car, hoping that Phillip wasn't lying when he said he hadn't touched anything.
"Quarterback, they get all the chicks."
"Phillip, girls are not chicks, they are women who should be respected." The fatherly words flowed out of Lee's mouth shocking both of them.
"Wow, when did you become all dad-like? I thought you would understand. Weren't you a quarterback? Didn't you get all the hot chicks?" Phillips sulked.
"I was quarterback and I did have a few girlfriends in my day, including cheerleaders but I never referred to them as chicks and neither should you."
"Okay, Grandpa, I won't call them chicks." Phillip smiled and then continued to mumble, "at least not around you."
"Phillip, explain to me what the difference between a girl and a chick is? If you can give me a reasonable explanation, I'll drop the subject," Lee leaned back on his car and crossed his arms watching Phillip think.
After a few moments, Phillip piped up, "Well, a girl is someone you want to be friends with, not pretty, maybe even a little fat. She's probably really smart, maybe with glasses and braces. You know the type. A chick is someone who is hot, not always bright but super pretty." Smiling lecherously, he continued "And fast. Chicks let guys do anything, they're so easy."
Smiling, Lee looked at the boy in front of him and decided that this was a lesson he needed to learn now and Lee had to be the one to teach him.
"So what you're telling me is that you like fast women and fast cars." At Phillip's nod, Lee continued, "And chicks are fast women?"
"Yup," Phillip smugly nodded.
"And all cheerleaders are chicks?"
"Oh yeah, and head cheerleaders are the best."
'Gotcha,' Lee thought. "So let me get this straight, any woman who is or was a cheerleader is a chick and all chicks are hot, stupid, super pretty, fast and easy?"
"Absolutely. Come on, Lee, you must know this. I'm sure you had your share of head cheerleaders in your time. You must have scored with most of them."
"Yeah, Phillip, I did date a few head cheerleaders in my day but the one I'm involved with now is my favorite." Lee watched the shocked look cross his step-son's face.
Phillip flushed with anger. "Hey, I thought you and Mom are going steady? What do you mean you're involved with a head cheerleader now? Does Mom know you're cheating on her?"
"Your Mom and I are exclusively involved and I'm not cheating on her but I am currently involved with a woman who was head cheerleader in both high school and college." Lee watched Phillip as he thought through the information that was just provided.
"Mom was a head cheerleader? No Way!"
"Yup, and in high school she dated the captain of the baseball team and in college the captain of the football team until she met your father."
Phillip turned and leaned against the car next to Lee. Murmuring, half to himself, half to Lee, "Mom was a cheerleader, huh, a head cheerleader."
"Yes, she was. So that makes your mom a chick."
"Gross!" Phillip blanched.
"Well, Phillip, from your description of a head cheerleader, they are all chicks and all chicks are hot, dumb and easy. While I do find your mother hot, she is far from dumb and definitely not easy."
Phillip once again choked on Lee's words, "Mom is not a chick."
"Exactly. Just remember that all those girls you are referring to as chicks could be someone's wife or mother one day and they all deserve your respect, just like your mother deserves my respect. Believe me Phillip, you'll be much happier if you find a girl who is intelligent, funny, and whom you share common interests. You find the right one, and she will be beautiful."
Phillip pushed off the car and turned to face Lee, "So Pops, do you think you'll still be around when I'm a senior? I really would like to drive this baby to senior prom with my girlfriend in the passenger seat."
"Are you asking because you want the car around in 4 years or because you want me around?"
Looking at the ground, Phillip shrugged, "I guess, well, you and Mom have been dating a little while and the only other guy she let stick around was Dan,"
"Dean," Lee corrected.
"Yeah, him, well, she didn't seem to like him like she likes you," Phillip looked up into Lee's eyes, "Mom is happier than I've ever seen her. You are planning on sticking around, right?"
Lee leaned in, "I am planning on being around until your son graduates from college and beyond. How does that sound?"
"All Right!" The boy shouted.
"What are you two still doing out here? Dinner is just about ready." Amanda called from the front stoop.
Phillip ran to his mother and stopped to kiss her check. "Thanks, Mom."
Lee walked up to his confused wife. "What was that all about?" Amanda wondered out loud.
"He's excited about his senior prom," Lee escorted Amanda into their home and shut the door.
"...My football jersey. I'm proud of the man that you are and even prouder of the man you…" The recorder hit the floor with a thud.
"I'll get it." Jamie called out while racing to the door. Opening it, he found Lee on one knee. Smiling, he yelled up the stairs, "Mom, there's someone here to see you." He then went in search of Dotty and Phillip in the backyard, knowing that this was important.
"Jamie, who is it?" Amanda questioned as she descended the stairs stopping as she got to the landing. "Lee," her voice carried the smile she wore, "What is going on?" She quickly crossed the entryway to greet her husband not noticing her family now gathered in the doorway of the dining room watching the scene unfold.
"Amanda, I promised myself that when I got home, I wouldn't wait to make this request. You are the person I want to spend the rest of my life making happy. The person I want to share everything with. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? Soon?"
Amanda knelt down in front of him, tears in her eyes. "Yes, I would be honored to become Mrs. Lee Stetson. Oh Lee, I love you." Before he could pull out the ring or put down the flowers he was holding, she had wrapped herself around him.
"Amanda, let the poor man up. Didn't you tell us that he hurt his leg while on location? I'm sure that isn't just for decorative purposes." Dotty pointed to the cane Lee had placed against the door frame.
Amanda laughed, "You're right, of course, Mother. Boys can you help Lee up?" Amanda let go of Lee and slowly got up herself still overcome with emotions.
"Sure, Mom, we'll help the old man up," Phillip teased as he and Jamie approached Lee. "What happened anyway?"
"Just a little accident on set. Unfortunately, I have a bad sprain and will have to use the cane for the next few weeks. After that I'll be ready to help you with your football tryouts. In the meantime, Jamie and I can have a discussion about his book report."
Once they got Lee upright, both Jamie and Phillip hugged him. "Welcome home," Jamie mumbled.
"Congratulations, you will soon have two really cool sons, well, one cool one and one who isn't a total dweeb," Phillip laughed.
"And a mother-in-law who couldn't be happier than she is now," Dotty hugged Lee. "Welcome to the family, Son," She whispered in his ear causing Lee to smile even bigger, if it were even possible.
"Now boys, why don't we head out to the market and get a feast for dinner?" Dotty suggested hoping to give the two lovebirds some time alone. "Then over dinner we can discuss wedding plans."
"Mother, those can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, let's just have a relaxed dinner so we can let Lee know about everything he's missed the last 4 days." Amanda snuggled in next to Lee who had settled onto the couch.
"No, Dotty is right," Lee turned to Amanda, "I want this wedding to happen next weekend." At Amanda's shocked expression, Lee continued. "Amanda, I love you and I've had the last 24 hours in the hospital to know that I don't want to be apart from our family any longer. I'm sure that a small ceremony in your garden with just family can be thrown together before next Saturday. We don't need anything fancy, just us, a minister, your mom, the boys and hopefully Uncle Robert."
Hearing Uncle Robert being included, Amanda realized that something had happened while Lee was on assignment. "Lee, nothing would make me happier. Let's get married next Saturday." Hearing the shouts of excitement coming from her family, Amanda turned to them, "We have a lot to do before then, get going to the store so we can discuss wedding plans during dinner."
Once the front door had closed, Amanda wanted an explanation. "Lee, what happened in Santarilla? All I could get from Billy was that you missed a check-in but that Bart Stoler had met with your contact, learned of your location and was going to look for you. He then called me back to say that you were found, had a gunshot wound to the leg and would be back by the end of the week. I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow. Instead, you showed up today, got down on one knee and proposed. Not only that, but now you want to get married next week. When you left, we were going to discuss maybe getting engaged soon and then have a wedding before the end of the summer. I love the idea of having you here all the time and everyone knowing but this sudden change..."
Lee's lips on hers, quieted Amanda. When their heated kiss ended, Lee began, "I've wanted to kiss you like that since I walked in the door. I missed you Amanda, plain and simple. I don't want to wait any longer to be able to walk into this house without knocking. I want to help the boys with their homework. I want to watch them leaving for their first dates and be home for them afterwards to help them navigate the unknown complexities of women. I want to be here to help your mother get stuff off the top shelf. I want to be here to help you with the chores around the house. I want to be here to help lock up at night and then to fall asleep with you in my arms. I want the whole world to know that you are MY wife. I want…"
This time, Lee was quieted when Amanda initiated a deep, meaningful kiss which triggered a new wave of kisses that continued for some time until the door opened, signalling the return of their family.
"Amanda," Lee called while coming through the door to his apartment, cane in one hand, and dinner in the other. "I brought home dinner. Hope you're hungry." He made his way into his kitchen to put the food down. Still in a loud voice, he continued, "Did the doctor clear you to return to work when we get back from our honeymoon? Amanda? Where are you?"
Opening his bedroom door, Lee saw Amanda sitting on his bed with her back toward him. "Hey Beautiful, didn't you hear me call you? I brought home Chinese food." When she didn't answer, he rounded the bed and noticed her crying.
Kneeling before her, he took her hand. "What's the matter? Did the doctor find something wrong?" At the shake of her head, Lee continued, "Have you changed your mind about marrying me tomorrow? Please tell me that you don't want to postpone it. The boys and your mother seem really happy."
With tears in her voice, she responded "No, I...I…I… found this while packing for the move," Amanda held up the small tape recorder.
"I thought I lost that back in Santarilla." Lee moved to sit on the bed and wrapped his arms around her, "Amanda, let me explain-"
"You were close to death, or at least you thought you were. You led me to believe that you were hurt but not that hurt." Amanda pulled away from him. "Is that why you publicly proposed so suddenly, because you thought you were going to die?"
"A-man-da -" He chided.
"No. No," she wasn't being deterred. "Is the progression of our relationship all based on your knee jerk reactions? You were being hunted by the Agency so you told me you loved me. We were being held captive by a mad man, facing death, so you proposed. You were near death on assignment so you decide to make our relationship public. The next time you are being threatened are you going to decide you want a baby? I can't live like that." Tears streamed down Amanda's face.
"No," Lee spoke softly, hurt by her accusations. "I did think I was going to die. I'll be honest, Amanda, I lost a lot of blood and had passed out. I don't remember Bart showing up. I was talking to that damn thing," pointing to the recorder still clutched in Amanda's hand, he continued, "hoping that it would be found and I could at least tell everyone that I loved exactly what they meant to me. I woke up in the hospital, grateful that Billy had contacted Bart and that he was able to figure out where I was. I assume you listened to the whole thing?" he nodded toward the recording device.
"I didn't mean to listen but when I was moving your backpack into a box for the move, it fell out and it must have turned on. I heard your voice and what you were saying…" Amanda dissolved into tears once again.
"Amanda," Lee began to explain, "I believed that I was ambushed by someone who wanted the information I was picking up. I didn't know it was just a few men looking to take my jeep so they could get back to Santarilla. Though the wound wasn't bad, I was losing a lot of blood. I was lightheaded and disoriented. As I laid there, realizing that no one knew where I was or would be looking for me for some time, I honestly didn't think I would make it out of there alive. My only hope was to put my thoughts onto the recorder and hope that someone would find it and get it back to you." Taking a deep breath, Lee wrapped his arms around his crying wife but continued, "If you heard it all, you know that I couldn't find anything to leave you. You are the most important person in my life and I couldn't come up with one damn thing to give you to let you know how I felt. What you mean to me."
Pushing off the bed, Lee started pacing, "When I woke up in the hospital, still alive, I figured out why I couldn't leave you anything. It's because the only thing I want to give you is me. I want to give you the time we wasted denying our feelings, the time we lost by not announcing our marriage. I want to give you the rest of my life. That's why I proposed and pushed for a quick ceremony. I don't want to waste anymore of my life away from you." With his energy and emotions spent, Lee dropped to the bed beside Amanda. "I hope you understand why. I love you, Amanda. I want the whole world to know how much."
Amanda, wrapped her arms around her husband and kissed him, softly at first but with more passion as the kiss deepened. "I love you too, Lee."
She leaned back bringing him with her. Between kisses Lee murmured, "Amanda, I brought home dinner."
"The food is already cold, I'm not. It will be easier to reheat than I will." Amanda smiled while trailing kisses down his neck. "And besides that, work was not the only thing I was released to do."
"Well, if you're medically cleared, who am I to deny you?" Lee pulled Amanda's shirt over her head and resumed kissing her.
Pulling away from him, Amanda looked into his eyes, "I love you, Lee. Thank you for coming home to me and giving me what I needed most… you."
He pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered into her ear, "I love you, Amanda. I have since the day I met you and always will."