Dotty gave Lee an assessing glance, taking in the sports jacket. "Is this another premiere?".
Lee shook his head. "No, just dinner," he replied, trying to sound casual. Dotty was certainly intrigued that he was there, but she had no idea what a quivering mass of nerves he'd been, walking up to the front door and coming inside like a 'normal person'.
"Dinner..." she repeated. Dotty nodded thoughtfully. "Dinner. That's nice."
Amanda reappeared at the top of the steps with her coat and Dotty noted the way Lee's face lit up just looking at her. "Have a wonderful time," she said, not that she doubted they would, not for a moment the way they gravitated to each other.
"See you later, Mother," called Amanda over her shoulder as they headed to the front door.
"Bye," added Lee. "Bye, Phillip," he said to the boy head deep in the fridge, receiving a muffled "bye" in return.
Lee reached past Amanda to open the front door for her, then ushered her out into the crisp December evening. They walked down the front path hand-in hand, Lee continuing, as he always did, to open the front gate and then the car door and help her in. Settling in and fastening her seatbelt, Amanda caught Lee looking back at the house as he stood outside the car.
"Is something wrong, Sweetheart?" she asked, turning to see if she could see what he was looking at.
"No, nothing," he said as he slid into his seat and turned over the ignition. "Just… will she be ok? Should we have left her alone?"
"Mother?" asked Amanda. "Oh yes, she'll be fine," she said. "And she's not alone – Phillip and Jamie are there." Off his look, she smiled at him. "No, I know you didn't mean it that way. But yes, she'll be fine – and she's probably happier to have a little time to herself tonight instead of having me hovering around. The flowers were a lovely thought – they'll really help make her feel better."
"Mmm," Lee made a non-committal noise, but put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.
When he didn't speak again, Amanda turned in her seat to study his profile. "You're really worried about her, aren't you?"
Lee gave her a glance out of the corner of his eye. "Of course, I worry about her. She's going to be my mother-in law. Don't you think I should worry about her?"
Amanda put her hand on his arm. "I think it's very sweet of you but I'm not sure why you're so concerned. She liked Harry very much but they hadn't even been going out that long. And she'd be the first to point out that we wouldn't even have been involved if she hadn't been concerned about his behavior. I mean, yes he turned out to be a fall guy and not a mastermind criminal, thank goodness, but you know, even without that hanging over them, some of the things he did would always make her doubt him a little. I mean, she was already worried about his gambling and then to find out he's been lying got her the whole time about his real name and his real job? In her heart, she knows she'd always have to wonder if he was lying to her about anything else."
Lee nodded. "I know, I know. And she's a smart cookie, just like her daughter," he shot her a quick smile, "but I still feel bad for her. What was I thinking, asking you out on a date tonight when she's at home nursing a broken heart?"
Amanda ran her hand up and down his upper arm. "Aww, Sweetheart, you saw her. It would have been much worse for us to stay at home, looking all lovey-dovey even though she's happy that it looks like I finally agreed to date you."
"Agreed to date me," he repeated in an exasperated tone. "You've agreed to marry me, Amanda, and she's only just barely met me!"
"This is really bothering you," she replied in a surprised tone. "How come?'
Lee was silent for a moment, obviously struggling to figure out his answer before he finally burst out with "It just makes me uncomfortable to lie to her, that's all."
"Wha-a-a-t?" Amanda exclaimed, starting to laugh.
"Look, I know it's ridiculous," he lifted his hands off the steering wheel and slammed them back down. "I know I'm the reason you've been lying to her for years, but…"
"But?" Amanda prompted when he went silent again.
"When I went to visit her when Birol had you, I thought it would make me feel better," he said. "And it did, but at the same time, I couldn't help worrying about what if I had to come back in a few days and tell her…" He shot her a quick look and grimaced.
"But you didn't have to," she replied.
"No, I didn't, thank God." Lee reached out to take her hand and squeeze it. "But this week? When we had to pretend we didn't really know Billy and that we just knew people who could look stuff up for us? I mean, hell, even when I ran out the back door that night she came home from her date because we were pretending we weren't together! It all just bothers me."
"Well, you won't have to run out of the house anymore after tonight," she said, comfortingly.
"That's true," he conceded. He turned to grin at her. "She did look pretty happy about us going out for dinner, didn't she?"
"She did," Amanda smiled back. "And now she can ramp up the comments to a whole new level. 'Just dinner, Amanda?'" she mimicked Dotty. "That man is an 11 and all you've let him do is take you out to dinner?"
Lee couldn't help starting to laugh. "She thinks I'm an 11?" he asked, waggling his brows.
"You know she does," Amanda scolded him, trying to hide her own smile. "Don't let it go to your head."
"Maybe I could get an even higher rating if she found out we're engaged," mused Lee.
"Let's just work our way up to that, okay?" laughed Amanda. "For now she's happy enough we're going for 'just dinner'."
"Just dinner?" Lee teased her. "Do you have a curfew I should be concerned about?"
Amanda gave a low laugh. "Can you imagine how disappointed she'd be if I came home too soon?"
"Well, I can't start my new open relationship with her like that," Lee agreed with a grin. "But we could skip dinner," he added suggestively.
"Oh no, we can't," said Amanda, shaking her head. "You promised me dinner, Stetson and I'm starving."
Lee laughed and lifted her hand to kiss her fingertips as he continued to drive. "This is nice, though, isn't it?" he said. Off her look, he clarified, "This acting like normal people thing." He laughed along with her as she smiled at him. "Picking you up at your house, talking to your family, taking you out for a meal… do you think your mother will be waiting to flash the front porch lights off and on when I bring you home?"
"Probably," Amanda acknowledged with a grin. "Or she'll insist you come in for a nightcap and tell her all about our evening."
"I'd like that," Lee said.
"I'm glad," she answered. They shared another smile.
"Okay, so where do you want to go for this momentous occasion of our fake first date?" he asked
"Let's try that new Greek place Francine mentioned," she replied. "She said they do take out."
"Dionysus? That's right by my apartment," Lee pointed out.
Amanda nodded. "I said I wanted dinner, but I never said it had to be just dinner," she replied, demurely but with a twinkle in her eye. She moved her hand to his leg and let her fingertips run along the inside of his thigh, making Lee chuckle.
"You better hope your mother doesn't want that thorough description of our evening then."
"We'll figure out what to tell her after."
Amanda shot him a mischievous look. "Not exactly."