Three Strikes Three Strikes

Author: Toto (their_toto@yahoo.com )

Rating: PG-13

Summary: This story is a sequel to "Oops" and answers the question, "Now what?" If you haven't read "Oops" then this probably won't make sense. Timing is post fourth season.

Author's Notes: First, this story was written specifically to address the ending that left readers hanging in "Oops." That was the main purpose behind it - and to see a possible set of decisions and reactions to what happened in that first story. And yes, I know I've taken a different approach in the last part of this story than most would. And yes, I'm willing to discuss my logic for writing it the way I did. A very big thanks to those who helped me get this cleaned up both in its first incarnation and now; any remaining mistakes are mine alone. The story has evolved a bit since its original appearance on the smkfanfic list. Thanks to all those whose comments helped me clarify what it is I wanted to write.

In terms of where this story might fit with respect to others that I have written, it and "Oops" follow in line from "Just a Little Persuasion," which clarified Lee and Amanda's relationship (a bit) with her family, if not with the Agency (yet).

Disclaimer: SMK belongs to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. The story below is mine, and was written for entertainment purposes only. Please do not distribute without my permission.


*********
Batter Up
*********

"Would you be serious?" Amanda sighed in frustration at her husband.

"I'm trying," he answered.

"No, you're not!" There was so much they needed to do -- decisions they needed to make, people they needed to tell, and there he sat with that inane grin on his face. It was almost enough to make a person scream.

"Amanda," Lee said slowly as he put his hands on either side of her face. "Listen. Please?" She nodded and he continued. "I know . . . okay? I know that we have to figure out how to tell the boys, and your mother, and the Agency . . . and who knows who else. But right now . . . ." He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs, moving slowly toward her lips. "Right now I want to enjoy the fact that we . . . you and I . . . are going to have a baby." His thumbs had now made the journey to her lips and were slowly caressing them. "Okay?"

Amanda nodded, unable to speak with what Lee was doing to her. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, kissing him deeply. "Okay," she mumbled as they lay back onto the sofa.

**********
Strike One
**********

"I've passed the new assignments around, people," Billy Melrose spoke to the agents gathered in the conference room Monday morning. "Take a minute to look through your folders, and let me know if you have any questions."

He watched as Amanda King began to shake her head slightly as she read through her assignment. He watched as Lee Stetson picked up on it, and began to read it as well. Something was up.

"Scarecrow . . . Mrs. King . . . Is there a problem?"

"Um, well, sir . . . ." Amanda seemed to be having trouble getting the words out.

"Can we discuss this?" Lee asked.

Billy looked around the room. "Does anyone else have any questions?" Seeing the remainder of the agents shaking their heads, he continued. "Then you're all dismissed. Check with Francine for assistance on logistical support." Billy turned his attention back to Lee and Amanda. "In my office," he told them as he held the door for them.

Once in Billy's office, Amanda and Lee seated themselves on the couch, a discrete distance from each other.

"Well?" Billy asked.

"I can't take this assignment, sir," Amanda told him.

"Why not? It's under a week and the chemical plant is only about a two-hour drive. I thought the two of you would appreciate a case where you actually got to work together." Billy shook his head. They weren't telling him something.

"We do . . . I do," Amanda answered. "But . . . it's a chemical plant."

"I know it's a chemical plant! I had to read through pages of warnings on who could or could not risk exposure, and you two . . . ." *click* Billy stared at the woman on the couch. 'Damn,' he thought. This was going to be a mess. He could picture it now: reworking the assignments, telling Dr. Smyth... damn. He turned to look at Lee, who had stood up and begun to pace.

"You irresponsible son of a . . ." Billy growled.

"Wait," Lee held up his hands. "It's not what you think!"

"Is she pregnant?" he asked.

Lee swallowed and nodded.

"And you're the father?"

Again, Lee nodded.

"So tell me, Scarecrow, why it's not what I think? That you just got your partner pregnant and now all of us have to deal with your little mess?"

"Well, it's like this," Lee looked to Amanda for support but her head was down in her hands and her body was rocking back and forth. Oh great, he thought to himself as he recognized that move of his wife's and knew he was on his own.

Billy followed Lee's glance and misinterpreted Amanda's actions. "Look at her! How could you do this?" he ranted.

"Look at her?" Lee shook his head. "How could I do this?" That was all he could take. "I didn't do this by myself, you know!" He walked back over to the couch. "Come on, Amanda, you really need to help me out here."

Behind him, Billy stood, a frown upon his face. He watched the pair, as Amanda slowly stopped rocking and lifted her head up. The noises she was making . . . she was giggling?! The puzzled expression on his face was replaced with one of amazement as his agent rose from the couch and walked over to him. Shyly, she placed a kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you for trying to defend my honor," she whispered as another giggle surfaced. "It's almost as if my father were still alive, and I really do appreciate it." She backed away a bit, and took Lee's hand. She took a breath. "But I don't need it." Holding it for support, she continued. "Lee's right. He didn't do this by himself. We both did, although not on purpose. But we're both taking responsibility here, and . . . " She took another breath, "we're going to have this baby."

"I have to ground you. You know that, don't you? You can't be in the field when you're pregnant!" Billy addressed her, ignoring the man behind her whom he still held responsible for the mess. Her kids were teenagers, she was a full time agent ... a good agent ... part of a really good team. What were they thinking?

Amanda nodded. "I know. We just found out, and hadn't quite figured out how to tell anyone, so if you could forgive this whole little scene . . . ." She squeezed her husband's hand and decided to go for broke. "But while we're in confession mode, there's one more thing."

"What now?" Billy asked. Could it get worse?

"On February thirteenth," Lee spoke up, "Amanda and I were married."

"Married? MARRIED?" Billy shook his head, not wanting to think of the complications he would be facing after the revelations of the morning. "And you kept it a secret? WHAT were you thinking?" The words were out of his mouth before he could think. Billy knew that he needed some time, or his frustrations were going to get the better of him. If they had only confided in him earlier, then maybe he could have set something in motion. Damn. He went to his desk drawer and took out the Tums. He chewed three, swallowed, and turned to the pair. "GO! Get out, go home, do whatever it is you need to do, but I do not want to see either of you for twenty-four hours! Is that clear?!"

As Lee and Amanda exited through the bullpen, Billy saw Francine across the room. "DESMOND!"

She looked up and forced herself to bite back the question forming on her lips as she got a better look at the expression on her Section Chief's face.

"Duty rosters for the next month!" The sound of Billy's voice made Francine jump and she turned to face him as he continued. "In my office. NOW!" He turned and went back to his desk and the bottle of Tums. Time to get started.

**********
Strike Two
**********

Amanda checked her watch nervously. Even though it was just routine, she had wished that Lee could have come with her to this first OB appointment, but bureaucracy would wait for no man, and Lee was back at the Agency in a meeting with Doctor Smyth. Amanda looked around the room, uncomfortable with the rich decor and wishing that Doctor Blake hadn't given up the obstetrical portion of her practice. Still, she was told that Doctor Green was very good, and the location in Georgetown, near the Agency, would make it convenient to schedule future appointments.

Five more minutes. It was always five more minutes, she thought to herself, wasn't it? Her thoughts went back to their conversation with Mr. Melrose two days earlier. It had gone badly; she knew that. Lee even admitted it hadn't gone well. They were both surprised at how upset Billy had been about the secret marriage and the pregnancy. Not the facts of either, but the secrecy. It was making them both take some time to think and decide on the right way to inform Dotty and the boys about what had happened.

Initially, Amanda had wanted to tell the boys about the marriage first and then the baby. But the more she thought, and she and Lee talked, the more she found that she was changing her mind. For all that getting pregnant before marriage wasn't an example she was particularly pleased about setting, she was far more disturbed about the message she would send by admitting how often the truth had been "expendable."

"Amanda King," the receptionist called out.

Amanda looked up. "Yes?" she asked.

"We're ready for you."

Amanda stood and was met at the door by a tall young nurse. "You're lucky you got a morning slot. They're at a premium around here." She motioned Amanda over to the scale in the inner hallway. "If you want, you can make all of your appointments today, before you leave. It's probably your best bet for getting dates and times you want." Amanda nodded, and the nurse continued. "Will your husband be coming with you on future visits?"

"I hope so," she answered. "He was planning on coming today, but something came up."

"Well, the first visit is pretty boring anyway." The nurse looked at the chart. "I see from the records that were sent over that you've done this twice before, so I'm sure you remember." Amanda smiled and stepped off the scale. Lee would laugh: the nurse babbled more than she did. "You're going to be in room three." The nurse pointed to a door across the hall. "While you wait, there's some literature on prenatal nutrition for you to look through." Amanda turned toward the door but was stopped by a hand on her arm. "There's just one more thing."

"What?" Amanda was puzzled.

"Well, even though the at home tests are reliable, we like to have our own results on file." The nurse smiled and pointed towards the restroom. "Everything you need to give us a sample is in there."

"I knew there was something I blocked out of my mind from the last time I was pregnant," Amanda laughed. "Those stupid *little* cups!"

"Amanda! You're pregnant?!" A voice squealed from just behind her.

It was someone perky. "Carrie?" Amanda turned. Oh no, she sighed. "What are you doing here?" Answer a question with a question, Amanda. Just don't answer THE question.

Carrie smiled. "I'm just here for my annual exam. I'm surprised to see you coming all the way into Georgetown for a doctor's visit, but Doctor Green is wonderful."

Amanda nodded, unable to say a word. Slowly she made her way toward the restroom.

"Well, it was good to see you. Congratulations! I can't wait to tell Joe!" Carrie turned and left.

Amanda leaned back into the wall.

"Mrs. King? Are you all right?" The nurse was worried.

"I'll be fine. I just didn't expect to see anyone I knew today." Amanda felt as if she should explain, even though she really didn't want to.

"I understand," the nurse told her, misunderstanding completely. "Many of our older mothers prefer to wait until after the first trimester before telling their friends about their pregnancy."

"No," Amanda shook her head. 'Older mothers?' Where had that come from? "She wasn't a friend, exactly . . . ." It wasn't really worth explaining, so she turned and entered the restroom.

Two hours later, Amanda let herself into an apparently empty Q-Bureau. "Anyone here?" she called out.

An indistinct sound was heard from the vault, followed shortly thereafter by Lee with an armful of files.

"How'd it go?" he asked her as he put the files down.

"Fine," Amanda smiled at him. "Everything is fine."

"I'm real sorry I missed it," Lee said sheepishly, "but after that scene on Monday, I really didn't feel like crossing Billy or Smyth today."

Amanda nodded as she remembered Carrie. "Any phone calls?"

"Nope," Lee answered. "It's been quiet. Why?"

"Oh, well . . . it's just that," Amanda began as the phone on her desk rang. Holding up her index finger to Lee, she went over to answer the phone.

"Hello? Oh, hi, Joe," Amanda sat down. She should have known. "Yes I did . . . I don't really see how that's any of your business . . . Well, yes, but . . . Joe! That's not fair and you know it." She looked up and caught Lee's eye and frowned. Quiet after a few minutes, Amanda finally exploded into the phone. "It's none of your business, Joe King, and you will not say a word to anyone! Do I make myself clear? Good-bye!" She slammed the phone on the desk.

"Joe knows?" Lee asked.

"Yup," Amanda confirmed.

"Not happy?"

"Nope."

"Think he'll say anything?" Lee walked around and began to massage his wife's neck.

"No," she shook her head. "Once he calms down, he'll be fine." Amanda sighed. "Of course I didn't help it much by losing my cool, either," she reflected. "I'm gonna have to call him back later, aren't I?"

Lee nodded, and she reached up and took his hands in her own. "It'll be okay," he told her.

"I know," Amanda replied. "I know." She patted his hand and pushed her chair back. "You need to get back to work, and I need to get started."

Lee nodded as he picked up another stack of files to bring into the vault. "Fair enough. But we should still take a break for lunch. I want to hear about the appointment this morning."

A smile came to her face. "Deal. By the way, the doctor's office had me make all the appointments needed for the next several months. I have a card with the dates and times for you." She began to dig around in her purse. Pulling it out, she asked, "What should I do with this?"

"Can you stick it in my appointment book?"

"Okay." Amanda walked to Lee's desk and picked up the book. "Do you want me to copy the dates and times in?"

"No," Lee answered from the door to the vault. "There's a pocket thingie in the front where you can just stick the card. I'll transfer the information later. I have a system," he reminded her as he went into the vault.

"I remember, Stetson," she teased. Amanda opened the book and found the pocket inside the front cover. There was another piece of paper in there that looked like a small calendar. Little symbols. She looked at it for a moment, and her eyes widened. Putting the appointment card into the book, she held the new paper in her hand and walked over to her husband. "Want to tell me about this?" Amanda asked with a smirk.

*************
Strike Three?
*************

Lee Stetson pulled his car up to the curb in front of Amanda's house. He smiled and shook his head as he remembered her finding the little "calendar" in his datebook earlier. She had teased him mercilessly about him scheduling around her cycle, until her face had turned green and she had bolted from the office. Let her tease, he figured. It was a small price to pay, and at least he wasn't going to be the one puking in strange washrooms around D.C. for the next few months. Lee looked over at the flowers. He had asked the florist for something without too much of a scent and she had grinned, knowingly, at him. Engrossed in getting out of the car without dropping either the flowers or the extras he had gotten for dinner, Lee didn't notice Dotty pulling into the driveway.

Dotty watched as Lee took the flowers and bag from his car and came up the walk. "Coming for dinner, I take it?" she asked teasingly.

"Um, yeah." He shifted his packages uneasily, and Dotty peeked into the bag.

"Sparkling cider?" she asked.

"Well," Lee hesitated for a moment, "um, so the boys can have some."

Dotty smiled and decided to let Lee off the hook, for now. They didn't need her extra presence as they spoke to Phillip and Jamie. "Well, I hope you all enjoy yourselves. I've been out all day and have to run to meet a gentleman friend in a few minutes. I should be home by about ten," she told him. 'If you have anything you want to tell me,' she added to herself as she watched Lee enter the house.

As dinner was finishing up, Amanda looked at Lee and then her two sons. "Hey, fellas?" she said quietly.

'Here it comes,' thought Phillip. 'The reason for the flowers and the sparkling cider. It's about time they set a date.'

'Finally,' thought Jamie, who thought that they had taken way too long to get to this point.

"Can we talk?" she asked.

"Sure," said Jamie, and Phillip nodded in agreement.

Lee cleared his throat. "We have a few things that we need to tell you."

"Okay," Jamie said slowly, seeing no reason to make what he was expecting go too easily. His emotions, where Lee Stetson was concerned, had been on a roller coaster ride these past few months. First he had ignored the man, convinced he'd go away soon. Then he'd actively disliked him, and then finally, grudgingly, accepted him as his mother's 'boyfriend'. And just when Jamie was getting comfortable with the idea of his mother dating again, the engagement ring had appeared on her finger. Yet the two of them had studiously avoided any discussion of an actual wedding. Who knew what grown-ups were thinking?

"Why don't we go into the other room?" Amanda asked, suddenly feeling a very strong urge to have Lee next to, rather than across from, her.

As they all sat down, Lee began. "You guys know, don't you, that I love your mother very much?"

They both nodded, Jamie with a degree of discomfort. 'Please,' he thought to himself, 'don't let this turn into some mushy conversation.'

"And you should also know," Lee continued, "how important the two of you've become to me, in your own right."

Phillip smiled. 'Yes! Finally, they're going to just go ahead and do it!'

"Good," Lee said as he turned to Amanda.

"You know how I've always tried to teach you that it's okay to make mistakes, but it's also always important to take responsibility when you do?" She looked at both of them, waiting for confirmation before going on.

"Um, yeah," Jamie answered.

'Huh? What's this?' Phillip wondered to himself as he looked to his equally puzzled brother. The conversation had taken a very sharp turn and he wasn't sure he was still following it.

Amanda continued. "Well, you know, too, how I've also tried to teach you that it's not good to try to grow up too fast? That you should just take your time and enjoy where you are?"

Phillip and Jamie nodded, both of them in complete confusion.

"One of the reasons for that," Amanda went on, as she held Lee's hand tightly, "is that sometimes you're not really ready to take responsibility... if you're too young."

'Oh God,' Phillip thought, 'Not *that* talk. They heard that Donny's older sister is pregnant and they're going to give us a lecture on sex!' He began to squirm. Jamie noticed, but didn't understand what Phillip was thinking.

Lee cleared his throat again. He shifted Amanda's hand slightly in his, to prevent her nails from drawing too much blood. "Sometimes, even when you're a grown-up, you don't always do things in quite the way you'd, well, planned."

Jamie, not having picked up the nuances of the conversation, interjected. "So you're not getting married?"

Phillip shook his head at his brother, while Lee and Amanda looked confused.

"Well, um . . . actually we are," Lee stuttered.

"Going to get married, that is," Amanda finished. "But that's not what we wanted to talk about just yet." She looked at her oldest son and saw the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together for him. She closed her eyes for a moment, not quite able to face the disappointment she saw in Phillip's face.

"This isn't about Donny's sister, is it?" Phillip asked softly.

"Not directly," Amanda admitted. She turned to Lee. "One of Phillip's friend's sisters is pregnant. She's in high school."

Phillip just sat there, silent and stunned. Jamie still wasn't following the conversation. He looked at his brother who seemed to be staring at one of the pictures on the wall. Jamie shook his head, confused, wishing he understood what had just passed between his mother and Phillip.

"What's she going to do?" asked Lee, hoping for a moment to deflect the attention from himself and Amanda.

"Keep the kid," Phillip answered in monotone. "Her parents are going to help her."

"What about the father?" Amanda asked, but Phillip just shrugged his shoulders. She pushed on. "I bet he's scared, too. I bet it's hard, when you're that young and you make a mistake and there doesn't seem any way in the world to have it go away and be the way it was."

Phillip nodded in agreement. Donny had said how his parents were upset and his sister was always crying. "Yeah, Sharon doesn't know how she'll finish school, or go to college, or anything."

"It's tough," Amanda sympathized. Holding Lee's hand tightly once more she turned to make eye contact with Phillip. "See, that's the thing about responsibility. There's always, um, consequences, for anything you do. And it takes a long time to realize, sometimes, that you have to be old enough to accept the consequences *before* you take the action."

"So you're saying that she really messed up."

"We all mess up, Phillip," Lee told the boy. "Some of us get lucky, and manage to go for a long time acting less than responsibly." He shook his head, and thought how lucky he had been. "But there's always that chance, that something can happen."

"Like now?" Phillip finally asked.

Amanda nodded. "Like now. But it's not the same thing. Not exactly, anyway. Lee and I have known each other, worked together, for quite a while."

"Then we started seeing each other, kind of slowly," Lee added, "because of you guys, and us, and even work."

"But we realized," Amanda said softly, "that what we have together is very special."

Lee shook his head. "We just hadn't quite gotten to all the practical stuff yet, like how to be a real family with you two, setting a date, and whether or not we'd have any other kids . . . ."

"But you're pregnant!" Phillip said to his mother, confusion and anger mixing in his ragged whisper.

"WHAT?" Jamie stood up from the couch. "How can you be pregnant? That's so gross! How could you do that? You tell us how wrong it is, and then look at you!"

"Jamie!" Lee stood up and looked at the boy. "That's enough."

"We're not trying to say we did it the right way," Amanda said, noting to herself how much of an understatement that was. "What we're trying to say to you is that in the end, we love each other and we're a family and we're going to have this baby. All of us. Together."

"I don't want a baby!" Jamie ranted. "And I don't think I want a step-father, anymore, either!"

"Well, that's kind of too bad," Amanda said softly. "Because that's just the way it is."

Lee began to pace. "You know," he began, "despite everything, we're actually kind of excited about this." He stopped and looked at Jamie. "I'm sorry I blew up at you. I know you think we're setting a lousy example here, and you're probably right. But we do love each other, and we are going to make this work. And we want you," he looked over to Phillip, "both of you, to be a part of it."

"Can we go upstairs?" Jamie wanted to know. He needed some time to figure this all out. Amanda nodded, and he and Phillip left.

Lee sat back down on the couch, and patted the cushion next to him. "Come here," he gestured.

"Thanks," said Amanda as she leaned into his arms.

"So you think this was better than telling them we were really married?" Lee wanted to know.

Amanda sighed. "I think, that however we played this, it was going to be rough. If we told them we'd gotten married they would have just assumed we either made it up, or were only telling them now, because I was pregnant."

"Yeah, well, they kind of have something there," Lee reminded her.

"We would have had to explain that the whole engagement was a lie.... And I didn't want to go run off, alone, again." Amanda turned to Lee. "Our wedding was very special but if we're going to go do this all over again, I want them there. I don't know if they'd quite buy into us needing to get married quickly, either, given how much we've avoided the whole 'setting a date' issue. Not to mention that I think they know enough about human physiology to be able to count back in a little bit and figure out just what would have prompted it all." She shifted slightly and tucked one leg under the other. "I've been thinking a lot about truth and trust and whatnot lately." Lee nodded and she continued. "And I think, when they're older, they're kind of going to understand why we didn't tell them about the Agency." She smiled. "I mean, they're pretty suspicious about the whole film thing as it is, but they don't press very much."

"That's good," Lee said. "But the job isn't our marriage."

"I know," she told him. "But to say to them, 'Hey, we got married way back in February and didn't tell you because we needed time,' kind of implies a lack of trust in them. They were so insecure after the divorce, thinking that if they hadn't been around I would have gone with Joe and it never would have happened." She shook her head at the memory of Jamie telling her that one night when she thought she was alone, crying on the couch. "They thought that my being sad was their fault, and it wasn't."

"But keeping the marriage a secret didn't have anything to do with them," Lee protested.

"Oh, didn't it?" Amanda asked. "I know we said it was because of the Agency, and keeping everyone safe. But I think, really, it was keeping ourselves safe too. Keeping our own little world safe and protected and just our own."

Lee grimaced, seeing a bit of truth in that.

"And I'm not quite ready to tell them about what we do," she continued. "Although what I do is in flux right now, isn't it?" As Lee nodded, Amanda realized that they still had to discuss the impact of her pregnancy on their jobs. 'Oh well,' she thought to herself. 'That can wait until we get this situation with Phillip and Jamie resolved.'

"I know them, Jamie in particular, and he'd worry all the time about me, us, being okay." Amanda saw Lee concede that point as well. "This," she gestured to where the boys had been sitting as she mentally went back to the earlier conversation, "it was the only way I could see us telling them."

Maybe it hadn't been the best way and maybe the boys would be angry for a while. But, she reasoned, they'd work it out. She'd give them some time tonight, but they were going to talk again. And again and again. They needed to keep talking.

"They knew we were serious," Amanda said aloud. "They were expecting an announcement of some type tonight." She shook her head and sighed. "We still need to go over our plans with the boys when they come back down."

Lee nodded. "What happens when word gets out?" He was concerned. He knew it wasn't the same as years ago, but he really wasn't very happy about the fact that it was going to look like he got Amanda pregnant and had to marry her, especially among those who did not know the depth of their relationship.

"Sweetheart, it's early," she told him. After facing Mr. Melrose, and Joe, and the boys, it was really hard to worry what anyone else was thinking of her. "We've known I was pregnant for what? A few days? And we found out pretty darn quickly, thanks to your little handy dandy Amanda calendar," she teased. "So if we just continue the plan..."

"And head up to the mountains this weekend and get married," Lee finished, "it's just going to look like you had one helluva honeymoon."

Amanda grinned. "And this time, Stetson, I intend to." She leaned back into his embrace. "I've got everything set, including three rooms at the lodge. They boys can hike to their hearts content, and you and I . . ."

"Can stay in," Lee finished as he smiled and proceeded to gave her a long, slow kiss.

***********
Game Called
***********

Dotty found them there, necking on the couch like a couple of teenagers. She let out a small laugh as she entered the room, and it grew louder as she watched them jump apart.

"So it went okay?" she asked them, once she had stopped laughing.

"You knew?" Amanda questioned, shaking her head.

Dotty didn't say a word, but walked over to the bookshelf and reached behind a picture frame. Taking a small item in her hand, she turned to face the couple.

"You left something in the bathroom the other morning," she told Amanda as she held up the cardboard square from the pregnancy test box.

"Oh my gosh!" Amanda sighed. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I figured you'd tell me when the time was right," Dotty told her daughter. "Congratulations," she said to both of them.

"Thank you," Lee said, embarrassed.

"So, I'll ask again, how did it go?"

Amanda sighed. "Not very well, I'm afraid. They went upstairs about an hour ago."

"They'll live," she told them. "How are you doing?"

"Me? I'm fine. Saw a new OB this morning, and aside from a little 'advanced maternal age'," Amanda laughed, "everything's fine."

"Are you happy?" She had to ask the question.

They both nodded.

"Good, I'm glad." Dotty turned to face Lee. "So, when are you marrying her?"

"Right to the point, huh?" Lee smiled. "This weekend, unless you have any objections?"

"Nope, none whatsoever." She sat down on the chair opposite the couch. "I figured you both needed a kick in the rear, and I'm kind of glad I didn't have to be the one to give it."

"We've been kicked enough already," Lee muttered. Seeing that Dotty heard him, he went on, "Sorry, but Amanda had to turn down an assignment at work a couple of days ago, and when our boss found out, well, let's just say that we got a little preview of what to expect tonight with Phillip and Jamie."

Amanda nodded. "And then I ran into Carrie at the doctor's office today and she ran home to tell Joe . . . ."

"I take it he gave you an earful?" Dotty asked.

"And then some," Amanda confirmed.

"Well, at least you didn't have to be the one to tell him," Dotty reminded her. "And it will give the boys someone to talk to."

Amanda noted the truth in that statement. "I know. And I kind of lost my temper with him as well." It was hard admitting that to her mother. "Once Joe calms down he'll be fair. And it will be good for the boys to have him to talk to, help them come to terms with all of the changes."

"Don't worry about it tonight, darlings," Dotty told them. "I'm heading upstairs to turn in, but I want you both to know that I'm very happy for you. And whatever help you need, just give a holler. I'm going to enjoy having a baby around here again!" As she left the room, she passed Phillip and Jamie slowly making their way down the stairs. Dotty gave them each a kiss on their foreheads and a pat on their shoulders as she went upstairs.

"Um, Mom?" Amanda turned at the sound of Phillip's voice.

"Yeah, sweetheart?"

"What's next?"

Amanda gave a half smile and patted the couch next to her. Phillip sat down next to his mother while Jamie perched himself on the coffee table facing her. She felt Lee put his hands softly on her shoulders.

"What's next is the wedding that we, obviously, should have had a bit sooner," Amanda told her sons.

"When?" Jamie wanted to know.

"This weekend," Lee answered.

"So I guess we'll stay with Dad," Jamie sighed.

"We were hoping you'd come with us," Lee told the boy. He looked to Phillip. "You too, and your grandmother. We made some reservations up in the mountains. Plenty of time for you two to hike and be on your own, as well." He knew that the truce they were forging was fragile, and would be for some time.

"You want us there?" Phillip was surprised.

Amanda smiled and gave him a hug. "We want you there." She felt him stiffen a little, and she sighed.

"Do we have to go?" Jamie asked.

"No," Amanda shook her head. "But can you think about it?" She saw Phillip nod slightly while Jamie stared just to the right of his mother's head. "It's okay that you're upset with us. I know it's going to take some time for all of this to work itself out. But I also want you to know that we're always here to talk, if you want to." She looked to Lee, and turned back to look at both boys. "Lee, me, and your dad as well."

"He knows?" Jamie asked and watched his mother nod. "What does he think?"

"Ah," Amanda sighed. "He's a little worried, I think, for both of you fellas, and how you'd take the news."

"So he was mad, too?" Phillip asked.

"Yeah, he was mad, too," his mother answered, surprised at the insightfulness her older son had shown tonight.

"Mom?"

"Yes, Jamie?"

"It's gonna be weird to have a baby around here, you know?" He stood up and put his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

"I know," Amanda said and Lee nodded.

"Thanks for coming back downstairs tonight," Lee told both boys. "There's still more we want to discuss with you," he said as he looked at both of them, "but I don't think tonight is the best time for that."

Phillip and Jamie nodded in relief.

"I just hope," Lee found the words hard to find, "that this gets a little easier with time." He stood to face both boys, putting his hands in his own pockets to match their stance. "But remember that we're gonna be a family, and we're in this together, okay?"

Silently, the boys looked at each other and then turned back to face the adults. "Good night," said Phillip, and Jamie mumbled the same phrase.

"This might just work out," Amanda sighed as she leaned back into the couch.

"It will," Lee told her as he sat down. He laughed as he thought of Dotty's reaction to their news. It was good to have someone in their corner. "Your mother is incredible," he told Amanda, "just like you."

She put her arms around his waist. "She's amazing," Amanda conceded. "So," she looked into his eyes, "we okay?"

"Yeah, more than okay." Lee ran his fingers through her hair, fingering it as it hung next to her face. "It's just gonna take some time." Amanda nodded, and he continued, "and we, Mrs. Stetson, have an awful lot of that to be looking forward to."

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