***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 1 - Billy

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Author – Just Browsing

Introduction – During the 'escape and catch the baddies' phase in ARS, Amanda relaxes (after flexing) her arm muscles enabling her to escape from the binding ropes. She credits exercises from her tennis lessons as the reason why she was able to do this. Lee acted like he knew she had been taking lessons. Why didn't we know about the tennis lessons be-forehand? I did a little research. Here's my inner Billy to serve up the tale.

Canon – For once, I think 'yes'. There is one minor continuity problem (if you can't find it, I'm not telling).

Rating – PG

Feedback – Gushing and constructive criticism always welcome as there is only a thin, white line separating an ace from a double fault.

Archive – SmkFiction.com and Justlikescarecrow's site. Anywhere else? I'd be honored, just ask.

Beta – Thanks again to my great beta team – Di, Diane, Laura. They are great, wonderful, top notch! I couldn't do it without them! Additional kudos to Lori and Moose for their pre-posting insights. Part of section 3 is an ode to chatting with this gang, my friends.

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Part 1 – Billy POV

It was a day like any other. I remember I had just returned from an early morning meeting with Dr. Smyth. He was his usual annoying self. Though I don't recall the exact topic of his tirade, I'd bet it ended in his typical prose, something like, "Kiddies, the time has come to adjourn this little pow-wow. Melrose, if you can't do the job, I'll find someone else with the know-how."

Mentally I always respond to his drivel with 'I'd like to see you try.' But I am much too sensible to voice my disdain on a regular basis – I save it for special occasions. Besides I like my job and the people who work for me. So, with that on my mind, I ambled back to the bullpen, its sights and sounds all too familiar and dear to my heart. The green bar paper was spooling out of our high-speed printers providing reams of confidential and classified data to be reviewed and analyzed. While other agents were hard at work surfing through data at their desks, Lee leaned against the corner of Francine's, volleying sarcasm and snide remarks. The constant hum from those printers muffled this daily bickering of my two favorite agents.

Like I said, it was just a typical morning here, well, until Mrs. King walked through the bullpen doors. The first thing I noticed was the missing spring in her step. Usually her movements matched her disposition – light and cheerful – but that day she was moving slowly. Her motions were forced, even jerky.

Amanda caught my eye across the room and gave me a half-hearted smile. She walked directly to the coffee pot and selected a red mug from the collection there. Curious, I continued my casual surveillance while pretending to analyze a printout stolen (well, borrowed) from the nearest desk. As Amanda turned to walk my way, she wobbled. The coffee mug slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor. Even though I saw it happening, I was startled – and not just because it was one of my favorite mugs. I was startled because the last time I'd witnessed an Amanda-induced glass shattering it was due to her being under the influence of bad chicken salad. I was tempted to yell 'fore' as an ode to the memory. Now don't you worry, though my mind was wandering, outwardly I remained totally focused on the problem at hand.

Fielder and Duffy reached her side first. Lee and I were close behind. Amanda had her klutzy moments, but I feared this was a symptom of something more serious. Lee was worried too. He abruptly shifted her away from Duffy's side and ushered her into my office with his hand resting protectively on her lower back. Francine and I followed. We arrived in time to witness Amanda's grimace as she lowered herself onto my couch. Lee caught it too and I knew him well enough to let him take the lead in the pursuant questioning.

Lee knelt in front of her and grabbed her hand. Riddled with concern, he queried, "Amanda, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she answered automatically, though all the signs indicated otherwise. Glancing my way sheepishly, she continued. "Mr. Melrose, I'm really sorry about the mug and the mess."

I knew now was not the time to lament about it being one of my favorites. Instead, I decided to stick with my usual, and almost always successful, supportive and understanding approach. "Amanda, we're concerned about you. You're obviously in pain. Can you tell us what's wrong?"

"Well, I guess I could, but I'm not sure if you really want to know. It might not make much sense."

Francine muttered, "Nothing you say ever makes much sense." Francine and her sarcasm were leaning against the doorframe. We ignored both of them.

I nodded reassuringly towards Amanda with a supportive smile and encouraged her to continue with patient eyes and a slight hand gesture. "Just start at the beginning," I advised wisely.

"Well, it all started last Monday night after our PTA meeting…" At the mention of 'PTA' Francine rolled her eyes. I gave her my 'stay here and be quiet or get back to work' warning glare as Amanda continued. "The refreshment committee always goes out for drinks at the conclusion of the annual awards meeting. After we cleaned up the tables and punch bowl and gave away the last of the cookies, we went to this little bar around the corner that Laura suggested. Usually we go where Kathy chooses, but last night Laura was insistent. I guess it was fate. We had a couple of drinks; well, some had more than others. Di had had a really bad week and she guzzled a few more than everyone else. We were getting ready to talk about planning the next bake sale. You can't imagine how much planning goes into organizing one of these events, almost as much as organizing security for an embassy event. Definitely more than you would expect…"

Lee squeezed her hands gently as if to reel her back to her story. I licked my lips and nodded supportively again, trying to clear the vision of fresh, succulent, mouth-watering baked goods from my mind, hoping I would be able to concentrate if Amanda ever got to the point of her ramble and really, really hoping that she would remember me at bake sale time.

"Di was returning from the restroom when she stumbled. This strange man steadied her and walked her back to our table…"

"A strange man? Was he someone you'd seen before?" Lee's interest was piqued.

"No, I'd never seen him before. He sat down with us, right next to me. We were all intrigued with his accent."

"His accent? What kind of accent? Was he a foreigner?"

"No, he said he was an American; he lived overseas for several years. He said he could speak three other languages – Italian, French, and Spanish."

"I bet he was shady looking." Lee concentrated on the information she provided about this mystery man with the same zeal he would on the CIA's description of an international terrorist.

"Well, not really. He was wearing tennis shoes. His jeans were really faded and pretty tight." I saw a slight blush speckle her cheeks, but I'm certain Lee missed the blush. "He had a navy blue designer t-shirt; the color really accented his eyes."

"Amanda, his clothes won't really help identify him. What about his physical features?" Lee was standing up now, on the verge of pacing. I'd seen him like this a million times before. The wheels in his head were spinning with thoughts of tracking down this shady stranger so justice could be served. The challenge of ridding the world of injustice always gets his juices flowing.

"Well, he was about 6'4", lean and athletic, and he had dark blonde wavy hair worn kind of long. Oh, and he was very tan." Now, something about Amanda's descriptions led me to believe that this man didn't actually hurt her. About this time I had to stop and try to remember why this story even started. Oh, right, the broken coffee mug. I remember now. I was betting that this has nothing to do with agency business. But on the other hand, it was Amanda and she does have a knack for getting into trouble. She's even been known to almost single-handedly cause an international emergency or two. Glancing quickly between Amanda on my couch and the pile of paperwork blanketing my desk, I decided that her plight was more interesting. Then there would be the added bonus of watching Lee when he realized Mister Tight Jeans was indeed hitting on Amanda, just not in a violent way. I find jealous Lee very amusing. I shifted a foot to my left to get a better view of both Amanda and Lee's faces.

Lee was thinking out loud now. "Tall, long hair, accent. Did he hurt you at the bar?"

"No, not at the bar. And hurt isn't the right wor-"

Lee interrupted her answer with more questions. "Was he threatening there? Violent?"

"Lee, he wasn't like that at all. I think we all enjoyed our time with him. He was really charming, flattering and entertaining. He walked each of us to our cars afterward. Actually, he was a perfect gentleman." I grinned at the confusion and suspicion I saw flash across Lee's face. It's more fun to watch his expressions than hers when she is telling a story. "… Zeke told us that he just moved to town and that he gives private tennis lessons at the park."

"Tennis lessons?" Lee interrupted. Yep, he was on the verge of realizing that this was not a matter of national security. The boy's a little slow sometimes or maybe I'm just too good, too insightful, too – oh, sorry, we were talking about Lee – but remember, I mentioned I caught this fact several rambling sentences back. It was always fun to watch him – he's so quick in assessing non-Amanda related critical situations. Lee is not the only agent I enjoy watching and evaluating. I enjoy analyzing all my agents' thought processes and deductive abilities. It's an integral and essential part of my job. But I must admit I find Lee's reactions to Amanda the most amusing. I really hope I'm there when he realizes how much she means to him and how deep his feelings for her run. I picture a comic where I pull a string and a giant light bulb comes on over his head. Oh sorry, I digressed. Probably should have warned you that I do it a lot. Anyway, as Amanda's ramble continued, I mentally reached over and gave Lee a "thump" on the back of his head to help him keep up.

"Yes, tennis lessons. Zeke is a tennis instructor with the Arlington Tennis Club. He's excellent! We all signed up for lessons. Everyone on the refreshments committee – well, except for Niki. She's got a bad back and besides, her husband is a jealous person."

"Jealous person?"

"Oh, yes. She didn't think he would approve of her taking lessons with Zeke. Zeke is a real 'hands-on' coach and it's a small class so there's lots of personal attention."

"Hands-on?" Lee gulped. Yep, I could actually see the green transformation – not a glowing green, a glowering one. He can be such a child sometimes. I sent him another mental "thump."

"Oh, yes!" she answered with enthusiasm. For a moment she looked off over Francine's shoulder into space. A memory must have replayed in her mind because her radiant smile and sparkling eyes weren't appropriate responses to Francine's bemused smirk.

Lee tried to remain calm, though the clenching and unclenching of his fists was a dead giveaway of his true feelings. "Well, maybe you shouldn't be taking lessons either."

"Why?" Amanda asked ever so innocently. "I don't have a jealous husband or boyfriend." I cleared my throat loudly to stifle a hearty chuckle. Amanda was so intent on her thoughts of being the teacher's pet that she didn't even consider Lee might be the inferred jealous person. Interactions between these two just crack me up. Some day I'll question my motivation for continually pairing these two together. I'm afraid to admit it might be for my own amusement, not what's best for them.

They both seemed to have forgotten the point of her story – Amanda distracted by a blue-eyed tennis ace with his gorgeous serve and Lee by a green-eyed monster that hit a nerve. Deciding that this would be a perfect time to intervene, I coaxed Amanda back to the reason for this conversation – the broken coffee mug. "Amanda…"

"… So, no. No one hurt me. Lee, that was so nice of you to be worried. I'm just really, really sore. I'm sore in places that I didn't know could be sore."

Lee slumped down on the couch next to Amanda. The relief and the anger at an imaginary assailant had faded. I watched as he replayed Amanda's responses over in his mind with this new information. I'm fairly certain his grimaces were due to the personal descriptions - intriguing accent, lean and athletic, and tight jeans - not due to images of Amanda in a tennis skirt.

"How many lessons have you had?"

"Yesterday was our first."

"You're in this much pain after one practice? Maybe he's working you too hard."

"Well, I stayed after practice. Zeke and I did some special exercises together."

"What kind of special exercises?" Lee's voice raised half an octave as he spoke. I didn't know he had that kind of vocal range.

Amanda's attempt at demonstrating the exercises was hard to interpret, arms twisted and flaying. Seemed to be to be some type of resistance exercises. She kept saying, "He put his hands here, while I did this." Now you know I wasn't really watching Amanda; my interest was flaying as well. Lee's reaction was so predictable. His displeasure with the thought of Zeke's hands on her shoulders, forearms, elbows, wrists, and even around her waist was obvious. His ears were bright red by the time she finished her gestures and descriptions.

His jaw twitched and his voice cracked when he asked, "How many more lessons do you have with this guy?"

"We have 11 more lessons. Every Wednesday and Saturday."

"What if you have to work?" I saw the glimpse of hope spark in his eyes; it flickered like a candle on a birthday cake.

"Zeke said if we had to miss a class, he would make up the time with a private lesson. Isn't that nice of him? He's meeting me there early Saturday to work on my backhand."

"I could help you with your backhand. In fact, we could work on it today, this afternoon," Lee volunteered gallantly. As an afterthought, he added, "I'd even help you with your exercises."

I almost chimed in a reminder that they were supposed to do some work today. Frankly my amusement with this conversation was over. I glanced at the piles on my desk. This time they were beckoning me to join them like a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was time to get the troops back to work. I gave them a dismissive wave and wordlessly ushered them out of my office. As they have so many times before, they walked all the way through the bullpen without a break in their conversation. I could hear them as they went.

"Thanks for the offer, Lee. But I think I should take it easy today."

"You know, I could work with you. You wouldn't even need Zeke."

"Oh, Lee, I don't 'need' Zeke. I don't need to take tennis lessons either. But I'm having so much fun. Zeke is so engaging and vibrant and he makes practices so exciting. He makes me want to try new things. And you're always so busy. When would you have time to help me? Besides I'm already committed to Zeke. He's expecting me to be there. And he's such a patient teacher. Sometimes you have trouble being patient with me."

"Amanda, I-I-I…" Lee stuttered defensively.

"Aren't you always telling me to stay out of the way because I'm just a civilian and an amateur?"

"Uh, er, well…"

"And, aren't you always saying to leave it to the professionals?"

"I-I-I…" Lee stuttered again.

"Giving tennis lessons is what HE does. My game is already in the capable hands of a professional."

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 2 - Lee

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Yep, it was meant to be a simple filler, a short 6 pages. But no, those friends of mine insisted on knowing what happened. So I had to keep writing and writing. For a little variety I changed POV for each section and then felt compelled to add a TAG. Why do something simple when you can ramble and make it longer and more complex… Game on…

Same introduction as on Part 1

Rated – PG13

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Lee continued to pace. He'd probably walked 10 miles back and forth across the room tonight. Back and forth, back and forth. And he didn't even want to think about how much coffee he had chugged. Additives were eating away at his stomach lining. It was 2 AM and for the second night in a row, he hadn't uncovered anything he could use to make his case. He had searched all the databases he could find. And still, nothing. No warrants. No documentation to validate any suspicious activity or incriminating evidence of criminal behavior. Heck, not even an outstanding parking ticket or overdue library book. Yep, on the surface Zeke still looked squeaky clean, but he didn't feel clean. Lee knew there was definitely something wrong with this guy. He felt it in his gut. It burned like a new gunshot wound. He prided himself on having good instincts and his instincts were screaming that this guy was up to something. This guy was dangerous.

Lee had diligently searched through Zeke's professional and personal records. Zeke moved every couple of years and had traveled extensively. He had the perfect cover to commit unspeakable, even unthinkable crimes, under the simple guise of work. Lee considered any adult who spent his days running around the world playing kid's games, like being paid to scrimmage against semi-pro tennis hopefuls and to train hopeless amateurs, simply immature. "The guy needs a life," Lee barked to the empty room.

"What kind of man spends his adult life gallivanting around, chasing women, without a real job?" Lee answered this rhetorical question himself when he discovered Zeke's education history – he majored in Romantic Literature in college. If Lee was honest with himself, he would admit that he knew how effective spouting poetry was when woo-ing women. "If he thinks he's going to get Amanda with his spouting, then he has another thing coming. His spout is not getting anywhere near Amanda."

Lee stopped pacing and sat down on the couch. He ran his hand through his hair – hair that had seen better nights. Lee had even reviewed Zeke's high school records; he was comprehensive in his search. Frankly, he found some very disturbing things there in Zeke's high school accomplishments. Apparently Zeke's criminal activities had already started then. His criminal career might have begun with vote rigging or maybe manipulation. Lee thought vote rigging fit Zeke's mode of operation perfectly. Lee didn't understand why there wasn't an investigation into that popularity contest. It must have been an undocumented investigation. Surely, someone suspected foul play. It was hard to imagine that one person could win 4 of the 7 coveted titles. Zeke was voted Best Eyes, Best Smile, Biggest Flirt, and Most Popular. 'Maybe Zeke had an accomplice,' Lee reasoned with himself. "A simple result of collusion," he grumbled his suspicions aloud. Lee was relieved that Mr. Flirt didn't win Best Hair and some chess club kid with a strong resemblance to Beaman proudly held the Most Likely to Succeed designation.

Lee pulled himself off the couch and trudged over to his desk. Despite hours and hours of comprehensive research and general speculation, Zeke appeared to be clean. Too clean. His gut told him otherwise. He'd find the connection; he had to. Amanda's life was depending on it. With a renewed sense of purpose, Lee shoved the night's research into a briefcase to take home. He wasn't going to give up. He'd get a little sleep and start looking again tomorrow.

Lee mumbled to himself as he walked to his car. 'Zeke. Zeke. What the heck kind of name is Zeke? It sounds like the name of a dog. A big, dumb watchdog… A big dog that growls and slobbers to protect his owner… No, not a big watchdog. Zeke should be the name of a little dog. A stupid little dog… Like a wiener dog… A little stupid dog that wants to be a big dog. That's it. That's the ticket. Zeke, the wiener dog…'

Lee rolled the window down in his car. The cool night breeze fluffed his already rumpled locks. Despite the three plus pots of coffee he downed at the office, he was exhausted. To stay awake for the drive home, he entertained himself with derogative dog analogies.

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

"Why are we here again?"

"To play tennis."

Kari stuck her tongue out at his flippant response and whined, "No, I mean why are we here instead of at the club?"

"Sometimes I like to play in different places," Lee explained seriously as his eyes scanned the perimeter.

He was so focused on his target; he didn't realize that Kari was about to hit hers. The gentle squeeze of her hand surprised him. "Baby, that is one of the things I like most about you."

"Er, I mean sometimes I like to get out and try new things…"

"And that's another of the things I like about you." Lee dodged her squeezes and comments. "Baby, you seem distracted. Are you sure you are up for tennis?"

"I'm up for it," Lee replied a bit testily.

"Doesn't look like it from here," Kari purred as she scanned his muscles from bottom to top. "Just like my daddy always said - stand at attention when I speak to you." Kari mimicked her father, the General, perfectly.

"Kari! Can we concentrate on tennis right now, please?" A glimpse of his frustration with her flirting and roaming hands simmered in his eyes before his thoughts were masked again.

Kari nodded and mumbled to herself as she walked to other side of the court. "Good grief. I was just flirting. Last time we were together he flirted shamelessly. Men make no sense. I hope he isn't sick or anything. I didn't come here to actually just play tennis. This is foreplay… Oh cute, I made a funny… fore and play… well it would be funnier if we were playing golf at the club. If my night with Mr. We-are-here-to-play-tennis isn't a winner, I can always see if Ricky is up for a round tomorrow. I haven't been to the driving range with Rick for a while... And Rick has great range… Ranger Rick, Oh cute, I made another funny… at least I can amuse myself…"

It wasn't difficult to pretend not to hear Kari's whiny self-dialogue. In fact it was a heck of a lot easier than pretending not to see Amanda and her friends drooling over Zeke. Lee had arrived while the PTA moms were doing their exercises. Lee had borrowed a miniature listening device from Leatherneck so his super spy senses were activated. Unfortunately he was privy to a little more than he really wanted to hear. He listened to Zeke counting out reps and serving up endearments and encouragements. They echoed through his mind and it seemed like Amanda was on the receiving end of more than her fair share of Zeke praises – not that he was actually keeping tabs on this or anything.


"Nice game. That was exhilarating." Kari beamed at him. She struck a Barbie doll pose against the fence casually running her fingers through her hair. Her face was flushed from exertion.

"You too. Your backhand has improved a lot." Frankly he was astonished. Either she had played really well or he was downright awful.

"Thanks, I've been working on it. Sorry I was a little distracted that last set." Lee averted his eyes sheepishly and focused on the task of zipping his racket back into its case. He hadn't noticed that she seemed distracted. Amanda had been playing two courts down. It had been difficult to divide his attention between the two games and even harder when the ever-diligent tennis instructor had begun his one on one instruction. Lee suspected Zeke was watching Amanda's form for more than just technique breaks. He didn't like the way the dog stood behind her while she volleyed. Unfortunately, Barbie mistook his silence for curiosity. "I was watching that tennis instructor. He had some great insights on court positioning."

Lee's only response was to nod. He was afraid if he spoke he'd spout out something sarcastic about wiener dogs. He picked up the tennis ball can after setting his racket down. Kari picked up the ball that sat on the ground, and then she reached over and ran a hand up his thigh before popping out the one in his back pocket. Lee mouthed a silent 'thanks' that she only had two hands. He took the third tennis ball out of his front pocket before she had time to execute an attack. Lee held the canister as Kari made a production of putting each ball away. She kissed him on the right cheek after the first one and then left cheek after the second one. She teased his lips with her own after he stuffed in the last one.

"Easy! This is a public place." Lee looked around quickly hoping that Amanda hadn't seen that display. He wasn't sure why, but Kari's methods, which he had once found very stimulating and sexy, weren't as captivating anymore. Well, he had to admit to himself, they were still kind of sexy.

"I thought you liked the danger and excitement of public places. Isn't that why we came here?" Barbie struck a very practiced pout pose. When it didn't get the desired outcome, she resorted to another approach - taunting. "Come on big boy, show me you still know how to have fun."

For a moment the part of him that really wanted to press her against the chain link fence, kiss her senseless, and prove that he was up to her challenges almost took over. His arm tingled as the slick skin of her bare arm grazed his when he turned and stepped towards her. Lee shook his head to clear his thoughts. There were a lot of potential spectators around and he really wasn't one for such obvious displays or public exhibition. He preferred subtle demonstrations. And besides what would Amanda think if she saw him? He glanced towards Amanda and her merry gang of Zeke worshipers.

"Baby, they are just silly, out of shape housewives that are bored with their whiny kids, their mundane lives and frustrated with their conservative husbands. I bet they would enjoy a little passionate demonstration. It would give them something to dream about while they fold their laundry tomorrow. I'm sure none of them would pass up the opportunity for a little lip lock with that sexy tennis instructor." She struck another practiced Barbie pose, this one much less innocent.

"S-s-sexy?" Lee stammered. He couldn't believe that she thought the wiener dog was sexy too. He glared at Amanda's instructor - what the hell was the attraction to this man? At that very moment, the PTA moms laughed at one of Zeke's closing comments. So the man had a good sense of humor and he was tan and he had muscles…

"Now, baby. Don't be jealous. You're sexy too. You have a classic style. But there is something about him that is untamed. Maybe it's the hair."

Lee had to stop her from continuing. He really didn't want to know. First Amanda, now Kari. His anger sparked an adrenaline surge and he embraced the first solution that popped into his jealous mind before he could think about the implications or the complications. He kissed her – hard and demanding to begin with. He pressed her into his body, molding his against hers, plastering her against the chain link fence. The kiss turned passionate and hungry. His lips and hands proved to her and in his mind – to Amanda and everyone else – that Ace had nothing on him. He was Lee Stetson, secret agent, international traveler, ladies man extraordinaire. He had style, he had flair, he had great hair and he knew how to satisfy a woman… to really satisfy a woman…

In what seemed like hours later, the frenzy subsided. They pulled their mouths apart breathless, chests heaving to replenish their lost air supply. Without risking a backward glance, Lee bent over and grabbed their stuff in one smooth movement. Tennis Barbie hadn't moved from her less practiced stunned and speechless pose. Lee tugged on her hand. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

A strong arm wrapped around her back holding her up against him and prodding her forward. "My place or yours," she whispered as they walked towards his car.


Lee took another gulp from the bottle in front of him. The night had not played out as he intended. The alcohol was taking the edge off and helping him focus. He needed to stop playing around. It was time to take matters in his own hands. How did Amanda get him involved with these people? He hated wiener dogs – he hated tennis instructors. Especially tennis instructors with good hair and killer serves, tennis instructors who took advantage of the loyalty and stamina of innocent housewives.

Lee shuffled the deck of cards in front of him. He cut the cards. "Damn, ace of hearts," he growled, wondering what the cards were trying to tell him. Ace. Well if that stupid tennis Ace didn't play his cards right, he was going to be sold to the highest bidder. That joker just needed to walk away, before Lee made him run.

After a long mental shuffle, Lee laid out his strategy like cards on the table. It was time to reveal the tricks he had up his sleeve.

"Game, set, match, Stetson." He reached for the bottle and took another long pull.

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 3 - Amanda

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Same introduction as on Part 1 except rated PG13 for innuendo, double faults and suggestive comments.

Disclaimer – If you really don't think Amanda ever hung out with the 'gals' or had friends (and I'm not suggesting close friends who know your deepest secrets and fears, just casual friends you can cut loose and have a good time with), you might want to skip on down to the next "SMK" break or on to Part 4. I like to make Amanda human and give her a life. Oh, and it's obvious that I feel that you can have a thing for one man and daydream about another – er, like some of us might be married, but daydream of a certain handsome spy with hazel eyes, long legs and beautiful hands… Sorry, sidetracked, where was I…oh… Read, don't read… Agree, don't agree… Life's short, time's a wastin'… Movin' on…

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Amanda and her classmates gathered around the old wooden table. The PTA refreshment committee remained the core of the tennis class, though a few neighbors and friends had joined their rowdy gang. It was only the fourth time they had assembled at this establishment, but they settled into the same seats at their big table with the same relaxed familiarity as the drink-guzzling regulars teetering on worn stools, elbows slouched on the sticky bar. The difference between the two groups was the level of alcohol in the drinks ingested and the maturity level of the conversations; the PTA group ranked at a much lower level on both counts. Amanda glanced at the seven women around her. There must have been something in the atmosphere or the lure of the sticky floor; they were reliving their youth, spirits high in the conversation free-for-all. These normally conservative moms were cutting loose. And just like high school, men and romance were the main topics of debate.

They returned to this pub, the one where Zeke had walked into their lives, after each practice, to enjoy a cold drink, to relax, to unwind, to avoid returning to reality, or to gaze into a specific pair of flirty, smiling blue eyes. Eyes that reminded Amanda of the clear ocean waters of the Caribbean – warm and enveloping. She wondered how they would look when the weather turned rough and the waves pounded on the shore. It was easy to turn off the conversation buzzing around her and focus on less emotional subjects; Zeke's eyes were an excellent diversion. If the man were here himself, she wouldn't have needed daydreams to tune out the flurry of gossip.

Across the table, Laura paused only to take another swig from the cold draft in front of her before returning to the topic of conversation she had obsessed about since they sat down some twenty minutes before, a topic that Amanda was doing her best to ignore. "I still say it was the sexiest kiss I've ever seen in real life. It reminded me of a cover of a romance novel or watching Dynasty."

"Or college!"

"Ohh-h-h-h, I remember those days… the good ole days…" reminisced one of the gang.

"What good days? I must've missed those days too," prattled another.

"Yes, but you've read books and watched movies. That kiss was raw and hungry. That kiss was passionate."

"Too hand-sy in public for my taste."

"Not enough for mine."

"Got to like a man with a nice, strong backhand."


"I meant his tennis game."

"Sure you did."

Amanda remained an innocent observer in this lockerroom-esque exchange. She feigned disinterest, keeping her eyes diverted, watching the ice in her iced tea melt while she imagined floating on a raft in an ocean of blue. The banter of friendly voices teasing each other continued around her.

"I need another drink."

"That kiss was so awesome. I wonder if that man is always so passionate, so intense."

"He looked like the wine-and-dine type."

"Heck, I'd follow him home without the wine."

"You're hopeless!"

"I beg to differ, I'm overly hopeful."

"That man knew exactly what he was doing."

"Speaking of what that man knew, he acted like he knew Amanda. Amanda, have you met him before?"

The mention of her name jarred Amanda back from her steamy, mental beach vacation. "W-what?"

"I was sitting out during that last game and just happened to be resting against the fence next to where you and Patti were playing."

"You happened to be sitting there, huh?" Niki teased. "You happened to be there because Zeke happened to be there."

"Well, maybe I happened to be there on purpose, but it looked like that man, Laura's Passionate Kissing Stranger, was watching Amanda."

"He was watching Amanda?"

"Did you meet him at one of those charity things you always volunteer for?"

Amanda was gripping the edge of her seat trying to think of a viable answer. Her knuckles turned white and there might have been smoke coming out of her ears for all the frantic thinking she was doing. She remained silent, waiting for the gang to put her on the spot.

"I'm sure Amanda wouldn't have forgotten meeting a man like that."

"Where do you meet a man like that?"

"A charity ball?"

"Embassy party?"


"Certainly not at any of the places I go - the grocery store, fast food restaurants."

"He probably wasn't even looking at Amanda. He was probably watching Zeke too."

"Ew!" and "What are you suggesting?" were gasped simultaneously from different sides of the table.

"Watching Zeke, our tennis instructor, for tennis tips. He looked like he could use a little help. That woman he was playing against was really good."

"I noticed that too."

"I think she threw that last game to let him win."

"Men and their egos."

Amanda finally allowed herself to breathe. She couldn't believe they hadn't pressed her for an answer. She was relieved and willed her body to relax.

"Well, I'd let him win too if he got that worked up about it."

"Good point."

"Match point?"

"That was a good one."

"A true win-win situation then, huh?"

"I'd love it if you stopped with the tennis puns."

"That man was so gorgeous."

"The woman he was with was really pretty too."

Amanda returned to her ocean of blue. It was much too painful to listen to this conversation. It had been hard enough to watch the display, or should she say attack, the first time. Reliving it over and over wasn't what she wanted to do. In the spirit of Scarlett O'Hara, she'd think about it later. The banter continued around her.

"They looked perfect together."

"I didn't notice…"

"She looked like a Barbie doll."

"I hate women that look that good. I bet she doesn't work, she probably spends all day lounging around and pampering herself."

"I could do that."

"Me too."

"Where do I sign up?"

"That's exactly what I'd do if I looked like her and if I had a man who looked like that-"

"-and kissed like that – "

"Ah, good point. If I had a man who looked like that and kissed like that, I'd never get out of bed." A group of the gang giggled like schoolgirls imagining the grown-up possibilities.

"You'd need a good imagination to satisfy and keep a man like that, so you'd better get out of bed."


"What? I meant cooking skills."

"No, you didn't!"

"Well, I could have meant cooking skills. It's important to keep your man well-fed."

"My mother-in-law sent me a new recipe for meatloaf."

"I still can't get over that kiss."

"We can tell."

"Could you please try?"

"It was simply yummy. Heavenly. That man could star in my daydreams any day."

"You can have him. I'll keep Zeke"

"I could see Zeke smooching on a tennis court."

"Heck, I'd mash with him myself on a tennis court..."


"…or anywhere else."

"Does your husband know this?"

"Is Zeke coming?"


"Get your mind out of the gutter."

"Where is Zeke tonight?"

Amanda's attention returned to the free-for-all. Since Zeke made a point of telling her to save him a seat because he'd be a little late, Amanda thought she should ease the gang's growing concern that the current object of their obsession would, in fact, not be making an appearance. "He'll be here in a little bit. He said that he had to run home to make a few quick phone calls."


"I hope he doesn't change from his tennis shorts. Covering those legs would be a crime."

"Punishable by?"

"Well…" The gang giggled some more.

"Keeping information from friends should also be a crime."

"Yes it should. Amanda had the inside information tonight... Now I wonder how she obtained that vital scoop."

"What lengths did she have to go to get it?"

"Length? Oh dear."

"Amanda? Is there a story here?"

"Preferably a scandalous one."

"Just make one up if there isn't."

Amanda smiled her most innocuous smile. "Nope. It was all perfectly innocent."

"Nice try, but I'm not buying it."


"He told me as we were leaving," Amanda explained.

"Did his hand touch your bare shoulder sending tingles down your arm?"

"Did you stare into his sapphire eyes and want to get lost in those passionate pools of blue?"

"Did he lean in to whisper this information, his lips barely grazing your ear?"

"No, no and no," Amanda's face turned red as her imagination created a few scenarios of her own.

"You guys should cut back on the romance novels; they're corrupting your minds."

"Our minds were corrupted years ago."

"Did he tell you so you wouldn't worry or did he tell you so you'd wait for him?"

Amanda stuttered before attempting a diplomatic reply. "I'm sure he just wanted us all to know that he was going to be a little late."

"You might as well admit it, Amanda. You think Zeke is cute."

"Amanda likes Zeke. Amanda likes Zeke…"

"Stop it, Lori." Amanda smiled. "You've been spending too much time with your daughter and her friends. Did she get her social studies project finished yet? Jamie's still working on his. I hope Mother made him work on it tonight."

"Nice attempt at changing the subject."

Amanda grinned. "Can't get anything by you, can I?"

"I hate school projects!"

"I make Tyler take his projects to his dad's. The step-monster hates it."

"That's terrible."

"That's life."

"So, Amanda, how about an honest answer?"

"You think the lean, muscular, athletic Zeke is gorgeous."

"Yes, I think Zeke's a very handsome man." Amanda smiled again. It was nice to tell the truth for a change.

"Of course she does, who wouldn't?"

"Heck, even I think he is cute."

"Okay, A-man-da," the conspirator began again, briefly stopping the schoolgirl banter with her serious tone. "Now admit Zeke has starred in some of your daydreams."

"I think I need another drink."

Amanda shook her head gently. Changing the subject and avoiding the questions were not going to work with this group. Moms were great at recognizing diversion attempts. Maybe Mr. Melrose should hire the whole group to do interrogations. The MIT – Moms Interrogation Team. They could wear embroidered aprons and even have MIT oven mitts and potholders. They'd be excellent. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, a move she borrowed from Francine, and bartered for a deal. "If I answer that question, will you stop interrogating me?"

"Wow, Patti, I didn't realize that you were interrogating."

"I thought she was teasing."

"Actually I was teasing, but now I. Vill. Ve-gin. The inter-ro-gation," Patti continued in a German accent enunciating each word slowly. The accent was really, really bad, but years of mom training had helped her perfect the accompanying stern, serious glare. "King vo-men, answer ho-nes-tly. Do-you-or-do-you-not daydream about Exhibit A-"

"That should be Exhibit Z-"

"I love to see that exhibit up close."

"Me too."


"Silence! Vet ze vo-man answer."

"I feel like I'm in high school again." Amanda couldn't help but smile as she continued. "Patti, you make a terrible interrogator. Interrogations are usually more successful with two people asking questions. Successful techniques include bombarding the subject with questions or carrying on two separate dialogs."

"And how do you know about successful interrogation techniques?" asked Di.

A brief hush fell over the table. The random conversation stopped. Amanda's eyes grew large as she scanned the faces around the table. Her mind frantically searched for a reasonable and believable answer. 'Darn men and darn emotions,' she thought to herself. If she hadn't been so focused on denying the jealousy and anger she felt upon witnessing Lee's earlier public display of affection and denying the attraction she felt towards Zeke, she wouldn't have gotten herself into this predicament.

"See. Wow, that was priceless, Amanda!" Jo laughed. The rest of the group at the table just stared, looking baffled.


"What did she do?"

"That look was perfect. She looked just like a criminal being interrogated. Interrogated by two people, that is. She was right on the edge of admitting her guilt. That look said that she was contemplating how much to tell. I love when people explain or prove their point with actions, instead of words."

The gang all stared at Jo cluelessly. Well, with the exception of Laura who had caught on and was now chuckling as well. No one looked more confused than Amanda. "Jo, you can tell that you are married to a teacher. You think everything in life is an object lesson."

Laura took a turn at explaining Jo's outburst. "Patti asked Amanda a question, interrogating her – if you will. Amanda replied that interrogations were more successful when conducted by two people. When Di asked how she knew this, she became the second person asking questions. Instead of simply answering Di – probably from TV, right Amanda? Hill Street Blues? – Amanda gave that 'look'. The look that said this two-person interrogation was working wonderfully. If she was lying or a criminal, I bet she would have told the truth right then – which in turn, proved her statement that two person interrogations achieve better results."

"Well, okay, then."

"That was perfectly obvious. Don't know why I didn't see it before."

"I obviously haven't had enough to drink."

"I think I've had too much."

Laura turned to Amanda and complimented her. "That look was great. I didn't realize you were such a good actress. You are just full of surprises, aren't you?"

"Sometimes I even surprise myself," Amanda muttered.

"Wow, Amanda, you went to great lengths to avoid answering that question."

"But you did promise us an honest answer."

"I think I've forgotten the question." Amanda smiled at the gang sheepishly. She had forgotten she was dealing with professionals; her mother was an amateur compared to these women.

"Zeke," Niki prompted.

Amanda glanced down at the table; the relief from not having to answer the interrogation question had been short lived. She took a couple deep breaths while her fingers scribbled on the table through the rings of condensation caused by her iced tea. She pondered the consequences of telling the truth or making up another little white lie. She was getting good at delivering those cover stories to her mother. Her face flushed as scenes from a couple of daydreams flashed through her mind. Her decision made, she admitted the truth to this circle of friends without raising her eyes from the table. Her words tumbled out fast then slowed for effect. "Everyone has daydreams. It is perfectly normal. Yes, I have had daydreams. And. Yes. Zeke. Is. A. Star. In. Them."

Her admission was not met with a round of snide comments like she expected. The shocked silence was eerie. Amanda's eyes jerked up. Her friends' faces were pink with shock and surprise. Amanda quickly replayed her comment in her mind to make sure she hadn't said anything more revealing than she thought she had. Confident she hadn't, she scanned the table again. The eyes of her friends were huge, but they weren't focused on her. They were focused on something behind her, just to her left.

"What?" Amanda whispered as she turned slightly in her seat. Instead of seeing the stools across the room, her eyes saw a wall. A wall with a leather belt and a black shirt. Her eyes dropped and she recognized the faded jeans covering the lean muscles of long legs. Her head snapped back around to confront her friends.

Even before the crimson flush attacked her face, a strong hand was on her shoulder. The wall leaned down and kissed her gently on the cheek. The stubble from his chin felt rough as it grazed her exposed neck and his fingers danced through the soft curls at her nape. Amanda closed her eyes and wished she could disappear. She had not been this mortified since the eighth grade when her mother…

"Amanda, I think you need a drink," one of the gang recovered quickly. Silence. The quick-to-recover cohort then pushed her chair away from the table with a loud squawk and announced. "A strong one. I'll get it."

Zeke dropped in the chair next to Amanda. He draped his free arm around the back of her chair. His blue eyes looked around the table seriously before returning to Amanda's face. Caressing Amanda's shoulder gently, he replied humbly, "Thanks, that was really sweet. But I'm just not that good."

Laura gasped and choked on her drink.

"I was pretty darn good in college, but I just don't have the drive or the stamina I used to have. I guess it happens with age." Like a new strain of scarlet fever, Amanda's blush was highly contagious – cheeks all around the table were the same tawdry color. Someone muttered "Oh my" while another coughed. Eyes that were already wide with shock, opened further.

Niki was sitting on the other side of Zeke. This compassionate mother of four patted Zeke's arm and soothed, "I bet you are better than you give yourself credit for."

Zeke shook his head and attempted to smile. "Well, I still do well in tournaments." More gasping and coughs volleyed around the table. "But I would've never made it on the professional circuit. My height has always been an issue. It made people wonder how quick I would be. 'Too long and sleek,' my coaches would always say. My serve was never strong enough and my net play could have been better…"

"He's talking about tennis," someone whispered as if enlightened.

"Of course he was, what did you think? Never mind. I don't even want to know," came a whispered reply. The tension around the table dissipated and was replaced with giggling.

Zeke raised his voice slightly to get their attention. "Thanks, that was really sweet. I'm glad you think I could've been a star. My destiny is to teach though. I really enjoy meeting and working with new people. I love my job. Now, enough about me, what did I miss?" Zeke grinned at the women around him and winked at Amanda.


"You're home early." Dotty glanced up from the clutter around her. Suspicious eyes peered over her glasses, which were riding low on the end of her nose. "Did you have a good time?"

Confronted by the unbelievably cluttered den, Amanda gasped. "Oh my gosh! What is all this?"

"Amanda, sometimes I really wonder about you. These are books."

"I can see they're books."

"Well, why did you ask?"


"Now darling, a better question would have been - Why are all these books here? I don't know how many times I've told you, you should say what you mean."

"Why are there piles of books covering the couch and all over the floor?"

"That's better, but they are not piles, dear. The books are organized in stacks and rows."

"Mother! There must be seventy books here."

"Actually there are one hundred and two."

"Mother, I've had a rough night. Would you please explain why there are - how many again?"

"One hundred and two."

"Yes, one hundred and two. Please explain, please."

"Amanda, did you have an alcoholic drink at the bar tonight?"

"No, I did not."

"Of course you didn't." Dotty responded in a way that suggested that maybe she should have.

Amanda squeezed her eyes shut. "Mother, the books?"

"I decided that I needed a project too."

"A project?"

"Well, yes. Watching Jamie work on his assignment this week and helping Phillip last week made me realize that I'm not learning things like they are. I'm not getting any younger, you know. And then I saw a show on television about how many brain cells people lose every day. The less you use them, the more you lose."

"Did Jamie work on his project tonight?"

"He did and it is coming along very nicely."


"I don't want to become one of those old people who can't string together a coherent thought or can't remember what they are saying."

"Of course you don't." There was a moment of silent speculation before Amanda continued. "So, you decided to resuscitate your brain cells by reading romance novels?"

"I've thought about this for the last couple weeks. Then I talked to the girls at the beauty shop-"

"At the beauty shop?"

"Yes, the beauty shop. I'm always able to think more clearly after I've had my hair set."

"Ah, of course."

"Do you think there is something in the hairspray they use?"

"It could be, mother."

"You could use a little trim yourself."

"I'll call in the morning."

"That's a good idea. Anyway, today a couple of the women in the shop were discussing romance novels and we were comparing notes about some of the authors we enjoy."


"Figuratively dear, your father took things so literally too. I told them my project idea and they all thought it was fascinating. They decided I should do a project on romance novels. Mrs. Roosevelt said that she had tons of romance novels at her house that I could borrow. She is in a book club, so I don't even have to go to the library for books."

Amanda scanned the piles of books around her and contemplated a casual way to ask her mother not to leave them sitting out. The pictures of the front covers seemed a little too risqué for the boys' developing minds. Noting the organized stacks on the couch, she asked curiously, "Are you doing your project on romance novels in general?"

"Oh no, they decided that I needed to have specific requirements for my projects, just as if I was a real student, which of course I am. We are all students of life." Dotty beamed proudly as she handed the typed assignment page to Amanda for her to review. "Mr. Emilio had his new receptionist type up the assignment specifics and grading requirements. Bridget is going to beauty college, so she used one of her assignment sheets as a model."

Amanda leaned a hip against the couch and stifled a "hmruph" as she read through her mother's very thorough assignment requirements. It had been one of those days where nothing surprised her anymore. "I'm impressed, but mother, I don't think we should leave all these piles of books laying in here with the boys running around. I don't think impressionable boys should be surrounded by all this romance and these book covers are almost scandalous. I don't want them to grow up thinking that kissing and groping are appropriate in public places."

Dotty paused for a moment. Her eyes peered over her bifocals with a glare that seemed to measure Amanda's thoughts. "I guess you are right, dear. That behavior is certainly not appropriate until they are a little older. I'll keep the books up in my room."

Ignoring Dotty's undercut, Amanda muttered "Thank you, mother." Amanda watched Dotty continue sorting through the stack of books on her lap. She wanted to point out that her mother had her pencil clenched in her teeth so her hands would be free. Dotty had lectured Phillip about all of his pencils having bite marks in them from that same habit, but her mother looked too excited to criticize and frankly Amanda was feeling fairly drained.

As Amanda turned to head upstairs for a long bath, Dotty threw out a casual question. "Darling, did Zeke kiss someone tonight?"

"Well, n-no. Why would you ask that?"

"You just seem a little distraught or frustrated. He didn't walk you to your car tonight either, did he?"

"He offered to, but I could tell he wasn't ready to leave and my car was just parked out front. Wait, how did you know he didn't walk me out?"

"Really, Amanda," Dotty signed in exasperation. "How much do you think you can get by me? I know you. If you had had your time with Zeke alone in the moonlight, you would have floated down the hall like you did last week when you got home. Tonight you trudged."

Amanda walked across the room and gave her mom a peck on the cheek. "You have quite an imagination. I think I'll go take a long, hot bath."

"Why don't you take a book with you?"

Amanda took a moment to contemplate the idea. "That's not a bad idea." Amanda pondered the piles of books in front of her.

Pointing to a small stack on the left, Dotty hinted, "Those are the ones with sport heroes."

Amanda dismissed that suggestion, she already had enough detailed fantasies about a certain tennis coach; she didn't need any more ideas. She looked at the next stack, "Who are these about?"

"Oh, those are some of my favorites, the spy ones."

"That stack?" she asked pointing to another pile.

"Businessmen, rich businessmen. And that huge stack over there are the ranchers and cowboys."

"How about the one book off to the side?"

Dotty flashed a devious smile before answering. "That is the one I'm going to read first."

"Let me guess. A salesman. Vacuum cleaners?"

"Yes, it is a salesman and no, no vacuum cleaners. It isn't set in Topeka, but I bet he does have beautiful eyes."

Amanda smiled and tipped her head in amusement. She selected a bath time book and weaved back through the maze towards the door. "Good-night mother."

"Sweet dreams, darling," Dotty garbled; it was hard to understand her with the pencil wedged between her lips.

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 4 - Francine

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Same introduction as Part 1 except: Rating – PG

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

I sat perched on a cushioned bar stool nursing a Cosmopolitan. I was dressed in my stylish tennis garb – short tennis skirt, sleeveless polo, and a thick, cable sweater casually draped around my bare shoulders. My selection of seats, like every decision I make, was made strategically; I had a clear view of the door and of the pool tables in the back room. It was a quaint neighborhood bar; the walls decorated with liquor signs and mirrors with a splash of local sports memorabilia. Not my kind of place. A huge stuffed Spud, the Budweiser dog, occupied the bar stool next to me. Just like the bartender, Spud looked like he had a library full of stories to share given an opportunity.

The bar wasn't very crowded on this Thursday evening. Most of the other customers acted like regulars. Thankfully, besides the curious smiles they offered when I strolled in, they gave me my space. I was relieved to be left with my thoughts and not being pawed and ogled. Lee was out there somewhere waiting and watching. He would meet us back at Zeke's place afterwards. I knew I should probably feel more apprehensive about this assignment, but I didn't feel nervous at all. I was excited. I was looking forward to meeting Zeke and I knew I could call the whole operation off if it didn't seem to be the right thing to do. It's a good thing I didn't need much time to prepare for this role. Lee had begged for my assistance and outlined the details that morning. I gazed at the neon sign over the door and replayed that scene in my mind.

Lee called me into his office. The first thing I noticed was that he had been pacing – his face was red, his hair slightly askew. He closed the door behind us and thrust a stack of pictures in my direction. I studied the top one. It was a man playing tennis. Even without the tight jeans, I knew the picture must be of Amanda's new tennis instructor. To confirm my suspicion, I queried, "Zeke?"

"Zeke," he answered with disdain. He gave me a minute to scrutinize the picture more closely.

"Wow. How does Amanda find her men?" was out of my mouth before I could censor my thoughts. Of course I don't often censor my opinions, I rather enjoy sharing by blurting them out. Zeke was dressed in white tennis shorts and a matching shirt. His legs were long and tan. "Where can I sign up for lessons? I want private ones!" He was holding his racket in one hand and three tennis balls in the other. He was smiling a teasing smile, his brow relaxed. He looked confident and playful. "I could think of some special exercises I'd like to do with him myself." Lee grunted in response to my comments. "So, what's the problem, Lee? Besides the obvious."

"The obvious?" He stopped pacing, his attention perked.

"He's taller than you and better looking."

"Better looking? No way. I have much better hair," he argued far too seriously.

"Lee! Why am I here? I have better things to do with my time than argue the merits of your hair, you know."

"Zeke. He's been here in DC for three months. Records show that he moves every year or so-"

"And so do you." I interrupted him with a sarcastic, yet valid point. I could tell he was at the beginning of a long-winded explanation – a trait he had picked up from our resident housewife – and I wasn't in the mood for justifications and drivel. "Could you please stop stalling and skip to the relevant part? Billy is in one of his moods and I have a million things I need to do before lunch."

"I think Zeke's a middleman, an information broker for the Radzoff contingency. I think he's using his cover to move around and gather information."

"An information broker? Are you saying he has his own racket?" Sometimes I just can't help myself. They set me up with a lob and can't help but slam it into the far court. Lee shot me a look that said he didn't appreciate my winning sense of humor.

"Hey, I'm being serious. He may be dealing in military secrets."

"And how many military secrets does the average PTA mom have?"

"Think about it, Francine. He meets women, women who are lonely and fall for his 'hands on' approach. A little forehand, a little backhand. He takes them out for a celebratory drink. After a couple rounds, they bare their er, uh, souls and he sells their secrets for top dollar. He makes a killing, then picks up his tennis balls and moves on."

"How long did it take you to come up with that theory?"

"Days," he stated a little too seriously, his usual sarcasm peculiarly absent.

"So, who's the buyer?" I continued my personal investigation.

"You remember the Kadzinski case, Wimbledon 1979? Look at the other pictures. I found them in the surveillance files."

I looked at another picture of a younger tennis hunk and teased, "Wow, his hair looks much better in this one." As Lee growled, I took the folder from his hand and glanced at the other pictures there concluding, "His hair was definitely better than yours then."

"Francine!" Lee showed his impatience.

"Oh, and look at me and my little tennis outfit. I looked great. Well, except for the earrings – what was I thinking…I can't believe I didn't run into this guy back then. Life can be so cruel."

He stopped pacing and touched my shoulder in an attempt to divert my attention back to his plight. "Francine! Would you listen to me for a minute, please?"

"I am listening. I'm multi-talented; I can hear and leer at the same time. Thanks for the little walk down memory lane. What's your point with all this, Lee?" I've found switching from serious to flighty in a flash often baffles my male co-workers. I like keeping people off balance and men are such easy targets.

"Look carefully at the next one. Do you recognize the couple talking to Zeke? Boris and Nadia."

"From the Radzoff contingency?"

"The one and only."

"And you think he might be working with them? Just because they are all mingling in the same area at a reception years ago?"

"They could be working together. Look at the look Nadia is giving him."

"Lee, that's the same look I'd be giving him. Heck, that's probably the same look 90% of the women he meets give him." Though my comments seemed sarcastic, they were also honest and Lee knew it.

"So, will you do it, Francine? Will you help me?" He stood directly in front of me when he asked. His eyes ready to plead if I didn't give in easily.

"I don't know, Lee. I just don't know. Your rationale seems a little sketchy. You really think he might be working with Nadia?"

"I have a bad feeling about this guy." I watched his eyes and his body language closely while he answered. There was no doubt that he was speaking the truth, but I was sharp enough to realize that he didn't answer my question.

"Are you sure you haven't concocted this whole theory because you're jealous?" I probed further.

"That's stupid. His hair isn't that great." His left hand smoothed his errant locks down.

"Not jealous of his looks, Stetson. Jealous of him moving in on Amanda's court." The tennis puns kept coming. I must be spending too much time with Billy.

"I don't know what you mean."

"Lee, I see the looks you give all the men around here when they talk to Amanda. Everyone thought you were going to belt Peterson when he asked her for a recipe. I don't know why you feel you have to be so protective of Amanda. Frankly, I find it completely nauseating." Lee's only response was a coordinated shrug-smirk combination, so I continued. "Is this a stupid jealousy thing or do you really think there's something fishy about blue eyes?"

"Francine, I think there's something off with this guy. It's not like I'm trying to ruin his life. If we just stick to my plan, he'll be better off when we get him out of town." I pondered that response while staring at the pictures in my hand. Lee outlined his plan for getting Zeke off the court. I was considering what Lee wasn't saying as well as what would be in Zeke's best interest. All in all it wasn't a bad plan; Lee seemed to have every detail covered. "Will you do it?"

"Hmmm… I'm not sure. What's it worth to you?"

"Anything. Please, Francine. It's a perfect plan, but I can't do it without you." He stood directly in front of me again, his hands at my elbows.

"We could run it by Billy. It would be better with Agency support and back-up."

"We don't need to involve the Agency. We can do this together - just you and me." He paused for effect. "Name your price."

I hesitated only a moment before I answered, "A night with you." I smiled, my eyes flirting deviously.





"Dessert at my place?"

"With the extras," I answered, still grinning.

"Done. That's all you want? Are you sure you don't want a whole week?" Lee teased. His mood had brightened significantly when he secured my support.

"Not funny."

"It's a little funny." He leaned in and kissed my cheek. "You know, a night with you would be fun."

"A night with me is always fun," I responded with just a touch of defensiveness.

"Do you still have that Cinderella outfit with the fluffy slippers?"

I swatted him on his shoulder. "It was Sleeping Beauty."

Lee's look turned serious. "Let me know what you really want sometime, okay?"


"I owe you big."

"You'll pay, Stetson. I know you're good for it."

I looked at the pictures once more before tossing them on Lee's desk. I would question my motivation for going along with Lee's renegade plan later.

I was jolted from my flashback when the door swung open. Someone held the door for a young couple entering arm in arm. The chivalrous someone was none other than my target for the evening, the gorgeous tennis ace. I glanced at my watch and thought, 'Lee was right.' Ace was very predictable, not a trait normally associated with an outlaw information broker. He waved a friendly greeting to a group in a booth and again to two women by the jukebox before striding to the bar. The bartender greeted him by name and served up his drink without waiting for an order. Zeke caught my eye as he settled on his stool. He nodded, then flashed me a sexy grin after noticing my attire. I smiled back. Our eyes held for a long moment, ending with his wink.

I reached down and drained the rest of my drink, motioning for the bartender. I ordered another and one for Blue Eyes as well. One thing I absolutely love about my job is that I get to do things under the pretense of work that I would not normally do. Usually, I would be after the man who hired the tennis pro, but tonight the pro himself was in my sights.

Ace accepted my drink. He even had the good sense to do it with an embarrassed shrug as if this didn't happen to him all the time. He was smooth, very smooth. He sauntered towards me and I could not help but grin when I noticed. Now I knew what Amanda had meant – he did make quite an impression in jeans. Sometimes I really love my job!!

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 5 - Billy

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Same introduction as on Part 1 - Rating G

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

The cool leather of my chair felt great against my neck. I leaned back in my chair and enjoyed a huge, cat-like stretch that soothed the tension from my cramped muscles. After a tedious day slumped over my desk delving through paper work, my shoulders felt like I had been taking tennis lessons too. I took a deep relaxing breath and scanned the top of my desk proudly. I'd accomplished a lot for a Wednesday – my inbox was low, my outbox was high and the space in between was practically empty. And I did it all on only two pastries. "Darn, I'm good!" I whistled to myself. Donuts number three and four were sitting on my table across the room. They weren't even beckoning me, but, unfortunately, Agent Frank Duffy was. As usual, self-basking at my efficiency was short-lived.

I motioned Duffy into my lair with a sweep of my arm.

"Here's the folder you're waiting for."

"How's it look?"

Duffy shook his head. "I don't know why I'm surprised when his little schemes actually work out. It amazes me every time."

"Did Zeke report to his new job at the club this afternoon?"

"He did."

"Safe and sound?"

"So it seems. Manoso said he looked a little jet-lagged, but otherwise energetic and enthused."

"I suppose a night with Francine will do that for you."

"So I've heard."

"I'm sure you've included all the shady details."

"Probably more than you wanted to know."

"Thanks, Frank. Great job, as usual."

"No problem. Just doing my job." Frank started towards the door and then he paused. "Billy, can I ask you a question?"

"Of course. And for you, I might even give you an honest answer."

"Well, each time Stetson pulls a stunt like this, it gets more and more extreme. This time he extradited an innocent tennis instructor on a whim. Let's face it; the only thing deadly about Zeke was his serve and his killer net game. Why do you green light his activities?"

"That is a very good question, Frank. Despite what you may think, it's not to keep your job challenging." I paused to chuckle. "No, seriously, I can't give you a simple answer to your question right now. Just be certain I know what I'm doing and what the boundaries are."

"Of course, sir. I never doubted that."

"Thanks for your vote of confidence," I blerped sarcastically.

"Will you ever tell him that you knew all along? Will you tell him that Francine acted with your approval?"

"I'm a believer that there's a time and a place for everything. Now, get out of here and go home to your daughter. Have a great night."

"You too, Billy. Oh, and could you keep Amanda extra busy the next couple weeks so she doesn't have time for any new hobbies?"

"I'll do my best."

"Thanks, I have company coming in from out of town."

Much to my dismay, Duffy snagged a donut as he strutted out of my office. I guess he deserved it; keeping up with Stetson is a tough job – that is why I delegated it. Donut number four was looking lonely. Can you hear it calling my name?

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Tennis Lessons

Episode Filler - A Relative Situation

Part 6 - TAG

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

Amanda emptied the contents of the drawer and tossed them haphazardly, one after another on the counter. Apple corer, whisk, pizza cutter, small whisk, basting brush, bottle opener. Changing out the ripped contact paper liner was a typical Saturday morning job; one that atypically she could care less about doing today. Her heart just wasn't in it. She was only doing it because it was her excuse to avoid a trip to the bowling alley. Her mother mentioned the tear again this morning when she used the melon baller. On another day she would find winging a ball down a waxed lane relaxing, family fun. But today she wasn't in the mood for that either.

She missed her Saturday tennis lessons. She liked having an activity that was hers - not something mom-ish she did for the kids or something dangerous that she did for Lee and the Agency. Not that she didn't enjoy the intrigue, she certainly did. But she enjoyed her tennis lessons too. She yearned for the smell of new tennis balls, the feel of the long, thin handle in her grip, to be slightly out of breath while droplets of sweat ever so slowly traced imaginary trails down her back, her senses enhanced, her muscles taut, exhilarated almost to exhaustion. She missed tennis and she really missed Zeke.

To make matters worse, it was a beautiful day outside. The kitchen window above the sink was open, a gentle breeze ruffling the curtains. There weren't any thick clouds to mask the sun's warm cheer, only a few of the fluffy white ones. They were the kind of clouds that make you want to guess what animal they resembled. Amanda threw away the old contact paper and began replacing the gadgets while her mind labeled fluffy clouds over an ocean of clear blue.

She was startled by the quiet rap on her back door. Smiling hazel eyes met hers as she scurried to let him in. "Hi, Lee."

"Hi." Lee looked around the door to the left, then to the right, and back to the left again. "Is it safe to come in? The car is gone and I didn't see the boys outside."

"Come on in. Mother took them bowling. She planned fun things for them to do together on Saturdays while I had tennis lessons."

"Oh, I forgot about your tennis lessons. How are those going?" Lee kept his eyes lowered and scratched at an imaginary spot on the counter.

"They were going great, but now they aren't going at all."

"Why? What happened?"

"Zeke left. I guess he found a better job. He left without saying good-bye."

"Didn't they get another instructor?"

"They couldn't find one. They sent our money back and a voucher for half off a class next quarter."

"That sounds fair. You can take another tennis class. I know you really like to play."

"I think I'm done with tennis for awhile. I'll probably try something else. They have an auto mechanic class that covers basic car maintenance. A couple of the other PTA ladies are going to take it. Do you change your own oil and spark plugs? I bet I could do a lot of things under the hood if someone showed me how. And my friend Laura said that the man who is in charge of the car stuff is really nice. Doesn't it sound fun? I'm sorry; you're probably not interested in this boring stuff. So, what are you up to today? Does Mr. Melrose need me for something? He could have called. I haven't been on the phone all morning."

"Uh… well… yes, I need your help."

"Lee, I'm really not in the mood for danger and intrigue today. I'd rather just sit outside and look at the sky."

Lee paused for a second, then flashed Amanda a sexy smile. "Perfect. That's what I have planned." He gently nudged her towards the stairs. "Go grab your shoes."

"But Lee..."

"No excuses. Your country needs you."

"Okay, just give me a minute. Wait here and I'll be right back."

***SMK*****SMK *****SMK *****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK*****SMK***

An hour later…

Amanda was relaxed on her back on a blanket in a relatively deserted area of the park. "I still don't think that looks like your Porsche. Do you mean before or after it fell off the cliff?"

"Amanda!" Lee was on his back next to her.

Amanda pointed to a new cloud formation dancing across the sky above them. "Hey, that looks like a cliff. See? Too bad it came after your car one. Then it would be like the car was racing towards the cliff."

"A-man-da," Lee sighed in frustration. Changing the subject, he referenced a different cluster. "That looks like a football."

"The one next to it looks like a duck."

"A duck with a gun."

"No, that's his beak."

"Then what is that? His tail?" After a pregnant pause, Lee moved on. "That one looks like an ice cream cone."

"Yep, and that one looks like a fish. This is fun, Lee. But what are we supposed to be doing?"

Lee turned to his side and used his arm as a pillow. "I'm here to scout potential drop sites. We need to know how much foot traffic there is through this area on a typical Saturday afternoon. You're here to look at clouds."

Amanda rolled to her side towards him and smiled a satisfied smile. "Finally."

Lee eyebrows hitched together and he looked deeply into her eyes for a clue. "Finally?"

"Finally being window dressing is simple and fun."

"You're having a good time here with me looking at the sky?"

"A wonderful time."

"Me too." Amanda smiled shyly at his admission. For a moment their eyes met and held. Lee reached over and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "Can I ask you a question?"


"I did something that you might not like and it has been bothering me all day. I don't want you to be mad at me."

Amanda noticed a tortured look in his eyes and yearned to take it away. Before she could stop herself, she reached out and gently caressed his cheek. When Lee glanced at her hand, she quickly returned it to her side. "What is it, Lee? What's wrong?"

"Sometimes I do things with your best interest at heart. I mean, well, I just want to protect you. I know sometimes I over-react, but I don't want anyone to hurt you."

"I know you don't," Amanda prompted him to continue.

"Uh, well, when you uh went upstairs and you told me to wait in the kitchen. I closed the window in there. And then, then I thought about the other downstairs windows. I wanted to make sure everything was locked up so no one could get in. So I snuck around the downstairs and secured the perimeter. I'm sorry, I just wanted to make sure everything was locked."

"That is okay, Lee. I don't mind."

"Are you sure? I felt bad for sneaking around."

"Is that all it was? You had me worried!"

"I don't want you to think that I don't trust you to take care of yourself."

"I'm glad you're watching out for me."

"Good, I feel like I should. There's something else. Amanda, I saw something when I was in the den and I don't know what to think of it."

"What was it, Lee?"

"Do you have any old boyfriends that live out west?"


"Someone that was a cowboy?"


"I thought all your former relationships were listed in your paperwork and I don't remember anything about a rancher."

"Lee, what are you talking about?"

"I saw it there on the table. At first I thought it was one of the kid's projects, but why would they have a poster board of different charts about men's characteristics – hair, height, romantic gestures, first kisses…"

"Lee, that isn't mine. It's mother's and it is a project. Mother is doing a self-assigned research project on romance novels. I don't really understand it myself, but she thought she was losing brain cells so she had Mr. Emilio and some friends develop project criteria. I'm proud of her; she has been working really hard on it."

Lee turned back over on his back and muttered an embarrassed, "Oh." It was his way of apologizing for jumping to the wrong conclusion. Amanda turned back over on her back too.

"That looks like a frog."

"Amanda, spies didn't do so well in your mother's research. Not well at all. They rated low on everything. We're very romantic types and traditionally have great hair."

Amanda smiled to herself. "Her research is based on books, not real people."

"Spies are worldly and dashing."

"So I've heard."

"We're in excellent physical shape."

"Apparently cowboys are in better shape."

"I'm good with horses."

"Lee, give it a rest. What do you think that cloud looks like?"

"It looks like two connected hearts."

"That's what I thought too."