Summary: A conversation over dinner.
Notes: This story is set near the end of season three, but before "Dead Men Leave No Trails." It is a sequel of sorts to "Wait in the Car", as well as a hint of something more to come ;)
Disclaimer: The characters here belong to Warner Brother & Shoot the Moon Production; this story is copyrighted by the author. Please do not distribute without permission. No infringement is intended, and this story is not for commercial gain but rather for entertainment only.
He sat at the table in the restaurant, drumming his fingers on the menu as he waited for his dinner companion. Each time the door would open he would look up, searching to see if it was her. He let out a sigh, and took another sip of his drink. He looked at his watch and noted to himself that she was only fifteen minutes late, which by Amanda King standards was early. Still, she had stood him up four times in the last three months. He didn't feel like eating another meal alone today.
Amanda King circled the block for the third time. She sighed and wished that they had not agreed to meet downtown for dinner. As she searched the street ahead of her once more for a parking space, she realized the futility of her action. Turning the car the final time toward the restaurant, she resigned herself to spending the twenty dollars for the valet parking.
He had just decided that it was time to head home when she entered the restaurant with an apologetic smile on her face.
"Joe, I'm sorry," Amanda began as she approached the table. "I got off work early today, so I thought I had plenty of time to head home and check on the boys but somehow everything always takes longer than I think it will and then the traffic was terrible getting across the bridge and I couldn't find a parking space."
"It's okay, Amanda," Joe told her as he held the chair for her. "Sit down and relax." Joe motioned the waitress to their table. "Do you want something to drink? A glass of wine?"
Amanda nodded, "Yes, that would be nice." She picked up the small listing of wines from the center of the table and perused it quickly.
"May I suggest the Chardonnay from Prince Michel?" the waitress offered. "I think you'd like it, ma'am."
Amanda looked up and recognized the woman as the one who had served her and Lee several times in the past. "That sounds good. Thank you."
"The same," Joe told the waitress as he looked at his ex-wife. "Should I just let you order dinner for me as well? They seem to know you here."
"I've just been in a few times," Amanda shrugged, slightly embarrassed. The restaurant was a favorite of Lee's and lately they'd been stopping by quite often. The dinners hadn't been dates, per se, but there had been little talk of work during them.
"It's okay, Amanda, I'm not trying to pry." Joe gave a slight laugh. "Well, not much, anyway."
Amanda took a deep breath. "Well, that's the reason for dinner, isn't it?"
"I know there are things you can't tell me, Amanda, but I would like to know whatever you can tell me. How you've gone from bake sales to spying, for instance."
"I still do bake sales," Amanda smiled, "and camp-outs." Her thoughts went to her last "camping" trip handcuffed to Lee and running from madmen. "And I'm not a spy - just a civilian."
"Still, how have you managed to keep all of this secret from Dotty?" Joe wanted to know. His mother-in-law, correction, ex-mother-in-law was one of the most curious people he knew.
"That's one of the greater mysteries," Amanda admitted. "Of all the things she's come up with that I must be doing, she hasn't been able to come up with what I'm actually doing."
"What has she come up with?" Joe wanted to know.
"Well... there's been this recurrent theme that I must be having a fling with someone," Amanda laughed.
"And you're not?" Joe was relieved to see Amanda laughing.
"Joe! Half the time I don't have time to remember to call Mother and tell her I'll be late for dinner. When would I find the time for .... for ... anything like that?" Amanda felt herself blushing. She had been asking herself lately how she could possibly justify the time she'd been taking lately to spend after work with Lee. But she knew, too, that she had been enjoying the dinners and the occasional show or concert immensely and as long as he was interested in spending the extra time with her, Amanda was more than willing to find the time as well.
"That's a relief," Joe admitted out loud.
"Why?" Amanda questioned. "Never mind," she amended realizing that she didn't want to know the answer to that. "You wanted to hear about how I got involved with the Agency."
At that moment, the waitress returned with their wine. "Have you had a chance to look at the menu yet?"
"I have. Have you, Amanda?" Joe asked.
"No," Amanda replied. "How about a Caesar salad and whatever the house special is tonight?"
"We have two," the waitress told her. "The first is a pan-fried mahi-mahi served with wild rice and the second is a seafood based Japanese stir fry."
"Mushrooms?" Amanda asked.
"Enoki," the waitress answered her.
Amanda smiled. "That would be wonderful." As the waitress took Joe's order and left, Amanda began her story, unaware of the bemused expression on her ex-husband's face. She was the same, yet not quite the same, was the realization he came to. Her universe had expanded, he saw, and she was very comfortable in it.
"It all started not quite three years ago," Amanda told Joe. "I was taking a friend to the train station when this man in a waiter's uniform asked me to help him. He was running, I was confused and before I knew it I was helping break up a group who were killing federal agents."
"That sounds dangerous."
"I suppose it was, but it was also exciting. Over the next several months Mr. Melrose had me assist on some cases, and then a little more than a year and a half ago he offered me a part-time job as a civilian assistant."
"Have you had any training?" Joe was worried that she was treating this too lightly.
"Some formal training," Amanda told him. "A whole lot of field training with Lee." She noticed the scowl that passed across Joe's face. "What's wrong?"
"No, not really," Joe told her. "I saw Stetson work first hand. He's very good. I'm surprised they'd put him with someone like you."
"No one else wanted him." Amanda saw the look on Joe's face and elaborated. "Three years ago he was quite resistant to working with a partner. But I guess I was inexperienced enough, and stubborn enough, not to take no for an answer." Amanda took another sip of her wine and remembered the early days of working with Lee Stetson. She also remembered those first glimpses of the 'hidden Lee': the panda bear she found on her front porch and Pretzel the clown visiting Jamie for his birthday.
"You get points for stubborn, that's for sure," Joe mumbled. He looked up, and realized he had voiced his thought aloud. "I'm sorry, Amanda. I guess I've been feeling a little down lately. I'd been hoping to see a bit more of you and the boys now that I'm back in town."
Amanda leaned back in her chair and sighed. She didn't know how to answer that one, so she took another sip of her wine and silently watched her ex-husband, waiting for inspiration. After a few minutes, the silence was broken as their waitress appeared with their meals.
"This is pretty good," Joe noted after eating for a few minutes. "Do you come here a lot?"
"Not a lot, really," Amanda answered, "a few times lately after work."
"Joe," Amanda caught his gaze, "what do you really want to know?"
"What do I really want to know?" he repeated her question. "Probably more than you want to tell me. How can you do this? How dangerous is it? How safe are the boys? What's really going on with you and Stetson?"
"I shouldn't have asked," she sighed.
"But you did."
"Then let me answer you. One: because I like it. It appeals to the part of me that would like Phillip and Jamie to have a better world to grow up in, not to mention that I'd like to think I'm not too bad at it. Two: a little dangerous, but I'm careful. Three: the boys are very safe. Four: not a topic for discussion."
"Amanda, I worry," Joe put down his silverware. "If something were to happen to you or the boys because of your job...."
"I know what you're thinking, Joe. But I'm not her." Amanda held his gaze and she knew she had read his thoughts. "Phillip and Jamie mean the world to me, and nothing is going to happen to them. I won't let it, and neither will Lee. I promise. You have to believe me on that."
"Is he really that good?" Joe asked skeptically.
"Even better," she told him. "You have to let go of the past. All of the past, including me."
"I know it, Sweetheart. But your sons are in the here and now. They're awfully glad their father's back in town. They missed you and they love spending time with you. You can stay now, right?"
"Yes, I can stay."
"Then make them part of your present and your future." Amanda paused, trying to figure out how to word what she needed to say next. "You'll always be their father, and a part of our lives but you need to move on. It's not good to be alone."
"What about you?"
Amanda finished what she planned to eat of her dinner, and slowly wiped her mouth with her napkin. She placed it slowly on her lap and took a sip of wine. "I'm not alone."
Joe thought about her comment as he finished his dinner. It was open to interpretation, he decided. She lived with her mother and their sons so she wasn't alone. And for now, she had set the topic of her personal life off limits. As he took out his wallet to pay for dinner, he felt a sadness wash over him. He was very grateful for his sons and for finally being able to be a more active presence in their lives. He wished he had been there more when they were younger, but both he and Amanda knew why that hadn't been possible. Maybe someday he would be able to tell them, and they would understand as well.
As Joe waited with Amanda for the valet to bring her car around, he noticed a smile playing on her mouth.
"Nothing," she answered.
"No. What is it?" Joe really wanted to know.
Amanda's car pulled up and she paid the valet. Joe held the door for her, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek as she descended past him. "Next time, Joe, look for a short blond woman."
He smiled sadly and shook his head as he walked toward his own car.
Love is why I came here in the first place
Love is now the reason I must go
Love is all I ever hoped to find here
Love is still the only dream I know
Seasons of the Heart, by John Denver
Copyright 1981 Cherry Lane Music Publishing Company