by Amy L. Hull AmilynH at comcast dot net
This is not intended to infringe on the copyright of Warner Brothers, Shoot the Moon Productions, or anyone else who holds rights to "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" or its characters.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Amanda asked nervously.
Lee licked his lips quickly, then smiled. "I'm sure." He paused, suddenly concerned. "But only if you're sure."
"Well, I certainly think it's a good idea." It was Amanda's turn to hesitate. "I'm just afraid I'll--"
"You'll do just fine. We'll just take it slowly; no pressure. We both need a break from Spring Cleaning, anyway."
"A stress reliever would be nice right about now," Amanda agreed, "but Mr. Melrose was wanting the rest of the files by tomorrow, and we still have to interview four organizations--"
"Exactly," Lee stressed, "why we need a break." He opened the car door and gestured for her to have a seat. "And anyway, this is still work-related. Consider it another aspect of your training."
"That sounds awfully flimsy, Stetson," Amanda teased with a smile. "But, I guess to get away for a bit... Who would have thought there were so many organized groups of people with such odd agendas?" Amanda said, shaking her head.
"Well, that's certainly a kind way to put it," Lee laughed lightly. "I know the last few files always make me crazy; no matter how much patience I might have had for these crackpots at the beginning--"
"You had patience for them?" Amanda teased.
Lee cast a look of mock annoyance her way as he joined her in the car.
Amanda reached slowly for the steering wheel, getting the feel of the seat. She remembered the night that Lee showed up at her back door, grinning like a 16-year-old with a new license and offering her a ride in the new car. It had been several months before Lee had stopped making frequent, nostalgic comments about his Porsche. But by the time the car had lost its new-car smell, he had adjusted. Recently she had begun catching him smiling fondly at the car as he approached it. His reaction wasn't as intense as it had been with the Porsche, but still she swallowed hard. "Lee, it's your car. I'm not sure--"
"I am," Lee said, looking steadily at her. "Just start with the basics. Check your seat and mirrors; those work the same as in your car."
She reached for the pedals and Lee stared as her legs stretched from beneath the edge of her navy skirt. He forced himself to look away as she pointed her toe to check the distance of the pedals. "You know, I think I might need..." she began to feel around the front of the seat.
"It's on the other side..." Lee tried to point, but the closeness of the space made it difficult to do so without reaching far into her space or touching her.
Usually he barely noticed the size of his car; when he was driving, he was focused on the road and the traffic. As she reached for the seat adjustment lever her hair slipped to the side revealing the back of her neck and Lee found himself utterly distracted by her nearness and memories of the previous night's dinner. She'd had her hair clipped up loosely and had worn a comfortable shirt and skirt that somehow had seemed all the more sexy for their casual style. Their companionable conversation had continued until well past eleven even though they'd never once mentioned the Agency. The car suddenly seemed terribly small.
"I've got it," Amanda said as she slid the seat forward and put her seatbelt on. "That's better. I forget sometimes that you're so tall," she said with a nervous smile, checking and adjusting her mirrors.
"Why don't you start by pressing the clutch--"
"That's the third pedal, right?"
Lee suppressed a smile. "Yeah. On the far left. Press that all the way to the floor. Okay, check the parking brake, and make sure it's on. Now, hand on the gearshift. The middle is neutral, just like you're in neutral if the clutch is in."
Amanda frowned. "The middle where?"
"The middle where it's not in gear."
"Lee, isn't there a spot for neutral like in my car?"
"No; it's just in neutral if it's not in gear. Here," he said, placing his hand gently over hers and moving the gearshift side to side in its neutral position. "That's neutral." She looked up and their eyes met for a moment, then he rushed along into his explanation. "Now--you've still got the clutch all the way in, don't you?"
"Uh, yes," Amanda said, sounding slightly flustered.
"Good. This is first gear." He guided her in moving the gearshift left and forward, then moved the gearshift through its pattern. "Second. Third. Fourth. Fifth. Reverse. Now you do it." Lee slowly removed his hand, and placed it in his lap, flexing the fingers slightly.
Amanda's hand was left feeling cool and a bit naked as the air hit her skin again. She glanced discreetly at Lee and saw him studying the rear view mirror. She tightened her grip on the gearshift and moved it tentatively. "First, second, third, fourth, fifth, reverse," she repeated slowly. She tried it again, accidentally bumping Lee's knee when she got caught between second and third gears and her hand slipped off the stick. "Sorry. Sorry," she said quickly.
"It's okay." Lee shifted his knee away from the gearshift.
"Well, now you drive," Lee responded casually. "You start in first and shift up as you go faster."
"But how do you know when to shift?"
"You can tell. The engine will start to rev higher."
"Rev?" Amanda asked flatly, her tone the one she usually reserved for questions like, 'What bomb?'
"Well, you can watch the tachometer," he began, reaching around the steering wheel to point to the gauge next to the speedometer. "Generally, when that gets to between four and five you should shift. But the tach is just a guideline; you should really just listen to the engine closely; it'll tell you when to shift. And you'll feel it in the seat and the floor and the steering wheel. But to shift you have to put the clutch in. You can't shift without using the clutch. If you don't use the clutch and try to shift, you'll grind the gears, like--"
"Like I usually do," Amanda offered wryly, restraining the grin that kept trying to spread across her face. Lee's enthusiasm for the technicalities of his car was endless, and he seemed to somehow come more alive as he spoke. His manner made this entire endeavor take on some kind of greater meaning, as if they were sharing something special and personal. Amanda wasn't quite sure what to make of that; it was, after all, just a driving lesson. Her instincts were beginning to hint that it was rather more than that.
Lee smiled at her acknowledgement. "Well, yeah. When you need to change gears you'll put the clutch in, shift, then let the clutch out again."
There was a long pause, then Amanda sighed and shifted to face Lee. "Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, I've already nearly killed your Porsche twice, and I know how much you love your car--"
"Amanda, I already told you; you don't love a car," Lee protested, although Amanda barely paused before barreling on ahead.
"Okay, well you get attached, and, well, the last time someone tried to teach me to drive a stick, well, it just didn't work," she concluded, shaking her head resignedly.
Lee's eyebrows raised. "You never told me you'd tried to learn before. When was that?" He suddenly regretted asking; he was finding himself at a loss to picture her doing anything other than grinding the gears, and he was suspecting this story wouldn't improve that situation.
"Well, my father tried to teach me when I first learned to drive. The only car we had was a stick shift," Amanda paused thoughtfully for a moment. "You know, I always thought that might have been part of why Mother never learned to drive; she never was mechanically inclined, and you saw what happened when she tried to learn just with a regular car."
"Oooh, yeah," Lee nodded.
"Anyway, all I managed to do was to bounce the car forward. It made these horrible sounds and nearly gave us whiplash, and we ended up in the middle of the street. Then Daddy traded places with me, pulled the car back into the driveway, and sent me to driving school," Amanda concluded sheepishly. "He just shook his head as we walked back into the house. I think he was hoping I'd be a little less like Mother, at least where driving was concerned. And I did fine at driving school; they had regular cars."
"Regular?" Lee repeated, his eyebrows raised. He shook his head slightly and chuckled, "Well, I think we can certainly give this irregular car more of a shot than that time. Go ahead and start the car."
Amanda turned the key and the Corvette lurched forward with every cycle of the starter.
"Stop!" Lee said quickly. "Stop! You have to put the clutch in when you're starting the car!"
"Lee, the car is small. I can hear you just fine," Amanda said, a bit tightly.
"I'm sorry," Lee said quickly.
"I am too. That's exactly what the car did with Daddy, too, and I didn't know why. I'm glad we're in the driving range lot this time. How'd you get to use this, anyway?"
Lee shrugged, "I checked, and it wasn't in use. And anyway; this is work-related training."
Amanda smiled then took a deep breath, looking serious again. "Okay. Clutch in. Now I just turn the key?"
This time the car turned over smoothly, purring like a contentedly waiting cat.
"Okay, now what?"
"Now you're going to let the clutch out slowly, and when the engine starts to engage, you're going to give it gas."
Amanda gripped the steering wheel tightly, and began to raise her foot from the clutch pedal. As the engine began to respond, Lee said, "There. Now give it gas. Good, good." The car began to labor. "More gas, more..." And the car, having moved only about six inches, unceremoniously died. Amanda sighed. "Don't worry about it," Lee reassured. "Part of learning to drive a stick is learning what kills the car and what doesn't. Try again, and give it more gas this time." Amanda began again, and the engine whined loudly with all the strength of its sporty, high horsepower engine, then died with a jolt.
"What am I doing wrong?" she asked nervously.
"Actually," Lee responded a bit sheepishly, "it's what I'm doing wrong. I forgot to tell you to take the parking brake off."
Amanda glared at him and reached for the parking brake.
"You always leave a stick shift with the parking brake engaged to keep the car from rolling; it doesn't have a solid 'park' gear like an automatic," Lee continued. "Of course, you can't drive with the brake on any more than you can in another car. Go ahead and take the brake off, then we'll try again."
"I'm trying," she said, a bit shortly as she tugged at the hand brake, trying to push the release button. "What did you use to set this? Hydraulics?"
"Here, let me," Lee offered, but she shooed away his hand as she got enough leverage. "So...try again."
Cautiously, Amanda restarted the car and began to let the clutch out. The car began to inch forward, seeming to pick up on her tentativeness.
"Good. That's good...now give it more gas," Lee encouraged.
The car suddenly spun its wheels, raced forward, then promptly died.
"You had it. ...What happened?"
"I'm sorry." Amanda was still staring straight ahead, gripping the wheel. "It went so fast that it scared me, so I hit the brakes. Why did it die when I hit the brakes?"
"When you brake, you have to hit the clutch if you're going to stop. It's okay. Just try again, this time a little slower; don't give it so much gas."
Amanda glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, sighed, then reached for the key. The engine purred to life again, sounding just the same as before, as if it hadn't just been unceremoniously and repeatedly killed.
"Okay. Let out the clutch, and give it gas, but not too much gas, right?" Amanda asked.
The next three attempts were met by the car dying again before they made it even fifteen feet--most of those dragged by the engine in its death throes.
"What am I doing wrong?"
Lee closed his eyes and blew out a long breath, then drew it back in, trying to avoid responding with the, "Almost everything," that sprang to his lips. This had been his idea, he reminded himself wryly. "Well, it seems different each time. Sometimes you're giving it too much gas, then backing off, sometimes you're not giving it enough and the engine's just starving. Sometimes you've just got the timing wrong. You have to feel the car, listen to the car. I told you, it will tell you when you need to shift, when it needs more gas."
"Lee, I don't speak car," Amanda said, by now smiling in amusement at her usually pragmatic partner's unexpected tendency to anthropomorphize his car. "Maybe it's a guy thing?" she offered, eyes twinkling with silent laughter.
Lee narrowed his eyes at her, then began smiling as well. "You'll see," he said with a smug nod. "It'll talk to you, too. Why don't you try letting the clutch out just until you hear the engine start to engage, then put it back in. Do that a few times." He uncoiled his fingers from their tight grip on the door--the only thing available to hold on to.
Amanda released the clutch, listened, then, as Lee said, "Now," depressed the pedal again. The third time she turned to Lee, "Lee," she said, speaking through a carefully forced smile, "if you keep doing that, I won't be able to hear the engine...and I won't ever be able to figure this out for myself."
"Sorry," Lee said, again trying to force himself to relax.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked again. Lee had, in the past couple of months, begun to really seem to regard her as a partner, not quite as an equal, but uniformly with respect. She could not quite imagine herself successfully driving his car, and was becoming increasingly nervous as her visions of stripped gears were overlaid by Lee's disappointed expression. Already, the muscle in Lee's jaw was pulsing.
Lee drew a slow breath and let it out. "Yeah. Yeah; there have been a few too many times when we've lost someone because you couldn't drive my car. And it'll be easier to get you a car from the auto pool or impound when you need one. I thought about this for a while before I brought it up at dinner last night." His tone made it quite clear that he was trying to convince himself as much as her.
"Okay," Amanda said, still a bit dubious. She steeled herself and tried again, depressing the clutch as soon as she felt the engine start to edge the car forward. The third time she did this without killing the car, she asked, "Now, that's when I start to give it gas, right?"
"Right. That's good, really."
"Here we go." She released the clutch, aborting only once before trying again to give it gas as the engine engaged. This time the car hummed slowly into motion. A smile started to spread across her face. "I did it!"
"You did it! That's great!" Lee's smile matched Amanda's as he glanced proudly at her. He looked back at the range in front of them where they were rapidly approaching the edge of the paved area. "Um, Amanda, you need to turn now..."
Amanda braked as she cornered, and the car promptly died halfway through the turn. "I really hate this," she said, glaring at the steering wheel.
"I forgot to tell you to hit the clutch. When you slow down that much, you have to."
"That certainly would have helped," she said curtly.
"I'm sorry. Anyway, try it again; you've almost got it," Lee encouraged, rolling his shoulders to relieve the tension that seemed to be building up more quickly than it usually did on a stakeout.
Again the car inched forward. Amanda maneuvered it through the turn she had started and continued driving back across the empty range. The engine whined ever louder as she gained speed, until Lee finally prompted, "Okay, now shift to second."
"That's down, right?"
"Down from first--straight back," she explained quickly.
"Yes," Lee said quickly. The engine was complaining desperately.
Amanda glanced down, then pulled at the gearshift. The engine revved suddenly louder and then was overpowered by a high pitched grating sound.
"Clutch! You have to put in the clutch!" Lee barked, as the car jerked to its death like a beached fish. "Amanda," he nearly bellowed, "I told you you had to use the clutch to change gears!"
"Well, I'm sorry!" she snapped. "I've never done this before!"
"I told you that's the one thing you have to do! You can never move the gearshift unless you've got the clutch in!"
"I'm sorry I didn't remember every detail!" Amanda said.
"This is more than just a detail! It's the most important thing. It will never work if you can't at least do that!"
Amanda screwed her eyes closed in anger as she raised her voice, "Well then, maybe we should just forget about it!" She grappled for the door handle, which seemed in a terribly odd place on the driver's side of the car, with one hand, and the seatbelt release with the other hand.
Lee ran a hand through his hair, eyes closed for a moment as he sighed. Just as Amanda was stepping out of the car, Lee grabbed her arm to pull her back. She paused, still facing the door. "Amanda, I'm sorry," Lee began.
She turned, saying, "No, I'm sorry. I'm frustrated with myself, and that wasn't fair of me."
Lee looked down. "Or me. You're trying, and you're getting it. Do you want to try again?" He looked up, almost shyly, and relaxed visibly when Amanda smiled at him.
"Yeah." She nodded. "Yeah. Let's do that."
"You've almost got it," Lee reminded encouragingly.
She clicked her seatbelt back into place and turned the car over again. It hummed gently, unaffected by the turbulence still very near the surface of its passengers. "Here goes." Amanda eased the car forward, getting it moving in first gear with only a few small shudders.
As the engine began to whine, Lee coached, "Okay, clutch in, shift to second."
Amanda did, and the engine revved suddenly higher.
"Take your foot off the accelerator when you put the clutch in," Lee said quickly, keeping his tone even.
She did, and the engine stopped spinning, but the car continued slowing.
"Amanda, let the clutch back out once you've shifted, and give it more gas."
Amanda's lips were pursed with concentration as the engine shuddered into second.
"Now keep giving it a little gas and turn around again," Lee paused while Amanda got the car going the other direction. "All right, pick up some speed so you can shift to third...that's up and to the right."
Amanda sped up and shifted to third, smiling to herself for using the clutch without a reminder.
Lee also smiled as he said, "Okay, now turn the car around again, then stop, and we'll try it again."
Amanda turned, then braked. The car slowed smoothly and sputtered to a stop again. Amanda looked stricken. "What'd I do this time?" she demanded.
"You've got to put the clutch in when you brake, remember?" Lee asked, this time keeping his temper under control. "Next time you stop, put the clutch in. You also should shift back down through the gears. You'll still keep the clutch in and coast, but as you brake or slow down, move the gearshift into the gear you'd be using at that speed." Amanda opened her mouth to protest, and Lee held up a hand. "You'll get to where you know what gear is for which speed. That's just experience. But if you're still in gear--and nearly the right gear--as you slow down, you can still drive at any moment."
"That makes sense." Amanda took a deep breath. "Wanna try again?"
"Only way you're going to get it." Lee smiled warmly at her.
"Hey, that's great! That's ten times in a row you've started with no problems at all. I think we should take a lunch break."
"Oh, that sounds great; I'm starving," Amanda pulled the parking brake and turned off the car, reaching for her seat belt.
"Oh, no," Lee rejoined. "You're driving."
"Lee, are you crazy? I can't take this out on the road!"
"Why not? It's smaller than your station wagon. You'll do fine."
"But this is your car. Lee, I don't want to risk crashing your car. What if it dies in an intersection? What if I kill it trying to shift gears?"
"You won't. You're doing great, and you need the practice. It'll be fine." Lee nodded encouragingly.
"Are you sure?" Amanda asked skeptically.
"I'm sure." Lee said.
"All right." Amanda nervously turned the car on again, put the clutch in, and released the parking brake.
"Amanda?" Lee began.
"Just... Well, be careful."
Amanda grinned. "I won't kill your car," she reassured, and promptly killed the car. "I hope," she added under her breath.
Lee grimaced and missed seeing her pull smoothly forward on the second try.
At the entrance to the road, Amanda paused again. "You're sure this will be okay?" she asked one last time.
"Yeah," Lee said tightly.
"Just make sure you help me out." Amanda pulled into the road and edged forward, driving tentatively. She only made it to third gear before she had to stop at a stop sign. When it was her turn to go, she tried to move too quickly and killed the car.
"Amanda, the other cars are getting antsy," Lee warned.
"I know. Remember, rushing will only make me nervous," she replied as she restarted the engine. She waved the other two drivers at the intersection through, then tried again. She sputtered to a start, but made it around the corner. "You know, it's too bad we can't just do a rolling stop instead of having to start over in first gear every time," she commented.
Lee jerked his gaze back to her.
"Just kidding," she assured him, smiling at his worry.
After a relatively uneventful trip the rest of the way to the restaurant, they sat outside eating. The warm breeze of the May afternoon wafted gently around their companionable silence, causing Lee to reflect again on their dinner the night before.
"How many crackpots do we have left to check out?" Lee asked over their food after a long silence.
Amanda looked up, a bit disappointed. After last night's shop-talk-free dinner she'd hoped they were progressing past talking only about work, but Lee's question and his statement about giving her driving lessons for work purposes had left her wondering if the gesture of dinner--or the lessons--meant anything more than casual friendship. "Well, there's Organization for the Preservation of Rock Pigeons, Society for Historical Integrity on Television--"
"The what?" Lee interjected.
Amanda shrugged, "Don't ask," she advised. "Parents' Partnership for the Prevention of Psychic Psychiatrists, and the Ministry of Hi."
Lee opened his mouth again, then closed it, shaking his head. "I don't want to know. Actually, I'm sorry that I'm going to have to find out."
"Well, most of the people have seemed awfully nice," she offered. "They all seem really happy to have someone interested in their organizations."
Lee smiled broadly, shaking his head ever so slightly. "Amanda King, you are one of the nicest people. How do you do that?"
"You always see the best in people, give them the benefit of the doubt. You sincerely like them. And you notice everything about them." Lee's expression was warring between amusement, confusion, and a hint of pride. He looked at her for a long moment, until she looked away self-consciously. "And you know," Lee said at length, "with the driving, you really did well."
"Thanks." Amanda smiled her almost-shy smile that increasingly made Lee involuntarily smile broadly back at her. He so rarely offered her a compliment that she valued and mentally filed each one he'd given.
"I think you should get at least an hour's practice each week."
"Oh?" Amanda said, raising her eyebrows.
Lee looked down, adjusting his napkin. "Well, you'll need to be comfortable with it if you're going to drive under pressure at a moment's notice." He looked up to check her response.
"That's true," Amanda agreed, nodding.
"This is an important job skill; being able to drive not only your partner's car, but any vehicle," Lee explained seriously.
"And when do we move up to tanks?" she needled with a grin. She moved her hand toward him on the table, sincerely touched and honored by his use of the word 'partner'. This was only the second or third time he had called her that; he had resisted even thinking of her as a partner for so long, perhaps believing that if he did not use the word that she would be safe from his previous partner's fate.
"That's not until the advanced course, I'm afraid," he teased back, settling his fingers lightly across hers.
Amanda mouthed 'Oh,' with mock seriousness. "And will you be the instructor for that as well?"
"I'm sure that could be arranged if you're satisfied with your initial experience."
"And it's all purely business?" she asked, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth with the knowledge that, at this point, it was anything but.
"Of course," he said quickly.
"So, an hour a week, huh?" she said, her smile bemused.
"Oh, at the least." Lee nodded, his face full of the seriousness of a five-year-old explaining the important aspects of his latest game. "Longer if we need it."
"And you're willing to risk your car in this endeavor," Amanda grinned, her eyes twinkling.
"I suppose I could make that sacrifice," Lee replied with a matching sparkle.
"Then I promise not to hurt your car."
"And I promise not to blow my top."
"It's a date, then," Amanda declared, extending a hand. Lee smiled even more broadly, took her hand, and kissed it lightly, sealing the agreement.