Just a Good Friend by cgbear.
This was for the June Challenge on Wickalow Place - Using the words PETALS,RING, HEAT, PARTY, LICK and the phrase IT'S A BOY.
Thanks to Jennifer for being a great beta. She does an awesome job.
Thanks also to, as always, everyone in chat for their encouragement and help.
Usual Disclaimers about who owns these wonderful characters (not me). I like to take them out for a stroll.
A man stood outside the backyard window staring at his wife…ex-wife, he corrected himself, in the arms of another man.
"Amanda" he whispered agonizingly. "How could she do that? Today of all days and with him?" He said as he recognized the man giving his wife…ex-wife, damn it, a passionate kiss.
The flowers in his hand were suddenly a burden and the card was inappropriate.
Happy Anniversary, Amanda. Perhaps it is time to find each other again. Love Always, Joe.
Feeling like he no longer had a place there, he walked away.
In the den of 4247 Maplewood Drive, Lee Stetson broke for air from a kiss with Amanda as a shadow crossed the window. He saw Joe King walking back out the gate. A pang of some unidentifiable emotion went through him as he watched the gate close. Sympathy, guilt, triumph or perhaps a mixture of all three emotions fought for supremacy within him. 'So, Joe finally saw them together. Good.' Lee thought. 'Maybe this will prove to him she is not available anymore.'
He looked down at Amanda as she studied his expression "Lee, what's wrong?" She tensed. "Is there someone outside?"
He brought her closer to him. "No. It's okay. We're alone." He pulled her to the couch. "You know, we never did finish our discussion about your divorce."
Surprised chocolate brown eyes met his hazel ones and he could feel the tension increase in her body as he held her closely. She pulled away from him. "Why would you bring that up now? I thought I made it clear I didn't want to discuss it."
His arms dropped from hers. "That was before we were together. Is it so wrong for me to want to know what went wrong so I don't make the same mistake?"
She got up off the couch and started to walk away from him. "Are you planning on taking a job 5000 miles away and abandon me and my boys?"
"No, of course not." He came up behind her and put his arms around her.
"Then you're fine." In spite of her flat and uninviting tone, she rested her head on his shoulder and held his arms.
He saw the time on his watch. "I have to go." He kissed the side of her neck. "I'll be back from the Agency in a couple hours, and then we have the rest of the day together. Let's go out to dinner and then go dancing, what do you think?"
Lee noted that the smile on her face didn't reach her eyes. "I'd like that."
He took her in his arms again and kissed her hair. "I don't want to leave you like this. I'm sorry I brought it up."
A small guffaw from her told him that he was forgiven this time. "It's okay. You're nosey and it's your job. Don't worry. We'll talk later. Why don't you bring some clothes over so that you can help me in the garden? Then you can change before dinner."
She walked him to the back door. "Are you sure you don't want to go out the front?"
"Nah, I'm good." He leaned in to kiss her. "I'll see you in a couple of hours." A finger under her chin brought her gaze to meet his. "Are you going to be okay?"
A lingering kiss was her answer.
Once Lee left, Amanda sat on the couch again her thoughts taking her in a myriad of directions. 'Why would Lee bring up Joe today? I guess it's reasonable that my relationship with Joe could be an issue with him.' She leaned back on the couch and crossed her arms and legs. Recognizing a defensive position, she tried to relax. 'Okay, let me think this out. Why does it bother me that Lee wants to know about my marriage? Is it about my failure?' It had been a few years since she had really analyzed her doomed relationship with Joe. So much of her life had changed since the divorce. 'When he was under suspicion for murder, I helped him without thinking about it too much. How did we get to this point? I still love Joe. He's the father of my children. But his desires took him in another direction away from me. Can I blame him for our divorce? Not entirely. He said I'm resistant to change.' She smiled. 'I'm not resistant. Lee thinks I'm stubborn though.' The thought of Lee brought a flush of warmth to her face. 'Is he really worried I'll stop seeing him? I've been waiting forever for him. Still, it is a question. How did Joe and I end up this way?'
May, 1972 – Georgetown University
Magnolia PETALS rained down on Amanda West as she walked to meet her fiancé at Dooley's for dinner. Amanda smiled to herself and caught a petal in her hand. As she rubbed it in her fingers, she thought about her upcoming wedding. She was going to be Mrs. Joseph King…. Amanda King…. Mrs. King. Her mother had decided to give her a wedding she would remember forever. She felt a pang of regret that her father would not be around to walk her down the aisle. She looked at the pinky ring she wore on her left hand right next to engagement ring; the flat gold top sparkled in the sunlight. It had her initial on it. Her father gave it to her when she was thirteen so she would never forget who she was. It started on her middle finger then migrated to her ring finger until it only fit on her pinky. She wondered if she should keep it on after she was married; but, it always felt like a connection to her father, one that she would never have again. She shook off the shadows of her past and began to look to her future.
Joe would be starting law school at the beginning of the new term in January after their wedding and he completed his undergraduate work. She finished her degree in English and wasn't sure what she wanted to do. She could get a job with the Federal Government, maybe as a secretary or something. When the FBI came to a recruitment fair on the campus of UVA, they had been monumentally uninterested in her. Something about English majors not having a lot to offer in national security or something like that. Maybe she could teach somewhere. She just knew she wanted to contribute to their marriage. Joe had warned her that he would be busy with law school and that he might not have a lot of time with her. She needed something to take up her time.
She arrived at Dooley's and found Joe sitting with their friends in a booth. Josh moved out of the way to let her sit next to Joe. A smile crossed her face when he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her in closer. "Hey there," he whispered in her ear, immediately followed by a kiss on the cheek. "What have you been doing?"
"I just came from the final fitting for the dress. Mother is determined to make our wedding glorious." Amanda replied, taking a sip of Joe's beer.
"Well, all I really need is you." Joe kissed her again. "Everything else is superfluous."
Amanda smiled. "Nice word."
"Like it? We were just practicing lawyer talk." The other future law students laughed in agreement. Joe leaned into her "Do you have to go home tonight?"
She stiffened in his arms and looked around as she lowered her voice. "Joe, we've talked about this. I'm just not ready to…. you know… before we're married. Besides, Mother is expecting me home. She wants to go over the seating chart for the reception."
"Amanda, we are getting married in ten days."
She rubbed her nose against his. "Then you're just going to have to wait ten days."
Joe vented a frustrated sigh. "It can't hurt to ask. You know, I think your mother is trying to keep us apart."
"Don't be silly, Sweetheart. She adores you." Amanda stroked Joe's hand. "I've been thinking about what I am going to do after the wedding."
"Huh?" Joe asked, his attention now on the conversation about classes.
"Joe." She claimed his attention by nibbling on his ear. "After the wedding, I want to get a job to help out."
"That's great, Amanda, whatever you want." Joe returned his attention to the conversation around them.
She sighed. 'He's preoccupied. It will get better once the pressure of the wedding is over.'
Looking at the full length mirror in her bedroom, Amanda smoothed her hands down her wedding dress. 'I'm ready', she thought to herself twisting nervously to see all the angles in the mirror. The Grecian style silk dress flowed over her legs as she plucked at the delicate lace caplet over her chest. She looked up to see her mother watching her from the door.
"You look beautiful, Darling." Her mother told her,walking into the room. "I can't believe my little girl is all grown up."
"Oh Mother. I can't believe I'm getting married today. I just wish you hadn't gone to all the trouble."
"Nonsense, Darling. Your father would be rolling in his grave if you didn't have this wedding." There was a catch in her mother's voice. "He loved you so much Amanda. He was so proud of you." Amanda saw tears floating in her mother's eyes.
Amanda reached over and took the handkerchief which had been clutched in her mother's hands. "Don't cry. You'll undo all of Mr. Andre's work. I love you, Mother, very much."
Her mother reached out and hugged Amanda close. "I love you too." She took the handkerchief from Amanda and dabbed her eyes as well. "I'm going to miss my Panda. Now that you and Joe are moving into an apartment, I have to rattle around this house all by myself."
Amanda broke the embrace and looked at her mother. "You know we'll be close."
"I know. I'm so happy for you. Joe is a wonderful man." Dotty adjusted the lace shawl on Amanda's dress. "And he loves you so much."
Amanda smiled and hugged her mother one more time. Dotty looked at the time. "Oh, I have to check with Uncle Herman about the limo to the church. Also, I need to make sure your Aunt Lillian's dress fits. She should have had a fitting before she got down here. You stay right here. No one should see the bride before we leave. The bridesmaids should be at the church already. We will be leaving in about 20 minutes."
"Yes, Mother." Amanda smiled as her mother left the room a whirlwind of energy and determination.
In a couple of hours she would be married. She wouldn't be Amanda West anymore. She looked down at the RING her father gave her. She twirled it around her finger then moved to her engagement ring. Both rings represented her past and her future.
Her thoughts moved to her immediate future. She thought for a moment about what her wedding night and honeymoon might be like. If she was truthful, she was nervous about it. She and Joe had never had sex before. They had engaged in some heavy petting but she hadn't been able go all the way. It just didn't seem right before her marriage. She was never sure what was holding her back. Most of her friends had had sex with their boyfriends or fiancés. She loved Joe and tonight she would show him just how much she did. Julie, her maid of honor, had taken her to a store and helped her picked out a negligee for their honeymoon. She could just imagine what Joe's reaction would be when he saw her in it. She couldn't wait to feel his hands…
"Amanda," her mother's voice broke into her thoughts, "Come on, Darling. It's time to go."
Amanda blew out a breath and suddenly was very anxious for the wedding to be over.
"C'mon, Amanda. We're going to be late."
Amanda came out of the bathroom of their tiny apartment wiping her mouth. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I just can't seem to kick this bug."
"You were fine last night." Joe checked his watch. "I have to get to the EPA."
"Joe, did I tell you that Congressman Gaines put me on the team for a policy speech?"
"That's great." He took her hand. "Okay, let's go."
They walked down to their car, an orange Pinto. Joe talked about his internship at the EPA. Amanda listened while waiting for her stomach to stop pitching. She couldn't imagine what was wrong with her. Maybe the HEAT was getting to her. It had been really hot this month. Maybe it was nerves. Her job with Congressman Gaines as a dogsbody/speech writer/part time secretary was interesting, but she never knew what she would be doing from day to day. She liked stability.
"…landmark legislation. It will really help keep the water safer for everyone. Amanda, are you listening to me?" Joe's sharp voice cut through her thoughts.
"Of course." Amanda took his hand.
Joe pulled the car up to the front of the Capital. "You're here." Joe said kissing her firmly. "I enjoyed last night."
Amanda blushed slightly. "So did I."
"I'll pick up you up at five."
"I'll be waiting."
Her day went a well as could be expected. Eventually her stomach settled down. Although the congressman's Chief of Staff's cologne almost made her vomit again. She just breathed through the discomfort and the nausea passed.
Over lunch, she thought about her marriage. She was very happy with Joe. They had been married almost a month and everything was good. Joe loved his internship with the EPA. It was wonderful of Congressman Gaines to put in a good word for him with the agency. 'I really think Joe is finding his niche.' What was better was that he would be able to work part time once law school started. 'I think Joe is really happy when helping people.'
When five o'clock rolled around, Amanda was waiting in her usual spot for Joe to pick her up. She sat down on the steps and watched the people around her. She was lucky to be a part of the flow of government. What she was doing was nothing compared to Joe was doing, but her salary helped with expenses and saving for when Joe wouldn't be working full time. They were supposed to go to Dooley's tonight to meet up with some of their friends. Amanda had been looking forward to it all day.
She checked her watch. It was 5:30 and no sign of Joe. She wondered if she should go back to the office to see if there was a message for her. Maybe she should just call him. A sudden fatigue settled over her body and the thought of climbing all those steps again made her decide to wait right where she was. She brought a book out of her bag and started to read.
"Amanda?" She looked up to see Sue, another staffer in the office, looking at her. "What are you still doing here? I thought you left half an hour ago."
"I was supposed to, but something must have kept Joe late."
"Let's go back inside out of the heat. I'll wait with you."
"I'm suddenly really tired. I think I'll just wait here."
Sitting down next to her, Sue looked intently at her. "Amanda, you said you were sick this morning, you nearly threw up when Greg showed up with that horrible cologne, and you're really tired. Is there a chance you could be pregnant?"
Amanda dropped her book. "P-p-p-pregnant?" She stammered. "No, I don't think….oh my gosh, I'm late. With the wedding, honeymoon, settling in and moving into a new apartment, I didn't even think about it."
Sue smiled. "I think you should make an appointment to see your doctor."
"I think you're right. I better."
When Joe pulled of fifteen minutes later, she got in the car and gave him a big smile and a bigger kiss. "Well, you must have had a good day." Joe kissed her soundly a second time. "I'm sorry I was late. I had a meeting with my boss about going part time."
"That's fine, Sweetheart. I was in good company."
The next week went by in a blur for Amanda. Between seeing her doctor during her lunch to getting the blood test and the results, she hadn't had much time to process her thoughts. When her doctor called her with the results, she was overjoyed. It was positive. She was going to be a mother. Floating through her days, she thought long and hard about how to tell Joe about the baby. Finally, she decided to make him a special dinner. Taking the afternoon off from the office gave her time to plan her announcement and make Joe's favorite dinner, roast chicken, potatoes au gratin, and asparagus. It was a little more extravagant than they usually had, but this was a special occasion. A small giggle escaped as she put the chicken into the oven. Once again, she gently touched her stomach; a new habit she had formed over the past few days. Her doctor told her that she was a month along. Amanda figured she must have gotten pregnant on their honeymoon maybe even their wedding night.
The table was set. There were fresh linens on the table as well as on the bed. The food would be ready on time. All she needed now was her husband. There was a small flutter of concern when she thought about how Joe would take the news of the baby. They both wanted children and they hadn't done anything to prevent having a baby immediately. Joe was so busy and was just going to get busier when he started school.
She heard the door to the apartment open. "Sweetheart, I'm home." Smiling she walked out of the kitchen and into his arms. "Are you okay?" He asked. "Still not feeling well?"
"Oh I'm fine. I wanted to make a special dinner for you."
Taking his hand, she led him to the sofa. She bit her lip. "Joe, I think you are going to have to sit down for this."
Joe sat down slowly. "What's wrong?"
She sat down next to him and took his hand, placing it on her stomach. "Nothing is wrong. Everything is pretty terrific. We're going to have a baby!"
Amanda looked at Joe sitting stunned on the couch. "A baby? How?"
"I think you know how." Amanda added dryly.
He looked at her. "How could you have gotten pregnant so fast?"
Amanda began to feel defensive. "It does take two to make a baby, Joe. You were there as well." She paused, gathering her strength. "You're not happy?
Joe seemed to shake off his surprise. "Of course, I'm happy. This is great news. Who do you want to tell first?"
"Let's wait until after dinner." Amanda stood and pulled him up with her. "I made all your favorites."
They told Amanda's mother first then Joe's parents, after which he took her to bed and made love to her like she was spun glass. Amanda fell asleep snuggled in his arms, thinking that life couldn't get any better than this.
"May I please see my mother?" Amanda asked for the third time.
"Dearie," the nurse said. "I don't think she should be in here. This baby is on its way."
Amanda was panting hard and in pain. "Please. I don't even know if my husband is here yet."
"Well, alright, she can come in for a few minutes."
Amanda watched as her mother came rushing in. "Oh Amanda, how are you doing?"
Amanda grabbed her hand. "I need to see Joe, Mother. Is he here yet?"
"No, not yet. He left the office and went to school. I called your friend Julie and she said she would go to his class and get him."
"Oh Mother, what if he doesn't make it? Ahhhh!" A huge labor pain struck Amanda.
"Oh Darling. I'll stay here until he comes."
The nurse reappeared and looked at Amanda. "Dr. Gracien is here and is scrubbing up. Your husband is here and waiting down the hall."
"I…need…to…see…him." Amanda panted.
"No going, dearie. This baby is coming soon." The nurse looked at her mother. "You need to leave. We're moving her to the delivery room."
"Ahhh!" Amanda screamed. "Please, Mother, tell Joe I love him."
"I will." Her mother voice was cut off by the doors as she was wheeled down the hall and into the delivery room.
An anesthetist was waiting for her. "Mrs. King? I want you to take some deep breaths."
"I don't want to be unconscious." Amanda stated.
"Not unconscious, just unaware for a little bit. This is twilight sleep."
Dr. Gracien walked into the delivery room. "Amanda, are you ready? It's time this baby was born."
Amanda took several deep breaths from the mask put over her face and the next thing she heard was the doctor saying. "Amanda, IT'S A BOY!"
Her son was whisked away from her and put in a basinet for his check and a wash. Amanda faded into semi-consciousness again.
When she regained full consciousness she was in a room with flowers surrounding her. Joe was sitting next to her holding her hand. "Have you seen him?" She managed to whisper.
"Not yet. They were waiting for you to wake up." Joe answered, sitting on bed. "I love you, Amanda."
She tried to sit up for a kiss but he pushed her down and leaned down towards her. "I love you too, Joe."
Joe stood up. "Let me tell them you are awake. I'm sure they're ready to bring in little Phillip." Joe stroked her dark hair as she leaned into him.
She moved the head of her bed up so that she was sitting up. A few minutes later a basinet was wheeled into her room and a nurse put her son into her arms. "He's beautiful."
"So is his mother." Joe said leaning in again.
"I think he's hungry" Amanda said looking at the nurse.
"Just tuck him in so his mouth is touching your nipple. He will latch on."
"Oof!" Amanda said as he started suckling. "He's strong."
Joe chuckled "That's my boy."
Amanda stroked the cheek of her son as he ate. "I can't believe he's here."
They watched him in wonder as Amanda fed him. When he was done the nurse showed her how to burp him.
Amanda looked up and smiled. "We better let the families in to see the new addition before they break the door down."
Amanda's mother and Joe's parents gushed over the baby and lightly argued about who the baby looked like. Soon both mother and son began to drift away. The nurse reclaimed Phillip.
As Amanda drifted off to sleep she heard her mother whisper, "Where were you today? Julie said she told you about Amanda."
Joe replied. "I needed to go to the law library for a few minutes. There was nothing I could do here. I got here before he was born."
Amanda felt a little cold as she drifted off to sleep.
"Joe, I'm going to walk down to the park with Phillip, would you like to take a break and get some air?"
"I can't right now. I have to finish this paper for my Torts class."
"It's a beautiful day and you've been holed up here for hours…"
"Not now, Amanda! Later. Let me get this done and I will get there in a little while."
Amanda put Phillip in his stroller and left the apartment. Mr. Woodell helped her carry the stroller down to the first floor. The whole way down he talked to Phillip about what a big boy he had become and how lucky he was to have such a pretty mommy. Amanda thanked him for the compliment and made a mental note to bake some bread for him.
Phillip and Amanda arrived at the park and Amanda put him in the kiddie swing and swung him gently. When he started to get fussy she put him on a blanket and gave him a bottle and some Cheerios. She pulled out the small lunch she had packed for her and Joe. She ate her sandwich and carrots but left his in the bag just in case he showed up. Meanwhile, Phillip played happily with her hair and necklace babbling happily. Amanda talked to him and he managed a few coherent phrases. She rolled a ball to her son and he tried to roll it back. Phillip was making huge strides he was practically growing in front of her eyes and Joe was missing so much of it. He had missed Phillip's first words and first steps. She heard noises coming from the park pavilion and watched enviously as a man and woman set up a children's PARTY together. She wondered if she and Joe would ever do something like that together. It seemed that everything she did was with Phillip. It also seemed that lately all she and Joe did together was sleep.
The whole time she was playing with Phillip, she kept hoping that Joe would join them. He was working so hard on his school work and at the EPA. She felt like she barely saw him. He needed a break. There was only another year of law school then he could settle into a practice and have a normal life. She could hold on that long.
Amanda stretched out her aching back as she put the paint roller back in the pan. The new nursery was almost done. She sat down in her grandmother's old rocking chair for a moment to rest. Her mother had Phillip for the day so that she could paint the new baby's room. All the windows were open so that the fumes wouldn't overwhelm her. She remembered her mother's pointed comments about Joe not painting the room instead of her. Sometimes her mother just didn't understand that Joe didn't have a lot of extra time, he was studying for the bar exam and finishing his classes. It would get better once he was done. There were only two months left until he finished.
Another baby was on the way. At least this time when she got pregnant she knew almost immediately by her symptoms. She was thrilled. Phillip would be getting a baby brother or sister. He was as excited as a two year old could be. He kept asking where the baby was and why couldn't he see it. Her mother was excited as well. She was going to have another grandchild to fuss over.
She sighed and felt a pall break through her contentment when she thought about Joe's initial reaction to her news. Thrilled would not have been the word she would have used. Appalled was more like it. The argument would remain forever in her mind.
Joe's face had turned red. "What do you mean you're pregnant again? We're using birth control."
The smile on her face waivered. "Birth control isn't one hundred percent effective, Joe."
"Now you tell me." Joe began to pace their bedroom. "We can't have another, baby. Where is it going to sleep? I'm still in school. How can we afford it?"
Amanda sat on the bed and tried to remain calm. "It's a little late to say we can't have a baby, Joe. He or she is on the way."
"When are you due?"
"Dr. Gracien said mid to late November." She watched him pulling on clothes. "Where are you going?"
He stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder. "I'm going out. I need to think."
Joe was gone for several hours. Amanda stayed in bed to LICK her wounds. She cried for the child her husband didn't want. Maybe he would come around. He was under so much stress. Graduation was just around the corner.
When Joe came home, he held out his arms to her and she went to him. "I'm sorry you're upset, but I'm not sorry I'm having your baby." She whispered to him as he patted her on the back.
He sat down and pulled her into his lap. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, it was just so unexpected. I never thought we would have another child so fast."
Burrowing closer to him, she said. "I didn't expect either. We'll be fine. You'll see. You'll love this baby as much as Phillip."
Joe held her closer. "I already do."
Joe had a surprise for her the next day. He took her to a neighborhood in Arlington to show her a house. It was lovely. A white Cape Cod with a back yard and a picket fence in the front nestled in with trees and flowers in a nice neighborhood. A For Sale sign stood out in the front yard.
Wrapping an arm around her waist, he brought her close and said. "I really am sorry for last night. While I was driving, I saw this house and thought that it would be perfect for a growing family."
Amanda turned and gave him a huge hug. She knew everything would be alright. "I think you're right, it is perfect."
They moved into the house six weeks later. Amanda had turned the house into a home. Painting rooms, sewing curtains and decorating rooms took up her time. Thank goodness her mother helped with Phillip and the decorating. They had put a down payment on the house using some the money Joe's parents left him. She wanted to make sure that the money was well and thoughtfully spent. She made careful choices with everything. Her house would be a cheerful place for her children to grow and a warm and welcoming home for her husband.
Amanda moved from the nursery into their bedroom. Picking up her rings off of the dresser she slipped them back on. The ring her father gave her glittered back at her. Her father always wanted her never to forget who she was. And she never did. She was Joe's wife and Phillip's and the new baby's mommy. Looking at the ring, she hoped that her father was still proud of her.
Joe promised to be home early tonight. With Phillip at her mother's house, she thought that she and Joe could christen the house properly. He had been withdrawn slightly from her for the past month as his work load and class load increased. She never complained about his schedule but he said his class was cancelled for the evening and he would be home with her.
She decided to make his favorite dinner for him. The chicken was roasting, the potatoes were ready to go into the oven and the asparagus was ready to be steamed. All that was left to do was to get herself ready. She started the water in the tub and added some of her favorite bubble bath. She took a leisurely bath making sure she shaved her legs. After toweling dry, she put Joe's favorite lotion on and got dressed in a light dress.
Everything was set to be ready at 6:30. That would give them time to be together. They needed some time to be a couple. Poor Joe had been working so hard, she knew he needed time to decompress before his exams and the bar.
When the phone rang she ran to the kitchen to answer it.
"Hello?" She said.
"Hi, Sweetheart." She smiled when she heard his voice. An overwhelming wave of love overtook her for a moment.
"Hi. Are you on your way home?"
"Uh, not yet. Would you mind if I got home later than I originally planned?"
"Oh Joe, why?" Amanda tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice. He didn't need to hear it.
"Josh and Mike want to use class time to study for the bar exam. We're a little weak on Real Estate Law."
"How late are you going to be?"
"Ten or so. No later than eleven, I promise."
She thought about the special dinner she had planned and put aside what she wanted. "Okay. I'll see you then."
"Are you going to still be up?"
Amanda hesitated. "I don't know. I'm pretty tired. I got the baby's room painted today."
She heard the excitement in his voice. "That's great. I'll see you later."
"Okay. I love you, Joe."
"I love you too. Bye."
She hung up the phone and stared at it for a few minutes. Tears began to well up in her eyes as loneliness coursed through her. 'Darned hormones' she thought as she picked up the phone again to call her mother.
"Hi Mother. Do you want me to come and pick up Phillip?"
Her mother's voice sharpened. "Why? What happened to your dinner with Joe?"
She took a deep breath that had a slight hitch to it. 'He had to say at Georgetown to study for the bar. He'll be home later." An idea struck her. "Would you like to have dinner with me?"
"I would love to, Darling."
"I'll pick you up in 10 minutes."
She went up to change into a pair of jeans which still fit and a t-shirt. As she left the house to pick up her mother and son, she reminded herself that it would get better. School was almost over.
It was the first Christmas in their new house. Things had gotten so much better since Joe finished law school and passed the bar exam. He got a job right away with the Emergency Aid Organization. When he talked the offer over with her, he said that the EAO was helping people. He would be able to see the results of his work. She agreed that it was a wonderful opportunity and it allowed them time together as a family. He was in the main office in Washington. He came home to her every night.
A small sound made her look over at her newest son in the bouncy seat. James King was born right around Thanksgiving, an appropriate time for a birth. Joe had been thrilled and right by her when she had given birth. They had decided to try the natural childbirth method. They took Lamaze classes and learned how to breathe. The doctor placed Jamie in her arms immediately after his birth, and then Joe was able to hold him. Once he graduated and got a job, Joe was the doting father she always knew he would be.
This Christmas would be the best one ever. She had decorated the tree with her toddling son in mind. Felt and wood ornaments were on the bottom while her good glass and crystal ones were higher out of Phillip's reach.
Joe had called earlier and said that he had big news, something about an opportunity at the EAO. Amanda smiled to herself and picked Jamie up. She sat down on the couch to feed him. She loved the connection she felt with both of her sons and knew that Joe was feeling it too. He's been so happy lately. They finally had a home together.
She went up to the nursery and put Jamie in his crib for a nap. Phillip was asleep for at least another hour. She had time to take a bath. While she wasn't cleared make love yet, they could get by with other activities. She luxuriated in the warm water and bubbles. When she thought about her future she imagined this home and her family.
"Amanda?" She heard Joe's voice coming from downstairs. She got out of the tub quickly and raced to the top of the stairs.
"Shhhh… the kids are asleep." She admonished him as he climbed the steps.
Joe's eyes lit on her body barely covered by a towel. "Hmmm…You mean we're alone for a few minutes?"
"Probably very few right now."
"I'll do my best to make up time." He whispered as he pulled her into their bedroom and shut the door. He took her into his arms and began to kiss her as her towel hit the floor.
"Mommy!" Phillip cried. "Mommy!"
Amanda's head came down on Joe's shoulder. "I'll get him." Joe offered. "You better get dressed or I'll have no control of myself."
She smiled and gave him a kiss. "Thanks."
As she pulled on clothes, she couldn't help but think that life couldn't get any better than this.
Amanda packed her husband's suitcase again. It seems like she was always packing his suitcase. "How long are you going to be gone this time?"
When Joe got the promotion at the EAO in January, he had said it was going to require travel around the country to check on suppliers and work through the legal deadweight to get the food, personnel and medical supplies to the countries that needed them. What he didn't say or didn't know that he was going to travel almost every week.
"Three, maybe four days. I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I know I said I would be home this week but it just didn't work out that way."
"I understand. It's hard to be without you so often." Amanda tried to smile.
"Why don't you plan on something special for when I get home? We always seem to enjoy the...uh…welcome home activities." Joe stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her. "It won't be forever, Amanda. Don't worry, it will get better."
"I just miss you." She hated the slight whine in her voice.
"I miss you too. You knew this new job was going to include travel."
Her voice firmed up. "Occasional travel, yes. But you are gone more than you are home. You are missing all of Jamie's milestones the way you missed Phillip's."
Joe's voice took on a defensive note. "What do you mean? I was home for Phillip. I never left before this job."
She took his hands and looked into his eyes. "You weren't home, Joe. You were so caught up in school and work that you missed so many things. I don't want you to miss Jamie's life either."
"This is not the time to talk about it." Joe pulled his hands away.
"Then when is the time? You're away so much."
"When I get home, we'll talk about it. We'll ask you mother to baby sit and we'll go out. Just the two of us." He reached out to rub her arms. "I know you're lonely, Amanda. I'm sorry." He picked up his suitcase and walked downstairs.
She heard a car horn and saw Joe leave the house with his suitcase. "Oh Joe," she whispered, tears beginning to well in her eyes, "you don't really know anything."
"No! Absolutely not!" Amanda voice carried clearly in the quiet of the house. "I am not going to pack the boys up and move to Africa!"
"It's a way we can all stay together. It would be a great learning opportunity for the boys. They would be able to learn new cultures and languages. You would be within the Embassy compounds in each of the countries we live in. You and the boys will be safe."
Amanda looked at him. "In a country beset with famine? Are you serious? No."
"Amanda, you are not being reasonable." Joe was using his lawyer voice on her. She hated that.
"I'm being perfectly reasonable. I have the health and safety of our children to consider."
Joe's face took on a red hue. "And I don't have their safety in mind? Or yours?"
"If you did, you wouldn't keep leaving home." Amanda pointed out reasonably.
"This is an opportunity to help people directly. I've sat on the sidelines and let others do the work I want to do so that I can stay home with you."
"You haven't been home with me. You're gone so much." She winced at her words but she couldn't pull them back. She had been holding them in for too long.
"Look, this first assignment is between four and six weeks. Maybe, I'll hate it and refuse the permanent assignment." He walked over to her and took her in his arms. She stiffened and tried to back away. Not allowing her to leave, he kissed her lightly. "It'll be okay. You'll see. Why don't you ask your mother to stay for a while? You know how she's constantly complaining about rattling in the house all alone."
She pushed away from him and walked across the room. "I'm sure she would love to stay with us." Amanda said sarcastically running her hand over her hair. "Since you have made up your mind, when do you have to leave?"
"Next week." Joe looked down at his shoes.
"Next week? How is that possible? Don't you have to get visas and shots?"
"I got them all already."
"How long has this been in the works?" He didn't answer her. "Joe! Answer me! How long have you known about this trip?" Amanda refused to back down.
He sank to the bed. "They asked me about it two months ago. I decided to start the prep work before talking to you."
"So you were planning on going no matter what I said."
"Don't say it like that Amanda." Joe's voice was now pleading.
"Our anniversary is next week." Amanda whispered quietly.
"I know. We'll celebrate early." Looking across the room at her, he rose off the bed. "I need to go into the office for a while. Are you going to be okay?"
"Of course. Aren't I always?"
"That's my girl. I'll be back later."
Amanda sat on the bed and looked at the ring her father gave her. The initial 'A' glittered back at her. Her father had always wanted her to remember who she was. Shame made her face flush. She had forgotten that she was Joe's wife, but she was also Phillip and Jamie's mom. Where should her priorities be? No answer came immediately to mind.
Amanda worked Phillip into his lion costume. It took her two weeks to make both the boy's costumes. She supplemented the cloth mane with yarn to make it fuller. "What does a lion say, Phillip?"
"Roar, Mommy, Roar." Phillip demonstrated a roar for her.
"Very good, Sweetheart." Amanda hugged him close.
Jamie toddled over in his bear costume holding his arms up to be picked up. "Mamma, Mamma, Mamma."
"Jamie, what does a bear say?"
"Good boy." She added Jamie into the hug. She was so proud of her boys. They were growing up so fast. She might be biased, but she thought they were very smart. They all seemed to bask in the simple pleasures of sharing a book, finger painting or snuggling on the couch. How could Joe not want to be a part of this?
Her mother bustled into the room. "The candy is in the bowl and the pumpkin is carved and outside. Are the boys ready?"
"I think so. Are you sure you don't mind giving out the candy while I take the boys?"
"Of course not, Darling. Anything I can do to help." Dotty picked Jamie up and gave him a hug. "Are you ready to go?"
"We gonna twick n' tweet, Momma?" Philip asked.
"Yes, Sweetheart. "
Amanda took the hands of each of the boys and walked them outside. She placed them in their red wagon and pulled them to the neighbors. Children's shouts filled the air as kids ran across the street to each house. Her first stop was the Ferguson's house. Betty and Ralph had welcomed her to the neighborhood when she and Joe moved into the house. Her mother mentioned that Betty wanted to see the boys' costumes. They walked around the neighborhood, stopping at friends' houses. The boys were getting tired and fussy when Amanda reached her front door and picked up both boys to take them into the house.
"Here let me take one of them." An achingly familiar voice said from behind her.
"Joe?" She turned quickly. "Joe, you're home! Oh Sweetheart, you're home early."
Her husband took Jamie from her arms and gave her a long kiss. "I missed you."
"I missed you too. So much." They walked into the house. "Mother, Joe's home."
"She took my cab home. She said something about needing time together as a family." Joe said walking upstairs with her and the boys. "Let's get these ferocious beasts to bed."
A very sleepy Phillip opened his eyes and looked at Joe. "Hi Daddy."
"Hi son." Joe leaned in a kissed him.
"Welcome home." Phillip's voice was sleep as his head rested on Amanda's shoulder. She smiled when Joe looked at her.
Amanda whispered. "He's missed you too. He's been practicing that for when you got home."
They managed to put the boys into their pajamas and got them into bed. Joe took Amanda's hand and led her into their bedroom.
Joe took her into his arms and gave her a long kiss. "Hmmm, you feel wonderful." He said running his hands over her back. "I need to take a shower. I've been up for two days trying to make it home."
Amanda walked across the room to get Joe's robe. "How long are you home?" She asked hesitantly.
Joe smiled "Until January."
She straightened up. "You're home for the entire holiday season?" She ran into his arms. "That's wonderful. I'm so happy."
He gave her a kiss and walked into the bathroom. She heard the shower start and began undressing. She put on her favorite negligee and began to light candles in the room.
Jamie cried for her. She sighed and moved into his room. Standing in his crib peaking over the rail, he smiled when he saw her and held up his arms. Smiling back at him, she picked him up and rocked him while singing softly. Seeing that he had fallen back to sleep, she laid him carefully in his crib and walked across the hall to her bedroom.
When she walked back into the bedroom her eyes went to the bed and saw that Joe was sound asleep. Amanda huffed out a soundless laugh. "Only us." After blowing out the candles, she crawled into bed and turned out her light.
Wiping down the countertops in the kitchen, Amanda sighed. Joe was gone again. This time it was for four months. He was stationed to the country of Estoccia for the foreseeable future. One of Joe's coworkers told her at the EAO Christmas party that Joe had been requested by the new Prime Minister. Pride waged with disappointment in Amanda when she realized that this meant that Joe would have to be absent from home even more. Although she hated to admit it, but she was almost relieved when Joe left. They seemed to pick at each other the entire time he was home. Joe didn't like the way the boys behaved, or the way she did something. She didn't like that he was making all the decisions without consulting her. She didn't like to think about it. It seemed she couldn't find her balance almost as if her world was tilted.
The one nice thing about his sojourn home was that he got to really spend time with Phillip and Jamie. The boys loved having him home. Jamie was especially fascinated by his father. He would hang on to Joe whenever he could. Jamie wanted Joe to put him to bed or give him a bath. Joe really seemed to enjoy the time with the boys and got closer to them. The boys weren't the problem. She was. Something had to change.
A knock on the front door broke her out of her reverie. "Mrs. King?" The delivery man asked as she opened the door.
"Delivery for you ma'am." He handed over a huge flower arrangement in a crystal vase. "Have a nice day."
"Thank you." Amanda managed to find her voice as she closed the door.
She took the flowers into the kitchen and placed them on the counter. A card peeked out around the roses and lilies. Tears began to fill her eyes as she recognized Joe's handwriting.
Happy Valentine's Day to my wonderful wife. I know it is difficult to be apart so much. It's your strength and love that keeps me going. No matter where I am, you are always home to me. I love you. I miss you. Joe.
A wave of love filled her. Joe thought of her today. He did still love her and he missed her. She knew that she still loved him and missed him as well. The boys adored him. Her world straightened back up. Everything would work out. It had to.
Early morning light streamed into her bedroom as she pondered getting up. The boys were still asleep and she treasured the few moments in the morning to organize her thoughts and day. She rolled over and looked at the empty pillow. Joe was gone again. This time he thought he would be gone for six or seven months. As the drought continued, the famine had grown worse in Estoccia and Joe had been instrumental in getting aid to the people there. His letters were filled with information about his job and how much he felt he was making a difference. She was glad Joe was fulfilled, she, however, felt empty.
Every time he was home they followed the same pattern. Everything was perfect for the first few weeks; they were attentive to each other and the boys. Then Joe started back to work and then the tension would begin to build. As her husband and the boys' father, he assumed the decision making role in the house. Amanda didn't mind sharing the decisions with him, but he often didn't consult her. He must have been feeling the tension as well because on his last trip, he spent more time at the office than he did at home. She realized she was being selfish, but she wanted her husband home with her. She tried not to mind what he was doing. She just couldn't help herself. Yet when she was sure she couldn't take anymore, he would do something sweet or thoughtful and she would be overtaken with a wave of love and all would be right. "Amanda," she said to herself as she got out of bed, "you just have to get your priorities straight." Her boys, husband and home were her first concerns always.
She took a shower and as she rubbed lotion on her hands the ring her father gave her caught her attention. "He always wanted me to be myself. To remember who I am." She murmured as she ran her hand up her arms. 'Have I forgotten?' Why did her father's words keep coming back to her?
A knock sounded at the door. "Darling, are you up?" Her mother's voice came clearly through the door. Amanda put on her robe. "Come on in."
"Oh good, you're up. I started breakfast for the boys. Don't forget that today is your parent – teacher conference with Phillip's teacher." Her mother said while she started straightening Amanda's bed.
"I didn't forget, but thank you for reminding me." Last November, her mother had gotten a good offer on her house and sold it. Amanda and Joe invited her to live with them since Joe was away so often. She insisted she wouldn't stay forever, but would move out when she found an apartment or condominium she liked. Amanda was just grateful for all the help her mother gave her every day. While they had always been close, especially after her father died, they had grown even closer over the past few months.
"Okay, so I'll take Jamie to nursery school and Phillip to kindergarten, then I will hit the store. Is there anything you need me to pick up along the way?"
"I can't think of anything." Her mother fluffed the pillows on the bed. After staring at Joe's side of the bed, her mother looked up at her. "Darling, are you happy?"
"What do you mean? Of course, I'm happy. I have the boys, Joe and you." She walked over to give her mother a hug. "What's not to be happy about?"
Her mother put a hand on her cheek. "Darling, it just seems that you are more subdued lately. Like you're holding yourself in more, not being yourself. It's like you have this other person you are trying to be. You deserve to have someone who'll love you unconditionally."
Amanda was startled by her mother's comment. "I have that. Joe loves me."
"Does he really?" She finished straightening the bed. "I'm not one to interfere in your life or your marriage. It just seems to me that Joe doesn't have his priorities straight. I just want you to know that I'm here for you, always."
Amanda smiled and felt tears welling in her eyes. "I know, Mother. Thank you." She whispered.
They both heard a crash in the other room followed by a shout of annoyance. "It looks like Butch and Sundance are moving around."
"I'll ride herd on them. You get dressed." Her mother offered.
"Thank you." Her mother's question once again ran through her head. Was she happy? No answer came readily back to her.
"Amanda, you can't be serious?" Joe's voice came over the phone.
"I am. I still don't think it is a good idea for the family to move." She put her head in her hand as tried to push back the headache that was threatening to overtake her.
Amanda heard Joe adopt his reasonable tone of voice through the poor connection. "Phillip and Jamie are older. They can handle it. Your mother can live in the house until we get back."
"I will not uproot the boys from the only home they have known and take them to Estoccia." There was an unaccustomed sharpness in her voice.
"No. That's final." Her head was about to explode.
"Nothing's final yet." She could hear the anger in his voice. 'You're being unreasonable."
"Has the famine gotten any better? Is the country any safer?" She asked pointedly.
"We're making progress." Joe's voice was now defensive. "You know they are my sons too. They should be able to spend time with me here."
"Yes, they can spend time with you when you're here. This is your home and I am your wife, in case you have forgotten."
"I haven't forgotten anything."
"Really, what was last week, Joe? I tried to get hold of you but couldn't." Silence answered her question. "I thought so." She said quietly.
"I'm sorry, Sweetheart. I got so bogged down in an international shipment that it slipped my mind." He explained. "Happy belated Anniversary."
"You too." Her voice was flat.
"Can I talk to the boys?"
She let out a sigh. "It is the middle of the morning here. They're at school."
"I'll call back in a few days then. I love you."
She paused, the words reluctantly coming to her lips. "I love you too."
The tree glittered in the darkness as she and Joe cuddled on the couch. He had been home for a few weeks and the tension was starting to mount again. He was still trying to persuade her to move with the boys to Africa with him and she was trying to persuade him to stay home with her.
Neither of them had been very happy but they were at least at a détente for the holiday. Christmas was a few days away and they wanted everything to be good for Phillip and Jamie. She snuggled deeper into his arms which reminded her of all the good times they had had together. That is what she wanted to remember, not the times they had fought and sniped at each other. She tipped her head back and looked into his eyes. He looked back down at her and leaned down to kiss her. She allowed the kiss to go deeper. His arms moved to caress her. He moved her to one side and stood up. At her questioning glance, he held his hand out to her and helped her up from the couch. They walked up the stairs to their bedroom and quietly to love.
Amanda could feel herself trying very hard to pleasure him while he did the same to her. She realized that they were both trying desperately to persuade the other with their bodies since appealing to their minds and reason had not worked.
Eventually, Amanda sat up and took Joe's hand. "This isn't working." She caressed his face.
"We can make it work." He replied, reaching for her again.
A sudden awareness hit her as she stopped his hand. "No, Joe, we can't. We can't keep going on like this. The tension isn't good for us or Phillip and Jamie." She took a deep breath. "I can live with you…," tears began to flow as she felt her breath hitch. "I can live without you…but I can't live this half-life any longer. I feel like you're an occasional husband. I don't want to live like this anymore. I can't live like this anymore."
Joe sat up next to her. "What are you saying?"
She started hesitantly. "I…" Her voice firmed. "I think we should get a divorce." The words clogged in her throat.
She searched his face for surprise but didn't see it. "A divorce? Really?" Joe replied quietly holding her hand. "But, I still love you."
She caressed his face. "I still love you too. I'm just not in love with you anymore and I don't think you are in love with me, either."
"How can you say that?" She recognized the defensive tone is his voice.
"If you loved me enough, you'd be home with me."
"Or you'd be with me in Africa." His voice held understanding.
"Yes. I don't want the kind of marriage where we grow to hate and resent each other or stay together for the sake of the children. If we end it now we can still be friends and remember all the good times we had."
He was quiet for a moment. "I think you are right." Looking down at his naked form, he blew out a humorless laugh. "I can't believe this is happening like this." He scrubbed his face with his hand and lay back down again. "Who knows maybe one day, if the time is right, we'll find each other again." He pulled her to him and rested her head on his shoulder. Her hand made small circles on his chest as she considered the enormity of the discussion. Her rings glittered in the soft light. She finally remembered who she was and knew her father would be proud of her.
With the feeling letting go of something she had tried frantically to hold on to very tightly, she lifted her head and kissed her husband softly. He responded to her overtures and loving him came much easier this time.
"It took a while to work out the divorce with all of Joe's traveling. But, as we finalized the divorce, I found out that Joe had put the house in my name alone when he started being stationed overseas for longer periods of time, also that it had been paid off. I gave him as much visitation as he wanted as long as it was in this country. You already know that I never took alimony only child support. I guess I didn't want to be beholden to anyone. Mother decided to stay and help me out." She shrugged her shoulders. "You know the rest of the story." Amanda pulled another weed from the garden and looked over as Lee planted another Begonia in the garden under the kitchen window. "Joe is really a great guy and we're really nothing but good friends right now."
Lee came over to her and knelt beside her. "Thank you for talking to me. It must have been difficult."
"It was. I failed Joe in a lot of ways."
Lee kissed her softly and pulled her into his arms. "I don't see it that way. I only see that you both grew in different directions." He kissed her again this time on the nose. "I'm just glad you grew in my direction."
She stroked his cheek. "Thank you. Sometimes, I need to hear that from an objective point of view."
"Well," he said, caressing her arm, "I'm hardly objective. I think I'd like it better if you didn't like him so much."
Amanda smiled. "I bet. Is that jealousy I see in your eyes, Stetson?"
He lifted his head and looked down at her. "Maybe a little." He looked at his watch. "Our reservations are for six. We need to get ready."
She stood up and brushed the dirt off of her hands. "Okay, you can use the shower downstairs and I'll go upstairs."
"Fine." They headed into the house.
"I'll just check the mail first." Amanda called. As she opened the door she noticed a flower arrangement sitting on the door step. She smiled. "Lee." She said softly as she picked up the arrangement. Looking it over she called, "Lee, did you do this?"
Lee walked out of the bathroom shirtless. "Do what?"
"This arrangement." She asked showing him.
He looked over the arrangement and plucked out the card, "No. Is there someone I need to be concerned with? Do you have another boyfriend somewhere?"
She laughed. "Of course not." She leaned over to kiss him and took the card from his hand. As she opened it, she recognized the handwriting.
Happy Anniversary, Amanda. You were right. I still remember all the good times we had. I hope you find all the love and happiness you deserve. Joe.
Lee took her in his arms as she said, "See, he really is just a friend. Come on, let's get ready to go."
Feeling lighter for having shared with Lee, she left the flowers and the card on the counter with her memories of the good times.