American Housewife

Time: First Season, between Fearless Dotty and Weekend.

If the ground could only open up and swallow him, Lee Stetson wouldn't possibly have been more relieved. Or, better, HG Wells showed up in his time machine to take Lee back so he could unsay what he'd said. Never did he think his words would come back to haunt him, and definitely not in this way.

He watched as Amanda King stood stiffly in the middle of the bull pen, stunned at the words of her oft nemesis, Francine Desmond. Lee he braced himself as Amanda slowly turned her eyes to him. The confusion and hurt cut into his heart in a way he didn't want to understand. Suddenly, Amanda turned and briskly walked out of the room, angling in the direction of the elevator as she entered the outer corridor. Lee didn't even think about what he was doing, he simply dropped the files he'd been holding in his hands onto his desk and took off after her.

"Amanda," he called to her as he approached where she was waiting by the elevator.

She didn't look at him. Lee had thought the pain when she looked at him was bad, but this was worse.

"Amanda," he pleaded again. "Let me explain."

Now, she did turn to him, anger flashed in her eyes.

"I really don't think an explanation is needed, do you, Scarecrow?"

Lee stared at her for a moment. He hated it when she called him by his codename like that. He didn't know why, it was just another thing he didn't like to think about when it came to Amanda King.

Recovering he said, "Yes. You have to understand..."

But Amanda cut him off.

"Understand?" she said in an angry whisper. "What's to understand? You told Francine we'd..."

She stopped, clamping her lips tightly. Lee knew she'd never say the words. Instead she started to trip over her tongue. Under different circumstances he would have had to suppress a smile and a laugh.

"That we would ever...That you would say...I am not one of your..."

She stamped her foot on the ground and clinched her fists, then turned away from him as the elevator opened. She walked in, not turning back to look at him. He wanted to follow her, but was frozen in place. As he watched the doors close a terrible feeling overcame him; He needed to take it out on someone, and he knew just the person. Turning quickly, he headed back into the bullpen. Some of the girls from the steno-pool and a few other agents were gathered around Francine and seemed to be having a laugh about what had just occurred. Lee's jaw clenched as he walked up to the group.

"Francine!" he spat out. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Francine gave him a look of feigned innocence.

"Me?" she placed a hand to her chest. "I'm just repeating what you told me."

Smirking, she turned back to the group.

Lee wasn't satisfied and grabbed her arm and forced her to face him.

"Do you mind?" Francine asked perturbed.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do," Lee said through clenched teeth. "Why did you say that to her? You knew I was only joking when I said it."

"Were you, Scarecrow?" Francine pretended surprise. "How was I supposed to know? What with your reputation and all."

By now, the rest of the group had taken the hint and began to disperse. Lee ran his hand through his hair and began with Francine again.

"Amanda would never do something like that," Lee said. "You know that."

"Really?" Francine's normal, acerbic look began to return. "I thought no woman was immune to the great Scarecrow's charm."

Lee groaned inwardly. Now it was bothering him that Francine was calling him that.

"Amanda's different," Lee began, but as soon as the statement was out of his mouth , he knew he'd made a huge mistake.

Francine's eyebrow twitched up and she looked at him inquiringly.

"I mean," he tried to backpedal. "She just would never do something like that with anyone."

Francine gave a light chuckle and returned, "Well she must have done it at least twice with someone."

It took all of Lee's inner strength not to retaliate. He realized this conversation was going nowhere. He turned away to go back to work at his desk, but he couldn't get himself to focus. How was he ever going to explain this to Amanda? He had to make her understand. He'd hardly known her when he'd said that. If he'd known her better, he would have known not to even imply something like that, especially in front of Francine.

"I've come to appreciate the generosity and stamina of the American housewife," the thought of the words he'd thought so inspired at the time now made him cringe. Knowing Amanda as he did after working with her several months, he couldn't stand the thought of someone thinking of her in that way. She was different than those other women. Amanda was special.

Lee's mind froze at that thought. No, he argued with himself. I didn't mean special that way, I mean, well, she's just not like the other women I date. Yeah, that's it. She's not like them, and that's why I would never feel that way about her. Satisfied that he'd won this argument with himself, again, he set his mind back to work.

The end of his day finally, mercifully came. As Lee drove back to his apartment he mentally ran through his plan to get Amanda to talk with him. First he'd stop by home and clean up a bit. He'd dress more casually, drive over to her house, tap on the window, and they could have a chat. She'd never turned him away there before. They'd be on her turf, so to speak, so maybe she wouldn't feel as defensive as she had at The Agency. Besides, he figured, she would have had plenty of time to cool down by then. All he had to do was put on the old Stetson charm and everything would be back to normal.

He was at his door when he realized the first flaw in his plan...Amanda never fell for his charm. He groaned and leaned his head against his door. She'd see right through him. He thought for a moment. That was one of the things that frustrated him so much about her, he admitted inwardly. He sighed, but just as suddenly brightened. If she could see right through him, and he was certain she did, he'd definitely be able to get her to see his side. He just had to be honest. Yeah, that was it.

Smiling again, he unlocked his door and walked in. He stopped just inside the door and realized his second problem. His apartment was spotless. Gone were the normal musty smells, the dust, the stacks of newspapers. Everything was perfect. He could even picture the rather tasty contents of the frig. He groaned again. In all his concern over whether or not he could get Amanda to listen to him, he'd forgotten he had a date.

For a moment he was unsure how to proceed. Then, almost without thinking about what he was doing, he went to his desk. Sitting down he opened the top drawer and pulled out the black book with Cindy's name and number. Opening to her page he picked up the receiver to dial her number. He hoped she hadn't left yet.

The phone rang two times before she picked up.

"Cindy," he smiled into the phone, grateful that she couldn't see him.

"Oh, hi, Lee," Cindy said seductively. "I'm looking forward to tonight very much."

"Um, yeah," Lee faltered for a moment. "That's actually what I called about."

There was silence at the other end. Lee knew that Cindy had already guessed what he was about to say.

"Look, um, something's come up that I *have* to take care of," he haltingly got out.

"What?!" Cindy sounded a mixture of disappointed and angry. "Can't it wait?"

"No, it's really important," Lee said. Suddenly he came to his senses and realized exactly what he was doing. Was he out of his mind? Canceling a night with Cindy to fix things with Amanda?!

Before he could act on this epiphany Cindy spat out, "Well, call me when you can actually see how important I am." He heard the phone slam down and grimaced.

Hanging up the phone he began to bang around his apartment as he got ready to go see Amanda. With every passing minute he became more and more angry. Keeping a steady stream of obscenities running, he showered, dressed, then left his apartment with a slam of the door.

The closer he got to Amanda's house, the more steam he built up. How dare she react that way? She hadn't even had the decency to listen to him while she was still at The Agency. She just ran out as if she was the victim of some horrible joke. Wasn't it just last week that he had moved heaven and earth to make sure Phillip had a Captain Galaxy for his birthday. Sure, he'd had to do it because some idiot at the agency sat on it and broke it, but the important thing was he'd done it, just as he had promised her he would . Didn't that count for anything? Didn't that prove that he would never, well, whatever it was she was thinking he'd done?

By the time he reached Maplewood Drive he was coming close to his boiling point. He'd talk to her alright. He'd tell her she needed to get used to dealing with this sort of thing. Espionage was not the PTA. She couldn't expect it to all be tea and biscuits.

Lee parked a few houses down. When he got out of his car he was only careful not to slam the door the way he desired out of necessity. He stomped down her street then rounded into her driveway. Instantly his anger dissipated and all the steam he'd built up came out in a long, slow breath. The driveway was empty. Where would she be at 9pm on a school night? She should be home. The boys should be finishing homework and getting to bed.

Lee quickly assessed the situation. Aside from the empty driveway, he noted that all the downstairs lights, as well as the porch light, were blazing, but, glancing to the windows above the driveway, he saw Amanda's bedroom lights were off. He ran around to the back hoping to find her in the family room or kitchen. Maybe the car was in the shop. She hadn't mentioned anything to him, but that could have caused her to be stressed and over-react to this morning's exchange with Francine. Lee began to make what he felt to be excuses for her as he rounded the corner and stepped onto the patio.

As he glanced through the lace curtains of the windows into the family room he could only see Dotty. The tension he'd first felt when he'd discovered the empty drive-way increased. Amanda's mother was sitting stiffly on the edge of the sofa, wringing what looked to be a handkerchief in her hands. He stepped around to the kitchen window hoping to see Amanda in there but the room was empty. He went back to the family room window and tried to figure out what to do next.

Had she come home at all? he wondered. Maybe she was in an accident. Maybe someone had followed her from the agency and taken her. With those thoughts, super-agent Scarecrow, able to stare down the KGB's best and cruelest without breaking a sweat, allowed his imagination to run wild with multiple fearful scenarios of what could have happened to Amanda. He began to pace in the shadows on the side of the house. He wondered if he should call Billy and notify him of Amanda's disappearance. What could they do at this point? Maybe he should go back to The Agency and start calling around to hospitals along her route home.

He had just about decided to go to the payphone at the grocery store a few blocks away and call Billy when he heard Phillip's voice.

"Grandma," Lee turned back towards the window as Amanda's oldest son stepped into the room. He was dressed in his pajamas and robe. "Is mom home yet?"

Dotty turned from her perch on the sofa and shook her head. She said something to Phillip but Lee couldn't make it out since she was facing away from him. She stood and walked toward her grandson and put a consoling hand on his shoulder.

"Has she called?" Lee heard Phillip ask.

Dotty shook her head and Lee's gut clenched. Where was Amanda? What had happened to her?

Phillip turned and went back upstairs, while Dotty went to the kitchen counter and stared at the phone as if willing it to ring. Lee could see the concern etched on her face. He took a deep breath then returned to the shadows and leant up against the wall.

"Oh, Amanda," he whispered. "Where are you?"

He began to feel a deep remorse about the days' events now. He should have followed her into that elevator. He should have taken her out of The Agency. They could have gone for a walk, or he could have taken her to lunch. Then he could have explained everything that had happened. He could have apologized for his stupidity and ignorance. Now...his thoughts trailed off and headed in a darker direction. In this business he should have known better than to ever wait to deal with something like this. He should know by now that later doesn't always come.

He was lost in this train of thought when he heard a car pull into the drive. The headlamps were on so he didn't dare peek around to see who it was. Instead he snuck back around the other side of the house, and none too soon. He heard someone coming into the back yard towards the kitchen door. He looked around the corner and saw what he was certain was Amanda going through the door into the house. He sighed with relief and hurried around to listen in again.

He could hear Dotty before he even saw her.

"Oh, you're home," she cried. "I've been so worried."

He couldn't hear Amanda's reply but when he got to the window he saw that her younger son, Jamie, was with her. He was fully dressed and his left wrist was bandaged.

"Only a strain?" Dotty exclaimed. "Are you sure? Did they take x-rays? The boys said they thought they heard a snap. I was so sure it was broken."

Amanda shook her head, and Lee just gazed at her with admiration. She must have been at the emergency room with Jamie. What a terrible way to end a day that had started so badly at the office, but when she turned to tell Jamie to go ahead and go upstairs and get ready for bed, she had the beautiful gleam in her eyes. That look that always assured him that everything was going to be OK.

Lee's thoughts froze, not for the first time that day. What on earth was he thinking? This was Amanda. She wasn't even the type of person he would consider a friend. 'But he did consider her a friend,' a quiet thought came in the back of his mind. He smiled at that. She was his friend. He could handle that thought. Nothing more, though, just a friend. She was definitely not his type.

Lee was brought out of his reverie by Dotty's goodnight to Amanda. He watched as Amanda was left alone in the room, then she turned and faced the window. She looked as she usually did when he surprised her with a tap at the back door, but he hadn't made himself know yet, had he? He saw her walk back towards the door and he sank into the shadows as she opened it.

"Lee?" she whispered loudly.

When she didn't get a response she added, "I know you're out here, Lee. I saw your car parked down the street when I came home."

He shook his head and walked out of the shadows and toward her. He was surprised at her smile for him as she stepped onto the patio, then closed the door behind her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked in a quiet voice, her eyes going up to the boys' bedroom window above them, where there was still a light shining.

Suddenly Lee was at a loss for what to say. He had gone on several tangents regarding his explanation of this morning's revelation, but now that he stood before her, he couldn't quite get anything to come out.

"Is everything OK?" she began to look concerned when he didn't respond.

"What?" Lee asked in surprise. "I think I should ask that of you. What happened to Jamie?"

"Oh, that," she responded as if it was no big deal. "He just fell at baseball practice and hurt his wrist, but the doctor said it was just strained. It's nothing really."

"So you've been in the emergency room?" Lee asked.

Amanda sighed and nodded, "Yep, all afternoon and evening."

How did she do it, Lee wondered, not for the first time since she'd started working with regularity at The Agency. She took care of her kids, ran carpools, volunteered in a myriad of charities and school functions, worked with him...sometimes it made him tired just thinking about it all. Not that he thought about it a lot, he reminded himself, as that annoying little argument started up in his head again.

"So?" Amanda's voice broke into his thoughts.

"So what?" Lee countered, stalling for time.

"What are you doing here?" she asked again.

"Oh, yeah," he stumbled with his words. "Um, I wanted to, well, come over, and, um, well, I wanted to, uh, apologize for what happened at work earlier."

That sounded real convincing, Scarecrow, he thought to himself.

Amanda just bit her bottom lip and nodded.

Did that mean he was forgiven, he wondered. No, it couldn't, that was too hackneyed an apology.

He decided just to come clean with it all.

"Amanda," Lee began, holding her gaze. "I told Francine that back on the Bobby Bouchard case. She was haggling me over, well, playing house with you and how boring it must be and I just said that whole thing about your, uh, I mean, the generosity and stamina of the American housewife without thinking simply to annoy her."

Amanda nodded slightly.

"Look," he continued. "I just don't want you to think that I would ever think that you would ever do something like that."

Oh, that was inspired, he thought. Hadn't they had this conversation once before? That hadn't ended well.

Well? the voice started up in the back of his head. It ended with Amanda in your arms, that's "well" isn't it?

He hurried on, if for no other reason than to shut out the thoughts, "I mean, not that you wouldn't, I mean obviously you have."

Oh, that was bad Stetson. Real bad.

"I mean, well, that, for you to do something like that, well, that it would require you knowing the person more than you knew me back then and..." Lee stopped. He felt like the more he spoke, the deeper the hole he dug himself.

Amanda was just staring at him. He realized, as he looked back at her, that she was getting very good at hiding her feelings.

When she didn't say anything he sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly, and asked, "So, can you forgive me?"

She smiled and he knew before she nodded her head that everything was OK between them again.

That was just one more amazing thing about her, he thought as he drove back to his apartment. She didn't make this sort of thing all complicated. She was so generous.

No, he thought quickly, not generous, or at least not that kind of generous. Nice, she's nice, he thought.

Cindy, on the other hand, that was going to require some groveling, and expensive flowers, maybe some French perfume. Lee groaned inwardly as he thought of the hoops he was going to have to jump through, but he didn't want to consider why making things right with Cindy didn't seem nearly as important as it had with Amanda.