Chapter 14 - Tag

Moonlight streamed through the dormer window, casting an ethereal light over the drowsy couple. Huddled beneath the heavy down comforter, they lay entwined together, lingering in the afterglow of making love.

Blessed silence filled the tranquil household. "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse," Amanda mumbled.

"What about a mouse?" Lee asked, his voice gravelly from sleep.

Amanda laughed against his chest. "Nothing, sweetheart. Go back to sleep." Leaning on her elbow, she studied Lee's peaceful form. He looked relaxed and content, sated by their unbridled passion.

They desperately needed each other tonight, especially after dodging more bullets on yet another tumultuous Christmas Eve. Regardless of the late hour, their bodies craved tangible proof that they were fully alive, wholly together, and utterly in love.

In the crazy weeks of late term pregnancy and then the early weeks of caring for a newborn, the couple had endured a major disconnect in their relationship. Amanda had missed Lee far more than she'd acknowledged - especially the private moments when their roles as husband and wife were given preferential treatment.

Tonight's intimacy was a poignant reminder that marriage required tender loving care. Despite the demands of work and family, they needed to carve out more time for themselves as a couple. If the two of them nourished their emotional and physical connection, they'd be better partners and parents.

Amanda pressed a delicate kiss on the corner of her husband's mouth and ran her hand through the soft brown strands of his hair. She loved watching the rise and fall of his chest and the softening of his facial features as he relaxed into sleep. In moments like these, the strong, invincible Scarecrow gave way to the sweet vulnerable Lee, revealed only to her.

Reluctantly she moved from the warmth of his body to go and check on the baby. By her estimation, Jenny has been asleep for three hours, a new personal best for their night owl. It was also the longest stretch that the infant had remained in her crib, without vigorously protesting her banishment to the nursery.

After pulling on a robe and tiptoeing down the hallway, Amanda peered into the baby's room. By the faint glow of the hall nightlight, she observed Jenny sleeping peacefully on her back. All was quiet. Did she dare go in and risk having her daughter pop awake?

Taking a chance, she slowly advanced toward the baby. Shadows moved about the room, as the headlights of a passing vehicle cast a garish glare on the slats of the crib. The eerie light passed benignly over Jenny's sweet repose, but then caught the wide eyes of a life-size figure sitting in the rocking chair.

"Oh my gosh," Amanda cried, barely stifling a scream. "Mother, is that you? Aunt Lillian?"

Silence was the only response. As the car's headlights passed out of range, the figure was once again obscured by darkness.

Swallowing her fear, Amanda moved closer, grabbing Jenny's ceramic piggy bank for protection. "Who are you?" she asked as she raised the weapon above her head.

Gingerly approaching the intruder, Amanda reminded herself to remain calm. While it certainly wasn't Santa Claus, how harmful could the trespasser be? The entire Makarov family had been rounded up, right? At best, it was a stuffed animal in the chair. At worst, it was the Ferguson's dog. Maybe the pooch had found his way into their house again.

Reaching her destination, Amanda allowed her hand to close over a soft, squeezable head. Then her fingers tangled in long strands of yarn hair. Floppy arms dangled from a dress, and cloth shoes stuck out from long legs.

"Oh, for goodness sakes," Amanda said to the five foot tall figure as she picked her up. "Raggedy Ann! Where did you come from?"

Clutching the huge doll to her chest, she danced the ragamuffin around in a circle, relishing childhood memories of her own smaller version of the classic toy. "Well, whoever bought you could certainly buy my affections. You're adorable."

A deep laugh intruded on the fantasy as two strong hands wrapped around Amanda's waist. "I don't have to buy your affections anymore."

"Lee," she gasped as she leaned her head against his bare shoulder.

He expertly pulled Raggedy Ann from her grasp and returned the doll to the chair. "I think Jenny will like her. Maybe if you behave yourself, our daughter will share."

"You claim responsibility? Mr. 'Everyone Needs a Scarf for Christmas' Stetson actually braved the Christmas shoppers and bought a doll for his baby?"

"Guilty as charged," he said. "But, in truth, it was Billy's idea."

"Well, I'm glad someone's good intentions rubbed off on my Scrooge."

A whimper from the crib announced the wakefulness of their child.

"Now look what Daddy's done." Picking up the baby before she could find her scream, Amanda motioned them out of the room. "Come on, I want to nurse Jenny in bed with us."

"Wait," Lee said, "you're forgetting someone."

Amanda paused and watched her husband scope up the doll from the rocker. "Oh, sweetheart, don't tell me you want Raggedy Ann to join us in bed?"

"Not a chance," he said with a laugh. Boosting the ragamuffin over his head, Lee gave her an affectionate shake. "I'm recruiting her."

"You plan to recruit a doll?" Amanda asked in disbelief.

"You bet; she scared you, right? Let's make her a civilian auxiliary seasonal employee."

"To do what - simple milk runs or desk jobs?"

Throwing Raggedy Ann over his shoulder, Lee wrapped an arm around Amanda's waist. "With my overcoat draped over her dress and an Orioles baseball cap on her head, she can become Scarecrow and Mrs. King's personal body guard. The old gal can keep watch outside our bedroom door and deter the family from their unauthorized visits."

"Sweetheart, the boys will be up before the crack of dawn. You may end up frightening them."

"Exactly," he said as he leaned in for a kiss. "Raggedy Ann will certainly give them pause before they invade our privacy again."

The End