It was mid-day on Christmas Eve; a blanket of fresh white snow covered the ground and most of the streets held the telltale signs of just having been plowed. Almost everyone in the nation’s capital, and surrounding areas, was thanking Mother Nature for gracing them with a white Christmas. Some were cooking, preparing meals for the following day, while others were navigating the overcrowded shopping centers looking for last minute Christmas presents. And in one particular white house, with a white picket fence on Maplewood Drive, one such family was celebrating extra joyously because no national crisis had arisen, and everyone was sitting down to enjoy the Christmas goose as a family.
“James King, do not sing with your mouth full.” Amanda Stetson pointed her fork in the direction of her youngest son.
Jamie swallowed his food and smiled at his mother. “Sorry, mom, but I just love this song.”
Dotty shook her head. “I don’t know why all the radio stations insist on playing this song at least once every hour. I for one think that it would be much more enjoyable if it were the aunt who got run over by the reindeer. Why does it have to be the grandma?”
Lee stifled a laugh by putting a hand up to his mouth and pretending to cough. It had been his idea to turn the radio on during dinner to provide some additional atmosphere, however he was thinking maybe it hadn’t been one of his better ideas. This was the fourth time that one of his stepsons had been yelled at for singing with their mouths full. He was extremely glad, however, that Amanda’s Aunt Lillian had been unable to make it down to them for Christmas this year, because he was sure that his mother-in-law would still have made that comment even if her sister were here, which would have most likely caused a nice little squabble to break out at the dinner table and his wife was overtaxed and overstressed as it was.
“Amanda this goose is absolutely delicious,” commented Jeannie Melrose, who was sitting next to her husband, and was an expert at changing topics to avert possible touchy subjects. “It was so thoughtful of you to invite us over and make this wonderful meal. I hope you don’t plan on going to all this trouble again tomorrow, too.”
Amanda shook her head. “No, I plan on eating nothing but leftovers tomorrow. We talked about it this year, and since Phillip and Jamie are going to be spending the day with their father tomorrow, it made more sense to do a special dinner tonight. Besides, this way you and Mr. Melrose could join us, after all you are family.” She looked over at the older woman sitting to the left of Jeannie. “And Emily is only in town until noon tomorrow.”
Emily Farnsworth smiled. “I wish I could stay longer, but I haven’t seen my cousin Edith in ages. Her husband is going hunting, and I prefer to visit with her when he’s not around. He takes a lot of getting used to.”
“Family, can’t live with ’em, can’t live with out ’em.” Francine mumbled from her seat on the other side of Lee.
“Depends on who the family member is.” Lee whispered. “There are those that I’m extremely grateful to have in my life,” he glanced around the table at his stepsons and mother-in-law, “then there are those that I wouldn’t mind seeing as little of as possible, if at all, and I can think of one in particular…”
Amanda elbowed her husband in the side. “That’s not nice and you know it. Your uncle loves you, and you love him, even if you two have the oddest way of showing it.”
“You know what I meant. I hate not being able to relax around him. He puts me on edge and I feel like nothing I do is right.” Lee stabbed at a few peas on his plate.
Amanda reached under the table and soothingly rubbed his thigh. “I know sweetheart, and I also know that you’re actually disappointed that he couldn’t make it here for the holidays, despite your protests to the contrary.”
“Where is your uncle stationed now, Lee?” Billy asked as he scooped another helping of stuffing onto his plate, ignoring the critical glare his wife was giving him.
“Currently he’s over at Andrews. He’s being sent to Guam before the New Year and wanted to spend the next few days looking over personnel files and packing.” Lee stabbed another defenseless pea.
Jeannie shook her head as she exchanged a knowing glance with Emily. It had taken years for Lee to finally tear down the walls he’d built around himself, and the Colonel was partly to blame for those walls in the first place. The man was military through and through, but she couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to spend time with family, especially at a magical time of year like this. “Amanda, your due date is coming up soon, isn’t it?”
Amanda nodded. “Only three more weeks, now. However, I have a feeling, that if this little girl is anything like her father,” she glanced over at her husband with an affectionate smile, “she’s not going to want to wait till January eleventh. I have a feeling she’s going to be a New Year’s baby.”
“I wouldn’t tempt fate like that, dear.” Dotty gave her daughter a bemused glance.
Lee reached over and placed his hand on his wife’s large belly. “I can’t believe how fast time can fly. It seems like only yesterday Amanda and I were discussing the possibility, and now, in less than a month…,” he stared longingly at his wife’s abdomen, “personally I wouldn’t mind if she did arrive early because I’m very anxious to meet my daughter.” All thoughts of his uncle faded away, and a goofy grin appeared on his face as he thought about the little girl, the product of the love he shared with his wife, who would be making her appearance very soon.
Phillip looked over at his brother and rolled his eyes. He couldn’t wait for his sister to be born either, because then, things would get back to normal around the house. Of course he’d had to give up having his own room, so that they could turn Jamie’s room into the nursery, but his mom’s happiness was worth the sacrifice. Then again, as he had heard his stepfather say on more than one occasion what was normal? Ever since they had found what his mom and Lee really did for a living, things had been even crazier than ever. Then, when they had found out their mom was pregnant, they figured they’d see more of her than they had over the last few years. Her work hours had become to be a little more normal, and then when her doctor told her she couldn’t go into the office anymore, he and Jamie really thought they’d see more of her, however that wasn’t exactly how things had turned out. It actually seemed that he and Jamie saw less of her than they did when she was working full time. She was always so tired and her patience was extremely thin. So thin, that he and his brother had found reasons to be outside or up in their room, just to avoid having to walk on eggshells around her. “I’m looking forward to making a little extra cash when the little rugrat gets here.” He grinned sheepishly when all eyes turned in his direction. “You know, babysitting money.”
“Ha! That’s a good one.” Jamie shook his head. “You want to use the new baby as a chick magnet.”
“I do not, wormbrain.” Phillip glared at his brother.
“Phillip, do not call your brother names.” Lee, Amanda and Dotty all reprimanded in unison.
Amanda put her hands on her hips. “There will be no name calling at the dinner table.” She looked from her eldest son and then to her youngest, daring him to retaliate to his brother’s comment.
“And we’ll see how fast you want to offer your assistance in the baby-sitting department after your sister has woken you up two or three times in the middle of the night,” Dotty glanced at her eldest grandson, “for a week straight.”
“I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Mrs. West,” Francine looked over at her friend’s mother, “because I can tell you right now, don’t even think of asking me to come over and baby-sit. Ambassadors and diplomats, call on me anytime, but children and I just don’t see eye-to-eye and I don’t do diapers.”
“Oh come now Francine, if the mighty Scarecrow is willing to make the sacrifice, I’m sure you can too.” Billy kept his head down, staring at his plate in order to avoid the evil eye his assistant was surely throwing in his direction.
“Now wait just a minute, who said anything about me changing diapers.” Lee glanced over at his wife with a look of panic. “That’s a job rightfully reserved for the mother and grandmother, isn’t it?”
Amanda studied her husband for a moment, trying to determine if he was joking or serious. Seeing the extremely worried look in his eyes, her face broke out into a grin. “Don’t you even think of trying to shirk that duty, Lee Stetson. Changing diapers isn’t just a mother’s job.” The look of sheer terror that suddenly spread on Lee’s face was all it took to push her over the edge and, holding her side, she burst out laughing. Soon, everyone else around the table was joining her. The idea that the famous Scarecrow was afraid of changing a diaper was just too comical. “The mighty Scarecrow is afraid of changing a diaper. Wait till the Russians hear about it, your reputation’s going to go down hill fast.” She laughed even harder.
“I don’t see why that’s so funny. And I’m not afraid of changing them, I just hadn’t thought the whole thing through, that’s all. Just you wait, I’ll show you all that I’m up to the challenge” Lee folded his arms across his chest, causing everyone else to laugh even harder. The only thing that seemed to stop the onslaught of laughter at his expense was the voice of the DJ on the radio.
“Well folks, I hope everyone is somewhere cozy and warm because no one is going to be going anywhere anytime soon. My replacement just called in and said that he isn’t going to make it in. He’s stuck in stop dead traffic on the beltway. I took the liberty of running to a window during that last carol, and let me tell you folks, you can’t even see the lights from the street below, let alone from the building next door. It looks like Mother Nature has sprung a surprise blizzard on the metro area, and according to weatherman Johnny, it’s a very slow moving front that isn’t going anywhere for a truly long time.”
Jamie immediately rose from his seat and ran over to the window. Opening the blinds he stared in amazement. “He’s right, you can’t see anything out there, not even Buck’s Christmas lights, and his entire house is covered with them.”
Not to be outdone by his brother, Phillip jumped out of his seat and ran to the front door. In seconds, he had turned the doorknob and let a freezing blast of wind into the house. “You can’t see anything out front either.”
“Phillip close that door right now.” Lee rose from his own seat and started heading in the direction of the foyer. “We don’t need to let the blizzard inside and the heat out.”
“Man, you’re beginning to sound more and more like mom every day.” Phillip grumbled as he reluctantly closed the door.
The ringing of the telephone halted any retaliatory comment that Lee was going to make on that subject, and he turned in the direction of the kitchen. Stepping up onto the landing he realized the ringing had stopped and his youngest stepson had beaten him to the phone.
“Sydney, Merry Christmas to you, too.” Jamie smiled as he spoke to his friend. “Mom wanted to call you tomorrow and make sure you were having a good time with your dad, especially since you guys couldn’t make it out here for the holidays. She really wanted you guys to be here.”
Lee turned back towards the dining room, leaving Jamie to have a somewhat private conversation with Sydney. Ever since Sydney had come to stay with them last year, Amanda had made it her duty to call and check in on the young girl at least once a month. Although the telephone calls usually started with his wife talking, they always ended up with Jamie and Sydney racking up a nice phone bill.
“Well I guess that means we won’t be going to church tonight.” Dotty gave her daughter a curious glance. “Amanda, when was the last time you got to attend Christmas Eve service?”
Amanda shrugged. “I think it was Christmas Eve three years ago. No wait make that four, unless you don’t count this year. I know that last year,” she glanced over at her husband, “we were stuck in traffic trying to get home from work, and missed the service. The year before that we were stuck in a toy factory, but I’m almost positive I made it the year before that. Anyway, I guess we’ll have to figure out sleeping arrangements.” She turned towards her boss. “We can make up the pull out bed in the living room for you and Jeannie, sir. Emily, there’s a trundle bed in my mother’s room, for when her sister comes to stay, so unless you have any objections, you can stay with her.”
“I have no objections at all. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a sleepover.” Emily chuckled. “This is going to be so much fun.”
“Fun…” Francine’s eyes grew wide as realization began to dawn on her. “You mean I’m going to be stuck here, in suburbia, with two teenage boys...”
“Oh come now, Francine.” Jeannie smiled indulgently at the blonde. “It won’t be that bad.”
“Really? And where exactly are you going to have me sleep?” Francine glared over in Amanda’s direction. “I don’t mean to be rude or anything but, I don’t sleep on couches.” She pointed towards the blue and white couch in the den.
Lee grinned devilishly. “Oh, not to worry, Francine. Since the boys are now sharing a room, and we have a cot up in the attic…”
“You’re going to put me in the attic!!!” Francine quickly jumped out of her seat and stared defiantly at her co-worker.
“Now, Francine, we won’t make you sleep in the attic. Lee will bring the cot down into the nursery.” Dotty put a comforting hand on the blonde’s arm. “That way you’ll have some privacy, and it’ll be a lot more comfortable then a couch.”
Francine relaxed her stance, but her face still held an expression of unhappiness as she rolled her eyes. “Great, I get to sleep in the room with teddy bears.”
“Actually, Francine, there are no teddy bears, but there are little bunnies.” Amanda chuckled. She could just see their friend amidst the pale pink room with the little bunnies and other assorted critters. “But it’s your choice, you’re more than welcome to sleep in the attic.”
“The nursery will be just fine.” Francine mumbled as she walked back towards her chair.
“Well, what do you say we get this table cleared, so that we can start getting the beds made-up? Once we have all that done, we can find something for everyone to sleep in,” Dotty stood up and started piling plates and utensils together, “and then we can put a really good Christmas movie on and sing carols.”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea, mother and Lee can start a fire.” Amanda pushed her chair out and started to rise. “We usually watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, it’s kind of a Christmas tradition and then while we watch the movie, we can have our dessert.” Reaching over to grab the bowl of peas, she let out a small groan as her lower back began to protest and she put a hand on the area of the small ache.
“Are you all right, Amanda?” Emily looked at her adopted niece with a small amount of concern.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’ve been having a nagging pain in the small of my back all day. I think it’s my body’s way of telling me that I’ve been over doing it.” Amanda removed her hand from her back and reached again for the bowl of peas. “Either that, or my back is just missing the feel of my husband’s hand. We’ve been so busy the past few days, I think my back is just feeling neglected.” She smiled at her friend. It was no secret that Lee’s hand always seemed to find its way to the small of her back, not just as a way of escorting her around, but also as a way of communicating a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Emily placed her hand on the younger woman’s forearm. “I think you should leave the cleaning up to those of us who aren’t carrying around another person.”
“Emily, I’m fine. Besides, if my mother and Lee had their way I’d be upstairs in bed.” Amanda picked up the bowl. “I promise to only help clear the table, then I’ll go sit in the den and get off my feet.”
“You promise me, that you won’t even try and help get the beds ready?” Emily looked at the brunette skeptically.
Amanda nodded her head slowly. “I promise, I’ll sit on the couch and watch everyone else getting my house ready.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” Emily smiled warmly. “But, I am going to hold you to that promise, and if you don’t I’ll make sure your husband handcuffs you to the couch. I’d do it, but I really don’t want you mad at me for the rest of our lives, I want to be able to spoil this little girl rotten.” She placed her hand gently on Amanda’s stomach.
Amanda laughed as she made her way towards the kitchen. “Oh, Emily I could never be mad at you.” As she entered the kitchen, the sight before her made her laugh even harder. Her husband, boss and eldest son, had their arms on each others shoulders and were belting out the chorus of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” each trying to out do the other. She was laughing so hard that she thought she had peed in her pants until the pain hit her back again only this time the pain reached around the front. Dropping the bowl of peas onto the floor, she grabbed her back and looked down at the puddle on the floor. “Oh my gosh!”
“Holy cow! Sydney, you should see this, my mom just peed on the floor.” Jamie stared at the large puddle at his mom’s feet.
“What do you mean, she peed on the floor?” Sydney’s confused voice came over the line.
“She was laughing so hard at Phillip, Lee and Mr. Melrose singing, that she flooded the kitchen floor, with pee and peas.” Jamie jumped up and sat on the stool, avoiding any of the liquid mess. “This is so gross.”
“Jamie, I did not pee on the kitchen floor.” Amanda scolded her son, as Emily, who had been behind her, began to escort her into the den.
“Scarecrow, enough horsing around, your wife’s water just broke.” Emily shouted over the chorus of “Five Gold Rings.”
“Jamie, I better let you go, you need to call 9-1-1 and get an ambulance over there because it sounds like your little sister is about to make an appearance.”
“I guess you’re right, but I doubt that any emergency vehicle would be able to make it through this blizzard.” Jamie watched his mom as she headed into the other room, concern etched across his features.
“Well regardless, go make that phone call, and then call me back the minute your sister arrives.”
“I will. Talk to you later, Sydney.” Jamie placed the phone back on the base and then quickly picked it up again, dialing 9-1-1 as he watched his stepfather join Emily in helping his mother lower herself onto the floor in front of the couch in the den.
Phillip moved over to the area near the counter and stared down at the mess. “Man, that is so gross. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at peas the same way again.”
“Especially since I need you to clean up the mess, while I go help your mother deliver your sister.” Dotty handed her grandson the mop. “And don’t even think of trying to wheedle your way out of it. We have a serious situation on our hands, and I want you to clean this up and then take your brother upstairs and make yourselves scarce. The fewer people underfoot, the better.” Grabbing a handful of paper towels, in case she needed to help clean up any residual mess that had made its way into the den, she headed over to check on her daughter.
“Not to worry, Mrs. West,” Billy approached the pair. “I’ll help Phillip clean up this mess and then I’ll take the boys upstairs. I believe Amanda and Lee have a television in their room. I’m sure we can find a game or something to watch.”
“Dotty, do you have any old newspapers lying around?” Jeannie walked into the kitchen area from the den. “I think we might want to lay some down to help keep the floor of the den from getting destroyed, unless you have some really junky towels and blankets you don’t mind throwing away.”
“Actually there are some old blankets on the shelf above the washer in the laundry room.” Dotty pointed towards the little room. “We usually use them for picnics and outdoor activities, and they’re all clean and perfect for what we need them for now. While you’re getting those, I’ll go up and get some clean towels to wrap the baby in after she’s born.” Noticing her daughter’s soiled underwear lying on the floor by her feet, she moved over and, with a few of the paper towels in her hand, picked them up. Then, as she headed towards the stairs, she deposited the undergarments into the trashcan and made her way upstairs to get the required linens.
“Jamie, tell Sydney you’ll talk to her later and call 9-1-1.” Lee shouted from the den, his voice full of concern.
Jamie put his hand over the mouthpiece. “I hung up with Sydney five minutes ago. I’m on hold with 9-1-1 now.”
“On HOLD! Oh, this is insane.” Kneeling on the floor beside his wife, Lee ran his free hand through his hair as he watched her trying to get comfortable, her head resting on a couple of pillows propped in front of the couch. He had moved the coffee table out of the way, giving everyone more room to maneuver, and allowing his wife to stretch her legs out comfortably. “She’s three weeks early. That’s not good, right?” He looked over at Emily, pleading with her to assure him that this wasn’t a bad thing as he held onto his wife’s hand.
Emily smiled warmly at the young man she had adopted as a nephew. “Lee, there is no reason to panic. Lots of babies come into the world early, and three weeks early is nothing to worry about.” She reached over and placed a soothing arm on his shoulder. “Why don’t you go into the kitchen and start boiling some water? Then we’re going to need some twine and a very sharp knife. Can you get those things for me?”
Lee glanced down at his wife with a wary expression. “I’m not sure I should leave, Amanda right now.” He glanced back over at Emily.
“Lee,” Amanda squeezed his hand affectionately. “Go ahead and get the things Emily needs. I promise you that we have plenty of time. I was in labor with Phillip for almost six hours, and Jamie for four. So, you won’t miss anything, I promise.”
“You’re sure?” Lee asked, his voice still full of concern.
Amanda nodded. “I’m sure. Besides, you aren’t going far and I’m in very good hands.”
Lee started to stand up, but was reluctant to let go of his wife’s hand. “You’re sure. I don’t mind staying here and holding your hand.”
“Lee, I really need you to go get that water boiling and get the twine and knife. Then, once the water boils,” Emily stood up and moved over to Lee’s side, “I want you to put the twine and the knife in the water.” Placing her hand gently on his arm, she began to guide him back towards the kitchen. “We need to make sure they are good and sterilized. In fact, I want you to get two pots boiling, in case we need to sterilize anything else, okay.” She let go of his arm and placed her hands on his back, giving him a gentle push into the other room before heading back over to Amanda. Within seconds she was kneeling next to her niece once more. “That should keep him busy for awhile.” She smiled and winked at the brunette.
Dotty rushed back into the room, carrying a large pile of clean towels. As she deposited them on the couch above her daughter’s head, Jeannie approached the couch from the other side, her arms full of blankets. “How are you feeling, sweetheart?”
“I’m okay at the moment, I haven’t had a contraction since that one in the kitchen. I mean I guess that’s what it was, it’s been over thirteen years since I’ve felt one, so I’m not entirely sure if that’s what it was.” Amanda gave her mother a reassuring smile. Just then her lower body felt like someone was trying to pull her apart and she grabbed onto her mother’s arm. “Ahhhhhh…”
“Take a deep breath and let it out.” Emily crooned. “That’s it, niece, nice and slow. Take another deep breath, and let it out.” She glanced over at Dotty. “I don’t suppose you brought down any washcloths?” She moved her gaze over to the stack of clean towels on the couch.
Dotty nodded. “I did actually.” She reached into the pile and produced a handful of little terrycloth towels.
“Great.” Emily took them from the other woman and passed them over to Jeannie. “Would you mind getting these nice and damp. We’re going to want to have them handy. Also, we might want to have a few ice cubes available to keep Amanda’s mouth from drying out.”
“I’m on it.” Jeannie smiled and headed into the kitchen.
“Now, Amanda, we need to get some blankets underneath you. Not only to protect the floor, but to give you a little more cushioning.” Emily looked over towards Dotty. “We’re going to help her lift up and then we’ll need someone to slide the blankets underneath her.” She glanced around the room and finally found the one person who seemed to be doing her best to hide. “Francine get your fancy hide over here and help.”
Francine made an attempt to head back into the dining room, stepping around Billy and Phillip who were still cleaning up the mess on the floor. “I thought I’d be more useful getting this food put away. After all, we don’t want it to spoil.”
Emily rose from her position on the floor and glared at the blonde. “That can wait. We need you in here at the moment.” She caught Francine rolling her eyes as she made her way into the den. Emily moved back into position next to Amanda and whispered, “She can hog-tie Russians to phone poles, but the idea of something as natural and wonderful as child birth has her running avoidance patterns.”
Amanda chuckled as she caught sight of the wary expression on her co-worker’s face when the blonde had joined them in the den. “Thank you, Francine for thinking of the food. I really wouldn’t want it to go bad.”
Francine waved her hand in the air. “No problem.” She turned and looked in Emily’s direction. “So what is it you need me to do so urgently?”
“Amanda’s mother and I are going to help Amanda lift up, and I want you to start spreading those blankets,” Emily motioned to the pile on the couch with her head, “on the ground underneath her. Try and spread them out to cover as much of the floor as possible.”
“Oh, well I think I can handle that.” Francine moved over and picked up the blankets and moved to the floor beside Dotty. “Just tell me when.” She watched as both older women gently helped guide Amanda up.
With Amanda’s feet still on the ground, Emily and Dotty helped support her upper body, allowing just enough room between Amanda and the floor, for Francine to slip the blankets underneath.
“Okay now.” Emily instructed the blonde.
Francine grabbed a blanket and began to ease it underneath Amanda. Never in a million years, not even when she was sitting in a cold freezer, gasping for the last ounce of air, did she ever imagine she’d be hunkered down, this close to her co-worker’s backside. Smoothing out the blanket she reached for another one. “Do you want to lower Amanda back down, or should I go ahead and put down another one?”
Emily looked over at Amanda. “It’s up to you dear, do you think you can handle being in this slightly elevated position a little longer.”
“I’m okay for the moment.” Amanda took a deep breath and nodded towards Francine.
“Okay, here comes the next one.” Francine slid the next blanket underneath and was just removing her hands from underneath Amanda when she felt the most painful yank on her hair. “OUCH!”
“AAAHHHHH!!!” Amanda took a deep breath as another powerful contraction hit, holding onto the only thing she could find to grasp, Francine’s blonde ponytail. She wasn’t sure when the blonde had pulled her hair up, perhaps it had been while she was clearing away the food, but Amanda didn’t care, because it sure came in handy at the moment.
Emily and Dotty helped ease her back down onto the now cushioned floor and Dotty began to run a hand over Amanda’s lower back. “Remember to take short breaths, sweetheart.”
Emily nodded in agreement with Amanda’s mother. “And don’t forget to take a deep cleansing breath as soon as the contraction is over.”
Amanda closed her eyes and as the pain began to subside, she loosened her grip on the blonde’s hair and took a deep breath. Then, realizing that she still held her friend’s blonde hair in her hand, she grimaced. “I’m so-- sorry, Francine.”
Francine placed her hand on her friend’s and gently removed it from her hair. She then glared at the other woman. “This is the thanks I get for helping you?” She moved her hand up and held her head. “I think you must have pulled out at least fifty strands of hair.” Fixing her ponytail, she headed back in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m going back to staying out of the way.” She glared at Emily. “Don’t even think of asking me to help unless it’s absolutely, positively necessary.” She stomped from the room, her ponytail swishing behind her.
Emily tried to conceal her amusement as she looked over at Amanda. “That last contraction came a lot sooner than fifteen minutes. Although I wasn’t watching the clock, so I can’t say for sure. I think it’s time we started keeping track of the time between contractions.” She looked over at Dotty, who was nodding her head in agreement.
“Okay, the knife and twine are boiling.” Lee announced as he re-entered the den. “Phillip went upstairs with Billy to watch some television in our room, and Jamie’s still on hold. I told him I’d take over, but he insisted on doing something useful.” He moved over and knelt next to Emily, taking his wife’s hand and placing a cup of ice on the floor beside him. “Jeannie told me to bring this in to you. She’s helping Francine put the food away.” He looked lovingly at his wife, his features showing concern. “How are you doing?”
“Doing as well as can be expected, better than Francine’s hair, at any rate.” Amanda grinned sheepishly at her husband.
Lee gave her a curious stare. “Care to explain that one to me?”
Emily patted Lee’s shoulder as she stood up, allowing the father-to-be to take her place. “Nothing to concern yourself about. I have a job for you to do, Lee. I want you to start timing Amanda’s contractions. When they’re three minutes apart, then it’ll be time to really act. In the meantime, I’d say we have some time on our hands. Why don’t you work on getting your wife comfortable and spread a few more blankets out under her feet and legs.” She glanced over at Amanda’s mother. “What do you say we go help Jeannie and Francine put the food away and then maybe get out dessert?”
“I suppose that’s not a bad idea.” Dotty began to rise. “You call me if you need me, okay sweetheart?”
Amanda nodded. “I will, Mother.” She then turned her attention back on her husband. “Lee, you need to relax. We have a while to go before our daughter arrives.”
“I don’t think I can relax. There’s a blizzard outside, which means that our daughter is going to be born here,” Lee motioned around the room, “in our house, without doctors or nurses or any kind of sterilization, or the right equipment to make sure that everything’s going okay. I went to that Lamaze class with you Amanda, and I know they like to monitor the baby’s heart rate and we don’t have anything here to do that. Not to mention this hasn’t been an easy pregnancy for you, I’d just feel better if we had a few doctors around.”
Despite the fact that Lee was seriously worried and with good reason, Amanda couldn’t help but chuckle. She wasn’t sure when it had happened, but her husband had managed to pick up her habit of rambling, a trait, that once-upon-a-time, he had found extremely annoying. Her husband, however, didn’t find this at all amusing and scowled at her. She patted his arm affectionately in response. “Lee, I know this isn’t how we pictured our daughter arriving, but at least we’re keeping up with our Christmas Eve tradition.”
“Amanda, I don’t find any of this amusing,” Lee looked at her in shock, “and are you trying to tempt fate? We’re not in the middle of any national crisis, there are no killers on our heels, and we’re at home. Christmas Eve isn’t over, yet. With our luck, some crazed maniac will come bursting through those doors,” he pointed towards the double glass doors of the den, “and all our guns are locked away upstairs.”
“That’s not what I meant, exactly.” Amanda smiled serenely at him. “I just meant that we seem to have our own tradition of being in the middle of some sort of excitement on Christmas Eve, and I think that this baby arriving is as exciting as it can get.” She took his hand in hers. “And don’t worry too much about not having any doctors around, lots of women have babies at home and have been doing so, without doctors, for centuries. Besides, Emily is here and my mother, and even Jeannie. My mother and Jeannie have given birth before, as have I, twice, in case you’ve forgotten, and Emily seems to know what she’s doing.”
Lee sat beside his wife and, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, leaned his head against hers. “I know, but this is different. This is my first child, Amanda, and as I said before, it’s not like this has been an easy pregnancy for you.”
“I know it hasn’t,” Amanda sighed, “but we’ll get through this, just as we do everything else, together.” Feeling another contraction starting, she squeezed her husband’s hand.
Lee quickly looked at his watch and made note of the time and moved his arm from around her shoulders and moved to her back. “Short breaths, remember what we learned in class.” He rubbed her back gently and clenched his teeth to keep from hollering, as his wife seemed to squeeze the blood from his fingertips. As her grip on his hand began to relax, he continued to move his other hand gently along her back. “That’s good, now take a deep cleansing breath. That’s right.”
Amanda let go of Lee’s hand and smiled apologetically. “Maybe we should try and find something better for me to grip, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“A little pain in my hand is nothing compared to what you must be feeling.” Lee shook his hand trying to let the blood flow back into his fingers.
Amanda shrugged sheepishly. “Well, when I was in labor with Phillip, I didn’t have any drugs then either, and well, I ended up breaking Joe’s hand.” She noticed the quick glimmer of jealously that flashed in her husband’s eyes. Reaching over, she gently caressed his cheek. “I’m not comparing you to Joe, you know,” she whispered. “I just wanted to prepare you, that’s all.”
Lee gave a reluctant sigh. “I know you aren’t, but I can’t help but feel a little jealous, no matter how silly it might sound, that I wasn’t there when Phillip and Jamie were born.” He brought a finger to her lips, silencing any comment she might have on that fact. “Yes, I know that we didn’t even know each other back then, and I wouldn’t change how we met or the life we’ve made together for anything. Our pasts are what have made us who we are today. Besides,” he put a hand tenderly on his wife’s abdomen, “I’m overjoyed to be present at this little one’s birth and,” he looked into his wife’s eyes, “just because you broke Joe’s hand, doesn’t mean I can’t handle the pain, remember, I’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten up…”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “I get the point.” She smiled at her husband. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you and if something does happen to your hand, you have no one to blame but yourself, just remember that.”
“I promise. But just in case, maybe I should move to your other side and let you squeeze my right hand.” Lee chuckled at his wife’s mockingly annoyed glare. Rising he moved to her other side and repositioned himself at her side. “Hey, you can’t fault me for being cautious.” Before she could verbally retaliate, he quickly leaned over and placed a kiss on his wife’s lips.
“Oh come on you two. That’s how you ended up in this mess in the first place.” Francine commented as she leaned over the top of the couch. “Emily wanted me to ask you what kind of pie you want. There’s pumpkin, chocolate pudding and apple.”
“None for me Francine, thanks.” Amanda nodded towards the cup of ice beside her. “I think I’ll just stick with my ice chips.”
“I’d better decline, too.” Lee glanced briefly at his wife.
“Nonsense, Lee.” Amanda shook her head at him. “Just because I can’t have any, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some.” She looked over at Francine, “He’ll have chocolate with extra whipped cream.”
“Why does that not surprise me,” Francine mumbled as she turned to head back into the kitchen.
Amanda glanced back at her husband and found him grinning devilishly at her. “Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best choice. After all,” she placed her hand on top of her husband’s where it still rested on her belly, “the combination of chocolate and whipped cream is responsible for the little girl attempting to make her way into the world now.”
“And what an enjoyable evening it was, too.” Lee kissed his wife again, a little more passionately. “Wow,” he said as he broke the kiss, “it’s hard to believe that that night happened just under nine months ago. Time really does fly doesn’t it?”
Amanda nodded. “I still remember the night I told you I was pregnant.”
“I do too. I remember being so excited, especially since I didn’t think the news you’d shared with me over dinner was something that would ever happen.” Lee entwined his fingers with his wife’s. After Sydney had left, and they had come clean with the family about their marriage and jobs, they had had a serious conversation about adding to the family. Once they had decided that they did, indeed want to create a life that would remind them always of their love for each other, they had abandoned any and all means of protection and, as he had dubbed it, started on their own private mission. Months had gone by and nothing had happened and they were beginning to give up hope. Then one night, they had been out of town on a case, and after capturing their suspect, had gone back to their hotel room, called room service, and locked themselves in the room. He had thought strawberries dipped in chocolate with a side of whipped cream would be a great aphrodisiac, little did he know how erotic that dessert would turn out to be.
Amanda noticed the far away look in her husband’s eyes and knew he was thinking of the night his daughter was conceived. “Well it did, and thirty-six weeks later, here we are.” Her smile quickly faded away as the feeling of pain in her lower abdomen returned. Giving a small grunt of pain, she started her short, panting breaths.
Lee glanced at his watch. Only six minutes had gone by between the last two contractions. He then gritted his teeth again, against the pain of pressure his wife was inflicting on his hand. “Keep breathing, that’s right, Amanda. You’re doing fine.” However, despite his words of comfort, his mind was suddenly reeling. If her contractions were only six minutes apart, did that mean they were getting closer to the actual arrival of his daughter? How far apart were they supposed to be before he let Emily know? Was it five minutes or three? Well when they got to be five minutes apart, he’d holler for his friend. He hated seeing his wife in pain and he couldn’t help but worry that maybe this wasn’t normal. After all, it wasn’t the first time he’d been scared for his wife and daughter’s safety in the past eight months. Three months into her pregnancy, they had to rush Amanda to the hospital when they had noticed some pink discharge and thought that she had been bleeding. The doctor said that it was nothing to be too concerned about, slight discoloration isn’t unheard of and as long the discoloration didn’t turn a blatant red or she showed signs of clotting, there was no reason to panic. He had simply put her on bed rest until the discoloration had stopped.
Because of that episode, however, and Amanda’s age, her doctor had put her in the slightly high-risk category and requested that she come visit him every two weeks rather than the usual monthly checkups. Then, just two weeks ago, they had had another scare when they thought Amanda had gone into premature labor. Turned out something called the plug had ‘released’ and had started giving her body false information that she was in labor. The contractions she had felt were extremely strong Braxton Hicks and the doctor gave her an injection to relax the contractions. He kicked himself now for not having listened more closely when the doctor had said it wouldn’t be too much longer. Not that anyone could have prevented the blizzard that had arrived with no warning what so ever. However, despite his protests in the past about doctors, he’d give anything in the world right now to have his daughter being delivered by one. Hearing his wife taking a deep breath, he felt the pressure ease on his hand and let out his own breath.
Letting go of her husband’s hand, Amanda reached over for the cup of ice and extracted one of the ice-cold cubes. She had forgotten how thirsty and dry the whole ordeal of giving birth could make her. She watched as her husband moved to her feet and readjusted the blankets beneath them and then began to add a few more, obviously remembering Emily’s earlier instructions. She smiled as she watched him, he was being so loving and attentive, and she let out a small chuckle as she remembered how, after he had finished being elated by the news that they were going to have a baby, he had suddenly gone into overprotective mode and had started trying to get her to immediately lie down. She had tried to convince him that she was only a few weeks pregnant, and that there was no need for him to start treating her like she was helpless. She was pregnant, not incapacitated. Despite his annoying persistence in trying to get her to relax, she would never forget the boyish grin that he wore for the next week.
Of course as her pregnancy had progressed and she had been put on bed rest more than once, his overprotective nature began to grate on her nerves. At one point he had even demanded that she call him if she needed to use the bathroom. Bed rest meant that she had to take it easy, not be treated like an invalid. After the first scare, and the doctor had asked her to come see him every two weeks, Lee had taken it one step further and insisted she see one of the Agency doctors on the in-between weeks. She was extremely glad, when, two weeks ago, her doctor had told her that she should stop going into the office. She missed not having something to keep her occupied, but she didn’t mind having her husband constantly hovering over her day and night. At least at home, her mother doted on her, but having had a child herself, she knew not to be too motherly. She rubbed her stomach tenderly and was so deep in thought that she hadn’t realized that Francine had arrived with Lee’s dessert until she heard her husband’s voice.
“Thanks, Francine.” Lee took one of the plates from his friend. “Is everything all wrapped up in the kitchen?”
Francine took a few steps back from Lee and Amanda’s position. She didn’t want to take a chance that Amanda might want to use one of her legs as a gripping device should another contraction hit. “Everything’s put away.”
Lee looked at the blonde quizzically. “Francine, Amanda’s having a baby. She doesn’t have some contagious disease so there’s no need for you to stand so far away. Have a seat.” He motioned to the armchair.
“Thank you Dr. Stetson, but if it’s all the same to you, I prefer to keep my distance. In fact, if you don’t need anything,” Francine began moving back towards the kitchen. “I think I’ll go see what Billy and your eldest are up to.”
Lee watched Francine make a hasty retreat and then turned back towards his wife with a very perplexed expression on his face. “Okay, you really have to tell me what I missed. Why is Francine so afraid to come near you?”
“Well, let me put it to you this way,” Amanda moved her hands to her hair and mimicked putting it up in a ponytail, “I can tell how much your hand hurts, from the lack of color in it after I’ve gripped it during a contraction, so imagine how Francine’s head hurt when I used her ponytail.”
Lee coughed back a chuckle. “Oh, well, I may have to save that information for future use.” He looked at his wife thoughtfully. “Not sure how or when or why it might come in handy, but it might.”
“Mom!” Jamie called from his perch by the phone, “I have a 9-1-1 operator on the line and he’s asking me how urgent it is that they send someone out to us. He says that they’re only sending emergency vehicles out based on the nature of the emergency. Apparently there are a lot of accidents on the roads. He says that we should be warned that even if we tell them it’s an emergency it could be up to three hours before anyone got here.”
Lee jumped up from his position next to Amanda. “Well tell him it IS an emergency and that they need to get someone here NOW!” He shouted as he approached his stepson’s position.
Jamie listened to the operator, who had overheard Lee’s comments through the phone, and glanced over at his stepfather, his eyes growing wide behind his glasses. “He says he wants to know the nature of the emergency, is there blood?” He tried to keep his voice from quivering with concern.
“No, there isn’t but tell him that your mother is in labor, that she’s been labeled a high-risk pregnancy and that should be enough of an emergency that they…” Lee gritted his teeth as the vein in his neck pulsed frantically. “On second thought,” he reached out for the receiver, “give me the phone, I’ll talk to him.”
Emily approached Lee right before he had a chance to yank the phone away from Jamie’s ear. “Lee,” she said soothingly as she placed a firm hand on his arm. “There’s no use in verbally chastising the man for doing his job when it’s not an immediate emergency.” She then turned towards Jamie. “Tell the gentleman that if they could arrange to send an ambulance out once the storm clears, that would be appreciated. We have everything under control here.”
“Emily, we need a licensed doctor. This is my wife and my daughter we’re talking about.” Lee narrowed his eyes at his mentor, but kept his voice even.
“Lee, please listen to Emily.” Amanda called out from her position in the den. “I have faith in her and my mother…”
“Amanda, no one here has a medical degree.” Lee clenched his jaw tightly in frustration.
“You’re right, Lee, but I’ve had plenty of paramedic training during the course of my career.” Emily looked her friend in the eye. “And there are three women here who have given birth before. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Jamie, go ahead and give the paramedic our address and make sure they arrange to send someone out after the storm eases up a bit.” Dotty walked over and put a comforting arm around her youngest grandson’s shoulders. “Then go ahead and hang up. You can go join your brother and Mr. Melrose upstairs.”
“Emily I appreciate what you’re saying but have you ever delivered a baby?” Lee eyed his friend speculatively.
Emily smiled. “Yes, as I matter of fact, I’ve delivered three.”
“Three?” Dotty and Lee both asked in unison.
“Yes,” Emily nodded. “And one of those babies was one month early and I helped deliver it at 36,000 feet somewhere over the mid-Atlantic.” She loosened her grip on Lee’s arm. “So relax, and trust me, okay. I know what I’m doing.” Feeling the younger man relax slightly, she glanced over into the den. “Now, how far along are Amanda’s contractions?”
“They’re about six minutes apart.” Lee followed her gaze to where his wife was.
Emily glanced briefly at Dotty. “Well it won’t be too much longer. What do you say you and I go make up the beds and get that taken care of and out of the way?” When Dotty nodded in response, Emily turned her attention back on Lee. “I want you to go back and keep timing the contractions, make sure Amanda’s as comfortable as possible. It might not be a bad idea for her to walk around the room a little, just to keep her legs from falling asleep.” She heard the click of the receiver being placed back on the base and turned towards Jamie. “What did the operator say?”
“He said that they’d make sure an ambulance is dispatched as soon as they can, once the storm clears up enough for the drivers to see things clearly.” Jamie pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Mom’s going to be okay, isn’t she?” He looked up at his grandmother.
Dotty tightened her arms around her grandson. “Yes, Jamie. Now, why don’t you head upstairs and join your brother and don’t worry about your mom. She’s in very good hands.” She released her hold on him.
“Okay.” Jamie started towards the stairs, but then stopped at the landing and changed direction. He headed into the den to where his mother was sitting. “I love you, mom.” He placed a kiss on her cheek and then made a hasty retreat back towards the stairs.
“Jamie,” Lee took three long strides to block his stepson’s path. “I’m sorry,” he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just…”
Jamie gave his stepfather a tentative smile. “It’s okay, Lee, I understand. I’m worried about mom, too.” He then turned and headed up the stairs.
Emily approached Lee. “Call me when the contractions are three minutes apart.” She stepped right in front of her friend and looked him directly in the eye. “She’s going to be fine, and so is your daughter. Just be there and keep your wife as comfortable as possible, okay?”
Lee nodded and then leaned down and placed a kiss on Emily’s cheek. “Thanks for bearing with me, I don’t know why I’m acting like such a rookie.” Stepping back a bit from his mentor, he ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “After all, I’m a trained government agent. I’ve been drugged, shot, stabbed, kidnapped, beaten up and stared enemy agents square in the face, and have always managed to keep my wits about me.”
Emily smiled gently at Lee, as she placed a hand tenderly on his cheek. “Son, you’re only human, and you’re about to be a father. I’ve seen bigger men than you almost faint because they were so panicky right before their child was born. And it’s perfectly natural to act like a rookie, especially at a time like this, and let’s face it dear,” she gave the younger man a quick wink, “in this area, you are a rookie. Besides,” she moved her hand away from Lee’s face and, taking his hand in hers, she gave it a gentle squeeze, “you always do come a little unglued whenever it’s Amanda’s who’s hurting or in trouble.” Noticing her nephew’s eyes widening with fear and uncertainty, she quickly added, “not that she’s in trouble now. I’m just trying to make a point.”
Lee took a deep breath and squeezed Emily’s hand in return. “I’m so glad you’re here. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be than here, helping my great-niece enter the world.” Emily gently pushed him in the direction of the den. “Now go take care of your wife.” She watched him walk back towards his wife and smiled wistfully as she observed him fluffing the pillows at Amanda’s back. “Oh, Lee,” she called out as she suddenly remembered something very important, “You need to get in touch with Amanda’s doctor.” She caught the slightly panicked look on Lee’s face and smiled reassuringly. “It’s not because there’s a problem, but her doctor needs to be informed that Amanda’s in labor.”
Lee took a deep breath. “Oh, right. I didn’t even think about that.”
Amanda gave a small chuckle. “Even I forgot about contacting Dr. Golden.”
“So, get him on the line then, and once you’ve done that, let your wife talk to him. I’m sure the phone reaches into the den.” Emily motioned to where Amanda was still stretched out on the floor. “Then after Amanda’s finished speaking with Dr. Golden, call up to me, I want to talk to him as well.”
Emily watched the younger man head over to the phone before turning and stepping up onto the landing. She shook her head in wonderment; it would never cease to amaze her how much Lee Stetson had changed since she had first met him. He had been so impetuous and cocky back then, and now, now he was married and going to be a father. As she headed up the stairs to catch up with Dotty, she let out a small chuckle as she admitted to herself that she if she had only known during her visit to D.C. when Amanda had given her that tour, that the young woman would have been the one to capture Lee’s heart, she would have gotten kidnapped a lot sooner. Not that she had planned on getting kidnapped in Austria.
She smiled as she remembered having set up the idea of getting a tour of the Nation’s capital in order to unofficially meet Amanda, because she just had to meet the woman who had become the partner of the man who had been quite adamant about never working with a partner again. It wasn’t until the mishap in Salzburg four years ago that she realized just how perfect Lee and Amanda were for one another, even if they weren’t ready to admit it to each other. As she reached the top of the stairs, she smiled at the picture she saw hanging in the hallway outside of Lee and Amanda’s room. “I was just thinking about the time I made that sketch.” She stopped in front of the picture she’d drawn at the end of the Geisterschloss case. “When did they hang it this up? I don’t remember seeing it the last time I was here.”
Removing a few sets of sheets from the linen closet, Dotty closed the closet door and moved over to stand next to Emily. “They hung that about three months ago. I was helping clean out their closet, packing away things to make room for Amanda’s maternity clothes and they found it rolled up in the back of the closet. I thought it was an incredible likeness and when they told me you drew it, I went out and had it framed the very next day. Of course, when I asked when you had drawn it, they did the usual mumbling and avoidance.” She turned towards her room. “I don’t suppose you’d like to share the story behind that picture, would you?” A mischievous gleam sparkled in her eyes as she turned to face Emily, who had just followed her into the room.
Emily helped Dotty pull out the trundle bed and then, accepting a corner of the fitted sheet the other woman was offering her, she started to assist in making what would later be her bed. “Not at all. Mind you, I won’t be able to give you the whole story, but I can tell you enough. I’m surprised that neither one of them wanted to share it with you.” She smiled as she placed another corner of sheet on the bed. “Actually, I don't think they were worried about how much they could tell you without jeopardizing national security, it was probably more a case of being hesitant because they didn't want to admit to anyone that they had feelings for each other way back then.” She caught the curious look Dotty sent her way. “It was about a year after Amanda started working with Lee, and although I recognized the signs back then, both of them were too stubborn to admit how much they meant to each other. I’m sure neither one of them wants to admit to anyone, especially each other, just how stubborn they both were back then. Granted I think because they let themselves develop a strong friendship first, their love for each other is that much stronger.”
Emily took the top half of the sheet and helped Dotty spread it out along the length of the bed. “Anyway, back to the story behind the picture. Amanda came to Austria to assist Lee in a case that I was involved in, because, I’m ashamed to admit, that I got in a little over my head. However, since I’m someone who likes to be prepared, I left clues for Lee that only Amanda could figure out in some pictures I’d drawn, just in case something happened to me.”
Dotty let out a small gasp. “I’m guessing that something did happen to you, I mean, since I vaguely remember Amanda packing rather hastily for a last minute trip to Austria.”
Emily waived her hand in the air, brushing the whole affair aside. “Nothing serious, after all, I’m here talking to you now, aren’t I?” She smiled and winked. “Anyway, after the case was over, I drew that sketch for them. I wonder if they ever figured out the hidden message I put in there. They were still arguing about it when they headed back to their hotel that day.”
Dotty tilted her head and glanced at Emily with avid curiosity. “A hidden message? How mysterious. I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what that message was?”
“Actually I don’t mind telling you at all. That way you can ask them later on, and let me know if they ever did figure it out.” Emily smiled conspiratorially.
“Hey Grandma,” Phillip called out as he stepped into the room. “We brought the cot down from the attic like you asked, and set it up in the nursery, but Mr. Melrose was wondering if you still want it set up in there or not. After all, with the baby coming, mom and Lee’ll probably want to put the baby in there.”
Dotty put a finger to her lips in thought. “Actually I think we’ll bring the bassinet downstairs later. We can put it in the living room and make up the bed in there for your mom and Lee. I don’t think your mom is going to be in much shape to climb stairs after the ordeal of giving birth.” She then looked over towards Emily. “I think we’ll want to change the sheets on Amanda and Lee’s bed, and let Jeannie and Billy sleep in there.” She then turned back towards her eldest grandson. “So go ahead and leave the cot set up in the nursery as originally planned.”
“I wonder how things are going downstairs,” Emily spread one of the warmer blankets that Dotty had obviously dug out earlier, over her bed.
“Knowing my son-in-law, if there was something to worry about, we’d have heard about it by now.” Dotty followed her grandson out of the room with Emily behind her and made her way towards the nursery. “Now, about that hidden message…”
“I’ll go let Mr. Melrose know that the cot’s staying where it is.” Phillip made his way back towards his mom’s bedroom but was tempted to sneak back down the hallway and listen outside the nursery, in order to find out what his grandmother had meant by a hidden message. His mind was made up for him, however, when his stepfather’s voice echoed up into the hallway.
“Emily, Dr. Golden’s on the line. Amanda’s already talked to him, now he’s ready to speak with you.”
Emily smiled apologetically at Dotty. “Guess our conversation will have to wait.”
Dotty sighed disappointedly. “Oh well. You can use the phone in my room,” she motioned back towards her bedroom door, “and I’ll go get started on the cot in the nursery.”
“Thanks, Dotty.” Emily turned back and headed for the room she had just emerged from. “Lee, I’m going to take it up here. You can hang up once I’m on.”
Phillip turned and headed back into his parent’s bedroom, feeling only slightly disappointed that he wasn’t going to find out what his grandmother and Aunt Emily were talking about. Entering the room, he found Mr. Melrose and Jamie admiring some of the pictures hanging on the wall. Rolling his eyes, he moved over to the bed and, because he wasn’t really interested in reliving family memories or gushing over his brother’s photos, he focused his attention back on the movie playing on the television.
Billy chuckled as he pointed to a picture of Lee and the boys standing around the barbeque. The fact that Lee was with his stepsons wasn’t what had made him laugh. It was Lee wearing a ‘kiss the cook’ apron. Even though it had been at least year since Lee had become an official part of Amanda’s family, it still struck him as odd to see the great Scarecrow so at ease, no matter how happy he was for his friend.
“What’s so funny, Mr. Melrose?” Jamie asked, catching the amused expression on his mother’s boss’ face.
“Hmm?” Billy turned towards the young King boy. “Oh, I was just thinking how nice it is to see Lee so comfortable in his role as your stepfather. There was a time when I thought he’d never find the right woman to get him to settle down. However, the first time I met your mother, I knew that she was the one for Lee. Of course it took them both quite a bit longer than I’d expected to realize how perfect they were for each other. Now, if only I could get Francine to find a nice man and settle down...” His gaze fell on the apron and he laughed again. “You know, I remember a particular case when Francine had to wear an apron.”
Phillip had caught the tail end of that sentence and turned his attention away from the television. “Really? Francine wearing an apron, too bad no one got a picture of that.”
Billy chuckled. “That would have been priceless, especially since the apron was attached to a maid’s uniform.”
“A maid’s uniform? What was Ms. Desmond doing dressed up as a maid? Or is that something that’s classified.” Jamie asked, looking at Mr. Melrose with an extremely curious expression.
“Well I can’t tell you the exact reason,” Billy glanced meaningfully at Jamie, “but I’m sure you’ve assumed it was for a case. The funniest part is that, according to your mom, Francine was assigned to clean the bathrooms, toilets and all.”
Phillip let out a huge laugh. “Oh man, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in one of those bathrooms. I bet she managed to do it without messing up one strand of hair, too.”
“I bet she got really upset and probably tried to bribe mom to do them for her.” Jamie chuckled.
Billy nodded. “Actually, I believe she did, try and bribe your mom, that is. But your mom had been instructed to clean the master bedroom, so Francine was forced to fend for herself.” He turned his head and caught sight of a picture of Amanda standing sideways, and Lee bending down to kiss her now slightly larger than normal belly. “That one is really good.” He turned towards Jamie as he pointed at the picture. “Did you take that one, too?” When the young boy nodded that he had taken the picture, Billy grinned. “I don’t suppose I could get a copy of it. I’d love to have something to remember how excited your stepdad was when he found out that your mom was pregnant.
“I’d be happy to, Mr. Melrose.” Jamie flashed him a smile filled with pride.
“Thanks,” Billy nodded. “You know, he walked around the office with the goofiest grin on his face for weeks. Many of your mom and dad’s co-workers thought that someone had managed to get a doppelganger – or rather a very non-Lee like double into the Agency. ”
“Yeah, even Jamie and I were beginning to get a little weirded out.” Phillip let out a small shiver at the memory. He hoped he never got so sickeningly happy over something like that. “But then mom had to go on bed rest, and he went back to being the Lee we all know and love.”
“Yes, he did. Although, I think he went to the other extreme.” Billy glanced over at Phillip. “Once the doctor had cleared your mom to come back to work, I took her off field duty and your stepdad, being so concerned about your mom’s welfare, and not wanting to be out in the field without her, asked me not to assign him to any field work either.” He chuckled and shook his head. “I remember calling one of the Agency doctors. Your stepdad would rather be handcuffed to a speeding train than do paperwork.”
Jamie laughed along with his mom’s boss. “I remember thinking that it was really great that Lee would want to do that, just to be near my mom. I love my dad and all, but I don’t think he ever would have done something like that for her.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose. He really did love his dad, but sometimes Joe King could get a little too wrapped up in his own work. Shaking his head slightly, he glanced over towards his brother. “But I also remember that it didn’t last very long.”
Phillip nodded in agreement. “Yeah, if I remember correctly it lasted about a week. Lee kept coming home grumpier and grumpier, and mom finally gave him an ultimatum: he either told you he wanted to go back in the field without her, or he’d be eating and sleeping in the treehouse.”
Billy laughed a deep belly laugh. “You know, I always wondered what made him change his mind so fast. Granted,” he smiled at the two boys, “I figured your mom had something to do with it, because I was one step away from ordering him back into the field myself. I’m glad it was your mom that finally convinced him to do it. Then again, she is probably the only one who could.” Catching sight of a framed piece of red paper just above the nightstand closest to the door, he walked over to get a closer look.
“I don’t understand why mom and Lee have that stupid script cover framed.” Phillip rolled his eyes, as he watched his mom’s boss inspecting the wall hanging. “I mean now that we know what mom and Lee do for a living, and we figured out that Lee was the man who came running on stage waving a gun, making what was going to be a very boring experience so much more enjoyable, well, Jamie and I put two and two together and figured that it had something to do with a case, but that play was really horrible. I was surprised to see so many people in the audience on opening night, just for a play entitled ‘Parisian Intrigue’. It’s certainly not something I’d want to remember.”
Jamie shoved his brother lightly. “Obviously it means something to mom and Lee. Don’t, you remember that it was one of the things that came over from Lee’s apartment?” When Phillip shrugged, Jamie rolled his eyes and continued with his explanation. “Well it was. I caught mom staring at it with a strange expression on her face, right after she hung it there. Apparently Lee was the one who cut out the article and had it framed with the script cover.”
Billy chuckled softly to himself as he stared at the script cover and article. Seeing it hanging here, he now understood why Lee had been so persistent in obtaining the script cover from the evidence room. He had thought it odd that Lee hadn’t wanted the entire script, just the cover. Lee had finally convinced him to sign off on letting the cover go, after all, he couldn’t find an argument to go against his best agent’s argument that evidence had no need for the cover since Krutiov hadn’t written on or made any notes on it. He had agreed to sign off on the request only if Lee told him exactly why he had wanted it. Lee had told him that he wanted to have it framed for Amanda, as kind of a memento of her brief time back in the theater.
Knowing that it had actually hung in Lee’s apartment, Billy grinned to himself. He never would have thought that Scarecrow could be the sentimental type. Then again, his young agent had changed a lot since Amanda King had entered the picture. Still staring at the script cover, he remembered something else about that case, or rather something that had occurred after the case had ended. He had gone up to the Q-Bureau to give Lee and Amanda an update on Martinet and Dr. Van Klausen, and to give them their next assignment, but had arrived to find the door locked; although he could have sworn that he had heard the door actually being locked from inside. Thinking back on it now, he began to wonder exactly what had gone on behind that locked door and if maybe Parisian Intrigue had been what had finally opened his two agents’ eyes to their growing feelings for each other. He’d bet all his pension that that was the day his favorite team had moved from being just partners at work to being romantic partners as well.
“Billy!” Jeannie Melrose called again. She moved and stood next to her husband and waved her hand in front of his face. “William Melrose, you answer me right now.” Her voice was dripping with concern.
Billy shook his head and looked over at his wife’s concerned expression. “Jeannie, what’s wrong? Is everything okay? Is it Amanda?”
“Finally, I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last three minutes.” Jeannie fought the urge to shake her husband within in an inch of his life. “And no, it’s not Amanda. Francine and I came in to check on you guys, and I find you just standing here, with a far away look on your face. You had me scared half to death. I thought maybe something was wrong with you.”
“I’m fine.” Billy smiled reassuringly at his wife. “I was, as your mom used to say, just woolgathering.”
“Well you had me very worried. You had that expression on your face, where you look like your trying desperately to remember something and I’ve only seen that look once before.” Jeannie looked intently at her husband. “It was that time almost two years ago now, but to me it will always feel like yesterday. In your entire career with that infernal Agency, I had never been more scared than I was that weekend. I’ve gone days without seeing you, but you always check in with me, but that weekend I knew something was wrong and when I couldn’t get in touch with Lee or Francine,” she glanced briefly in the direction of the blonde, “well my worry only grew. Then when the police called me to tell me that they had found my husband passed out in an alley, I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or angry. Then, to add to my worry, when I had gotten down to the station, you had no memory of what had happened over the previous forty-eight hours.”
“Jeannie, is it really necessary to rehash all this now?” Billy asked, giving his wife a pleading look, as he briefly glanced over towards Jamie and Phillip.
“I guess I did get a little carried away.” Jeannie gave a little embarrassed laugh. “But seeing you with that same look now…you have no idea how worried I was that weekend, and ever since then I’ve been afraid you’d have some sort of relapse.” She gazed at her husband seriously. “You know, I never did get a complete answer about that weekend. All you ever told me was that you had gotten your memory back and all was now okay.” She turned towards Francine. “I don’t suppose…”
Suddenly the sound of Lee’s panicked voice reverberated through the hallway. “EMILY! Something’s wrong. Amanda’s contractions are now two minutes apart and she says she wants to start pushing.”
Jeannie’s eyes grew wide and she grabbed the blonde by the arm. “Come on, Emily’s going to need our help.”
“I highly doubt I’m going to be of any assistance. I know absolutely nothing about birthing babies.” Francine started to protest as she was dragged out of the room. “I’d much rather stay up here…” The rest of her words were drowned out as she disappeared downstairs.
Amanda’s youngest son moved to follow them, but Billy put a hand on the young boy’s arm to stop him. “Jamie, you need to stay here. I know you’re worried about your mom, but she’s in good hands. You and your brother would just be in the way. Besides, I’m sure your mom would prefer that we men give her as much privacy as possible.” Seeing the still worried look on the youngster’s face, Billy sighed and wrapped an arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “I’ve known your mom for the last six years, and she is one very brave, courageous and strong-willed woman. She’s going to be fine. After all, she did have you two boys.” He glanced briefly over at Phillip and then returned his gaze to Amanda’s youngest son. “Not to mention, Lee’s with her and he won’t let anything happen to her, not if he can help it.”
Jamie pushed his glasses up on his nose and shook his head. “But this is different, Mr. Melrose. Mom had Phillip and me in a hospital, with doctors and nurses…”
“True,” Billy let out a small sigh, “but Emily Farnsworth is here and she’s had quite a bit of experience assisting with child-birth. And, as I said before, Lee is with your mom. I know that might not sound very reassuring, but it is to me. You see, your mom and Lee have this very unique bond, I can’t explain it, but when the two of them are together, facing the most extreme odds, they have the most amazing luck. That luck, if you want to call it that, has gotten them out of some pretty tight spots. In fact, I remember one time…” he paused when he realized exactly who he was talking to. “No, wait, I can’t tell you that one. But there was this other time…,” he paused again. “Sorry, I guess I can’t tell you that one either.”
Phillip glared at the older man. “Oh, come on Mr. Melrose, you have to have at least one or two stories you can tell us, that wouldn’t make you break your oath of secrecy.”
Billy glanced over at the older boy. “I promise I’ll think of at least one or two, but before I do, I think it’s way past time we addressed this ‘Mr. Melrose’ business. It’s bad enough I can’t get your mom to stop addressing me so formally, but when you two boys’ do it, it makes me feel like an old neighbor not like someone whose watched you two grow up with great fondness. I think it’s way past time you two called me Billy.”
“Well,” Jamie shuffled his feet self-consciously, “you are our mom’s boss, so I’m not sure it’d be right.”
“While that may be true, I think of your mom and stepdad like members of my family. Besides,” Billy glanced over at Amanda’s oldest son. “I’ve been over here enough times for barbeques, birthday parties and other family gatherings. So I think it’d be okay. What do you say, Phillip?”
Phillip shrugged. “Billy just doesn’t seem right. But you’re right; you are almost like one of the family. How about we call you ‘Uncle Billy’? Will that work?”
“Uncle Billy,” Billy grinned boyishly, “I like that, I like that a lot.”
Jamie turned his attention towards the television, and moving away from his newly declared uncle, he walked over to the set and turned up the volume. “I love this Christmas carol.” He watched as the choir on television belted out the song.
Billy glanced over at the television set and then looked at the young boy. “I think this one is quite beautiful too, but why is it your favorite, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Jamie shrugged and sat down on the bed next to his brother. “I think it has to do with the history behind the song.”
Phillip rolled his eyes. “Figures, had to be an educational reason with you, worm brain.”
“Phillip, there’s nothing wrong in gathering all sorts of knowledge, you never know when it might come in handy.” Billy gave Amanda’s oldest son a slightly stern look, before turning back towards Jamie. “Go on, son.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure the carol originated in Germany, and I’m not entirely sure,” Jamie stared at the television as he spoke, “but I believe there’s a story somewhere out there about the English and the Germans singing that on Christmas Eve or something like that, and calling a cease fire during World War I, at least just for Christmas day. That’s how I remember the story, anyway, although I’m not sure if it’s completely accurate.”
Billy laughed. “You know, I think you’re right.” He then let out a small snort as he remembered a Christmas five years ago. Noticing both boys’ gazes on him, he smiled. “I just thought about a story that I think I can tell you, and it’s kind of linked to your song, Jamie. It’s kind of funny, but I guess it’s true what they say that history has a way of repeating itself.”
“Really, how so?” Jamie turned and lowered the volume on the television.
“Well, your mom managed to get two Russian KGB agents, your stepdad and another agent to call a truce on Christmas Eve and then got them all singing Christmas carols. One of which was Silent Night.” Billy shook his head slightly and chuckled. “According to another agent on the scene, it was that song that had caused his team of agents, who by the way had arrived to take the KGB agents into custody, and the group of Russian soldiers who were there to back up the KGB agents, to drop their weapons.”
Phillip’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “You have to tell us that story, Uncle Billy.”
Jamie nodded his head vigorously. “Definitely.”
Billy walked over to the armchair and, sitting down, he glanced over at the two boys. “I think I can find a way to tell you the story, besides, I don’t think I can get away with not telling you at least the highlights, since I’ve already piqued your interest.” He let out a thoughtful sigh. “I guess I’ll just start from the beginning, and leave out names.” He smiled as both boys moved to sit on the edge of the bed and stared at him with intense curiosity. “This happened five years ago, and it all came about because there was a double agent who needed to be brought in.”
“So there really are people out there who work for more than one side?” Phillip lowered his elbows to his knees and rested his chin in his hands.
“Yes,” Billy nodded, “there are, we even have a few triple agents, which gets kind of tricky to explain. Anyway, this double agent had been in deep hiding and managed to contact us, but he refused to come in unless the Agency found his daughter. He hadn’t seen her in over thirty years, and gave us a deadline of forty-eight hours to find her. His deadline was Christmas Day. He hadn’t left us much time at all and what we really needed was a miracle. That’s where your mom came in. Our information told us that your mom matched the description of what the agent’s daughter would have looked like at that time. It was supposed to be a simple assignment, no danger involved. Just a quick reunion and then bring the agent in. Your mom only agreed to help if we promised to have her home in time for dinner and church.”
“So that’s why mom missed church.” Phillip lifted his head up and glanced over at his brother. “Grandma seemed very worried about her when she hadn’t come home before we went to bed.”
Jamie nodded. “Yeah, she had left the house earlier in the day to deliver some presents to her clients. She used to tell us she walked dogs and watered plants, who would have guessed that she was really out saving the world.” He gave a nervous laugh.
“I just remember coming downstairs into the living room Christmas morning and finding mom asleep on the couch.” Phillip sighed and shook his head slightly. “So much of mom’s odd behavior back then makes so much more sense now.”
Jamie nodded and gazed back in Billy’s direction. “So what happened that kept mom away all night?”
“Well let’s just say that the Agency wasn’t the only one who wanted to find the agent in question.” Billy sat a little further back in his chair. “Turned out that a couple of KGB agents wanted to find the agent as well. The problem was that the KGB didn’t want the agent in question to reveal what he’d found out, they wanted to find him to kill him. We wanted to bring in him to get information and then relocate him.”
“Is that like what the witness protection program does?” Jamie tilted his head questioningly.
“Something like that,” Billy nodded, “only we send people to safe houses first. Anyway, your mom and Lee headed deep into the woods of Virginia to locate the cabin where the agent was, unaware that the KGB was out there as well. They arrived at the cabin, met with the agent and your mom played up her role as the long lost daughter. However, the reunion didn’t last very long because the KGB started shooting.”
Jamie gasped. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Yes, Lee and one of the KGB agents were wounded, but not critically.” Billy quickly added. “Your mom managed to keep her head, though, and somehow managed to get the KGB agents to agree to a cease fire so that the wounded could be attended to properly. She even invited the two Russians into the cabin, where it was warm. Lee told me later that she had gotten the Russians to agree because it was Christmas Eve, a time of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men.”
“Mom has always been really good at persuading people.” Phillip nudged his brother gently. “Remember how, whenever she worked the snack booth at our Bomber games, she could always manage to sell every one of Mrs. Scott's brownies. Those things were has hard as bricks. I always thought they’d make better baseballs than food, and yet mom always got people to buy them. Never could figure out how she did it.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Jamie nodded then put a finger up to his mouth. “Now shush, I want to hear how Silent Night comes into play.”
Billy chuckled. “Well this is where it gets really interesting. Because your mom and Lee weren’t checking in and it was getting late, the director of the Agency at the time informed me that if Lee hadn’t brought in the agent by seven o’clock that night, the security committee was going to dispatch a commando unit. Well seven came and went, so the commando unit made its way to the cabin. Little did we know that the KGB had similar ideas and they had sent out their own army unit as well. However, when both units arrived at the cabin with their guns drawn, the snow was falling and they heard singing and laughter coming from the cabin. The song they heard was Silent Night.”
“And both sides lowered their weapons? Did they start singing too?” Jamie asked, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“According to the report I read, they did.” Billy nodded.
Jamie turned towards his brother, an expression of immense pride on his face. “Wow, our mom stopped World War three.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Billy chuckled, “but her quick thinking and bravery helped keep a major international incident from occurring.”
“Hey, did you hear that?” Phillip asked as he ran to the door. “It sounded like a baby crying.” Catching sight of Francine climbing the steps, he stepped back into the room and did his best to keep from laughing.
Francine entered the room, and Billy immediately saw why Phillip was trying to contain his amusement. His assistant was looking distinctly frazzled. Her once tightly pulled ponytail was anything but; strands of hair were sticking out all over and she seemed down right exhausted. “Francine, is everything okay?” He did his best to keep his voice even, hoping not to show his amusement.
Francine blew a strand of hair away from her eyes. “Jeannie sent me up here to see if you boys wanted to meet the newest member of the Stetson-King family.”
“That was our sister I heard.” Phillip bolted out of the door, with Jamie close on his heels.
Billy stood up and moved over towards the door, biting his lip to keep from laughing.
“Oh give it a rest Billy. Go ahead and laugh, I know you want to.” Francine rolled her eyes. “All I have to say is that helping Amanda deliver her baby has made me realize that if I ever decide to have children, I’m adopting.”
Billy put an arm around his agent and laughed. “Come on, Aunt Frannie, I want to meet the daughter of the great Scarecrow.”
“Oh God,” Francine closed her eyes as her boss led her out of the room and towards the steps. “Please promise me that you won’t say that in front of Lee.”
“What, the Aunt or the Frannie?”
“Frannie. I refuse to be called that by anyone, especially children.” Francine shrugged her boss’s arm from around her shoulder and glared at him. “And if you do, I promise you I will find a way to get even, one that is extremely painful.”
“Okay, I promise.” Billy chuckled as they reached the landing.
Francine rolled her eyes. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go into the living room and make up the bed. I’ve had enough ‘baby’ to last me for a very long time.”
Billy shook his head as he stepped down into the kitchen area. He leaned against the wall and observed the scene in front of him. There, standing in the middle of the den, surrounded by his stepsons, was Lee, holding a small bundle, a look of pride and love shining on his face. Sensing his wife’s familiar presence, he turned and smiled at Jeannie.
“It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it?” Jeannie asked as she gazed at the small gathering.
“It’s more than that. It’s a miracle.” Billy took his wife’s hand in his. “There was a time I thought Lee wouldn’t make it to see another year, let alone hold a child of his own.”
Jeannie nodded and smiled. “I know, you were worried about him for a very long time, but all he needed was the right person.”
Billy glanced at the woman who was now resting peacefully on the couch. “And it was a miracle that sent Amanda into his life.” He then looked over at his wife, and as he took in his wife’s appearance, Emily approached them.
“I agree. It’s hard enough to find a small amount of happiness in this crazy world we live in.” Emily commented as she stood next to Jeannie. “But to have found the kind of love that Lee has found with Amanda, especially in the world of espionage, it’s truly a miracle.”
Billy nodded, and as he noticed the appearance of both women, he glanced around the room and saw that, aside from Amanda, his wife, Dotty and Emily all seemed relatively unscathed from the birthing experience. He turned back to his wife. “Jeannie, what did you do to Francine? She looks like she went through a windstorm and you, Emily,” he looked over at the British operative, “and Amanda’s mother look like you spent a day in the kitchen cooking.”
“Well…” Jeannie shrugged her shoulders lightly, “she really brought it upon herself. She kept saying that she didn’t want to go near Amanda, so we gave her lots of other stuff to do, and that’s all I’m saying on the matter.” She winked over at Emily.
Billy looked from his wife to Emily and then glanced around the room one more time. It was then that he realized that all the blankets and towels had been cleaned up and, for the first time since he came downstairs, he noticed the faint sound of the washing machine. “Wait a minute,” he turned his attention back on his wife, “you got Francine to do laundry?”
“Despite what you probably think of her,” Jeannie gave her husband a disapproving look, “she doesn't send all her laundry out to be done for her. She's quite capable of doing whatever she puts her mind to, including laundry, if you must know.” She then smiled as she noticed the proud new father walking their way.
“Billy, I want to introduce you to someone.” Lee turned so that his friend could see his beautiful daughter. “Jenna Noelle, meet your Uncle Billy.”
Billy reached out and gently touched the tiny baby’s cheek. “She’s beautiful, Lee.” A small wisp of light brown hair was peaking out from under the blanket she was wrapped in. “Looks like she’s got Amanda’s hair, but your eyes, Lee.” He smiled at the infant who had just opened her eyes briefly. He lowered his voice and spoke in a gentle whisper, “Your daddy’s going to be buying one of those really big shot guns to keep all your would-be suitors away.”
“If not, they’re going to have to go through a very rigorous screening process.” Jeannie chuckled. “Including a complete background check.”
“And that’s only for the little boys who follow her around in kindergarten.” Emily laughed along with Jeannie and Billy. “The older boys are going to be strip searched.”
Lee leaned down and placed a kiss on his daughter’s forehead. “Don’t worry, I’ll wait till you’re in high school before I start doing any background checks.”
“Do you realize,” Dotty beamed as she approached the cheerful little group, “that it’s midnight?”
“Merry Christmas, Grandma,” Lee leaned down and kissed his mother-in-law’s cheek.
“And Merry Christmas to you, Jenna Noelle.” Dotty smiled at her granddaughter, “our own Christmas miracle.”
“A miracle that I wasn’t sure would ever come to be.” Lee gazed at his daughter with love and then glanced over towards the couch. He caught his wife’s eyes and smiled. He walked into the den and knelt down beside her. “Merry Christmas, Amanda. Thank you for giving me the most precious gift I could ever have hoped for.”
Phillip looked over at his brother and rolled his eyes. “Before it gets too mushy in here, let’s go back upstairs and get ready for bed.”
Jamie nodded. “Goodnight mom.” He then looked over at the tiny bundle in his stepfather’s arms. “Good night sister, and welcome to the family.” He then turned and followed his brother out of the room. “Merry Christmas everyone.”
“Goodnight fellas,” Amanda called out wearily as she watched her sons. A tear ran down her cheek as she realized that Jamie was no longer her baby. It was amazing how quickly things could change, especially for the better. She turned her attention back to her husband and reached out to take her daughter. Holding Jenna in her arms, she smiled. “I think our Christmas traditions have definitely changed.”
“If spending Christmas surrounded by family is our new tradition, I’m all for it.” Lee leaned down and placed a kiss on his wife’s lips. “I love you, Mrs. Stetson.”
“And I love you, Daddy.”
Merry Christmas to all, and may you enjoy this season of miracles, too.