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"I'm incredibly nervous," said Jeff. "Do you think she's angry with me for springing the wedding on her the way I did?"

"I don't think so," Maggie honestly replied.

Since Debbie was becoming sleepy, Charlie let her nap on the bed in her room, while the grown-ups waited for Mrs. Downen in the living room.

"Should I leave?" asked Bill, realizing that he had nothing to do with what was going on.

"That's not necessary," answered Jeff, comparing the time on his watch to the grandfather clock by the front door. When the times tallied, he let out an involuntary sigh.

"This reminds me of when I first met my in-laws," reminisced Bill with a small smile. "Madeline and I eloped without telling anyone. At first, her parents wouldn't even see me. Eventually, Madeline was able to talk them into inviting us over for dinner to talk things out. I can honestly say that I was never so scared in my life!" laughed Bill. "I accidentally upset an ice-cold pitcher of water over my mother-in-law, and broke the door handle off my father-in-law's recently restored vintage car when he invited me to get behind the wheel!"

"How did it turn out?" asked Jeff, curiously.

"Now? I love them as though they were my parents," smiled Bill, brushing back his wavy dark hair. "We became very close. When Madeline and I separated, it hurt them a lot."

Everyone was silent, except for the clicking of Vera's knitting needles. The grandfather clock struck eleven.

"I don't think she's coming," sighed Adam.

Just as he said this, a car pulled up outside the Overholt house. Maggie sprang to her feet and rushed outside. Kevin stood up and looked out the window to be sure that it was who everyone thought it was. When he saw Maggie and Mrs. Downen hug, he relaxed his posture.

Maggie led her mother into the house, where everyone was waiting. Jeff got to his feet out of respect as Mrs. Downen entered the room. The mother carefully looked him in the eyes before sitting down.

"This is not a time for polite talk," began Mrs. Downen, "but for the hard, honest truth."

If an audience bothered Mrs. Downen, she didn't show it. This was an unexpected opportunity to talk to her daughter's future husband, and she wasn't about to let it go by without telling him what was on her mind.

"Do you know what you're in for?" asked Mrs. Downen. "Maggie is 'special'-- she always has been. When I gave birth to her, the doctors wanted me to put her in a home for the mentally handicapped. I told them, 'Not my girl!' Then, years later, they did more tests, and said she wasn't as bad as they had thought, after all! Humph! I could have told them that! But all those years, I had to fight everyone to keep her at home with me! You've got to be prepared to fight for her!"

Jeff was sitting on the couch beside Maggie, his hands folded, and his face serious.

"Doug won't accept you as his son-in-law," resumed Mrs. Downen, matter-of-factly. "I don't think he ever will. He's hard enough to reason with when he's sober, but when he's falling down drunk-- it's impossible! You should know this, already. You've been called enough times to our house, breaking up fights. Doug hated it when I called the police!" she smiled grimly.

"Do you approve of the marriage?" asked Jeff, venturing a question.

"You're not giving me much of a chance to have an opinion, one way or the other," remarked Mrs. Downen, in a somewhat bitter voice. "But, I'm not against it, if that's what you mean. I don't know if she knows how to be a wife-- God knows, she didn't learn it from me. May I see your little girl, Jeff?"

Jeff nodded his consent. Maggie got up and led her mother to Charlie's room, where Debbie was fast asleep on the bed. As Mrs. Downen peered through the open door, Jeff joined them.

"One child looking after another," sighed Mrs. Downen, shaking her head. "Your girl is sweet, though."

She returned to the living room with a thoughtful face.

"Here's the key to the car trunk," she said, handing the keys to Jeff. "If you would bring in Maggie's things, I'd appreciate it. And there's more in the back seat."

"I'll help," volunteered Adam, following him outside.

Bill also pitched in, until all of Maggie's belongings were at last stacked and piled into Charlie's ever-shrinking bedroom. Maggie's extensive doll collection, alone, filled one corner of the room! Through all this, Debbie remained fast asleep, cuddled on the bed with one of Charlie's soft blankets.
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