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Chapter Twelve
Close Friendships

"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
~ Proverbs 17:17 ~

His head dipped forward as Dad dozed on the couch with the TV remote still in his hand. Samantha, the volunteer from church, left the house in full tip-toe so she wouldn't disturb him, although Emily knew it was unnecessary. Her dad would want to talk before bedtime.

As she tidied the living room, the elderly man on the couch came to life.

"Have a nice evening, Daddy?"

"Never mind me," he grinned, "how did things go with Terry?"

"All right I guess." Emily took a seat on the couch.

He frowned. "Just 'all right'? Nothing better than that? What's wrong with the young man? Doesn't he know what a rare find you are?"

"Terry is hardly young, Daddy."

"Nonsense." Dad clicked off the television. "When you get to be my age, anyone under seventy is a youngster. So what'd you think of him? And don't give me another 'all right.' I want to hear something different."

Not ready yet to speak her mind, Emily gave what she hoped was an encouraging smile. "I had pretty much the same impression of him as I've always had. But then, we've always liked Terry."

"I'd say that's an accurate statement." Dad folded his hands over his belly. "I haven't always approved of his choices, but then, we can't have everything."

"No, I don't suppose we can." She didn't need to ask her father's meaning. The entire town was talking about the woman Terry had adopted, brought home like she were a stray dog or a wounded animal he'd found on the side of the road. It was that point, in particular, that she didn't feel up to discussing with her father.

"Did you see her?" Dad slanted Emily a look, and she shook her head.

"Not yet."

"From what I hear, she's supposed to be a real looker."

"Yes, I hear the same."

"He sure is making a mess of things." Dad shook his head. "For your sake, Sweetie-pie, I hope he learns his lesson soon. If he doesn't stay out of other people's business, and leave well enough alone, it's going to put you in a hard spot after you're married."

"Daddy, I'm not getting any younger."

"I realize that. I can appreciate your biologic clock ticking, or whatever folks say it's supposed to do after a certain age, but more than anything else, I want you to lead a happy life. Taking in two-footed strays won't do that." Dad sat quiet a moment. "I like Terry, I always have, but he spends too much time trying to help those who'd be better off left alone. If I were John, I wouldn't put up with it."

"Then I suppose Terry should be glad you're not John."

Dad gave a wry laugh. "I'm only saying Terry was begging for trouble when he took in that woman. If he doesn't get rid of her, I hope she leaves before she becomes too much of a problem."

Emily sighed. The same thought had crossed her mind, as well.

* * * *

Music punctuated the stillness, bringing with it a rhythmic wash of soft trumpet and piano. The melody caught, toe-tapped a few beats, then slid into a gentle sway that made the air lighter. She could breathe in, breathe out, and not feel like mud was sucking into her lungs. Earlier, a lucid memory had slashed through her quiet evening staring up at the living room ceiling, and she resorted to Terry's sound system for escape.

She kept the volume turned low, just as Terry had said, and cuddled on the couch beneath a thick comforter. The memory left an ugly bruise on her mind, like someone's hand that refused to let go without a knockdown fight. The music helped.

Wiggling deeper into the blankets, she pulled them up around her chin until she felt safe. Was he having a good time eating dinner with that woman-- with Emily? Madison couldn't help but wonder. He'd sounded just fine on the phone, in fact, he sounded like he was having fun.

Which was good... sort of.

A car door slammed outside the apartment, and she ducked under the covers to hide. People greeted one another, just on the other side of the living room window. A man's sharp laughter followed. The noises faded as the people left, and after several moments in hiding, Madison emerged from the blanket to peek about the room.

Safe again.

A relieved sigh pushed through her chest, and she tried to steady her breathing. Why did men have to be so loud, so vulgar? The mere thought of them made her want to wash her hands. Couldn't God have started out humanity with something else besides a man? Did He have to make them the way He did-- couldn't He have created something different? Something that didn't want every part of you?

Even though it screamed against her personal way of seeing things, she had to believe that God knew best. Yes, God was good, but men had turned themselves into animals. It wasn't God's fault, and it might not even be poor Terry's fault. After all, Terry was only following the example of other men. It made Terry worthy of pity, but certainly not guilt.

Terry was too good for that.

Another car door slammed, jerking Madison deep beneath the comforter. Why did people call them comforters, anyway? Where was the comfort? She sure wasn't feeling any.

She gulped in the stale air beneath the blanket tent, and wished she wasn't such a coward. Just because she was by herself wasn't any reason to be so jumpy. Did other people hide under blankets when life got a little rough? Did they? Of course not. But then, they were normal and she wasn't, so hiding was a very real option.

Silly, she thought, and started to come up for air.

Then the door handle rattled.

Down she went, yanking the cover back over her head. It was Terry, it had to be. He was probably coming over to check on her. She heard a key slide into the lock, waited for the door to open and Terry's assuring voice to calm her fraying nerves.

The handle jiggled again, and Madison's heart plummeted to the furthest tips of her toes. It wasn't Terry. Whoever stood outside that door, trying to get in, wasn't Terry. If it had been the building superintendent, the door would have opened, for Lauren had spare keys to all the apartments.

Then who was trying to get in?

The phone. Where was the phone? Her hands groped in the darkness for the cell phone Terry had given her. It hadn't left her side all evening, but now when she needed it-- oh, where was that phone? Her fingers felt the folds of the comforter, became frantic when they touched something hard.

In her mind's eye, she could picture someone pressing their face to the shuttered window, trying to look inside.

She tugged at the comforter until it released Terry's phone, then punched his code onto the lit up screen, hit the address book where Terry's name was listed at the Johanneses' house.

Forcing herself to breathe, she waited.

After several rings, a man's sleepy voice answered. "Hello?"

"Terry, someone's trying to get into the apartment."

* * * *

Maybe the rich cheese lasagna he'd eaten for dinner was to blame, but Terry fell in and out of sleep like someone tumbling down the side of a hill. It vaguely reminded him of an old child's rhyme, Jack and Jill went up the hill, and it only deepened the absurdity of the dreams. Then the hill shook, and Terry fell all the way awake.

He blinked up at John, and wondered if he'd had another nightmare and just hadn't realized it yet.

The bedroom clock blurred before him, as did John's words. Right up until the moment Terry heard Madison's name.

"What about her?" he asked.

"She's on the phone. Izumi's talking to her on the extension in the bedroom. Someone's trying to break into the apartment."

"What?" Terry reached for pants, noticed John was already half dressed and tugging on a shirt. "Is she all right?"

"I think so, but she sounds scared. Whoever's trying to open the door, it sounds like they're getting angry." John hustled into the hall while Terry threw on some clothes. "She's asking for you, Terry."

"I'm coming." He pulled the sweater over his head, rushed into the master bedroom as Izzy handed him the phone.

"I told her you're coming."

"Thanks." Terry huffed out a breath, put the receiver to his ear. "Maddie, are you there?"

"Terry, oh, Terry, please come!"

"Try to breathe, Maddie. We're on our way."

"Please, God. Someone's trying to force open the door."

"That does it, I'm calling the police."

Izumi spoke up. "John's already done that."

"You hear that, Maddie? Help is on the way. Stay inside and don't open that door until either the police or I tell you it's all right? You got that?"


"Hang tight. I'm coming." He pushed the receiver to Izumi, dashed back to his room to grab a coat and car keys. In the back of his mind, he wondered if an old friend had just resurfaced and prayed he was wrong.

* * * *

A hissing sound came from outside, and still Madison refused to even peep beyond the safety of the blanket. She huddled with Terry's phone, clung to Izzy's calm voice and silently asked God to keep her safe, to not let the bad person in.

A vicious yell cut through the night, then the terrifying shatter of glass. She froze, tried hard not to move, didn't want to give away her hiding place on the couch.

Don't breathe.

The words fluttered through her brain, and she obeyed. Running footsteps sounded, tires screeched. A heartbeat later, doors opened and she could hear people asking each other what had happened. The voices sounded so clear, and the crisp smell of night air began to seep through the blanket.

Still, she didn't move, didn't breathe but for little puffs sucked through her nose. Had the man gone?

"Hey, you okay in there?" A man's surly voice called out, as loud as if he were standing right next to her.

She said nothing, just gripped her hand over the cell phone and tried not to shiver. Her blood had turned to ice, and she imagined the man hulking above her, ready to pounce.

Terry, where are you? she cried in silence.

Red and blue flashed through her blanket in the acknowledgment that the police had arrived. A shiver forced its way up her back. She heard at least two cop radios, the startled conversation of people having been disturbed in the middle of the night.

A man's voice stood out above the others. "Someone's in there. I know, because there's a light on in the living room and the stereo's playing. Don't think it's Terry, though. His jeep isn't here."

"Maybe someone stole it," a woman offered excitedly.

"I'm the superintendent," Lauren said, "and if there's someone in there, it's probably Terry's friend, Madison. The poor thing must be scared to death by now."

Tires screeched to a stop, someone shouted and pounding footsteps grew louder. "That's my apartment," she heard someone say. It blessedly sounded like Terry. While she tried to force herself to suck in air, Terry identified himself and explained that she was in the apartment.

"Mr. Davis," a man pushed Terry's voice back until she could no longer hear what they said.

"Izzy," Madison whispered into the phone, even though she didn't have to keep quiet, "I'm okay. Something came through the window but the police and Terry are here now. Thanks for staying with me." She hung up after Izzy thanked God, then tried to pry her white-knuckled hand from around the phone. It was time to get off the couch, but her legs refused to move.

Terry became frantic to get into the apartment, and John's voice mixed with others, including Lauren's.

"Maddie! Maddie, are you all right?" The urgency of Terry's cries pushed her to her feet.

She fought the blanket off, turned to look at the shattered glass covering the floor, the blinds mangled beneath a bulky canvas bag. Bricks and stone fell from its mouth, scattered onto Terry's plush gray carpet while police lights glinted off the mean looking glass shards that littered everywhere. The soft layer of piano and trumpet continued on as though nothing had happened.

A breath caught in her throat, and relief smeared into numb shock.

An NYPD officer called through the window, telling her to stay put.

"Are you alone in there?" he asked, his hand resting on the butt of a holstered gun. "Did the intruder get inside?"

"No, I don't think so."

The cop cast a wary glance behind her. "If you can find your shoes, you'd better put them on."

She reached for the running shoes beside the television cabinet, while the cop in the window shone a light behind her-- flicked it to her right, left, swept to the closed half bath on the main floor.

"Please hurry, ma'am, but take care not to hurt yourself."

She nodded, tied her shoes, ventured over the glass and winced as shards crunched beneath her feet. When she opened the door, a strong hand led her to a white police cruiser, helped her inside and left the car door open. Then she saw it, the ugly yellow spray-paint scrawled across Terry's apartment. It read simply,

Thanks a lot.

"Maddie?" Terry's eyes locked on hers. He stood across the way with John, both listening as an officer spoke to them. When she gave Terry a smile, relief flooded his strong features. He left John, moved through the people and beelined for the cruiser. Lauren started to come with him, but a policewoman held her back and started asking questions about the complex.

"Terry." Madison's hand reached for him and he caught it in his own. "You came."

"Of course I came." Terry stooped to look at her, then took off his coat so she could put it on over her PJs. "Are you all right?"

"Someone tried to get into the apartment."

"I know." His eyes flicked to the shattered window where the first officer could be seen searching the bottom floor with a drawn gun. Terry's hand gripped hers.

"I didn't let him in, Terry. Not when he screamed, and not when he threw that bag of bricks through the window."

Terry looked back at her. "You know it was a him? Not a her?"

"It was a man," she insisted. "I heard him cuss you out just before the glass broke."

Terry's head bowed a moment. "Did you see his face?"

"No, I hid under the blanket on the couch and didn't come out until I heard you."

"Okay." He pushed out a breath, gave her hand another squeeze before straightening. "You did good to call home."

"Terry, I'm sorry about the window."

"Why should you be? It wasn't your fault. It's an old building, and that window was one of the few I never replaced with safety glass. Looks like I will now, though. Stay put, okay? I need to talk to someone."

"Terry?" She leaned out of the cruiser as he started to turn. "Please don't leave without me."

He gave a reassuring half smile. "Don't worry, you're coming back to the house with us." His gaze skimmed over her one last time, as though trying to make certain she was all right, then he went back to the officer talking to John.

The knowledge that he'd come when she needed him, made her happier than she realized. She leaned back and snugly hugged herself.

A policewoman came and asked Madison to relate everything that had happened, while Lauren listened and hovered in the background. Madison went through it all, with Lauren interjecting her own thoughts until she was asked to please let Madison speak without interruption. Then Madison had to repeat herself when the first officer came back and wanted the same thing-- except this one took notes.

"Do you need any medical attention?" he asked.

Madison shook her head, "no." She was fine-- better than fine, for Terry had come. Her toes curled in her shoes and she hugged herself tighter. It felt good to be safe.

After the apartment was searched, Terry went inside and Lauren surged forward to fuss over Madison. When Lauren saw Madison wasn't saying much, she turned to talk to John as he stood beside Madison's cruiser, his blonde hair as uncombed as Terry's. They must have literally jumped out of bed to get here so soon.

When Terry emerged, his cell phone was in his hand. He stuck it into his slacks pocket, said something more to one of the policemen, then came back to where she and John were waiting. Thankfully, Lauren had already moved on.

"They said we could go now." Terry blew out a sigh. "John, would you take her home for me? I need to stick around and board over the window."

"Do you need help?"

"No, I can handle it." Terry looked back at his apartment. "I was really praying he'd leave me alone."

John gave a sympathetic nod. "Do they know if he's still living with his mom?"

The sadness that spread across Terry's face had Madison wondering who they were talking about. It almost sounded as though they knew who had broken the window.

"They're sending someone out to her place," Terry said with a shrug. "I doubt they'll get a straight answer from his mom, but who knows? Maybe she'll talk."

"Yeah, right." John folded his arms. "She'll protect him the way she always does. I wonder what that guy has to do before she'll admit her son's no good."

Terry didn't respond.

"Well," John heaved a sigh, "one thing's for sure-- I don't trust him. Men like him don't have any limits."

"I know, but we don't know it was him." Terry ran a hand through his already mussed hair. "Maybe it wasn't Victor, maybe it was someone else."

John gave Terry a look and Terry groaned.

"The spray-paint, the bricks-- I even changed the locks after he trashed my apartment, so his key no longer worked. It was him."

"Who?" Madison asked.

"I'll tell her about it on the ride home," John said as Terry helped her out of the cruiser. "Does she need anything from the apartment before we leave?"

Madison looked down at her pink and black two-piece PJs with the teddy bears all over them; Izumi had picked them out, and Madison thoroughly loved them.

Shaking his head, Terry walked her into the apartment for a change of clothes while John waited in the jeep. Someone turned off Terry's sound system, surrendering the shattered night to the squawk of police radios and the steady drone of cops as they interviewed the onlookers for eyewitnesses.

A lot of help she was to Terry, Madison thought dully. She'd kept her head down, her mouth shut, and hadn't even gone to the window so she could give a description of the intruder.

She followed Terry upstairs, passed him as he waited in the hall while she gathered what she needed from the bathroom.

"I've been thinking." Terry leaned against the doorjamb as though he carried a lot of weight on his shoulders. "It's not wise for you to stay in my apartment while this is going on. Tomorrow morning, we need to get the ball rolling, start the necessary paperwork to get you into your own apartment. It'd be safer for you somewhere else."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"Stop saying that, would you? What happened tonight, happened because of me, not you." He shook his head. "That scares me. You were almost hurt because of my poor past judgment."

"I don't understand."

"You will. John will explain things on the ride home."

She turned her back to Terry so she could wad jeans and a shirt around some underclothes. She thought of the mess downstairs, the shattered glass, the destroyed blinds, and wished she had done something-- anything-- to avoid Terry being hurt.

He looked so sad. Even depressed.

Her wad of clothes bunched under one arm, she followed Terry downstairs, past the squad cars and to the awaiting jeep.

Terry opened the passenger door, closed it behind her, then leaned through the window to talk to John. "After I get the window boarded over and clean up the glass, I'll get a ride home from Lauren." Discouragement glinted in Terry's brown eyes. "I was hoping he'd keep it to the occasional ranting phone call. I really was."

"I know, Terry."

Realizing she still had Terry's coat, Madison took it off and passed it through the window. At least she could keep him from freezing to death in all that cold. At least she was good for something.

John started the engine, and Terry headed back to his apartment. She turned in her seat to watch him go inside, and kept watching as the jeep pulled away. When he went in, he went in alone and it made her feel guilty. Maybe she should have stayed to help clean the mess. Though she wanted to say that to John, his silence sat so heavy she didn't dare open her mouth.

She hurried to put on her coat, or that is, Terry's old coat.

Poor, poor Terry.

She jumped when John slapped the steering wheel, then scooted closer to the passenger door.

"I hope he's happy. I hope that poor excuse of a human being is happy." John gritted his teeth. "After all those sacrifices, everything Terry did for him, and he has the nerve to pull a stunt like this. Can you believe it?"

She gave a weak shrug, not knowing what he meant.

"Trashing Terry's apartment wasn't enough-- oh, no. He has to come back, rub Terry's nose in it. Victor ought to be grateful he's not in my face right now."

The sentiment had bite, a hint of threat and a whole lot of danger. Nibbling her lip, Madison buckled on the seat belt, then fisted her hands when they began to tremble.

"He tries so hard it breaks my heart." John checked the speedometer, and the car slowed to the speed limit. "I wish he wouldn't take so much on himself. He's a good guy-- a genuinely nice guy-- and people take advantage of that. They see an opportunity and take it. They don't think about Terry's feelings, but wipe their feet on him like he was a stupid doormat. I hope Victor's happy." John gave the steering wheel another punch. "Terry's taking this hard, and it's all thanks to his good buddy. Victor Barlow."

The edge in John's voice kept her quiet. From what she'd just heard, she realized the man at the door was someone Terry had once tried to help.

It was a sobering moment. Now she understood the reluctance she sometimes felt in John and Izzy's presence. That quiet wondering-- Madison understood it now. They were worried she was going to hurt Terry just like Victor had, and it sounded as though there were others.

It didn't make her feel good to know Terry was sticking himself out so far for her. He'd been burned before, and was still suffering for it, and yet he still wanted to put her in a new apartment. An apartment with outrageously low rent.

"After I drop you off at the house," John said, his tone approaching sanity, "I'm going back to help him clean up."

"Could I go with you?"

"And have Terry worry about you overworking your hip?" John slid a glance in her direction. "If you want to help him, start eating regularly. If he sees you're getting stronger, it'll give him a victory. God knows, he'll need something to smile about after this."

Bricks and rocks weighed her down, threatening to shatter her soul like Terry's window. She managed a quiet, "Sorry."

Looking annoyed with himself, John sighed. "There's no reason for you to be sorry. We all want what's best for Terry, you included."

"Mr. Johannes, I'll try hard not to let him down. I know I owe him a lot, and the last thing I want is to hurt Terry the way the others have."

"I appreciate your saying that." He glanced at her. "You don't have to Mister me. My name's John."

Her smile felt wobbly.

He blew out a heavy, tired sigh. "What a world we live in. What a fouled-up, crazy world." He considered her a moment, and made no further mention about the world they lived in.

She sensed his questions, and was only grateful he didn't ask them out loud. Yes, she knew it was a fouled up world. A mean world, unmerciful and unrelenting, filled with men who did very bad things. Broken windows and trashed apartments were the least of their crimes.

Aside from Terry and, okay-- John-- Madison could wish the whole lot of them in hell. It was nothing short of what they deserved.

* * * *

When he reached home, John updated Izumi on what had happened. He kept it to the facts, didn't elaborate on speculation or wallow in misery. He'd vented enough anger on the way home, now he could think without punctuating each thought with something against Victor. Terry was having a bad night; no mention of you-know-who. Terry had a nightmare to clean up at the apartment; not even a whisper of who to thank for it. By the time John kissed Izumi and started back for Chaumont, he'd only said Victor's name once.

Later, as John pulled back into the complex parking lot, he saw with relief that the police had gone and everyone had disappeared into their apartments. Even Lauren had gone home.

The shed stood open, and John found Terry measuring out remnants of board to fit over the window.

Terry didn't ask why John had come back, but gave him a quiet look as John pulled work gloves from the shelf, hauled away a metal trash can, then headed for the apartment. Sometimes they needed no words to know what the other felt. They'd been brothers for too long, to need much more than the fellowship of simply being there.

Even though Terry had a mess to clean up, he didn't have to do it alone.

Anger bubbled inside John as he cleared away the destruction. His temper eased when he thought of Terry having to deal with not only his own anger, but someone else's as well. Better to cool down, for his buddy had enough to deal with.

When Terry carried over the wood, John stopped long enough to hold the remnants in place while Terry hammered nails and closed off the apartment from the night air. Neither said a word as John got out Terry's Shop-Vac, went over the carpet several times while Terry hauled away the trash can and brought out a new one to empty the vac's canister.

By the time they finished, the sun was turning the sky into subtle colors John didn't have names for. He wasn't an artist like his son-in-law, Jake, and could give no artsy descriptions to the colors he saw. Straight forward orange, yellow, a bit of red, then solid sky blue as dawn turned to day. It was a pleasant sunrise.

They'd put in a good two hours, and Terry's apartment was as secure as they could make it until the window people could come down and replace the panes. The yellow scrawl of spray-paint remained on the outside, but nothing could be done about it now. The carpet was vacuumed, the pavement swept, the tools put away and the shed locked.

As they headed back to Three Mile Bay, John wished there was something more he could do. He hadn't been able to put that lopsided grin back on Terry's face.

* * * *

The loud whisper coming from the hall woke him. Terry pushed open his eyes, knowing his usual morning greeting from the girls had just been called off by either John or Izumi. The bedroom door stayed closed, and even though light shone around the curtains on the window, he rolled onto his stomach and went back to sleep.

When his eyes blurred open sometime later, it was almost ten thirty. It took willpower to climb out of bed, push into his bathroom to shower and shave. He wanted to crawl back into sound sleep and enjoy the bliss of not having to face life.

Maybe he would. Maybe he'd go back to bed.

He put it off long enough to get in the shave. He stalled again so he could shower, and by the time he was dressed, it no longer made sense to go back to bed. He had known all along he wouldn't, but the postponement gave a chance for routine to kick in and he no longer had to make any decisions about anything. All he had to do was not think about it.

He didn't want to think at all.

Coffee would help, he decided, and headed down the hall on his way to the kitchen. He stopped when he saw Madison sitting on the couch, scribbling in her notebook. Her bedding was neatly folded off to one side.

"Oh, there you are." Terry turned to see John emerge from the office. "I was beginning to think you were going to spend all day in bed."

"No, I'm up."

"Did you sleep all right?"

"Yeah, I guess." Terry looked back at the couch. "Has she eaten breakfast?"

"Yup. She came to the table when Izumi called her, and ate with the rest of us."

"Really? I usually have to drag her to the table before she finally eats."

"She's trying, Terry."

Terry blew out a sigh. "Good for her then. Any coffee left?"

"There should be," John said as Debbie padded over the carpet to tug at Terry's hand.

"Hey, Munchkin." Terry patted Debbie on the head, started for the kitchen with Debbie hard on his heels.

"Uncle Terry?"

"Yeah?" He nodded to Maddie, pushed into the kitchen and zeroed in on his smiley face mug.

"Are you up?"

"Am I what?" He poured himself a hot cup of java.

A pint-sized Debbie sighed. "Are you up? Are you done sleeping yet?"

Terry inhaled the aroma of ground beans, took a sip, and relaxed. "Oh, that's good." He opened one eye, saw Debbie patiently staring up at him. "Okay, I'm listening."

Her face perked. "It's Saturday."

"Okay." He sipped. "What about it?"

Another cute sigh had Terry almost smiling.

He raised his brows. "Allowance day?"

"Please, Uncle Terry?"

He warmed his fingers around the mug. "The science store in Watertown again?"

She nodded vigorously. "Daddy said we couldn't talk to you until you were done sleeping."

"I guess I'm done," he mused, pulling out a chair to enjoy the brew. "Just give me fifteen minutes, okay?"

A quick smile, and Debbie dashed off to get ready. Terry quietly flinched at having to drive into Watertown so late in the morning. When they got there, it would almost be lunch, then they'd have to do their usual hamburgers and french fries, then spend at least an hour at the science store.

What usually was an enjoyable inconvenience, was today more inconvenient than anything else. He hated himself for even having that thought, for Debbie was only looking forward to a Saturday morning with her uncle. It was their special time together, their outing. Of all the triplets, only Debbie had somewhere special she wanted to go to spend her allowance.

The other two Munchkins usually blew their wad at the MegaMart, so at least this was in the pursuit of science. Science or not, his sweet little Debbie wanted to go, and that was reason enough.

"Terry?" John strode into the kitchen. "Debbie says you're taking her to the science store. I had no idea she wanted to go this morning."

"It's all right, John. I don't mind."

"Why don't you let me stand in for you? You can stay home and rest, maybe do some fly fishing. You've been through enough, without being dragged all over creation by a girl nearing five."

Terry finished off his mug. "I can handle it, but thanks."

Even though he knew John wanted to press the issue, John didn't. That unspoken look of concern was in John's face again, and Terry understood what it meant. Everyone was afraid Terry would fall apart, including John. That was why Izzy or John had kept the girls from waking him sooner, why-- Oh. Now he got it. Why Maddie had eaten breakfast without a struggle. Now it made sense.

When John went back to the office, Terry washed out the mug and thanked God for people who cared about him. He'd been in a mood, he realized, and struggled to snap out of it before he frightened his family any further.

His mind wandered only a moment, and yellow-spray paint flashed before him. The callous words, "Thanks a lot," punched his heart yet again. Couldn't he do anything right? He'd tried so hard to help, and instead only managed to make things worse.

God, please help me. Don't let me shatter.

Movement behind Terry's back had him turning.

Silently, Madison stood in the doorway in jeans and a white T-shirt with sunny flowers splashed across the front. Her blonde hair and that shirt made her look like a slender daisy.

"Are you going somewhere?" she asked in a mouse-like, timid voice that made Terry instantly want to protect her. Heaven help him, for he had already failed with Victor.

"Into Watertown," Terry nodded, placing the mug into the drying rack. "I'm taking Debbie to lunch, then the science store. After I get back, I'd like to start the paperwork on your apartment."

Madison hung her head. She looked behind her, then at the kitchen tile.

Terry sighed. "Do you want to come with me and Debbie? I warn you, it's not going to be very interesting. We'll probably be talking science, or whatever else that pops into her small noggin. I've grown fond of it, but you... you might not want to come."

Before Terry finished speaking, Madison had disappeared into the living room.

"Never mind," he sighed, going to the cupboard to pour himself a quick bowl of cereal. He dumped in corn flakes, nonfat milk, snagged a spoon and began munching when Madison reappeared in her shoes and coat.

"Going someplace?" he asked.

She pulled up the coat's zipper. "I'm coming with you."

"Oh." Terry stopped munching, shrugged, then resumed his cereal. That was just fine with him. "By the way, I ordered that new coat last night. It should get here sometime next week."

The news pleased her, he could tell.

When Debbie came into the kitchen bundled securely against the cold, Terry glanced at his watch. "What do you know? Fifteen minutes on the nose. Hey, Munchkin, we have some company this morning." He nodded in Madison's direction, and Debbie blinked.

"Does this mean we can't go to the Weirdly Wonderful World of Science?" the girl asked all in one large breath.

Terry gave her a look that had Debbie smiling in spite of her worry. "Would I invite someone along, on our outing, if it meant we couldn't walk the aisles of the very best science store ever built?"

Debbie grinned, twirled in her pink skirt while Ruthie and Lizzie wandered into the kitchen.

He shoveled in more cereal as Debbie and Madison waited for him to finish breakfast. He tried to hurry, knowing they had to be getting hot in those coats.

"And what are my other two Munchkins going to be doing while we're gone?" Terry asked.

A practical smile came from Lizzie. "We're going to play."

"Sounds logical." Terry went to the sink to wash out the bowl. Seeing this, Debbie began hopping up and down with excitement. "You might want to stop, or you're going to overheat in that coat," he warned. "Have you used the bathroom yet? If you have to pee, I'm not stopping at a gas station. You'll have to hold it until either your eyes turn yellow, or we reach Watertown. Whichever comes first."

With a laugh, Debbie ran off to the bathroom. To Terry's surprise, so did Madison. He hoped Maddie knew he was only joking. After she went into the office to use the half bath, Terry stopped by the office to talk to John.

"Just wanted to let you know that I'm taking Maddie with me."

The mild surprise on John's face had Terry almost smiling. Almost.

"We'll be back before dinner."

"Okay, have a good time." The statement struck Terry as more plea, than anything else.

He went to his room to grab a coat, zipped it as he strode down the hall into the living room. Then Terry backtracked to the office. "Hey, where's Izzy?"

John frowned. "She's getting her hair trimmed, or something along those lines. I only know when she gets back, I need to remember to tell her she looks nice."

A near smile warmed Terry's face. He still couldn't push past that yellow graffiti spray-painted across the outside of his apartment. Wrestling back the sadness, Terry went to the garage to pull the jeep out front.

As he was closing the garage, a woman hailed him as she crossed to his side of the street.

"Good morning, neighbor!" Emily folded her arms, kept her coat tightly shut as cold wind blustered around her, pulled at her brown hair and slacks. "I can only stay a moment, but I wanted to come over and see how you're doing after what happened last night."

Even though Terry felt a surge of foolish joy at knowing Emily cared enough to check on him, he also despaired knowing she really was checking on him.

"I'm doing fine, thanks." Terry slipped his hands into his pants pockets, hoped the girls would come out soon so he wouldn't be stranded trying to pretend Emily wasn't concerned over his mental state.

"Izumi told me the police think Victor did it; I know you have a restraining order against him." A hand fluttered to her throat. "Have you heard back from the police yet? Have they arrested him?"

"Not yet." Terry shifted, tossed a glance to the house. "So far, they don't have anything to prove he was there, and they've got no eyewitnesses-- at least, no one willing to come forward. At the moment, it looks like he's going to get away with it."

"Oh, my. How awful for you."

"Yeah, well..." Terry checked his watch, then the house. "I'm running Debbie into Watertown so she can spend her allowance. Maddie's coming with me."

"Oh, is she?"

Terry could almost wish he never said that, for Emily buttoned her coat with noticeable determination. And stood waiting for Madison to come out.

"So. How's your dad doing?" Terry knew when all else failed, turn the subject toward her father and Emily would carry the conversation on her own. The woman ate, drank, and breathed her father's healthcare. She knew how many medications Stanley was on and for which ailment, the last time his bowels had moved regularly, his blood sugar level at any given time of day, her favorite doctors, his favorite doctors, their preference in walkers and wheelchairs.

Not that Terry minded hearing about the psoriasis her dad recently discovered, (don't ask where), but it was the way Emily related the information. With such zeal, it often made Terry wonder if she hadn't missed her calling as a nurse.

The nanosecond the door opened, Emily went silent.

Although he had absolutely no idea why, Terry held his breath.

"Stay close to your uncle," he heard John say, then Debbie came out in her red coat and pink cap.

The door closed just a little, then pulled open when Madison stepped out into the sunlight in Terry's dark blue coat.

Terry's eyes flicked to Emily, and for once, Emily was stone quiet.

"Hey, Maddie, come over here and say 'hi' to my good friend, Emily."

Madison had only taken a step in their direction, but the greeting had Madison rooted in her tracks. Her large gray eyes fastened on Emily, and for several uncomfortable moments, the women stood there and stared at each other.

"Oh my," at last breathed through Emily's lips. What that was supposed to mean, Terry didn't have a clue, only that Emily was again speechless.

"Come on, Maddie, we have to get moving." Terry helped Debbie into the back seat of the jeep, strapped the girl into the booster seat, then looked back to find the women still staring each other down.

Emily was the first to speak.

"Izumi told me what happened last night. I'm glad to hear you weren't hurt."

Madison's razor sharp glare made Terry wince.

"Maddie." He waited until she looked at him. "Please be nice to Emily. She's my friend."

The glare dulled. Her expression turned confused, and she edged around Emily like she was some biblical plague to be avoided at all costs.

"Say 'thank you,' Maddie."

Madison's nose crinkled.

In a moment of dread, Terry half feared she would take him literally and parrot him word for word.

With a sigh, and a lowered head, Madison mumbled, "Thank you."

At least it was polite, Terry thought grimly, as Madison climbed into the passenger seat and promptly shut the door.

He tossed a glance at Madison through the window, then went to Emily.

"You'll have to forgive her. She's a little shy around new people."

"Terry, you never told me she was so..."

"Damaged?" he finished.

"No, beautiful." Emily returned her gaze to the woman in the passenger seat of his jeep. "She's stunning, Terry. I don't know what to say."

"Stunning?" He turned to look at Maddie, then shrugged. "I guess so, in her own way. She's my responsibility, so I don't dwell on things like that. She needs a lot of help, and that's the only thing I really notice, and the only thing I ever want to notice. I don't know all the specifics about her childhood, but from what I've managed to piece together, it sounds like she survived a living nightmare."

He shifted back to Emily, saw the conflicted-- what was that, jealousy?-- and the compassion seep into her soft features. His words had touched her.

"I have to get back to Daddy. I left him reading a book, but it's nearly time to check his glucose."

"See you later, Emily?"

Another flick at the jeep had Emily sighing. "Yes, Terry. I'll see you later." She gave him a partial smile, shook her head, then hurried back home to monitor her dad's diabetes.

Steeling himself, Terry rounded the hood of the jeep, pulled open the driver's side door. And aimed a hard stare at Madison.

Her eyes focused straight forward. She said nothing.

"She's a good friend, Maddie, and didn't deserve that from you."

"She's not my friend."

"But she is mine." Terry stepped into the jeep, tugged the door shut. "You had that icy glare on-- the one that gives me chills just looking at you."

"Then don't look."

"I won't, not when you're being rude to my friends."

"I don't like her, Terry."

"You don't have to like her. All you have to be, is polite. That's all I'm asking."

Though she resembled someone in great physical pain, Madison squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. "If that's what you really want, then I'll be polite. But I'm only doing it for you."

"Okay, I can appreciate that." For the first time all morning long, Terry broke into a grin. "She's not a bad person, Maddie. Once you get to know her, I think you'll like her." He started the engine, heard Debbie's eager noises to get on the road, and pointed the vehicle toward Watertown.

* * * *

Like her? Madison didn't think so.

It was all she could do to not blame Terry for wanting to touch that woman. It was the only reason he wanted Emily to like him, and Madison knew it. Madison was no dummy.

If Terry had been any other man, there would be no enticement strong enough for Madison to have gotten into that jeep. And if any man had tried to force her, he'd get a swift kick between the legs before she was beaten into submission. But Terry wasn't like that, at least, not when he was with her. He was nice, he was different.

The thought of Terry being with that woman, had the air squeezing from her lungs.

It hurt. Her chest hurt.

She leaned against the passenger door window, let the scenery slide by without notice.

So that was the famous Emily. So pretty, so confident looking, so... everything Madison was not.

The ache in her chest grew worse, and something hot stung her eyes. Smearing her face with the arm of Terry's coat, she closed her eyes and tried to think of something else. For once, she wished she could feel her hip. She reached into the pocket of her jeans, found the safety pin and opened it. Gritting her teeth, she concentrated on the pain.

* * * *

They ate hamburgers at a bright table inside a busy restaurant. She had french fries, some chicken nuggets, and a soft drink with a straw. Even though Terry told her it was okay to take off her coat, she kept it on, and used it as a shield from the people around her.

When the icy soda made her teeth chatter, Debbie laughed and said she wanted to do that too. The girl gulped down her drink, then promptly announced to Terry that she needed the bathroom. NOW. Even though Madison didn't really want to leave the safety of the table, she offered to take Debbie to the ladies' room and Terry gratefully accepted.

When they came back, Debbie forgot about trying to make her teeth chatter and soon after, they left for the science store.

It was quieter than the restaurant.

She'd never been inside such a place before, but had an idea of why Terry called it the best ever built. Planets hung from the ceiling, with the backdrop of sprawling galaxies behind them. Dinosaurs roamed the walls, interspersed with scientists in white lab coats hunched over elaborate glass tubes. Small counters devoted to different areas of science invited people to take a closer look; one held a microscope with slides of ordinary things like hair, and made them seem like something wildly from another planet.

Bold posters proclaimed that math was the language of the natural world, while others had odd designs with intricate colors. Terry said they were fractals, whatever that meant.

Everywhere she turned, scientific discovery kits for children and adults were shamelessly advertised. The owner of the store delighted in Debbie's enthusiasm, and while Terry and Debbie roamed the aisles, Madison found a seat at the back of the store and sat down.

She kept her coat zipped, kept her eyes down whenever someone happened to walk by. And relaxed when she was alone. She didn't mind them taking a long time, but was grateful when Terry came looking for her with a happy Debbie hugging a picture book about astronomy.

Madison fell in behind Terry as they left the store, watched Debbie take Terry's hand as they crossed the street to where the jeep was parked. Something tugged inside Madison and she realized she felt luxuriously safe. Even outside, with people moving about them, getting in and out of their vehicles, the scent of exhaust hanging in the air, she felt safe.

She moved closer to Terry, and he didn't seem to mind. How many times in her life was she ever conscious of having that protected feeling? The fact it felt so foreign, betrayed it couldn't have been many. Did normal people feel this all the time? or was this only because she came from where she did? From this vantage, life seemed oddly survivable. But then, what did she know? She was only soaking up the kindness Terry didn't hold back.

She wondered if this was friendship. If it was, it felt good.

As the jeep pulled away, Terry asked if they'd had a good time. Debbie was enthusiastic in her answer, and would have bounced out of her booster seat if she hadn't been strapped in. When Terry waited for Madison's response, and his expression slipped when she didn't reply, she dug deep and gave him a heartfelt smile.

"Thanks for letting me come."

"Well, thanks for wanting to come. We surely enjoyed having you, didn't we Debbie?"

"She didn't make us hurry," Debbie agreed from the back seat.

When Terry laughed, the sound of it didn't frighten Madison. In fact, she felt so safe, she even let herself sleep on the way home.

* * * *

When Terry returned with the girls, John was grateful to notice the change in his friend. The outing had done what John could not.

Terry was smiling again.

"A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken."
~ Proverbs 15:13 ~

end of chapter