Terry's Journey: Chapter 13

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Chapter Thirteen
Not Much Pride, but Some Prejudice

"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God."
~ Mark 11:22 ~

He hoped she wasn't going to fall asleep again. It would be easy to do, all curled up on the couch, worn out from her trip into Watertown that afternoon.

Terry sighed as he rummaged through the filing cabinet beside his office desk. Even Debbie wasn't napping, but off playing with her sisters at a next door neighbor's house. That pint-sized little girl had more stamina than Madison, and never had that been more evident than the way Madison had curled up on the living room couch with that precious notebook of hers and closed her eyes to the world.

He hoped she wasn't sleeping.

"Hey, John?" Terry looked to his friend at the second desk. "Have you seen a dark red folder labeled 'tenant applications'? I know I had some spare forms, but I can't find them."

"Red folder?" John thought a moment. "Have you tried the locked cabinet in the corner? That's where you usually keep all the legal docs for the complex."

"No, I already checked." Terry flipped past some thick business folders, a mystery paperback that had been shoved in and then forgotten, a stack of old brochures he'd stopped using to advertise the apartments, the user's manual to the microwave in his kitchen… wait a moment. He flipped back, tugged out the paperback and groaned. A library book, and by the looks of it, grossly overdue.

He tossed it onto the desk. He'd take care of it later, but right now, he needed to find those forms.

When he found them wedged between last year's tax returns, he promised to get more organized. He pulled out a blank residency application, grabbed a pen and a stiff notebook, then headed for the living room.

The occupant on the couch wasn't asleep yet, and she blinked at him as he sat down in John's recliner.

"Okay," Terry clicked the pen, "let's get started. This is for apartment number four. The move-in date will be... let's say next Monday; it'll take longer than that to find furniture, but we'll tackle that when we come to it. Lease dates-- check, monthly rent-- one dollar."

"Terry, that's not fair."

"Quiet, I'm busy. Applicant's name, Madison Crawford. Address, phone number-- I'll leave that one blank; after last night, your own cell phone is definitely on the get-list. Email-- none, previous address…" here, Terry paused. "Okay, where did you live before you came to Three Mile Bay?" He looked to the couch, and those stormy gray eyes locked on him. "Come on, Maddie, I need this for the records. Where did you used to live?"

She shook her head.

"How about the state? Was it New York, or somewhere else?"

Her mouth pulled into a tight line, and she hugged the notebook closer.

"You're not going to tell me, are you. Not even for me? See this?" He held up the paper. "This goes into a locked security cabinet in my office, right down the hall. No one will ever see this but me."

Hurt stirred in those storm-tossed eyes, but she remained silent.

He sighed, crossed out the offending questions and moved on. "Can you give me your former employer?" It was a needless question. She wouldn't tell him where she was from, and by the looks of her, he already knew she'd never held down a job. "Never mind, I'll cross that out." Despite himself, he chuckled at the situation. "I tell you, Maddie, you'd better be grateful I'm such an understanding guy." He glanced at her, and when he saw that faint smile, he breathed easier that he wasn't making an enemy by asking questions. "Social Security number?"

As if to prove they were friends, she gave it to him without a moment's hesitation.

"Let's see. No income, no children, no pets. Right? You haven't taken in any stray cats or dogs I should know about, have you?"

A shy smile tilted her lips.

"Okay, now there's some legal jargon you need to read before signing this. It basically states you give me permission to verify credit information, references from your previous landlord, any criminal history, and basically anything that would give me information as to the desirability of having you for a tenant. Here, I'll let you read it for yourself." He got up, handed it to her, then went back to the recliner.

The scared bunny-rabbit-look came over her again. "Are you going to do all this? Are you going to do a background check?"

He couldn't help laughing. "What do you think? Do you see me torturing you for information?"

"Please, Terry, don't."

"I wasn't planning to, but out of curiosity, why not?"

Her chin tucked against her chest, and he could no longer see those gray eyes.

"Okay, Maddie. If that's what you want, I give you my word I won't do any background checks without your permission. This is ridiculous, because I wasn't going to do it anyway, but if it'll help you sleep easier, you have my word. Here. Take the pen and cross out the clause."

The hand holding the form shook like a tremoring earthquake.

"I'm not angry, all right? Take the pen. Cross out whatever you want, but then sign the thing. I must be completely nuts. Anyone in their right mind would insist on some answers, but not me. Here-- take the pen." When she remained where she was, Terry tossed it to her.

She stared at him.

Quietly, Izumi moved to the kitchen doorway. She had been listening, probably couldn't help but listen since she was only in the kitchen.

"Maddie, you're going to have to trust me on this. You need a place to stay, and if you don't take one of my apartments, no one will let you sign a lease without a visible source of income and absolutely no form of identity besides a Social Security number and no card to back it up. You don't even have a birth certificate, do you?"

The slender daisy was silent.

"Did you bring one to Three Mile Bay?"

She shook her head.

"But you did have one, right? Back where you came from, you did have a birth certificate?"

She nodded, "yes."

"Okay then." Terry leaned back in the recliner. "My next project is to look into getting your birth certificate replaced. I don't think you can get another Social Security card without one, and now that you have a current place of residence to go with your name, I think it should help get these documents replaced. I don't know for certain, of course, never having found a need to replace every shred of my identity from the ground up." He waited a beat, and when she didn't smile, he sighed. "Would you sign the thing before I become an old man? I'd like to get this over with."

She clicked the pen, placed the form against her notebook, and with a gathering look of fierce concentration, dug the ballpoint deep into the paper. Painfully, and with great effort, she formed each shaky stroke, just as she had in the doctor's office when filling out that patient questionnaire.

Terry flicked a glance at Izumi. He'd taken in a stray puppy who had no collar or tag to indicate a previous owner.

Worrying her bottom lip, Madison examined the marks she'd just made before looking at him.

"I think I messed it up."

Izumi gave him a look of sympathy as she went back to the kitchen.

"It's okay. I'm sure it's good enough." He took back the form, saw the signature gouged deep into the paper and said nothing. He wrote in the date, attached his name to it, then got up to file it away and get his laptop.

When he returned, he planted himself in John's recliner and started the tedious job of learning how to replace Madison's identification. After an hour of investigation, he looked over the laptop to find her watching him.

"Okay, kiddo. I need to know what state you were born in. To get a birth certificate replaced, I need to start at the state level."

A resigned groan shuddered through her frame. "I was born here in New York."

"There," he smiled, "was that so hard?"

When she didn't respond, he went back to the website.

"Did you ever have a non-driver photo ID card?"

"No."

Another thirty minutes later, and he was less sure this would be as easy as he'd naively hoped. To deter identity fraud, they needed other forms of identification she simply didn't have. He was all for stopping the bad guys, but what were the good guys supposed to do?

Deeper research showed that lesser forms of ID would be accepted, such as a utility bill with that person's name on it, and also a rental agreement. Okay, she could do those. He'd need to refill the residency application so it appeared halfway normal, and she'd have to wait to get a utility bill, but those were things she could do. Without the new apartment, these would be close to impossible.

Using careful wording, he tried very hard to explain this to Madison. Instead of ready information about where she'd come from, she glared with an icy look that made him feel he was standing in front of a freezer with the door wide open.

"To get your Social Security card replaced, you first need a birth certificate. Without either of these, you can't get your ID card, let alone a driver's license when it comes time for one. These are basic things, Maddie."

Like an ostrich shoving its head into the sand, she tugged out one of the bedding blankets, and pulled it over her head.

"I know you're under there." Terry folded his arms. "Maddie, talk to me."

"Go away," came from the blanket.

"Where do you want me to go? I live here."

Silence. Seeing she had no handy retort, Terry set aside the laptop, and went back to the office for a fresh form to start over. This had to be filled out properly, for it would stand in as part of her identification.

"Everything all right in there?" John asked from his desk.

"It's under control," Terry assured him. Before John could ask what that was supposed to mean, Terry headed for the living room.

"Okay, let's do this one more time." Terry sat in the recliner, clicked the pen and immediately realized that with no employment or income to fill in, things were still going to look out of the ordinary. Oh well, he'd fill it in as best he could, and where it asked for employer, he'd simply make a note saying she was looking for a job, and leasing the apartment for next to nothing because the landlord didn't want her to be homeless. Pitiful, yes, but it was honest.

He filled in all the things he already knew, then braced himself for round two.

"Maddie?" Then a bit firmer, "Madison. What was your former address?"

"I don't like you anymore."

He paid no attention to the remark. "I need this information. You want to make your own way in the world, don't you?"

No reply.

"A job. You want to get a job and be independent."

"Yes."

"Then you need things like a photo ID. You won't be able to open a bank account without one, and I know of at least one public library where you can't even get a library card if you don't have any photo ID. You must establish your identity."

She was silent.

"Tell me your former address."

The blanket pushed back, and she looked out. "Do you promise to never call or go there?"

He was tantalizingly close to Madison's past; he could feel it in her resistance to give him the location of her former hell. He also knew if he didn't give his solemn word, she wouldn't be able to start a new life. She had to have this, even if she didn't fully understand it yet.

"Very well, I give my word to never visit or place any calls to this address."

"And you won't ask anyone else to, either?"

"Maddie, if I'm giving you my word, it only stands to reason I wouldn't do that to you."

She looked unmoved. "Promise."

"Okay, I promise. Before God, I will never do those things."

For several long moments, she peered at him with a reluctance he could feel all the way from the recliner.

"Please trust me, Maddie."

The stare broke. She blinked, ducked back under the blanket. And recited her address.

He wrote it in, read it back and she confirmed that he'd gotten it right. Huh. New York City. The same state in which she was born.

"Okay, time to plant your signature again." He got up, tapped the blanket until she finally emerged. "Sign here, then make your initials here. And go easy on the pen."

Nothing guaranteed that whoever looked at this residency application would accept it, but Madison had no other alternative-- at least, none he could see.

He took back the signed form, included his name and date, then returned it to his office to be stored in a filing cabinet under lock and key.

This was only the first step in establishing Madison's legal existence in her new life, but Terry knew it was a vital one. He prayed God was directing his steps, and that those steps would not slide beneath their feet. The form was not complete, for he needed a cell number, and then there was the application for the birth certificate once they had all the necessary papers ready. He'd just glimpsed some of the questions, and they wanted specific names, dates, and locations.

Better to not tell her that until he needed the information. Scare her too early, and he feared Madison would close up tighter than a clam on a New England clambake.

While Madison stayed on the couch, Terry went into the kitchen. He had a loose end to tie up.

Like she often did at this time of day, Izumi stood at the stove, preparing dinner.

"Izzy, could I interrupt you for a minute?" He leaned against the counter, saw the innocence in her face and knew she had heard. "I need you to promise never to investigate the address Madison gave me, or to ever contact it in any way."

Giving the pan one more stir, she tapped the spoon and set it down. "What makes you think I know what you're talking about?"

He gave her a look.

"Okay, I admit I overheard the address. You had to give your word, but I didn't."

"Izzy, it's the same deal. If she can't trust us, then whom can she?"

With a sigh, Izumi went to the notepad by the telephone, tore off the top sheet and thrust it into Terry's hand.

"You wrote it down?"

She gave an indignant look, and he backed off.

"Thanks, Izzy." He shredded the paper, tossed it into the wastebasket as John came into the kitchen in search of food.

"What's for dinner?" John asked.

Izumi smiled. "Goose."

"What?"

"My goose is cooked," she sighed, eyeing the wastebasket. "If you want me to give you a promise, Terry, then I suppose you have one."

"Promise for what?" John asked, reaching around Izumi to poke his finger into the sauce and get a taste. He danced away with a laugh when Izzy scolded him. "I was thinking," John grinned, quickly forgetting his question, "let's have family movie night after dinner."

"There's an idea." Izumi smiled and it put Terry fully at ease. "What made you think of that?"

"Oh, I don't know." John pulled out a kitchen chair, sat down and flashed a grin at Terry.

"He thinks I need a diversion," Terry said, taking a seat opposite John. "Since you're suggesting this because of me, then I get to pick the movie."

"I never said it was for you." John folded his arms and arched a brow at Terry. "Everything isn't always about you."

Terry chuckled. "I appreciate the thought, but Maddie has been staying away from the TV. This might not be a good idea."

"Then get her to pick the movie. All I ask is that no one forces me to sit through another chick-flick; that last one we watched was brutal." John glanced at his watch and stood up. "I gotta go pick up the girls."

As John left the kitchen, Izumi called after him,

"Austen is not a chick-flick."

"You know, he's right," Terry said, leaning back in the chair. "John and I still haven't recovered from the shock of Lizzy turning down Mr. Darcy. I don't know about you, but John and I were very emotional about the whole thing. We haven't been the same since."

He could see Izumi was about to toss back a laughing retort, when Madison appeared in the kitchen doorway.

"You have Pride and Prejudice?" she asked in wide-eyed excitement.

Terry groaned. He knew what they would be watching after dinner.

* * * *

Madison couldn't believe her good fortune. She had a seat on the couch, a blanket to keep warm, and even though Terry, John and Izzy sat beside her, (in that order), she felt as though an unexpected gift had been just dropped in her lap. They passed a large bowl of popcorn from one end of the couch to the other, while the very same movie she'd wanted to see again for such a long time, played on the large screen TV.

"This is going to be lengthy," Terry sighed, nudging John for the popcorn. "I'm not staying awake for the entire thing."

John groaned. "Yeah, thanks, Buddy."

"Hey, you said to let her pick it, and she did."

"Would you two be quiet? You're going to miss the good part."

"Good part?" John gave Izzy a half laugh. "According to you, it's all a good part."

"Hush!"

Terry pulled out his cell phone, Googled the name of the movie. He nudged John, and showed him the screen.

"Figures. It certainly feels like a miniseries."

Izzy didn't reply, and the couch quieted as Mr. Darcy slighted Lizzy at the ball.

The movie had always held a strong fascination for Madison. She remembered seeing it once several years ago, and the absolute agony that went with it of hoping each episode would air when she had the freedom to watch. Those scarce times when the Dragon fell asleep and she could turn the channel, push the volume down to nearly mute, and watch Pride and Prejudice. She'd missed enough of it to nearly forget herself and cry, but during those few precious hours, she'd had the secret thrill of living in someone else's world. The beating she'd gotten when the Dragon found out, had been worth it. A face full of blood was a small price to pay for the freedom it gave her imagination. When life filled her days and nights with shame, she could close her eyes and become sharp and down-to-earth Lizzy, dazzling the pride out of Mr. Darcy.

Madison loved the way Lizzy cut him down to size when he proposed marriage:

"You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner. You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."

Oh, Madison liked that. She could still hear the words, and they hadn't even gotten to that part of the movie yet.

The close proximity of Terry sitting right next to her, loosely crammed with John and Izzy, was becoming too much for Madison's sensibilities. Wiggling the throw pillow out from under her arm, she jammed it between her and Terry like it was the Continental Divide.

He stared at the pillow, then at her, but made no comment.

Aside from the fact Lizzy would wind up with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet was Madison's ideal of the perfect woman. Lizzy had tons of confidence, and could stand toe to toe with Mr. Darcy whenever she wanted. She didn't care a great deal about what other people thought of her, and that in itself fascinated Madison. Lizzy had courage, was wise where her sisters were not (except for Jane), and tried to warn her father about Lydia's wild behavior. Madison had only seen the movie once, but once was enough.

And then there was Mr. Darcy.

There was no getting around the man. He was arrogant, presumptuous when it came to Lizzy, and had the gall to insult her to her face when he was still trying to get her to accept his marriage proposal.

Men.

The popcorn scooted onto Madison's lap, and she shot an accusing look at Terry.

"What?" he asked. "You don't want popcorn?"

She took a small handful, then passed it back.

Why did they have to get such a handsome Mr. Darcy for this movie? It annoyed Madison, and yet when Mr. Darcy asked Lizzy to dance with him, and she was taken by surprise so completely that she said 'yes' when she wanted to say 'no,' Madison couldn't help but smile.

The bowl nudged her side, and she turned it down.

"You didn't eat your dessert after dinner," Terry whispered.

"I wasn't hungry."

"Then have some popcorn." He placed the bowl squarely in her lap, and she took a handful.

She popped a fluffy kernel into her mouth, and watched the people on the screen as though they were tangible memories from a well-beloved dream.

* * * *

The triplets didn't have any interest in the movie, except for the popcorn, and when they'd had their fill, each and every one of them had run off to play Hoppin' Froggies in their room.

Briefly, Terry had thought of joining them. He had no idea why he still didn't, only that Madison seemed to be having a genuinely good time.

While watching a romance, no less.

It didn't make any sense, but then, he'd noticed women seemed to have a thing for Jane Austen. This movie had played over and over on cable, and yet, here they were, watching it on DVD for the umpteenth time.

Why didn't the men in this family revolt once in a while? Terry knew the answer to that. John stayed to make Izzy happy, and Terry stayed because it was no fun going to his room and watching an action movie by himself.

Even now, he didn't really want to leave, even though the triplets would probably love it if he tried his hand at level four again. He just didn't feel in the mood to be laughed at by three little angels who could run rings around their poor uncle when it came to kiddie games. No, he'd rather be here, watching Elizabeth Bennet wince and squirm while Mr. Collins made her a marriage proposal doomed to failure. Not exactly an easy thing to watch.

When he tried to pass Madison the popcorn, she wouldn't take it. Short of dumping it over her head, he couldn't force her to take more if she didn't want any. At least she had eaten a healthy dinner, and he tried to content himself with that.

The moment the end credits started, Terry pushed to his feet and remarked how late it was getting.

"But, there's more movie left," Madison said, her eyes growing wide with alarm. "It's not over yet."

"Yeah, I know." Terry stretched his stiff limbs. "We can finish it up some other time. Maybe next Saturday night we can do this all over again."

"But it gets better. Lizzy goes to Derbyshire with her aunt and they see Pemberley!"

The way she said it, made Terry think of a child looking forward to tearing open a long anticipated Christmas present. He regarded her a moment. John was already herding the girls to bed, and Izzy was taking the popcorn bowl into the kitchen. The party was over.

"Hey, Izzy?" Terry followed her to the kitchen sink. "Do you mind if Maddie watches more of that movie without you?"

"Of course not. I've seen it a million times." Izumi smiled as she added dish detergent to the running water. "I'd only remind you tomorrow's Sunday, and from what you told me, she's coming with us."

"She'll be there."

"You know," Izumi washed the bowl with a thoughtful face, "you could start the DVD again, then let her fall asleep while it played."

"Actually, I was thinking of staying up with her for part two." Terry moved out of Izumi's way when she reached for three juice cups to add to the sink. "Maddie looked so eager, when she realized everyone was going to bed, she nearly cried."

"You? Stay up for Pride and Prejudice?" Izumi pinned him with an incredulous look.

"I'll get my laptop," he shrugged, "get some things taken care of while it's playing. Which reminds me, I need to remember to lend her my old Bible so she'll have something to read in church."

"I'd volunteer to stay up with you," Izumi sighed, "but I'm too tired. There's some pretzels in the cupboard if you get hungry. Don't stay up too late."

"We won't. After the next installment, the party really will be over." Terry grabbed the pretzels, went back to the living room and dropped them on the couch beside Madison. "Give me a few minutes to get my laptop, and we'll start the movie." He resisted the urge to see her reaction, but when he turned down the hall, the sound of the pretzel bag opening made him smile.

* * * *

Even though he'd struggled with sadness that morning, a silver lining came in the fact he wasn't all that sleepy tonight. He sat in John's recliner, surfing the online bookstores for a new Bible for Madison, and popping mini pretzels into his mouth while Madison held the bag hostage on the couch.

She was eating, actually munching pretzels and forgetting herself in the enjoyment of the movie. There weren't many times when she relaxed so completely that those gray eyes would sparkle with such pure excitement. So much for Izzy's suggestion of playing the movie until Maddie fell asleep. That was about as unlikely as John suddenly professing a love for all things Jane Austen.

It simply wasn't going to happen.

"Have you ever read Pride and Prejudice?" Terry asked.

She timidly shook her head, "no," and a moment later was sucked back into the story.

Acting on impulse, Terry typed in "Austen" and hit return.

On the large screen TV, Mr. Darcy was visiting Lizzy and beginning the silence that led up to the infamous proposal and her subsequent wrath. The guy had it coming, and Terry caught himself pausing to watch the actors toss around dialogue like a skillful chef attacking poultry.

On the couch, Madison's pretzels had come to a complete halt. She sat cuddled under a fluffy comforter, one hand in the pretzel bag, the other gripping the blanket. Her entire being was transfixed on Mr. Darcy and Lizzy.

Shaking his head, Terry turned back to the laptop, scrolled down and began reviewing the candidates the bookstore recommended. He selected one, added it to the cart along with the Bible, then checked out just as Lizzy began reading Mr. Darcy's letter.

Yawning, Terry checked the time. This was a miniseries, all right. A long one.

* * * *

Part two had ended hours ago, but Madison found it impossible to sleep. In the dim hue of the night-light, she looked over to the recliner where Terry was sprawled out. She'd carefully lifted the laptop without waking him, and set it on the end table so he wouldn't drop it in his sleep.

How could he do it? She didn't understand. How could Terry possibly sleep when Mr. Darcy was beginning to make Lizzy more conscious of the fact she cared for him? He'd even slept through the part where Mr. Darcy caught Lizzy taking a tour of his grounds at Pemberley. The shock of that meeting had Madison diving beneath the blanket only to quickly peer out as the two stammered out their small talk.

Now that she'd seen all of part two, she longed for more.

Light began to spread behind the soft curtains, signaling the start of another day. Today was Sunday, and even though she'd brought a fresh change of clothes especially for church, she dreaded going. People were going to stare-- she just knew they were. If the rumors of what she was to Terry didn't make them stare, then the things that made her not normal, would. Then there were the other men, widowed men like what's-his-name with the compact little dog with the impossible name of Macho. Brian, wasn't it? He'd better not try anything, or Macho's owner would soon be sorry.

Then there was Perfect Emily. She went to the same church as Terry, and as sure as Madison's hip was beginning to ache, she knew Emily would be there.

The clear image of Terry with the always Perfect Emily, holding and kissing her after they were married, struck Madison so brutally hard the air squeezed from her chest. For a desperate moment she thought she would suffocate. Her own worthlessness came crashing down on her in one gigantic wave.

She needed relief, and knew how to find it. She hadn't done it in a long time, but once every few months was okay, wasn't it? God wouldn't mind, would He? Something inside her tried to stop it from happening, but she needed to feel better again.

Careful not to disturb the person in the recliner, she got up, and limped into the kitchen.

Heart pounding, she scanned the countertop. There it was, pushed all the way from the edge, and tucked under the cupboards, far out of reach from the children.

Izzy was such a good mother.

Madison grabbed the closest knife and clamped her mouth shut.

While Terry slept in the living room, Madison ran the knife over her belly. She cut until the pain flooded her body, drowning out the hurt that hadn't been made from steel. Tears stung her eyes, but that was okay, she could cry because of the pain-- just as long as she didn't make any noise while she sobbed.

A sound came from the living room, choking her with a sharp pang of grief and fear. She waited, dreading someone would appear in the doorway and see what she was doing.

A minute ticked by, but no one came.

Careful to not turn the faucet on so high it made noise, she held the trembling knife beneath the trickling stream. She dried the blade, then slid it back into the wooden block.

The act steadied her. She wouldn't cry anymore. She could handle the pain-- all of it-- and survive what she had to. The self-inflicted punishment felt good to a soul that kept telling her she wasn't worth the flesh that held her together.

Pinning the edge of her shirt under her chin, she wadded paper towels into her pants to keep the blood from staining her jeans. She pressed a hand to the scarred, slippery skin and knew it was too late to stop the blood from getting on her clothes. After washing her hands, Madison crept to the doorway. She looked into the living room while dread pounded away in her chest.

Please be asleep, Terry. Please be asleep.

The person in the recliner had shifted in his sleep, but that was all. His eyes were still closed, his chest still rose and fell with each slumbering breath. Wasn't he nice to look at? She could stand there all morning and watch that kind face, that mouth that so often slipped into a crooked grin when he was happy.

Elizabeth Bennet would like Terry. The real world and make-believe blended in one perfect moment, and Madison saw Terry carrying Lizzy to a bedroom on their wedding night. When the door closed, Madison woke from the dream.

She refused to admit that like an actor taking on a roll, she had played Lizzy.

Closing her lips tightly so no whimper of pain could escape, she softly stole past the recliner.

She paused, but he didn't stir.

Holding her breath, she crept to the couch, lifted out tomorrow's change of clothes while praying Terry wouldn't wake up and see her with blood all over her shirt and pants.

Without a sound, she crossed over the carpet and into the hall. Ducking into the home office, she headed straight for the half bath. She sensed the movie had probably done this to her, brought on a surge of emotions that had probably overwhelmed her to the point of needing to cut again. For some reason it made her think of Terry's battle cry, but the words wouldn't comfort her while she focused on the pain so hard.


Safe behind the locked door of the bathroom, Madison finally let herself breathe. She pulled away the paper towels and looked at the wounds. Using her finger, she opened the cuts to make them bleed more, until fear got the better of her and she stopped. She cleaned them with water, then staunched the flow by pressing folds of toilet paper to her belly. By the angry look of the wounds, she feared this time, she might have gone too deep.

Pushing aside the panic that wanted to bubble out of her, she opened the mirror that doubled as a bathroom cabinet. The moment she saw the small bottle and the half open box, a prayer of thanks fell from her lips.

Terry and John kept antiseptic and bandages in the cabinet.

After scrubbing the blood from her clothes, she wrung them out, then sneaked through the kitchen to the laundry room to put them into the dryer. No one but herself and God had to know.

* * * *

Aside from the humiliating fact that he'd slept all night in the recliner, Terry felt reasonably happy about the way the morning was going. Madison had come to breakfast without the slightest struggle, and was even dressed and ready for church. The T-shirt and jeans might not be what the rest of them were wearing, but after a quick change into his own weekday clothes, he felt better knowing she at least wouldn't look so out of place. John saw Terry change and must have guessed why, for soon after, John and Izzy had dressed down to blend in with Madison.

It warmed Terry's heart to see his family do that without being asked.

Even though Madison's peaches and cream complexion might have bordered more on cream than peaches, she looked calm enough. She hardly said a single word during breakfast, but she'd eaten all her food. While the signs weren't overly hopeful, he took the optimistic viewpoint that she was getting better. If only marginally so.

Now, as John pulled the minivan into the church's parking lot, Terry saw the first glimpse of trouble in Madison's face.

"Try to take it easy," Terry smiled, unsnapping his seat belt. "They won't bite. Do you have your Bible?"

A pale hand touched the worn volume at her side. She nodded, then worked to release her seat belt.

Unease fluttered at Terry's heart, but he gave it to the Lord and tried to keep her spirits up by joking with the triplets as he helped to unbuckle them, one by one. Even in all the smiles and laughter, he noticed the wince of pain as Madison stooped to leave the minivan.

He touched her arm. "Are you all right?"

She nodded. "I'll be glad when this is over."

"That's no way to look at church," Terry laughed. "They'll be nice to you, you'll see."

The encouragement did little to make her smile. She stuck to his side so hard, when he turned to make sure Lizzie didn't lag behind, he almost slammed his chin into Madison's face.

He'd feel better if that face smiled. Just once.

Please, God, help Maddie.

* * * *

It seemed to Madison that the Johanneses and Terry knew everyone in church. People greeted them, spoke in concern about the recent vandalism at Terry's apartment, and in general commented on things that had happened during the week since they'd gathered. Like clockwork, every time Terry introduced her to someone, she heard that flicker of curiosity in their voice, that extra long look that somehow tried to gauge who she was.

She didn't have the courage to look any of them in the eye. Terry didn't make her talk, and tried to answer for her whenever a question came in her direction. She kept her eyes down, her mouth shut, and stuck to Terry like glue until she was told to sit on a long wooden bench. She wouldn't do it, until she saw Terry sit down first.

Sitting beside Terry was better than facing people while you stood. To appear busy, she opened Terry's old Bible and began leafing through the first few pages. If she looked busy, maybe people would leave her alone.

"Good morning, Emily. Nice to see you're feeling well enough to join us, Mr. McCall."

The greeting made what was left of Madison's blood turn cold. She lifted her eyes just a fraction to see the woman in the slim dress and smartly brushed hair smiling down at her. The cheerful woman stood behind a slumped old man in a wheelchair.

"Good morning, Terry, and to you, Madison. I'm glad you came."

The elbow in Madison's side prompted a hasty, "Thanks."

"Daddy," Emily bowed over the wheelchair she was pushing, "this is Terry's houseguest. Madison."

The old man pinned Madison with a critical eye. "'Mornin," he said finally.

Since the man didn't appear to expect a reply, and since Terry's elbow didn't prompt her to make one, Madison lowered her eyes to the Bible and pretended her hardest to look busy.

The title pages were as old and worn as the man in the wheelchair, but the printing was clear, and the handwritten names done in a careful penmanship that was easy to read.

This Bible
was
Presented to
Terry E. Davis
By John J. Johannes

The date was written underneath, showing almost thirty years had passed since the Bible had been presented. Madison struggled with the math, and realized with surprise that Terry must have been only a teenager at the time. Since Terry and John were probably about the same age, this Bible was a testament to their long and enduring friendship. No wonder Terry had told her to keep it safe, that he was only loaning it to her until her new one came.

She touched the lightly yellowed pages, saw where passages had been underlined, ran her finger in the wide margins where Terry had made notes about the different verses. One was underlined heavily:

For Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living? [Psalm 56:13]

In the right-hand margin, Terry had added an "Amen! He will!" beside the verse.

The words struck a common chord in Madison and she read it over and over until Terry whispered that it was time to sing. Things were going on around her that she didn't understand, but the one time she dared lift her eyes during the singing, she saw in the row off to her right, a strikingly familiar face.

At that same moment, the man looked up and flashed a broad smile directly at her.

She retreated to the open songbook.

The memory of a man walking a tiny dog absurdly named Macho popped into her mind. Oh no. Him again. The widower who had looked at her like he wanted something, the interested man who had a teenage son and was good friends with Terry.

Brian something-or-other.

After the singing, the triplets disappeared somewhere, and Madison thought she heard Terry mention Sunday School.

For the entire time she sat on that bench, feeling the glances of the people around her, Madison was always aware of the man just across the aisle who kept smiling at her whenever she checked.

After one such incident, Terry jabbed his elbow into her side; thankfully, it wasn't near her belly where the cuts were still hurting.

"He's only being friendly," Terry whispered. "Be nice to him."

"I don't want to be nice."

"Not so loud."

Terry pulled a notepad from his Bible, clicked a pen and hurriedly wrote,

He's going to try to talk to you after service is over. Whatever happens, be nice.

Taking the pen, Madison scrawled in large clumsy letters,

why should i?

It took Terry a moment before writing,

I'm not trying to marry you off. I gave my word, remember? Be POLITE to Brian, and we'll finish Pride and Prejudice today.

"Really?" She forgot herself and asked the question out loud. A woman in the row in front of them gave Madison a frowning look before returning her gaze to the preacher up front.

Terry wrote,

I promise.

When he underlined it, Madison knew he meant it. That was what Terry did when he was being firm about something, for she had seen the verse in the Bible.

Carefully, she scribbled her agreement on the notepad.

All too soon, everyone was getting up and Madison realized the moment was upon her. True to Terry's prediction, Brian stepped across the aisle.

"Hey, Terry." Brian spoke to Terry, but his gaze was on Madison. "I was sorry to hear what happened at your place. I hope no one got hurt. I heard someone was staying in the apartment at the time."

"No, no one's hurt. Maddie was there, and called us when it began. Maddie, I'd like you to meet Brian Donovan. We saw him while he was walking Macho, remember? He's an environmental engineer for the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture]."

Dimples flashed each time Brian grinned. "Actually," Brian said, shoving a nervous hand over thick black hair, "I'm with the Jefferson County NRCS-- that's the National Resources Conservation Service. Right now, I'm generating toxicity level maps using panel data methods for local waterways--"

"Yeah, Dad, like everyone knows what that means." The look-alike teenage boy at Brian's side rolled his brown eyes, but there was affection in the way he put his father down. "You defend the environment. Make it easier on yourself, Dad, and explain it before they have to ask."

"That's Dave, Brian's know-it-all son," Terry said with a smile.

The teenager grinned, but not as much as his father did. Brian couldn't take his eyes off of Madison.

"Are you going to be staying long in Three Mile Bay?" Brian asked her. Even though Madison tried to, she couldn't miss the obvious hope in his voice.

"She's planning to stay indefinitely," Terry intervened. "Hey, Dave, how'd you like the sermon?"

The boy shrugged and said the sermon had been okay.

"Say, Terry," Brian spoke as though it took courage to open his mouth, "how about going fishing later on? It'd be nice to land some bass for dinner, wouldn't it?"

"It sure would." Terry glanced at her and hesitated. "I'll tell you what-- come over about three, and we'll set up on our beach. I've been seeing some good-looking bass lately, and until now, I haven't done a thing about it."

"Great. I'll be there."

Despite the reference to dinner, Terry didn't invite him to stay and eat. Madison had a hunch that was what Brian had been fishing for, besides bass.

"How about you?" Brian asked her. "Do you ever fish?"

She glared at the man, then remembered her deal with Terry. She could almost hear Mr. Darcy and Lizzy warning her to be careful.

"No. I don't fish."

"That's a pity. I could teach you, if you're interested."

"I don't like fish."

"Terry's a master at fly fishing. He'd never brag about it, but he's got a sweet casting arm. He can put that fly wherever he wants it."

"I don't want any fish."

"So. I'll see you later, Terry? About three?" Brian nodded to Terry, then took one long look at her before leaving. "Maybe I'll see you later."

"Maybe." She didn't return his smile, that flash of white teeth that showed he was on good terms with his dentist.

When the Donovans walked away, Terry sighed out loud. "Maddie--"

"I was polite."

"Poor Brian." Izzy stood behind them with John and the triplets. "He's smitten, Terry. You'd better warn him."

Terry threw up his hands. "What should I say? That she hates men? That she's prejudiced against people who don't happen to be women, and that means you?"

"You'd better tell him something," John said, herding the triplets past them. "Hi, Emily. Hey, Stan."

The mere mention of the dreaded Emily made Madison cringe. She tightened as Emily came forward, pushing the old man's wheelchair.

"Terry, I was just telling Daddy how nice it would be if we had some company to lunch. I'm fixing chicken pot pie, and would love to have you over if you don't have any plans for the afternoon."

"Sure, thanks." A dumb grin spread across Terry's face. "I love chicken pot pie."

"I know." Emily's cheeks blushed pink. "Izumi gave me a few hints about what you like so I couldn't go wrong. I'll need about forty-five minutes after I get home, so how about an hour from now? Would that work for you?"

Terry smiled. "I'll look forward to it."

"Good. I'll see you later then. Izumi, thanks again. Madison, it was so nice to see you in church." Emily waved, then wheeled her father out as a woman started chatting with Izzy.

Activity swirled around Madison. The pastor was talking to John, Izumi introduced her to someone named Agatha, and a man with broad shoulders and a brown mustache approached Terry. Madison's head buzzed with confusion. Terry wasn't going to eat lunch at home? And after that, he was going fishing?

What about the movie?

When Terry motioned her to join them, she obeyed without thinking. The man with the mustache seemed very watchful-- not interested in her the way Brian was-- but watchful in a quiet, suspicious kind of way.

"This is Sheriff Peterson, Maddie. He'd like to talk to you a moment."

This man was a sheriff? That explained a lot.

"Are you from New York State?" His voice sounded with the casual authority of a cop.

She nodded "yes."

"Have any family in the area?"

"No, that's why she's staying with us," Terry tried to explain.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to hear what she has to say."

She swallowed hard. This was beginning to sound official. "No, I don't have any family."

His brows raised. "No parents, no siblings at all?"

She shook her head.

"You don't have to be afraid," he said, a smile breaking out under that mustache. "These people are friends of mine. I go to church with them, I try to take care of them, and whenever someone new comes into our community and says they're going to stay, I like to do a little checking. Do you mind giving me your previous address?"

For the second time in as many days, someone was asking for something that she'd sworn to forget. But here she was, reciting it as she had for Terry.

Sheriff Peterson pulled out a small notepad in his pocket, then scribbled on it with the stub of a pencil.

He asked a few more things, then laughed good-naturedly as his wife came over and scolded him for mixing business with the Lord's Day.

"God will understand," he assured her. "Thanks, Madison. You have a good day now."

The pain on her belly was hurting the longer she stood. When she felt weak and swayed, Terry took her outside the building, away from the people and the questions.

He placed her on a bench beneath a tree, and asked again if she was feeling all right.

More than anything, she wanted to beg him not to eat lunch at Emily's, to stay home from fishing so they could finish Pride and Prejudice. After that, she wanted to lay down and go to sleep. She wanted to close her eyes and let the world slip away. Right now, making the world disappear seemed a good idea.

Tiredness pulled at her limbs and she closed her eyes for one brief moment before Terry spoke.

"Did you get any sleep last night?"

She looked up at him, concern written clearly on his face.

"How did you know?"

"I didn't." He motioned to her. "You've got dark circles under your eyes and you're as pale as Texas cotton. I know you ate breakfast, and I saw you take the painkiller for your hip. I'm guessing someone didn't sleep when they were supposed to last night."

"I'm sorry," she whispered, wondering if she could lay down on the bench. Her mind strayed back to Sheriff Peterson. Depending on how much checking he did, he wouldn't find anything. Terry, on the other hand, would probe and overturn every rock in her backyard if he could… if he hadn't promised to stay away from that address.

Lightheadedness swam through her brain, and she felt so tired she almost hurt independently of the cuts.

"It was that movie, wasn't it?" Terry blew out a frustrated sigh. "It got you all worked up and you didn't sleep. Maddie, I wish you'd have told me. I would have left you home so you could rest."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying that. Do I sound angry?"

"Kind of."

"Well, I'm not. Stay here and I'll get the family so we can take you home." He took a step, then turned to look at her. "I'm sorry I won't be there to finish Pride and Prejudice. I'll ask Izzy to keep you company while I'm gone. I'm sure she'd be more than happy to watch it with you."

She nodded absently, dazed by the concern in his brown eyes.

No matter what happened in the future, she was sure she'd never have as good a friend as Terry. Yes, she thought as he went to go find the others, he was a very, very nice person.

The wind chilled her, even in Terry's old coat. Her belly hurt, and she touched it lightly to make sure it wasn't bleeding again. When her hand came away without finding any dampness, she rolled onto her side and tried to sleep.

God had saved her for a reason.

She just had to find what that reason was.


"And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee."
~ Psalm 39:7 ~

end of chapter