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Chapter Fourteen
When the Subject is Madison

"I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."
~ Jeremiah 29:11 ~

When Terry returned to find her napping half awake on the bench outside the church, Madison thought for sure he was angry. He said nothing, but helped her to the minivan while John and Izzy strapped the triplets into their boosters in the back.

Izzy watched as Madison slowly climbed into the middle row of seats. "You're right, Terry, she doesn't look very good. Madison, Sweetheart?" Izzy left her daughters to move past Terry and help Madison buckle her seat belt. "Are you okay?" Izzy put a hand to Madison's forehead. "Hmmm, no fever. Terry, I wish you'd stop hovering."

"Are you certain she doesn't have a fever?"

"Reasonably so." Izzy turned to give him a patient smile. "I'll check with a thermometer when we get home, but I don't think she's coming down with something."

"So you don't think it's the flu?"

People moved past the minivan's open door, more than a few of them eyeing Madison as she lay on the middle row of the vehicle's seats.

Her ears rang. She felt sick.

"Madison?" Izzy's gentle voice coaxed her to attention. "Sit up so Terry can climb in. We'll be home soon."

She heard the words and struggled to obey without throwing up. An arctic draft swept through the side door, slapping her hard in the face with ice and the pungent smell of exhaust as John started the engine.

Terry climbed in beside her, slid the door shut while the children in the back chatted like the little girls they were.

The vehicle started moving. They merged on to the road, and when she watched the pavement, the yellow center divider blurred and dizzied her.

Izzy pulled out her purse and began to dig through it for something.

Her stomach kept gurgling, though not from hunger. Smell, sound, motion assaulted her at the same time. A hand rested on Madison's shoulder.


"I know, I'm looking."

"Maddie, try to calm down." The hand squeezed her shoulder. "Do you want John to pull to the side of the road?"

"Yes," welled within her, caught in her throat and burned along with the bile that wouldn't be held back a second longer. Something passed to Terry; he opened it, then swung it in front of her as the nausea had its way.

"Ewww!" came from the back seat, followed by, "Is she dying?"

"Just a little car sick," Terry said, rubbing a hand on Madison's back.

Only after the fact, did she realize Terry held something in front of her-- a plastic baggy inside a small, discreet paper bag.

"Are you done?" he asked.

After one last lurch into the bag, she weakly nodded.

"Here"-- he pulled out a handkerchief-- "wipe your mouth. Don't worry, it's clean."

She didn't care if it was clean or not, only that the nausea had backed off. The handkerchief smelled lightly of Terry, a trace of his soap scenting the material. She wiped it across her mouth, folded it and squeezed it to her nose.

"How's she looking?" John asked.

"Better, I think." Terry kept rubbing her back as though she were contemplating more of the same. "Do you feel better now?"

She nodded, leaned her head against the window and watched as he zipped the baggy shut, then rolled the paper bag closed so no one could see what she'd done.

"Don't you think she might be coming down with the flu?" Terry asked.

"I doubt it." Izzy reached between the two front seats and took the bag from Terry. "I'll keep this on the floor until we reach home."

"So you don't think she has a fever?"

"Terry, calm down." Izzy looked into the rear view mirror. "She's probably over-excited and needs some time to settle down. I'm pretty sure she'll live."

As if to check for himself, he put a hand to Madison's forehead.

"Terry." Izzy sighed. "Calm down before you make her worse."

"But she's so pale."

"Yes, and she won't get her color back until you calm down."

The hand dropped from Madison's forehead and she felt free to close her eyes. Moving material sounded beside her, then something soft covered her chest and her shoulders in a warm hug. The smell of Terry's aftershave greeted her. She opened her eyes long enough to find his coat draped over his old one.

"We're almost home, Maddie." Terry could have added, "Hang in there," and it would have come out the exact same way.

She tried hard to smile. "I feel better."

"Do you?" Hope touched his features and her smile came easier. "I'm glad you didn't get sick in church."

"Oh," John laughed from up front, "that would have gotten some attention."

"Daddy?" An urgent voice called from the back seat. "Someone has to go!"

"Can't she hold it for five more minutes? We're almost home."

Terry twisted to look into the back seat. "Uh, Izzy? Do you have another of those bags?"

"Oh no." Izzy grabbed her purse, began digging through it while John speeded up a little more. "Hold on, I think I've got one left."

The trees began to look familiar to Madison. She no longer felt the need to escape the vehicle, and a calm relief spread throughout her. The aftershave that clung to Terry's coat made her feel safe. As a second baggy was passed to Terry, Madison cozied into his aftershave and pulled it around her like a warm blanket. She closed her eyes and let it envelop her. It felt good to feel better.

The sound from the back seat said that the baggy hadn't arrived a moment too soon. Poor little girl.

"Which one?" John asked.

"Debbie, but she's looking better." Terry sounded more confident, more in control when dealing with the children than with Madison. "Ruthie, Lizzie-- don't look until I get the baggy closed. If either of you feel sick, your mommy doesn't have any bags left."

"I don't-- that was the last one." Izzy turned to look at her children. "Sweetheart, do you feel better?"

Madison almost said "Yes," before a relieved little Debbie answered before she did.

Was that what it was like to have a mother who cared? Someone to always say "Sweetheart" when you didn't feel good, or who carried bags around in her purse in case one of her brood felt sick? What would it feel like to be one of the little girls sitting behind her? Madison wondered.

Whatever it felt like, it had to be good.

When home came into view, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The moment the minivan parked in front of the house, Terry began unbuckling to help the triplets out of their boosters.

For just having thrown up, Debbie climbed from the back seat looking remarkably well. She jumped from the side door, ran to the swing set beside the house as her sisters raced after her with shouts of "Wait for me!"

"Not until you change out of your church clothes!" Izzy called after them. Terry collected both zippy bags, then headed off to a metal trash can while John went to unlock the house.

Izzy opened the passenger door, got out, then came to help Madison climb from the vehicle.

"Knowing John," Izzy sighed, "he'll go fishing with Terry after lunch." She started Madison toward the house and smiled. "Since neither one can sit through Pride and Prejudice without a running commentary, I'd say the timing was Providential."

"Hey, Izzy?" Terry cleaned his feet on the mat before following them through the front door. "Would you make sure Maddie takes a nap after lunch?"

"She's not a child, Terry."

"I know, but look at her. She needs rest."

"Then ask her to take a nap." Izzy took off the coat, put down her purse and Bible, then started for the kitchen. "I have to start lunch, and before long, you'll need to get over to Emily's house."

The couch looked inviting. Even before Terry started to speak, Madison was tugging off her coat to curl up and rest.

"You didn't get any sleep last night."

"I know." She watched him hover nearby, his hands stuffed into his pockets.

"I don't suppose I could extract a promise that you'll take a nap this afternoon?"

The thought drifted through her tired, hungry mind that his eyes were a nice shade of yummy chocolate. She could lose herself in those eyes and sleep forever.

"How about if I pay you?" He pulled out his wallet, opened it, and extracted some dollar bills. "I'll give you five bucks to take a lengthy nap."

Too weak to respond, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

* * * *

"Go on, Terry. She'll be just fine without your checking her every five minutes." Izumi shooed him down the hallway. "I give my word I'll keep an eye on her while you're gone."

He frowned. "Make sure she eats. She missed lunch and I know how much she enjoys hot dogs. She'll be disappointed she missed them."

"I'll fix her more after she wakes. You have my word."

"And the movie-- I promised she could finish it today."

Their voices came to a whisper as they stepped into the living room. The little bits were in the kitchen with John, playing a Bible Memory board game at the table and digesting the hot dogs that Madison had slept through. At least she was sleeping. If Terry could find a victory besides getting her to church, that would be it.

"I don't know, Izzy. I feel like I'm abandoning her."

That prompted a sigh from Izumi, along with a decided nod to the front door. He hurried on his coat, then tossed one last glance at the couch before Izumi threw him out of the house.

She might be petite, but she could be a determined mother when it came to doing what was best for her family. And that, Terry figured as he hurried down the sidewalk, was just what Izzy was doing by getting him out of the house. Madison could survive a few hours without him-- he knew that. Izzy would take care of her.

That Emily was waiting, he also knew, and silently thanked Izzy for looking out for him.

* * * *

The McCall's house was so close, Terry reached it before his thoughts turned to lunch and the pretty woman waiting for him.

A knock on the door brought Mitch, one of the aides who cared for Stanley when Emily wasn't home or when she needed the extra help. The young man stared wordlessly at Terry, and Terry was beginning to fear he might not let him in.

"What do you want?" Mitch asked in a surly tone.

"I was invited to lunch. May I come inside?"

"I guess." The aide stepped aside, and only then, did Terry notice the red stains on Mitch's blue scrubs.

"Is Emily home? Is anything wrong with Mr. McCall?"

The young man closed the door, then gave a tired shake of the head. "Yeah, she's here."

Waiting for Mitch to followup on the comment, Terry raised his brows as a prompt for more information.

Mitch sighed. "Stan insisted on going to church. Since I hadn't been alerted of any change of plans, I arrived as they were leaving. Meaning, I came into work when I didn't have to." The young man took a deep breath, as though it took a great deal of patience to speak. "Stan forgot to mention to anyone, including Emily, that he had M&Ms in his pocket. He claims they keep him awake so he can listen to the sermon."

The aide took a moment to calm down.

"When I gave Stan a glucometer check after they got back, I knew something was up besides his blood sugar. It doesn't get that high without help. Maybe he skipped his meds, or he's been fasting, but Emily doesn't let Stan forget his medication or his meals. It just doesn't happen."

Mitch stopped. "Do you really want to hear more?"

Terry nodded.

With a shrug, Mitch continued. "The hyperglycemia was high enough to warrant a sit-down talk about controlling his diabetes. During which talk, he admitted to the candy but insisted he had a right to it. When I told him his health was more important than his sweet tooth, he got weird on me and bumped the tray, which knocked over a pitcher. I tried to catch it before it hit the floor." The young man looked at his uniform and shrugged. "I missed. You think I look bad, you should see the bedroom."

"When did this happen?" Terry asked.

"Just now. A minute or so before you got here."

"So those red stains"-- Terry pointed to the uniform-- "that isn't blood?"

"Naw, it's not blood. Is that what you thought?" A smile cracked Mitch's lips. "Sorry about that, man. This is Kool-Aid. Nothing but cherry Kool-Aid."

Just looking at the man's splattered, red-stained uniform, Terry figured the bedroom must be quite a mess. Knowing what Terry did about tykes spilling bright colored soft drinks on couches and carpet, he doubted they'd ever get the stains out.

While Terry wondered whether it would be more rude to stay, or to leave, Emily emerged from Stanley's room.

"Terry," she smiled, her tired face seeming to light up with the sound of his name, "I'm so glad you're here." She came down the short hall, her clothes looking in better shape than the aide who'd greeted him at the door. "We've just had an episode with Dad. I've tried reasoning with him, but he simply refuses to be rational. Honestly, candy in church; just an excuse to sneak chocolate, if you ask me. I don't suppose you could talk some sense into him?"

"Uh, sure. If I can help."

To his dismay, she didn't act as though she'd just asked a rhetorical question meant to make him sigh and express sympathy. She really meant it. His heart sank further when she stepped aside to show him to the bedroom.

Okay, he could do this.

Terry took off his coat, gave it to Emily, then stepped inside the familiar sunny bedroom with sunshine yellow on the walls and pale brown carpet. Sober looking medical equipment stood about the room, evidence of what two past heart attacks and subsequent complications could do to a man in his early eighties. Stanley had become a father late in life, and now it seemed, Emily was old enough to care for him, but young enough for it to interfere with starting her own family. It was probably the only reason why Emily was still single.

Beige carpet. Terry winced, though he had yet to spy the mess the aide had claimed looked worse than his scrubs. On this carpet, artificial coloring would not hide well.

From the hospital bed, the old man smiled when he saw Terry.

"Emily said you were coming to lunch! I'm glad she thought to call you."

Terry smiled politely, knowing she had invited him in Stanley's presence, at church and not over the phone. At the moment though, it appeared Stanley didn't remember.

"Come in, come in. Mind the spot on the floor, though. That young fella-- Mitch... I forget his last name-- clumsiest aide we've ever had. Knocked over my tray and spilled the pitcher sitting on it, all over the place. Sugar-free, of course."

"Of course," Terry smiled, edging around the large stain beside the bed. From this vantage, Mitch was right. The bedroom had suffered worse than his uniform.

"I suppose Emily sent you in here." Stanley folded his arms, lowered his voice as though his daughter wasn't standing in the hall with Terry's coat. "She thinks I'm getting on. That I'm growing senile."

"Daddy, I would never say that."

The old man shook his head. "What else am I supposed to think when you keep repeating yourself, ad infinitum? One of us is slipping, and I can tell you it isn't me. Go check on lunch. You don't want this man finding he came here for nothing."

The reminder sent Emily to the kitchen.

Stanley blew out a sigh as Mitch brought in paper towels to sop up the mess on the floor.

"I'm allowed candy." Stanley looked to Terry. "You didn't know that, did you? I'm allowed a moderate amount of normal candy, as long as I keep it within certain limitations. The way those two say it, you'd think I was grabbing sugar left and right-- never mind my condition."

"You smuggled M&Ms to church in your pocket." Mitch spoke without looking up. "You can't be trusted to eat only a few, so Emily banned them altogether."

"There." Stanley nodded with emphasis. "See what I mean? Terry, it was only a handful of little candies. Nothing to get excited about, and certainly nothing God would hold against me for bringing to church."

"He mixed them in with his breath mints," Mitch said, looking over to Terry while a sopping paper towel dripped from his hand like diluted blood. "He evaded detection, only by making Emily think he was eating breath mints, not real candy."

"Candy which I'm allowed to have!" Stanley's face turned bright pink and his breathing came in quick huffs. "I never lied. I never told her they were mints."

Mitch gave a bland look, and went back to the mess. As far as Terry knew, cleaning the floor wasn't in Mitch's job description, but it didn't stop Mitch from declining Terry's help when it was offered.

Stanley motioned to a folding chair leaning against the wall. "Pull up a chair. Until Emily says it's time, you might as well sit awhile and visit. She wants me to come to the table for lunch, but I'll do fine right here. I don't want to interrupt a meal meant for two."

The nod to romance seemed out of place, especially while Stanley kept eying Mitch as though he thought the aide might jump up and find another pitcher of red drink to dump over the carpet. Mitch looked so sane he was probably hurting, and Terry felt for the guy.

The fiasco over smuggled chocolate and bright red stains had put an unbalanced, and slightly combative gleam in Stanley's eye. Whether it was senility or the frustrations of a man trapped in a failing body, Terry couldn't be sure. He only knew it made him careful to not make the situation worse.

"If you'll pardon me for mixing metaphors," Stanley said with a wry chuckle, "that's quite a stray you've taken under your wing."


"That woman-- Madison. How much do you really know about her?"

"Enough to know she needs help." Terry forced a pleasant smile, waited a beat and when Stanley didn't respond, continued. "She was born in New York City, doesn't have any family to help her out, and no friends besides John and Izzy."

"And you."

"Yes, and me."

The wiry eyebrows above Stanley's rheumy eyes narrowed. "There's been a lot of talk in town about you and that woman. Emily doesn't believe it, and neither do I. I like you too much to believe it. But," Terry kept his composure as the old man paused, "that doesn't mean it doesn't have a kernel of truth. Most gossip does. Have a kernel of truth, I mean."

"I'm only helping out a friend."

"You say that now, but I saw her for the first time in church today." Stanley shot a look at Mitch and found the young man listening.

Mitch went back to work and Stanley groaned.

"Like I was saying, I got a good look at her."

Terry remained calm. "And?"

"And I'd say my daughter is heading for a hard time, wouldn't you?"

Unsure what he meant, Terry hesitated.

Stanley shook his head. "I love my daughter and treasure her for the sweet, kindhearted person she is. But Madison isn't fair competition. She's too pretty."

Terry blinked. Competition? Terry hoped those chicken pot pies were about ready to come out of the oven.

"You need to find a way to gently get rid of her, so no one's feelings are hurt. I'm saying this for your own good, as well as for my daughter's. Nothing good can come from someone who's got all their beauty on the outside, and very little on the inside. The way she looked at you-- like if you told her to jump off a bridge, she'd do it without even asking why. As your friend and Emily's father, I have to tell you it troubles me."

"What can I say?" Terry sucked in a breath, willing himself to remain calm despite Stanley's assessment of Madison. "I'm sorry you're troubled. She's a self-professed Christian with a traumatic past who wants to lead what most people would call 'a normal life.' From what I've seen, she's kind to her friends and painfully timid around strangers. From that perspective, I can understand why people might not know how to interpret her behavior. That aside, I can safely say she's not anyone's competition."

The response was not what Stanley had wanted. Terry could see it in the patiently frustrated expression on the old man's face.

"Well. Thank you for hearing me out." Stanley folded his hands and breathed a resigned sigh. "I suppose what must be, will be."

The statement sounded rather defeatist to Terry, but in the interest of keeping the peace, he let Stanley change the subject without further comment. When an opening came to see how Emily was coming along in the kitchen, Terry politely took it.

For all the years Terry had known Stanley, this was their first real disagreement. Sure, they had some differences on politics and religion, but never in any other way than as a nodding acquaintance, someone Terry fellowshipped with in church, but rarely face to face. Back home, John was the one who visited the McCalls regularly, and not Terry. Stanley often treated John with the warm affection of a son, or at the very least, a very close friend. But Terry? Terry had sometimes sensed that Stanley didn't quite approve of his past decisions, such as all the volunteer work he'd done at the crisis hotline.

Since Stanley hadn't been a part of Terry's decisions, Stanley's approval or disapproval had never been an issue.

The future could easily change that.

With effort, Terry pushed his thoughts aside and went in search of Emily. She had taken the pies from the oven, and they stood cooling on wooden trivets on the kitchen counter. It smelled wonderful.

At that moment, Emily emerged from the pantry and smiled when she saw him.

"Thanks for talking to Dad. I hope you came hungry, because we have a lot of chicken pot pie to go around. Since I forgot to let Mitch know he didn't have to come in this morning, I made enough for him too. And now the floor. Sometimes, Mitch is such a lifesaver. Not all aides would do what he's done."

"He seems like a nice kid."

Emily smiled. "I wish we had more like him."

Terry stepped out of her way as she moved past with a can of creamed corn in each hand.

"I hope you didn't go to too much trouble on my account. I'll eat just about anything."

"If I were vain," Emily gave him a teasing glance, "I'd take that as an insult. But since I'm not, you're off the hook."

Leaning against the wall, Terry smiled and watched Emily open the cans into a serving bowl.

She gave him a knowing glance. "I know a secret. This morning, I caught Brian looking at Madison. It appears she has an admirer."

Instead of the laugh Terry sensed Emily had wanted, he couldn't help but wince. In the half hour he'd been here, the subject of Madison had come up twice. Even so, if he had serious thoughts about marrying Emily, shouldn't he make a concerted effort to discuss things with her? Like John did with Izzy? It was one thing to politely disagree with a future father-in-law, yet another when that person was your wife.

Deciding to make the effort, Terry shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks and gave a candid reply.

"Izzy thinks Brian is smitten with Madison."

"Does she?" The happiness in Emily's blue-brown eyes puzzled Terry. "Good for Brian."

"Don't congratulate him too soon. Maddie doesn't exactly return his advances."

Laughing, Emily dismissed the concern. "That's a bunch of nonsense, and you know it. Sometimes people just need to get used to the idea that they're admired. Give her time. She'll leap at the first opportunity she has to land someone like Brian. He's a big fish in these waters."

It quietly amazed Terry how confident Emily and Stanley were of Madison's true character. As if they knew her, or understood her. They'd only glimpsed her on the rare occasion-- Emily had traded a few words with her on Saturday, and yet they made absolute statements about things they couldn't possibly know and yet presumed to understand.

He wanted to talk to Emily about Madison, yet had a feeling Emily really didn't want to hear it.

Instead of arguing, Terry abandoned the subject and commented on how good lunch smelled. At least he'd come hungry. On that point, he wouldn't disappoint Emily.

* * * *

The shadow closed in around her. The white flash of teeth when it grinned, the smell of putrid breath as it leered, felt too real, too livid to be anything but absolute reality. Darkness squeezed against her lungs, and just as she opened her mouth to scream, something small touched her arm.

She flinched, and with that one, brief contact, a voice inside her knew she was dreaming. The touch on her arm came again, followed by a child's serious warning:

"You're going to miss ice cream. Madison, it's ice cream."

Relieved, and at the same time bewildered, Madison's eyes flicked open. Beside the couch stood one of the triplets, the girl's brilliant blue eyes looking straight at her.

"Mommy even has cones." The child lowered her voice as though about to share a great secret. "Since I went shopping with her last time, I got to pick the flavor and we're even going to have cones."

The words sounded bizarre and strangely wonderful to someone still shaking off a nightmare.

She smiled at the child, wondering which of the triplets she was looking at. Remembering Terry had said they liked to be mixed up once in a while, she decided to make a guess and see what happened.

"Thanks, Ruthie."

The girl smiled. "You've been asleep a really long time."

"I guess I was tired." Madison couldn't help smiling, for she had guessed correct. She was finally getting to know the girls well enough to be able to tell their slight differences apart.

"Ruthie?" Izzy appeared in the kitchen doorway and sighed when she saw them. "You woke her. I told you to let her sleep."

Ruthie looked bashful. "I'm sorry. I forgot."

"You certainly did." Izzy wiped her hands on an apron. "Your sisters are eating ice cream over plates so they won't make a mess. Yours is on the table, but I want you three to stay there while you eat. I don't know why I let you talk me into those cones."

The girl smiled, then scooted around her mom to go into the kitchen.

"I'm sorry about that." Izzy came to the couch, looked at Madison and smiled. "You missed lunch, and almost our late dessert, but I promised Terry that you'd get some rest so I let you sleep. I also promised him to make you hot dogs. Do you feel up to eating lunch now?"

Madison nodded eagerly. Hot dogs. This was so much better than the dream.

"Then you stay there and keep resting until it's ready." Izzy smiled, then went back to the kitchen. "Before you eat, I'd like to take your temperature. I don't think you're sick, but I want to be able to tell Terry that I checked." Talking as she came back, Izzy held a digital thermometer as a curious Ruthie put her dessert on hold and came back to watch. Izzy ran the thermometer across Madison's forehead, lifted it and read the display. "Ninety-eight point eight. Just as I thought, no fever. Ruthie, get in there and eat your ice cream before the cone melts."

The girl giggled and ran off.

"If you'd like," Izzy said, moving back to the kitchen as she talked, "we can finish Pride and Prejudice while you eat."

"Yes please." Madison hoped she spoke loud enough to be heard, feared she hadn't and added a quick, "Thank you."

No response came from the kitchen. Worried, she sat up on the couch and thought about getting up, even though Izzy had told her to stay there and rest. They were still going to finish the movie, weren't they? What if Izzy hadn't heard her say 'yes'? Concern had Madison struggling to her feet.

Her hip protested against being used again, the ache causing her to wince as she moved. Now she needed to use the bathroom, but what about the movie? Her heart wanted to go into the kitchen and ask Izzy, but her bladder won out and she quick-limped to the office bathroom. If she hurried, she wouldn't miss lunch, or the movie.

To her dismay, John sat in his office chair, playing with what looked to be a fishing pole with lots of rubbery plastic things that had hooks in them.

"So you woke up," he smiled, reeling in some line. "Little Dove said she'd fix you hot dogs when you were ready."

Who was Little Dove? Madison wondered to herself as she moved around John and the open box with even more hooks. He had to be talking about Izzy. It had to be one of those terms of endearment that normal people said to each other when they were married.

Thankfully, she made it into the bathroom in time.

As she stood at the sink, washing her hands, she again started to feel the cuts on her belly. The memory of what she'd done the night before, disheartened her. How was she ever going to be normal if she kept doing things like that? Now whatever scars she had, would be even worse. If her doctor had paled at the sight of them before, what would she do now? Good thing she didn't have to go back to Dr. Nelson anytime soon.

Unrealistic or not, Madison couldn't help wishing that she'd never, ever, have to go back and face her doctor again.

As for everyone else, she needed time to heal, to make them look like they'd happened a long time ago and not recently; then she'd be safe from getting anyone alarmed or angry if they accidentally saw them.

Lifting the edge of her shirt, Madison's heart trembled when she saw the fresh wounds. Why had she done it? Stupid, stupid woman.

Self-loathing filled her eyes until they blurred.

She smeared away the tears, cleaned her wounds again to make sure they didn't become infected and turn bright red like the last time. The Dragon had been so angry. He hadn't taken her to a doctor, but had sworn that if she became any sicker, he'd finish her off with his bare hands. Even now, she was convinced that sheer terror had made the infection clear up.

If only she could forget.

The antibiotic hadn't stung too much when she cleaned her belly. That meant it was healing, didn't it? Or maybe it shouldn't have stung at all. Could you die from infected cuts?

Oh, she had to be losing her mind. This was what stark raving mad felt like-- she was sure of it.

God, please help me, she prayed.

The sound of Izzy's muffled voice in the office made Madison hurry. She lowered the shirt over her belly, then checked her eyes in the mirror. They looked red, but there wasn't any time to wait in the bathroom until she was normal again.

Sucking in a deep breath, she opened the door and found Izzy talking to John.

"Why am I not surprised?" Izzy shook her head as John worked to tie something to some thin line. "You'd rather stand in the sun for several hours of male bonding, rather than finish our movie."

"It's not our movie." He tossed Izzy a grin. "Besides, you know this will be good for Terry. He hasn't been out there in a while."

As John spoke, Izzy looked up and saw Madison.

"Lunch is in the kitchen," Izzy told her. "If you want, take your food into the living room so you can eat while we watch TV."

Madison nodded, kept her chin down and circled around John's desk as Izzy went back to discussing Terry, and why he hadn't been fly fishing lately; Terry's renewed interest was evidently a good sign-- whatever that meant.

The movie. Izzy had mentioned it twice.

The smell of food pulled her into the kitchen. At the table, the triplets were finishing up their cones, their mouths sticky and smiling.

"What's your favorite ice cream?" one of them asked Madison. Though Madison wasn't positive, she thought it was Debbie.

"I don't know." Madison shrugged, feeling shy at having been noticed again, and looked at the plate Izzy had left for her on the table. The plate held three hot dogs in large whole wheat buns, a green salad with tomatoes, a helping of green peas, and a few baked potato crisps. It was a generous sized meal, one Izzy obviously thought she should eat.

If it had been anything but hot dogs, Madison would have fought the food. After all, she'd eaten breakfast, hadn't she? But hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, and relish, wouldn't be turned down. Though she didn't want to admit it, she really was hungry.

"You need orange juice." Ruthie slid from her chair, went to the fridge and pulled out a large plastic pitcher that wobbled in her hands. Very carefully, Ruthie brought it to the table, then went to get a glass.

A white stain around her mouth, Debbie grinned. "Vanilla's my favorite."

"I thought it was strawberry." Lizzie frowned. "That's my favorite."

"Strawberry can be yours, but mine's vanilla."

"But what's wrong with strawberry?"

"Mine's vanilla, too," Ruthie said, coming back to tip the pitcher into a large plastic cup. Madison would have volunteered to do it for her, but Ruthie looked determined to do it on her own.

The girl poured and poured. It was a very large cup.

"Juice is good for you 'cause it has vitamins and things." Ruthie returned the pitcher to the fridge, then went back to the table to finish the last bite of her now soggy cone.

"Thank you." Madison hefted the cup in one hand, the large plate in the other, then edged her way into the living room. It seemed everyone was intent on making her eat.

Light from the window gave a definite late afternoon cast to the room, reminding her that she'd slept away the center part of the day. As she sat down on the couch, she noticed paper money tucked halfway beneath a large cushion. Curious, she pinned the cup between her knees to keep it upright, then pulled out the money.

Five dollars.

Terry. He had put it there because she'd taken that nap.

The knowledge that someone had cared, filled her with a warmth that almost made her want to cry. She supposed she wasn't supposed to wonder if he was having a good time right now. It wasn't any of her business, it really wasn't.

Grief tugged at her, but she pushed it away and forced her concentration on to something else-- anything else-- to keep from crying again.

After praying over lunch, Madison picked up the first hot dog, closed her eyes then bit in. Oh, it was good. Those five-dollar bills were the first money she'd actually owned since spending nearly everything she had for the bus fare that had brought her to Three Mile Bay. It had only left her with fifty-two cents, and even that had gotten lost when she'd braved that first awful night at the campground.

"Why can't we have the same favorite?" Lizzie asked as the three girls came into the room. "Why can't we like strawberry again?"

Debbie crossed her small arms. "Because we like vanilla now."

"But I want strawberry."

"All right you three," Izzy came down the hall, "your daddy and Uncle Terry are going fishing later this afternoon. If any of you want to join them, go to the office and let Daddy know right now, so he can help you get your tackle together."

"Yes!" Debbie did an energetic spin. "I'm gonna land some smallmouth, maybe some pike!"

Lizzie's shoulders slumped in defeat. "But I don't want to go fishing."

With an exaggerated sigh, Debbie looked to Ruthie. "What's your vote? Strawberry or vanilla, fishing or... what else is there?"

"Careful," Izzy laughed, going to the couch and moving some of the bedding to sit down. "You're starting to sound like your big sister, Abby."

"But I don't want to go fishing. Mommy, do I have to?"

"Lizzie, did you hear me say you had to go? And why do you all three have to agree? Why can't you like different things, and still be sisters?"

Lizzie looked doubtfully at her mom, then her two siblings. "I'll watch TV with Mommy." She said the words carefully, as if to test the waters and see how the others took her news.

"Me too," Ruthie shrugged. "I'm too full to go out. Mommy, can we have popcorn?"

"I thought you were full."

"Well, I'm going fishing with Daddy and Uncle Terry." Debbie gave her sisters one last look, as if to say, "This is your last chance. Are you sure?"

With a shrug, Ruthie went to go sit on the couch beside Madison. "You need to drink your juice," she said, as Madison started in on her second hot dog.

The comment prompted Izzy to look around her small daughter, to the glass pinned between Madison's knees. "Ruthie, did you serve Madison all that orange juice?"

"She needs vitamins. You said we had to drink all our juice 'cause it has vitamins to make us healthy."

"Yes, but Sweetheart, that's a lot of vitamins."

Eyebrows up, Debbie swayed from foot to foot. "I'm going," she warned.

"Doesn't Madison need vitamins?" Ruthie looked at Madison, and Madison suddenly felt her health coming under scrutiny.

"That's still a lot of orange juice." Izzy looked to Madison and gave an apologetic smile. "You don't have to drink all that. When you've had enough, just put the cup in the fridge and you can finish it later."

"Did anybody hear me?" Debbie looked from Ruthie to Lizzie.

"I guess you'll have Daddy and Uncle Terry all to yourself, Sweetheart." Izzy smiled at the satisfaction that dawned on Debbie's face as Debbie realized that fact. "Mr. Donovan is coming to fish with your uncle, so make sure you let our guest have whichever spot on the beach he wants for fishing. Remember, company manners."

With a quick nod, Debbie ran off to go find her father.

"Okay, ladies." Izzy got up from the couch, went to the DVD player and loaded the next disc for Pride and Prejudice. "It looks like it's just going to be us this afternoon."

* * * *

Leaning back from a large meal, Terry looked across the table at Emily. Lunch had been more than good, it had been the best chicken pot pie of his life. With a satisfied full stomach, he declined dessert but accepted the decaf she offered.

Sipping hot coffee, enjoying a sleepy Sunday afternoon in the company of a pretty woman and good friend-- Terry could see himself getting used to this. Strange, but the future looked clearer on a full stomach.

They chatted about the weather, that morning's sermon, the probability of more rain before winter came. Like neighbors talking over a shared backyard fence, they spoke of things they had in common. Differences were not mentioned, or even alluded to, and especially-- ESPECIALLY-- not Madison.

When the most handy topics had been hashed and rehashed to the point of alarm, Terry realized they were running out of things to say. He needed to go home, think of other subjects they could talk about the next time they met. When he announced he had to leave because Brian was coming over at three o'clock to do some fishing, Emily looked relieved.

He easily guessed she had been running out of conversation, as well.

After more compliments about the meal, and a nodding goodbye to Stanley-- Terry left the McCall's house with the accepted invitation to return next Sunday. By then, he felt certain he could come up with some safe topics they could discuss without having to fear they might drag you-know-who into the conversation.

Terry was absolutely sure he wanted to try again with Emily at this thing called a serious relationship. This was his chance at normal, to become a couple like everyone else around him. He wasn't going to let it slip by and hope for something better with someone else. This was it. He wanted it, and so did Emily.

Despite the growing awkwardness that had overcome the last part of his visit, things could have gone worse. Hurricanes, blizzards, and other natural disasters had avoided the dining room altogether, so in that sense it had been a success.

Even in his heavily optimistic mood however, he had to admit that a disaster of sorts had happened that afternoon, and it had been very natural.

Hurricane Madison had swept through the McCall's house and left polite chit-chat in its wake. As long as Terry was admitting things, he also had to concede that aside from their painful effort to not mention Madison, their conversation before Madison's arrival in Three Mile Bay hadn't been much different. Only now they were being polite under pressure.

At least lunch was over and he could relax. Now he could go fishing and start dreading next Sunday.

* * * *

Elisabeth Bennet had just begun to read the letter from Mr. Gardiner about the news of having found Mr. Wickham and Lydia, when the front door opened and light spilled onto the large screen TV. The glare made it impossible to see what was happening.

Izzy hit pause, freezing the moment until the glare passed.

"How was lunch?" Izzy asked the intruder.

"Lunch was good." At the sound of Terry's voice, Madison felt her impatience turn to joy. He was home. He pulled off his shoes, came to the couch where Izzy, Ruthie, and Lizzie were loosely crowded together. "Well, well," he grinned. "Only half of the audience is fast asleep. Not too shabby for an Austen flick."

At Izzy's exasperated sigh, Terry laughed. Even in laughter, Madison saw it-- that telltale sadness around Terry's eyes.

"Do you want to watch with us?" Madison started to scoot over and make room, but he quickly stopped her.

"I don't have the time." He moved so he wasn't blocking the TV. "I have to change and gear up before Brian arrives. By the way, where's John and Debbie? I don't see them in here, enjoying all this classic literary culture."

"John's napping in the master bedroom"-- Izzy thumbed the remote's pause button-- "and Debbie is taking a nap in the girls' room. They claim they're going fishing with you."

"Are they?" Terry looked pleased. "I'll be glad to have them. Do I have any special requests from the chef?"

"Just clean the fish outside before you bring them into my kitchen. I'll take care of the rest."

"I'll keep that in mind." Terry nodded, turned his eyes on Madison and smiled. "Better. You look much better. Did you eat your hot dogs?"

"Yes, and she slept for most of the afternoon." Izzy danced the remote before her. "Anything else?"

Shaking his head with a soft chuckle, Terry left the living room to the girls.

The movie started, but Terry's sadness clung to Madison. Intent on seeing if he was all right, she got up from the couch and almost didn't hear when Izzy called after her.

"Where are you going? I'll pause the movie."

"No, I'll be back in a moment." Madison hurried down the hall, saw that he'd already gone inside, and stopped at the closed door like a car slamming on its breaks. A bedroom. She wouldn't go inside, she'd only stay in the hall. Willing herself to not look at anything behind Terry, she hesitated, then knocked.

"Just a moment," came from inside. The door opened. Terry's eyes widened in surprise. "What apocalyptic event managed to tear you away from the movie? Aren't you missing it?"

She shrugged. "How did things go with Emily?"

"You must be running a temperature to miss Pride and Prejudice." Terry looked at her with half amusement, half concern in his eyes. "Go back to your movie. I have to change out of these Sunday clothes, then Brian will be here."

"But what about you?"

Terry frowned. "What about me?"

The direct question had her shrugging again. "I don't know. You just look... different."

He stared at her, then gave a slightly lopsided grin. "That's probably because I put on several pounds after that large lunch I had. Go back to your movie. I'm all right, okay?"

She stared at the carpet, then headed back to the living room.

"Hey, Maddie?"

She turned when he called her.


"Thanks for what?"

He shook his head. "You're missing the good part."

She thought back to yesterday, when John accused Izzy of saying the entire movie was the "good part," and smiled.

For a moment, they stood there looking at each other, making each other's smile a little deeper, a little fuller. Then sadness crept back into Terry's face. He closed the door and left Madison to wonder what Emily had done to make him so sad. What had she done to him?

By the time Madison made it back to the movie, the characters were discussing how much money it had taken Mr. Gardiner to pay Mr. Wickham to marry Lydia.

Izzy gave Madison a concerned look, but seemed happy that she hadn't stayed away for too long.

Several minutes later, the men and Debbie began to assemble in the hall with their fishing gear. When the commotion proved too much of a distraction, Izzy paused the movie. The girls on the couch woke up, and while they sat rubbing their eyes, the doorbell sounded.

"That's probably Brian." Terry strode past the TV in a worn pair of jeans and an old looking coat. He hadn't zipped the coat yet, and she could see a white shirt with a fish symbol on the front.

Despite wanting to watch Terry, Madison hunkered into the couch. She had to avoid Brian, and Terry seemed to understand. He promised the man they would join him in a moment, then Brian went off to find a good place on the beach while Terry closed the front door and took inventory of their equipment.

As the group headed outside, Terry lingered behind and shot a look to Madison. "Stay inside if you don't want to talk to Brian. I'll make excuses for you, but if you step outside, it'll be out of my hands."

She nodded, gave Terry a smile and relaxed when she saw him smiling back.

"Little idiot," he grinned. "Go back to your movie." With that, he disappeared out the front door.

As the miniseries played again, Madison felt better about Terry. If he could smile like that, then things would be all right. God would look after him. She felt comforted in that knowledge, and cozied down to enjoy the rest of her movie.

"They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
~ Isaiah 40:31 ~

"For the LORD taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation."
~ Psalm 149:4 ~

end of chapter