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Chapter Sixteen
Terry's Puppy

"He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he."
~ Proverbs 16:20 ~

When Brian's vehicle pulled away, Terry could almost hear Maddie breathe a sigh of relief.

She'd made it through the day, and had earned some peace and quiet on the living room sofa while the rest of them cleaned house. Maddie had wanted to help, but all Terry would let her do was raise her feet when he vacuumed the carpet near the couch. He picked up the napkin Macho had ripped to pieces before being caught, the crumbs that had fallen from plates, the sand that had been tracked in from the beach, all the things that announced a party had just taken place.

A fly fishing, cook-out-on-the-beach kind of a party, with good friends and good food.

Terry retrieved Maddie's bedding from the master bedroom, gave it to her and let her get ready for bed in her own way. He watched as she spread the blankets over the cushions, arranged her pillow, then disappeared into the office with her toothbrush to use the half bath and brush her teeth. It had been a big day for her. She had been introduced to the church-going members of Three Mile Bay, and they, to her.

Except for a little carsickness and some paleness, Maddie had come through it with flying colors. Okay, maybe not flying colors, but she'd managed to survive the day without hiding in the office. That had to count for something.

After the dirty dishes had been cleaned, dried, and put away, John went into the office to play with his laptop, while Izzy started getting the girls ready for bed. Terry stepped outside to move the now cool firepit into the garage, and lingered to look into the heavens.

Stars spilled across the dark sky like diamonds on rich, black velvet. It was the kind of night that made Terry smile. Tired though he was, he could appreciate all that beauty. God was indeed rich, to splurge on so many stars.

The thought eased some of the weariness from his mind. It had been a good day. Long, and not without surprises, but good.

He rounded into the house, locked the back door, then went into the living room to make sure the front was secure for the night. On the couch, Maddie sat in her shirt and jeans, intently scribbling in her notebook. It did his heart good to see her so content. He checked the locks and turned on the outdoor security light.

Not wanting to interrupt, he left off saying "good night," and headed to the master bedroom to make sure he'd gotten all of Maddie's things off of John and Izzy's bed.

"Hey, Terry," John caught him as he passed by the open office door, "hold on a sec, I've got some news." John resumed talking to whoever it was on the other end of his cell phone. "Are you sure about this? That's a lot of distance to cover in under a week."

Curious, Terry came inside, snagged a chair and sat down.

"I know, but you've only got one driver, Abby. You're going to need a lot of breaks, and even then you've got a four-year-old who won't like sitting for most of the day."

Terry breathed a silent prayer of thanks. They were coming!

"Then you've already made the hotel reservations?" John nodded while he listened. "Okay, but that's a lot of driving, Abby. Are you sure? Okay, I'll try not to worry, but we're definitely going to pray about this. So when do you think you'll arrive in Three Mile Bay?" John leaned forward, punched some keys onto his laptop. "Late Saturday afternoon. Okay, have you called Dick yet? Uh-huh. I'll let you get to it then. Get a good night's sleep, and call us after you check in each night. I don't mind if you do wake us up-- call. It'll help your mother to know you've made it all right."

John dragged a hand through his blonde hair. "Give Ricky a hug from Gramps, and tell Jake the house will be ready. Yeah, after tomorrow, it'll be ready. What's that?" John smiled deeply, then feigned a casual, "Just some last minute details-- you'll see for yourself when you get here. Okay, good night, Sweetheart."

The moment John hung up, Terry clapped his hands.

"They're coming!"

"They are," John sighed. "Izumi?" John waited a beat until Izzy came to the door. "I just had a call from Abby. She and Jake are taking off early tomorrow morning, and will be here this Saturday. They're calling Dick to tell him their plans."

"This Saturday?" Izzy came in while a triplet moved around her to climb onto John's lap. "Driving cross-country in six days? Can she do that safely?"

"It's doable," Terry replied. "Ambitious with a little kid along, but doable. Come on, John, you know it is. Abby's a good driver."

"She is," John admitted. "I was hoping they'd talk with us before they made reservations, but Abby says everything has been taken care of. They've even thought ahead and bought some new toys for Ricky. He can't play with them until after they're on the road, and Abby says Ricky can hardly wait."

Izzy looked at John. "Did you tell her what Dick's planning, tomorrow?"

"No," John said with a wide smile, "she doesn't know yet. If AJ finds out, it's up to Dick to tell them. He's paying for the whole thing, so I don't want to ruin it if he's trying to keep it a surprise."

From John's lap, Debbie looked up at her daddy. "What surprise?" she asked.

"You'll see tomorrow," John said, and gave her a hug.

"At least they're coming before it snows." Terry stood up from his chair and checked the wall calendar. "Things usually start picking up in October, and November through April, they'd be fighting some road hazards. Icy roads can make for some interesting driving."

"You said it," John sighed. "At least they're coming before it snows."

Izzy shook her head. "I'll feel a lot better after they're home, and I won't stop praying until they are."

"I'll be praying, too," Terry added, moving to the door. "I'm turning in early tonight, but the house is locked up and everyone is present and accounted for."

John grinned and gave Debbie a hug. "It'll be great to have all my daughters back in one place again."

"Amen to that," Terry grinned, and said good night before crossing the hall to his room.

As he closed his door, all happy and expectant over AJ's return, the realization of it began to sink in. Abby would be here before the week was out. While it filled him with hearty gratitude, it also gave him pause to think.

Madison. No one in the family had breathed a word of her to Abby or Jake, and Terry knew why. He could hear it now...

Welcome home, AJ! Who is that stranger on the couch? Oh, it's just my latest needy person. I found her at the campground in the driving rain after dark. Really. No family, no money, and whoa, is she ever needy. But you know me and my crusades.

Oh yeah.

Abby knew his crusades all right, and no one in this family wanted to mention Madison until they absolutely had to.

In a moment of stark clarity, Terry realized Abby was coming home to a total stranger. Jake wasn't as much of a concern, but Abby... she would have something to say about Madison.

Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out his smartphone. He had to get furniture-- enough furniture to make Maddie comfortable in her new apartment. She would need towels, bedding, food in the fridge, plates, pans-- all the things she didn't have and would need. If he had to, he'd give her his things to make sure the move took place before Saturday. And a cell phone. She positively had to have a cell phone. Terry refused to turn Maddie loose in her own apartment without a lifeline back to himself.

He already knew Maddie would need him.

Then there was his trashed apartment to think about. If he paid extra, the glass people would come sooner than later, and repair his boarded-over window. And he absolutely had to hire someone to remove the "Thanks a lot" scrawled on his wall. Spray-paint would come off, wouldn't it? He pictured the beautiful masonry of his brick and mortar complex, and shuddered. Whatever the cost, he had to get rid of it before Abby came. All he needed was a fresh reminder to Abby of his past and current failures.

He punched out a game-plan on the phone's notepad. He had a lot to do, and a deadline of Saturday to get it all done.

* * * *

Her tummy full and her eyelids heavy, Madison slipped the notebook beneath her pillow and got up to turn on the night-light. She had a lot to write about. Her evening with Terry on the beach had sent her soul humming. He'd sat with her, ate with her, and they'd watched the sunset. It had felt so wonderful to just be there with him. Of course, it hadn't all been good, for Terry had said he thought she was attractive. That part hadn't gone into her notebook. She'd pretended he hadn't said it, and only concentrated on the really good parts. Like watching the water and enjoying things together.

It was wonderful to have Terry for a friend.

Even though she knew a normal woman would probably like Brian, she just couldn't bring herself to be one of them. Brian wanted to be noticed as a man, and that alone terrified her. To normal people, Brian might be nice, but he was no Terry.

There wasn't anyone half so nice as Terry.

Climbing under the covers, she cozied into the pillow and sighed. She could close her eyes and still see Terry, the wind ruffling his hair, his eyes on the bay like he was taking in a great masterpiece and not just a bunch of water and lots of trees. Or the way he looked at her when she was busy filling glasses in the kitchen with Izzy, or the way he asked her to join him for dinner outside. Unthreatening, harmless, not wanting or expecting a single thing from her besides friendship. Men were frightening monsters, big and strong and out for one thing and one thing alone. But it was different with Terry. He didn't stare at her or want anything like Brian did.

She liked Terry. Really liked him a lot.

Her glowing emotions turned uncomfortable when the need came back. Time to think of something else. The fish she'd tasted that day, and had enjoyed, or the way Terry had went about the house and made sure the doors were locked and everyone was safe.

Uh-oh, Terry again. She shifted beneath the covers. If she had to, she'd turn on the TV and keep the volume turned low. If it would stop the ugly feeling inside her, then she would chance triggering those things Terry had called flashbacks. The memories didn't have to come, for the television hadn't always done that to her. In the old days, TV had been her friend, giving her a window of escape into other people's lives, a point of view different from her own. But now, the pictures sometimes reminded her of things she was trying hard to forget.

She would have to be very careful.

Getting up, Madison located the remote, pushed the volume down, then went back to the couch to snuggle under the blankets. She tucked the remote beside her pillow and watched the images move on the large screen.

A man with brown hair and even browner eyes started talking, and she smiled. He wasn't anywhere near as nice as Terry.

Her eyes drooped, and before long, she was fast asleep.

* * * *

The next morning, Terry didn't come to the breakfast table like he usually did. Madison ate her cereal and drank her calcium-fortified milk with the Johanneses, but aside from coming in to fill his smiley mug, Terry kept to the office.

"He's calling the glass people," John told Izzy over a hot cup of coffee.

"Good," Izzy nodded, and left it at that.

Though Madison wondered what John had meant, she lacked the courage to ask. She guessed it had something to do with Terry's broken window.

While the girls munched cereal, John and Izzy talked about AJ-- the family's codename for Abby and Jake. Izzy's oldest child was coming home, and the anticipation on the mother's face said it all. Abby was loved. It made Madison wish her own momma had felt that way about her.

Why was it that other people always had it better than she did? In almost every way, she lacked what everyone else took for granted.

Struggling not to feel sorry for herself, Madison focused on John and Izzy's happiness. She would be glad because they were glad. Even the girls were excited. Their big sister was coming home, wasn't that great?

Madison supposed it was. She'd never met Abby or Jake, and couldn't summon anything beyond a smile and a quiet dread that she would have to negotiate two more people. She was still adjusting to Izzy and John, and soon there would be two more to worry about and try to figure out.

The last of her cereal had turned to mush, but she spooned it down so she could tell Terry that she'd eaten all her food. She finished off her milk, then got up to go use the bathroom. The fact she had to go through the office to get there, gave her the first genuine smile of the morning.

There he was, sitting at his desk, looking so busy and important as he thumbed through a thick yellow phone book.

She moved in front of his desk and waited to be noticed.

"Hi, Terry."

He glanced up and nodded, then went back to his book.

She chewed her bottom lip.

"I ate all my cereal."

"That's good." Terry flipped through some more pages, went back one and stopped.

"You didn't eat," she ventured.

"I know. I'm not hungry this morning." Terry lifted his cell phone, read something from the book then punched in a number.

She sighed deeply. From here, she could smell the soap he used, even the slight scent of his shampoo. All that thick brown hair, the shadow of stubble on his jaw, even the small nick on his hand where he'd probably got a paper cut-- it all fascinated her in a way she couldn't understand.

He was a man, he was one of them, and yet he was so wonderful her insides ached.

"Hello?" Terry spoke into the phone. "I saw your ad in the Yellow Pages and wondered if you have a delivery service. We're talking several large items, at least two room's worth and I'd like them delivered as soon as possible. That's not a problem? Yes, I'll pay extra. Great. Thanks a lot." He hung up, punched more numbers and letters into his phone.


"I'm really busy, Maddie. Can it wait?"

"Okay." She bit her lip, hoping he'd look up and smile. It sure didn't sound like he was talking to glass people to her, but then, what did she know?

When he kept working, she went into the bathroom and carefully shut the door so she wouldn't disturb him.

Why did her heart have to beat so fast?

She lifted the bottom edge of her shirt. The cuts were still there, of course, for she'd only done it the night before last. The thin slashes had dried together, and were surrounded by pale skin, so that was good. They weren't infected, so she was healing.

And yet her heart pounded so loudly she could barely hear herself think.

What was happening to her? It didn't make sense.

She cleaned the wounds again, washed her face, then got out the brush and ran it through her blonde hair. The pale reflection in the mirror caught her attention, and for once, instead of glancing away, she willed herself to look. Torment shone in those eyes, but she forced herself to keep looking.

Did Terry really think she was attractive? How could he, when her face was too narrow, her nose too small, and her eyes so sunken she looked like she'd been beaten? Images flickered before her, and she saw her own face, her own sheet covered body as her hands and feet stretched tight against the rope lashed to the bed. She heard the screams and knew it was only one of the countless movies that she'd been forced to watch, over and over.

And they were all of her.

She wilted inside, and turned away from the mirror like she'd just seen a vision from hell. It had been hell, her own personal hell with a very real Dragon.

Her hand reached beneath the shirt and she dug her fingernails into the skin beside the cuts. Not enough to make them bleed again, but just enough to feel the pain. She had to forget, though each time she saw her whole reflection, it was a reminder that she never would.

How could Terry possibly see a woman in all that mess? She had no color, she wasn't pretty, and she certainly wasn't attractive.

And yet that's what he'd said.

It made her want to vomit and tremble with pleasure, all in the same breath.

A knock sounded on the bathroom door. It made her jump, and sent a bolt of shock to her wildly beating heart. In that moment, she was certain the Dragon was outside the bathroom door.

"Maddie? As soon as you're done in there, we have errands to run."

Sickness turned to joy, and her insides did a happy dance at the sound of Terry's voice.

"Oh, I'm coming! I'm coming!" she called back eagerly. Insane, ugly creature that she was, she would get to be with Terry today.

Thank You, God. Thank You so much!

She changed into fresh clothes, a pair of loose jeans and a yellow shirt, and hurried from the bathroom before he left without her. He wouldn't forget her, would he?

Relief flooded Madison when she found Terry still in the office.

Her coat was slung over the back of a chair, so she put it on and waited.

Slipping into his own coat, Terry checked the lit-up display on the cell phone on his desk. "Did you take your painkiller?" he asked without looking up.

"No, I forgot."

"You'd better go take it." He looked at her and gave one of those lopsided grins. "We'll be doing a lot of walking today, and I can't carry you if your hip starts hurting."

She couldn't help smiling. He was simply the most wonderful person there ever was.

"Maddie? Are you okay?"


"Then go take your acetaminophen." He zipped up his coat, and she hurried to obey before he left without her.

In the kitchen, Madison's hands trembled so hard Izzy took the bottle from her and dumped two pills out before she spilled them everywhere.

"Calm down," Izzy told her as she swallowed the pills with a glass of water. "You keep breathing that fast, and you'll pass out."

"Are you ready?" Terry came into the kitchen as Ruthie scampered past him in her yellow nightgown. "Sometimes, this family worries me," Terry said with a grin. "It's nearly eight, and Izzy and John are still in their pajamas, and so are the girls. What's this family coming to?"

"Just getting a late start," John grinned from the table. "Are they going to put in the glass today?"

"Yup," Terry pocketed his phone. "Sometime after lunch. When's the washer and dryer coming?"

"Sometime later this morning," John said, as Madison joined Terry.

"Take your pills?" Terry asked her.

She nodded, excited beyond words that she was going with him. She had no idea what errands they were going to run, or where they were going, only that she would be with him. She'd heard a woman on TV call a man cute before, and until now, she didn't know how a man could possibly be cute.

But Terry was-- oh, he was.

"Is she feeling all right?" John pointed his mug at her.

"She's probably just eager to get started," Terry said as he checked his watch. "This will take a while, so don't hold up dinner on our account."

"So you're getting it all done, today?" John asked.

"I'm sure going to try," Terry said as he steered Madison out of the kitchen. "Say 'Hi' to Dick for me."

"Let me know if you need any help," John called after them.

"Thanks," Terry called back, and ushered Madison out the front door.

Wherever they were going, it was a nice day to be outdoors. The cold nipped at her face, but the wind wasn't strong, and when she waited for Terry to bring the jeep around, sunshine warmed her just enough to still be pleasant with a coat on.

Her insides hummed as she climbed into the jeep and buckled up. It wasn't often that she was so very aware of being happy. It hardly ever happened, but today was definitely looking like one of those days. Unable to contain the happiness, she hugged herself as Terry pulled onto the main road.

He glanced at her and frowned. "Are you feeling all right?"

Fearing he might take her back, she gave a quick, "Oh yes."

"Did John and Izzy tell you the good news about AJ?"

When Madison smiled, Terry grinned so broadly she could tell he cared for Abby and Jake very much. No surprise there, for Terry felt strongly about all his family, from the smallest right up to the biggest.

"About today," he continued, "we have a lot to get done before lunch. I have to be at my apartment before one o'clock. My window is getting replaced and I need to be there before the glass people arrive." He sounded almost apologetic. "I don't know how fast we'll be able to find everything, but I won't rush you. What doesn't get done today, will get done tomorrow."

"Okay. Thank you." She didn't know what else to say, but figured that ought to cover it.

"When you see something you like," he glanced at her, "I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know. This will be your home, and I want you to like your furniture."

She gasped in surprise.

He must have heard it, for he gave her a sidelong look. "You didn't know we're going furniture shopping this morning?"

She blinked, and feared he'd laugh at her for being so stupid.

He gave a small chuckle.

"Sorry, Maddie. You've been so quiet, I just assumed you understood."

"Are you angry?"

"No, of course I'm not." He frowned and slid her another glance. "Stop looking as if I'm about to kick you. It's my fault for not telling you, not yours."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

Terry pushed out a sigh, checked the speedometer and slowed.

Her lip hurt, and it wasn't until she tasted blood that she realized she'd bitten herself.

"Let's start over, okay?" Terry smiled at the road ahead. "I'll say, 'I want you to like your furniture,' and you'll say, 'Me too.' Then we'll change the subject and enjoy the rest of the morning. What do you say?"

She gave a timid smile. "Me, too."

"There," he grinned, "that wasn't so hard, was it? The next time you don't understand something, pipe up and ask. I promise I won't be angry."


He checked his speed, and she plunged ahead.

"I like you, Terry."

"Thanks, I like you, too."

The sunlight played against Terry's face, highlighting his eyelashes and haloing his cheek. He didn't glow from inside like real angels were supposed to, but he sure came close.

"What?" he asked after several moments of silence.

"I like you an awful lot, Terry."

His mouth opened and she could almost hear him repeating the compliment back to her. He flicked her a look.

"Okay," he said slowly. "I suppose that's all right. There's no harm in liking someone."

"But Terry, I like you so much it hurts."

"Whoa." Terry blew out a breath. He nervously checked the rear view mirror, as if to make sure no one could hear them. "Maddie, let's calm down, okay? You don't know what you're saying."

"Yes, I do. I like you."

"Okay... when you put it that way..." he looked intensely thoughtful. "I don't think I have a problem with that. It's only natural that friends should like each other. Sure, okay-- I like you, too."

"You do? Really, you do?"

"Hey, hey." He looked at her again. "Cut that out. 'Like' is just what it means-- I didn't say 'love.'"

"Neither did I."

"Good." Terry straightened in his seat. "Just as long as we understand each other." He blew out a breath and she could see him steadying himself, bit by bit. "Okay, then. Okay." He blew out another breath, gave her one more look before quickly returning his eyes to the road.


He didn't answer.


"Maddie, I'm right here."

"You're not angry, are you?"

His mouth opened but he didn't say anything for a full minute.

"That's a good way to catch a fly," she said, and saw him close it with a smile.

"How about we start this conversation over again?" he suggested. "I want you to like your furniture."

"Me too," she smiled.

"Good." Terry gave a nod, then switched on the radio.

As the local news filled the jeep, they sank into a long but friendly silence.

* * * *

What had just happened? And where had it come from? Terry trained his eyes on the road and not on the woman in the passenger seat. He was pretty sure she was staring at him, but he didn't want to risk checking.

She might start talking again.

He steadied himself. He could handle this. As soon as he figured out what had just happened, he would handle it.

A sign caught his eye and he got off the main road before he missed his turn. He hadn't been paying attention, but who could blame him with Maddie talking the way she had?

He flicked her a glance. She was watching him, all right.

Time to think this through rationally. She wasn't like other women. This was Maddie. A survivor with huge scars that still pulsed from the pain of what she'd endured. He knew that, could see it in the way she handled herself, doubted and hated herself, and from her overwhelming need to be normal.

The survivor, he could understand. The woman, however, baffled him to no end.

Was it getting hot in here? He thought about turning on the A/C, but remembered they were wearing coats. And he wasn't hot, not really. His face and neck burned, but it wasn't from heat.

"Maddie, please stop staring."

He heard her sigh, and chanced a look only to find her watching the traffic. Maybe he had been overreacting.

So she liked him. He liked her, too, so what was the big deal? He still couldn't figure out her liking him an "awful lot," but this was Maddie. She was confused on a lot of things.

When he thought about it, she was probably just grateful. He was being nice to her, so she was grateful for the kindness. The way she had expressed it was still a little over the top, but so what? She was a walking contradiction, a woman who hated men and yet one who evidently liked him enough to say so.

The compliment wouldn't go to his head. As Terry turned into the parking lot for the Pre-Loved Furniture Corner, he reminded himself that this abused puppy was vulnerable. Taken on the whole, "like" was probably harmless enough. He could allow that. It wasn't "love," and as long as she didn't say that word, it was okay.

He switched off the engine, saw her slip out of her seat belt then push open her door.

"Maddie, hold up a second."

She looked back at him and smiled.

"What you said before, about liking me-- I'd appreciate it if you didn't say things like that in front of others. They wouldn't understand."

She cocked her head like a sweet, innocent puppy.

"They wouldn't understand that we're just friends, and nothing more. Please don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

Terry pushed out a sigh. "Never mind. Just be careful what you say about me to others, all right?"

That breathless look was in Maddie's face again, and he decided to drop the subject. He didn't trust that look, or the way it made him feel. No woman had ever looked at him that way before, and it scared him.

Shaking himself from the moment, Terry got out of the jeep. He had to remember who she was-- a hurt, confused woman who hated men.

He pushed open the entrance door for Maddie, held it as she passed by him into the store.

She was a vulnerable woman in a desperate situation. He thanked God he wasn't the kind of man who would take advantage of all that gratitude.

Hugging herself, this time probably out of shyness, Maddie tucked herself behind him as he moved into the "showroom." The word could be used mildly, for the Pre-Loved Furniture Corner was basically one large room stuffed to the gills with couches, tables, recliners, and lamps. The walls teemed with picture frames, lamp fixtures, artificial plants, and knickknacks that probably came from garage sales.

The store had a crowded but cozy charm that had Terry smiling.

As he stopped to look at a recliner, Maddie bumped into his back. He pulled her around until she stood beside him.

"Don't hide behind me. I can't keep an eye on you back there."

Off to one side of the room, an elderly gentleman sat in a recliner next to a small desk. He was probably the store owner, or manager, and he looked to be dozing.

"Well," Terry prodded her, "start looking around."

She gave a lost look and he chuckled.

"Come on, Maddie, have some fun." He pulled her by the coat sleeve to an assortment of small round tables. Some were simple, almost ugly, while others had solid wood finishes that scented of lemon cleaner. "Your apartment is small, only three rooms, not counting the bathroom, kitchen pantry, and closets. Your main space will be the bedroom and the living room."

At the sound of the word, "bedroom," Maddie shrank back and started hugging herself even tighter.

"Like I said before," he quickly reminded, "you don't have to have a bed. You can have a couch, maybe some shelves for books... I don't know, but you don't have to have a bed. Okay? Stop hugging yourself and start looking at these tables."

The elderly man at the table snorted in his sleep, woke up, and sat blinking at them.

"Can I help you folks?"

"Not yet," Terry smiled. "We're still looking."

"Holler if you need help," the man said, and pulled out a magazine.

This place was definitely relaxed.

"First, a table." Terry pointed to a small round one made of solid maple. It had a carved pedestal and four matching chairs that had the classic look and feel of a colonial farmhouse. "Look," Terry pointed to the two leaves behind one of the chairs, "the table opens up, and you put in those leaves to make more space. When you don't have company, take out the leaves and you have yourself a nice place to eat."

When Terry moved closer to look at the finish, he found the usual wear marks of something that had been gently used over the years. Then he saw the price tag.

"They're only asking two hundred and fifty." Terry let out a low whistle so he wouldn't disturb the man in the recliner.

"Is that good or bad?" Maddie asked.

"That's good. Very good." Terry moved to another table, and out of curiosity checked the handwritten price tag. It was higher, but then this table had less wear and it looked more trendy than the other. "What do you say, Maddie?"

She gave a helpless shrug.

"Come on, woman, this is going to be your home. 'Yes' or 'no' to the table?"

"Are you sure it doesn't cost much?"

Terry sighed. "Do you like it?"

She turned about and looked at the tables crowded together on that side of the room.

"This one's the prettiest," she admitted.

"Pretty?" He shook his head. "I guess we can go with that. I see sensible and quaint, and you see pretty. Interesting."

"Well, you asked."

"That I did," Terry smiled. "Wait here a moment, I'm going to see the owner."

It was a snug little store, but she still managed to look frightened as Terry left her beside the pretty table.

"Excuse me?" Terry waited for the man in the recliner to put down his magazine. "We'd like that table-- the small round one with four chairs. Is that the actual price?"

"It is," the man confirmed. "Comes with the leaves, and if you pay extra, I'll have it delivered."

"So you told me when I called earlier," Terry nodded. "We'll take the table, but we're not done yet so there's probably no need to get out of that recliner."

"Music to my ears," the man chuckled, and returned to his magazine. "Pull off the price tag so everyone will know it's yours, and hand them in when you're ready to check out."

They had the store to themselves, so there wasn't much danger of people fighting over who got what. Even so, Terry went back and pulled off the tag.

"How am I ever going to use four chairs?" Maddie asked glumly. "What if I never have any company to use them?"

"I don't know about Izzy and John," Terry said, moving on to the couches, "but I expect an invitation to dinner every now and then."

"You do?" Maddie looked surprised.

"Just because you're in apartment number four," Terry said, handing her the tag, "it doesn't mean you're suddenly on the other side of the world. You have friends here, and I expect to be treated like one."

"Oh, I will," she beamed, "I will."

"Good." He looked back at the selection of couches and wished he hadn't been so emphatic about being her friend. Still, he wasn't about to stand by and watch, just because she now had her own place. She still needed a lot of looking after.

"Since you don't want a bed in your room," Terry proposed, "I suggest you put a really comfortable couch in there. You'll have one in your room-- notice I didn't say bedroom-- and one in the living room for company and watching TV."

"But I don't have a TV."

"You will. I found you asleep in the living room with the set on this morning, so you'll have one." He looked her over. "You're on the tall side-- almost as tall as me-- so you shouldn't have a short couch in your room." He turned to the assorted sofas, waded between them and tried to judge quality and length. "Come over here. You need to try these out and see if they fit."

Obediently, she came over and sat down.

He motioned for her to stretch out.

"Comfortable?" he asked.

She couldn't give him an answer, so he moved her to a lengthy fabric covered couch with some of the deepest cushions he'd ever seen. When Maddie lay down, it still had some room left over.

"Is it comfortable?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Then try it a little longer, and see if any wild springs suddenly appear." He pulled off the price tag, handed it to her and started looking for a couch to put in the living room.

He found a nice one with a floral print of red and pink flowers and immediately knew Maddie would think it pretty. He called her over and when he saw the smile, pulled off the price tag and moved to the lamps.

A check of his watch showed it was only ten, so they were making decent time.

While he inspected floor lamps, she wandered over to the curios against the wall. He watched as she came to a striking, Victorian style, guardian angel figurine with blonde hair and flowing green robes. She stood about a foot tall, her wings spread over a scene with two children crossing over a storm-tossed river with a rickety bridge.

Maddie was so enthralled by the angel, and stood there so long, Terry came closer to get a better look. He noticed a cord came from its base and plugged into the wall, and turned on its clicker switch. The angel lit up from within, casting a heavenly glow on Maddie's face.

A comforting night-light Terry decided, and pulled the tag off.

Pulling Maddie away, was another matter.

"That was an angel, wasn't it?" she asked as he tried to get her to look at a TV cabinet.

"A guardian angel," he nodded. He looked over the cabinet's construction and decided it would be too big for her apartment.

"Do I have a guardian angel?"

"Sure." He moved to another cabinet and she followed.

"Do I have an angel of my very own?"

"Probably more than one," he smiled, crouching to open the cabinet's doors. "'For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.' That's from Psalm ninety-one, a good passage. Hey, this shelf slides out."

"Are you one of my angels, Terry?"

The question floored him, for he could tell she wanted him to say "yes."

He slid the shelf back in and shut the cabinet.

"Let's just say God's enlisting my help." He turned to look at another, and was profoundly grateful when she dropped the subject.

Him? An angel?

That woman had some very strange notions.

He hoped he wasn't getting in over his head.

In addition to the floral couch for the living room and a small TV cabinet, Terry added an oversized upholstered armchair that he could picture Maddie curling up in with a good book. For the bedroom-- make that "her room," he bought a pine dresser where she could keep clothes, and a small bookcase where he figured she could put things. He added in a ceramic rabbit wearing a country dress with a sign reading, "Home Sweet Home," and headed to the man in the recliner with their tags.

They had her furniture. The bathroom and kitchen needed to be addressed, but her room and the living room would now be fully furnished. On the whole, he felt reasonably sure Maddie liked the choices. They'd taken care of the furniture, which meant they could eat, then get to his apartment before the glass people arrived. The furniture would arrive tomorrow, and the driver would call beforehand to make sure Terry would be there to accept the delivery.

As Terry led Maddie outside, four customers came into the store. Two more went in after them, and Terry knew things were going to get crowded in there in a hurry. They'd come early enough in the day to have the pick of the merchandise, and now he was grateful to leave.

Like a drooping flower needing to be watered, Maddie sank into the jeep and closed her eyes. When Terry told her to buckle up, she had trouble getting the seat belt to work.

"Keep your eyes open," he coaxed, and finally reached over to do it himself.

Knowing she wasn't up to a packed restaurant during the busy lunch hour, Terry swung by a grocery store and left Maddie waiting in the jeep. By the time he returned with their food, Maddie had climbed into the back seat and fallen asleep.

She looked so peaceful, he hated to wake her.

The leaves of an ornamental tree rustled overhead as Terry opened his window to give them some air. The grocery's parking lot had few good places with shade, but this was one of them.

As he unwrapped a large hoagie fresh from the grocery's deli, the aroma of Italian sausage and melted cheeses reminded him again of just how hungry he was since he'd skipped breakfast.

"Maddie?" He looked into the back where she lay curled on the seat. "Come on, Maddie, time to eat."

She gave a weak protesting moan, and he smiled as her eyes blinked open.

"Lunch," he said, and passed her half of the hoagie. "Thirsty?" he asked.

She gave a small nod, and he handed her a can of cold soda.

"Is your hip hurting?"

Peeking into the hoagie, she shook her head.

"It's just a sandwich, Maddie."

"But it's so big."

"Then eat what you can, and I'll finish the rest. Are you sure your hip's all right?"

She nodded.

After praying over their food, Terry took off his coat, then settled back against the door to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere while he ate. The rustle of trees, the quiet enjoyment of a good lunch made for a relaxed, pleasant afternoon.

A small burp came from the back seat. When a giggle followed, Terry arched a brow and picked up his soda.

Gulping down several swallows, he gave a loud, manly burp, one that would make men everywhere proud.

A slightly larger, but oh-so dainty burp answered his, and when he outdid her a third time, she broke into laughter.

He looked at her and took another bite from his hoagie.

Peaches and cream sweetened with giggles and laughter-- that was Maddie when she was happy. She was so beautiful.

The thought caught him off guard, made him swallow without chewing. It choked him until he washed it down with soda. He couldn't think that about Madison.

"You really should chew your food," she commented from the back seat.

He tossed her a look and she smiled.

"I'll make a note of that, thanks." Terry set aside the rest of his hoagie and finished off the soda.

When he burped, Maddie laughed.

He forced himself not to look at her until it was safe and she was eating again.

She liked him-- HIM, Terry Davis, and not someone else. It wasn't easy to forget that. It endeared her to him, and he'd already been struggling not to get too attached to his puppy. After all, she wasn't his, she didn't belong to him no matter how long he took care of her.

Well now. "Like" was a more dangerous word than he'd thought. It introduced things Maddie had most likely not intended to introduce into their friendship, and it gave him thoughts he now had to fight back with both hands to keep from thinking.

It was only natural, he reasoned. He was a man after all, and susceptible to... well, to what Maddie had in such great abundance. It would be easy for a man to want her if he let it happen, especially a man who knew he was liked.

He was liked. It was a heady thought, one that would bolster any man's self-confidence.

But he wasn't any man, and she wasn't any woman.

He had befriended a very vulnerable, very confused, and yes, very pretty woman. He would not take advantage of her. Saying that to Maddie would only serve to scare her, so he kept silent and let her finish lunch.

For his sake, as well as hers, Terry was glad she would soon be moving into her own home. It would give a bit of distance to what was fast becoming a very close friendship.

"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."
~ Proverbs 16:24 ~

"For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."
~ Matthew 12:34 ~

end of chapter