Be among the first to know when I post new chapters, to new books!

Click Here
Keep up-to-date on all the announcements and website news!

Subscribe today!

My policy is to follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); I hate spam too, and will never sell or give away your email address.
Chapter Seventeen
Mr. Darcy's Replacement

"Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth..."
~ Song of Solomon 1:3 ~

A full tummy felt good. Madison kept thinking that as Terry drove to his apartment to meet the glass people. Food didn't always feel good, for she didn't always allow herself to enjoy it, for to enjoy it would be to need it. This time, however, she didn't mind the full feeling that said she'd eaten a lot. The half hoagie Terry had given her was still too much, but she'd managed to polish off a good three quarters before giving her leftovers to Terry.

He'd eaten it, too, along with the rest of his lunch.

Wasn't he wonderful?

All this zeal for Terry made her sleepy, and she closed her eyes for a nap. In her mind's eye, she saw a well groomed estate in England, Terry striding into one of those rooms with chairs and a small table. She saw herself in a long off-white dress, delicately sewing while Mr. Bingley spoke to Jane about their upcoming marriage. There were no proposals from this Mr. Darcy, just a content willingness to be there and share the moment with her.

She felt warm and safe, and blissfully happy.

The movie had churned up all this emotion, most probably, but she didn't care. Eyes closed, sitting in a parlor with Terry, she felt almost normal. It was like the sweetest dream ever, mixed with the feeling of a cool breeze on a quiet evening, the awe of the first light of sunrise, the peace of a sunset on the bay-- all the most wonderful feelings rolled into one perfect moment.

She slid into a warm nap, and when her eyes blinked open, something felt different.

The jeep wasn't moving. She lurched forward in the seat. Where was Terry? He wasn't behind the wheel, he wasn't in the back of the jeep, he wasn't anywhere.

Panic squeezed her heart. He'd left her.

Her hands fought with the seat belt, but the thing wouldn't let her go. She had to find Terry, she had to get out.

Please, God, help me.

Something caught her attention through the windshield. A brick building, a yellow scrawl of "Thanks a lot," the beautiful sight of a familiar door-- Terry's door. She was at his apartment, and relief washed over her with the realization.

Terry hadn't left her.

Wet stung her eyes, and she rubbed it away with the palms of her hands. She'd been acting silly, like a child suddenly lost with no parent in sight. She wasn't alone, Terry was nearby.

The door with the shiny gold three-- Terry's apartment number-- opened, and Terry came out with a crowbar. He glanced at the jeep, saw her watching, and came to her door.

She rolled down the window.

His grin vanished when she tried to quickly smudge away the tears.

He reached through the window, unlocked her door, then tugged it open.

"Are you all right? What happened?" He didn't have the chance to ask anything else, for she rushed into his arms and hid her face in his shoulder. "Hey, what's this?" His arms felt loose, as though not really wanting to hold her. "What happened?" he asked.

"I woke up and you weren't there, and I thought-- I thought..." She couldn't get the words out and she felt a sigh move through Terry's chest.

"You thought I'd abandoned you." His hug tightened. "Someone's done that to you before, haven't they? Oh, Maddie, what am I going to do with you?"

She couldn't answer, for the tears kept coming.

His hand stroked her hair, his movements careful, cautious. "I didn't mean to frighten you. You'd fallen asleep, and I didn't have the heart to wake you up."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"I wish you'd stop saying that." His arms released her, and when she tried to cuddle against his shoulder, he gently pushed her away at arm's length. "Is that why you wandered into Three Mile Bay on that bus-- because someone abandoned you?"

She shook her head.

"But someone's left you alone before, haven't they?"


"For long periods of time?"

She nodded.

"Couldn't you leave and go somewhere else?"

The old memories renewed the feeling of having been punished unfairly, and she shook her head.

"What kept you from leaving before you did, Maddie?"

How could she possibly hope to ever explain? Blood tasted in her mouth and she realized she'd bitten herself again.

The questions held a quiet intensity, the same intensity flashing in their owner's brown eyes. "Couldn't you leave any sooner?" he asked.


"Why not?"

She felt stupid for not answering, but no words came.

"I'm trying to understand." The muscles in Terry's jaw were working, tensing, flexing even when he wasn't speaking. "Help me, Maddie. I'm not blaming you, I'm just trying to understand. What prevented you from finding help?"

She blinked. "Get help from who?"

"Are you telling me there wasn't anyone-- not a single blessed person, who could've helped you leave sooner?"

Again, she shook her head.

The answer frustrated Terry, she could see it in those searching eyes. "Was he your father? A relative?"

"Please, don't, Terry."

"Was he?"


"Okay, one more question. Just one more." Terry blew out a breath. "Is he dead? Is that why you were able to leave?"

It took effort to push out, "Yes."

"Did you kill him?"

"Terry, you said one more."

"After this-- please, Maddie, or the curiosity will haunt me forever. If you killed that animal, then it was in self-defense."

"I didn't kill anyone, and yes--" she couldn't bring herself to finish.

"He's dead?" Terry asked, and she nodded, "yes."

"So that's why you were able to finally leave." Terry studied the pavement. "He died, so you left and got on a bus."

"I didn't kill him."

"I believe you. Calm down, Maddie, I believe you." Terry set down the crowbar he'd been holding, shoved his hands into his coat pockets and sighed. "Does anyone know he's dead?"

"Terry, that's not fair. You promised."

He frowned, turned and paced a few feet away to work off frustration. It rolled off him in great waves.

"Yes, people know he's dead." Maddie followed example and tucked her hands into her large coat pockets. "The woman he leased the house from came and found me, said he'd had a heart attack and died, and that was why he hadn't come back." Madison gulped in air, hoping her courage wouldn't give out. "She unlocked my chain from the bed and said I had to go. I'd dreamed of leaving, and suddenly I was told I had to."

"Chain?" Terry stiffened, but she continued.

"I sold some things, bought some different clothes from a homeless man so I wouldn't have to wear what the Dragon had."

"The Dragon?"

"The Dragon, the monster-- HIM." Madison rubbed her arms against the chill of those words. "I was free, so that meant I could go where I wanted."

"This man-- this animal you call The Dragon-- how did he get you?"

"Momma gave me to him."

"Your mother gave you away?" Terry looked incredulous. "Was he a friend of hers, a boyfriend, a husband?"

"The Dragon knew her a long time," Madison shrugged. "They grew up together, so I came to live with him."

"Did he adopt you?"

Automatically, Madison nodded. "But I never called him 'Daddy,' because he was never my family."

"What was his name?"

"No." She started backing away. "I'm never saying that name again. Take my food away, put the chain back on-- I don't care-- I'm never saying that name again. You can't make me. I'm going to forget it all, and someday I won't remember any of it." The curtain on a nearby window moved, and Madison's heart sank. "Lauren's watching."

"Never mind Lauren." Terry kept his eyes on Madison. "Why did your mom give you away?"

The pain flared in Madison's soul, and she hugged herself until it hurt. "Momma didn't want me anymore."

Terry groaned. "You're crying again."

"No, I'm not." Even as she made the protest, she tasted the shameful salt of her own tears.

"Are you going to be all right?" The frustration in Terry's voice gave way to concern.

She sniffed, nodded and tried to stop the tears.

"I need to get the boards off my window before the glass people arrive. They should've been here as it is, so I have to get started. Do you want to wait in the apartment?"

She shook her head, climbed back into the jeep and reclaimed her seat. She couldn't watch Terry from the apartment, not like she could out here.

Terry was so wonderful, so beautiful.

His eyes made her breathing come short, and the way the breeze teased his hair, she wanted to run her fingers through it and think of him in the sitting room of Pride and Prejudice. She wanted to smile and see him across the way, content and happy and not wanting anything more.

Even in her anger of having said more than she wanted, she couldn't help herself. He was so wonderful....

Terry closed the passenger door, looked through the window and met her steady gaze.

And winced.

"You're going to have to ease up, Maddie. Ease up, and calm down, okay?"

She had no idea what he meant, but nodded anyway.

"I'd be grateful if you could scale back the intensity."

She didn't understand, but rubbed at her tears and kept nodding.

His hand rested on the door. He took a step back, watched her.

"Are you sure you're going to be all right? You are going to stop crying?"

"I stopped," she whimpered.

"If you've shut off the water works, I sure can't see it." He gave a small, cautious upturn of his mouth. "Please try to stop. I'll give you five dollars if you can do it in the next five minutes."

She hiccuped, rubbed her eyes even harder, and he reached through the open window to pull her hands away.

"Easy, Maddie, you're going to hurt yourself." He swallowed hard, a giant swallow that made the bump in his throat bob up and down. "Be a good girl, and stay in the jeep. Okay?" His hand pulled away. He straightened, moved back but kept both eyes on her. "Five dollars. I mean it."

She nodded, determined to win that money.

"I'll be watching you," he smiled. It came a little easier now, for it reached his eyes just a bit. His head turned to look at something, then he checked his watch. "Better late than never, I guess."

A large delivery truck pulled beside the jeep, one emblazoned with a huge window and bold letters that declared they were reliable. A man emerged from the truck's cab, his frame compact and short, his coat open, the top of his uniform unbuttoned to expose a V-neck undershirt.

"Terry Davis?" the man asked, and Terry nodded, stepped forward and shook the man's hand.

Another man appeared from the other side of the delivery truck, more tidily dressed than his friend, and both started doing whatever it was people did when installing a new window.

After checking, then double-checking that the jeep doors were truly locked, Madison pulled off her coat, rolled it into a pillow, then climbed into the back to watch from the safety of the back seat. It was hard to see much, but she didn't mind, as long as it afforded her a view of Terry.

The memory of Terry, and how he'd felt when he hugged her, taunted her into wanting something she didn't want. Desire, and much worse.

It made her reach beneath her shirt to make the cuts hurt. She dug her nail into the seam of a wound, but the pain wasn't enough.

She'd told him. Why had she told him? She said so much that she hadn't wanted to, and the pain wasn't nearly enough to make the ugly feeling go away. Terry was so cuddly despite his muscles, so patient, so absolutely perfect, and now he knew. Her fingernail dug deeper, but it wasn't enough.

She had to get rid of this feeling. She felt sick, like she had to vomit, and purge the ugliness from her system. That pain inside of her that was so much worse than physical hurt.

While the men talked, Madison softly opened the passenger door, crept from the jeep, moved around the men, basked in Terry's smile as he saw her go inside.

Then headed straight for the kitchen.

She'd said so much. Why? Because she had wanted to please Terry. He hadn't yelled, or blamed her for making the Dragon hurt her. He hadn't even raised his voice.

Her breathing came in huge gulps. Thank God Terry wasn't here, or she might do something she didn't want to do, like drag him somewhere private and rid herself of this ugliness. Fear, shame, desire-- they boiled inside her veins until she thought she'd burst.

The knives were there, right where she knew Terry kept them. She grabbed one, concealed it behind her back as the men pried the wood from the window. Not wanting to be caught in the downstairs half bath if they had to use the toilet, she rounded onto the stairs just as light poured into the living room.

Heart pounding in her chest, she ducked into the bathroom, quickly shut the door and locked it.

God, please don't be angry.

She lifted the shirt, ran the blade across her belly, and gasped at the vivid shock of pain. As blood dripped onto her jeans, she pressed toilet paper against the wound before it ruined her clothes. If she had to throw anything away, Terry might ask questions.

He'd already asked so many.

She braced against the bathroom sink. The image of herself on the bed, covered with the sheet yet screaming because she knew what was coming, had been seared into her mind. She felt the tight grip, the dread as she was shoved onto the chair to watch the movie. If she flinched, it'd be worse for her next time, and there would be a next time. If she looked away for even a second, she'd hurt for it. If she spoke until it was over, interrupted the movie for anything at all, she'd find herself being dragged and kicked into the bedroom.

The images started to play. She had to watch. Did she want more of the same? Then watch, you stupid pig. Watch and listen, and I'll make it fun for you the next time.

Trembling violently, Madison reached for the knife. Searing pain jarred the movie, and the Dragon, from her mind.

She dropped the knife, held her hand and several wads of toilet paper to the cuts, and promised herself not to pass out. If she did, she might bleed to death. She wasn't trying to kill herself, just get rid of those images, the dirty scars left by that monster.

Her knees buckled, she slid to the floor and trembled.

He hadn't yelled at her, or looked at her with rebuke. He hadn't even raised his voice....

Madison closed her eyes, desperate for the refuge of Terry. The sitting room, the light coming in the window as Mr. Bingley sat and talked with Jane about their coming wedding, the quiet Mr. Davis watching so intently from a distance... wanting, and yet never taking.

She would keep those stupid tears from coming back if it was the last thing she did. Had she won the five dollars?

How she hoped she had. Please, God, she needed that money.

There were another five dollars in her pocket, the money he'd given her for taking a Sunday nap, and that would make ten.

It had to be something special. A notebook? No, that would be stupid, for she loved spiral-bound notebooks and he obviously didn't, or he never would have given her one; he would have kept it for himself. Clicky pens were no good, either. It had to be something extra-special.

She had no idea when the next time might come to go back to the MegaMart, but when she did, she would be ready.

How long had she been in the bathroom?

She had to get downstairs so Terry would see she wasn't crying.

Still shaky, she climbed to her feet and began to clean herself. She knew what to do, for she had done it before.

* * * *

Even as the boards came off the window, Terry struggled to pay attention. He felt dazed, grief-stricken beyond words by what Maddie had told him. Her mother had given her away to a man Maddie had called The Dragon?

If he had ever wanted to believe that Maddie was making all this up, it was now. Mentally unbalanced, emotionally unstable-- that described her, it was true, but that didn't mean she wasn't telling the truth.

But that chain. She'd been chained, and for long periods of time? That must have been why she couldn't escape, or find help.

If Maddie said it had happened, then it was true.

"Hey, Mr. Davis"-- the one called Gary elbowed Terry-- "if you'll stand back, me and Ralph can get your window in, in no time flat."

"So you don't want my help?"

"Like I always tell the customers," Gary grinned, hiking up his baggy pants, "watching is cheaper and faster than making a problem that I'll have to fix."

"Then I'll let you get to it." Terry moved aside, his mind falling by natural gravity to the lowest point in his heart. Maddie. The reality of what she must have gone through had yet to sink in.

No wonder she wasn't used to sanitary pads, or eating on a regular basis, or why she so often behaved like a lost puppy following him around.

Poor, poor, Maddie.

Terry went to find her. Something she'd said stood out in his mind, something that disturbed him about her expectations for the future. She thought she would completely forget, and recovery didn't work that way. Terry knew that from firsthand experience.

She wasn't on the couch, and when he checked the kitchen, all he found was an open silverware drawer. He closed it, rounded into the dining area and saw her emerge from the direction of the stairs.

"Maddie, could I talk to you a mo--" he stopped, caught off guard by her pale face. "Are you feeling good?"

She gave a shaky smile. "I'm tired."

"Then lay down on the couch. I put your bedding upstairs, but I'll get it so you can rest. Please, sit down before you fall down." He went to help her, but she sidestepped and moved around him to the couch. "That talk did this to you, didn't it? I'm sorry, Maddie, I really am. I never should have pressured you into answering my questions."

"It's okay. It isn't your fault I'm tired."

"Yes, it is," he groaned. "Stay put, I'll get your bedding."

He took to the stairs, two steps at a time. She wasn't resting enough, that was obvious. He had to take better care of Maddie before he accidentally killed her.

He located the blankets and pillow, headed downstairs and decided to talk about her expectation for the future later. Now was not the time.

She was still sitting upright on the couch, her head leaned back, one arm at her side, the other draped in her lap. The enormity of what he was trying to do, struck him hard. He was trying to help this woman stand on her own, somehow make a living for herself, take care of herself, maybe one day have a family of her own.

However improbable the first three were, the last was too farfetched. Maddie would never marry. She would be doing good to do the simple things like hold down a job, go home and fix herself a hot dinner, then go to bed without any flashbacks to intrude on her dreams. She would wake up in the morning, force herself to dress, eat breakfast, go to work, and start the cycle over again.

That would be Maddie's victory, though it broke Terry's heart to think of it.

Hope took a lot of courage, courage he felt she had. She'd survived. She had won. She was alive and she was free.

Sucking in a deep breath, he went to the couch, set the bedding on the cushion beside her.

Maddie's eyes were closed, and he realized after a few moments that she was asleep.

Good, she needed rest. He spread a blanket over her shoulders, then stepped back. The installers were making noise, but it didn't seem to bother her. She was too tired to notice.

In the anguish of his thoughts, he admitted something that he hadn't before-- not really, not fully. If she never married, never had any children-- and let's face it-- if she never made any close friends besides himself and the Johanneses, if she kept so entirely to herself as to shut out the world so she could merely exist, then she would always need him. There would never be a point at which he could say, "I've done all I can. Have a good life," and then walk away.

With Maddie, there would never be a walking away.

Bittersweet thought.

He wanted to be useful to someone besides his family, but not because someone else was so terribly scarred they had no choice but to accept help whenever it was offered. The rest of his life needed to make room for that offer of help to always be extended to Maddie. He would need to guard that, or else she would be by herself. God would be with her-- Terry was confident of that-- but for someone who hid from her own shadow, he knew Maddie wouldn't make new friends easily. John and Izzy would do what they could, but Maddie needed so much more.

Yes, he could do that. He would go on helping her, and make sure that whatever his own future held, he would always make enough room to be a friend to Maddie.

He turned to watch as the new window was lifted into place.

It needed a few shims to make it even, but with a little more work and patience, Terry knew it would be a perfect fit.

* * * *

Well before bedtime, Ricky had fallen asleep on one of the two beds in the motel room while the local news droned in the background. Jake occupied the only chair, finishing off the last of his burger and fries while the TV news anchor commented for the umpteenth time what beautiful weather they were having. Either the weather wasn't usually this warm, or the man didn't have a lot to report.

Considering this was a small city in Arizona, Abby decided on the latter.

Abby watched TV from the bed next to Ricky's, struggling to keep her eyes open. After nine hours of driving, with an hour off for lunch, she was as worn out as Ricky.

The four-year-old's surprise for today had been a rough, tough, firefighter action figure with a big red helmet. Stan, as he was quickly christened, had supposedly drank half of Ricky's juice box, then needed to use the potty at the same exact time Ricky had. Which of course, made it all that more of an emergency.

Somehow, Abby had still managed to get in a good nine hour drive before they checked into their motel for the night.

"Have you called yet?" Jake asked, as he stood up and began collecting fast food wrappers.

"Called who?"

He turned, gave her an are-you-serious look.


"Now, this is an interesting situation." Jake went to the wastebasket, dropped in the fast food bag. "You're going to hear about this later, and you'll say you forgot. Because you did-- obviously. But the next question will be, 'Where was Jake? Why didn't he remind you?'" Jake gave her a playful smile. "I wonder if I could get paid for this kind of service-- say, a dollar per reminder, and ten when you keep forgetting and I hear about it from Mom and Dad."

"Ouch. Mom and Dad." Abby squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them to find Jake smiling. "You could have told me, you know."

"I thought that's what I just did." Jake moved to the bed where Ricky lay sprawled on the mattress. "Come on, time to brush your teeth."

"If it's almost five o'clock here," Abby scrolled through the contact list on her cell phone, "then it's about seven in New York. That's not too late to call."

"If you don't call them, they'll call you," Jake said as he carried Ricky into the bathroom. "We brought his bag in from the car, didn't we?"

"In the bathroom, next to the door," Abby said, selecting her parent's name on the list. She placed the phone to her ear, and noted the way Ricky held on to his firefighter even when Jake started to undress him.

"Hello, Abby?" Dad answered the call so quick, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know he'd been waiting. "Did you get to your hotel safely? Where are you?"

"Hi, Dad. Sorry I didn't call sooner."

"Never mind that, is everyone all right?"

"Yes, we're fine."

"Where are you?"

"Holbrook, Arizona." Abby smiled as Jake negotiated the firefighter in Ricky's hand, trying to pull the shirt over Ricky's head with Stan in Ricky's small fist. "We're safe and sound, and in our motel room. It's not fancy, but at least it's clean."

"Is the truck handling well? Have you had any trouble?"

"Dad, stop worrying." Abby rubbed at the tightness in the back of her neck, an ache that came from sitting so long behind the wheel. "I have a list of Bible promises Jake and I claimed before we started out this morning. If you want, I'll give you a few."

"Did you have the truck looked at by a mechanic before you started out?"


"Did you have the truck looked at?"

"Yes, of course."


"And we're in good shape. The rental trailer is fine, the truck is fine, Jake and Ricky are fine."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. We're all praying for you, so I'm sure you'll make it."

"You don't sound very sure."

"Then I'll take a few of those promises on your list so I'll sound better the next time you call." Dad inhaled, the stress of the moment coming through loud and clear over the cell phone.

"Dad, I'm being careful."

"I know you are."

"Okay then." Abby inhaled, wishing she didn't feel like such a little kid talking to her Daddy. She heard Mom's voice in the background, and Dad relayed the message.

"Mom said to make sure your motel door is locked."

"It is." Abby didn't bother to check. It was locked, she already knew it was. "How's everyone? Are the girls looking forward to seeing Ricky?"

Mom's voice came on. "Make sure you get enough sleep before you start out tomorrow."

"I will. How's Uncle Terry?"

"He's..." Mom hesitated. "He's looking forward to having his Little Fishing Buddy back."

"I'm looking forward to that, too." Abby smiled as Jake got Ricky into the boy's bright orange pajama bottoms. "Can you put Uncle Terry on?"

Mom must have handed the phone back to Dad, for Dad answered.

"He's not here right now. He's with a friend."

"Oh, okay. It's no big deal, I just wanted him to know I finished that fly we talked about. I can hardly wait to see how the smallmouth in the bay react to this one."

"As a matter of fact," Dad continued, "he's been out all day."

"It's supposed to imitate baitfish-- it's an eye popping design, almost looks like the real thing. I don't think we've tried the pattern before."

Dad cleared his throat. "Your uncle has been keeping busy."

"That's good." Abby patted the bed as Ricky came running from the bathroom, then climbed up on her bed with a giggle. She kissed Ricky on the cheek, snagged an arm around the laughing boy and gave him a tight hug. "Uncle Terry really needs to relax, and find something to get his mind off of his crusades. I'm glad he's keeping busy. It'll be good for him."

"He's busy, all right."

"He's going to be crazy about this fly," Abby continued. "I got the pattern from some guy up North, and made one especially for Uncle Terry. I have one for you, too, even though I know you don't fly cast."

"Thanks, it sounds interesting. The point is, some things have changed since you've been away."

"I've been gone for four years," Abby laughed, "so I already know that." She smiled as Jake sank onto the mattress beside her, picked up the TV remote and let Ricky crawl onto his lap. "When you hang up, would you call Dick for us, and let him know we're in Holbrook?"

"Sure thing." Dad cleared his throat again. "Your Uncle Terry has been making friends."

"That's nice." Abby watched as Jake flipped through the TV channels with the mute turned on.

"These friends, well, friend, actually--"

"Dad, maybe we could catch up some other time? It's getting late, and I have to hit the sack if I'm going to get enough rest for tomorrow."

"Yes, you do that." Dad sounded relieved, more relaxed for some reason. "You get some sleep, give our love to Ricky, and tell Jake thanks."

"Thanks for what?"

"For reminding you to call home. Good night, Sweetheart. Drive safe, keep praying, and God will get you here in one piece."

"Dad, I've made this drive before. It's how we got to San Diego in the first place, remember?"

"Give my love to Jake and Ricky. Sleep tight, Sweetheart."

"Good night, Dad. Tell Mom I love her."

"I will. I love you, Abigail."

"I love you too, Dad."

Dad hung up, but Abby stayed on the line a few moments longer. It seemed the older she got, and the more independent she became in her career and life away from Three Mile Bay, the more she felt her parents tugging her back to the way things used to be. She would always be their child, their baby girl, and would forever have trouble treating her like a grown adult. They wanted her to go back to the way things were, but things had changed.

For pity's sake, she was twenty-three, married, and had a child of her own. She was older now, more mature, more sophisticated. Not at all like she used to be.

She touched the "End Call" button on the cell phone's display, then reached over Jake and Ricky to put the phone on the night table.

"I'm glad you reminded Dad to trust God." Jake inhaled deeply as Ricky laid his head against Jake's chest and closed his eyes.

"It's not God they're having trouble trusting," Abby sighed, "it's me. Dad acts like I have no idea of what I'm doing."

Smiling, Jake pulled her close. She rested against his shoulder, stroked the hair from Ricky's eyes and felt the road weariness begin to melt away.

Tired but cozy, she snuggled closer to Jake, grateful that he kept the TV turned low so it wouldn't disturb Ricky. As soon as this program was over, they'd go to bed. For now, she'd close her eyes for a few minutes of rest and let herself enjoy Jake's warmth, and the strong arm holding her close.

Within moments, she was fast asleep.

* * * *

Maddie woke when the men used the nail gun to install the window, then fell asleep again when they stopped. She whimpered in her slumber, but nothing so alarming that Terry felt the need to wake her.

After the men left, he paced the living room trying to think, then gave up and tugged a book from the shelf.

At least the animal who had hurt Maddie was dead. He couldn't harm anyone else, and the thought comforted Terry. It allowed him to focus on her, and to not have to wonder who else might be in danger.

It was after seven before he noticed Maddie stir. As he watched from the recliner with his book, he felt a sense of relief that she was waking up. A crazy thought had plagued him that she might not. She was so very pale-- she still looked pale-- but at least she was alive. She had survived the Dragon, and Terry felt profound gratitude that God had led her to Three Mile Bay.

He was supposed to help her.

Maddie's head raised. With a cry, she frantically looked about and seemed on the verge of panic.

"Maddie, I'm over here."

He saw relief wash through her. The panic faded, and a smile came to her lips as her gaze met his.

"Feel any better?" he asked, closing his book.

She nodded.

"Are you hungry?"

"Not really."

"Well, you're going to eat." Terry stood up. "That's non-negotiable, so don't even bother fighting me on that. You're going to eat."

"But I don't want to."

"Maddie, did you just hear me say you were going to eat?" He gave a look that silenced her mouth, but not her scowl. "What do you want for dinner? I could take you home, but I'd like you looking a little better before Izzy and John see you. I think you'd scare them."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"That's enough of that." Terry tossed his book onto the coffee table. "From now on, only apologize if you deserve to. Are you in the mood for pizza? We could have some delivered."

"Could I have hot dogs?"

"Haven't you had enough of those lately?" Terry noted the bashful way her chin tucked against her chest. "If you'll eat them, then I suppose hot dogs it is. We don't have any in the apartment, though, so I'll have to make a run to the store."

"To the MegaMart?" Maddie looked up at him, her face hopeful.

"I wasn't planning on it, but sure, I can get them at the MegaMart."

"Can I come?"

He stared at her and realized he was smiling. "Get your coat, but if I see you beginning to wilt, you'll wait in the car. Do we have a deal?"

She nodded, got to her feet and tugged on her coat.

Such a simple thing as going to the store, and Maddie made it seem special. He marveled and kept those thoughts to himself as they stepped outside.

"The window's in." Terry gestured to the new unit. "I need to get the frame painted, and of course, there's still the graffiti to remove."

She gave him a pretty smile. "It looks nice."

"It'll do," he nodded, and went to unlock the jeep's passenger door. "This new window has safety glass, like the rest of the complex."

"Like my apartment?" she asked, getting into the jeep.

He smiled, nodded. "Like your apartment." He closed the passenger door, rounded the hood and knew he needed to call home so they wouldn't be concerned. He'd warned them not to hold up dinner, but still, he knew John.

He climbed behind the wheel, then dug out the cell phone in his slacks pocket. It reminded him that he intended to get a cell for Maddie. Maybe they could swing by the electronics department, now that they were going to the MegaMart.

Terry called home, and Izzy answered.

"We just heard from AJ," Izzy said, even before Terry could tell her why he called. "They're in Arizona."

"Have they run into any trouble?"

"No, they're doing good. I wish Abby wasn't pushing her schedule so hard to get here this Saturday. I know she's made the drive before, but not in six days."

"She can do it, Izzy. Our Abby can do it." Terry breathed a silent prayer of thanks. Like John and Izzy, he'd feel better knowing they were safe and back in Three Mile Bay. "I just called to let you know Maddie and I won't be home until later. We're going to the MegaMart to pick up a few things, then coming back here for dinner."

"Oh, okay." Izzy's tone held an uneasiness Terry couldn't deal with. Not right now.

"Did the washer and dryer come?"

"Yes, Dick was here and oversaw the whole thing. Is your new window in?"

Terry forced himself to smile, hoping Izzy would hear it in his voice. "Yup, it's in. It needs primer and paint, but it's a big improvement over the boards."

"So does this mean Madison will sleep at your apartment, tonight?"

The question disheartened Terry, even though he knew Izzy was right. He hated the thought of leaving Maddie by herself, but knew he would have to very soon. If he worked hard, her apartment might be ready in the next day or two.

"Think about it, Terry, but if you want her to stay with us a little longer, she's welcome to the couch."

"Thanks. I'll think about it."

When Terry hung up, he forced the question aside but knew he wanted her on the sofa at home, for just a little longer. Her bouts of paleness troubled him, and then he recalled the way she'd nearly panicked when she woke and couldn't find him.

Terry started the jeep, tried to enjoy the fact Maddie seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself. Her excitement was contagious, although Terry didn't know why it should. It was just the store.


"What?" he asked as he pulled onto the street.

"I stopped crying in under five minutes."

Puzzled, he slid a glance at Maddie. "Okay."

"So, doesn't that mean anything?"

"I'm afraid you've lost me, Maddie."

Maddie tugged at his coat sleeve. "Five dollars."

"Oh, right. I remember now. Are you sure you stopped crying, and that it was inside the five minute limit? I hate to part with five dollars for nothing. That's a lot of money, you know."

"I did," she said eagerly, "I stopped in time. Honest, I did."

"I'll take your word for it." Terry felt a bittersweet chord sounding in his heart. He'd been teasing her, and yet she was so very serious he wanted to cry. To feel so strongly about five dollars... he shook the thought from his mind. "I'll pay you when we get to the store, okay?"

"Okay." She settled back in her seat.

The drive to the MegaMart didn't take long, and soon they were pulling into the parking lot, trying to find an empty space. The sun was retreating for the night, leaving a still busy lot to the mercy of the outdoor lights as they flickered on. Remembering Maddie, he tried for the nearest parking space to the store's entrance so she wouldn't have far to walk. The moment he pulled the jeep to a stop and turned off the ignition, she tugged at his sleeve.

"What's it going to be-- another notebook?" He shook his head, reached into his pocket for his wallet and resisted the urge to tease any further.

Such earnestness for so little. He placed the five-dollar bill into her hand and felt her tremble.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked, putting away his wallet. "Are you sure you don't want to stay in the car and get more rest?"

"Please, can I come?"

"Easy, Maddie. You can come, but calm down. You're not going to start crying, are you?"

She shook her head.

Not knowing what to make of her, Terry sighed and got out of the jeep. Maddie followed his example, locked her door before closing it, then checked to make sure it was locked before walking away. If she hadn't been so pensively serious, he'd laugh and tell her to cut it out.

Oh, how he wished she'd scale back some of her intensity. It seemed when Maddie felt strongly about something, it was either all or nothing.

Yesterday's cookout on the beach had set off something in Maddie. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what happened, he only knew her emotions were so close to the surface he could feel her tremble three feet away.

The entrance doors slid open, and they went inside.

He grabbed a grocery cart, then put Maddie in charge of it so she would have something to do besides looking scared.

The store was crowded with people running errands after work. Terry glanced at Maddie, saw the look of determination on her face, and decided to go to the electronics department. They would pick up the hot dogs last thing before checking out.

If she needed the help, Maddie could use the cart for support. He could tell she was in pain, and wondered if he should have made her take something for her hip before they left. Too late now, he thought, and moved slowly so she could keep up.

It didn't take long to find a cheap, fifteen-dollar prepaid flip phone. For Maddie's needs it would work fine. Before he paid for it at the electronics counter, his eye caught the TV sets and he went over to get a better look. She needed something practical, something the right size to fit on her new TV stand.

He flicked a glance at Maddie and saw her leaning on the cart.

"Do you want to wait in the car?"

She shook her head.

Terry sighed, went back to the displays and picked out a nineteen-inch LCD HDTV, and lifted it into the cart.

"I'm going to check this out now, store it in the jeep, then come back to finish our shopping." Terry didn't wait for a reply, but led the cart to the checkout. "I want you to wait for me. Don't worry, I'll be back." He saw the shaky smile, and tried to take heart.

Bringing her had been a big mistake.

* * * *

She wondered where the restroom was, then decided against asking Terry. She didn't think her belly was bleeding, couldn't see any blood on her shirt and tried to be brave.

The moment Terry left to take the new TV out to the jeep, Madison left the spot by the display rack where he had placed her, and started down a long aisle. He had taken the grocery cart, but she could manage without it. She didn't know what she was looking for, only that it needed to be special. Her belly hurt, and her eyes were wet and burning, but she palmed them dry and kept looking.

So many things were over ten dollars. She moved to another aisle, praying as hard as she knew how to find something nice. This area had nothing but electronics and games, and they all looked alike to her.

"Excuse me, Ma'am?" She turned to find a short woman in the store's yellow uniform smiling up at her. "Are you looking for something?"

She must have looked awfully pathetic for an employee to stop and offer help.

"I want a present for a friend," Madison forced herself to stand her ground and keep talking, "and I only have ten dollars."

"I see." The woman politely smiled. "Would this be a man or woman we're shopping for?"

"A man."

"Is he sentimental? The best ones are."

Madison couldn't help smiling.

The woman led her to a glass display, poked a finger at a chain with a small screen attached. "How about this? It's a digital photo frame on a keychain, and it's within your budget."

Madison smiled and nodded. She had no way of knowing if Terry already had one, but she was desperate and needed to get him something.

The woman checked her out, put the keychain in a bag with the receipt, and Madison thanked her for the help. All she'd had to do was hand over the ten dollars, get back a dime in change, then go back to the display rack with her treasure.

She drew the back of her hand across her forehead and realized she was perspiring. Did she feel hot? Was her belly infected? She felt her skin, but couldn't find anything different about its temperature. She needed to calm down. Her heart was pounding so hard she wanted to pass out.

People moved past her, but she held on to her grocery bag and tried to have faith that God was watching.

Terry would come back. He would find her. She double checked her display rack, knew it was the same one Terry had told her to wait beside, and prayed he would come. God wouldn't forget her, and neither would Terry.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped, spun about and saw Terry grinning at her.

"Sorry I startled you. What have we got here? You bought something while I wasn't looking? Couldn't hold on to your money, huh?" He smiled, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he wasn't mad. Even better, he didn't ask to see inside the bag.

She gripped the cart, followed behind Terry and let herself relax. Her heart was beating calmer now, and she didn't feel so very close to passing out. There still wasn't any blood on her shirt, but she figured if there were, she could zip up her coat.

She felt so stupid for having cut herself again. Discouragement pulled at her soul, and it took another smile from Terry to make it lighter.

Please, help me, God. I don't know what to do.

She leaned into the cart, careful not to put all her weight on it but just enough to give some support.

As they passed an aisle of bathroom towels, Terry paused long enough to put an assortment into the cart. They were all pink.

They came to sheet sets and bedding, and Terry came to a full stop.

"Pink is your favorite, right? I hate to get everything in one color, only to later find out you can't stomach so much pink."

"I like it," she nodded.

Pretending to roll up his sleeves, Terry looked over the selection of sheets and pillowcases. "You don't need a fitted sheet on the couch in your room, so we'll skip that part." He located what he was looking for, placed two large sheets and two matching pillowcases into the cart. "Do you like this?" he asked, and lifted down a large quilted comforter with soft pink roses on a white background.

She nodded, and he added it to their cart.

"Aren't you spending an awful lot, Terry? You bought furniture this morning, and now all this."

"I can afford it, don't worry." Terry gave the cart a forward tug, and she pushed the cart after him.

They weren't just wandering, she realized, for he kept going to different places in the store and kept finding what he was looking for. He bought four white dinner plates, some silverware, four plastic plates in bright colors, some glass cups, and some plastic cups, a set of pots and pans, a toaster, some cooking utensils she didn't know how to use, and a pretty linen tablecloth.

He bought a hairdryer, some hand lotion, Q-tips, toilet paper, shampoo, even bath soap.

"I don't expect to find everything you'll need tonight," he told her, "but just enough for you to set up housekeeping."

By the time they picked up their hot dogs, the cart took more effort to push. They made their way to the checkout, and Madison prayed she would have enough strength to make it to the jeep.

The moment they left the crowded store, she breathed a deep sigh of relief. She had her present for Terry, and her insides twinkled with excitement.

The sky was dark and dreamlike as they moved through the parking lot. She had to be living some other person's life, not her own. It didn't feel real. Despite being so tired, she thrilled at knowing all these things were for her and that she was with Terry. Cold nipped at her face, her neck, and she pulled her coat shut. Was this what Christmas felt like?

Before unloading the cart, Terry unlocked the jeep's passenger door and told her to get in. She gratefully obeyed, and sank into the seat with a small groan. In her hand, she kept tight hold of Terry's present.

Thank You, God.

She closed her eyes, and hugged the bag to her heart.

"I shouldn't have stopped for all this." Terry sounded of remorse. "I'm sorry, I should've taken better care of you. We could have done most of this shopping later."

"I'm fine." She hoped that didn't count as a lie and tried to give him a smile.

He started unloading the cart.

Needing a nap, she leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes.

* * * *

Terry let her sleep for as long as possible, and marveled at her need for rest. She'd taken a long nap that afternoon, and now slept like there was no tomorrow. He lightly touched a hand to her forehead. She didn't feel feverish, so she probably wasn't sick. She was just exhausted. All that ardent zeal had worn her out.

Oh, Maddie.

He touched her shoulder, gave her a slight squeeze and saw her eyes pop open. She shrank from his touch, and he quickly withdrew his hand before she panicked.

"We're home." He said it gently, and she slowly nodded in understanding.

He got out, unlocked the apartment, watched her limp all the way to the couch.

She took off her shoes and climbed into the blankets without even shedding her coat.

While he carried in the small fortune they'd brought back from the MegaMart, he tried to think of ways to get her help. Real help, not the stuff he was doing, but real, professional help. He wanted her to see Dr. Jacoby, a dear friend of their family ever since he'd helped Jake. Maddie wouldn't like him because he was a man, but Terry could at least try.

It wouldn't happen tomorrow, but Terry knew something had to be done about Maddie. As much as he didn't want to believe it, he felt she wasn't getting better. Fatigue and oversleeping were possible signs of depression. He also knew her hip was bothering her, and it confused him, for maybe those symptoms were because of pain, and not depression.

This wasn't simple. Maddie wasn't simple, and Terry knew deep down where his biggest prayers lay, that she needed more than he alone could give her.

He would pray, ask God for wisdom, and work toward getting her into Dr. Jacoby's office. Easier said than done, but Terry wasn't going to give up. However long it took, he would see to it that she got professional help.

It was late, but he started the hot dogs and prepared dinner, knowing Maddie had to be starving by now. If only he hadn't dragged her through that store.

He shoved aside his self-reproach, and went into the living room to wake Maddie for dinner.

To his shock, she wasn't on the couch.

"Maddie? Where are you?" He heard movement upstairs, and went to investigate. Before he reached the top, the bathroom door opened and she came out in a fresh pair of jeans and clean shirt. "Dinner's ready," he said, and moved aside so she could pass him on the stairs.

She smelled of soap, so she must have been washing up for dinner. There was a slight antiseptic tint that puzzled him, but then, it could've been medicine from the pharmacy-- that prescription that was supposed to make her other pain go away. He wondered how that was coming along, but kept the question to himself. It wasn't any of his business.

"Sit down, and I'll bring in our food." He moved around her, went to the table and pulled out a chair.

He noticed she flinched as she sat down.

"Can you take more painkiller for your hip? Is it too soon to take more?"

She shook her head and he went to get her some pills.

When he came back, he found a small package on the table, neatly wrapped in white paper and tied with what looked to be packing tape from the storage room. She had shaped the packing tape into a bow, and for a moment, the ingenuity of the design overtook his curiosity over what was inside the package.

He gave her the pills and a glass of water. "What's that?"

"It's for you."

He paused, looked at the present-- for that was what it was-- then back at her. "Is this what you bought while I wasn't looking? Is this what the five dollars were for?"

She swallowed down the pills.

"Maddie, you didn't have to do this. That money was yours. I'm not expecting a single thing from you, besides you doing your best to get better."

She nodded, and he was glad to see that she agreed to do her best.

"Please, Terry. It's for you."

Sucking in a sigh, he picked up the present, unfastened the bow, unwrapped the paper and found a keychain encased in packaging with a splashy picture of what the product was supposed to do. A keychain with an LCD. Intrigued, he opened the clear packaging, took out a sturdy looking chain with a two-inch LCD display that sported a USB port.

"It's a picture frame," she explained, but he nodded, for that's just what the packaging had said it was. "You can put your family on it, and have them with you wherever you are."

"Thank you, Maddie."

"Do you like it?"

"I do, I really do. It's a thoughtful gift."

Tears leaked from her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

Not knowing what else to do, Terry went into the kitchen, came back with dinner and hoped she would eat.

He prayed over the meal, then puzzled to find her smiling, tears still shimmering in her eyes as she attacked a hot dog. He'd thought she was sad but she looked so happy, it stunned him.

Women were difficult to understand.

At least this one was happy, he decided, and started in on his meal.

His to-do-list was shrinking and that meant he might be able to get it all done before Saturday.

Maddie smiled at him over her plate, and he smiled back.

Warmth settled around Terry though he didn't understand what it meant. He only knew when she looked at him in just that way, he felt strangely buoyant. A little light-headed, more confident than he had ever felt in his entire life, and pleasantly warm. Like he'd just swallowed the moon and was now glowing from inside.

He'd never expected to find happiness over a plate of hot dogs and a tossed salad, but even Maddie was glowing. He didn't know it was possible to feel like this, and decided they should have this meal more often.

"The LORD is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works."
~ Psalm 145:9 ~

end of chapter