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Chapter Nineteen
This Couldn't Be Love

"If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise [from] obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul..."
~ Isaiah 58:10, 11 ~

While Maddie ate her toast, Terry went next door on the pretext of checking Earl's progress. Not that Terry minded how long the cable guy took. Terry only wanted a chance to collect himself, to clear his mind of the sad sight of Maddie in those crumpled pajamas, her hair unwashed, her frame noticeably thinner than when he'd left her two days earlier.

Leaving Earl to do his job, Terry headed for the sidewalk instead of going back to Maddie. Two days. Terry had only left her alone for two days, and she hadn't been able to cope with being by herself. To be honest, she had coped, but not in the way Terry had hoped she would. He tried picturing himself chained to a bed, alone with the animal she called the Dragon, then truly alone for long stretches of time without a soul to talk to. Withdrawing into yourself would be so easy to do, possibly even necessary to preserve your sanity.

Terry had no way of knowing how much of her childhood, her adulthood, had been spent chained to a bed. She'd once told him that the abuse had started when she was eight or nine, and the math terrified him. He wanted to press for more, to ask how long Maddie had been chained, if Maddie had ever heard from her mother after the Dragon had adopted her-- things he wanted to know but was too afraid to ask.

Already knowing this much taxed his emotions, left him feeling drained and tired. Not tired of helping Maddie, but tired of fighting back his own memories. Pain similar to his own had a tendency to trigger memories, things he needed to avoid dwelling on before it sank him into even deeper sadness.

He came to a stop on the sidewalk and watched the cars zip past him. Oh, to be like everyone else, to not know that soul-piercing shame, the ugliness behind your abuser's smiling face, and to know that ugliness was all for you. What was it like to not know that? to live a normal, ordinary life with nothing but normal, ordinary problems? John's life came as close to seeing what normal looked like, but even there, John wasn't exactly normal. Not with having Terry for a best friend, and a brother.

God, help me help Maddie. My heart is so overwhelmed, and yet, not my will, but Thine be done.

A horn blasted, and Terry turned to see Brian's truck move past him on his way to the apartment.

Terry waved, but Brian had already disappeared around the block. Time to get back to the complex so he and Brian could start working.

Life kept moving, and so must he.

When Terry reached his apartment, he found Brian in the back of his truck, getting the power washer ready.

"Hey," Terry called to him, "thanks for coming down."

"Glad I could help out."

"I didn't know you had one of these." Terry reached out to help Brian lift the wheeled machine off the bed of the truck, and onto the asphalt.

Brian hopped down. "It's not mine."

"Oh?" Terry looked at his friend. "Is this a rental?"


"I thought John said you had one."

"No, I never said that." Brian picked up the manual. "I only said I could get my hands on one."

"But you didn't have to do this. That graffiti's my problem, not yours."

Grinning, Brian paged through the manual. "You've been helping out enough people, I figured I could at least do this much."

"You're not doing this because of Maddie, are you?"

"Why?" Brian looked up. "Is she here?"

Terry shook his head. "I already told you she wasn't interested."

"I know, I know." Brian kept grinning, and went back to his manual. "If it's meant to be, God will make it happen."

Groaning, Terry let his friend read the directions, while Terry went to make sure Maddie had finished her breakfast.

"Maddie?" Terry came through the front door, stopped when he saw her curled on the couch looking drowsy. "How can you sleep? Haven't you had enough?"

She pushed herself upright, blinked and said nothing.

"Okay." Terry took a deep breath. "I can do this. Just calm down."

"I am calm."

"I wasn't talking about you." Terry closed the door. "Why don't you go upstairs and take a shower? I'll get some clothes from your apartment."

Her eyes tracked to the stairs.

"Come on, Maddie, Brian's here. If he, or anyone we know, sees you looking like this, someone's going to worry."

It was enough to get her up. She started for the stairs, dragging one leg in a much more noticeable limp than usual.

"You've been doing that all morning. Why aren't you moving your leg?"

"My hip hurts."

"It's probably because you haven't been getting any exercise. Come on, start picking up your feet."

She edged closer to the bottom of the stairs, her leg still dragging behind her.


"I can't." Reaching for the banister, she moved the hip in question, gasped in pain and quickly stopped.

"Your painkiller." Terry snapped his fingers, went into the kitchen to find the bottle of acetaminophen. He'd bought her a new one and put it in her apartment, but the old one should still be here in the cupboard.

The doorbell sounded as he found the bottle. It was probably Brian.

Terry went back to Maddie just as the front door opened.

"Hey, Terry?" Brian looked inside, saw Maddie huddled by the banister while Terry tapped out pills onto her hand. "Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude."

"That's all right." Terry watched as Maddie tried to swallow the pills. "Hold on, you should be taking those with a glass of water."

"Is she okay?" Brian asked.

Terry didn't have time to explain. He jogged to the kitchen, came back with a full glass only to find she no longer needed it.

"Drink the glass anyway," he said, and gave her the water.

"Is she sick?" Brian stepped inside. "She's so pale."

"She's in pain." Terry hovered nearby, and accepted the empty glass when she had finished.

"Why is she in pain?"

"She has osteoarthritis of the hip." Terry looked up the flight of stairs. "You're not going to make it up there, are you?"

Maddie shook her head.

"Okay, let's get you back to your apartment. You can shower there."

Her eyes closed and he could see she was tiring.

"I never should have left you alone for so long." Terry set aside the glass. "I don't want to scare you, but I'm going to carry you next door. Maddie?" He bent to look into her downturned face.

"I feel better, Terry. Ever since you came, I've felt better-- honest, I have."

"I'm glad to hear that, but you certainly don't look it. Brace yourself, I'm going to pick you up."

It wasn't difficult to lift Maddie in his arms. She felt lighter than he liked to think.

Her eyes squeezed shut and she went rigid.

"Relax, I'm just taking you next door. Brian, would you get the door?"

"Yeah, sure." Brian moved aside, opened the door and watched as Terry carried her into the sunlight.

Maddie's front door still stood open, and Terry found Earl, the cable guy, still at work in the living room. The man looked up as Terry made his way with Maddie to the tiny hall.

Though Earl had to be curious, and maybe even a little concerned, Earl minded his own business and kept working.

Taking Maddie into the bathroom, Terry set her down, then pulled out his cell phone. Someone came into the bathroom behind them, and Terry turned to find Brian.

Terry punched the phone's display to bring up his address book. "I'm calling Izzy."

"Please don't." Maddie tugged at Terry's sleeve. "I can take care of myself."

"You need a shower, Maddie. You need help getting dressed."

"I can do it."

Hesitant, Terry put away the phone, watched as Maddie lifted her leg.

She swayed with pain, but sucked in a sharp breath, limped to the shower with her leg dragging behind. "If you could get my clothes..."

"I'll get them-- your closet, right?" Terry moved away and Brian followed. "Are you sure you don't want me to get Izzy?"

"I'm sure."

With a sigh, Terry pushed Brian from the bathroom, stepped around Brian and went into Maddie's room.

"What's wrong with her?" Brian asked. "Why does she look like that?"

Pulling a pair of jeans and a shirt from Maddie's closet, Terry headed back to the still open bathroom door. "I left her alone for two days, and she fell behind on her personal hygiene. Maddie? Can I come in?"


Terry went inside, handed her the clothes.

"Are you sure about Izzy?"

"Oh, I feel better, much better than I have in days."

"That's not encouraging to hear, Maddie."

He left the bathroom, made sure he closed the door, then went into the living room where Brian waited.

Brian looked more than concerned, he looked shaken. "Is she all right?"

Not knowing what to say, Terry nodded, turned to the man working near the TV and asked how he was doing.

Earl grunted. "Nearly done."

Brian looked to Terry. "Are you going to call Izumi?"

"Not unless Maddie needs me to." Terry went to the front door, looked outside at the power washer sitting in front of his apartment. "Are we ready out there?"

"Almost," Brian nodded. "The neighbors need to be warned not to come out while the machine's running, and we still have to hook up the water."

When the cable TV had been tried and given Earl's stamp of approval, Earl left without asking questions about the woman who lived there, the same woman who Terry had carried into the bathroom. What was he supposed to say? she looked unkempt and crazy?

Terry went to the bathroom, didn't hear water running and called to Maddie through the door.

"Can you hear me in there? We're going to power wash near your front door, so don't come outside, or open that door until we give the all-clear."

"Okay, Terry."

Resisting the urge to ask how her hip was feeling, Terry went out with Brian to warn the neighbors.

As Terry pulled out the long garden hose he kept reeled beside the building, Brian stood staring at Maddie's apartment. Without a word, Brian came to hook the hose into the pressure washer. As Brian tugged on a pair of safety glasses, Terry heard him sigh.

Seeing Maddie like that, hadn't been easy.

* * * *

She didn't know why Terry had looked so concerned when she was feeling better. Her hip was on fire, but aside from that, she felt wonderful.

Of course, she could only stand so much wonderful before her strength began to fade.

As Madison dressed in her clean clothes, then toweled off her hair, she wished Terry hadn't been so set on her taking a bath. It seemed like a terrible waste of energy. She'd rather go outside and watch the graffiti come off the wall.

The hot shower had felt good though, and even her hip felt better. She supposed the shower should have come first, after all, but now that she was awake, she didn't want to miss anything. The noise outside made her want to hurry, want to see what was happening, and be a part of it.

Hair still damp, she went to the living room window and peeked through the blinds.

Brian stood with a gun-like wand in his hands, aiming a thin blast of water at something she couldn't see. It was the wall of course, but she wanted to see more. Where was Terry? The noise lessened, and Terry came into view before disappearing again. Then Terry stepped back, moved off to the side while Brian blasted away with the machine.

Propping herself on the back of the large recliner in front of the window, Madison pulled the blinds completely open and watched them work. This was much better than TV. Each time she was forced to sit down, she got back up as soon as her hip felt better.

The moment the engine shut off entirely, she went back to the window. Terry had a bucket and a scrub brush, and by now she realized Terry had been scrubbing in between Brian's blasts of water. She went to her front door, opened it and heard Terry shout,

"Maddie! We didn't give the all-clear."

"Can't I come out?"

"No. Shut that door and keep it closed."

Biting her lip, she obeyed and went back to her post by the recliner. Terry noticed her watching from the window, and shook his head, but she took heart at the smile threatening his mouth.

She waved to him, and he waved back.

Then the engine started and Terry stopped noticing her.

For a long time, the men kept working, then the engine went silent and Madison heard a knock at her door.

"All clear," Terry told her, and she hurried on a coat to come outside.

Water drenched the pavement in front of Terry's apartment, ran beneath Brian's truck and Terry's jeep, formed a river down the gently sloping parking lot until it reached the sidewalk gutter. Terry and Brian went door to door, telling anyone who was home, that it was safe to come out. The curious came to look at the wall, and among them, was Lauren.

"My, my." Lauren moved in for a closer look. "The graffiti's gone."

"For a while, I thought it wasn't going to come off." Groaning, Terry rubbed his back. "Brian and I took turns with the power washer and the scrub brush, but it didn't come off easily."

Hugging her coat closed, Madison moved next to Terry.

Brian was watching her.

The people started back to their apartments, and Terry went to Brian, leaving Madison to go stand beside the jeep.

"I really appreciate this," Terry told him, shaking his hand. "I'm taking you to lunch, no arguments."

"I won't turn down free food." Brian flicked a glance at her, and started to clean up their equipment. "We washed the sealant off, so you'll need to get those bricks resealed before the rain causes any damage."

Terry nodded. "Starting tonight, there's rain in the forecast, but I'll get that done as soon as possible. I need to do a few other things too, like paint that new window." Terry studied the wall, then helped Brian clean up. "When you take this power washer back, I'll reimburse you."

Brian waved away the offer, and while the men debated, Madison searched for someplace to sit.

"Maddie?" Terry was looking straight at her. "You're not lifting your feet."

Afraid he might tell her to start using her leg, she edged toward her apartment.

"Have you been putting cold treatments on your hip yet?"

She shook her head.

"Why not? That's what the printouts your doctor gave you, said to do."

Deciding she'd stared at the brick wall long enough, Madison went back to her apartment. She watched the men from her window, saw them load the power washer into Brian's truck, then watched as Brian drove away.

Terry headed for her door, and before he had a chance to knock, she went to open it.

"Take off my coat, and sit on the couch," he told her, and went into her kitchen.

When he came back, he held a frozen bag of peas, then wrapped them with a kitchen hand towel.

"Put this against your hip." He handed it to her, and she went to the couch to obey. "If that doesn't work, let me know and I'll think of something else-- maybe a zip bag with ice cubes."


"What?" He folded his arms and watched as she gentled the frozen peas against the hip of her jeans. "Does your family know you're helping me?"

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Abby and Jake-- do they know about me?"

"They will soon enough." Terry went back to the kitchen. "I'm taking Brian to lunch when he gets back. Do you want to come with us?"

"Oh, yes, please." She wanted to be with Terry, even if it meant being around Brian.

She heard noise in the kitchen, guessed Terry was looking for an alternative to peas and zip bags, something cold to take down the inflammation in her hip.

"I hope you're not worrying about AJ." Even though she sat on the living room couch, Terry didn't have to raise his voice from the kitchen because the apartment was so small. "What made you think to ask about Abby and Jake?"

"I don't know." Madison adjusted the cold pack. "You just seem kind of..." Terry appeared from the kitchen, waited for her to finish her thought, "a little nervous."

"I'm not nervous." He disappeared around the corner, then came back with a frown. "Abby and Jake are my family. I am not nervous."

Madison worried her bottom lip. "You don't want them to find out about me, do you?"

"Why on earth would you say a thing like that?" Terry came to her couch, squatted and looked her in the eye. "I'm not ashamed of my friends."

"I wouldn't blame you if you were, Terry. When you found out they would be here Saturday, you moved me into this apartment awfully fast."

"They had nothing to do with that." It seemed the moment he said it, he took it back, for he winced and looked away. "It had to do with them, but not because I'm ashamed of you, okay?"

She didn't understand, but nodded anyway.

Terry straightened. "Let me worry about AJ. You just concentrate on feeling better."

Though Madison didn't tell Terry, she would have felt better if her suspicion hadn't been so very much confirmed. Terry was nervous.

* * * *

When Brian came back and learned Maddie was coming with them for lunch, Terry noticed a more subdued reaction than the one he had expected.

"Will she be able to act normal in the restaurant?" Brian kept his hands in his pockets. "I mean, is she feeling well enough to go somewhere?"

Terry frowned. "She has yet to embarrass me in public."

"I didn't mean that."

Whether Brian had or not, the men changed the subject and when they went to pick up Maddie, no more was said about her problems, or that dramatic limp.

The only reason Terry wanted Maddie along, was so he could make sure she ate lunch.

She needed to eat.

They went to a fast food restaurant, took a booth by the window and let Maddie scoot beside Terry on the bench. Though Brian was polite to her, he seemed at a loss for words when it came to Maddie.

What had Brian expected? Terry had warned him she'd had a hard life, that she was a survivor of abuse. Before, Brian had only seen Maddie's reluctance to talk to him, to return his obvious interest. All he'd seen was that pretty face and all that attractive shyness. Now, he'd seen a glimpse of the realities that had resulted from that abuse, and Brian looked uncomfortable. Uneasy. Like he didn't know what to say or do.

In a way, Terry couldn't blame him. How many times had people acted that way with him, especially after his breakdown? People had talked about it, they had known he was going through a hard time, and it had shown in their faces.

Even Brian's.

Well, Terry thought as he paid for their meal, at least Maddie wasn't interested in Brian. There would be no hurt feelings on either side, though it hurt Terry to see his friend backing away from a sweet woman like Maddie.

She was damaged, and it had scared Brian.

In Terry's quiet thoughts, he wondered if that was the reason why women didn't seem to like him very much. Because he was damaged. He'd wondered that before, but seeing Brian's reaction to Maddie's wounds, it renewed the thought and depressed Terry.

After Brian dropped them off at the apartment complex, Terry again thanked him for his help. Even though Terry suspected Brian had only volunteered because he'd hoped to see Maddie, Terry was grateful for the help and told Brian so before the truck drove off.

Brian only smiled, returned the handshake, then got into his vehicle and left.

As they watched Brian drive away, Terry felt Maddie tug at his sleeve.


"My hip is feeling better."

"That's good." Terry let out a breath, looked at the smile on her lovely face and knew Brian had lost out on a sweet woman.

Not that Maddie had been interested.

A cold wind swept past them, and Maddie zipped up the brand new coat she'd worn to lunch.

"It's going to rain tonight and tomorrow," Terry told her, "so make sure you keep warm." He walked her to her apartment, noticed she still wasn't lifting her feet but said nothing.


"What?" He smiled at their familiar pattern, the way she had of starting a conversation by saying his name.

"Do you want to watch TV? I have cable now."

He took Maddie's keys from her, unlocked her door before giving them back.

"Please, Terry?"

"I don't know." He opened the door, let her go inside while he remained on the doorstep. "I should probably stop by the store and see about getting something for your hip. I've heard you're not supposed to apply heat to an inflamed joint, but maybe I could get some pain gel."

"Please stay, Terry. I'll keep the frozen peas on my hip for as long as you want."

"Give me some time to run to the store, then we'll watch TV."

"Promise you'll come back?"

"This isn't a promise-worthy discussion, Maddie. Cable or not, it's only TV."

"But it won't be any fun without you."

"Well," he couldn't help smiling, "if you're going to put it that way..." He hesitated, then gave a consenting nod. "I promise. Go turn on the set, and find something for when I get back."

"I will, Terry. I will. Thank you so much!"

"Calm down, will you?" He stepped away from the front door, found his car keys in his pants pocket and started for his jeep. "You take things so seriously. Learn to lighten up a little, try to relax."

"I will."

He cocked an eyebrow and she giggled.

"Make the most of happiness whenever you find it, Maddie. No matter how small it might seem, it's a gift from God."

"Can I come with you?"

"No, sit and rest your hip."

They had evidently been talking loud enough to gain the curiosity of the woman next door. Terry waved to the elderly woman-- her name escaped him at the moment-- and she gave a frowning scowl before disappearing from the window.

"Happiness is a gift," Terry said quietly. He weighed the keys in his hand, realized Maddie was still listening, and shooed her inside.

"You're coming back?" she called before closing the door.

He held up his hands. "What more does the woman want? I promised, didn't I?"

She laughed, shut the door and he got into his jeep.

That girl. Maddie had a way of making him feel wanted, like she saw something in him that he couldn't see, himself. Sure, he was helping her, and yes, she was lonely. But she liked him, and Terry struggled not to admit the feeling was mutual.

* * * *

He was coming back. The promise hummed in her soul and she hurried to find something on TV that Terry might like.

Popcorn. Izzy had made popcorn when they watched Pride and Prejudice, so maybe Terry would like some, maybe even expect it when he watched TV.

Her hip wasn't as important as getting to the kitchen pantry. She trembled as she searched the shelves, and bit back a cry of disappointment when she found she didn't have any popcorn. She had tortilla chips, though. Maybe that would be good enough for Terry.

She tore open the bag, dumped it into a large bowl, then went to the fridge to see if she had anything special to drink. Something Terry would like.

Her hip felt warm, but she hunted through the fridge until finding two cans of soda pop behind a carton of milk. Grabbing the cans, she shut the fridge, then scooped up the bowl of chips to take them into the living room.

Was this good enough? Would Terry like it? He deserved so much more, but it was all she had.

If only she could make him happy, then he wouldn't mind spending time with her. He gave so much, and she had so little to give him in return, she was desperate to please him. To make him want to stay with her as long as possible.

That wasn't selfish, was it?

She prayed to God it wasn't. If she could give Terry something in return for his friendship, then it wouldn't be selfish. He'd get something, too.

The world blurred, and she palmed her eyes dry.

Please, God, let him come back.

Waiting on the couch, Madison kept looking for something to watch on TV. The remote wouldn't hold still, so she placed it on her lap to poke at the buttons. The soda and chips sat beside her, while channel after channel flicked past her eyes.

Careful. She had to be careful what she saw, or the memories would come back.

A show about how theme parks were made didn't interest her, but she left it there and watched the clock.

The minute number changed, and she counted to sixty slow enough to see it change again. For twenty excruciating minutes, she waited and watched.

Someone knocked on her door, she hurried to open it, and Terry came in with a grocery bag.

"Started the party without me?" he laughed, and quickly quieted when she rushed into his arms.

The grocery bag dropped to the floor, and his arms came around her. Warmth flooded her and she gulped in air until her head swam and she felt dizzy.

"Terry..." she couldn't finish her words, and her lips grazed his cheek as her mouth sought his.

Before she could taste his lips, Terry pushed her away, his eyes wide with shock.

"What are you trying to do?"

She tried to get nearer to him, but he backed away.

"Maddie, I don't understand you. Just when I think I do, you pull something like this."

"I only wanted to kiss." She bit her lip. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Maddie, I don't kiss anyone unless I'm married to her."

"But you're not married."

"My point exactly." He ran a hand over his head like someone trying to find their thoughts.

"You're shy?" She couldn't help smiling. "You've never been married before, so you've never kissed anyone."

His eyes narrowed. He opened his mouth as though about to say something, then shut it with a sigh.

"It's okay, I don't mind that you don't know how. You've never kissed anyone who really likes you, but I don't mind. Honest, I don't."

"Maddie, you're doing a good job of confusing the daylights out of me." Terry blew out a long, steady breath. "Sit down, would you?" His voice competed with the TV, so he grabbed the remote and muted the show. "I bought some pain gel for you. It's in the grocery bag."

"Thank you, Terry."

He frowned. "What are you trying to do to me? I thought you didn't like physical contact."

"It's mainly the sex I don't want. It'd kill me to do that again. I don't want it. Ever."

"But I assumed..." Terry rubbed his face with both hands. "Abby's husband, Jake, had a problem with physical intimacy, and he'd been abused, as well. I just assumed you--" Terry broke off. "I assumed you were like him."

"I don't know about Jake, but I don't want sex."

"Maddie, I'm sure you know kissing can lead to other things--"

"But it wouldn't-- not with you."

"Why are you so sure of that?"

"Because you've never been ugly before, so you're safe."

"Maddie, whether that's true or not, I've had sex. I'm not a virgin."

She backed away. "You're not?"

He gave a long, thoughtful stare. "There's a lot about me that you don't know, but I don't want to go into that right now. For now, I'd like to go home and forget this conversation ever took place."

"You've done it before?" Disappointment careened into Madison's soul. "I thought you were different, but you aren't. That's why you want Emily."

"Leave Emily out of this." Terry looked about the living room. "It's going to rain tonight, so make sure you turn the thermostat up. Keep warm, and use that pain gel. If it doesn't work, let me know, and we'll try something else." He pulled out his keys, and she saw the digital picture frame she'd given him.

"I thought you were different."

"I am different." He frowned. "If I weren't, you'd be freezing at the Old Mill Campground right now, and who knows what else."

Her arms wrapped around her torso. "I don't want sex, not ever."

"Then we understand each other." Terry backed to the door. "I don't want it, either-- not from you. Okay? Are we good?"

"I can't kiss you."

"That's right, you can't. Are we still friends?" His chest rose and fell like someone who'd just been running a marathon. "Maddie, please. I need you to say 'yes.'"

"I wish I could kiss you."

"So do I." Terry shut his eyes, hissed and reached for the door handle behind him. "I didn't mean that. What I meant was... I have to go."

He hurried out the door, and it fell shut with a gentle slam.

"Lock up," came from outside, and she struggled to put the chain on, twist the deadbolt, then lock the handle.

It rattled as Terry tried the door, then she went to the window to see him walk to his jeep. He saw her at the window, and stopped.

She needed this ugly feeling to disappear, to stop wanting something that would only drive her into despair. And sex would do that.

Too much emotion pushed at her, too many things tore her in separate directions until she wanted to scream.

Dropping the blinds shut, she fled the window, collapsed onto the couch but refused to cry. Bit by bit, she tucked into her mental shell, hiding like a turtle until it was safe to come out.

Curling on the couch, Madison numbly watched the muted TV.

* * * *

Instead of going straight home, Terry drove past the house, circled around Three Mile Bay and back into Chaumont so he had more time to sort things out. So many things sped through his mind, he had to force himself to slow down.

Whatever he'd thought before about Maddie being like Jake, he tried to adjust his thinking. She despised sex, but craved intimacy like someone who'd been sexually active for most of her life. Which she had. She wanted to kiss, but didn't want what might come after, and Terry wondered how similar that made her to Jake.

Maybe it was a mistake to compare them. They were different people, with different scars and different pasts. No matter how similar Terry thought they might be, Maddie was not Jake.

The soft scent of talc, the flowery fragrance of shampoo, the close, intimate warmth of her against him, drifted into Terry's thoughts. And those lips-- soft and searching, and wanting his mouth.

He let out the breath he realized he'd been holding.

Never in his life had he ever been so close, so very much alone with a woman, one who liked him. A lot.

And those gray eyes. They were the color of the water when a storm pushed through the Great Lakes. How many times had he looked out over the desolate beauty of Lake Ontario during the winter, and seen that very same color on the water? Liquid silver in the distance, so beautiful, so arresting to the senses, and yet knowing it meant more snow, more icy wind to cut through your layers of warm clothing until you had to retreat and go inside.

It beckoned him-- those gray eyes-- and yet the body language, the stark fear he heard in that voice-- saw in that face, told him the depths of her confusion.

It had been a very long time since he'd needed sex. His teen years had been brutal. He'd been sexually active during his childhood, but the abuse had stopped before he'd turned thirteen and the absence of it had made being a teenager almost unendurable. With perseverance, he'd overcome his body, but the mind was much slower to forget.

If only those night terrors would go away, and stay away.

She had felt so good against him. He blew out a steady sigh, and forced his senses to think of something else.

They strayed back to her.

That smile, when he stepped into the apartment and she'd been so glad to see him-- he could think of that smile forever, and still wonder at her joy. Over him. It was just him. No one special, and yet she'd greeted him like he was somehow important. Someone to be wanted.

It made him want her. That, and a million other things about Maddie, made him want her.

Noticing the heavy black clouds, the fading sunlight, Terry turned on his headlights. He'd been driving around for longer than he'd thought, and somewhere along the way, he'd lost the afternoon. Knowing John and Izzy were probably growing concerned, Terry headed for home.

They weren't the only concerned ones. He felt growing alarm over his situation, as well.

He couldn't possibly do this to Maddie. He couldn't.

Please, God, for Maddie's sake, don't let this be love.

* * * *

"Terry, is that you?" John came into the living room as Terry took off his coat. "Where have you been? Why didn't you answer your cell phone?"

"I missed your call?" Fumbling in his pocket, Terry pulled out his phone, punched the button and saw he had three missed messages. All from John. "Sorry. Guess I wasn't paying attention."

"Izumi just put dinner on the table." John motioned to the kitchen, and Terry could hear the jabber of the girls as they talked over their food. "Did everything go all right with the power washer? Did you get the graffiti off?"

"What? Oh, that." Terry nodded. "It took some doing, but it's off."

Izumi called from the kitchen. "Terry, dinner's ready."

"Thanks, I'll be there in a minute." Terry started for the hallway. "I just need to put my coat away, and wash up."


Terry could feel John watching him as he disappeared into the bedroom, and wondered if it showed. He felt like he wore a bright neon sign on his chest, one that laid bare his heart for all to see. Something humiliating like, "Guess who's dumb enough to think he might be in love?"

Only this wasn't love.

If it were, he'd break into flowery poetry and overblown sentiments, he wouldn't feel this awful dread in his gut. And there was dread. Lots of it.

Love wasn't supposed to come with Maddie. It was supposed to happen with Emily, and might still happen, if he tried harder.

No, this couldn't be love.

After washing his hands, Terry came into the kitchen and was met with a noisy, mouth-full-of-food greeting from the triplets. Izzy told them to swallow first.

If Terry hadn't wanted to remind himself of Maddie, he should have skipped the meal.

They were having hot dogs.

"Daddy, can I stay up tonight?"

"Nope, you have to sleep like the rest of us."

"But if I stay up," Debbie sighed dramatically, "I'll be awake when Abby comes home."

"If you stay awake, the night will be longer."

"But can't I, anyway?"

"Eat your dinner." John glanced at Terry. "How's everything at the complex?"

"Fine." Terry treated the question as a general inquiry, not a literal translation of the facts. Still, he hated hiding things from his best friend. He usually told John everything, confided in him like the brother that he was, and the evasive reply bothered Terry. "Some things are better than others," he added, easing his conscience. "Nothing I can't handle, though."

Thunder rattled the kitchen window, followed by the long rumble of an invisible giant moving around heavenly furniture. A crack of lighting, then more booming made Terry think of a couch being dragged across a bumpy floor.

To the girls' delight, the overhead lights flickered.

"Do it again!" Ruthie cried.

The girls listened, but heard nothing.

"I'm not very hungry." Terry pushed away from the table. "Think I'll read a book before turning in."

"But it's only five thirty." John gave him a look that Terry tried to ignore. "Are you feeling sick or something?"

"Maybe." Terry shrugged, for it might be true. "Have you heard from AJ?"

"They should be here sometime tomorrow afternoon, evening at the latest." John's grin faded. "If you're not feeling well, there's Pepto in the master bathroom."

"Thanks." Terry left to the sound of Ruthie praying for the electricity to go out.

"Please, God, we won't mind."

As rain pelted the roof, Terry reached into his pocket for the cell phone. He fought the urge to call Maddie and see if she was all right. If she needed him, she would call.

But why did he hope she would call?

He went to his room, his mind working while his feet kept moving, and found himself pacing back to the hall. The rain grew heavier and so did his thoughts. He had no idea how fine a line there was between like and love, between necessity and longing-- a finer line than he had ever imagined.

Thunder rolled overhead, and he gripped the cell phone. She would call. Instead of panicking and retreating into herself, she would call.

If he called her, she might think he'd changed his mind about the kiss. He hadn't, and he didn't think she would now anyway, but that was beside the point. The point was, he was getting too close to her. He had to back off.

Struggling with those thoughts, Terry went to his office and buried himself with paperwork, email-- anything to keep busy and to stop from thinking about her.

Night came, and Terry went to bed with a book, hoping to distract himself from Maddie. She chased his thoughts no matter what he did, where he went to escape them. She kept tugging him back with those soft lips, the sound of her voice when she told him that she liked him. After nearly an hour of staring at the same page, Terry tossed the book aside and tried to sleep.

This couldn't possibly be love.

* * * *

Besides the perky woman on the morning news program, the only other thing that told Madison it was morning, was the dim light coming through the living room window. Okay, that, and the clock. She'd fallen asleep on the couch while the TV flickered to a muted broadcast, and hadn't cared enough to reach for the remote and turn on the sound.

She still wore yesterday's clothes, but she didn't care. She hadn't gotten up from the couch all night, except once to use the bathroom, and after that, her world had shrunk to the four walls around her and the silent images moving on the screen.

Her hip throbbed, but not as much as when she tried to move. She didn't bother with the acetaminophen. Pain gel sat unopened in the grocery bag on the floor, right where Terry had dropped it. She thought of reaching for it, but if the pain went away, she knew she would cut herself.

No sense in doing that when pain was already so abundant.

She turned to face the ceiling, gasped as she moved her hip. Rain started to beat at the window again. The thermostat hadn't been adjusted like Terry had told her to do, and she was vaguely aware of the cold.

The cell phone on the cushion beside her, began to ring.

"Please go away, Terry."

Squeezing her eyes shut, she jammed fingers into her ears so she couldn't hear. She counted to fifty, opened one ear and then the other, and found the ringing had stopped.

She turned onto her side and nearly screamed with the pain. Clamping her jaw shut, she again tried to force herself to sleep. The bad dreams-- the night terrors, Terry had called them-- made it hard to get much rest. They were worse than usual, and she didn't want to admit it was because of Terry.

Her sweet, wonderful Terry, the replacement for Mr. Darcy. Madison pictured the sitting room once more, tried to hear the hushed sounds of Mr. Bingley and Jane whispering about their engagement, struggled to see the chair by the window where Mr. Davis sat quiet and watching. He watched her-- Madison could almost feel it-- safely distant and smiling, happy in the knowledge that they would never kiss.

Needing more than a kiss, but not wanting to think about it, Madison retreated to the numbness of staring at the muted TV.

* * * *

When the children ran off to play, the adults remained at the breakfast table. Izzy had cleaned the house the day before, had even spent time at the little yellow house to do some last minute tidying. Now everything sat ready and waiting for AJ.

Nursing a cup of java, John looked over to Terry. "How'd you sleep last night?"

Terry took a sip from his smiley mug-- a present from the triplets to Terry, two birthdays back. "I've had better nights."

John nodded, turned his blue mug in a slow, thoughtful circle.

"Are you as ready for AJ, as Izzy seems to be?" Terry asked.

"Yup." John kept turning the mug. "Did the Pepto help?"

"The what?"

"The Pepto? You said you weren't feeling well last night."

Terry drained the last of his coffee, then set the mug on the table.

"I didn't need it."

The blue mug kept turning, John's face remaining quiet and thoughtful. To Terry's eternal gratitude, John didn't press him for discussion.

When Terry went back to his room, he tried Maddie's number again. She didn't answer, and he prayed it wasn't because he hadn't called sooner, that he hadn't tried to call her last night.

Please cause her to be all right, Terry prayed for the umpteenth time.

If he went to her apartment, he feared she might bring up the kissing subject again. Surely, he'd said enough to frighten that thought from her pretty head. But what if she was hurting and needed help?

She would call.

But what if she didn't?

Noon was fast approaching, and Terry didn't want to be out of the house when they were expecting AJ almost any moment.

The triplets were on high alert. Every car that passed their house caused a stampede of giggles and laughter.

"It's them, it's them!" Then a moment later, "It's not them."

Though every false alarm played with Terry's nerves, he paced his room, the hall, the living room, moved around the munchkins, then back through the hall and into his room. He held his cell phone, kept wondering if he should jump in his jeep and get Maddie to open her door. If she wasn't answering his calls, she probably wouldn't open the door, but he could always get the landlord's key from Lauren. If he wanted, Terry could force his way inside.

Her hip had been hurting yesterday, and he prayed it had died down since then. That she'd been using the pain gel and that it had done some real good. If it were possible, he would have exchanged his health for hers, gladly bearing the pain as long as she was happy.

The already dim light from the windows grew darker, and once more, it started to rain. They ate lunch in the living room, just in case AJ should happen to come while they were in the kitchen.

Lunch came and went, and still they waited.

"I wish Abby and Jake would get here." Izzy hovered by the living room window. "The roads aren't as safe when they're wet, and the rain's coming down harder."

Unable to take the strain, Terry retreated to his room, tugged out his Bible and prayed. He sent up prayers for AJ and their safe arrival, he prayed for Maddie, and he prayed for himself.

Lightning lit up his bedroom window, then thunder crashed through the afternoon rain. The storm rumbled, and he could hear the girls' laughter in the front of the house. Another boom, and John commented from the hall that the storm was picking up.

"They're here!" Sounded from the living room.

John knocked on Terry's open door, stuck his head in. "They're getting out of the truck."

"It's really them?"

The grin on John's face said that it was.

The men hurried to the living room as thunder pounded the rooftop. Through the window, Terry saw two adults, one holding a child, huddled under an umbrella before making a dash for the house.

John threw open the front door, and everyone cheered as Jake came in with Ricky. Abby quickly followed, and John shut the door as smiles and hugs were exchanged.

"Thank the Lord." Izzy went to Abby, gave her a huge hug while John lifted Ricky from Jake's arms. "You're home. Thank the Lord, you're home."

John gave Ricky a hug, and the boy coughed.

The triplets clamored for hugs, for attention, and poor Jake looked overwhelmed. Then Terry heard Jake cough as well, and noticed he looked pale.

"Mom, I think Ricky's coming down with something. It started yesterday afternoon." Abby went to check the boy John still held. "Ricky complained of a sore throat before lunch, and the coughing came this morning." Abby moved to Jake, took him over to the couch and fussed over him as he sat down. "Let's get this wet coat off you. Jake started to cough soon after, and I knew I couldn't waste any time getting home. I just kept driving."

"Daddy." Ricky looked about for Jake. "Where's Daddy?"

"He's over here," John said, and carried the boy to the young man coughing on the couch.

"Is he sick?" Lizzie asked.

Thunder beat the air, but Izzy pushed past them, and into the kitchen. "I'll make some hot tea," she called. "John, get dry clothes out of our closet for Abby and Jake. And find something for Ricky."

"Do we have a thermometer?" Abby asked, and Terry hurried to get the one in the master bathroom.

Terry came back, gave it to Abby and watched as she knelt to take the temperature of the little boy who had settled on Jake's lap.

"Why didn't you tell us they weren't feeling well?"

"I didn't want you guys to worry." Abby glanced up at Terry, paused to stand and give Terry a tight hug. "It's so good to be home." She kissed Terry's cheek, then knelt to retake Ricky's temperature. "A hundred and three."

"Izzy, Ricky has a fever."

"I'm coming," Izzy called. She hurried into the living room with a clear plastic, sippy cup of orange juice. "Does Jake have a fever?" she asked Abby.

Abby read the digital thermometer and nodded. "A hundred and two."

"I don't feel good." Ricky hugged his toy firefighter and looked up at Jake as Jake sneezed.

"That makes two of us." Jake accepted the Kleenex Terry offered. "It's great to see you again, Uncle Terry. It's nice to know I won't have to catch a plane back to San Diego. I feel like I'm only here for the advisory board."

Terry laughed. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it."

Jake coughed and closed his eyes. "I feel hot."

"That's because you have a fever," Izzy said, and fed Ricky a small serving of children's medicine, something to help the fever come down. Izzy placed the sippy cup in Ricky's hand, then went back to the kitchen to get something for Jake.

"I'm really sorry, Mom." Abby got up, went to the kitchen while the triplets moved closer to the couch to see Ricky. "We should have gone straight to our house, so the girls wouldn't come down with whatever Jake and Ricky have."

"Nonsense." Izzy came back with Abby, some acetaminophen and another glass of juice for Jake. "The girls were bound to come down with it, anyway. You couldn't keep it from them, if you tried. When one in the family gets sick, it won't leave until the bug has run its course with everyone."

Abby placed a hand on Jake's forehead. "Feeling any better now that we're home?"

"I will in a moment." Jake coughed, drank some orange juice, then leaned his head back. "Just don't go too far, Abby, and I'll be fine."

She stroked his cheek, and felt his forehead again, as though her touch was a better thermometer than the digital one she'd just used.

"Will these do?" John asked, and came into the living room with a small armload of clothes.

Abby sighed. "You didn't have to do that, Dad. We have clothes."

"Yes, but they're out in the truck." Izzy looked through the clothing. "This large pajama top will do for Ricky."

"Mom, we have pajamas."

Jake sneezed, then leaned forward to cough. Trying to help, Terry came forward and lifted Ricky from off Jake's lap.

"Hi, little guy. Remember me?" Terry gave the boy a hug, and laughed when Ricky offered him a drink from his sippy cup. "Thank you." Terry pretended to take a large gulp, smacked his lips and the boy gave a big smile that made him look very much like Jake. "I hear you're not feeling too good?"

Ricky shook his head, looked down at Debbie as she looked up at Ricky.

"What do we have here?" Terry gave the firefighter in Ricky's hand a playful tug, and Ricky swung his head around to see Lizzie looking up at him, as well.

"Is he sick?" Lizzie asked.

"I'm afraid so." Giving Ricky a hug, Terry set the tired little boy on the couch next to Jake. "Move back, girls, and give them room. Jake, I'm really glad you made it here in one piece."

"Me too." Jake smiled, coughed and reached for another tissue. "My throat's on fire."

Abby put a cup to his lips. "Drink some orange juice... that's right, you'll feel better soon. Mom, pillows and blankets? It's too early to sleep. Besides, we're going home tonight, we're not sleeping here."

"But your house is cold, it's raining, and Jake and Ricky are too sick to move in." Izzy gave a no-nonsense look. "In a few hours it'll be dark, so you'll stay here for the night. Change your clothes, Abby, and I'll start some chicken broth on the stove."

"You have chicken broth?"

"Of course." Izzy patted Abby's cheek, and made Abby smile despite being treated like a little girl. "I always have a few cans in the pantry during the cold and flu season. Have you had your flu shots, yet?"

"It's September, it's too soon for flu shots." Abby looked to Jake. "Isn't that right?"

"Don't look at me, I don't know." The young man coughed, and John lifted Ricky so Jake could lay down.

"I'll start the broth," Izzy said, and went back to the kitchen.

Ricky coughed into John's face, then Ricky ran a sleeve across his small, runny nose.

"Sorry, Dad." Abby gave her son a tissue, then accepted a transfer when Ricky reached for her. "He's still a little shy, but that will wear off. You remember Gramps, I know you do. They even visited a few months ago for Daddy's graduation."

The boy sneezed, and Abby wiped his nose.

"How long have they been this sick?" John asked.

"Only since this morning." Abby rocked Ricky, and stepped aside as Izzy moved past them into the hall. "I didn't want to worry you, so I left it out of our calls."

"We could have come-- I could have come, and helped you." John moved as Izzy went back to the kitchen. "You could have called."

"I didn't need to, Dad. Everything was under control." Ricky wanted to be somewhere else, and Abby set him down. The triplets surrounded Ricky, gave him Kleenex by the handful until Terry lifted the box out of their reach.

"I think he has enough, girls."

Ricky retreated to the couch, climbed up where Jake made room for him by moving onto his side. His hand still full of tissue, Ricky wiped Jake's face, and Jake smiled.

Just then, Abby sneezed, and concern came to Jake's eyes.

"It was just one sneeze," Abby said defensively. "Stay where you are, Jake. I'll be fine. Ricky, lay down with your daddy, while Mommy gets the suitcases."

"Oh no, you don't." Terry gestured to the window. "It's pouring cats and dogs right now, and you have dry clothes right here. Why don't you get changed, and I'll get Ricky into the oversized pajama top?"

"But we already have pajamas." Abby coughed, gave a groan and sat on the floor beside the couch. "Please, God. Not me, too."

Reaching down, Jake stroked Abby's hair. "Let them help, Baby."

With another cough, she nodded, and accepted the clothes John gave her. "Look at these-- Mom is so small."

"So are you," Jake smiled, and closed his eyes.

"I'll just change this guy into his new, second-hand pajamas," Terry said, and picked up Ricky. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to hold him, even though he was four years old and had perfectly good legs. "Just look at how big you've gotten when I wasn't looking. Try to slow down, Ricky, so I can enjoy you while you're still small."

The boy leaned against Terry, coughed and let John take the sippy cup from him.

Terry carried him to the master bedroom down the hall, and Ricky looked about as he hugged his firefighter even tighter. Terry placed the boy on the bed.

"You remember me, don't you? From your daddy's graduation?" Terry pulled off Ricky's shirt. "Arms up, please." Ricky raised them, and Terry slid the pajama top over his small hands. "We had a cake with your daddy's photo on it, do you remember? And you and your aunts got balloons."

A shy smile came to Ricky's face.

"Do you remember?"

The boy nodded.

"Sometime soon, would you like to go fishing?"

The question was met with an energetic nod, and Terry laughed, took off Ricky's pants, then caught the boy up in his arms and carried him back to the living room.

When Abby saw her son in the warm pajama top, she smiled. "That's so cute. He'll need training pants when he sleeps, though. Wait a moment, I have a pair in my purse."

Terry chuckled as Abby opened her purse to dig them out.

"Go ahead and laugh, but it pays to be prepared." She pulled out a road map, half a roll of breath mints, a bottle of kiddie vitamins, a yo-yo with its string tangled around a pen and a brush-- "Here it is." She gave Terry the pants. "We should probably keep them in the bathroom. It's too early to put them on."

His arms hidden beneath the large pajama top, Ricky climbed onto the couch to let his firefighter give Jake a hug.

"Thanks, I feel much better." Jake tugged the boy into a laughing hug, then had to let go when Jake broke into a fit of coughs.

Opening her purse again, Abby took out a cough drop and handed it to Jake.

"Is your truck locked?" John asked as Terry went to go find a sleeping bag for tonight.

Bracing himself against the rain, Terry zipped up his coat, left by the back kitchen door, and made a dash for the garage.

As he went inside the building, runoff poured from the roof and drenched his neck.

He closed the door behind him, the rain beating the roof, slamming against the walls in an eerie reverberation that echoed through the garage. It took a few minutes to locate a sleeping bag in the storage area, and another minute to find a waterproof bag so it wouldn't get wet on the run back.

As he left the garage, he saw the red pickup truck he'd given AJ, parked in front of the house. Remembering John's question if the vehicle was locked, Terry changed course, braved the heavy downpour to look through the truck windows, and make sure the moving trailer was secure.

"Terry?" He looked back, wiped the rain from his eyes and saw John filling the front door. John waved a hand, urging him inside, and Terry splashed through the water, past John, and into the living room where he dripped from head to foot.

"It's locked." Terry panted, and handed John the waterproof bag. "The truck is locked up, safe and sound."

"Oh, Uncle Terry," Abby came to him, "you didn't have to drench yourself. I already told Dad the truck was locked."

"You did?" Terry smiled. "Guess I didn't stick around for the conversation. I brought a sleeping bag in from the garage. You and Jake can take my room tonight, Ricky can have the couch, and I'll sleep on the floor."

With a sigh, Abby gave her soaking wet uncle a hug-- one he accepted gratefully.

"You're home. You're really home." Terry hugged his little fishing buddy, closed his eyes and prayed she would stay here forever. This was where her family was, and this was where they could look after her, Jake, and Ricky.

"Oh, Terry, just look at you." Izzy came into the living room, saw his dripping coat and pants, and shook her head.

"He brought in a sleeping bag, Mom."

"One of these days, Terry, your kindness will be the death of you. Get into some dry clothes, and I'll start an early dinner. Girls, leave Ricky alone; he doesn't feel good, so why don't you turn on the TV and find something he'll like?"

"I got the remote first," Debbie called out, and Ruthie and Lizzie raced her to the TV.

"Share, girls," Izzy said, and went back to the kitchen.

"I need to call Dick." Jake looked about, and John handed him a cell phone.

The TV came on, and Ricky slid to the floor, still clutching his firefighter.

"Let me try." Ruthie made a grab for the remote, but Debbie held on. "Mommy, Debbie's not sharing!"

"I'll handle it, Izumi." John stepped forward, and sorted out the triplets while Jake closed his eyes.

Izumi stuck her head into the living room. "Terry, would you please change before we have another sick person on our hands?"

"We're all going to get it anyway," he sniffed, then realized he was making a puddle on the floor. "I'll take a towel to this."

"After you change," Izzy said, disappearing into the kitchen.

Whatever she was fixing, it smelled wonderful.

"Go change, Uncle Terry. I'll mop up the puddle." Abby went to get some towels, and Terry made his way past the children.

The lights flickered.

"Did you see that?" John looked to Terry as the lights shut off, plunging the room into the semi darkness of a storm-tossed early evening.

"Daddy?" For all of the girls' hopes that the electricity would go out, Lizzie sounded scared.

"Everyone wait a moment." John patted Lizzie's head. "Give it a moment, the electricity might come back."

Izzy came from the kitchen, and Abby followed with some towels.

"It's probably the storm," John said, accidentally bumping into one of the girls as he moved to the living room window. "The house across the street is dark, too, so we're not the only ones. I'd better find the flashlights."

"Dick still has electricity," Jake reported from the cell phone on the couch. Since Dick lived almost a half hour away in Watertown, that wasn't a surprise. This probably only affected their general area.

Getting cold, Terry went to his room, pushed the curtains back on his window to give a little more light. It was still a few hours before nightfall, but the storm hung heavy over the bay and Terry had trouble seeing what he pulled out of his closet.

How much of Three Mile Bay was without power?

After dressing in jeans and what was probably a blue shirt, Terry tugged on dry socks, then reached for his cell phone. The room flashed with lightning, and he glanced at the window as he waited for the number to answer.

"Come on, Maddie. Pick up."


Shoving the phone into his pocket, he headed back to the living room.

"Uncle Terry, do you have a flashlight by your bed for tonight?" Abby was still mopping up the puddle by the door.

"I think I might have one." Terry tried to negotiate the floor where the girls sat on either side of Ricky, all four of them sharing a small LED, multi-color flashlight. A red beam cut across the room, danced across the ceiling, grazed a corner of the window and tagged John. The kids giggled until John asked that they point it somewhere else.

At least they were having a good time.

"Dick and Sara will come tomorrow," Jake said, the light on John's cell phone turning off. "Abby, Dick said to tell you 'welcome home.'"

"That was nice of him. How much longer will the electricity be off?" Abby wondered out loud. "It's getting darker outside, and soon we're going to be sitting in pitch black."

"We'll be all right," Jake said from the couch. He coughed, and Terry heard the crinkle of a cough drop wrapper. "Dad, there's room on the couch if you wanted to sit down."

"Thanks. Kids, point that light over here a moment, would you?" The flashlight aimed at John, and Terry had to chuckle when he saw his friend, this time, painted in a blue light. John found a place on the couch to sit down, and Terry used the momentary light to find the recliner without stepping on any small hands or feet.

"Dinner is almost ready," Izzy said from the kitchen. Lightning flashed and Terry saw Izzy standing beside Abby. "There's not enough room at the kitchen table for all of us, so why don't we eat in the living room?"

The theme song for "Bassin' the Weeds with Dennis" suddenly played, and Terry tugged out his cell phone.

"That's so sweet," Abby crooned in the darkness. "Who's phone is that-- Dad's or Uncle Terry's?"

"Your uncle's," John said.

A quick glance at the screen, and Terry sighed in relief. It was Maddie.

"Hey," he said, answering the phone while everyone in the room listened, "how are you holding up? Is the electricity out for you, too?"


"I'm here. Is your electricity on?"


"Are you doing all right?"

No answer. Then, in a timid voice, she asked, "Are you all right?"

"I'm sitting in the dark with my family right now, but we're good. Abby and Jake are here, so the house is full." Terry waited a beat, knowing his side of the conversation was being followed by Abby. "Have you eaten dinner yet?"

"No, I'm not hungry. Terry?"

"I'm still here."

"I'm sorry I didn't answer the phone."

"That's all right, I understand. Is your front door locked?"

"I think so."

"Get up, and go make sure it's locked. I don't know when the power will come back on, and I want to know you're safe." Terry covered the phone. "John, the power's out at the apartment complex. Sounds like the whole area is without power."

"Wow." John sighed. "Probably has to do with all this lightning."

"Is the door locked?" Terry spoke into the phone.

"Yes." Her breath sounded heavy, and Terry heard her wince.

"Did you use the pain gel?"


"Why haven't you?" Terry paused to calm himself. Knowing Maddie the way he did, he shouldn't have been surprised. "Okay, here's what I want you to do..."

"Who's he talking to?" Abby asked.

"Find the pain gel, and put it on--"

"I can't. It's too dark."

"Where did you last see it?"

"On the floor. In the grocery bag."

"It's still on the floor?"

"Dad, who's Uncle Terry talking to?"

"A friend."

"Get down on your hands and knees if you have to, but feel around for the bag." Terry heard a slight cry of pain and gripped the phone. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. I found the bag."

"Take off the cap, and put some on your hip. I've already read the directions, it should be good for arthritis."

"Arthritis?" Abby laughed. "Now he's helping old people?"

"Are you putting on the pain gel?" Terry waited, trying not to say more than he had to in front of his audience.

"The gel's on," a tired voice finally answered. "It kind of stings."

"That's because it's working. Good. Now I want you to go find something to eat. Raid the pantry, find something you can take back to the couch. Are you still listening?"

"It's hard not to," Jake laughed with a cough.

"And take your acetaminophen." Terry pressed the phone to his ear as another rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. "Are you at the pantry yet?"


"Did you turn up the thermostat?"


"Maddie--" Terry blew out a breath. "Are you freezing? You are, aren't you. Forget the pantry-- go turn up the thermostat."

"Her name is Maddie?"

"Madison," John said.

"Have you turned up the thermostat? Use the display from your cell phone as a light."

"Okay, it's up."

"Now go back to the pantry. Find a bag of chips, a box of granola bars-- something you can take back to your couch and won't go bad if you leave it there until morning."

"There's a bowl of corn chips in the living room."

"There is? Then why haven't you been eating?" Terry groaned at her silence. "Get the bowl of chips, go to your room, climb under the comforter and get warm. Then eat. Keep the cell phone with you, and I'll call again in an hour. How much charge do you have left? what does the display on the phone say?"

"Eighty-two percent."

"That's good. I'm hanging up now, but I'll call in an hour and you had better be eating."

"I will, Terry."

"Okay. Bye." Terry punched off, and the screen on his phone went dark, as did his part of the room.

"Who's Madison?" Abby asked. "You talk to her like she's a helpless baby."

Before anyone answered, Izzy gave the call to dinner and everyone started to get up and make their way to the kitchen. A hurricane lamp glowed on the stove, casting a flickering, cozy light on the walls and ceiling. Abby's question was repeated, but John shook his head and Abby let it drop. For now.

Ricky coughed, and so did Jake, and Abby went to get their food. The triplets took turns aiming their flashlight, clicking the button that changed the beam from white, to blue, to red, and then back to white.

"Bassin' the Weeds with Dennis" started again, and Terry hurried from the kitchen.

Abby groaned. "Tell her you have to eat dinner."

Taking his phone into the hall, Terry answered the caller.

"Terry?" Maddie's voice trembled. "It's getting darker. Except for when the phone's on, it's dark in here."

"Do you want me to call Lauren? She could bring over a flashlight."

"No, I want you."

"Do you want me to come?"

"No." Maddie sniffed. "The rain's coming down too hard, and you could get hurt."

But she was scared-- Terry could hear it in her voice.

An approaching cough came behind Terry, and he moved aside for Jake.

"I just have to use the bathroom," Jake said, and lingered as Terry kept talking into the phone.

"Hold on until morning. The sun will come up, and even if it's raining, you won't be sitting in the dark."

"I wish I was normal, Terry. I wouldn't be so scared. And I wish I could kiss you."

"I know." Terry steadied himself against the hallway wall. "I'm going to give you a verse, a prayer to ask God for help."

"I can't write it down."

"That's okay, you don't have to. O Lord, 'cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in Thee do I trust...'" Terry paused, and Maddie repeated the words after him. "'Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee.'"

"When will it be morning?"

"Not for a while, but when you need me, pick up the phone and I'll repeat the verse."

"I like you, Terry."

"I know." He blew out a sigh, leaned his head against the wall and noticed Jake. "Keep hanging on, Maddie. You're not alone."

"Do you know what I like about you?" Maddie's voice turned softly wistful. "You're really, really nice. Not just on the outside, Terry, but you're nice on the inside. When you smile, I know God hasn't forgotten me."

"I'm smiling." Terry held the cell phone close. "Hold on to that verse and expect to hear God's lovingkindness in the morning."

"I will." Terry heard a sniff, and she hung up.

Tapping the "End Call" button on the screen, Terry put his phone on standby.

"Is your friend okay?" Jake asked.

"She's--" Terry stopped to choose his words carefully. "The power's out and she's scared, but she'll be fine."

In the darkness, Jake lingered in the hall with Terry, even though he had to go use the bathroom.

"How have you been?" Jake asked.

The question held a lot of concern, more so when Terry remembered his breakdown had only been a little over six months ago. It was too soon for people to easily forget.

Putting the cell phone back into his pocket, Terry met the question as honestly as he could. "I'm hanging in there."

"Good." A strong hand squeezed Terry's shoulder. "Abby and I have been praying for you."

"Thanks." Growing self-conscious, Terry edged away. "I appreciate that, I really do."

"You can count on those prayers, Uncle Terry."

Terry smiled, remembering how Jake used to only call him by his first name. Now, Jake felt comfortable calling him "uncle," the same honorary title given him by Abby and the triplets. And even Ricky, when the boy forgot his shyness. Terry was no one's uncle, and yet he had four nieces and two nephews, all of whom loved him very much.

A bright blue beam of light bounced on the walls of the hallway, followed by the giggles of one of the triplets and Ricky's coughs. The family was settling down in the living room for dinner, and Terry went to go join them while Jake went to use the bathroom.

Outside, the rain poured, and the thunder kept following in the wake of the lightning. Inside the Johanneses' house, all crowded together in the dark living room with only an upturned flashlight, and the triplets' LED toy to give them light, Terry soaked in the comfort of his family, the knowledge that he was safe and wanted.

It was a feeling Terry felt confident that Jake shared, but it was a feeling of security that Maddie had never known. It reminded Terry of how blessed he was to be a part of this family.

He prayed Maddie didn't feel alone tonight, for she wasn't. She was with him, in his thoughts and prayers, just a phone call away, a gentle reminder of God's promise to never forsake her.

Maddie, if only you could have a family like this, people who bind themselves not just by blood, but by friendship, and by love. John was the beginning of that for me. If only I could be that to you, it would be a debt most gratefully paid.

Maddie. Hang in there.

"Cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in Thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee... Teach me to do Thy will; for Thou art my God: Thy spirit is good... Quicken me, O LORD, for Thy name's sake: for Thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble."
~ Psalm 143:8, 10, 11 ~

end of chapter