Terry's Journey: Chapter 22

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Chapter Twenty-two
Love Finds Terry

"LORD, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."
~ Psalm 15:1 ~

Okay, she could survive this. It was possible. She could sit and smile at the Doyles whenever they tried to include her in the conversation, she could even nod or shake her head to "yes" or "no" questions without falling apart. People were still gossiping about them, but it wouldn't matter to Emily. Emily would know Terry didn't kiss anyone without being married to them, so it didn't matter if people talked. Before John had gone outside with Terry, John hadn't made any faces at Madison for getting Terry mixed up in gossip, and neither had Izzy. No one had yelled at her, and the world had kept spinning. It kept spinning, going round and round and making Madison dizzy with sadness. She wanted off. Or at least to hide in the bathroom with a knife until she would be dizzy with pain, instead of this cutting grief.

Since Terry hadn't kissed Madison, it only stood to reason he hadn't kissed Emily, either. Not yet. It was the lone ray of sunshine in Madison's storm-tossed, hurting heart. Though you couldn't hurt what you didn't have. The Dragon had sliced out her heart long ago, had taken what she'd never given, and had left a great big bloody hole that would never be filled.

Inch by inch, she was dying inside, but it didn't matter. She would survive. She would go on living and breathing and wishing she could be someone else, and Terry would marry the perfect Emily, and that would be that. This Mr. Darcy was marrying someone else, and no amount of wishing would make it any different.

Breathe, Madison. Just breathe and pretend it doesn't matter.

"And how about you?" The conversation must have swung back in Madison's direction, for Sara Doyle was looking at her with a smile. "I hope you haven't caught the flu, yet?"

Madison shook her head.

"That's good. Just because it's going around, doesn't mean you have to come down with it, too. Last year, Dick brought home a nasty cold, so I doubled up on my ginseng and Vitamin C, and sailed through without a sniffle."

Having no idea what to say to that, Madison nodded, and hoped it would be enough.

The front door opened, and John came inside with Terry. Oh, Terry. She watched Terry carefully and noticed he kept his eyes from her side of the couch.

"Is it still raining?" Dick asked.

"No, thankfully, the sun's coming out." John took off his coat as Agatha got up to leave.

The women hugged and parted with goodbye talk, and all the while, Terry looked to John, then Dick, then at the carpet before finally casting a sidelong glance at Madison.

Oh, how she wished Terry would kiss her, instead of Emily.

He glanced away, turned and went down the hall.

Terry. Her insides tugged after him, and she pushed aside the blanket covering her legs.

She came to the hall and found the office door standing open. She moved closer to see inside. Beside a solid looking desk, Terry pulled off his coat and slung it on the back of a chair. She couldn't know what he was thinking, but whatever it was, it consumed him entirely. He stared at the floor, not noticing her, and not making any move to sit down. Just that long, studied look at the carpet.

With an inward sigh, Madison leaned her head against the doorjamb and soaked in his presence. His cropped brown hair had been tousled from the walk outside, and she found herself envying the wind.

As he pulled out his cell phone, she could see the outline of a white T-shirt under his long sleeved white shirt. His muscles were thick, and she wished he didn't work out so much. A strong hand rubbed the back of his neck, then ruffled his hair before pulling out the chair and falling into the seat.

Someone in the living room made a loud noise. Terry looked up. And caught her watching him from the doorway.

For the longest time, Terry didn't move. He looked at her and kept breathing, even though her own breath had come to a crashing stop. She grew warm at the touch of his gaze, those deep brown eyes that held her so gently. His mouth opened. He looked away, moaned softly and said nothing.

"Terry?"

"What?" he asked, not looking up.

"I like you, Terry."

He blew out a long shaky breath.

"Terry?"

This time he didn't answer.

"I really like you a lot." Her words made him close his eyes. "Please..." her voice trembled to a stop when he opened them and looked at her. "Please, Terry."

"Please, what?"

She sucked in a breath and held it.

He sighed, and started to punch in some numbers on his cell phone.

"Terry, please?" She took a step into the office and saw his hand pause. "Please, do you really need her that much?"

When those direct brown eyes turned on Madison, she almost keeled over from the impact.

"Do you mean Emily?" He blinked hard. "What do you want me to say?"

"Say you don't need her."

Pain reached his eyes. He gripped the phone and looked away. For the longest time, he kept silent and stared holes into the carpet. "If I told you who I needed, you'd run from this office as fast as your legs could carry you, and you'd never even think to look back."

"Please don't marry her."

A slow breath moved through Terry's chest. She saw it rise and fall before he turned and cast his gaze on her. "I want a family, Maddie. I want a wife."

"But," Madison felt her insides tremble, "does it have to be Emily?"

"Do you have someone else in mind?"

She shook her head.

Terry met her gaze until she had to turn and look at the wall. She felt the weight of him looking at her, and reached to steady herself against the doorjamb.

"Maddie, you will always have my friendship. I will keep on giving you all the help I can-- that will never change. No matter what happens, that will never go away. Do you understand? Even if you say something that might make me sad, I won't leave you alone. Can you believe that?"

She nodded, bit her lip and looked at Terry. He was so pretty with that softly tousled hair, her eyes ached just looking at him. She turned to leave, but he said her name-- "Maddie"-- and her breath slammed into her chest and she couldn't move.

"Please stay." He spoke quietly, as though his words were for her, and her alone. "Close the door and please stay."

Voices came down the hall, and Madison hurried to shut the door. Whoever it was didn't come inside, but moved away in silence.

She stayed well against the wall, hugged herself with both arms and looked at Terry as he drew a deep breath.

"I'm afraid you're going to run away if I speak my heart." Terry stood and tugged off his necktie. "You're going to hate me."

"I won't."

"Yes, you will." He looked at her. "I know you. I know that anger you save for men who want you, and I know the look you're going to give me when I say the words."

"Just say you don't want Emily."

"I don't. Want. Emily." The way he spoke, the decided look in his eyes made her back towards the door. "Please don't run. Maddie, please--" His breath came so hard she could hear. "I have feelings for you."

"No." Madison felt behind her back for the doorknob.

"Please, I'm begging you. Don't run."

Helplessness sounded in his voice and it made her stop. Her chin hugged tight against her shoulder. She couldn't leave, and she couldn't look at Terry.

"Maddie, surely you already know what I want to say."

She shook her head.

He moved until she saw the toes of his shoes, his slacks and the faint scent of the bay. She could almost feel him.

"You know I can't marry Emily."

Heat stung her eyes, and Terry lightly tugged at her hand. Unable to look up, she leaned into his shoulder, and his arms came around her. He felt so good, and he wasn't going to marry Emily. Like a dream becoming real, she didn't know if she could trust it.

"Oh, Maddie." A shudder moved through Terry and she backed out of his arms. He looked at her with something she couldn't name, only that she felt gentleness as his hand came up to caress her hair. "I have feelings for you."

She blinked.

"These feelings go beyond friendship."

She pulled away even more.

"Maddie, I won't be angry. Whatever happens, you'll still have my help. Do you understand?"

She nodded, shook her head, and kept searching for the door behind her back.

"Please don't run." He took a deliberate step back and she gasped for breath. "Okay, I'm backing off. I won't say anything more. It can wait." He moved to the desk, watched as she tried to steady herself against the wall.

"You won't... marry her?" Madison forced out between breaths.

Terry shook his head.

That was all Madison wanted to hear. Groping for the door handle, she swung it open with a wild thud. She lurched into the hall, blood pounding in her ears as she went into the living room and fought for breath. She stumbled past Jake and the Doyles on the couch, the dining chairs with Izzy and Abby, the recliner with John, and fought her way to the front door.

Her fingers felt numb, and for a moment, she thought the door wouldn't budge. It flung open and she rushed into the cold, crisp air. She hurried around the house, toward the bay and tried to let the wide open expanse overwhelm the ache in her chest. Something hurt, but it wasn't her heart. She didn't have one.

Sinking to her knees, Madison forced herself to breathe. The world felt like it was spinning out of control, but she hung onto the ground with fisted hands and dug her fingers into the cold wet sand.

Someone touched her shoulder. She startled, blinked up at the sky and saw Izzy above her.

"It's all right." Izzy knelt beside her on the ground. "You're all right. No one's going to hurt you."

Tears blinded Madison. Izzy opened her arms and gave her a hug.

"It's all right, Sweetheart."

"He-- he said he had feelings for me!"

"Who did? Terry?"

Madison nodded and wept into Izzy's hug. The sobs were frantic, but Izzy didn't push her away and tell her she was stupid. The embrace didn't let up, and Madison clung to her as hard as she could.

"There, there." Izzy's voice gentled with each word. "Sometimes, things don't turn out the way we think they will, but God knows what we need. It's up to us to make the best of what we're given."

"But-- feelings!"

Izzy stroked her hair with such a comforting touch, Madison wished with every fiber that Izzy had been her mother.

"Terry has such a big heart, Madison, it appears it's grown to include you."

"It can't."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Izzy moved back a little, but her arms still embraced Madison in a fiercely protective hug. "I've been wondering who would be blessed enough to earn Terry's affection, and I'm happy to find it's to a sweet girl like you."

"But-- but feelings," Madison couldn't get the words out without stumbling over her own sobs.

Izzy looked at her and brushed the hair from her face. "It had to have taken Terry a lot of courage to tell you that."

"But..."

"If you feel anything, anything for him at all--" Izzy's voice broke-- "then please be kind. His heart breaks so easily."

Through her tears, Madison saw a figure half hidden behind the corner of the house. She saw the white shirt and knew it was Terry. He wasn't going to marry Emily, but he had feelings. Feelings for her. It didn't seem possible, and in a strange sort of way it seemed wonderful.

John came out to stand beside Terry, and Terry bowed his head.

"No." Madison struggled to her knees, and Izzy's arm helped her to her feet. "Is he crying? He's not crying, is he?" She prayed to God he wasn't. She sensed rather than saw Izzy at her side, felt the gentle hand when she stumbled and regained her balance. She struggled across the sand to Terry.

The pain in his eyes was real, as real as the sobs that choked the air and made it hard for her to suck in that next breath.

"Don't cry." She swallowed hard, reached up, and lightly touched his cheek. "Please, don't cry."

Terry moved his lips to her palm and pressed a kiss against her fingers.

She drew back but he looked at her with brown eyes misting with tears and she couldn't run away. What was happening to them? She didn't want the question answered, and even though her mind refused to think, something deep inside her drew her to Terry and wanted to ease his pain.

Izzy hugged an arm around her and Madison felt strength pump back into her system.

"I'm sorry, Maddie." Terry's voice had a husky tone, like he was holding back tears with his bare hands and about to fail. "I'm so sorry. I tried not to feel more. I fought it off for as long as I could."

Oh, he looked good, and she wanted to make it all right. She wanted his lopsided grin and the easy way he had of enjoying life without having to fight for every second of happiness. He deserved to be happy, and even though her insides screamed to bolt and run, she moved into his arms and let him embrace her.

"Oh, Maddie." Terry pressed a kiss against her hair. "Thank you. Thank you for this."

Madison squeezed her eyes shut and kept her arms at her sides. She wanted to leave, but he needed to be comforted. She knew what else he needed her for, but this was Terry and they weren't married so he wouldn't do anything to her. She struggled against the building panic. She owed him so much, the least she could do was let him hold her. She'd wanted a hug from him for so long, but now that he wanted her, all she could think of were ways to get free.

His arms eased away, but he kept pressing kisses to her hair. She raised her chin, hoping for an all-out kiss, but he moved back.

They weren't married, and the thought made her weak.

"Maddie." He sounded so desperate, she couldn't step away. "I'm sorry."

She nodded, leaned her head against his shoulder and let him stroke her hair. His touch was so gentle, it broke her already trembling heart. It was hurting, it was feeling, and it was awake and alive, and beating wildly in her chest. She did have one. She wasn't a monster, after all, a messed up freak without a heart. Emotion crowded the air until her last bit of oxygen had been used up and she had to back away. She tried a step backward and watched to see if it would make Terry cry.

"Do you still like me?" he asked.

Wiping away the tears, she nodded.

"Thank you for that. God bless you, Maddie." Terry sighed, and John put a protective arm around Terry. Though Terry looked calmer, his eyes were still pained when they met hers. "What are we going to do?"

How would she know? Madison had no answers, after all, she hadn't been the one to feel so much she needed to confess anything. It wasn't her problem. Terry looked so alone, even with John's arm slung around him, she stepped back into Terry's reach and let him pull her against his chest. Maybe it was her problem, after all.

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

"I don't want you to hurt." The arms fell away, and Terry braced to stand by himself. She could see it in the way he tried to lean against the house, instead of John. "I'm all right. I just don't want you to hurt."

"I don't want you to hurt, either."

The words made Terry helpless. He shook his head and looked dazed, like he'd just been run over by a semi tractor trailer in a head-on collision. In a crash like this, there could be no survivors. "I never thought today would turn out like this." Terry wiped his face against the sleeve of his shirt. "I haven't told Emily." Terry looked to John. "I haven't called her yet. I was about to, when Maddie found me. One look at Maddie, and I had to tell her something. I tried-- I just couldn't-- I tried to tell her more." Terry stopped short and John nodded knowingly.

Though Maddie didn't want to guess what had been left out, she felt the air around her tingle; it held little bursts of electricity that zinged across her skin. Excitement filled the space between her and Terry, and it scared her to no end.

"Is Emily waiting for another call?" Izzy asked in a puzzled voice.

"Oh, yes. She's expecting it. I feel like a jerk, though. She proposed to me, and I go and spill my guts to someone else."

"She proposed?" A wave of fresh alarm coursed through Madison. "But you said you wouldn't marry her."

"I know, and I won't." A grin formed around Terry's mouth. "You don't have anything to be jealous of, I'm not marrying her."

"I'm not jealous." Confused, Madison moved closer to Izzy.

"She proposed." Izumi put a hand to her mouth and looked sad for Emily.

"You'd better call Emily and explain things," John said, giving Terry a squeeze around the shoulders before letting go. "If you'd rather, I'll make the call. Maybe the news wouldn't be so hard if it came from me."

"No," Terry shook his head. "It should come from me, I should be the one to tell her. Wow, I can't believe the mess I've gotten myself into."

"Terry?" She waited until Terry looked at her expectantly. "I like you."

Terry smiled.

"You didn't get into this mess all by yourself. I've liked you a whole bunch for a long time."

Thankfully, Terry's smile came easier now, and she let herself relax. He knew enough not to marry Emily, and that was enough. She had a heart, but that didn't mean she had to tell him about it.

"We're going to need a lot of help, Maddie. When I call Dr. Jacoby this week, it's going to be for the both of us. Is that okay with you? Do I have your permission?"

"A psychiatrist won't help. Nothing will."

"Please, let me try."

After the upheaval of the day, it was easy to nod "yes" to Terry. It seemed almost effortless, after all the tears that had been shed. If Terry wanted to try, and if it would make him happy, then she would let him. Nothing would come of it. The effort was pointless, but then, so was what she felt for Terry. She backed away from him, but he felt brave enough to smile.

She thanked God dearly for that smile.

"I'm calling Emily." Terry turned toward the house, looked behind him and gave a half chuckle. "I'd already made up my mind what to tell her, even before you found me, Maddie. But now I know this is right. I know it is."

Madison stared at him, then had to look at the ground when she realized she was glaring. She didn't feel anything of the sort, other than this powerful, all-consuming, joyful relief that he wouldn't be marrying someone else. That, and a stab of anger that he was acting like a man, instead of her sweet, harmless Terry.

When Terry went inside, Madison realized her socks were wet. She had rushed out of the house without her shoes, and after kneeling in the rain-soaked sand, even her jeans were damp. Instead of being screamed at, Izzy gave her a hug.

"Are you ready to go inside?"

Madison shook her head. She lacked the courage to face the others, especially after bursting through the living room like a woman who'd been set on fire.

"I'll get your shoes and coat, and we'll go for a walk. How's that sound?" Izzy was being so nice, Madison felt she couldn't possibly fit her gratitude into words. "You just stay put, and I'll be back in a moment." Izzy went into the house, leaving Madison to stand beside John.

Instead of a hug, John offered her a handkerchief. She used it to wipe her eyes.

A minute or two later, Izzy came out with coats for everyone, shoes, and a pair of thick, dry socks. Going to the picnic table, Madison sat on the wet bench and hurried into the socks and shoes. After they put on their coats, the three of them took a slow walk down the beach to help Madison calm down before going inside. And it was hard to calm down. Right now, Terry was calling Emily to let her know he couldn't possibly accept her marriage proposal.

For once in her life, Madison felt a twinge of sympathy for Emily. Anyone stupid enough to say "I do" to a man, got what she deserved, but for all of Emily's willingness to be claimed by a man, she wouldn't be getting this one. Emily might not be smart enough to be happy about it, but Emily was safe.

Which was more than Madison could say for herself.

* * * *

Gentleness would be key. He didn't want to come off as abrupt or unfeeling, especially when he owed Emily so much. If she hadn't proposed, he never would have gotten up the courage to blurt his feelings to Maddie. And Maddie had feelings for him, too-- even though she didn't seem to be able to get past the "like" stage. But love had to start somewhere, didn't it?

Terry shut the office door and tried to forget the bewildered looks he'd gotten from the people in the living room. They had known something was going on, but Terry didn't have the time to explain anything. In one afternoon, he'd been proposed to, had confessed his love for another woman, had admitted to strong affection to said woman, and now needed to find a way to get out of the previous situation with the first woman. For a man who'd never had much success with the fairer sex, to be wanted by two women at the same time was unbelievable. It did something for his confidence, a slight boost to his male ego that didn't last when he remembered Maddie's sharp glare as he'd walked away to make this call.

For all of her trembling, she'd still had it in her to give the glare, that icy go-away look she so often gave men.

That look would've been enough to turn a polar bear chilly, let alone a hopeful man in the fresh bloom of love. Terry had better start praying the cold snap would soon break, or start wearing warmer clothing.

He moved to the desk and picked up the cell phone.

Please, God. Let Emily understand. At least in his desperation he hadn't said "yes" to her. At least he hadn't given his word. He'd never done anything like this in his life, and pleaded with Heaven that he wouldn't botch it with insincere sounding words.

He dialed Emily's number.

She answered on the first ring, and Terry fought to keep his composure.

"Hi, Emily. It's me." He hoped that wasn't as lame as it sounded. "I wanted to get back to you as soon as I had my decision. I hope now isn't a bad time."

"No, please go ahead. I want to get this settled."

"Good. That's the way I feel, too." Terry took a deep breath and prayed for wisdom. He dearly needed it. "I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I fully realize you weren't the one who started all this. I was the one who asked Izzy to speak in my place, when she told you about my wanting to find a wife. I feel so badly, because this isn't your fault. I take the entire blame for it on myself."

"I think I know what you're about to say."

"Emily, I'm deeply grateful that you would ask me, but I just can't accept. My heart won't allow it."

Silence. And then, "Is it Madison?"

"I'm afraid it is. I love her. I didn't know it myself until this afternoon, after your call, but it's strong enough I can't ignore what I'm feeling. I don't know how to explain it, it's like having the wind knocked from your lungs, and yet you're stunned with joy at the same time. No air is going to my brain, and I wouldn't be surprised if I dropped over and died. It's... it's kind of troubling, really. I'm not sure what to do about it yet, but I feel happy. I think that's a good sign."

"It's good." Emily sighed and Terry prayed he wasn't breaking her heart. "I had a feeling this was coming."

"I'm so sorry."

"Please, you don't have to be. You fell in love. It's just the way things are. There's no reason to settle for a loveless marriage, when you can share those feelings with someone else. You're blessed, Terry. I-- I'm happy for you."

"I can't marry without love, Emily."

"I know. And there's no reason you should." Emily's voice broke. "Thank you for telling me so soon. It's good to have this settled, one way or the other." The matter-of-fact tone said she was going to push through and not break down. She wasn't going to cry.

"I apologize for putting you through this."

"It's all right. I asked, and I have my answer. If you feel that way about Madison, then it's better to know now, than when it's too late. I don't want a marriage where my husband is constantly wishing he were with someone else."

"Then hold out for love, Emily. You'll find him, just hold out until God sends him your way." Terry squeezed his eyes shut and prayed she wasn't about to cry. Something in him said that she was. "God bless you, Emily. I pray someone will love you like you deserve."

"Thank you, Terry, but I guess some people are just meant to be alone. I appreciate your prompt call, and hope we can still be friends--" Tears spilled into her voice, and she hung up before Terry could say a word more.

He put down the phone, sank into the swivel chair and tried to tell himself she'd be all right. For all of her forthright frankness, Emily had a soft heart and Terry sensed he'd just given it a deep bruise. Hopefully, it wasn't too deep. She'd said he didn't have to settle for a loveless marriage, and had an idea it meant she didn't love him. But it was the thought of giving up that dream, of living out the rest of her life alone, that had pushed Emily to tears.

That he should be the one to push, made Terry sorrier than he could put into words. He knew what that sorrow was like, and even now, he wasn't so sure he still wouldn't be facing a similar future.

Maddie would never marry him.

The triplets were stirring with loud yawns and quiet chatter when Terry came out of the office. He stuck his head into the girls' bedroom and smiled at their blinking eyes.

"Nap time is over, munchkins."

The girls nodded, and slipped off the mattress, one by one.

"Your mom has cookies waiting in the living room. Mrs. Doyle brought them, so make sure you say 'thank you' when you see her."

That got smiles from the girls, and they went to the living room while Terry moved into the master bedroom to get Ricky up. The boy was on his side, wide-awake and playing with his toy firefighter. Abby had said Ricky named him Stan, and the name reminded Terry of Emily's father. His name was also Stan, and Terry worked to put away his guilt. He wouldn't be there to help Emily with her frail father, and he wouldn't be able to take them to Jersey City to see Aunt Martha.

It wasn't a very good feeling.

"Hey, Ricky." Terry moved to the bed, and the boy looked up from his play. "Do you remember the Doyles? They came to your daddy's graduation. They're visiting with your Mommy and Daddy right now, and I know they'd like to see you. What do you say?"

Though Ricky looked uncertain, when Terry picked him up, Ricky hugged Terry around the neck.

"Thank you." He patted Ricky's arm. "I needed that." After making sure Ricky had Stan, Terry carried the boy down the hall and into the living room.

The effect was immediate.

"There's my namesake!" Dick stood up, and even though Ricky looked a bit confused, he didn't fight when Terry handed him over to Dick. "This is one big boy! Isn't he getting big, Sara? I can't believe how much he takes after his daddy. What's this? A fireman?"

Ricky nodded, and looked to Jake for help.

A glance about the room told Terry what he needed to know. John and Izzy were probably outside, trying to calm Maddie down before bringing her back to the house. Terry caught Jake telling Ricky, "Say 'hi' to Grandpa," and had to smile.

It figured Jake would want Ricky to call Dick, Grandpa, for the Doyles were almost like parents to Jake. Dick beamed ear to ear, sat down on the couch and held Ricky like a pleased grandparent. Grandma Sara asked about the firefighter, and it broke through some of Ricky's shyness. While the girls crowded around the tin of cookies Sara had brought, Ricky explained how vital Stan was to put out fires. According to Ricky, it was "super 'portant." Then his eyes strayed to the tin, and Sara rewarded him with a large chocolate chip cookie that was bigger than both his hands.

"Thank you." Ricky smiled, and accepted another cookie from one of the triplets. Terry didn't know how Abby felt about sweets, but the boy looked content with his treats and sat quietly on Dick's lap while he ate.

Dick looked to Terry with a question in his eyes. "Is Madison all right? We saw her go out, and she looked scared."

Sara nodded. "I hope she's not coming down with the flu."

"No, I don't think it's that." Terry sank into the nearest chair, which happened to be the recliner. In a way, Terry wished John were sitting there, so John could say what Terry was having a hard time confessing in front of so many. Especially in front of Abby and Jake. He opened his mouth to say "I love Maddie," but closed it when his heart jumped into his throat as the front door opened.

John came in, and smiled at the Doyles. "I was just talking to Izumi," he said, holding the door open for Maddie and Izzy, "and we agreed you should stay to dinner."

"Oh no, we couldn't impose." Sara shook her head even though Dick looked ready to stay.

"Nonsense, we'd love to have you." Izzy gave a sincere smile and helped Maddie to the couch. "Cover your legs," Izzy said, and then collected Maddie's coat before shedding her own. "I have dinner all planned out, and if you turn us down, we're going to have more food than we'll know what to do with." It was said with a lighthearted laugh, though Terry knew good and well that they'd already had the big meal for the day. But if Izzy thought she could put something together for their guests, then more power to her.

An offer to help was on Terry's lips, when Sara beat him to it, and it was settled. The Doyles would stay to dinner. The girls sat on the carpet, munching away on their appetite spoilers, while Ricky kept working on his cookies and listened to the grownups.

In all the banter, no one had answered Dick's question about Maddie, and it prompted a curious look from Abby. Jake hadn't been so easily distracted, either, but they kept silent and let John and Izzy lead the discussion away from Maddie.

"It's too bad the sunlight is fading." John put away Agatha's chair, put a lid on the cookie tin and placed it out of the children's reach. "If the rain had stopped any sooner, we could've gotten in some fishing."

"I hear you, John. I hear you." Dick laughed and bounced Ricky on his knee. "Sometime soon, I'll take you up on it." Ricky gave a cough, but Dick didn't seem to mind in the slightest. When he started in on what Terry trusted would be a child-safe story about Dick's time as a young correctional officer when he was just starting out in the criminal justice system, Terry slid his gaze back to Maddie.

The recliner afforded a better view of her, and it was harder for her to ignore him. His eyes caught hers, and she looked away only to shyly look back. Nervous shock slammed into sheer joy, and danced up and down Terry's spine without mercy. So this was love. Love had found Terry, or Terry had found love. He wasn't sure which, only that what he felt was one of the most precious, tender feelings he'd ever had. It overwhelmed him, squeezed the air from his lungs until he felt as breathless as Maddie looked.

Her eyes darted away and he was left to reel in their wake.

Oh, how he loved her. If the Doyles hadn't been there, and if AJ hadn't been in the room, and if Maddie had been somewhere else, he would have admitted it out loud. Right there, without any hesitation whatever.

"Uncle Terry?" Abby was looking at him. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fantastic." Terry leaned back in the recliner and couldn't stop grinning. "In fact, I've never felt better."

A smile shadowed around Jake's mouth, but Jake said nothing.

As Dick continued with his story, Maddie looked at Terry again, and Terry plunged back into the stunned shock, to gasp and find his breath. If he wasn't enjoying himself so much, he could wish Maddie would cut it out and stop looking at him.

When Jake coughed, Ricky offered his daddy a bite from his cookie.

While Dick told his story to a rapt audience, Sara and Izzy went into the kitchen to start dinner. Late afternoon had melted into early evening, and Terry was thankful the day was drawing to a close. He didn't know how much more he could take. His nerves had flexed back and forth like a coat hangar, and now that things were calming down, he let himself relax and enjoy what remained of the day.

The cell phone in his pocket started to belt out the theme song for "Bassin' the Weeds with Dennis," and while Abby cooed about how sweet and loyal her uncle was, Terry tugged the phone out of his pocket.

"Hey, I'm doing my part to support your career," Terry said, putting the phone to his ear. "Say what you want, but this family sticks together." The voice on the phone was hard to hear over the laughter in the living room, and Terry got up to go into the hall to hear better.

"Terry, sorry to break in on your Sunday like this." It was Henry Peterson, and by the formal tone of his voice, Terry was reminded that his friend was also the sheriff. "Do you remember I asked Madison for her former address so I could do a little checking on her background?"

"Yes, vaguely." Terry didn't know whether to be nervous or not. He'd quite forgotten Henry had done, (or was doing), a background check on Maddie. "Did you find anything?"

"Now that's an interesting way to put it." Henry sounded as though he were getting comfortable on a couch, his voice deliberate but laid back in a controlled manner that had Terry wishing Maddie had never given him her address. "I say interesting, because I followed up and contacted the man currently renting Madison's former home. He'd never heard of Madison, but he gave me the landlady's number. I called it, and didn't hear back from her until this afternoon. Actually, this morning-- she left an answer on my machine, but I didn't know about it until we got back from church. Which, now that I think of it, how are you and the family doing? I hear you have the flu."

"Thanks, we're good." Terry turned his back to the living room as the children scurried past him on their way to the girls' room, probably to play with their Mac. "Abby, Jake, and Ricky have a touch of fever, but they're doing well."

"That's good to hear. Like I was saying," Henry lost no time getting down to business, "I returned the landlady's call-- a Mrs. Jack Snyder-- that name ring a bell?"

"No, should it?"

"Just wondering," Henry said with a hint of serious curiosity that made him sound very much like a cop. "That woman is quite a character. When I talked to her, the first words out of her mouth were, and I quote, 'You can't arrest me.' I explained no one was in trouble, that I was just following up on a background check, and wondered if she knew a Madison Crawford."

"And?" Terry pressed.

"She said she'd never heard of her."

"But, she had to have. Maddie lived there before she came to Three Mile Bay-- I remember Maddie commenting about the landlady helping her out." Terry left out the fact the landlady had unchained Maddie, and Terry's mind struggled to make sense of what he was hearing.

"Well, I pressed that fact home to Mrs. Snyder, I told her that I knew Madison had lived in one of her rentals; she said, if that's what I'd been told, then she couldn't deny it. I asked again, had she heard of Madison Crawford. Yes, came the answer, but she wasn't responsible for her tenants, and what they did behind closed doors. I asked what she meant by that, and she shut up tighter than a clam about to be served up raw on someone's plate. It didn't take a cop to know she was hiding something."

"Go on."

"When I finally got her talking again, she said Madison had left some things behind, and did she want them forwarded to her new address? If not, Mrs. Snyder was going to throw everything away, and had I not called when I did, she would have done just that. So I'm calling you, so you could ask Madison what she wants Mrs. Snyder to do with her things." There was an ironic tone to Henry's narrative, one that hinted at sarcasm and disbelief that things were as innocuous as it seemed.

"Okay." Terry tried to think. "Do you have any idea what Mrs. Snyder is hiding?"

"Not a clue. But I'll tell you what, that woman was scared." Henry paused. "I don't have a good explanation for Mrs. Snyder's behavior, but the background check on your friend, Madison, came up clean. No criminal record, no wants, no warrants. Aside from having an interesting landlady, her story checks out."

"Okay. That's good." Terry swallowed hard. "Just give me a moment, and I'll ask Maddie what she wants done with her things."

"Sure enough." Henry waited on the line as Terry covered the cell phone and moved into the living room.

"Maddie, come here a moment, would you?"

While Dick, John, and Abby swapped fish stories, Maddie got up and came into the hall.

"Sheriff Peterson had a phone call from Mrs. Snyder."

The news turned Maddie several shades whiter, and she slunk back a few steps.

"She said you left some things behind, and wants to know if you'd like them sent to your current address."

"I didn't leave anything behind."

"She says you did."

Shaking her head, Maddie's arms wrapped around herself in a tight hug. "I don't know what she's talking about, I cleaned the house out. What I didn't take or sell, I threw away."

Remembering the thin grocery bag Maddie had brought when Terry had found her at the Old Mill Campground, Terry figured there hadn't been very much to sell or throw away.

"Mrs. Snyder says she has some of your things, Maddie. She'll throw them out if you don't speak up."

Maddie backed toward the living room.

"What do you want Sheriff Peterson to tell Mrs. Snyder? He's waiting for an answer."

"Why did she call the sheriff? Am I in trouble?"

"Oh, no. Henry was only following up on a background check, that's all."

"My background check?"

"That's right." It seemed Terry hadn't been the only one to forget that Sheriff Peterson had asked for her former address, and other information, so he could check and make sure their newest citizen of Three Mile Bay wasn't wanted by the law. Though Henry usually kept abreast of the people moving into the area, Terry had a feeling his run-ins with Victor had made Henry more wary of the people Terry tried to help.

"Could I have it sent to my apartment?" Maddie gulped so hard Terry could hear it in her voice. "Do we have to send it here?"

"No, there's always your place. Is that what you want?"

After a long moment of hesitation, Maddie nodded, and Terry got back on the phone.

"Henry, tell Mrs. Snyder to send it to Maddie's apartment," and Terry rattled off the address by heart. It was only a digit different than his own. "Did Mrs. Snyder happen to say what things she has?"

"Nope, only that she wanted to get rid of them. She didn't even mention the cost of shipping, so I have a hunch she's eager to get rid of whatever Madison left behind."

"Maddie said she didn't leave anything behind."

"Well, now. That's curious." Terry could hear Henry thinking, could all but hear the gears turning in his friend's mind. "I'll call Mrs. Snyder back, and give her Madison's address. Interesting. Very interesting. You take care, Terry." And with that, Henry Peterson hung up.

Looking frightened, Maddie tugged at Terry's shirtsleeve. "Am I in trouble?"

"No, you're fine. Mrs. Snyder didn't return Henry's call until this morning, and if she hadn't asked what to do with your things, I don't think he would have even bothered to call us." Terry eased into a smile for Maddie's sake. "It's all right. Nothing bad will happen."

"Are you sure?"

The worry in her face troubled Terry. It made sense, considering what Maddie had been through with the Dragon. "I don't think there's anything to worry about. Mrs. Snyder didn't say very much to Sheriff Peterson. He said she was as tight as a clam." Terry paused before he let Maddie go back to the living room. "How much does Mrs. Snyder know about your time with the Dragon? You told me she took off your chain after he died."

"She found me," Maddie nodded, speaking in such a frenzied whisper Terry was afraid the others might overhear. "I don't think she knew about the chain until she found me. I think it scared her. She said I had to go."

Terry nodded, his thoughts working as he went. "I have to ask something, but I don't want you to panic. Do you know if the Dragon abused anyone else?"

"I'm the only one. I'm positive."

Terry was surprised at her certainty.

"He always bragged about the bad things he did, like how many prostitutes he saw. I even know all the ugly stuff he did when he was a boy, and I was the only one he hurt like me."

"All right." Terry sucked in a breath. "I can't see dragging the law into this when the abuser is already dead, so there's no need for Sheriff Peterson to know. Mrs. Snyder isn't talking, so as far as I'm concerned, no one has to find out about your chain. Let the dead bury their dead, and the let living get on with her life."

Looking a bit relieved, Maddie nodded, and obeyed when Terry said she could go back to the couch.

Terry's hands were shaking. He put away his cell phone, pressed his hands together to calm himself and get his mind right. The past had just intruded on the present, and it rattled his courage. He prayed he was doing the right thing in not telling Henry anything more than absolutely necessary. Maddie wasn't in any kind of trouble, and Terry thanked God for that peace.

As Izzy announced dinnertime, Terry left the hall to enjoy a meal with Maddie and the others.

* * * *

Hearing that name come out of nowhere had been a shock to Madison. She'd hoped her past was firmly behind her, and maybe it still was. Although what in the world Mrs. Snyder had wanted to send her, was beyond Madison. She'd gone through every room, sold what she could, kept a few things to take with her, and stuffed everything else into dark trash bags. She'd watched the man who took away the trash, dump them into the back of the trash truck. She'd even followed the vehicle down the street, just to make sure no one took anything out of the bags, but hadn't been able to keep up.

Everything had gone into the trash or had been sold. Nothing had been left. Maybe Mrs. Snyder had found something Madison had missed, but Madison couldn't imagine what. Worry knotted her stomach but she forced herself to eat everything on her plate. Terry would worry, and she didn't want that. During the prayer before dinner, everyone had held hands, but Terry had been on the other side of the room, so she hadn't been able to feel his hand around hers. Terry had said she wasn't in trouble, and she tried to remind herself of that when worry got the best of her.

She had to trust God, and push the bad stuff aside.

After dinner, the Doyles said goodbye, and Sara gave Madison a great big hug.

"I hope you'll be very happy here," Sara said, and Madison was too tired to wonder what she meant. Dick made a move to hug her as well, but Madison ducked behind John and escaped the goodbyes without being touched again.

After seeing the Doyles out to their car, Abby and Jake came back inside and shut the door.

It didn't take Abby very long before she turned to Terry. "What happened, earlier? We saw Madison run out of the house without her shoes and coat. Mom went after her, and then you, and then Dad. Then you come back, only to disappear into the office. What's going on?"

A thoughtful look settled over Terry's face. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks, glanced at Madison, and smiled.

"We've been working a few things out. For one, I'm not marrying Emily, and told her so this afternoon."

"Really." Jake stood beside Abby and raised his brows. "How did she take the news?"

"I would have thought your first question would be 'why'?"

"Well, why isn't too hard to figure out." Jake didn't look in Madison's direction, but it was implied. Madison could feel it.

Izzy and John looked to Terry, for like Madison, they didn't know the outcome with Emily, either.

"She was disappointed. I tried to be as kind as I could, but when she hung up, she was crying."

"Oh, no." Izzy covered her mouth. "I'd better call, and see if there's anything I can do."

"Not much you can do, except apologize."

"But, John, I was the one who asked her to come to dinner. I picked her."

"Yes, but you don't want to embarrass Emily by making a bigger deal over it. Let things die down a while before trying to give her any comfort. Emily isn't put together with flower paste. She'll get over it, and move on."

"But, John--"

"At least wait until tomorrow before calling," John sighed.

"So..." Abby looked at Madison and let the remark hang in the air.

With a confirming nod, Terry smiled. "I have feelings for Maddie."

"Are you getting married?"

"No."

His quick answer calmed Madison.

"Not yet."

Madison's calm fluttered away.

"We have a lot to work out, and I don't know yet if she'll ever accept me as anything but a friend."

She wouldn't-- Madison was sure of it.

"We're going to talk to Dr. Jacoby when he comes back from vacation, and see if we can't get him to take us."

"Dr. Jacoby?" Jake asked, and the young man's face turned sober. "Have you talked to him?"

"No, he's coming back from vacation this week."

"He won't take you and Madison on as patients." Jake folded his arms while the children watched TV with the volume turned low. "He was my therapist, as well as Abby's, and he won't want to take anyone else from my family. It would be too difficult, even unethical, as far as he would be concerned. He only saw Abby because of me. I think it's like a lawyer having a conflict of interest. He won't do it." Jake looked pained to say it, and Terry looked pained to hear it.

Madison, on the other hand, breathed a deep sigh of relief. She wouldn't have to go, and quietly rejoiced as she stood beside the couch.

"You could ask Dr. Jacoby, and maybe he could give a referral," Jake suggested. "You need someone especially suited to treat PTSD, and he would know all the best therapists in the area. She does have PTSD?"

Terry nodded, and Madison wondered what they meant.

"I can't say I'm surprised," Jake said. "Maybe therapy would do you some good, as well."

"I don't know about that." Terry quieted, and for a long moment, the room sank into silence besides the TV. "Thanks for the information," Terry said finally. "I'll call and ask Dr. Jacoby for a referral."

Regret tugged at Madison. Maybe she shouldn't have given her permission to Terry to contact a psychiatrist for "them." Terry was hoping for something that would never, ever happen, and it seemed almost cruel to let him try. But if she said "No, absolutely not," Terry would be sad, and she didn't want that, either. She felt trapped, and hoped she would be able to find a way out without hurting Terry. Izzy had said his heart broke easily, and Madison believed it.

While the conversation drifted to their visit with the Doyles, Madison slipped into the kitchen for a glass of water. Her mouth felt dry and she wanted some time to pull herself together.

From the kitchen, she heard Terry say he needed to take Maddie home, and it caused her some pain. How she wanted to curl up next to Terry on a couch somewhere and go to sleep, to just know that she was safe and could sleep without having to think about anything at all. She stayed out of the living room for as long as she dared, wanting to put off the trip back to her apartment.

To Madison's wonderment, Abby came into the kitchen, leaned against the counter and smiled at her. "Uncle Terry is saying good night to Ricky and the girls."

"Oh," Madison said, and washed her glass in the sink.

"Uncle Terry's going to sleep at his apartment tonight," Abby went on, "so he wanted to warn my sisters not to bother camping outside his bedroom door in the morning." Abby paused. "I don't know everything that's going on between you and my uncle, but I want you to know I'm glad he found you."

Madison looked at her. Abby had meant it.

"He looks happy," Abby smiled. "It's nice to see him hopeful about the future, for a change. After his breakdown, he concentrated on getting through the day in front of him, and nothing more. He wants a family, and that's good. It means he's thinking about the future." Abby sighed, and gave another smile. "I think he was supposed to find you."

Putting the glass away, Madison tried to be honest with Abby. "I can't marry him."

Abby gave a slight shrug. "I just wanted you to know that we're glad you're here."

Though Madison couldn't understand, Abby didn't look as though she regretted her words. Instead, Abby smiled and went to get something from the fridge to help Ricky's cough.

"Maddie?" Terry called from the living room. "Are you ready to go?"

The prompt hurried Madison into the next room, only to find Terry already in his coat. He helped her into hers, then waved to the munchkins watching TV.

"Don't give your daddy and mommy a hard time when they say you have to go to bed."

"We won't," Debbie promised, coming to her uncle with bright eyes and a smile. "Are you going to eat breakfast with us?"

"Probably not. But," Terry added quickly, "I wouldn't miss lunch with you, for the world. You can count me in on those tuna fish sandwiches your mommy is planning for tomorrow." He stooped to give the girl a hug. "Be good." Since Debbie had gotten a hug, the other two clamored for one as well, and even Ricky stood in line for his turn. When all of the kids had been hugged and kissed, Terry opened the front door.

"Go on, before they beg you to take them with you," John laughed.

"Will you need me for anything tomorrow morning?" Terry asked, his jeep keys in hand.

"Not that I can think of. If you want to stay out, you don't have to clear it with me."

"I know," Terry smiled, "but I don't want to leave you hanging."

"If something comes up at work, I have your number." John nudged him out of the house, and after a wave to Izzy and AJ, Terry stepped outside. Madison followed, and automatically went to the garage while Terry lingered by the front door.

"Thanks for everything, John."

"Hey," John smiled, "you'd do it for me. Good night."

The door closed, and Terry sighed loudly. It was a happy sounding sigh, one that said he was glad to be alive. Madison waited by the garage, more relieved than she liked to admit that he would be sleeping at his apartment tonight. It meant he would be close by.

"Just look at all those stars," Terry said, pushing off the front step and heading for the garage. "The sky is so clear, you could almost see the end of the universe, right here from Three Mile Bay."

She looked up at the dark heavens strewn with tiny lights. She couldn't see what he did.

Not needing a reply, Terry opened the garage, got into his jeep and started the engine. He pulled out, and Madison climbed into the passenger seat while he went to close the garage. She didn't want to think about the psychiatrist, or Mrs. Snyder, or even her full tummy after having eaten so much dinner to keep Terry from worrying. All she wanted to do was sleep.

On the drive into Chaumont, Terry let her sit in silence and didn't try to get her talking. He hummed a tune, and smiled to himself like someone with a happy secret. Abby was right. He was happy.

Trees silhouetted in dark moved past Madison's window, and every now and then she glimpsed the bay between their branches. Moonlight glinted off the water before slipping out of sight when Terry headed inland. Though she didn't recognize the streets in the dark, she knew they were nearing home by the sigh that came from Terry. He said nothing as he pulled into the apartment parking lot, came to a stop in front of his place and shut off the ignition.

She took off her seat belt, and sat there, waiting for him to either get out, or to at least tell her to. After another sigh, Terry pushed open the driver's side door. He let it fall shut, rounded the hood and opened her door with a half smile.

"Home sweet home," he said as she stepped outside. "Hold up, and I'll walk you to your front door."

"It's just a few feet away, Terry."

"Hey," he grinned, and lightly swung the passenger door shut, "you're supposed to let the man walk you to your door, if he offers. The only option you have is to graciously accept."

He was in a good mood, and it lightened Madison's heart until she was smiling, too. Oh, she had a heart, and right now, it was beating to a happy tune, a tune that was all because of Terry. She waited, and when he came to her side, she let him lead the way. It really was just a few steps, but he seemed to take delight in making the effort.

"There," he sighed as they reached her door, "nothing to it. Do you have your key? Oh, wait a moment, I think I have it in my pocket. Here it is." He unlocked her door, gave her the key and took a step back. "I know it's customary to kiss the girl right about now, but..."

"We're not married."

He nodded. "We could fix that, though."

"Terry, I can't marry you."

He held up his hands in self defense. "At least we'll have something to talk to the therapist about."

"I wish you wouldn't make that call, Terry. It won't do any good."

A sigh rumbled through Terry. He smiled, took a step back and waited for her to go inside. "Do you need any help making your couch? If I remember right, it's a mess in there."

"It's okay, I can clean it up." Madison moved past him through the open doorway. She flipped on the living room light switch, turned, and looked at Terry. "If I didn't like you so much, I wouldn't try to warn you. I'm messed up, Terry. It's too late to try and fix me so I can be normal like you and everyone else."

"I'm not normal, Maddie."

She shook her head. "It's too late for me."

"Then why did you tell me not to marry Emily?" When Madison didn't reply, Terry gave his handsome, lopsided grin. "Good night, Maddie. I'll see you in the morning." He turned to go, but didn't leave until she had closed the door. Before he could try the handle, she locked it, then put on the deadbolt and chain. The handle jiggled, and then several moments later, she heard Terry's apartment door swing shut.

She looked about the cold room, went to turn up the thermostat, then headed for the couch room to fix the mess she'd made from the night before. With the lights on, she could see everything, and it wasn't as hard as she'd feared before the couch had been made, her pillows had been fluffed and put back in place, and the blankets were neatly tucked and ready for bed.

The cell phone in her pocket rang, and she pulled it out to find Terry's number glowing on the small screen. She flipped it open and sighed with contentment when she heard Terry's voice.

"Keep the phone close by, Maddie."

"I will."

"See you in the morning," he said, and hung up.

She closed the phone, tried to suck in a breath and realized the emotion that was drowning her. It bubbled up somewhere inside her and threatened to overflow to the point of bursting. It pushed at her, sending panic into an already tired body.

Thoughts came too rapidly to slow down and hold onto for help. Walking on water-- a lopsided grin-- a battle cry written in her notebook somewhere-- painful soft kisses on her hair-- tumbled feelings that came from deep inside her but had no way to spill out. A thought zipped through her that she should try something else, but she couldn't think past the need, and in her frenzy, all but ran to the kitchen.

She wanted Terry, and hurried into the bathroom to settle herself the only way she knew how. Through pain.

* * * *

Long after he went to bed, Terry stared up at the ceiling and couldn't stop smiling. Love felt different than he'd thought it would. It was a strange blend of terror and sheer joy, emotion that stirred his blood like lightning on a soft summer's night. If only she loved him, he could slip into this romantic insanity without a fight. He'd strike his colors, run up the white flag and propose to her just as soon as he possibly could.

They needed help.

Tomorrow morning, Terry would call Dr. Jacoby. Technically, the good doctor wasn't supposed to be back from his vacation yet, but this was important. The mental health and wellbeing of two people depended on it. There was an intensity about Maddie that Terry could feel even standing on the other side of the room. Something special was happening, and Terry didn't want to miss a single thing. Each day with Maddie was tucked away in his heart, and he prayed this was only the start of a lifetime of days such as this...

Only without the upheaval of making life-changing decisions, plunging heart over sneakers in love with a woman who steadfastly refused to marry him. Though today, he happened to be wearing oxfords. He prayed Emily would never know the feeling of being turned down by someone she actually loved. It was pure torture.

He didn't remember falling asleep, but something ding-donged in Terry's dreams. It came again, and he blinked open only to find himself staring at the ceiling. Thinking it was just a dream, he rolled onto his stomach, closed his eyes, and was shaken awake by the ding-dong of a doorbell.

His doorbell.

Pushing back the covers, Terry climbed out of bed, padded down the staircase in his socked feet and wondered who on earth would be paying him a visit at... what time was it? He squinted at the clock in the TV cabinet and stumped his toe on the coffee table, in the process. The bell rang again, and Terry pushed aside his annoyance to unlock the door. Who in their right mind would pull someone out of bed at three in the morning? Annoyance turned to concern as he opened the door. Maybe it was John. Something might be wrong at home.

He came nose to nose with the person ringing his doorbell and blinked.

The sleep had to be playing tricks with his mind.

"Brian, what are you doing here?"

"Stan called me. He said you and Emily broke up, and now you're in love with Madison."

"Stanley called you at three in the morning?"

Arms slightly bent like a prizefighter staring down an opponent, Brian nodded. "He said you made Emily cry."

"I'm afraid I did, but why should he call you?" Just then, Terry heard the faint tone of a cell phone upstairs. "Would you hold on a moment? That phone call could be Maddie."

"So it's true? You and Madison are seeing each other?"

Not knowing how to possibly answer that in five seconds or less without just blurting, "yes," Terry let the front door stand open and jogged to the stairs. By the time he got to the cell phone beside his bed, it had stopped ringing. A check of the screen showed a missed call from John. Dialing John, Terry headed back down the stairs with the phone.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Terry, I wanted to warn you Brian was just here. He's as angry as I've ever seen him, and he's looking for you. I didn't tell him where you were, but I think he's guessed."

Stopping at the open front door, Terry saw Brian still waiting on the doorstep. "Yeah, he guessed."

"He's there, isn't he? Do you want me to come down?"

For a moment, Terry considered the clenched fists of the visitor outside. Brian did look angry.

"Thanks, I'll handle it. You can go to bed now-- I'll talk to you in the morning."

When John hung up, Terry motioned for Brian to come inside. No use keeping him on the front step where neighbors could overhear and spread fresh gossip.

"I thought you were my friend. I just don't get it." Brian shoved past Terry, stood in the middle of Terry's living room in a crumpled pajama top and a pair of blue jeans. A sports coat had been thrown over the pajama top, and Terry hadn't needed to see the wildly messed up hair to know Brian had been sleeping not too long ago. "I thought you said you weren't sweet on Madison?"

"I wasn't." Terry shut the front door. "It snuck up on me when I wasn't looking. And what's all this disappointment about me and Maddie? You walked away, and she hasn't heard from you since."

"I didn't walk away. I was thinking." Brian huffed out a breath. "I needed time to think about what I was getting myself into. I never would've guessed you'd make a move on Madison behind my back-- not when you were already so close to Emily. I thought we were friends."

"Listen, Emily came to our house for dinner once, I went to Emily's house for lunch once-- two meals, count'em, just two-- and then we had a phone date. That's it. That's the sum total of our relationship."

"So now you're with Madison?"

Terry sighed. "I never thought news could travel so fast."

"The news had help." Brian ran a hand through his already messed hair. "I had a phone call from Stan--"

"Wait a moment." Terry put on the breaks. "I still don't understand why he called you."

Hesitation came to Brian's eyes. He winced, rubbed his forehead and looked reluctant to speak. "I sort of dated Emily a year ago, and-- don't look so surprised. Our church isn't that big, and I thought you already knew."

Terry shook his head in full surprise. He'd been aware of at least two other men from their congregation who had dated Emily, but he hadn't known about Brian. Though it probably wasn't a deep dark secret, Terry hadn't known, and probably neither had Izzy. If Izzy had known about Brian and Emily, she might never have called up Emily to date Terry, if Izzy had also known Brian was pursuing Maddie. But then, if it was over between Brian and Emily, it shouldn't really matter. Should it? Terry sighed. Life was complicated enough, but when you tossed single people into the mix, looking for spouses in the same small church, it made things interesting.

"You and Emily?"

Brian nodded. "It's all in the past, but yes, I used to date her. Stan called me when he couldn't stop Emily from crying, and I think he was hoping I'd come over here and give you a hard time."

"I'm very sorry to hear that." Terry folded his arms, looked at his friend and realized he hadn't been keeping up with the social happenings at their church. "I had no idea about you and Emily."

"Okay, but we're getting off topic." Brian took in a deep breath. "Stan thinks you dumped Emily, even though Emily isn't saying much to anyone. According to Stan, she sits in her room and cries. Stan is upset, and I don't blame him. He can't get anything out of her except that you two broke up today, that the relationship is over and now you love Madison."

"I'm afraid that's all true. She's still crying?"

"What do you mean, 'still'?" Strong emotion tensed Brian's face. "What did you do to her? Any man who'd dump a woman like that, and make her cry, is lower than any life form I'd care to name."

"I tried to be gentle," Terry said, dropping his arms to his side in defeat. "I found out I was in love with someone else. It seemed only fair to tell Emily."

"Are you sure it's love?"

"I'm sure." Terry took a seat on the coffee table, put down the cell phone and rubbed the toe he'd stubbed on his way to the door. "Aside from the fact Maddie seems to like me a lot, I'm not sure of the extent of her feelings. My heart isn't in question, though. I love Maddie."

The words seemed to take the energy out of Brian.

"Oh, man." Brian sank onto the couch looking like a disheveled husband trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. Whatever Stanley had said to Brian, it had gotten Brian out the door, half dressed in his PJs. "I guess I shouldn't have given myself so much time to think."

"I'm sorry. I thought you were no longer interested."

Brian groaned. "Madison aside, there's still Emily to think about. She's crying, and Stan is at his wit's end to know what to do. Can you tell me, exactly, what happened today?"

"If I do," Terry said quietly, "I'll have to ask you not to repeat this to anyone else, besides Stanley. I don't want to embarrass Emily in front of the town."

"Fine. I wouldn't want that, either."

"Emily asked me to marry her, and I had to turn her down."

"Emily proposed?" Brian looked thunderstruck. "She proposed to you?"

"She did. When I realized I had my answer, I called her back as soon as I could."

Stunned, Brian shook his head. "I had no idea she was that serious about you. Surely, we can't be talking about the same woman. No man in his right mind would turn down a proposal from her."

"I take it she's never asked you?"

"No. She hasn't." Brian couldn't stop shaking his head. "I can't believe you walked away from Emily McCall. And she's the one crying?" Brian blew out a frustrated groan. "Some men get all the breaks."

"I'm curious," Terry hoped he wouldn't get decked for asking, "when you and Emily stopped dating-- who called it off, you or her?"

"It wasn't either of us." Brian gave a helpless shrug. "Stan had a health scare, and after that, Emily pulled away from me. I've always thought Stan had something to do with it, that maybe he'd even faked being sick. I don't know. Maybe I was just trying to find someone to blame, but I've always had the impression he didn't like me."

"Strange you should say that," Terry said with a frown. "I had the same impression about me."

Brian sighed, leaned forward on the couch and looked at Terry. "Everything aside, she's crying. I don't know that she's crying this second, but when Stan called, he seemed to think she had been crying all night. I had the strong impression her heart was so broken in two, she couldn't see straight."

"When we ended our phone date," Terry admitted, "she was in tears. I didn't think her heart was very broken, though. More like disappointed. She all but said that she didn't love me."

"Really?" Brian sat up straight.

Terry thought it over and nodded. "If she's still crying, it's not over me. After that last phone call, I think I can safely assume she's not in love with me, and I don't think love had anything to do with why she asked me to marry her. I told her to hold out for love, and she said that she guessed some people were meant to be alone."

"Emily said that?" Brian frowned, scratched his knee and didn't say a word for a full minute. "Did Stan ever have any health scares while you were dating Emily?"

"I couldn't really call it a health scare; he had hyperglycemia when I showed up to lunch that one time. He had been eating candy in church, so it was understandable."

"Had he known you were coming to lunch?"

"I don't think so. She invited me on the spur of the moment after services."

Frowning, Brian shook his head. "Stan knew. That's why he took the candy-- he wanted to get sick."

It took Terry a moment to let the words sink in.

"Stanley would never do that. He has genuine concern for the welfare of his daughter. He even tried to get me to send Maddie away so it wouldn't interfere with my relationship with Emily. He loves his daughter. He wants what's best for her."

The frown didn't leave Brian's face and he stared dead ahead in concentrated thought. "I've been underestimating that man. When I was seeing Emily, he voiced concern that my son Dave wouldn't want another mom. I hadn't proposed yet, I hadn't even been sure I was in love at the time, but I took it as a good sign that Stan was thinking about Emily one day marrying me. Stan said he wanted us to take things slowly so no one would get hurt, so everyone would have time to get to know each other, before any big changes were made."

"I can't believe anything bad about Stanley." Terry shook his head. "He might be on the senile side of cantankerous at times, but he's a good man. He wouldn't do that to his only child."

"His only child takes very good care of him," Brian said, and left it at that. He got to his feet, then held out a hand of friendship to Terry. The anger had left Brian's eyes, and Terry shook the offered hand without needing to think it over.

They were friends, and with God's help, always would be.

"I hope you'll forgive me for dragging you out of bed. I was sound asleep when Stan called me, and--" Brian didn't finish the thought out loud. "I went to your house in Three Mile Bay, so if you would, tell John I'm sorry for barging in so late. He must have thought I'd gone mad-- I wasn't making much sense at the time. I'm ashamed to admit what I've been thinking about you and Madison. Stan said--" Brian broke off with another painful wince. "I thought you had double-crossed me. I should have known better."

Though Terry couldn't bring himself to think poorly of Emily's father, there wasn't much else to do but shake Brian's hand.

"I wish you and Madison all the best," Brian said, going to the door. He opened it, paused and looked at Terry. "Things worked out the way God intended, but I did learn my lesson. Next time, I'll do my thinking on my knees. And then I won't hesitate to act."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out with you and Maddie."

Brian smiled. "No, you're not. But thanks, anyway." He gave a nod to Terry, then stepped outside, closing the door after him.

It took Terry a long time before he got up from the coffee table and went to lock the front door. What an odd night. It felt to Terry he was still fast asleep and only dreaming, but the emotion in Brian's face had been all too real. No, this had happened, and now Terry was left to wonder about Stanley.

As Terry picked up the cell phone, then clicked off the living room light, he put himself in Stanley's position. Wake up Brian from a dead sleep, excitedly tell him that another man had wronged a woman Brian had once cared about-- and maybe still did-- hint that Terry had been sneaky and had somehow stolen Maddie from Brian, get Brian wound up with anger, then suggest someone should deal with Terry for mistreating Emily. Stanley was a father, after all, and Terry had been the one to call it off, not Emily. In all the anger and excitement, Terry and Brian would lose each other's friendship, and Terry would get the message that Stanley didn't want him to change his mind and come crawling back to Emily.

Not that Terry would, but Stanley had wanted to make sure.

It was mostly conjecture, but that one late night phone call from Stanley to Brian, had made an already complicated situation dangerous. If Brian hadn't been able to be reasoned with, and if Terry hadn't been so quick to back down from a fight, the incident would have gotten ugly, fast.

Sort of like killing two birds with one stone, or rather, using one to punish the other.

Pretty cagey for an old man who seemed brittle and frail, and at times, senile. Terry could only hope senility had muddled Stanley's thinking enough to accidentally get Terry and Brian into a potential fistfight. The more Terry thought it over, though, the more he doubted it.

Poor Emily.

Padding his way up the stairs, Terry tried to calm down and think about going back to bed. It was four-thirty, and weariness tugged at his limbs.

He sank onto the bed, stared at the clock and decided he had to get more sleep. He climbed beneath the covers as the cell phone he'd just placed on the night table, broke into a rousing chorus of "Bassin' the Weeds with Dennis." Terry glanced at the screen, smiled, and answered the call.

"Maddie, you should be asleep."

"I was, but I heard someone in your apartment."

"A friend paid a late call, but it's no one for you to worry about."

"Was it Victor?"

"No, just a friend wanting to talk." Terry veered off and changed the subject. "Is your room clean? Are you comfortable over there?"

A smile sounded in Maddie's voice, and he closed his eyes to picture those peaches and cream in full bloom. "I'm comfortable, Terry."

"Good, then go to sleep. I intend to invite you to breakfast tomorrow morning, and I don't want you snoozing at the table."

"Terry?"

"I'm still here," he smiled.

"I really like you."

Tired but happy joy spread through Terry until his heart filled to capacity. "I really like you, too, Maddie."

"Good night," she whispered, and hung up the phone.

Grinning, Terry placed his cell phone on the night table. It felt good to know the woman he loved was next door, safe and warm and close by.

Before he fell asleep, he sent up a prayer for Emily, that she would find the man God intended for her to love. He also prayed for Stanley, that if what he and Brian had thought was true, really was, that Stanley would repent before he forever ruined any chance of future happiness for Emily. After hearing what Terry had from Brian, Terry knew that if he wasn't already so much in love with Maddie, he'd have given some thought to marrying poor Emily. Someone needed to take care of her.

Fatigue pulled at Terry. One was enough. It was all he could do to help Maddie, let alone Emily. As he drifted to sleep with Maddie tucked away in his heart, a smile came to Terry's lips, a smile that would remain even through the dreams that would later tumble into his rest.

Hope was a powerful tonic.

He slept soundly, knowing he would see Maddie in the morning.


"He that is slow to anger [Terry] is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit [Brian] than he that taketh a city. He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends [Stanley's call almost did]."
~ Proverbs 16:32, 17:9 ~

end of chapter