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Chapter Twenty-five
A Lot Like Coffee

"Rejoicing in hope..."
~ Romans 12:12 ~

On the drive home, that soft, warm touch helped keep Terry from thinking too hard. Those smooth fingers only held his hand, and yet his heart melted and puddled at Maddie's feet so much he wondered if she noticed. Now more than ever, he was falling soundly for Maddie, and the emotion that came with it only made his thoughts that much harder to take. That monster, that miserable excuse for a human being had kept her chained. In the basement. For "most of the time." And when he wasn't there, she starved. Anger flushed through Terry's veins. He wanted to hurt that man. He wanted it bad, and yet, there was that soft touch and his dark thoughts melted away.

Did Maddie know how wonderful she was? He wasn't making that up, and it wasn't his imagination. It was plain fact, sitting right there beside him, and all he could do was acknowledge its presence. Like admitting the moon reigned over the bay tonight, or that the stars were glowing their hearts out for them. They were tangibly real, just like her. She was wonderful, she was here, and she was sitting in his jeep.

The woman he'd been waiting all his life for, was here. He knew her name, knew the shape of her face and the way she smiled, the joy that came simply because she was here.

He told Maddie they were home, and glimpsed her closing her eyes like someone enjoying a perfect dream. With the moonlight on her face, she looked very much like a fairytale princess, a real live dream that reached for his hand when he had to pull away to park the jeep. The wonder he'd felt that first night when he saw her, filled him once again. He breathed in, shut off the engine and noted the light shining in the living room window.

"They waited up for us."

Maddie nodded. "Abby said they would."

"I still can't believe what you wrote." Terry shook his head and let Maddie reclaim his hand. "Those goals-- wow, Maddie. I've never been more stunned in my life." He thought it over and smiled. "I take that back." As he looked at her, he tried to interpret the quiet alarm filling her eyes as longing and not dread. "The first time I saw you, you took my breath away. You still do."

The grip on his hand loosened. She drew back, could no longer meet his gaze, and when she began to hug herself, Terry knew he'd said too much.

"I'm sorry, Maddie."

She gave a quick nod, but he wondered if she knew what he'd meant. That he was sorry for scaring her, but not for loving her. Not for that. Did Maddie even know he loved her? Unable to say more because it might drive her further into her shell, Terry pulled the keys from the ignition and tried to change the subject.

"Before we go inside, whatever we talked about in Carol's office, is private. I know I nearly tell John everything, but this... this is just between you and me."

Maddie nodded. "And Carol."

"Yes, and Carol." Terry smiled, thankful Maddie was still talking to him. He had to be more careful, to not get so lost in the moment that he forgot her needs.

Sucking in a deep breath, Terry located the water bottle, the manilla envelope, and pushed open the driver's side door. He wanted to get out of that jeep before he said or did something he'd really regret. Like tell Maddie that he was so much in love with her, he couldn't see straight. That he needed her, and couldn't wait another moment to ask her to marry him.

Knowing what her answer would be, Terry made up his mind to not ask until she was ready to say "yes." Hard as he struggled, he reigned in his emotions, and wished dearly that she didn't regard him with such huge eyes as she got out of the jeep.

He walked with Maddie to the house, dug the keys out of his pocket and prayed for help. She wouldn't stand next to him.

"Are we still good?" he asked.

Before Maddie could answer, a wedge of light spilled onto them as the front door swung wide open. Smiling, Jake moved aside to let them in.

"We thought we heard your jeep."

"Thanks for waiting up for us." Terry let Maddie go in ahead of him. "I hope you guys aren't waiting for a blow-by-blow account of the session."

Jake grinned. "We know better than to ask for details."

The living room looked ready for bedtime, with sheets and blankets covering the couch, as well as the inflatable mattress on the floor. John and Izzy sat cuddling on the couch, while Abby sat cross-legged on the mattress. Everyone was in their pajamas, the women in their lounge robes, and there wasn't a child in sight.

"Are the kids in bed?" Terry asked as he helped Maddie out of her coat.

"Yup." Jake moved past them to sit with Abby on the mattress. "Without giving anything away, how'd it go?"

"Okay, I guess." Terry winced as Maddie escaped to the recliner but didn't sit down. "I think we've got a good therapist in Carol Bennett. From what I've seen, I like her."

"That's good." John nodded, an arm sleepily cozied around Izzy's shoulders. "When's your next appointment?"

"We don't know yet. They're going to call tomorrow, and set up a schedule so we can come in twice a week." Terry watched as Maddie retreated into the hall. "We still have a way to go, but it's a start."

"Starting is good." John yawned. "I guess everyone's had a busy day."

"Want some hot cocoa?" Abby asked as Terry noticed they all held mugs.

"Sure. Thanks." Quietly, Terry saw Maddie slink back to the living room. "Have you got enough for one more?"

Climbing off the mattress, Abby smiled and went to the kitchen. "Two cocoas, coming up."

"Maddie, Sweetheart," Izzy gestured to the soft armchair, "why don't you sit and enjoy some hot chocolate? Abby, remember to put in the marshmallows."

"I will," Abby called from the kitchen.

Without looking directly at Terry, Maddie did as she was told, and sank into the recliner. Her arms continued to hug her middle so hard, he feared for the stitches.

"Is that hug hurting you?"

She shook her head, "no."

"Are we good?"

Staring down at the carpet, Maddie nodded, "yes."

"Okay then." Terry tried very hard to believe her. "Thanks, Maddie."

"So..." John let the word hang a moment before pushing on, "I have a message for you from Brian."

While this came as a useful distraction away from Maddie, it seemed to Terry that one concern followed another. "Is it good news, or bad?"

"Don't know, Brian didn't say. He asked you to call him as soon as you got back."

"Did he say anything else?" Terry started for the hallway with Maddie's coat and the things from the jeep. "When did he call?"

"Not five minutes after you took off. Brian only got voicemail when he tried your number, so he gave the house a ring and asked me to pass along the message."

Shifting everything to one arm, Terry dug the cell phone out from a hip pocket, punched the button then remembered he'd powered it down before leaving. He hadn't wanted to be disturbed while talking to Carol.

Taking a sip from her mug, Izzy watched Maddie from the couch.

"Guess I'd better give Brian a call." Terry headed for the office as Abby appeared with a mug in each hand.

"Your hot cocoa is ready." She gave one to Madison, then came to deliver Terry's in his yellow smiley mug. "Did Dad tell you Brian wants to talk?"

"I'll return Brian's call in the office-- thanks for the cocoa." Terry put away the cell phone to take the cup from his niece.

Abby looked curious as Terry went into the office.

He shut the door with a soft click.

Though he didn't know the nature of Brian's message, the fact Brian hadn't told anyone else, made Terry err on the cautious side. He would call without the others listening in, just in case this was highly personal. Like the rest of his day had been. Sunday included.

He emptied his arms on the desk, pulled off his coat and dropped it onto the chair.

The aroma of hot cocoa made him pause to take a sip. It felt good going down, like what a snug cold night should be, when enjoyed indoors. With the family all under one roof, the kids tucked away in their beds, and Maddie safe and warm in the living room with her hot chocolate and marshmallows, Terry felt he could relax.

Then he remembered Brian, and set the feeling aside for later.

He punched Brian's name in the cell phone's address book, and sent up a prayer.

"Hey, it's Terry. John said you left a message to call as soon as I got home?"

"Yeah, I did." Brian cleared his throat. "Are you sitting down?"

"No. Should I be?"

"Maybe, though you might have already seen this coming."

"Brian, what's going on? Is Emily all right? Did you have another call from Stanley?"

"No, it's nothing like that." A smile sounded in Brian's voice. "Several hours ago, I asked Emily to marry me, and she said 'yes.'"

"You did?"

"I told you next time, I wasn't going to hesitate before I act."

"I know, but-- wow. Congratulations."

"Emily and I are hoping to have a small wedding at her house, so Stan can easily attend. We're planning it for this Friday night, then we'll take off for a two-day honeymoon. I wanted to explain things, in person, why we can't invite you. It's nothing personal."

"I understand," Terry smiled. "It might be a little awkward."

"No, it's not that at all. You guys are coming down with the flu."

"Right, I forgot. We don't want Stanley to get sick."

"No, we don't, and I'm thinking we'll only invite a handful of people from church so it won't put Stan to too much inconvenience."

Terry paused. "How's he taking it?"

"Like I thought he would." Brian sounded measured but very determined. "I'm willing to bend where I can. Emily is letting me take a firm enough stand, I think her father gets the picture. Things are going to be different, and I hope, for the better."

"Well, I certainly wish you God's blessing. Is she happy?"

"She is."

"Then I'm grateful. And pleased. Very, very pleased for you both."

"Terry, I want to thank you. Thank you for waking me up, and making me realize what I almost lost for good. I also wanted to thank you for turning Emily down."

Though Terry wanted to chuckle, he couldn't-- not when Brian was being so very serious.

"I shudder to think of what almost happened."

"Then don't dwell on it. God worked this out the way it was supposed to, and it's up to us to be thankful and not dwell too hard on the past."

"Sounds as though you're talking to yourself."

"Maybe I am," Terry smiled. "Guess I'm just tired. Good for you, Brian. Good for you."

"Keep at it, Terry. You'll get around to it, and when you do, count me in as an usher or something. It'd be an honor to see you get married."

A lump formed in Terry's throat. "Thanks. If she ever says 'yes,' I'll take you up on that."

"She will."

"Maybe." Terry blew out a sigh. "I'm very happy for you and Emily."

"I know you are, but it's going to happen for you, too."

"Yeah." Terry rubbed his forehead and forced himself to sound lighter. "You take care, Brian, and tell Emily I couldn't be happier. Expect a delivery soon with a wedding gift, and don't let Stanley talk you out of that honeymoon."

"Don't worry, I won't. Stan will be all right with Mitch to look after him while we're gone. I'd better let you go now, but I wanted to be the one to tell you the good news. And thanks again, Terry. I owe you."

"No, you don't."

"I'll see you around."

The men hung up, and Terry sank into his office chair, only dimly aware that he was sitting on his coat. Good news. Yes, it was good. He felt genuine happiness for Brian and Emily, but at the same time, sadness pulled at him hard. More of his friends were getting married, while he was not.

He needed sleep.

Grabbing his smiley mug, Terry pushed into the hall, went into the living room to find Maddie nursing the last of her hot cocoa.

"What did Brian want?" John asked.

Terry pulled out a chair, sat down and prepared himself to smile. "He proposed to Emily today, and she accepted."

"He didn't!" Izzy sat up straight, momentarily ignoring the arm that kept tugging her back to John's side. "I'm so happy for Emily! I wanted to call today, but John said to give her more time."

"And see?" John grinned. "Now you don't have to tell her how sorry you are. So Brian popped the question?"

"He did." Terry caught Maddie staring at him out of the corner of his eye, and tried not to scare her by noticing too much. While the others listened, Terry explained about the coming wedding, the honeymoon, and the reason Brian couldn't invite them to the happy occasion.

"I'm sorry our flu is keeping you away from going," Abby said glumly.

"It's all right." Terry swirled his mug before finishing the last of the cocoa. "It's probably best I don't attend. Stanley might still be harboring a grudge against me, and Brian has enough on his hands without my making things worse with his future father-in-law. I'll be praying for them, but I think Brian has a decent shot of making Emily's life a happy one. From the sound of things, that's already true."

"We should send them a wedding present." Izzy looked thoughtful. "I'll do some online shopping tomorrow, and see if I can't find something really nice to send to Emily's house. Just look at that clock. It's late, and Madison probably wants to lay down on this couch." Izzy got to her feet, stepped around the mattress on the floor. "Tomorrow, I'm giving more cooking lessons to anyone interested."

"I am." A timid voice spoke up, and Izzy turned to smile at Maddie.

"I thought you might be."

"Could I join?" Abby asked. "I wouldn't mind some of those lessons."

"Of course, Sweetheart, if you'd like." Izzy looked taken aback by Abby's interest. "We'd love to have you in the kitchen, but I didn't know you wanted to learn to cook."

Jake frowned. "You don't need to learn."

"Yes, I do." Abby tipped back her mug, polished off the last of her cocoa, then smacked her lips. "At least I can make hot chocolate. Jake, we ate a lot of sandwiches in San Diego, and it's time I learned to deal with the kitchen."

"But I can cook." Jake took Abby's empty mug, then helped her off the mattress. "Cooking is something I can do."

"You'll have enough work, setting your studio in order and getting down to business once this flu lets up."

"Please, Abby? I need to be useful."

"You already are." Abby gave Jake a hug he readily accepted. "You are a talented, useful man, and don't you ever think otherwise. If you don't want me to learn, then I won't, but I hate to tie you to the kitchen now that college is behind us."

"Maybe we could take turns in the kitchen?" Jake asked, and Abby smiled.

"If that's what you want, but you're missing out on a good thing. After Mom teaches me how, you're going to want me to cook all the time."

John laughed. "Confidence was never your problem, Abby."

"I meant--" Abby said seriously as Jake hugged her even harder-- "once I learn how, Jake will want to take advantage of the fact I can cook, so it'll free up more of his time. I already know I'll never be as good as Mom."

"I love you, Abby. Cook if you really want to, but I don't mind being in the kitchen." Jake planted a kiss on Abby's forehead, then hugged her to his side as they made their way to the bedroom. "Good night, everyone."

"Good night," John smiled as the couple disappeared behind a closed door.

From the living room, they soon heard poor Jake coughing.

"There's no hurrying the flu," Izzy sighed. "It'll be over after it's run its course, and not a moment sooner." She moved to Maddie and took Maddie's empty mug. "Your pajamas have been washed and folded, and are waiting in the office bathroom. I left a robe for you. You're taller than I am, but try it on and see how you like it. John, would you put these mugs in the dishwasher?"

Terry passed John his mug as John made his way to the kitchen.

"There's an extra comforter in the master bedroom, Terry." Izzy spoke like a general marshaling her troops. "It's supposed to freeze tonight, so if you, John, or Ricky get cold, put on the extra blanket."

"Are you and Maddie going to be all right in here?" Terry nodded to the mattress on the floor. "Especially you. Do you have enough to keep warm?"

"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine." Izzy paused as Maddie got up and limped for the hallway. "John made me take the heaviest comforter in the house, plus I have the electric blanket. If anything, I'm in danger of being smothered." After Maddie left the room, Izzy looked over to Terry. "Is everything all right? She seemed a bit frightened of you when you came home."

"You noticed?" Terry pushed out of the chair, slid it away and studied the inflatable mattress. "Did the foot pump in the garage work?"

"You're changing the subject."

"I don't know what to say, Izzy. I'm trying to be careful."

"Give her some time to get used to you." Izzy spread the heavy comforter over the mattress. "I'm going to set up those cooking lessons. When you and she get married, she's going to know how to take care of you."

Terry winced. "Everyone is assuming she'll even have me."

"Yes," Izzy smiled, "I suppose we are."

With a yawn, John came back from the kitchen and scratched at his pajama top. "The dishwasher is going, the house is locked up tight, and like Jake, I'm ready to hit the sack." John moved behind Izzy and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I'm going to miss you."

"I'll just be in the living room."

John frowned playfully. "It's not just the living room-- it's all the way, on the other side of the house. If I want a kiss, I'm going to have to come looking for you."

"Sweetheart," Izzy gentled a hand over John's as he cuddled behind her, "we've been kissing for our entire married life. Haven't you had enough to get along without me for awhile?"

"Nope." John nuzzled Izzy's neck, and Terry lingered to watch them. "Stay warm tonight?" John asked, and Izzy rested her head against John.

How Terry wished he and Maddie could be like that.

Tearing himself away, he left the couple to a few minutes of privacy before Maddie came back. Terry quickly checked his email on the laptop in his office, then headed for the master bedroom, not wanting to be present when Maddie came out in her PJs. He silently thanked Izzy for giving Maddie a robe, for he didn't want to make things worse for Maddie than they already were.

The tender scene in the living room served as a useful reminder to Terry. From what he'd heard in Carol's office tonight, he'd been one of the causes for Maddie hurting herself. The thought gave him some pangs of despair, for if they liked each other enough--which they did-- and they were physically attracted to each other-- which they were-- then Maddie might cut again. Their relationship seemed doomed to failure. She gave him nightmares, and he stirred up enough emotions in Maddie to cut.

The only thing that kept Terry from tipping over into the pit of despair, was God's faithfulness. This was meant to be. He had to cling to his faith in the character of God, that since God seemed to so obviously want this, then God would find a way to make it happen. Somehow.

Search Terry for a way through, he didn't know. But God did.

A night-light shone in the master bedroom, and Terry did his best not to disturb Ricky as the little guy slept under the warm blankets on the bed. Thanks to Izzy, Terry's pajamas were waiting for him, along with a fresh change of socks, and he took them into the master bath to get changed.

If only he hadn't told Maddie the absolute truth about how she'd taken his breath away.

How stupid could he be?

He hoped the remark wouldn't be the cause of any new problems for her. He'd taken all the sharp objects out of the office bathroom he could, and the only way left to really hurt herself would be to break the mirror. Surely, Maddie wouldn't do anything right now-- not after seeing the doctor this morning. Even though he'd messed up with Maddie tonight, it was still too soon for her to cut again. Wasn't it?

Becoming unsure, Terry hurried into his PJs, stepped out of the bathroom and tossed his clothes onto a chair as he headed for the hall.

As he neared the office, Terry heard what sounded like the bathroom door snick open. He froze, took a few steps back as Maddie's shadow silhouetted on the hallway carpet before she came out of the office. He ran back to the master bedroom, ducked behind the door as she stepped into the hall. His heart pounded in his ears like some idiot hiding from the enemy.

Her head down and looking like a lost puppy, Maddie limped toward the living room in one of Izzy's lounge robes.

Terry shut his eyes to think, then retreated from the master bedroom door and went to lay down on the big bed where Ricky slept. He still madly hoped his sweetheart hadn't cut herself, but was too chicken to ask while they were both in pajamas. With a sigh, Terry pulled at the covers while trying not to nudge Ricky awake.

Being friends with Maddie had its challenges, but compared to love, friendship had been a piece of cake.

Some way, somehow, he had to deal with all these emotions while still keeping hold of his sanity. He couldn't afford to lose any marbles, for Maddie was going to borrow some of his and then where would he be? Crazy in love with a woman who didn't know her own heart.

Then again, what did he know? Maybe they were both perfectly sane.

Only God and Carol knew for sure, and Carol probably had her doubts.

* * * *

Madison hugged herself tight, even though the stitches on her stomach kept hurting and made her want to let go. She needed the self-comfort of that hug too much to stop. It felt really odd to look down at her stomach and see all those stitches. She'd never had any before. They made her feel cared for, like she was valuable as a human being.

Someone had cared enough to take her to a doctor, and that meant something to Madison.

The pajamas were clean, and the smooth robe Izzy had given her was so much better than wearing a coat when she had to leave the bathroom. The thought of running into Terry, made her want to stay in the office bathroom and hide until he went to bed.

She'd already had a small idea that he liked the way she looked, but Terry had never told her so bluntly, and with so much enthusiasm, as he had tonight in the jeep. She could take his breath away?

She wanted to forget, but couldn't.

Too weary to reason away Terry's words, she moved down the hall and tried to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. As she came to the living room, a soft murmuring sound made her look up from her feet.

Izzy and John were standing together in a close embrace, while John's voice said something so low Madison couldn't make out the words. Whatever he said made Izzy smile, and John's hands rubbed Izzy's arms in an intimate, possessive gesture. He must have thought they were alone, for he nuzzled Izzy, slipped his hand to the small of her back and started to kiss her.

Horror creeped through Madison and she tried not to watch. Oh, she tried.

A hushed, "I love you," fell from John's lips. He looked up, saw Madison and gave a reluctant nod in Madison's direction.

"Take care of my wife," he said, and Madison nodded, moved aside as John gave Izzy one last smile before passing into the hall.

Blowing out a deep, deep sigh, Izzy went to the couch and turned down the covers. "How do you like your robe? Is it comfortable?"

"Yes, thank you."

"If I remember correctly, you like a night-light when you sleep?"

"Yes, please." Hugging herself even harder, Madison went to Izzy's inflatable mattress and nudged it with her toe. Though it looked like a real bed, it had no headboard, no frame, nothing that could hold a chain. It wasn't real, so it was safe.

Izzy leaned over the couch and clicked on the night-light. "I put one of those in the office bathroom, so you won't have to find the light switch in the dark."

"Thank you."

"Do you need something more for the pain?"

Madison shook her head.

"I'm guessing after what you've been through today, you're probably begging for sleep." Izzy fluffed Madison's pillows, then turned to spread a blanket that had a cord running from it, over Izzy's inflatable bed. "I might not need to turn this on, but if I do, at least it'll be ready."

Chin down, Madison circled the mattress on the floor, then climbed onto the couch and almost cried in shock. She held still until the pain eased, pushed back the covers and moved slowly onto her back to keep from moaning. She'd already taken as much acetaminophen as she dared, and her body was worn out. Even more, her emotions were running low, and she couldn't get that picture out of her head. John had nuzzled and held Izzy, and Izzy had looked as though she actually liked it.

Shuddering, Madison tugged out one of the pillows from behind her, and still on her back, smothered her face in the pillow's softness.

"When I was a little girl," Izzy spoke and Madison looked from under the pillow to see Izzy turn off the overhead light, then the lamp, "I remember wishing very hard for a sister. I begged my parents for one, and it made my dad so angry I stopped voicing it out loud." The soft glow of the night-light showed a wistfully thoughtful look on Izzy's face. "It's probably a good thing I was the only daughter-- an only child, for that matter-- but a part of me has never stopped wishing for the kind of relationship I see in my own girls, and what they share with each other. A sister is something special, don't you think?"

Madison gave a shrug and watched as Izzy sat down on the mattress.

"Through Terry, I don't feel like an only child anymore. He's sometimes my big brother, sometimes my little brother, but he's always been family." Izzy smiled. "I'd still like that sister, though."

Not knowing what to say, Madison buried her face in the pillow and tried not to think too much. Her brain was so tired, she wanted to scream.

"My brood is going to want breakfast in the morning--" Izzy's blankets rustled-- "so I have to get some sleep. Are you going to be all right if I nod off?"

Madison gave a muffled, "yes."

"Mommy?" A sleepy voice came into the room, and Madison peeked from under the pillow. A little girl came to the mattress and climbed onto the blanket covering Izzy.

"What are you doing awake?" Izzy propped herself up on her elbows. "You should be in bed."

The girl gave a pleading look.

"Very well." Izzy opened the covers and the girl scrambled to climb in. "Please don't kick me in your sleep."

"I won't, Mommy." As the girl snuggled with Izzy, another "Mommy?" sounded, and a second munchkin came traipsing in. "If Ruthie gets to be with you, can I get in, too?"

Izzy scooted over and made room. "No kicking."

"Okay, Mommy." The girl climbed onto the blankets, and Madison started to slowly count; before she hit five, the last one came into the living room in search of her sisters.

"You three should be sound asleep, so why aren't you?" The mild scold was met with an eager smile as the third triplet crammed into Izzy's bed. "You're taking advantage of the fact Daddy isn't here to send you back to your room. You know that, don't you?"

Three pairs of giggles snuggled under the blankets, and Izzy sat up a moment to look at Madison on the couch.

"Try to get some sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."

Nodding, Madison untied her robe beneath the blanket but didn't have the strength to tug it out from under her.

"Can we have muffins?"

"Go to sleep."

"But, Mommy--"

"There are others trying to sleep in here, Debbie."

"But can we?"

"If Madison will help me in the kitchen, then yes."



"Thank you."

In the semi-darkness of the living room, Madison lay there and listened to the soft sounds of people falling asleep, the small stirs of someone getting comfortable. The feeling that she wasn't by herself in the room, that Izzy and the triplets were there, gave Madison a comfort she hadn't expected.

The tension that had balled inside her chest, began to melt away. She still clutched the blanket, but her eyes soon grew so heavy she could no longer hold them open. A moment of struggle to stay awake, and then the gentle tug of sleep and the welcome calm of rest. Too exhausted to even dream, Madison slept so hard, even the coming of morning wasn't enough to wake her on her own.

* * * *

Terry wasn't used to falling asleep with Ricky and John, stranger still, to wake up to a toy truck parked beside Terry's pillow. It took a moment for Terry's world to come into focus, and to remember that he was sleeping in the master bedroom, and that the truck belonged to Ricky.

The haze of sleep began to fade from Terry's mind, and he rolled onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. He didn't feel like getting up. Yesterday had taken a toll on him, the kind of toll that made a body not want to feel or think too much.

"You awake?" came John's voice, and Ricky stirred between John and Terry.

"Yeah." Terry breathed deeply. "I guess I am."

"There isn't any rain in the forecast for the next few days." John sat up in bed, scratched his head and yawned. "We should paint the new window frame on your apartment, and put sealant on the power washed bricks before it rains again."

"What do you mean, 'we'?"

"You know-- we-- as in me and you." John looked at Terry and gave a confident nod. "If the bricks are dry, I think we stand a decent chance of getting everything done, today. Come on, Ricky. Time to wake up." John gave the boy's shoulder a gentle nudge. "Do you need to use the potty?"

"Uh-huh." Ricky spoke half-asleep, half-awake, and Terry ruffled Ricky's hair to hurry the process along.

"Wake up sleepyhead," Terry smiled, "or someone will get to the bathroom before you do."

Groaning, Ricky scrubbed his small face with a hand, wrestling with indecision on how badly he wanted to stay in bed with his urgency to use the bathroom.

"What made you think of the window and wall?" Terry asked with a yawn.

John shrugged. "Jake and I stopped by your place yesterday, to pick up the car we'd left behind when we hurried Madison to urgent care. Jake noticed your window."

"Did he ask what happened?" All at once, Terry was awake. He sat up, looked to John and hoped AJ didn't know about the recent run-in with Victor. "How much did you tell him?"

"Were you trying to keep it a secret?" John asked, and gave Ricky another nudge.

Terry groaned. "Not exactly, but I wasn't trying to advertise the fact. So you told him?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"How'd he take it?"

"Jake was concerned, obviously, but he didn't seem too surprised. He said people have to want to get better before they can be helped, and that it sounded to Jake like Victor Barlow had never really wanted help."

"But that's what Victor kept telling me-- even when he trashed my apartment, and then with all those ranting phone calls. That he wants help."

"Well," John sighed, "if that's what Victor wants, he's doing a good job of driving it away. The judge didn't grant that restraining order for nothing." John shook his head. "Jake was sorry to hear Victor did that to you, and Jake said to tell you that he'd be the one to break the news to Abby." John looked at the little boy staring face up at him, and smiled. "Your mother is a force to be reckoned with, and that's a fact."

"Grandpa, what's 'reckoned'?" Ricky rubbed the sleep from his eyes and yawned.

"It means she cares about her family. Do you still want the bathroom? because I'm about to get up, and when I do, I've been known to hog the bathroom for ten minutes at a time." John widened his eyes for emphasis, and Ricky giggled. "Up, then, and get in there before I do."

The boy squirmed onto his side, then got onto his knees and crawled over Terry.

"Why do I always get trampled on?" Terry gave Ricky a smiling laugh. "You're no better than your aunts-- they wake up and I get stampeded."

In mid-laugh, Ricky dashed off to the master bathroom.

Terry looked to John. "He's wearing his training pants, isn't he?"

"I think so." John got up and went to go check his grandson.

With a sigh, Terry propped his elbows on his knees and worked to find the mental stamina to face the day. He hadn't done a workout for a while now, and knew he needed to get back into the routine. Some things required new commitment, every single day, or it simply wouldn't get done. Exercise was one of those things. Like Dr. Jacoby had said, he needed to take better care of himself and to make that a priority.

He rolled out of bed, padded into the hall to his bedroom. The door stood open, and when he didn't find AJ anywhere about, he went in to grab his Bible, electric razor, and the things he'd need for the day.

Stalking back to the master bedroom, Terry changed into his gym clothes.

John came out of the bathroom a moment later with Ricky, and gave Terry a thumbs up.

"We made it in time."

"Hey, congrats." Terry pulled on his sweatshirt. "After breakfast and quiet time, I'm hitting the treadmill, then maybe get in some weight training before we head off to my place. I'll need to leave my cell number with Carol's office, though. I don't want to miss Tom's call."

"Sounds like a plan." John started to hunt for his gym clothes. "When you don't exercise, I tend to slack off, myself. After you're done with the treadmill, I'll trade you for the weights."

Leaving in his PJs, Ricky left to go see what was for breakfast while John and Terry finished getting changed.

After a quick shave, Terry went to go check on Maddie. He expected to find her asleep on the couch, or peering at the family from the safety of her blankets.

To his surprise, he found Maddie dressed for the day, and in the kitchen helping Izzy make breakfast. "What's this?" Terry asked as he greeted Abby and Jake as they watched from the kitchen table. "Is something going on here I should know about? Why is Maddie working when she should be resting?"

"Terry, take it easy." Izzy gave him a smile as Debbie stood on tiptoe to see the bowl Maddie mixed on the counter. "The girls wanted blueberry muffins--"


"And Madison offered to help." Izzy poured Terry a cup of coffee, handed it to him and nodded to Maddie. "She's doing a good job. And she pays attention-- at least, when you're not in here watching--" Izzy saved the bowl from sliding off the counter. "Terry, would you drink that somewhere else? You're making her nervous."

"I am?" Terry eyed the slender woman working the mixing bowl. "How's she feeling this morning? Is the pain any better?"

Izzy gave him a look.

With a sigh, Terry left the kitchen while Lizzie, Ruthie, and Ricky waited around the table with AJ. Evidently, these muffins were a big deal. Terry hoped they weren't putting too much pressure on her, or expecting her to do something she couldn't handle.

Realizing breakfast wasn't ready and probably wouldn't be for awhile, Terry headed to the master bedroom. He picked up his Bible, padded down the hall, and into the office while trying not to slosh his coffee all over the place.

Setting the brimming full mug on his desk, Terry dropped into the swivel chair and blew out a breath. A tired part of him wished he'd stayed in bed, but he ignored it and took a long sip of coffee. When the first rush of caffeine hit his bloodstream, he opened the Bible to the New Testament and resumed where he'd left off from the day before. It didn't take long for him to wake his iPhone and start collecting the promises he'd read. Scripture about God's faithfulness, the hope and patience of waiting for the answer to come, the comfort of Jesus' words while He was here on earth, slowly made their way into Terry's notes. Things that would help and encourage not only himself, but Maddie, as well. Especially after yesterday, Terry needed to be able to pull them out whenever he wanted, to consciously rely on those precious words like the jewels they were, and to be able to show them to Maddie by simply waking his smartphone and punching his notes app.

When Terry looked up, he saw John at his own desk, taking care of his usual morning routine.

Time slipped past Terry without being noticed, and the house filled with the hungry scent of something good. Thank the Lord, they didn't usually have breakfast this late. His stomach growled and he glanced at the time and knew Tom would likely be in the office by now. Terry called in, only to get an answering service. He left his cell number, and hung up just as Lizzie came into the room with a big grin.

"Guess what?" she asked. "We're having muffins for breakfast."

"Are they out of the oven yet?" John asked.

Lizzie shook her head, and came over to stand by John's desk. "Mommy said we should be thankful you weren't with her last night."

"Oh?" John looked mildly curious. "Why is that?"

"Because we would've had to sleep in our own room."

With a groan, John studied his munchkin. She had his attention now.

"Don't tell me you three piled onto Mommy's bed?"

"We didn't pile."

"But Mommy didn't sleep alone, did she?"

"Uh-uh." Lizzie tried to climb onto John's lap, and he pulled her up to see what he was doing. "Would you please read to me?" she asked, and John turned the page and started to read from the book of Psalms.

As Terry paused to listen to the passage, Abby knocked on the door that stood open to the hall.

"The muffins are coming out of the oven, and Mom said to wash up."

"Before you go--" Terry got to his feet-- "how's Maddie doing in the kitchen? Is your mom careful about her being around the knives?"

Abby's smile turned a shade sober. "Mom's being careful. Why, do you think she'll do it again so soon?"

"Do what again?" Lizzie asked.

A pained look crossed Abby's face. "Sorry, Uncle Terry."

"Tell them we're coming," John said, as he let Lizzie down from his lap. "I hope you made a lot of muffins, because Terry's stomach has been growling right along with mine."

"I'll tell Madison you said that," Abby smiled, and left with Lizzie tagging beside her big sister.

As Terry put things away, he thought over what he'd just asked Abby. Terry wanted to be safe, to not place Maddie into temptation's way by putting her into contact with the very thing he wanted to keep her from. Even so, Terry also didn't want to be so hypervigilant it frustrated Maddie. The world was full of sharp objects, potential ways for self-harm and he saw he needed to walk a line between valid concern and mistrust. Trust would need to play a part, and for now, she had yet to be tested.

Terry felt guilty for even suspicioning her, but self-harm could be addictive, and she'd been doing it ever since she was thirteen years old. He was no expert on the subject, but Terry knew those were a lot of years to overcome.

He washed up in the office bathroom after John, then followed his nose, and John, and the sounds of excitement coming from the kitchen.

Everyone was there as Maddie gently dumped muffin tins onto a sheet of wax paper spread out on the counter. A cooling rack already held a dozen muffins, and Izzy placed the newcomers onto the rack while telling the girls to keep out of Maddie's way.

"Are those blueberries?" John asked in surprise. "This is a treat."

"You have Madison to thank for it," Izzy said, as Maddie scooped the last of the batter into a now empty muffin tin. "Abby, would you get out the orange juice? Who wants coffee?"

"I do!" Ruthie hopped up and down and had to scoot out of Maddie's way as the tin moved to the oven.

"I meant the adults, and stay clear of the oven door." Izzy got out mugs and Terry maneuvered to get his smiley mug refilled. "Madison, do you drink coffee?" Izzy asked.

The question was met with a shrug.

"Would you like to try a cup?"

Maddie nodded, and Izzy got out another mug. "I'll put in extra cream and sugar. Why don't you sit down and I'll take care of the last batch." Izzy handed Maddie a piping hot mug of java and pointed Maddie in the direction of the table. "I hope we didn't overdo it this morning. You're looking a bit worn out."

"I'm okay." Maddie balanced her way through the children and Terry pulled out a chair for her. It was timidly accepted. Sitting in her chair all meek and quiet, she looked up at Terry.

His heart did a flip-flop when she gave him a smile.

A smile of his very own.

Nursing his java, he claimed the seat beside Maddie while Izzy served the cooled blueberry muffins. She didn't look paler than she had when he'd brought her home last night, so Terry gave it to the Lord and prayed it meant she hadn't cut herself again.

"Except for taking the last batch out of the oven," Izzy said as she handed out plates to the kids, "Madison made these all by herself."

"Is that so?" Terry slanted Maddie a look. "I'm impressed."

Her head bowed, Maddie smiled at the table and said nothing. The children went into the living room, each with a muffin and half an apple cut into kidde-sized slices.

After seeing Maddie do nothing for a few minutes, Terry nodded to the table. "You haven't tried your coffee." He watched as she gingerly lifted the mug. "Blow first, so you won't get third-degree burns."

She blew at the steam, then tried a taste. Her eyes popped wide, then contorted in a look of absolute misery. Terry put the cup to her lips, and she spit out the coffee.

"Hmm," John said over the brim of his mug. "Not enough sweetener."

"I put in four sugars." Izzy gave Maddie a plate with two muffins and half a sliced apple. "It's all right, I'll get you some juice, instead."

"No," Maddie grabbed the mug, nearly sloshing it onto her sweater, which, come to think of it, was actually Terry's. She took a sip, grimaced but forced herself to swallow.

"That took guts." John leaned back in his chair and watched. "I remember our Abby's first taste of coffee. She begged me for two days to see what it was like, then when I let her, she took one taste and ran to the bathroom to throw up."

"I did not throw up."

"If you didn't, you were giving a good impression of it." John drank his java and Terry smiled.

"I remember."

"Did I throw up?"

"I have no idea, Abby. You wouldn't let us into the bathroom."

"I didn't throw up. Not over one sip." Abby shook her head, bit into a muffin and closed her eyes. "These are beyond good-- they're delicious. Mom, could you show me how you did it, sometime?"

"Of course, if you'd like."

"She likes," Jake put in, and Abby laughed.

Izzy sat down as the first of the triplets came back to ask for another muffin. Izzy cut one in half, and gave it to the girl. Next came Ricky, also hunting for seconds. "These are always a crowd-pleaser," Izzy said, as Abby cut a muffin in half and gave it to her little boy.

"They are, the way you and Madison make them." Abby kept eating while Terry watched Maddie work up the courage for another sip of coffee.

"You don't have to finish, if you don't like it." Terry started in on a warm muffin and found himself sighing. "These really hit the spot, especially on a freezing morning when your toes get cozy and curl up in your socks. Maddie, you don't have to drink that."

"But you do." Maddie stared at her mug as if she couldn't understand why he liked it, only that he did.

"Depending on how it's made, it can be an acquired taste."

"Is that a derogatory comment about my coffee?" John asked, and Izzy laughed as she tried to swallow breakfast without choking. "I was the one who set up the coffee maker last night."

"You know," Izzy smiled, "Terry has always liked my java better than yours."

"Jake likes to make the coffee in our house," Abby grinned. "He doesn't care for mine, either."

"You could always try tea," Terry said, as Maddie took another large gulp. "I hope you're not burning your mouth."

"Before I forget--" John paused between bites of blueberry muffin-- "Terry and I are finishing the repair work at his apartment, today, so don't expect us for lunch."

Terry glanced at Abby. John had said Jake would tell her about Victor's latest appearance, and Terry waited for a reaction. Abby grew quietly sad, but she kept eating and made no remark about his failed crusade.

Beside Terry, Maddie kept working up the courage to finish her coffee.

"Your muffin is getting cold," Terry told Maddie as the cell phone in his running pants pocket went off. He dug for the phone and Abby smiled at Maddie. Without even asking, Terry knew what his niece was thinking: that Maddie was a very sweet person.

He couldn't agree more.

When Terry answered the cell phone, he sat up straight when he realized it was Tom, calling to set up their appointment schedule.

"Would Mondays and Thursdays work for you and Madison?"

"Hold on a moment," Terry paused to think, "let me check my calendar." Terry punched the smartphone's calendar while Tom waited. "Yeah, okay. I think that'll work. What time would be good for Carol?"

"Six o'clock in the evening."

"Is she sure?" Terry winced, knowing what this would mean for Carol. "I hate using up her evenings like that."

"It's the only time Carol is available," Tom tried to explain, "and it gives her enough time to meet her obligations. Will this work for you and Madison?"

Terry saw Maddie swallow down her java, and put Tom on hold to ask Maddie about the schedule.

"Okay," she nodded, and pushed the mug aside for a blueberry muffin.

Quietly, Terry found himself wondering if she'd downed the entire cup.

"Tom, it'll work. Please tell Carol we appreciate it."

"Okay, then Carol will see you and Madison this Thursday, at six o'clock."

When Terry hung up, he made a reminder on his calendar, then put the phone to sleep. "It's all set. I have a strong hunch Carol is inconveniencing herself for us, but--" Terry stopped mid-sentence. Beside him, Maddie rocked back and forth while she ate. "As I was saying, Carol is going the extra mile for us, but it looks as though we have a schedule. I guess I'll be busy every Monday and Thursday evening."

"That sounds doable." John noticed Maddie, but made no comment.

"Dr. Jacoby will be glad to hear this," Jake smiled. "I'm glad it's working out so well." Jake's brows went up as Maddie tapped her hand on the table.

She just couldn't seem to hold still.

"Did you drink the whole mug?" Terry asked, and looked over to find it empty. "You're getting that much buzz from one cup? Maybe you don't react well to caffeine."

John sighed. "Looks like you're going to find out."

As Maddie wolfed down the second muffin, she fidgeted and looked about the kitchen like someone about to burst. Maddie winced, and before Terry could ask, Izzy spoke up.

"She took painkiller before she started the muffins. I made sure of it."

"Hey," Terry tried to get Maddie to look at him, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Are you doing okay?"

She scratched her head, nodded, and got up without finishing the apple slices.

"Where are you going?" Terry asked.

She didn't reply, but started for the living room with Terry on her heels. She looked about, hugged herself, and made her way to the office, only to double back and go to the front door.

"It's cold out," Terry warned, but she opened the door and stepped outside. "Maddie, you need a coat."

"I can't--" She rocked herself, looked about and then back at Terry. "I don't feel good."

"Feeling jittery?" he asked, and she nodded wildly. Terry coaxed her into the warmth of the house and led her to the couch. "Sit down, and we'll turn on the TV. Just try to stay calm, Maddie. It's only caffeine." The last thing Maddie had needed was a stimulant, Terry realized, and he clicked on the TV as she hugged and rocked herself on the couch. "You'll be okay. You only had one cup, and we're not going to make the mistake of doing this again."

She shook her head emphatically, looked up at him when he placed the remote on her lap.


"It's okay, Maddie. It's just caffeine."

She squeezed her eyes closed, and kept rocking.

"Try to calm down."

"I can't."

While the children finished their breakfast on the floor, they watched the mini drama unfold.

"It's just coffee," Terry explained to the kids, and took the seat next to Maddie. He smiled when she reached for his hand. "The buzz will wear off, you'll see."


"When it's worked its way through your system, I suppose." He looked up to see Izzy, John, and AJ crowded in the kitchen doorway. "Maybe some decaf tea would help settle her down?"

"I'll brew some chamomile," Izzy nodded, and disappeared behind the others.

"Well," John sighed, "we should postpone the workout for another day."

Terry nodded, and Maddie gripped his hand even tighter. She wasn't about to let go of him yet.

Turning the channel to something the kids would like, Terry made himself comfortable on the couch and held Maddie's hand. Predictably, they chose the cartoons over Maddie, and when the munchkins laughed, Maddie relaxed just a fraction.

The tea came, and Izzy waited for Maddie to turn loose of Terry's hand to take the cup.

"Come on," Terry coaxed, and Maddie obeyed.

He could easily imagine Maddie this jittery without the help of coffee, and he worked to stay calm, taking comfort that this time, the cause of her trouble was something as simple as French Roast.

She clutched the mug of chamomile tea, took a careful sip, and waited a beat as if she expected the brew to bounce her off the walls. She smiled when it didn't. Drinking a little more, she watched TV as Izzy spread a blanket over Maddie's lap. The way Maddie held onto that mug with both hands, the way those tremulous gray eyes watched the world around her, all made Terry want to give Maddie a sound hugging. He knew it would scare the peawaddin' out of her, and decided to sit still until she calmed down enough so he could leave.

"Terry?" She looked at him and smiled. "I feel better."

"I'm glad." He tried to watch TV while she stared at him, but it wasn't easy to pretend he didn't notice.

"Do I have to stay here when you go?" she asked.

"Go where?"

"To work on your apartment."

"Why, do you want to come?" Terry smiled when she nodded eagerly. "I won't want you standing around, wearing yourself out while John and I are busy."

"But can I come?"

"I suppose." Terry thought it over. "You'll have to wait in the car until I go though your apartment, as well as mine. I haven't had a chance to make them safe yet."


Though he didn't want to explain, Terry turned up the TV's volume and spoke quietly so the munchkins couldn't overhear. "I haven't taken care of the knives."

"You don't have any, Terry. You gave them all to me."

He groaned, shut his eyes and mentally kicked himself. Hard. In the seat of his pants.

"It's okay, Terry. You didn't know."

"From now on, I'm taking better care of you."

"Then you'll take me with you?"

He smiled, folded his arms and tried to watch the cartoon. "Drink your tea."

With a satisfied little sigh, she cozied under her blanket and sipped the chamomile. His morning workout had been shot to pieces, but Terry promised himself he'd get it in, tomorrow.

Oh, how he loved that woman.

* * * *

After the chamomile tea, Madison's world smoothed out into calmer waves of emotions. It wasn't as if they'd been normal to begin with, but she felt she could at least breathe again.

So that was coffee? How could Terry and the others stand it?

The stuff was just plain awful, and it made you feel all jumpy inside. She was never, ever, in her entire life, ever going to try coffee again. Maybe Terry had worked up an immunity to it, or something. She'd tried so hard to like it for Terry's sake.

At least he didn't blame her for being stupid-- even better, he seemed content to sit with her as she calmed down. She couldn't expect to keep him all day, though. Her stomach hurt, and after making muffins and riding out her first cup of coffee, she didn't really feel like going with Terry to the apartment. Even so, she would go with him to the ends of the earth, if that's where he went.

The tea felt so good. She finished the last of it, and Terry took the mug and returned it to the kitchen. When Izzy came back with Terry, Izzy patted Madison's hand.

"I'm sorry that didn't go well."

"So am I," Terry said as he started for the hall. "I have to change out of these gym clothes. Do you still want to come, Maddie?"

"Oh, yes please."

Terry grinned, and left the living room with John as two of the triplets climbed onto the couch to watch TV. Ricky and the third triplet played with toys on the carpet, while Abby and Jake stayed in the kitchen and talked over their coffee, obviously enjoying each other's company.

After straightening the room, Izzy went back to the kitchen and Madison pulled out her treasure from under the couch. The girls beside her watched, but turned back to their show when they saw Madison wasn't doing anything of interest.

Unclipping the clicky pen, Madison opened her precious spiral notebook and started to write.

i don't understand what's hapening to me. is it normal to not want to be with someone and yet be happy when you're with him at the same time? sometimes, things get inside my head and it messes me up when i'm alone, but with Tery, it's sometimes better and sometimes worse.

Madison sighed, gave her hand a rest before pressing the pen deep into the paper and pushing on.

i'm scared. i don't really know what love is, not the kind men and women have together like Izzy and John, but i'm scared it will happen to me. i think love must be a lot like coffee. its awful if you aren't used to it.

"Hey Maddie?" Terry strode into the room in jeans and a heavy coat, a dark blue woolen cap pulled over his ears. "Are you ready? Where's your coat?"

"In the office."

"I'll get it," he nodded, and passed as John came into the room in clothes that looked like Terry's.

"We'll need to first run by the home center for some things--" John checked his back pocket for a wallet-- "so do you want to come now, or wait for us to pick you up later?"

"I'll come now." Madison pushed the notebook back under the couch, and started to look for her shoes. Awful or not, she wanted to go with Terry.

"Daddy, can I come, too?" The triplet on the floor-- Debbie-- got up and came to her father. "Can I, Daddy?"

"It'll be boring," he warned.

"I don't mind."

"You'll have to stay out of the way, so Uncle Terry and I can work."

"I can do that," Debbie nodded, and rushed off to get her coat.

"Can I come, too?" Lizzie and Ruthie said in near unison from the couch. They looked alarmed, as if they were about to miss out on something special. If their sister could go...

"Get your coats," John nodded, and they dropped off the couch to run into the hall. "It looks like you'll have some company, Madison. Do you mind them tagging along?"

Madison shook her head, and tried not to wince as she lifted her foot to tie a sneaker.

"I'll do that." John crouched to tie Madison's shoes. "Izumi," he called into the next room, "Terry and I are taking the girls with us."

"You are?" Izzy came to the kitchen doorway with a dishtowel. "I didn't know you were planning to make this into an outing."

"Neither did I." John smiled good-humoredly and got to his feet. "Once you say 'yes' to one of them, it's hard to say 'no' to the other two."

"Tell me about it," Izzy laughed.

"Which reminds me--" John folded his arms and looked serious-- "I heard the girls were with you last night on the floor. If I'd have known that, you could've slept in their room, on an actual bed."

"Thank you, but for now, I prefer to sleep in the living room." Izzy smiled as Debbie and Terry returned in their coats and hats. Then Izzy saw the little boy left alone on the carpet with his toy truck. "I think you've forgotten someone, John."

"Have I?" John looked down at Ricky. "I don't suppose you want to come, too?"

Like someone who'd just been invited to a birthday party, Ricky nodded excitedly, and ran into the kitchen to tell his mommy and daddy the good news.

"If all four are coming, Izumi, then I'm going to need more help."

Izzy eyed John playfully. "Don't tell me two grown men and a woman can't handle four small children."

"It does sound pathetic, doesn't it?" Helpless, John gave his wife a pleading look that had her promising to get her coat and shoes. "Thanks, Little Dove."

As Izzy left and AJ came through the living room on their way to the hallway to dress their little boy for the cold, Madison wondered something.

"Why do you call Izzy that? Do all husbands call their wife that?"

"What? You mean 'Little Dove'?" John scratched the back of his neck a moment. "No, I wouldn't say it's very common. It's a pet name I have for Izumi, that's all. When I met her, she reminded me of a dove. A defenseless dove that needed protecting, and a cute one, at that."

"Daddy," Debbie tugged at John's hand. "I have to go."

"Then you'd better hurry before we get in the minivan."

"You won't leave without me?"

John gave his girl a look. "Would I do a thing like that?"

Debbie burst into a grin, and ran off to use the bathroom.

If John had been the Dragon, Madison knew he would have done just that. She would be trapped in the basement with no food, and a chain only long enough to reach the bathroom or a bucket in the corner. Cold fingers crept up Madison's spine, and she tried to shake them off. The memory had intruded on her spirits, but then Terry came back with her coat, and she felt safe again.

"What's this I hear about you bringing along all the munchkins?"

"I know." John shrugged. "I said 'yes' to Debbie..."

"So the others guilt tripped you into letting them come, too." Terry smiled as he helped Madison into the coat. "Sometimes, I think those girls have us wrapped around their little fingers."

"I know they do." John inspected his grandson as Ricky came into the living room with Jake. "Keep that cap over your ears," John told the boy. "Did your mom take your temperature this morning?"

"He doesn't have a fever," Jake said, stooping to bundle the scarf around Ricky's neck. "Is he going to be outside most of the time?"

"Not if I can help it." John watched as Debbie, Ruthie, and Lizzie came into the living room with Izzy. "I don't know what all the excitement is about. After the home center, we head to Terry's apartment, and while Terry and I work, you guys will be inside with Madison, probably watching TV. You could do that, here."

The words fell on deaf ears, and Ricky strained to get away from Jake as Jake made sure the cap was protecting his small ears.

"I guess Jake and I are going to have the house to ourselves," Abby said, coming to check on Ricky, then planting a kiss on the boy's cheek. "Don't wander off, and hold hands so you won't get lost."

Ricky nodded, and placed Firefighter Stan into his pocket.

"After the moving yesterday, I think Jake and I will take it easy. Maybe make some popcorn and watch a movie."

"You know where everything's at, so have a good time." Izzy zipped coats and made sure each of the girls had a clean handkerchief in their pocket. "Depending on how long the men take with the repairs, I think we should be back well in time for dinner."

"I'll make dinner," Jake volunteered.

"Isn't he great?" Abby smiled. "And he's all mine."

To Madison's amazement, Jake blushed. Men were aggressive monsters, but that didn't seem to hold true for these men.

After John said a word of prayer for the day, he and Terry went to move Ricky's booster seat from the truck to the minivan. In the kitchen, Izzy gathered a few items from her pantry and put them in a cloth bag marked "Groceries."

"There's no need to eat out for lunch," Izzy explained, "when I can just as easily use Terry's kitchen."

"You can use my place, if you want. I think I have more in my kitchen than Terry does." Madison felt oh-so-happy when Izzy accepted the invitation.

With so many boosters in the minivan, it left room for only one more grownup besides John and Izzy. It served no problem to Terry. He pulled his jeep beside the minivan, got out and opened the passenger door, as though he hadn't expected Madison to go with anyone but him.

It made her feel so special.

Music she couldn't hear with her ears, but only with her heart, rolled through Madison like a free flowing river that had no end. She got into the jeep, and forgot about her pain until she put on the seat belt and a shot of reality calmed her back down to a bubbling brook. Rounding the hood of the jeep, Terry climbed behind the wheel and waited as the kids in the next vehicle were strapped into their boosters.

"Could I ask a question?" Terry looked so thoughtful, it made Madison a tad uneasy.

"I guess."

"When you wrote those goals--"

"You're not still thinking about that, are you?"

"Maddie, they're hard to forget." He raised his hands. "I don't want to scare you again, I only want to know something."

"What?" She nibbled her bottom lip, not trying to make it bleed but dreading his question, whatever it was.

"When you were filling out your intake form--" Terry huffed out a breath-- "I have to know if you wrote what you did, before, or after, I told you about my step-father?"


"Are you sure?" Terry turned to look at her. "You didn't write all that because you were sorry for me, did you? You didn't do it in a fit of pity?"

"No." She wished she could stop there, but couldn't. "I meant it." Ouch. That hurt Madison.

"Thank you." Terry inhaled, looked out the windshield and nodded slowly. "That's good to know."

"You feel sorry for me though, don't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"You have fits of pity for me, all the time. So what's the difference?"

The question seemed to catch Terry off guard.

"I suppose you have a point." He turned the key in the ignition as John waved to Terry before climbing into the minivan. "I don't like the thought of pressuring you, that's all. Personally, I don't mind a little pity now and again, if it brings you closer to me."

The force of his words were probably more than Terry intended, for he winced, and seemed to rethink that last statement.

"I can't help the pity, Maddie, and neither can you. I just don't want to use it against you. Can you understand the difference?" He pulled behind the minivan, and followed onto the main road. "If it works in your favor, or mine, then so be it. The fact we have pity for each other, only means we care. But I don't want to use it like a weapon. If you do something, I want you to do it because you want to, not because you feel sorry for me, or feel forced."

She thought it over. "Have you been helping me because you want to?"


She nodded. "Okay."

"But you do feel sorry for me, don't you?" Terry asked.


Her honesty made him smile a little.

"I've noticed after people learn about me, they're usually nicer, and more polite. I just wanted to be sure those words had come from your heart."

"They did." Madison struggled against the tears she felt burning in her eyes. Her heart was such a traitor. Angrily, she brushed the wet away. It would be easier to not feel so much for Terry if she didn't like him a whole lot.

He reached for her hand, and like two magnets being drawn together, she took it without even thinking. She wanted to let go, but couldn't.

"I'm done for now," he said, and gave her hand a squeeze. "Don't be frightened, Maddie. I'm done."

She didn't answer, but held onto him and watched the trees pass by her window. As his thumb stroked the back of her hand, the music returned with the sweet strains of something wonderful.

Up until recently, she hadn't even known she had a heart, and now it was singing. If she wasn't careful, it'd probably shout something embarrassing at the top of its lungs, (if a heart had lungs), and Madison would have to stuff fingers in her ears to drown out her own noise.

Thankfully, the jeep rolled into the home center before she had time to get very angry with her heart.

The minivan parked near the entrance, and Terry found a spot nearby.

The munchkins had to be unstrapped from their boosters, and while their small noses turned bright pink from the cold, John made them pair up and hold hands. With all these kids, she thought they looked like a small preschool on an outing. Madison had seen something like that on TV once, and this family came close.

Not wanting to be left out, Madison moved closer to Terry and took his hand. She knew he was probably smiling ear to ear, but couldn't meet his gaze to check.

If the children got to hold hands, then so would she.

Rows of potted plants hung from racks outside the store's entrance, and Izzy paused to look them over. The whole group came to a stop, but Izzy shook her head, said something about not having enough time to care for a plant, and they went inside.

Someone asked if they needed help, but John and Terry knew what they wanted and just which aisle to look. With so many children along, they didn't walk fast, and it made things easier for Madison to stick to Terry's side. A woman moved past them, saw her and Terry holding hands and smiled. Terry didn't seem to mind, so Madison didn't let go.

She wished the woman hadn't smiled, though.

They came to the aisle John and Terry wanted, and after some debate, they chose two large cans of sealant. That was it. That was all they had come for, and with the children in tow, they moved to the checkout. Madison thought the little ones looked bored, but John had warned them it wouldn't be anything special.

"Can we go home now?" Ruthie asked, and Madison saw John and Izzy exchange patient glances.

The small preschool filed out to the parking lot, and everyone piled back into the minivan and jeep, to make the short drive to the apartment complex. The sky didn't hold any clouds today, though the air had a frosty bite to it that made the jeep's heater feel good.

Madison snuggled in the coat Terry had bought her, warmed her hands in its soft pockets.

Then she felt it, deep in the recesses of the pocket liner, and her heart slammed to a stop. Madison felt the wire bent closed, the unmistakeable shape of a safety pin. She swallowed hard. She'd forgotten she'd hidden one there.

The apartment complex came into view, and Terry found his usual parking space while the minivan pulled in beside them.

"Stay here until I come back," Terry said, and got out of the jeep with the heater still running.

She watched him go into her apartment, and knew what he was doing. Finding all the knives, and probably hiding them somewhere. Maybe even hiding them in the trash can. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the safety pin. She didn't feel like harming herself right now, but maybe she should keep it, just in case?

Just then, Izzy came to Madison's door, and knocked on the window. Shoving the safety pin into her pocket, Madison rolled down the glass.

"Terry's hiding the knives," she told Izzy before Izzy had a chance to ask.

"Oh. Well then." Izzy smiled, and folded her arms against the stiff breeze. "I'll go see if I can help. Roll this window back up, and stay warm."

Madison did as she was told.

She watched as John slid open the side door of the minivan, then helped the children out of their boosters. It seemed to be an awful lot of trouble to just tag along. But then, she had begged to come, too.

The door to her apartment opened. Terry came out with a trash bag wrapped around something. He glanced at her through the windshield, and went straight to his apartment, one door down from hers. She had to fight this. Terry was trying so hard to make her better.

Whether or not she was a lost cause, she had to try.

The safety pin shouldn't be in her pocket, so she took it out and stuffed it in a crevice of the jeep's upholstery. If she kept it, she knew she would use it, and Madison decided to search every pocket she had. To her dismay, she found two more safety pins, and quickly hid them around the jeep, hoping she wouldn't later remember where they were.

Izzy came out of Madison's apartment, waved to Madison to come, then went to the minivan for her cloth bag of groceries. All the while, John studied the wall Terry and Brian had power washed, while little kids ran about on the pavement, shouting "Tag, you're it!"

She got out of the jeep, waited a moment for the pain from the stitches to stop throbbing before she closed the door. The cold wind rushed about her, making it hard to suck in a breath.

"Well?" Terry asked, coming out of his apartment to stand beside John and stare at the wall. "Don't tell me it's too soon?"

John nodded. "After all that rain we had on Sunday, it's not dry yet. We could still paint the window frame, though."

"Aw, man. I hate to drag everyone out here for nothing."

"This wasn't for nothing." John bumped Terry's arm. "We have the sealant now, so we'll be ready when the bricks are completely dry. Besides, it was my idea to try today. Is the paint in the shed?"

"Yeah." Terry looked disappointed. "I'll get it. Maddie, hey-- come on, it's safe to go inside now."

Having finally caught her breath, she nodded to Terry and moved past the children.

The air felt warmer inside her apartment, mostly from not having to stand in the icy wind. Izzy had turned up the thermostat, and when Madison went to the kitchen, she found Izzy taking food from her cloth bag. Before she could ask if Izzy wanted a kitchen helper, they heard the front door open.

"Maddie? You have a delivery out here."

"I do?" Madison struggled to get out of her coat as she came to the door.

A uniformed delivery man with a medium-sized box under one arm, nodded to her. "Sign here," he said, passing her a slate. Madison did her best to scrawl her name on the screen. "Have a nice day," he nodded, and handed the package to Madison as Terry came closer to have a look.

Despite its small size, the box felt surprisingly heavy in her hands. She startled when Terry whistled in amazement, and of course John and Izzy came to see what was going on.

"Eighty-two dollars and forty-two cents." Terry shook his head and Madison struggled to find where it said that. "Someone paid an arm and a leg to get that package to you, Maddie." He leaned over, read the rest of the tag. "Mrs. Jack Snyder." Terry's eyes snapped back to Madison's. "These are the things she said you left behind."

"Who's Mrs. Snyder?" John asked.

"Maddie, she paid eighty-two dollars to get that here, overnight. She couldn't do anything Sunday-- when she talked to Sheriff Peterson-- so she had to wait until Monday to ship it. That's eighty-two dollars worth of overnight shipping and handling you're holding."

"Who is Mrs. Snyder?" Izzy asked.

"She's Maddie's former landlady." Terry folded his arms. "When Henry called to do a background check on Maddie, Mrs. Snyder said Maddie left some things behind-- even though Maddie doesn't remember any such thing. Do you, Maddie?"

Madison shook her head. She was scared to death Terry wouldn't leave, so she could open the box and find out what Mrs. Snyder had wanted to get off her hands so quickly.

"Well?" Terry prompted. "Open it."

Panic stopped Madison from making a reply. She hugged the box to her chest, and prayed with everything she had that Terry would go.

"All right," Terry sighed, "if that's what you want, I'll leave so you can open it in private." Standing outside on her front step with John, Terry turned to go, looked over his shoulder as Madison shut the door.

Thankfully, Izzy didn't say anything, but went back to the kitchen as children screamed and played on the pavement outside the apartment window.

Madison wished she were one of them, then she wouldn't have to open the box.

With a lump in her throat the size of the basketball in John and Terry's office, Madison carried the hefty box to her room. She shut the door, then hurried to the couch to look the package over. What could have been so important that Mrs. Snyder-- who'd never had a kind word for her in the past-- would spend eighty dollars on, just to get here so quickly?

Hands trembling, Madison tugged at the twine securing the box. She looked about, searching for the pair of scissors Terry had bought for her at the MegaMart. They were nowhere to be found, so Madison went to the kitchen.

"Izzy, Terry hid all the sharp things and I can't get the string off."

"I'll get something to cut it with." Izzy left the kitchen, marched through the living room and opened the front door. She waved to someone. "John, I need your pocketknife. Madison can't get through the twine."

"I'll help," Terry volunteered, but Izzy accepted the knife from John and closed the door.

"I'll help you get your box open, but then I'll leave. Is that okay?"

Madison nodded, and showed Izzy to her couchroom.

"Let's see now." Izzy opened her husband's pocketknife like someone who didn't usually handle such things, then daintily used the sharp blade to cut through the twine and tape. "There you go," Izzy said, and left without looking inside.

Madison's heart pounded in her ears as she went to close the door again. She moved back to the couch, sat down and tried to still her hands from shaking so hard. Whatever was in the box couldn't be good, not for Mrs. Snyder to be so scared. This package had fear written all over it. Saying a prayer, Madison lifted one flap, then another, only to find a stack of new, unmarked recordable DVDs still on the manufacturer's spindle. She'd seen lots of them in the Dragon's closet, but those had been labeled, and had been quickly destroyed.

A bunch of paper lined the box, and Madison pulled out a few sheets to look them over. These were important things, after all, but nothing to be scared of.

But that spindle...

Madison lifted it out, saw there were fingerprints on the topmost DVD and swallowed hard.

She didn't have anything to play the disc, but had a good idea of what she'd see, if she did.

So there had been more.

Madison wanted to weep out loud. She'd scoured the house from top to bottom to make sure she'd gotten them all, and there they were-- a few dozen, at least. Mrs. Snyder must have seen them, or at least one of them, to be so scared. As if her landlady hadn't already been frightened when she'd found Madison chained to the bed. After seeing this, Mrs. Snyder must've been terrified to have anyone find them in her house.

Feeling numb, Madison searched the room for a hiding place. She wanted to snap them in two, but there were so many and they'd make enough of a mess the others would know discs of some sort had come in the box.

She saw the dresser, and opened the bottom-most drawer. Shoving the spindle inside, Madison shut the drawer and prayed Terry would never see what was on those DVDs. Her body trembled, and she fought to keep from rubbing the stitches on her stomach so she could feel more pain. The pain inside her was so much worse than any outside wounds could ever be.

A knock sounded on her door.

"Maddie? Are you all right in there? I won't come in-- I just need to know you're okay."

She tried to breathe, and when she couldn't, she lunged at the door, twisted the knob, and wrenched it open. Not giving Terry a chance to brace himself, Madison threw herself into his arms. Those strong arms held her so tight, she wanted to hide there forever.

"It's okay, I've got you." Terry's voice sounded so good, it made her feel protected, even wanted in a good way. Not like the Dragon in the basement.

Madison leaned into all that strength and shut her eyes.

She could see the images in her head, the torture she'd had to live through for most of her life. If she moved away from the screen before the movie was over, the Dragon would hurt her even worse. She had to sit there, and not move a muscle until he was sure she'd seen the entire movie.

So many movies of her own suffering, it made Madison sick. She struggled to free herself from Terry, braced herself against the wall as she wobbled into the bathroom. The nausea churned in her stomach. She didn't make it in time, and what was left of her blueberry muffins spewed onto the bathroom floor.

Terry rushed in as Madison sank to her knees.

"Izzy? Izzy, we need your help in here!" He tried to lift Madison off the floor, but she sagged onto her side and lay at his feet.

In the back of her mind, Madison could hear Terry, but the images were so real, so forceful, she couldn't fight them. If she did, the Dragon would punish her.

The only way to survive, was to obey.

* * * *

"I shouldn't have left her alone." Terry lifted Maddie into his arms, his poor sweet darling reduced to a rigid, wooden doll.

"What's wrong?" Izzy came running and gasped when she saw Maddie's ashen face.

"I think she's having a flashback." Terry lifted Maddie onto the sofa in the couchroom, kicked off the open box with his foot, and lay Maddie down on her back. He looked into her face, only to see her staring blankly at him. It gave Terry an eerie feeling. He'd seen her do this once before, when he'd left her alone in his apartment only to come back and find her hiding in the storage room.

"Maddie." He lightly slapped her cheek. "Come on, Baby, look at me."

She blinked, but her breathing kept coming in shallow breaths and sweat beaded her forehead.

"Maddie, you're safe now. I swear before God, you're safe. Look at me-- please Maddie, look at me."

Her eyes focused on his. She blinked, but wouldn't move, and it scared Terry.

"Here's your glass of water," Izzy said, pressing a cold cup into Terry's hand. "John usually asks for one when you have a nightmare."

"Oh. Right." Terry wet his fingers and flicked water droplets in Maddie's face.

Izzy nudged him. "John usually dribbles the water."

Groaning, Terry tried to follow direction. He couldn't think straight. He slowly poured the water onto Maddie's forehead and let it run down her cheeks. "Come on, Baby. Don't do this again."

"She's done this before?"

Terry nodded. "I had a hard time pulling her out of the last one. Maddie, please!"

Those eyes blinked and then stayed shut.

"Terry, help," she whimpered.

"I'm trying to, Maddie. Hang on. It'll pass, but you have to fight it." He leaned over her, touched his forehead to hers. "Please, God, pull her out of it. In Jesus' name, amen." He grasped her hand, rubbed it between his own and kept praying, over and over, that the monster would go away. He kissed her forehead, and a breath gasped into Maddie's lungs. Her eyes opened and she fought to get Terry's face away from hers.

"Calm down, and focus on breathing. Here, sit up." Terry pulled her into a sitting position, then placed the cup to her lips. She took a sip, then another, until she could hold the glass, herself. "What happened, Maddie? What was in that box?"

Maddie shook her head.

He looked about, saw the box lying on its side on the carpet.

"May I look inside?" he asked.

It took a long hard moment before Maddie nodded.

As Izzy sat beside his darling, Terry picked up the box. Except for some paper, it was mostly empty-- nowhere near the three pounds the shipping label had claimed. Fighting back frustration, Terry pulled out the paper.

And gasped in shock.

Maddie's birth certificate. Behind the birth certificate was Maddie's Social Security card. And behind that was a fancy hospital issue birth certificate with tiny footprints in black ink. Folded together with these, were school registration papers, all the way up to the third grade. He couldn't find anything beyond that, and remembered Maddie had said she was eight years old when she went to live with the Dragon. After that, school must have stopped for her.

A sinking feeling came over Terry.

"Maddie, did your mother give you to the Dragon of her own free will?"

Clutching her cup, Maddie nodded.

"Are you sure? He didn't kidnap you?"

Slowly, Maddie shook her head. "Momma took me to his house. She said he had adopted me, that they had grown up together as children and that I would like him. I was going to live with him now, and I had to be good and do everything he told me. She said I was his, and not to call her because she was going away on a long trip and she wasn't ever coming back." The words fell from Maddie's lips like someone lost in a trance. She gasped, and the tears came with so much heartbreaking sorrow, Izzy was crying, too.

"There, there." Izzy hugged Maddie, and sent a look of stunned horror to Terry.

He knew. He was feeling the same thing.

Numb with shock, he reread one of the documents.

"The father given on the birth certificate is Harold Jones. Is that right? Is he your biological father?"

Maddie nodded. "He died two months after I was born."

"And Candace Jones. Is that your mother?"

Again, Maddie nodded.

"I have serious doubts the Dragon legally adopted you. When an adoption goes through, the official birth certificate is usually updated to reflect the new parents. Isn't that right, Izzy?"

"I don't know, Terry. I suppose that makes sense."

Terry pulled out his iPhone, punched something into a search engine and quickly found what he was looking for.

"Unless you have papers to show otherwise, Maddie, the Dragon never adopted you."

"Momma said he had." Maddie sniffed, but wouldn't let go of Izzy. "I don't understand."

"Is this the same birth certificate you remember seeing?" Terry held it in front of her. "Besides the one from the hospital, do you remember ever seeing another birth certificate with your name on it?"

Maddie shook her head. "It's the same one I've always had. He must have hidden them, because after he died, I never found either one."

"Are you sure, without a doubt, that your mother gave you to him?"

"I ran to the window and saw her leave." Maddie swallowed. "I hoped she'd wave to me, but she never looked back."

"Then it's her loss." Unable to think about it without boiling over in anger, Terry put aside the papers to tend to his loved one. He would not let the contents of that box upset Maddie-- not if he had anything to do with it. The three pounds Mrs. Jack Snyder had paid eighty-two dollars and forty-two cents was nowhere in sight, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand Maddie was hiding it from him.

If only she trusted him more than that.

He sank onto the sofa, watched as Izzy held Maddie and told Maddie everything was going to be all right. How he wanted to be the one comforting Maddie, to hold her again the way she'd rushed out of the bedroom and into his arms. He wanted to make all the hurts vanish, to make her forget the Dragon ever existed, to wipe out the memory of her mother ever walking away.

He couldn't, and all he could do was sit on that couch while Maddie cried into Izzy's shoulder.

Maddie's hand blindly reached for his, and he took it with gratitude.

He held back from kissing her fingers, and knew in his heart, what that birth certificate and those other documents meant. He would no longer need to wait for Maddie's identification to be replaced, before they could get married.

Patience, he told himself, and yet his heart couldn't stop believing this wasn't a sign from Heaven. All Maddie had to do now, was say "yes." Not an easy thing for her to do, by any stretch of the imagination, and yet... here she was, holding his hand. Hope tugged at Terry so hard he had to bodily hold himself back. He had to wait. He must.

He had to fight this overwhelming urge to protect her at all cost, or risk losing Maddie. She needed him far too much, for him to scare her away. All the people in her life who were supposed to have taken care of her, had one by one, betrayed her. But he would not.

One day, Maddie would have a family again.

With him.

She would belong with him, and the Johanneses, and the Murphys, and his family and his refuge would become hers, for as long as they both shall live.

One day, Terry promised himself. One day.

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up... if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."
~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ~

end of chapter