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Chapter Twenty-seven
The Strong of Heart

"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer."
~ Psalm 19:14 ~

Dreams wore away at Madison. They took a little here, a little there, like waves carrying away earth as they weathered a helpless shore. She wanted to move, but had no legs, wanted to scream but had no voice. Even now, she knew they were only dreams. They had to be, or else Izzy wouldn't keep shaking her to ask if she was all right.

"Open your eyes." Izzy shook as Madison blinked and Izzy's face came into view. "Are you in pain? Do you want me to get Terry?"

"I'm... okay."

"You don't sound okay." The dim glow of the night-light wasn't enough to hide the concern in Izzy's face. "I know I haven't been your roommate for very long, but this is the first night I've had to wake you from bad dreams. Do you get them often?"

Not wanting to answer, Madison gave a noncommittal shrug. Honestly, she didn't usually get this many in one night. Of course, she also didn't usually sleep this close to someone who could wake her before the bad dream turned into a full-blown nightmare. So maybe that explained it.

And yes. Madison was not stupid. She knew the man sleeping in the master bedroom down the hall might have something to do with it. Her insides screamed that she was setting herself up for trouble. Only an absolute idiot loved a man.

Pain radiated from her palms and she found she'd been sleeping with her hands balled into tight fists. Her nails had dug hard into her skin and she wondered if she was bleeding.

As Madison tried to open her fingers, Izzy seemed to understand and took her hand.

"Let me see if I can help." Izzy pried the fingers open, turned the hand into the night-light then closed her palm over Madison's. "The skin's not broken, so that's a mercy. If I let you go back to sleep, do you think you'll stop whimpering?"

Wet gathered in Madison's eyes as Izzy un-fisted the other hand. She'd been whimpering? How pathetic could she get? And in front of Izzy?

"Now, now," Izzy patted Madison's cheek, gave her a kind smile that had Madison smiling through some freshly shed tears, "if you need me, I'll stay up with you until the dreams go away. Are you cozy enough?" Izzy smoothed the top comforter, pulled it up around Madison's shoulders then leaned around the couch and adjusted the hood to the night-light so it shone just a bit brighter.

"Thank you," Madison said quietly.

"Do you mind if I talk?" Izzy asked, and Madison shook her head.

"I remember once when Debbie had a bad dream-- a nightmare really, and she couldn't bring herself to close her eyes and go back to sleep. John was away on a business trip in Japan at the time, and the girls were missing him terribly. They were only two years old, and it was late at night and Debbie was too afraid to sleep in case her nightmare came back. I remember Terry carried Debbie to the rocking chair, held her like a baby and sang 'Jesus Loves Me' until she fell asleep. With Terry to watch over her, the nightmare didn't stand a chance." Izzy sighed, and squeezed Madison's hand. "I remember thinking those girls were so blessed to have Terry in their lives."

Calm settled over Madison. She felt safer somehow, and when Izzy asked if she could sleep without whimpering now, Madison felt she could, even though she hadn't remembered whimpering in the first place.

"Please, God," Izzy prayed as she took both Madison's hands, "don't let the bad dreams come back. Let her rest tonight. In Jesus' name, amen." Izzy brushed the hair from Madison's eyes, then tucked her in. "Try to get some sleep."

"Thank you, Izzy." Madison nestled into the blankets, reached for the book that had been pushed off to one side, and hugged it close. As she drifted off, her mind held the warm image of Terry as he rocked Debbie and quietly sang the lullaby.

* * * *

Dusky light filtered through the living room curtains the next time Madison stirred. Not far away, Izzy stood folding blankets, looking rested and like someone who knew who she was and what had to be done. Madison wished she could be like that. She admired such confidence.

Izzy must've sensed she was being watched, for she turned, and smiled at the couch.

"I'm sorry to see you're up. Since you've had such a rough night, I was hoping to let you sleep awhile longer."

"Sorry I was so much trouble."

"Nonsense." Izzy stacked the blankets. "I'm just glad I was there to wake you whenever you had a bad dream. The house is quiet, isn't it? Looks like we're the first ones up, this morning."

As Izzy let out the air before folding the mattress and setting it aside for the day, Madison propped her knees under her blanket and opened the new book. The red ribbon made it easy to find where she'd left off, and though she was eager to dive back in, the shiny item under her pillow wanted to be looked at again. She could almost hear it begging to come out and be held.

The moment Izzy went into the kitchen, Madison pulled out the golden circle and held it in her hand. Strange that such a tiny thing could be so very important.

It probably hadn't been such a good idea to give Terry permission the way she had. Now that he'd actually proposed, she had to do something about it. Which now more than ever, still left her feeling like she needed to do something about Terry, in general. In short, things hadn't gotten any better since she'd gone to see Carol that second time to ask what to do.

Madison wondered how she'd managed to get herself into such a frightening fix, and with the help of a therapist, no less.

There were a few ways to get out of it that came to mind, things she could do that normal women like Emily would never think to do, to save their lives.

First, she could run. Not that she had anywhere to go, but running away had to be better than a lifetime of sex and slavery.

Second, she could get a fatal disease and die and then Terry couldn't marry her. Of course, the most fatal thing around here that was catching was the flu, and even then, it seemed to be slowly going away.

Third, she could choose to not marry Terry. That would mean she'd actually have to turn him down-- something he'd told her he didn't think he could bear. She hoped Terry had meant that in a figurative way, like not being able to bear the flu or a toothache.

Then there was ugly choice number four. Marry him, try very briefly to have sex, then claim she couldn't; he'd have to accept it and that would be that. They'd be married and Terry would be stuck.

Madison groaned. Terry didn't deserve any of those choices. He didn't deserve her. He didn't deserve Emily, either, but he didn't deserve a forever messed up loony like herself. She stuffed the ring under the couch with her notebook, turned back to Jane Austen and stared again at the words. If only her life wasn't hers, and she could be someone else. Anyone else, so long as she wasn't her, and then Terry could marry that woman and everything would be fine. Normal people didn't have problems, they just sailed through life without having to think too hard about stuff Madison had to concentrate fiercely on, just to figure out even a little.

A door opened in the hall. She could hear men talking, a little boy in the background, then moments later Terry strode into the living room dressed in slacks and a pullover sweater. His brown hair was lightly messed and looking like he'd just pulled on that sweater. The sight of him made Madison go weak inside. He looked good, the way food made you feel when you saw it on TV and you hadn't had anything to eat in days.

"Hey there, beautiful." Terry's lopsided grin had more confidence to it than usual, and it made her want to scoot back further into her blanket so she could hide. "I see you're getting an early start on your book." He came to the couch, bent to get a look at something. "Did you sleep well?" he asked absently.

"Did you?" she asked, not wanting to answer the question.

"I did all right." Hands in his pockets, Terry leaned over the couch, trying to get a better look at her book for some reason.

"You too, Terry?" Izzy laughed as she came into the living room. "I would've thought you'd be sleeping in, this morning."

"Yeah, well..." he sighed, flashed a tired smile at Izzy before turning his eyes back at the book, "falling asleep wasn't as hard as staying asleep. I kept waking up."

"I hope you weren't having nightmares." Izzy moved the folded bedding off to one side of the room. "Madison had one bad dream after another, and I had to keep waking her. Are John and Ricky up? I might as well start breakfast if everyone's awake." As Izzy spoke, Ricky trudged into the room in his PJs and gave his grandma a sleepy grin. "Good morning, Sweetheart," Izzy said, and scooped the boy up in a big hug. "Ready for some breakfast?"

Terry frowned. "She had bad dreams?"

"I'm afraid she did." Izzy put Ricky down, ruffled the boy's hair and started for the hall. "Each time Madison cried in her sleep though, I woke her and she finally had a good stretch of rest. Girls?" Izzy disappeared into the hall, and Madison could hear Izzy opening the triplets' door. "Time to get up, girls."

Terry looked to Madison. "You had nightmares?"

"So did you."

"No, I said I had trouble sleeping. I didn't say a word about nightmares."

"Neither did I. Izzy said that." Madison dearly hoped God didn't consider that a lie. It was true, she hadn't told Terry they were nightmares. Exactly.

Frowning more deeply, Terry glanced back at the book.

"They were bad dreams, though, weren't they?"

She was forced to nod "yes."

A door in the hall opened, and moments later John sauntered through on his way to the kitchen. He, too, was dressed, though unlike Terry, he'd bothered to run a comb through his blond hair. "Good morning," John smiled to Madison. "Any news to announce yet?"

"John--" Izzy gave her husband a look as she came into the living room with the girls, and John ducked into the kitchen as Izzy pushed in after him.

With a sigh, Terry lingered over the book Madison held, and she wondered why all the curiosity over Jane Austen. Maybe he'd never read her before.

Then it hit her. The ring. He was getting a good look at her hand.

"Breakfast," Izzy called from the kitchen, and the triplets and Ricky scampered off in a mad dash of feet and giggles.

"Maddie, the reason I had trouble staying asleep--" Terry paused as Jake made his way through the living room in crisp blue jeans and a bright red flannel shirt.

His head slightly bowed, Jake gave the impression of someone who knew he was intruding. "Morning," Jake said, a smile softly playing around the corners of his mouth. Jake pushed through and into the kitchen while sounds of breakfast filled the house.

Turning his back to the kitchen, Terry lowered to a near-whisper. "I kept thinking about you, Maddie, and I--"

"Hey, Uncle Terry. Good morning, Madison." Abby strolled through the living room as she bound her long black hair in a bright scrunchy. "My guys don't have a fever this morning, and neither do I. Jake didn't even feel nauseous when he woke up. Isn't that great?"

"That really is, I'm glad you're all feeling so well." Terry smiled, nodded to Abby as Abby went into the kitchen. Terry rubbed his forehead and looked all cute and handsome and uncomfortable as he tried to pick up where he'd left off. "Once I started thinking about you, I had a hard time stopping. It's like this is too good to be true, but this is real, Maddie. This is going to work. You'll see."

With a sigh, Madison looked down at her hands-- she didn't know for sure which one wore the ring, but knew it didn't matter for she'd never put it on to let him know she'd marry him. To her this all seemed like a lost cause.

"Do we have to have sex, Terry?"

"Man." Terry glanced at the kitchen, shook his head and paled. "Could you speak a little lower? My family's in the next room."

"Do we?" She grabbed his wrist, tugged his hand and he took a seat on the edge of the couch. "Please, Terry--"

"Whisper," he pleaded, and she nodded.

"I can't do it, Terry. Not ever. I could promise I'd try like you asked, but then you'd be stuck with me when it didn't work and that's not fair so couldn't we just not try?"

He looked flustered. "What?"

"Terry, do we have to have sex?"

He held up both hands. "Stop. Please. After breakfast, we'll take a drive, take a walk-- take a hike-- go somewhere-- anywhere but here, and talk about this. Okay?"

She nodded.

"Let's just stay calm and not panic." He took a deep breath and held it for the longest time.

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"We haven't decided anything, Maddie." He rubbed his face with both hands. "We agree not to talk about this at the breakfast table, right?"


"That's good." Terry got up, ran a hand through his hair and started for the kitchen. "I shouldn't have sat on your bed while you're still in it. I need more distance than that."

She didn't want to think too hard about what that meant. She hurried out from under all her blankets, put on the robe and went to go use the office bathroom. If Terry was willing to consider not trying at all, then she wanted to talk about it before he changed his mind.

As Madison washed her hands at the bathroom sink, someone knocked on the door.

"It's Izumi. May I come inside?"

"Uh-huh." Madison turned, saw the towels draped over Izzy's arm as she came into the bathroom then shut the door.

"Before you change for the day, it's time you had a shower. Would it be all right if I led you through the master bedroom, or do you need Terry for that?"

"A shower?"

"It's been a while," Izzy smiled, "and it'll help your wounds heal. Come on, I'll get you through the master bedroom, then you can have that large bathroom all to yourself."

Oh no. Arms hugging herself, Madison wondered if she could still run away. Was that option still there?

Izzy held out a hand, smiled when Madison didn't take it. "Do you want me to get Terry?"

"I can't."

"Not even for Terry?"

"I-- I can't."

"You could close your eyes."

"Please, Izzy. I don't stink that bad, do I?"

"Let me talk to Terry." Izzy left the bathroom while Madison hugged herself and tried hard not to touch her stomach. She tried hard.

A few minutes later, someone knocked on the door and Madison jumped.

"Maddie? It's Terry. Are you dressed? May I come in?"

"I'm dressed." She was in her PJs and robe, but she was dressed. She braced herself as Terry opened the door. She didn't smell that bad. She'd sniffed her armpits and things weren't so bad she had to go through the master bedroom.

"So." Terry came inside while Izzy kept behind him with the towels. "It's for your own good, Maddie."

"You're not going to force me to get clean, are you?"

He gave a "Oh, come on, give me a break" kind of look, and it made her smile. Kind of. "You'll shut your eyes tightly, and I'll get you to the bathroom safe and sound, just like before."


He nodded to the door. "Get your clothes."

"But, Terry--"

"You trust me to get you there safely, don't you?"

"Yes, I do." She stared down at the tiles. "I still can't go into that bedroom with you, though."

"Why not?"

Madison edged her chin up long enough to give Terry what she hoped was a hard look. "Not while we're fighting over what to do about you-know-what."

"Ouch." He gave a hurt half smile but held out his hand anyway. "We're not fighting, and besides, that other talk has nothing to do with this. I may be a man, but you need a shower, plain and simple."

He was a man, all right, but this wasn't plain and it sure wasn't simple. It didn't feel that way to her. She was going into enemy territory with, well, with one of the enemy.

"Come on, I'm getting old." Terry beckoned to her as though he didn't have the time to wait while she made up her mind to take the few needed steps with him to the master bathroom.

She struggled not to take his hand. She tried, and startled herself when she did.

He gave her fingers a quick squeeze. "Get your clothes."

He waited as she picked out a clean shirt, some jeans, then privately stuffed some underthings into the wad.

Retaking his solid hand, Madison followed Terry, and Izzy followed behind Madison.

They made their way down the hall, and before they even came to the dreaded bedroom, Madison squeezed her eyes shut. He must have seen she was prepared, for he didn't say anything, didn't give her warning, but kept going until she felt the bathroom tiles beneath her socked feet and heard him say it was all right to look.

"You made it," he said, and shut the door as he left.

Then Izzy came in with the towels, and helped Madison to clean her stomach the way the doctor had said. By the time Terry was called back, Madison was dressed and smelling like citrus shampoo and clean soap. Clean didn't only smell good, it felt good.

Squeezing her eyes so tightly shut it hurt, Madison clung to Terry's hand and he led her back through the awful place.

"You can look now."

When she did, she found him smiling.

"Everyone's had their breakfast but you," Terry said, and tugged Madison toward the kitchen.

He watched as she ate her cereal, made sure she at least gave her toast a few nibbles before giving up, and cleared his throat when she forgot to drink her calcium-fortified milk. She just didn't feel very much like eating right now. Her milk mustache was hardly dry when he took her by the hand and led her into the living room.

"Terry, about our fight--"

"I wish you wouldn't call it that." He took her to the couch, sat her down and she noticed Izzy had put away all the bedding. "We're not having an argument, Maddie. We're just working it out, that's all. But we'll get to that later."

From the armchair, Jake did something with a large pad of paper.

"Here, I've been wanting to give you this for a while." Terry placed a leather book with a rich burgundy cover on her lap. "Besides the fact it's not my old Bible, it's just like mine, and if you take good care of it, it'll last just as long." He sat down beside her, opened the Bible to the first page where he had written something in the neat handwriting she now recognized as his.

For Madison
From Terry, with all my love

"I've been highlighting verses, some passages I thought you might like. I know you said you enjoyed that about my old Bible."

She traced a finger over his words, looked at Terry and saw him swallow hard.

"You want to go for that walk now?" he asked.

She nodded, and carefully set it on the end table where Izzy had placed the volume of Jane Austen. Her treasures were multiplying so fast it amazed her. This was so much more than she had ever owned while with the Dragon.

* * * *

An early October sky spread over their heads as Terry took Madison outside. He'd bundled her into a coat, had borrowed a scarf and mitts from Izzy and hoped that would be enough to keep Maddie warm. The wind was sharp, but they were together and he felt they could brave anything.

Anything but maybe this discussion.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" he asked.

Blonde hair flew behind her, but she nodded and stayed close to his side as they slowly made their way around the house toward the beach.

"Do we have to have sex, Terry?"

"I've got to hand it to you--" he let out a small laugh that sounded more frightened than he cared to admit-- "you certainly don't beat around the bush."

"Please, Terry."

"Did you like the Bible?" He turned, saw the question had taken her off balance.

"Yes, I did. Thank you."

She sometimes had a simple way of conversing, of making him feel special, of making him feel he was the only one in the world she was speaking to. Of course he was. He was the only one out here-- who else would she be talking to? Yup, he was a lost cause.

"Do we have to, Terry?"

He stooped, picked up a few smooth stones and looked out over the bay. This was no good. Flinging the rocks at the water, Terry headed toward the road and trusted Maddie to follow.

A little exercise would do her good.

A backward glance and he slowed his pace until she caught up and was able to stay at his side without breathing too hard.


He decided not to answer.

"Maybe we should just go back to being friends, Terry."

"I don't know about you, but it's too late for that."

"It is?"

He stopped, looked at her and she was unable to meet his gaze.

"What's your favorite color again?"

Her head bobbed up. "What?"

"Your favorite color. What is it? I'm guessing pink, am I right?"

She nodded.

"I knew that." He started walking again as cars moved past them on the main road. They were heading in the direction of the Old Mill Campground, and not wanting to give Maddie unpleasant memories, he crossed the road, and started back in the other direction.


He smiled. At least she was keeping up.

"What about what we were talking about? Do we have to?"

A neighbor waved to Terry, and Terry waved back. He slowed his pace a little more so he wouldn't wear Maddie out completely. Wind came through the trees, rustled the leaves and raked Madison's scarf-bound hair in golden tendrils. He reached for her hand, easily took it in his and breathed in the cold pure air.

"Terry, I think you're ignoring me."

He raised their clasped hands, then shot her a look.

"You keep changing the subject."

"And you keep pressing for an answer." Terry watched the traffic, then guided Maddie back across the road. "I don't have all the answers, Maddie. I never claimed I did."

"But--" she sighed, rested her cheek a moment on his shoulder-- "you're Terry. You know everything."

"Don't kid yourself. Only God knows everything. The rest of us have to struggle along with what we've got. All I know is that I love you, and I'm not giving you up without a fight. If I can help it, I'm not giving you up at all."

Though he wanted to head into town, he could tell Maddie was tired, and steered their walk in the direction of the house.

"I love you, too, Terry."

"Then let's drop the question of going back to the way things were, okay? Neither of us wants it."

She sighed, hung on to his hand and didn't seem to want to go inside as they got close to the front door. When had the sunlight turned so golden, or the sky so blue it hurt his eyes? Amazing what the company of one special person did to the outlook of your life. It was the same sky, the same sun shining down on him as last year, and yet life had a factory-fresh scent about it that made Terry feel he was just beginning.

Life was just getting started.

Beside the house, he saw the triplets' swing set. He and John had handcrafted it a few years ago in a fit of do-it-yourself zeal and had worn out three days into the project. But they had persisted, and the result was a swing set that would still be around when they were stooped, gray-headed old men laughing about what a pair of idiots they had once been.

Feeling silly, Terry tugged Maddie onto a seat.

"Have you ever flown?" he asked.

She looked absolutely bewildered. The fact he was crazy probably had something to do with it.

"Give me your hands." He placed her mittens around the thick chains of the swing. "Pick up your feet or this won't work."

She lifted them a little, and looked up at him with a nervous energy he could only take as excited fear.

"Haven't you ever been on a swing before?" he asked incredulously.

She shook her head, and he didn't give her a chance to get all wide-eyed and frightened. He gave a small push to her back and she let out an equally small cry.

"Just keep your feet from dragging the ground and I'll keep you going." Terry pushed again, this time a little harder, and her mouth opened but nothing came out. Was she having a good time? Higher, and higher still, and now enjoyment shone in her eyes. She wasn't pumping her legs, but the wind was in her face and she was flying.

A giggle had him laughing.

"Tired? Do you want me to stop?"

She shook her head, leaned back and stared up at the sky, then at him as she glided back. He pushed her by the shoulders and she closed her eyes and kept sailing. His arms began to tire, but he kept pushing and reveled in her presence. Her eyes opened and he smiled at her upside down face.

How he wanted to tug her out of that seat and hold her. He wanted to kiss that mouth and know what it was like to love a woman and to be loved by her.

She looked away, sat up in the swing and no longer seemed interested in flying.

Idiot. Silently kicking himself, he guided her to a gentle stop, then leaned against the swing set's wooden A-frame to study the breathtakingly blue sky. He slanted her a look and smiled, as though he hadn't been thinking about her at all. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"Are you ready to go in?" he asked, and she got to her feet.


"Why do I have a sinking feeling I know what you're about to ask?" He chuckled as he helped her around the house. "What is it?"

"Do you remember yesterday? You said you didn't need all the other stuff to be happy, that all you needed was me."

"Yes, I remember."

Her silence seemed to imply, "Then, isn't that enough?"

Terry sighed. He could see this wasn't an easy thing for her to cope with.

"I want you to be happy, Terry."

"I appreciate that."

"You deserve to be happy."

"I don't know about that," he smiled, "but I won't labor the point."

"I want to make you happy."

"You do." Terry gave her a hug, then reached around her to open the front door. "I've worn you out enough for one morning. Why don't you read until lunch?"

They went inside, and he struggled with sadness as he helped her out of the coat, the scarf and mittens, watched as she eagerly curled up on the couch to first read her new Bible, then pick up where she'd left off with Pride and Prejudice.

From the recliner, Jake got up with his drawing pad.

"Abby said you were feeling better," Terry smiled. "You must be, to be drawing again."

Stepping around Ricky on the floor, Jake carefully tore off the top sheet from his drawing pad and handed it to Terry.

Curious, Terry moved to the window to look at Jake's handiwork in full light. It was a simple pencil sketch, but one very close to Terry's heart. It was Maddie of course, and she was cozied on the couch with her book and looking beautiful and happy.

"I started it yesterday evening," Jake said with a shrug. "It's not very good."

"No, it is." Terry swallowed hard. "This is very like her, thank you."

Jake glanced at the couch, came closer to Terry and lowered his voice. "I'm afraid we might be getting in the way."

"You aren't. In fact, I'm grateful you're here." Terry couldn't stop looking at the sketch. "It's not only good there's so many people in the house to be chaperones, but..." Terry sighed. "I guess it's just good to know you and Abby are in the house. I keep thinking if you two could work it out, then so can we."

"Madison isn't me," Jake warned.

"I know."

"You're going to have to find out what works, and what doesn't. It won't matter what worked for me, you'll have to find what works for her. That's all that matters."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

Jake smiled. "Hopefully, it'll encourage you not to compare us too much. We're apples and oranges."

"Aside from the fact she's prettier, who's the apple, and who's the orange?"

Though Jake smiled, he didn't laugh. "Just don't get too disappointed when things don't work out the way you thought they should. Madison is different from me, and I'm guessing we've been through different things. She's going to heal differently, too."

"I hear you." Terry nodded to the drawing. "Thanks for this, and thanks for the caution. I'll keep it in mind."

With a nod, Jake left with his sketch pad.

"What did he mean?" Maddie asked from across the room.

It startled Terry, and he realized she'd been following the conversation.

With a smile, Terry went over, tossed the coats off to one side, sat down beside her and showed her the drawing.

"That's me," she said with surprise. "I've never been drawn before. What did he mean about comparing me to him? Is it because he was abused, too?"

"Yes, but Jake meant more than that."

Taking a deep breath, Terry folded his arms and started in on the story of how Jake had come to be a part of their family. When Terry reached the part of Abby and Jake deciding to marry in name only, Madison's interest spiked through the roof.

"How did that work out for them?"

With a laugh, Terry pointed to the little boy playing on the carpet. "He looks a lot like his daddy, don't you think?"

"But..." Maddie looked severely let down, but Ricky was on the floor right in front of her. She'd known about him. In the excitement of the story it seemed she'd forgotten that Abby and Jake had a child.

Her rain cloud came back out, and Madison picked up her Jane Austen.

"The point is, Maddie, they did work it out. Eventually."

Curling onto her side, Maddie propped the book half against the couch, half against her knees. "Have you read this story?"

"Pride and Prejudice? Of course. When I was a kid, it was standard high school fare." He was about to add something to that thought, when he caught her triumphant smile.

She had changed the subject.

Oh, she looked almost smug.

"Did you see what I wrote for you in the book?" he asked, getting to his feet with Jake's drawing. "I wrote something for you on the front blank page of Austen."

She flipped to the front, and her lips slowly moved as she read the words. A quick intake of air told him they were making an impression.

He picked up their coats and left Maddie to her reading.

* * * *

Taking in each word as it came, Madison reread Terry's handwriting. She hadn't gotten very far in the story, but she recognized the quote as being from Pride and Prejudice:

"My dear, dear Lizzy, I would-- I do congratulate you-- but are you certain? forgive the question-- are you quite certain that you can be happy with him?"

"There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world..."

"... And do you really love him quite well enough? Oh, Lizzy! do anything rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?"

Dearest Maddie,
There are no previous loves between us, no turned down proposals (besides the one on my side). It's just me and you. You love me, but do you love me well enough? God willing, you will say yes, but even after you do, love me, Maddie. And it will be enough.

Closing the book, Madison set it aside and tried to think. From the floor, Ricky made truck sounds as he pushed a fire engine across the carpet. Abby came in with a laptop, sat down on the end of the couch and opened the computer.

"Let me know if I'm bothering you, and I'll work somewhere else," Abby offered.

Since Abby was here, anyway, Madison decided to take advantage of the timing. "Could I ask you something?"


"Terry said you and Jake married in name only."

"Yup, that's how we started out."

"Did you love Jake?"

"At the time? Not officially."

"Did your parents try to stop it?"

"They sure did." Abby typed into her keyboard and talked at the same time. "I'm fairly certain if I'd been in love with someone else, like Tyler, Dad and Mom wouldn't have let me get away with it. But they knew Jake and I were good friends, and Jake needed me pretty bad. It worked out."

"Who's Tyler?"

"It's a long story."

"If it had worked out differently, and you knew you loved Jake, but you also knew he could never, ever have sex--" Madison prayed Abby wouldn't hit her for asking the question this way-- "do you think you would have married him, anyway?"

"Yup, I would. Why do you ask?"

"I'm trying to figure something out."

"If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, it has a harder time of working out." Abby shook her head. "Men are wired differently. It's one thing for Jake to theoretically keep his distance from me, another thing entirely for you to keep your distance from Uncle Terry. Men see, they want. Us, on the other hand, we can take it or leave it a lot easier."

"So men are trouble?"

"More or less."

"But that's what I've been thinking for all my life. That men are monsters."

For a moment, Abby regarded Madison. "That's pushing it to the extreme, don't you think? I mean, I've been known to leave the toilet lid up once or twice, myself."

When Abby saw how hard Madison was trying to overcome that prejudice-- and Madison knew it was a prejudice-- the humor died from Abby's eyes. Abby seemed to think better of her words, sighed, and shut the laptop.

"Look, I'm not a great expert on relationships. I know more about fish, than I do people, but it seems to me if you like someone-- I mean really like someone, then you could probably do worse for a choice of husband."

"I love Terry."

"Well, there you go."

"But he--" Madison stopped. This was getting way too personal.

"Maybe you should talk to Mom." Abby sounded as though she were trying hard to be helpful. "She's into all this touchy-feely girl stuff more than I am."

"But aren't you? into feely stuff? I see you with Jake, and you're a natural."

"With Jake, yeah, it's easy, but it wasn't always that way."

"It wasn't?"

"Don't look so shocked. I told you I wasn't touchy-feely."

"But did it get easier for you? Of course it did, because you and Jake are really good together--"

"Thank you," Abby smiled.

"But, I mean, over time," Madison tried to fit her question into a way she could get an answer, "did it get easier to show your emotions to him? To be with him?"

"The trouble of being intimate was more on his part than mine, but yeah, it's gotten easier to show my emotions with Jake. Especially the softer ones. I've learned to tone things down with him, and I've learned to love cuddling."

"You had to learn to love cuddling?"

"Yeah. So?"

"I hate it, too. I hated it when the Dragon's hands were all over me."

Abby winced, cast a look in Ricky's direction but didn't yell at her for trying to get out what she was feeling.

"That's not exactly what I meant by cuddling, but if you're married to a cuddler, touching can be a problem." Abby gave herself a moment to think. "Jake learned to go with the flow, and he's very much a cuddler. I'm not, but I have to say, cuddling does have its advantages."

"What are they?"

Casting a glance at Ricky, Abby opened her laptop, typed something on her screen, then slanted the laptop at Madison.

Sex, and emotional bonding.

Madison shuddered, and picked up her Jane Austen. "Thanks anyway."

Even though Abby didn't look as though she understood, Madison opened the book to read Terry's words again.

"Hey." Abby tapped Madison's foot and Madison looked up. "The way I see it, the difference between a man and a monster is self-control. I don't care what a man sees or thinks he wants, if he has no self-control, then he really is a monster. That doesn't describe Uncle Terry."

Madison nodded, and Abby faced her computer again.

"Now to start chipping away at all this email. I called my boss and told him I was getting back to work this morning. Easy to say, but it's going to take a bulldozer to get through all this."

"Mommy, look." Ricky held up his truck and Abby smiled.

What Abby had said made Madison think.

Words had power. Madison understood that. They had weight that you couldn't hold but could feel deep in your heart. Whether someone spoke them or you read them from a page, they could have impact. Over and over that morning, she had been struck by the force of words and now they had left her to once again face a decision.

* * * *

He sat staring at the pencil sketch on his desk, lost in thought. He should've been helping John go over some code for an old client, but here he was, unable to get his mind on anything or anyone but Maddie.

John seemed to understand, and was working like a dog to get it done, himself. Which only made Terry's guilt worse. He could put Maddie out of her misery. He could race into the living room and tell her she didn't have to try-- that he'd be happy without even that much. That had been enough for Abby and Jake to get married on, and there, Terry saw the trap of comparing too hard.

Apples and oranges, Jake had said.

So what would work for Maddie? Terry figured the answer would always be different as he moved to the next question in his relationship with her, but at present, the one staring him in the face was the most pressing. Would she say "yes," and try to have a family with him?

Pulling out a phone book, Terry located what he wanted and punched the number into his cell phone. As he waited for the number to answer, John strolled into the office with a plate of sandwiches. For a hungry, brief moment, Terry thought the food was for him, but John went to his own desk, woke his laptop, prayed, then dug in while he worked.

Hey, John was the one working while he was not. Only fair.

"Hi, could I have two dozen roses sent to a home address here in Three Mile Bay, say within the hour? I don't mind the cost, but can you do it? And they need to be pink."

His mouth bulging with food, John looked up from his laptop and gawked at Terry. John had heard him right. Roses. Two dozen of 'em. Pink.

Swiveling to face the wall so he wouldn't have to endure that stare, Terry pressed on and gave his credit card information, the address where to send the flowers, and a romantic but to-the-point note he could dictate over the phone and still face John with manly dignity when he hung up.

When Terry did, John had yet to swallow his food.


Terry grimaced, and John swallowed and chewed until he could speak.

"Flowers, huh? I don't know, Terry. That's setting the bar kind of high. Do something like that, and Izumi will be expecting roses from me, or at least daisies."

"Hey, I'm doing everything I can think of." Terry spread his hands. "I've written her a short love letter (of sorts), I've tried a thoughtful gift--"

"And now you'll ply her with flowers." John shrugged. "There's always candy."

"You think I should?"

"If she won't eat it, I will."


"Anything for a buddy," John grinned, and went back to his laptop and sandwiches. "Hang in there, Terry. We're praying for you."

He knew they were, and he appreciated it.

Terry pushed out of his chair to go check on Maddie. Had she taken her painkiller, was she eating lunch like she was supposed to, was she getting enough rest after all he'd put her through that morning?

He stalked through the hall, peered into the living room, and saw her on the couch eating sandwiches with Abby and watching TV.

She was all right.

Thinking better of barging in, he went back to the office, found his jeep keys, coat, and waved to John before John had a chance to ask where he was off to.

If he was going to pull out all the stops, Terry figured he might as well go all the way.

* * * *

As Madison finished her lunch, Terry walked through the living room with his coat and keys. He gave her a tentative smile, paused a moment as if he were wrestling on whether to say or do something, then left without speaking at all.

Well, it had come down to this pitiful situation.

She would die if she married him, and it appeared he would die if she didn't, so if one of them had to kick the bucket, she made up her mind that it should be her.

After all Terry had done to help her, it only seemed fair.

The problem was, actually getting the words out of her mouth. More specifically, THE word.

She could put on the ring like Terry had said, and then he'd know and it wouldn't be a big deal. However, she would probably need to say it anyway, because he would ask if she meant it-- she knew Terry well enough to know he would want to make sure-- and if she kept silent, the ring probably wouldn't count.

Funny how hard one word was to say, when it came attached to so much. She could blurt it out, whisper it, or write it out on a note like he had done with his proposal. And of course, she could always change her mind at the last minute and not say the word at all. That was always an option.

No, if she intended to go through with it, she would have to put on the ring, and say the word.

She would have to fight against all her instincts about men, and actually say it. It would take a lot of faith on her part, not only in her belief in God's mercy, but also in Terry's.

The minutes slipped past Madison. Someone turned off the TV and Abby took Ricky to Terry's old room so they could have a nap. Jake went out for a walk to get some air, Izzy cleaned the kitchen, John worked in the office, and the triplets napped in their room.

The house had settled into a quiet, ordinary-feeling afternoon.

The front door opened.

Terry came in, avoided all eye contact with Madison, and hauled a fancy shopping bag with a pretty logo through the living room and into the hall. A large shopping bag.

Not thirty seconds later, the doorbell rang.

"Someone get that?" Izzy called from the kitchen. "I'm busy in here."

The doorbell rang a second time.

"John? Madison? Would someone please answer that?"

"I'll get it." Madison got up from the couch, ignored the stiffness in her hip and tried to see who it was before the doorbell sounded again.

Too late. As she reached for the handle, the bell rang a third time.


"I got it," Madison assured Izzy, and opened the door.

A young man stood on the doorstep holding the largest bunch of roses Madison had ever seen in one place, in person, in her entire life.

"Delivery for Miss Madison Ladyfair," the young man said with an absolutely straight face. "Are you Miss Ladyfair?"

"I-- I'm Madison."

"Then these are for you." The man passed her the flowers, which rapidly filled Madison's view, for they were tall and there were a lot of them. They were also very heavy. "Have a nice day," the man said, and then Madison heard footsteps as he left.

"Yes... nice day," she mumbled, too dazed to know what to do.

Her hands felt a chiseled thick vase but she couldn't see it and she couldn't see where to put it down. Lady-fair? The rich perfume of pink pink roses, the sprays of green, the delicate baby's breath-- it all overwhelmed her and she sank onto the carpet to put the vase down before she passed out.

It was all so beautiful, like the flowers had been picked by an angel.

She saw a small white card, pulled it out from the leaves and tried to stop trembling long enough to read the words.

Please, marry me.

She looked up, saw Terry watching intently from the hall. She was vaguely aware of the others, but Terry was the only one she focused on. Could she remember that one word she had made up her mind to tell him? This would be a good time to get it out.

Her tongue wouldn't work, so she got on her hands and knees, and crawled to the couch.

He took a few steps toward her. "Are you all right?" he asked, then stopped when she nodded but still couldn't speak.

She reached under the couch for her stash of hidden treasure, through the dust bunnies and around her spiral notebook, until she finally found what she was looking for. She pulled it out, her hands trembling so violently she dropped it and had to pick it up twice.

Smearing her eyes, she forced her fingers to lock onto the smooth ring, and slid it onto a finger. There. It was on. She looked up at Terry and saw him cross the room to her.

He knelt and spoke softly. "Are you sure?"

She pushed out the word. "Yes."

He paused. "Do you agree to try?"

"Yes." That one especially, had hurt, but it was out and she tried not to faint now that she'd said it.

"Maddie, I don't want to pressure you. It's important that we get this right. Are you sure?"

"Yes." She couldn't say anything else, and when he helped her to her feet, she could see Terry was trying desperately to hold back.

"You'll marry me?" he asked again, as though he wanted to make absolutely certain he wasn't dreaming.


His breath caught, and a smile started around the corners of his mouth. He fisted a hand, slowly pounded his leg and nodded. He looked caught somewhere between shock and sheer joy.

"Do you mind if I give you a hug?" he asked.


He looked surprised.

"I mean, no."

He swept her up and crushed her against him in the tightest squeeze she'd ever had that wasn't against her will. Fighting back a flood of unwelcome emotion, Madison closed her eyes and willed herself to not pull away. A hand moved between her shoulder blades and it was too much-- she pushed at Terry's chest and for a moment, he wouldn't let her go.

He did, and she stumbled back, gasped for air and had to hug herself.

"I'm sorry, Maddie. What did I do wrong?"

She shook her head, stumbled to the couch as Izzy came into the living room and gave Terry a great big hug. John quickly followed with a hearty hug and a slap on Terry's back.

"Now, I can say congratulations!" John hugged Terry again for good measure as Izzy came to the couch and took a seat next to Madison.

"Are you all right?" Izzy asked quietly.

Madison nodded and kept hugging herself.

"May I?" Izzy asked, and gently took Madison's right hand. "The ring belongs here." Izzy switched the ring to the fourth finger on Madison's left hand. "You have such slender fingers, even though mine are smaller, the ring almost fits. Is it too tight?"

Madison shook her head.

"Welcome to the family, Sweetheart." Izzy gave her a small hug-- not at all crushing like Terry's, then kissed Madison's cheek. "Calm down a bit, and I'll put your lovely flowers on the end table where you can enjoy them. Aren't they stunning?"

Sucking in a deep breath, Madison rested her head against the back of the couch and watched as Izzy lifted the vase. It towered over Madison with rich pinks, so deep and velvety, they made her want to touch those delicate blooms and rub them all over her face. Madison felt so completely overwhelmed, she didn't know her own thoughts and half wondered if she might die. But it was too soon for that.

"Abby," John called down the hall, "you're going to want to hear this. Kids-- Ruthie, Debbie, Lizzie, get in here. You too, Ricky. Your uncle has an announcement to make." John pulled out his cell phone. "I need to call Jake."

"I think he's taking a walk," Izzy said, adding a few last touches to the floral arrangement. "Did these come from Eva's, Terry? I recognize the vase. She carries the loveliest crystal vases in her flower shop. Long after these flowers fade away, Madison, you'll have this vase to remember them by."

As John called Jake, Abby and the children piled into the living room.

"What's going on?" Abby asked.

The question flew by Terry. He didn't answer, his entire being trained wholly on Madison. Even from the couch, Madison could feel his concern.

"Wait until Jake gets here," John requested, and Izzy smiled with a nod of agreement.

"Abby, aren't these lovely?" Izzy turned the vase so the best side showed toward Madison. "They're from your uncle."

"Wow, I didn't know Uncle Terry was such a romantic at heart." Abby came to admire the flowers and gave Terry a smile.

Terry, however, kept watching Madison.

"Let me see, please." Lizzie climbed onto the couch, crawled over Madison's lap and buried her face in the blooms. Lizzie looked over her shoulder and beamed at Madison. "They're pink!"

"Yes," Madison said, and realized she'd almost been saying nothing but that one word ever since Terry had proposed again. She looked back at him and saw him still watching.

He gave a small test smile, as if to see what she would do, and Madison lowered her eyes and smiled back. Yes, she still loved him.

Before Madison knew it, Terry had claimed the seat beside her and was pulling Lizzie off Madison's lap. Madison breathed a sigh of relief, for Lizzie's small knees had been bumping into her stitches.

"Jake will be here in a minute," John said, putting away his cell phone. "Izumi, do we have any fizzy apple cider, something to celebrate with?"

"I'm afraid all we have is ginger ale."

"That will do," John nodded, and marched into the kitchen. "Where are the glasses? The good ones?"

"Middle cupboard, second shelf," Izzy called back.


"I'm coming," Izzy said, and went to help her clueless husband.

Picking up Ricky, Abby carried him to the armchair, hugged him on her lap and smiled at the couch. Madison knew Abby had already guessed what had happened, even though Abby didn't say.

Terry sat with his hands clasped in his lap, his face a study of quiet, barely contained joy.

The door opened and Jake came in. Jake took one reassuring look at Ricky and Abby and calmed down. "Dad said it wasn't an emergency, but what's going on? Is something wrong?"

"No, not exactly." Terry's smile spread across his face now. "I have some news--"

"Not yet," John cried from the kitchen. "Five minutes."

Abby smiled at Jake and Jake began to smile, too.

"Would you take some pictures?" Terry called to his friend in the next room.

"Good thinking," John called back. "I'll snap a few with my iPhone."

"Did you see the roses?" Abby asked Jake as she hugged the little boy on her lap. "They're from Uncle Terry."

All the pent up excitement in the room, made Madison want to find a small place somewhere and hide. She timidly peeked up and saw Jake looking over the elegant profusion of roses, greenery, and baby's breath. Cocking his head, Jake read the card, looked at Madison and smiled warmly.

"Welcome to the family," he whispered, and went to go stand next to the armchair. Jake and the family had known about Terry's proposal yesterday, but now John was calling everyone together, and talking about pictures and fancy glasses, and Madison's head began to spin.

Terry looked at Madison, smiled hard, and very carefully, very cautiously, took her left hand. He touched the ring, inhaled deeply, and let their clasped hands rest on her lap.

Her heart skittered. She edged their hands off her lap, and onto the couch cushion between them.

To her relief, Terry gave her hand a small, reassuring squeeze.

When John and Izzy came from the kitchen, there were tears in Izzy's eyes. Izzy brushed them away, passed out fancy long-stemmed crystal glasses with ginger ale to Madison, Terry, Jake, Abby, and to each of the children. And now the children were getting into the excitement.

After John pulled out his iPhone to take some pictures as the moment unfolded, John grinned broadly. "Okay, now Terry has something he wants to tell us."

Terry gripped Madison's hand so tight she gasped a little. He was so strong, she had no doubt he could pop off all her fingers if he wanted, and she hoped he wouldn't do it accidentally.

"Maddie has done me the very great honor <photo click, click> of accepting my proposal. I guess you could say, both of them. So we're getting married."

"Congratulations!" sounded around the room, and the children got to drink their ginger ale.

"Daddy," Ruthie asked, "what does this mean?"

"It means Madison is going to be a part of this family."

"I thought she already was."

"She is," John smiled, "but getting married means Madison will be an even bigger part of our family."


"Because Uncle Terry will love her more, and we'll love her more, and that means she'll love you even more than she does now."

Smiling, Ruthie drank the last of her ginger ale and seemed satisfied with her answer.

Abby passed Ricky to Jake, then came to the couch to give Terry a hug, then Madison. To Madison's surprise, there were glimmers of wet in Abby's eyes.

"I wanted to say something really nice," Abby shook her head, "but I can't think of anything besides, I love you. I love you both."

For that, Terry got to his feet and hugged Abby again, and Jake came to congratulate Terry, and then John again, and Izzy had to find a handkerchief, while Ricky asked for more ginger ale. Madison sat quietly in the corner of the couch, grateful when they didn't tug her into more hugs.

Her insides were already trembling.

"Emily will never believe this," Izzy laughed through her tears. "The set of dishes I ordered for her wedding will be delivered today, and she'll only think I'm joking."

"We're giving Emily and Brian dishes?" John looked impressed.

"Please, please," Abby gave Terry another hug, "promise never to move away."

"Nothing short of dynamite could get rid of me," Terry grinned. "You have nothing to worry about."

"I have to tell Agatha." Izzy went to find her cell phone. "Everyone will want to know, and Terry-- have you and Madison set a date yet?"

"A date? Already?" Terry looked overwhelmed. "We just got engaged."

"Let me know the minute you have a date," Izzy said with a nod, "and if you'd like, I'll be more than happy to help plan the wedding."

A wedding. Madison sure hoped the butterflies in her stomach would either stop flapping around, or hurry up and die off.

"Maybe you and Madison would rather elope," Abby suggested.

Izzy looked crestfallen.

Standing beside the couch with his hands in his slacks pockets, Terry shook his head. "It's too soon for dates or plans. I can't do anything without talking to Maddie first, and I don't want to drown her with decisions. I'm doing good she said 'yes' at all, let alone this. I have to give her time."

"Of course she was going to say 'yes.'" Abby tried to sound confident, but even Madison sensed a twinge of doubt in Abby's voice. After their conversation this morning, Madison guessed Abby had a better idea of the struggle it had taken her to accept Terry's proposal.

"Whatever you and Madison decide," Izzy smiled, "please, let me help plan the ceremony?"

"Count on it," Terry nodded, and Izzy went to get her cell phone.

"If there's anything we can do, let us know," John said, and gave Terry another slapping hug. "Congratulations, Buddy. This is a big day for you."

Terry grinned and Madison closed her eyes. The perfume of the roses hung heavy in the air, and it clung to her senses like Terry's crushing hug. She felt the ring around her finger and prayed she was doing the right thing, that she wasn't being more cruel to Terry by saying "yes," than by running away.

The children scattered, the world dimmed until a male voice sounded above Madison. She jerked awake, gulped in air and grasped the cushion beneath her.

"Easy, Maddie." Terry backed off a step and she let go of the cushion. "I didn't mean to scare you."

She nodded and hugged herself.

"Agatha's coming over in a minute, even the Doyles will be here soon, and I thought..." Terry pushed out a sigh. "You look worn out."

"I'm all right."

"Maddie, I'm really sorry for scaring you. I guess I got carried away with that hug."

She shook her head. "It's okay."

"Still, I apologize."

She sighed and didn't know what to say.

"I was thinking," Terry sounded as though he were trying for a more upbeat tone, "after they get here, if it gets too much for you, you could always go into the office and shut the door. I'll make excuses for you, and tell them how tired you are. They'll understand."

"Thanks, Terry."

He smiled a little. "Are you sure it's still a 'yes'? It's not too late to back out. There's a lot of time to change your mind."

"I'm sure."

"Okay." He grinned and took in the roses. "We're getting married-- I can hardly believe it." He gestured to the blooms. "There's more in the office, you know."


"You'll see when you go in there, later." Terry picked a lone petal from off a couch cushion, caressed it and held it like it was something special. "With everyone coming like this, I guess it's a good thing you had that shower."

Madison couldn't help her smile. Oh, how she loved him.

"I don't want to mess this up, Maddie." He looked up, held her eyes and gave a softly lopsided smile.

The high pitched sound of a vacuum had Terry shaking his head, and he stepped away so Abby could do a last minute clean before their company arrived.

Izzy came in and tidied the room, then went into the kitchen and came back with a glass of water and some painkiller for Madison.

"Once news spreads that you're engaged to Terry," Izzy explained, "people will want to congratulate and hug you. Probably even look at your ring. Until the excitement wears down a little, you might want to brace yourself."

Madison nodded, gave the glass back to Izzy and felt her own hand vibrating like a small earthquake. Unlike Izzy, her nerves were a wreck.

"I'm so happy for you," Izzy smiled, and took the glass back to the kitchen as the doorbell sounded.

"I'll get it," Terry said, stepping around the vacuum.

The woman at the door greeted Terry with a cry and a hug.

"I had to come over as soon as Izumi called," Agatha said, beaming ear to ear with eager excitement. She looked around Terry and waved to Madison. "Congratulations, dear! Oh, this is such good, good news. And what an answer to prayer." It seemed Agatha knew better than to ask Madison for a hug, though she came in and sat down next to Madison and started talking about wedding plans as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

And this was from Agatha, Izzy's down-to-earth close friend. Madison half expected a reaction like this from Lauren, Terry's superintendent, but Madison was beginning to understand what Izzy had meant about bracing herself.

"Is it going to be a large wedding, or just a few friends and family?" Agatha asked, and waited as though Madison could start spouting details at the drop of a hat. It seemed Agatha had just dropped a hat.

"We're still in the planning stages," Terry intervened, and moved toward the end table.

Agatha's eyes followed and her mouth dropped open.

"Oh, Terry." Agatha shook her head and looked on the verge of tears. "What beautiful roses. I knew God had someone especially planned for you. It's this sweet woman sitting right here, the one who's been making you smile so much lately. All these years, I didn't want to make you feel as though you were missing out on something, so I kept it to myself, but I knew God had someone special waiting for you. I knew it in my heart of hearts, so I've been praying. And now look-- you're in love, and buying roses, and I'm about to cry."

Izzy came forward with a big box of tissue. "I couldn't have said it better, Agatha."

As Izzy moved aside, Terry stepped close and gave Agatha a hug. "Thank you for the prayers. They were answered in a big way."

"You're a good man, Terry." Agatha patted Terry's arm, smiled at him as he straightened. "It's good that you're happy. After all you've done to help others, Madison is your reward. Or part of it-- here on earth, anyway."

Terry smiled and looked at Madison. "I'm well aware I'm being blessed."

The gentle intensity of Terry's stare made Madison's heart beat fast. She looked down at her lap, played with the edge of her shirt and then the doorbell rang.

This time John went to answer and Dick and Sara Doyle rushed in with cries of congratulations, and of course great big hugs. Agatha got up to join in the conversation, Abby set aside the vacuum as Jake came in from the hall, and for a while it seemed everyone talked at the same time.

"We were in the area when Jake called us," Dick laughed, "so your timing couldn't have been better."

Hiding beside the tall vase of roses, Madison tried to make herself invisible. Dick, however, made a beeline for the couch, took off his sunglasses and reached out a hand. At least it wasn't a request for a hug, Madison thought, and timidly accepted the teeth-rattling handshake.

"Congratulations, God bless you both," Dick grinned. "Sara, would you look at these roses! When Terry does something, he does it right. So, have you set a date?"

Unable to get out anything but a stammer, Madison shook her head.

"That's okay, I can get all the information I need from Abby." Dick gave a good-humored smile. "I'm about to go speak to Terry and the others, but before I do, may I have your blessing to throw a combination welcome home party for AJ and an engagement party for you and Terry? I'm not family of course, and I wouldn't want to do anything without your say-so. All you have to do is shake your head, and we'll let it drop."

The offer floored Madison. She was being treated like family by someone who was, by right, more family than she was.

"Is it all right with you if I make the offer to the others?" Dick asked.

Madison nodded and Dick broke out into a wide grin.

"Thank you. This means a great deal to Sara and I." Dick touched Madison's shoulder, then went to go talk to Terry, and the doorbell rang yet again.

Her courage failing fast, Madison got up from the couch, crept around the back of the gathering and made it into the hall without being hugged or drawn into the conversation.

Once inside the office, she shut the door and slid onto the floor to catch her breath. All the people had been so very kind, she needed some rest.

* * * *

As Dick explained to Terry and Izzy the party he wanted to throw, John answered the doorbell. There was so much going on around Terry, he barely registered Emily's voice.

John waved to Terry, and Terry excused himself to find Emily standing at the door in nothing heavier than a sweater, fighting off the wind and cold but sparkling nonetheless.

"I can't come in because of the flu," she apologized, brushing the hair from her eyes, "but Izumi called with the good news and I had to come over. I'm so happy for you and Madison. Please tell her I wish her every joy, and you, too. May God bless you both so very richly. Oh, Terry, this is just so wonderful. We're both getting married! Can you believe it?"

"It is amazing," Terry grinned, who wasn't used to seeing Emily so sparkly, so effervescent. She normally had both sensible feet planted on the ground, and to see her now dancing on air-- it was something to behold. "Thank you for coming over like this, I'll be sure to pass your message along to Maddie." He paused. "Have you gotten your wedding gift?"

"No, not yet. Why?"

"Nothing. You'll see it when it comes later today." Terry laughed to see Emily's eyes widen with wonder. "Izzy said it was due today, so be on the lookout for the delivery person."

"I will. Oh, Terry! God is good, isn't He?"

"He certainly is," Terry sighed. "He certainly is."

"I have to run, but congratulations again. I hope no one has the flu when you get married, so we can come!" Emily waved, and hurried home to her father before she turned into an ice pop.

Terry shut the door, took in a deep breath and saw John had overheard the whole conversation.

"What a morning, huh?"

"You said it," John chuckled, and got tugged back into Dick's talk with Izzy and Abby over the engagement party.

As Terry braced himself for another round of party preparation plans, he cast a glance at the couch. He wasn't surprised to find Maddie wasn't there. Agatha caught Terry's hand, pulled him toward Sara and started talking about the benefits of not having a tiny wedding.

"Just because Abby and Jake had a small wedding, with hardly no one at all invited, is no reason you should. And I know John and Izumi all but eloped, but it's time this family had an honest-to-goodness wedding, don't you think?" This from Sara Doyle, Dick's wife, the one who was planning to play hostess to an as-yet determined number of guests who would flood their very nice house. "I don't know about Agatha, but I'm going to be very disappointed in you and Madison if I don't have an invitation to this wedding."

"You tell him," Agatha nodded.

"This is Terry Davis we're talking about," Sara went on, almost as if Terry wasn't standing there, "and everyone-- I mean everyone in Three Mile Bay and most of Chaumont is going to want to be there."

"That's stretching things a bit," Terry objected, but Agatha shook her head in disagreement.

"There isn't a man, woman, or child in the area who doesn't know you by name."

"Well, yeah, but it's a small area." Again, Terry was overruled, and he decided to keep his mouth shut.

The ladies were too excited by the prospect of his wedding to do anything but plan, and since they didn't need him for their conversation, Terry edged out of it until they were talking back and forth and leaving him out of it altogether.


Now to find Maddie. It shouldn't be too hard, he'd told her to go into the office.

"Hey, Terry." Dick looked about. "I don't see the blushing bride anywhere around. Is she feeling all right?"

"She's just tired," Terry smiled, and backed toward the hall. "I'm going to check on her now. Thanks for stopping by, and for the party. We'll be looking forward to it."

"I'll be in touch with you and Madison about the guest list," Dick laughed, and let Terry go with a wave.

Man, what a day. This was only getting engaged, and Terry felt like he'd happened onto a parade only to find he was part of the main attraction. He hoped he could survive a full-blown wedding, one like Sara and the women were getting so excited about.

More importantly, Terry hoped Maddie could survive one. That could be a problem.

"Maddie?" Terry moved into the office, closed the door behind him and looked about. The bathroom door was shut so he went to knock on the door. "Hey, Maddie? You okay in there?"

"Don't you ever get tired of asking that question?" answered a small voice, and he grinned, leaned his forehead against the door and again thanked God she had said she would marry him.

"Are you okay?" Terry pressed.

The door opened and he backed away. His gaze fell to the tile floor where Madison sat reaching up to use the door handle.

"What are you doing down there?" He squatted, looked into her face and was grateful that though she looked tired, she didn't look pale. She hadn't cut-- or at least, not in a big enough way he could notice. "Maddie, Maddie. What am I going to do with you?"

"If you don't know, then you probably shouldn't have asked me to marry you."

"That was a rhetorical question." Terry took a seat on the carpet outside the bathroom door and smiled. "People usually don't expect an answer to rhetorical questions."

She leaned against the doorjamb and closed her eyes.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm just tired."

"If you had cut yourself, you'd tell me, right?"

"I guess."


"I would tell you."

Terry breathed out a sigh. "Emily said to tell you that she wished you every joy."

"She did?" Maddie looked a bit repentant. "It's hard for me to understand her, but I guess she's nice. I hope she's happy with Brian."

"I believe she is." The thought ran through Terry to pull Madison onto his lap, but he shoved the thought aside. "Are you sorry you're marrying me?" he asked.

Madison stared at the floor and dark lashes batted her cheeks before she looked up at him.

A shy smile parted her lips.

"Do you still love me?" he asked, and she nodded. He sighed deeply, and hoped his grin didn't frighten her silly. "Did you see what was in the shopping bag? That was for you."

She shook her head.

"Wait here." He got to his feet, went around to his desk and picked up the bag. "I might have overdone it, Maddie, but you have to remember--" he hefted it over to the bathroom door and took heart when she looked curious-- "I didn't know if you'd have me or not this morning, and if the roses didn't work, I wanted something in reserve."

"In reserve?" She still leaned against the doorjamb but when he opened the bag, her face had the curious look of a child on Christmas morning.

"This is what was going to convince you into marrying me if the roses didn't do the trick," Terry said, and took out a heavy candle in a fancy jar. "It's Roses and Buttermilk or something-or-other, but it's supposed to smell nice when it's lit, and more importantly, it's pink. Your favorite color, right?"

She smiled, and he handed her the candle.

"And if I struck out with that, I was going to try this." He pulled out a porcelain doll wearing a long, lacy pink dress with blonde hair and blue eyes that closed when you laid her down. "I bought all this at an antique gift store, but I don't know if it's an actual antique. When I saw her, she reminded me of you." He gave Maddie the doll, and noted her wide-eyed pleasure.

The doll was about two feet tall, had a soft body but a porcelain head and hands that gave it an old-world feel.

"She's wonderful, Terry."

He grinned. "If that doll failed to duly impress you, I was hoping this would." He took an antique teddy bear from the bag-- a long teddy with long limbs, a soft body and a frank expression on his furry face.

"Mine?" Maddie asked, and Terry gave her the bear.

"And if that wasn't enough to forever win you over, I bought this." He tugged a large flat box out from the bottom, and showed it to Maddie. "It's supposed to be a Lavender and Sage gift set. That's what it says, anyway." He put the box on the floor next to her. "It has soap, some sweet smelling stuff to help you relax. If there's anything there you can't figure out, ask Izzy-- she'll know what to do with it. John gets her stuff like that all the time."

Maddie didn't say anything, but held her doll and teddy close and looked at Terry with wide gray eyes.

"John says with triplets, you have to take good care of your wife or she'll go insane, and then you'll have to make all the meals and clean the house, yourself." Terry smiled. "That was a poor attempt at a joke. But it was his joke, not mine. Just so you know."

Maddie hugged her doll and bear and hid her face in their embrace.

"I'm going to take good care of you, Maddie. You'll see. I know I'm not an old hand at this like John, but I can learn. Just give me a chance, and I promise you-- I give you my word I'll do the best I can to not let you down."

One arm cradling her friends, Maddie crawled to Terry. He didn't want to scare her and held still as she leaned into his shoulder.

"I don't have anything to give you."


"I don't have any presents," she sniffed. "I don't have anything for you at all."

"Maddie," he lightly stroked her hair, hoping it wouldn't drive her away, "I don't need any presents. You said 'yes,' even before I gave you this, so I'm happy." He wanted to tell her that she was present enough, but he didn't know how that might sound to her.

She cast a small glance up at Terry. "I made up my mind before I even saw the roses."

"You did?"

"You went to all that trouble and spent all that money for nothing, Terry."

"I wouldn't say that." He inhaled the air around Maddie and nearly went dizzy with pleasure. "Maybe you could scoot back. I need to breathe." She obeyed, and hugged her doll and bear and leaned against the office wall while he gathered his senses.

"I'm sorry I don't have any presents for you, Terry."

"Now you can cut that out." He passed her the bag in case she wanted it to store her goodies. "This isn't a gift exchange. We are even. Okay?"

She didn't look satisfied.

"Maddie? I don't like the fact it's taking you so long to answer."

"Maybe I could get a job, make some money and buy you things."

"No, bad idea. Very bad." Terry ran both hands through his hair and groaned. The last thing he wanted was to discourage Maddie by seeing her go into the workforce. As if she could stand up to a job right now. She'd be crushed in a heartbeat.

From the intensity on her face just now, he knew she wasn't at all dissuaded.

"I'll tell you what." Terry got to his feet, headed for his desk and made a move out of pure desperation. "If you want a paying job, I have one. Vacuum the floors, dust the furniture once a week, help Izzy with the laundry, help her in the kitchen, help out around the house wherever possible, and I'll pay you..." he paused to do a quick tally. Too little, and it would be as if he didn't trust her; too much, and she could get into trouble, for after seeing her react so over-the-top to the little he'd given her in the past, it was clear she wasn't used to having money at all. "This job will net thirty dollars a week."

"Thirty dollars?" Maddie struggled to get up but couldn't with her doll and teddy bear. He was about to go help her up when she managed on her own. "You mean it, Terry? You really mean it?"

"I do." He pulled out his wallet. "To start things out, I'll advance you thirty now. But I'd like you to promise not to spend this all on me."

"But I thought you said this was mine." Maddie sounded disappointed. She came to his desk with her doll, teddy, candle, and the bath gift set and struggled with the bag at the same time. He had difficulty not letting her handle things the way she wanted, to let her do it, herself. "Is this like an allowance?"

"No, this is like a job. Do you want help with that?"

"I have it," she said, and slid the gift set into the bag so hard it nearly split the bag. "If this money is really mine, then I can spend it the way I want, can't I?"

"I suppose." Terry winced at the thought of what she might do with it, but then, who was he to talk? There was that porcelain doll, the teddy bear... man, if John found out, he would never hear the end of it. Especially after all those pink roses.

"Just try not to spend it all on me, okay?" he stuffed thirty dollars into her hand and put his wallet back. The way Terry looked at it, this was his way of helping Maddie learn to be responsible for money. She'd never had any, and this would be a small step in that direction.

"I'm going to show Izzy my doll," Maddie said, placing her bag by his desk for safekeeping, and starting for the office door. "Thank you, Terry."

"Thank you for marrying me, Maddie."

She stopped in her tracks, turned to look at him and he could see he'd gotten her attention-- maybe a little too much.

"I'm not marrying you because you'll give me stuff, Terry."

"I know."

"Or because I need a roof over my head, or someone who might feed me. You're not going to replace the Dragon. I'll run away from you before I let that happen. I mean it, Terry. I had no choice with him, but I have one with you. I won't be your punching bag, or your sex slave."

It half sounded like an accusation, and before Terry rose to his own defense, he forced himself to wait.

"I didn't say 'yes' because I'm selling out," she pressed on, "I said 'yes' because I love you and you deserved to hear it. That's all."

Terry wanted to remind her of her treatment goals, that aside from her thinking he deserved it, that she'd already admitted a lot, even to the point of wanting a baby. Instead, he nodded that he understood, and smiled when she hugged her doll and left the office.

With a groan, Terry sank into his desk chair. She'd nearly provoked him, and he realized he hadn't been on his guard. He'd seen her jaded side before, but not from such a close and personal vantage as this. Being married was going to have its challenges. It had taken time for Maddie to be the way she was, and it would take time for her to change.

She hadn't gotten this way overnight, and she wouldn't change overnight, either. Common sense only told him that.

God, help him.

As Terry left the office and prepared to join the others, he prayed. He prayed for a strong heart, a persevering heart, one that would beat strong and true for Maddie, no matter the hurts that came along for the ride. He was in over his head-- it was true-- but he had faith that God was stronger, that God was wiser than even their most difficult problem.

The bittersweet ache in Terry's heart gave way as he came into the living room and found Maddie on the couch beside her roses, showing Izzy her new doll.

When Maddie saw him, she sent him a smile that warmed Terry all the way to his heart. She loved him, and they were getting married.

Even in sadness, Terry could find joy.

"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."
~ Psalm 27:14 ~

end of chapter