Terry's Journey: Chapter 28

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Chapter Twenty-eight
To Be Loved

"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold."
~ Proverbs 22:1 ~

The doll sat on Madison's lap like a tiny princess surveying her new domain. Her pink gown had tiny bunches of red roses, strings of fine white pearls, and had delicate lace in so much abundance it gave her a very soft feel. And when you lifted her petticoats, Madison found real leather shoes.

Everyone in the living room noticed Madison's doll, even Dick, who exchanged glances with John.

"What are you going to name her?" Izzy asked.

Madison looked up in time to see Terry come into the room, and she sent him a smile. "I'm going to name her Terry."

"Girls spell Terri with an I, you know."

"Come on, Mom," Abby came to the couch with a laugh, "what difference does it make to the doll? The fact Madison is naming it after Uncle Terry, is compliment enough."

"Isn't she nice, Abby?" Madison held out the doll, and Abby nodded and smiled.

"That's a lot of lace."

Izzy rolled her eyes, Madison giggled and Abby laughed at her own remark.

She was so lovely, Madison ran her hand over the gown and played with the large frilly hat perched on Terri's blonde curls. John and Dick exchanged another look, but they said nothing and Terry seemed relieved when John changed the subject.

"I tell you, everyone's going to show up in our living room, if Izumi keeps calling people."

"I only called Agatha." Izzy stopped and made a face as Agatha laughed. "And Emily."

"And the Doyles," John nodded to Dick and Sara.

"Actually, Jake was the one who called us."

"And I might have called our pastor," Izzy added with a sheepish smile. "Well, it isn't everyday Terry get's married."

"He's not getting married today, Izumi."

"I know, but I couldn't help it."

"Oh!" Ruthie came from across the room, climbed onto the couch, squeezed between her mom and Madison and got as close as she could to the Terri doll. "Where'd you find her?"

"Terry gave her to me. Isn't she wonderful? Look--" Madison laid the doll on her back-- "her eyes close."

"Can I hold her?"

"I-- I guess so." Madison lifted her precious Terri, but Izzy shook her head.

"She's made of porcelain. You could break her too easily."

"But I'll be careful."

"It's okay, Izzy. She can hold her." Madison waited for Izzy's nod, then laid the doll in Ruthie's lap. "Please hold her gentle so she won't break."

"I'll be gentle." Ruthie stroked the lacy gown, lifted the shawl on the back of Terri's dress, and started to play with something.

Madison began to grow uneasy. The other two girls came to the couch and leaned in to get a closer look at the new doll.

Everyone in the room seemed to watch them, but Madison sensed they were watching her, more than the girls. She wondered what they were thinking, seeing her with the doll, the roses, the triplets cooing over the doll and Terry standing over them with that smile that said so much.

Giving Terry a shoulder bump, Dick joked in a light whisper. "You're going to spoil her-- but then, every woman needs a little extra attention now and again."

Out of the corner of her eye, Madison saw Terry shake his head. "It's hard to spoil Maddie. She has so little to begin with, and still needs so much, it's hard to overdo anything. Especially, love."

It was Lizzie's turn to hold Terri, and the girl stroked the dress like her sister.

"When I get married, I want to have a doll, too," Lizzie told Madison in a very grown up voice.

Pushing up to the couch, Ricky got a close up view of Terri. He scowled, and went back to his daddy as if to say, "Is that what all the excitement is about?"

"My turn, I go next." Debbie rubbed her hands on her clothes to make them clean, and the precious doll was delivered to the last triplet.

"Look what's on the back." Ruthie turned the doll over in Debbie's arms, then the girls' heads blocked out all view as they did something.

Fighting back panic, Madison looked to Izzy for help.

Izzy tapped Ruthie's head.

"What are you doing?"

"There's something under here."

"Leave it alone."

"But--"

"Leave it alone. Give her back to Madison."

An unexpected strain of music stopped the men's conversation.

"Where's that music coming from?" John asked.

"I don't know. I think it's coming from the doll." Izzy parted the girls, picked up Terri and turned her over. "It's playing music." Izzy looked the doll over, then smiled at Madison. "It's a music box doll. Look-- there's a small winding key hiding under the shawl."

"There is?" Terry came forward, took the doll from Izzy and gave the key another turn. "I didn't know it played music. They did a good job of padding the box with all that material, because I hadn't noticed it earlier." Terry looked it over, as if to figure out what else it did. "Is it playing what I think it is?" The doorbell sounded, and Terry passed the doll to Madison.

"I wonder who that could be," John smiled, as Terry went to answer the door.

Madison hugged her Terri doll, the one who was now playing music. "What's that song?" Madison asked as Izzy got up from the couch.

"Don't you know?"

Madison shook her head.

"That's 'Jesus Loves Me,'" Izzy smiled. A man's voice sounded at the front door, and Izzy didn't look at all surprised. "And that's our pastor and probably his wife. If you don't feel like talking, Agatha and I will keep the conversation going. You don't have to worry."

The other two triplets climbed onto the couch, and Ruthie smiled at Madison.

"But that doesn't sound like what I thought it would," Madison sighed as Izzy went to greet their guests. "Isn't it supposed to go--" and Madison hummed it the way she thought she remembered the lullaby.

Ruthie shook her head. "That's 'Rock-a-bye Baby', not 'Jesus Loves Me.'"

"Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes." Ruthie looked quite sure of herself, and Madison was left to take the word of a four-year-old.

Whatever this new melody was, Madison decided that since it was Terry's doll, she was very happy that it was playing his song.

The house quickly became crowded after the pastor and his wife came, and the Doyles left soon after. Since Madison didn't know the new people anywhere near as well as she knew the Doyles, she spent the next hour hiding next to the roses, hugging her Terri doll, and thanking God that when dinner came, everyone would have to go home.

And they did go home. Even though Izzy invited them to stay, they left when Agatha did, and the house breathed a collective sigh of rest.

Eager to start earning her pay, Madison went into the kitchen to help Izzy with dinner and left her Terri doll on the couch beside the real Terry-- a fact he didn't seem to appreciate, until she smiled "thank you" and that lopsided grin of his filled his face.

It made Madison all warm inside, like someone had turned the heat on too high in the house. Love could do nice things to you.

"Before we wash the vegetables," Izzy said as Madison came to the kitchen sink, "it's probably best if you get in the habit of taking off your ring. Always, always put it in the same place, so you'll never forget where it is. When I remember to take them off, I keep mine here, see?" Izzy took off her rings and placed them in a small ceramic box on the counter.

Nodding, Madison took off her ring. Or she tried to. She tried to very hard.

"Here, let me." Izzy sniffed, as though this were nothing at all, took Madison's hand in her own small one, and gave a tug.

Nothing happened.

Izzy tried again, but the ring would not move.

"Is it hurting you?" Izzy asked, and Madison nodded.

It hadn't been hurting, but the tugging was beginning to change that. Izzy tugged, and Madison tugged, and the thing simply refused to come off. Madison was beginning to wonder if she'd have to wear this ring for the rest of her life.

"John?" A trace of panic had crept into Izzy's voice. "Would you come here? We have a small problem."

A very small, very pretty problem that was beginning to make Madison's finger swell. Madison hoped Izzy didn't mind if she never got the ring back.

"What is it?" John came into the kitchen looking as though he were about to ask what was for dinner.

"The ring."

"What about it?" John asked.

"It won't come off."

John frowned. " Would this be the same ring Terry gave Madison?"

"Yes," Izzy held up Madison's hand, "it won't come off."

"Then I'll get some wire cutters, and we'll clip it off."

Madison nearly fainted.

"I meant the ring-- we'll cut off the ring."

"But you could hurt Madison."

"Not if we're careful."

"Careful about what?" Terry came into the kitchen, and like John, looked as though he were about to ask what was for dinner. "What's going on?"

"Oh, Terry." Madison held up her hand as she fought back the tears. "I can't get it off."

"Okay." He looked too composed, as though he were trying to find a way to talk her back into something. "Maybe we could wait a little longer. We were going to talk to Carol tomorrow, anyway--"

"I can't get the ring off!"

"I know, but you'll get used to it over time."

"Terry," Izzy shook her head, "the ring's too small. I thought maybe it wasn't, but it is. We've been trying to get it off, and now her finger is swelling."

"Butter." John went to the fridge and pulled out a tub of margarine. "We're going to get it off, Madison, don't worry. Your knuckle doesn't look very big."

"I'm sorry, Terry."

"The ring is stuck?" Terry came over to Madison, saw the ring for himself as John took her hand and started to rub cold margarine all over her finger. "Don't panic, Maddie. After the day you've had, this is nothing."

It sure didn't feel like nothing. She leaned against Terry as John worked the cold slippery butter around the ring, then Izzy tried to rotate the ring, and it hurt. Madison tried not to whimper, but it hurt.

"Maybe God doesn't want us to get married."

"Don't say that." Terry peered down into Madison's face. "Don't even think that."

"But maybe it's true."

"And maybe the ring was too small and your finger swelled." Terry touched her arm. "Just take it easy. We'll have this ring off, and then you'll forget all about it."

"What's all the commotion about?" Abby came into the room, moved around Terry and Madison, saw John and Izzy working on Madison's hand, and Abby's eyes grew wide. "Have you tried ice? Isn't ice supposed to make swelling go down? Jake, get in here!"

"What?" Jake strode into the room and stopped when he saw the swollen finger. "Oh, man."

"It's never coming off, is it?"

"Easy, Maddie." Terry rubbed her arm. "We're going to handle it-- sorry, no pun intended."

"If you don't mind the damage, you could cut it off," Jake suggested, and Madison's knees gave way. "I meant the ring," Jake quickly added, and Terry had to help Madison to a chair.

"I think she knew that." Terry rubbed Madison's other hand. "You knew that, right? Jake meant the ring."

Madison nodded, and John pulled out another chair to look over the hand.

"The swelling is getting worse. I say we get out some cutters, then take the ring to a jewelers to get it repaired."

"Never mind the jewelers, just get it off her poor finger." Izzy sighed. "If cutters are the quickest way, then do it, but are you sure it won't hurt Madison?"

"Not if we're careful," Terry answered, and Madison again felt woozy. "Hey," Terry rubbed her good hand, "it's okay. It'll be over before you know it."

When would that be? exactly?

John went to get the cutters, and Abby scooted the curious children out of the kitchen. Madison only wished she could be one of them, and come back when it was over.

Still holding her hand, Terry took a seat at the table next to Madison.

"What if--"

"Don't."

"But, Terry--"

"It's not a sign. This isn't even your ring, Maddie."

She looked at him, and he smiled.

"It's Izzy's ring, remember? It's only a stand-in until I can get you the real deal. Which, after this, had better be pretty soon. I don't want you going around ringless. Some guy's going to think you're available, then I'll have to win you back from him."

"Oh, no, Terry. No one could ever take me from you."

He grinned, and squeezed her good hand. "That's more like it. Sit tight, and we'll get that ring off you."

"But what if God doesn't want us to get married?"

Terry shook his head. "I thought I just told you, this isn't your ring? The only thing it's a sign of, is that it's too small and that it's Izzy's."

"But--"

"God wants this, I want it, and so do you, so please sit still before my heart sinks any lower and your finger swells any bigger."

Madison swiped at the tear slipping down her cheek. "It hurts."

Bending over, Izzy gave her a hug. "I'm sorry my fingers are so small. Terry, I think you and Madison should go shopping for an engagement ring, and I think you should do it, tomorrow."

"I've never bought a ring before."

"There's a first time for everything."

"Maybe you could come with us?" Terry asked, then looked to Madison.

Madison had no idea what to say or think, only that the ring on her finger was too small.

"Do I get to come, too?" John asked, as he came in with what Madison supposed were the wire cutters. John made a test cut, and Madison closed her eyes.

She did not want to see.

"Dad, are you sure about this?" Abby asked.

"All this confidence is inspiring, but yes, I'm sure..." John's voice trailed off, then a clip sounded.

Madison opened her eyes.

"It's off." John held up a ring bent open, and handed it to Izzy. "We'll get it repaired, Little Dove, good as new."

"At least it's off," Izzy nodded, and set it aside to look over Madison's swollen finger. "This doesn't look as bad with the ring gone. I'll get an ice cube and a paper towel to help bring the swelling down. Then I'll start dinner while you take it easy."

"No, I have to help." Madison pushed to her feet, the meaning of the stuck ring not at all forgotten, but for the time being, set aside. "I have to help you, and earn my salary."

"Your what?"

"Terry gave me a job." Madison smiled as she rubbed her sore finger, looked over to the table, and noticed Terry seemed a bit sheepish.

"We can pay her for helping out in the kitchen," John said. "It's only right."

"No, you don't understand--" Terry started to say something more, but in her joy, Madison cut him off.

"He's paying me thirty dollars a week." Madison took the money from her jeans pocket to show John. "See?"

John looked to Terry. "We can afford more than that."

"No, you really don't understand." Terry got up, took John by the arm and led him from the kitchen while Izzy and Abby exchanged glances.

"Isn't thirty dollars good?" Madison asked.

"I wish I had that much money to spend on just Ricky every week," Abby smiled, and went to put the butter away. "Mom, do you really think a jeweler can fix your ring?"

"Yes, I do. In fact," Izzy smiled at Madison, "when we go shopping for Madison's engagement ring, I think that'll be the perfect time to have it repaired. Madison, would you please get the lettuce from the fridge, and I'll get your ice?"

Happy to start earning her thirty dollars a week, Madison got to work while Abby took a lesson from her mom on how to cook. Jake sat at the table and kept them company, and though Madison didn't feel outright happy, she did feel hope.

It felt hopeful to be doing something that was valuable, something that meant you were a little more closer to being like everyone else.

To being normal.

* * * *

"I still say we should be the ones paying her." John's voice echoed in the garage as he put away the cutters. "We all benefit from a clean house, and I'll point out Jake had a decent paycheck when he was our housekeeper and Izumi had to have bed rest while carrying the triplets."

"I appreciate the thought, but Maddie can't do what Jake did." Terry moved aside as John lifted the tool chest back onto its shelf. "She'll be learning a lot from Izzy, and--"

"Okay, I get your point." John backed off. "You don't have to convince me. Madison is going to be your wife, not mine. I just don't like thinking we're taking advantage of her."

"You're not."

"Then I'll take your word for it." John sighed, and switched off the garage light as they left the building. "No offense, Terry, but she's like a--"

"A puppy?" Terry offered.

"Yeah, kind of. A stray puppy who's not used to kind words, and expects the heel of your foot every other minute." John paused at the back kitchen door and looked at Terry, his gray eyes almost black in the gathering dark. "It'd be so easy for her to get hurt, or for her to be misunderstood, or for one of us to do something that might hurt her." John shook his head. "I'm not saying this the way I want. What I mean is, I'm trying to be careful. So is Izumi, and Abby, and Jake goes without saying."

"Thanks, I appreciate that."

"Whatever you decide is best for Madison, is what we'll do. You'll have our support."

"That's putting a lot of confidence in me."

"That's putting a lot of confidence in God," John smiled. "He's the one Who picked you for Madison. That said, I want you to know you have some help, whenever you want. All you have to do is ask."

"Thanks."

"I mean it."

"I know."

"Whatever you need, I'm willing to help."

"I appreciate it."

"Even on stuff that seems out of my league-- I'd do it if you needed me to."

"Okay..." Terry paused.

"All you have to do is ask." John looked at him intently and Terry had no idea what to think. "My time is yours, Terry."

"Thanks."

Here they were, standing on the back step in below freezing temperatures, in driving wind, without their coats, and John was speaking in riddles.

"I don't claim to be an expert, but I could do some research, tonight. Maybe give you an idea of what to look for. After I finish that code you left me to do--" John emphasized the last few words and Terry winced, "my time is yours. I figure I can have the code done before dinner."

"I'm really sorry about that."

"I'm not looking for an apology."

"Then what are you looking for?"

"An invitation."

"To what? The operation when my doctor has to amputate what's left of my frostbitten toes? Could we go inside?"

John leveled Terry a look. "May I come with you tomorrow, or not?"

Blowing out a sigh, Terry grabbed the door handle around John. "Of course you can come. You didn't have to go on a fishing expedition, just for an invite. You could've showed up without one, and it would've been fine with me."

"I didn't want to intrude." John followed Terry into the mercifully warm kitchen.

Teeth chattering, Terry shut the door, went to the stove where Madison stirred a sauce pan over a burner. "John's coming with us, tomorrow. Any objections?"

Maddie shook her head.

"See?" Terry turned, flashed John a grin as John went to stand beside Izzy next to the sink. "Maddie doesn't mind."

Shivering, John sidled closer to Izzy. "I wasn't on a fishing expedition."

Terry reeled in air and John had to laugh.

"The offer to help wasn't an expedition-- I meant every word."

Abby gave a curious look to Jake, and Jake only smiled.

"You need help, Terry--" John moved so close to Izzy, she began to shiver-- "all you have to do is ask."

"Thanks," Terry nodded, and moved closer to the stove, "I'll keep it in mind."

"You two are crazy." Izzy looked up at John and sighed. "You should have worn your coats. Even the girls know better than that, and they're only four." Izzy didn't object though, when John wrapped his arms around her and hugged her from behind while she worked.

Terry couldn't help watching, even though Maddie kept her distance from John and Izzy. Maddie kept stirring, kept adding things to her pot until Izzy told her to do something else. Just standing next to Maddie made Terry warm all over, and he tried to catch her eye, to get her to smile, but she kept turning away from him, and kept turning away from John and Izzy as John hugged, and Izzy worked.

The stuck ring annoyed Terry.

Did Maddie really think God didn't want them to get married? Just because a borrowed ring got stuck on her finger? Frustration nipped at him and he pushed away from the stove to go find his laptop and work at that code John had been slogging his way through.

He wanted to work, to get his brain moving so it couldn't dwell too long on Maddie. He'd had a long day, and so had she, and they needed to rest. They just needed to give it a rest and get used to the idea awhile.

She needed to calm down, that's all.

Not wanting to work in the confines of the office, Terry took his laptop into the living room where the kids were scattered all around. Sitting on the couch, Terry didn't mind their noise, or the way Ricky bumped against his side as he ran his truck on the back of the couch. Terry usually needed quiet to concentrate, but tonight, he welcomed the familiar chaos. He hugged it around him until the ache in his heart began to ease away.

"Uncle Terry?" Ricky waited until Terry looked up from his work. "Is Madison going to be my aunt?"

"That's the general idea," Terry smiled.

"But the triplets are my aunts."

"Yes, they are."

Ricky looked more than a little confused.

"Maddie will be like an honorary aunt."

"What's honorary?"

"It means special."

A deeply thoughtful look crossed Ricky's face. "Are you special, too?"

"Well, I--" Terry didn't want to lie and say he was a blood uncle. Still... "I guess you could say I'm special."

"Then she'll fit with you."

"That's certainly what I'm hoping."

Since Terry worked in the living room, John worked there as well, until the call to dinner came and the computers were put away in favor of food. Terry's heart felt lighter, more buoyant after being with the children; then he saw Maddie at the kitchen table, her head bowed, her hand rubbing her sore finger, and his heart dipped.

No one spoke about rings or weddings, or anything related to Terry and Maddie over dinner. In fact, Terry noticed Izzy made a concerted effort to make things as normal as possible-- not an easy feat, considering the events of the day.

Maddie kept quiet and ate very little, Terry said more but ate even less, and John left the table before everyone else to go work on their client's code. Since John had said he wanted to fit in some research about engagement rings before bedtime, he needed to really hustle and get that code finished.

No, for all of Izzy's efforts, the evening felt anything but normal.

When Terry admitted that he couldn't finish his dinner, he went to the office and buried himself in work. As he sat at his laptop steeped in lines of code, Maddie ducked into the bathroom.

She came out a few minutes later in her PJs and robe, and moved to Terry's desk to get her bag of goodies.

"Good night, Maddie."

She looked up at Terry, her bottom lip pinched between her teeth. He knew she was thinking something over.

"Maybe God doesn't want--"

"Good night, Maddie."

"Good night," she mumbled, and left the office with her bag.

From John's desk, Terry heard the tap tap of John's keyboard come to a stop. Terry looked at John, and John looked at Terry.

"If we stay up late, I think we can have this code knocked off before morning."

Terry couldn't help groaning. "What happened to 'I can have it done before dinner'?"

"So I was mistaken. It won't be the first time."

With a chuckle, Terry went back to work and was grateful when John didn't ask what Maddie had meant about God not wanting something. Terry was too tired to think very hard about anything other than the task at hand. One thing at a time, he kept telling himself.

He needed to get this coding done so John could come with them tomorrow morning, to hunt for a ring. With Maddie acting the way she was right now, Terry could wish their appointment with Carol wasn't for the evening.

* * * *

Maybe she should have left the bag in the office. Somehow, it didn't seem right to take these things when maybe everything was wrong. She was so tired she couldn't think, and when she tried to, all that came out was tangled up doubt and the need to curl up and disappear.

Wow, this bag was heavy.

She hauled it around Izzy's bed, and boosted it onto the couch.

"What's that?" Izzy turned off the lamp. "Is that from Terry?"

"Uh-huh." Madison opened the bag and took out her teddy bear, gave it a hug and tucked it under the blankets beside her doll. She put the bag on the floor, looked at Izzy and saw her smiling.

"He's falling for you hard, I hope you know that." Izzy waited a moment, as if to make sure Madison understood, and Madison nodded. Izzy sighed, and coaxed Madison out of her robe.

The covers felt cold and yet snugly warm, and Madison slid under them to cuddle with her doll and teddy bear.

"Leave it to Terry to think of something like this." Izzy tucked the blanket around the two new additions, then around Madison. "If he gets you anymore of these, we're going to have to buy another couch. I hope there aren't anymore in the bag?"

"No, just candles and stuff."

"Oh, Terry." Izzy hugged Madison, took her hands in hers and said a quiet prayer. "Please, God, no bad dreams, tonight. Not after the wonderful day you've given them." Izzy finished the prayer, then wound the back of the doll and "Jesus Loves Me" began to play in a soft music box tune.

This time, instead of delighting Madison, it made her think of the stuck ring.

It was Terry's doll, playing Terry's song, and it nearly squeezed the breath from Madison's lungs. Hugging her doll and teddy, she wondered again if the ring had gotten stuck on her finger for a reason. As Izzy went to bed, Madison stared up at the ceiling where the night-light shone dimly. The more she thought about it, the more something formed in her mind.

After having spent nearly all her life with the Dragon, (which to her count, added up to about twenty-six years), she decided that the reason why being ugly, felt ugly, was because it WAS ugly. And maybe, just maybe, the reason the ring had gotten stuck on her finger, was because God was trying to tell her something.

Maybe God didn't want her to be ugly again. Not even for Terry.

* * * *

By the time John and Terry knocked off for the night, their brains were running on the pitiful fumes of what was left of a very draining day. They fell into bed on either side of Ricky, didn't bother to change into pajamas, and pulled the heavy blanket over their tired bodies without commenting on the time. What had started out an innocent favor for an old client had turned into something more complicated, and without Terry, John would have been working on that favor for the next two days. At least.

Rolling onto his face, Terry fell asleep without even trying.

The taste of cloth and something else made the gears of his mind start to work. Detergent? Terry's tongue moved and he realized he was tasting the pillowcase.

"What time is it?" Terry pushed onto his side, looked over his shoulder and saw the back of John's head. "Hey." Terry reached over the blanket, nudged the head. "Wake up."

"Why? Go back to sleep."

The man had a point. Terry yawned, scratched his sweater and saw the light coming in around the curtains. It was day, all right. Hard to deny the fact when it was staring him in the face, but how to face getting out of bed when every cell in his brain pleaded to stay where he was?

Then he remembered her, and nudged his buddy.

"We have to find a ring."

"Oh, yeah." John rolled onto his back, looked at the bed between them and frowned. "Where's Ricky?"

"I hate to break it to you--" Terry nodded to the clock-- "but it's nearly eight."

"Oh, man." John pushed himself up and looked about as unshaven and grungy as Terry felt. "Why didn't you wake me sooner?"

Grabbing his pillow, Terry hurled it at John. John ducked, laughed, and got out of bed as someone knocked on the bedroom door. Terry climbed out of bed in his rumpled slacks and sweater, and called for the person to come in at the same time John did.

The door opened and Izzy stepped inside. "Good, you're awake."

With a stretching yawn, John smiled. Then John straightened, looked at Izzy and then Terry noticed, too. Something was wrong.

"Did you finish your work?" Izzy asked.

"Never mind that-- what's going on?"

"Before you get alarmed, Terry, I've got Abby in the living room watching Madison." Izzy closed the door behind her, and Terry became alarmed.

He started for the door, but Izzy stopped him.

"She's had a hard night, but she didn't hurt herself. I made sure of it. Terry, please, just sit down a moment and calm down. I told you-- Abby's watching her, so sit down and give me a chance to tell you what happened before I start to cry."

Sober, Terry obeyed.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" John asked, and Izzy shook her head.

"It's not important."

"Yes, it is." John went to Izzy and held her. "What's going on? What happened with Madison?"

"To be honest, I don't know." Izzy looked to Terry. "I tucked her in last night, went to bed, and about a half hour later, I woke up to the sound of her crying."

"Crying?" Terry stood, but Izzy gave him a look and he forced himself to sit. "Why didn't you come get me?"

"Because you and John were already busy, and at first I wasn't sure if they were tears of joy or something else. I heard you two talking while John was getting the wire cutters last evening, and I thought maybe this had something to do with that. So I coaxed and comforted, but she just could not talk to me. I asked if she was all right, and she nodded that she was. I really, really wanted to believe her."

"What happened?" Terry could barely hold still.

"I went back to bed, but felt uneasy about going to sleep. She was so restless, like she couldn't get comfortable. Then she started to cry again. This time, she was so quiet, I wouldn't have heard her if I hadn't been awake. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid of making things worse for her if I did. She'd waited until I was asleep, and I didn't have the heart to let her know I was still awake."

Izzy covered her mouth, shook her head and looked at Terry. "I stayed awake all night. I hated mistrusting her-- it felt incredibly disloyal, but I had this feeling that if I went to sleep, she might hurt herself. If she did, I wouldn't be there to stop her, and when I heard you and John go to bed as late as you did, I knew you'd need your rest to deal with this later. It seemed best to let you get your sleep." Izzy looked helpless. "I've been praying all night, and through the morning. I didn't know what else to do."

Fighting to gain his thoughts, Terry nodded. "Is she in the living room?"

"Yes." Izzy leaned into John. "She's dressed and I made sure she's had her breakfast. Now that you and John are up, I can get dressed, too."

"You're going straight to bed," John whispered.

"Thanks, Izzy, you did good." Terry planted a kiss on Izzy's cheek, opened the bedroom door and pushed into the hall. He passed the triplets' room, saw Jake standing in the doorway as the girls and Ricky played a game on their Mac.

"Abby's with her," Jake said as Terry passed, and Terry nodded his thanks.

Terry ducked into the office for something, then headed into the living room with a silent prayer on his lips.

On the end of the couch near the roses, he found Maddie curled up with her back to the TV. Abby sat next to her.

When Abby saw him, she mouthed the words, "Should I stay?"

Terry shook his head.

"Thanks," Terry told Abby, and he noticed Maddie's head turn a little at the sound of his voice. He waited a moment for Abby to leave the room, took a deep breath, then went to take Abby's seat next to Maddie.

Tucking her long legs closer to her body, Maddie said nothing and Terry didn't try to invade her personal space. He let silence speak for him, then sighed, and saw Maddie peek at him from around her teddy bear.

"I had no idea you'd like that teddy bear and doll so much," he smiled, "or I would've gotten them, sooner."

She remained silent.

"Izzy tells me you had another hard night." Terry folded his arms. "You want to tell me about it?"

She didn't move.

"Maybe you'd like to talk it over with Carol?" He reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone and handed it to her. "I've programmed her number into your phone, but you can use mine. Here, take it."

Maddie's eyes locked on his.

"Come on, help me out." He nudged her arm. "I'm not going anywhere, so you might as well talk to me, or call Carol, or tell me to get lost. Something. Something besides sit there and stare at me and drive me crazy."

Silence.

"Maddie, say something. Please. Tell me what you want, and I'll get it."

"A knife."

"No. Anything but that." Terry gripped the phone. "Come on, Maddie, you've got to fight this." He paused, looked at her. "The movies-- are you fighting those movies in your head, again?"

She shook her head, "no."

"Is it because you need--" he sighed, and again, she shook her head. "Okay, this isn't physical, but I don't understand. I'm trying to, but I don't understand." He saw her fingernails scrape her arm, saw the red streaks and realized Izzy hadn't been able to keep Maddie from completely harming herself, after all.

He gently reached over, took Maddie's hand, and after a moment of resistance, slipped a rubber band over her wrist.

She glared at him, he ignored it, snapped the band and heard her gasp.

"That has to be better than scratching yourself silly."

"I am not silly."

"I wasn't trying to say you were." He took a deep breath, paused a moment and braced himself. "Does this have anything to do with the ring getting stuck?" He shook his head when he saw her hide behind the bear. "Maddie, I told you-- that wasn't even your ring. How many times do I have to tell you that before you'll believe me?"

She turned away, buried her face even deeper into the doll and teddy and by the heave of her shoulders, Terry knew she was crying.

"I'm sorry." He touched her shoulder, but she shrugged it off. "Maddie, I'm sorry." He sighed, leaned his head on the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling for a long, long moment. "Do you want to talk to our pastor?" He turned, saw her shake her head "no" into the teddy bear.

Mentally, Terry called himself every name he could think of without treading into curse word territory. He'd made her cry. How low could he go?

"If you had another ring," he tried to push on, "one that fit you perfectly, would you believe me when I say God wants us to be together?"

She turned a little, and he wondered how she managed to cry without making hardly a sound. Her eyes, though reddened from a sleepless night of tears, were as beautiful as ever.

"No, Terry."

Beautiful even when she was turning him down.

"Why not?"

"Because it's ugly, and feeling ugly like that isn't good. God doesn't like it."

"What's ugly? The ring?"

"No. Sex."

"Okay, give me a moment to catch up." Terry sighed, ran a hand over his grungy hair and tried not to panic. At least she was talking. That had to be good. "Sex is a part of life, Maddie. Without it, there wouldn't be any new people in the world."

"But God doesn't like it. He doesn't want me to be ugly anymore."

"I'm sorry, Maddie, but that doesn't make any sense. If He didn't want you to find me, He wouldn't have sent you to Three Mile Bay."

"But when I do it, it feels ugly."

"That was with the Dragon. I'm not him." Terry fought hard against frustration. "At least give me a chance to prove we can be different before you give up."

"But how can something so ugly, be different? Even with you?"

A flood of thoughts overwhelmed Terry to the point of needing to stop. He put his head in his hands and prayed for wisdom and patience. On the surface, this seemed so simple, and yet, he hadn't been the one chained to a bed for all those years.

"Maddie, I love you." He turned on his phone. "Do you believe that? do you believe me?"

She spoke in such a low whisper, Terry almost missed it.

"Yes."

"Do you believe God sent you here, to me, so we could find each other?"

There was a pause-- a longer one than Terry liked-- but she finally sighed, and nodded, "yes." The rubber band around her wrist started snapping, and Terry had to squeeze his eyes shut and force himself to calm down.

He thanked God, and Izzy, for letting him have that morning's sleep. Without it, he would've been toast.

Toast. He was hungry.

The rubber band kept going, and he claimed her hand to stop the pain.

"There's a verse in Genesis, let me find it--" Terry scrolled through his notes-- "'Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.' Hear that? What you had with the Dragon was ugly-- I'm not trying to tell you it wasn't. But what we want, what this verse is talking about is something else, entirely. And that, Maddie, isn't ugly."

He saw her finger the rubber band around her wrist, but she didn't pluck. Maybe because he was holding her hand, or maybe because she was calming down, little by little.

"It'll feel ugly."

"Maybe so, but only because the Dragon took something that wasn't his, and made it that way. Give us a chance to make it work before you give up, Maddie. That's all I'm asking."

"I don't have a ring," she whispered.

"I know." He sucked in a deep breath and held it until his heart thumped to a steadier rhythm. "We'll fix that. We'll do that, today."

"If I don't have a ring, does it mean we're not engaged, anymore?"

"What do you think?" Terry looked at her until her cheeks turned bright pink. "You're as engaged as a woman can get, and still be single. There's no getting out of it now, Maddie."

"There isn't?" She looked a bit frightened, and he had to backtrack.

"I was being figurative, not literal. We aren't married yet." He looked down at their clasped hands and prayed. How he wanted this to work. Maddie needed a home where she could feel safe, and be loved, and he dearly wished it could be with him. Even if it meant never holding her, Terry knew in his heart he would still marry her.

With a sigh, Maddie scooted over, and leaned her head against his shoulder.

He let out a deep, contended breath.

"You think God wants me to be with you?"

"After we're married. At least to try."

"And if I can't?"

Terry squeezed her hand. "I'll still love you."

Even though his stomach urged him to go look for breakfast, he scrolled through the notes on his phone. With her head tucked against his shoulder, he began to read to her. Just a few verses, some things he'd written down, but sitting there on the couch, holding hands and feeling her head against his shoulder, made Terry the happiest guy on earth. A simple pleasure that had him wondering if John went through life feeling this way.

Oh, it felt good.

When Terry peeked down into Maddie's face, she seemed more at peace than he'd seen her in the last forty-eight hours. She was lovely, she was quiet.

She was asleep.

Terry turned off his phone, smiled when he saw Izzy come into the living room with John, Abby, and Jake.

"Is she all right?" Izzy whispered, and Terry gave a very careful nod, one that wouldn't jar Maddie. "Sleeping?" Izzy mouthed, and Terry smiled, and looked down at the face cuddled against his shoulder.

He looked back to Izzy and saw Izzy's great relief.

Poor Izzy. She'd done the best she could, and Terry wanted to go over and give her a great big hug. Thankfully, John did it for him.

Even though Izzy was dressed for the day, John pulled on Izzy's arm in a quiet coax to get her to go to bed, but Izzy shook her head, and went into the kitchen.

Smiling, Abby gave Terry a thumbs-up before Jake and Abby went back into the hall.

With a sigh, John sank into the recliner and watched the nearly muted television. They sat that way for awhile, until a loud ringtone came from John's pocket.

Maddie stirred. She looked up at Terry, and Terry smiled.

Head bowed, Maddie moved to the other side of the couch and Terry called into the kitchen,

"She's awake, Izzy."

"I'm getting your breakfast," Izzy called back.

"Mine too?" John called as he tugged the cell phone from his pocket.

"No, I was thinking of letting you fend for yourself."

John grinned, and answered his phone.

Snuggling next to the roses with her doll and teddy, Maddie went back to sleep. The TV kept going, John talked with a fishing buddy on the phone, and Terry didn't bother to quiet the house.

He knew Maddie wouldn't be asleep for long. After breakfast, Terry had plans and they included her.

* * * *

Someone tugged her hand, she struggled against the touch of it until the sound of, "Maddie, it's me," cut through the panic and she opened her eyes and saw Terry.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

She blinked, and tried to figure out why he looked different than the last time she'd seen him. His hair was combed, his face was shaved, and he wore a coat like someone who'd either just come home, or was about to leave.

Madison's heart choked in her throat at the thought of being left home without him.

"I know you're probably tired, but this can't wait." Terry went over to the recliner, picked up her coat and brought it to her. "Come on, get up. Daylight's burning."

"Is she awake?" Izzy came into the living room in slacks and a warm top, her hair pinned back in a way that made her look very elegant. Izzy shook her head. "Are you sure about this, Terry?"

"Sure about what?" Madison asked, letting her Terri doll and teddy bear sit without her while she got up and steadied herself against the armrest of the couch.

"Look at her--" Izzy sighed-- "she'll be fighting to stay awake the rest of the day."

"So will you, and you got even less sleep than she did." Terry held open the coat. "Come on, Maddie."

"Maybe we should postpone this for another day. This isn't an emergency."

"Oh, yes, it is." Terry jiggled the coat. "Maddie, would you get into this thing, before it walks away without you?"

"This isn't an emergency," Izzy said, as John came into the living room with Izzy's coat and purse. "We don't have to rush things."

"The house might not be on fire, but it's close enough. Maddie, would you please put on the coat?"

"I have to use the bathroom."

"Then why didn't you say so?"

Madison lifted one shoulder, shyly waited until Terry gestured for her to get going.

"Don't take all day."

With a wild gulp, she moved as fast as her aching hip could carry her, limp-ran into the hall and almost bumped into Jake.

"Getting the ring, today?" Jake asked, and she nodded as she ducked into the office.

She was still a bit dazed by the lack of sleep and all the hurry to keep up with Terry. Madison was a mess of tangled thoughts and even messier emotions, especially after last night's confusion, but somehow, the world had righted itself.

How had Terry managed to make sense of it all? She still didn't know how, only that he had. It made her want to curl up and die. In a purely good sense. Pure joy-- sheer joy-- what did normal people call it when joy overpowered them like this? Or maybe only insane people were ever this happy, because everyone else knew better, and knew enough to not be so happy.

Maybe crawling out of a hole and seeing the sunshine for the first time had its upside.

Then again, maybe joy like this only led to craziness, because none of it made any sense. Did it? Or maybe she was having a lucid moment and should be paying attention and taking notes.

Did normal people have thoughts like this, or maybe she was normal and just didn't know it? Her head hurt, it hurt to think, and nothing made much sense, only that Terry wasn't leaving without her and she was happy, even though she desperately wanted to sleep.

Leaving the bathroom, Madison thanked God for Terry. Sometimes, she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs and give up trying. Not that she wanted to die, but that trying to figure out things took so much energy. Especially when she was so very tired.

She moved into the hall and saw Abby coming out of Terry's old room with Ricky.

"Go easy on yourself," Abby said as Madison passed, and Madison didn't even stop to wonder what Abby had meant.

Hurrying as fast as she could into the living room, Madison heard Izzy tell John that Abby and Jake would be watching the kids while they were gone for the day. A jolt of alarm went through Madison. They were leaving for the day?

"Have fun storming the castle," Abby smiled as she came into the room with Ricky. "Make sure you pick out a nice ring, and don't fall for the first thing you see."

That sounded like a good idea to Madison, and she looked to Terry. Terry must have caught the look in her eye, for he shook his head, opened her coat and helped her into it with a solid,

"NO. We aren't coming back until we find the perfect ring."

"It doesn't have to be perfect."

"If it isn't-- if it falls off your finger, you're going to think we aren't supposed to get married." Terry zipped up her coat. "If the diamond falls out, you're going to say God is trying to tell us something. Oh, no, we are not going to rush this."

"But Terry, I'm so tired."

"You can sleep after you get home."

"But--"

"Do you want me to leave without you?" He waited a beat and she shook her head. "This ring will be for your sanity, as well as my own."

"It's too late to save my sanity, Terry."

"Now you tell me." He grinned and held out his hand, as though not at all afraid of her. "Come on, I'm getting hot in this coat."

Biting her lip, she took his hand and heard John say a prayer asking for God's blessing.

Then Izzy called out a goodbye to the triplets and they came running for their kisses.

"This will probably take a while. Order take-out if you can't make dinner," Izzy instructed, and Abby rolled her eyes as Jake came into the living room. "I mean it, Abby, I didn't have time to prepare anything easy, and Jake's been doing enough work in the kitchen."

"Mom, how am I supposed to learn how to cook, if I don't actually cook?"

"I thought the goal was to learn while I was around," Izzy said as she stooped to kiss Lizzie, Ruthie, Debbie. "Order take-out, and I'll pay you back when we return."

"I think I can handle dinner."

"Handle it however you like, just remember there's always take-out." Izzy kissed Ricky, then planted a kiss on Abby's cheek and Abby laughed.

"Anyone would think you're going into New York City. This is only Watertown, right?"

"Abby--"

"There's always take-out," Abby nodded, "and there's always Jake."

At this, Jake grinned as he got a hug from Izzy. "Don't worry, Mom, I'll make sure they eat."

As John, Izzy, Terry, and Madison stepped outside, a delivery truck pulled up to the house. Jake paused closing the door, and everyone watched as a man in a brown uniform rummaged around in his vehicle, then got out with a large box, and came up to the house.

"Terry Davis and Madison Crawford?" the man asked, and Madison noticed Terry flinch at the sound of her last name.

It was the last name of the Dragon, after all, and she wasn't his adopted daughter. Her rightful name was Jones, but even then, Madison wasn't eager to use the name of the momma who'd given her away. Neither last name was a good one. No wonder Terry had playfully called her Madison Ladyfair when he'd sent the roses.

Terry signed the slate, accepted the large box and smiled when he read the label. "It's from Brian and Emily-- I should've guessed. Whatever it is, it's been overnighted."

"I knew you shouldn't have given them the dishes." John shook his head at Izzy. "Now look what you made Brian and Emily do. They had to give something big to Terry and Madison, and they had to overnight it, to boot."

"I didn't know Terry and Madison were getting engaged so soon." Then Izzy saw the playful twinkle in John's eye, and swatted John's arm.

"We'll have to open this later." Terry passed the large box to Jake through the open door. "Madison and I have a session with Carol this evening, so we'll be back later to drop off John and Izzy."

"See you then." Jake hefted the box onto the living room floor. "Try to have fun."

"You're not going to open it now?" Izzy looked disappointed, but John tugged Izzy back and waved to Jake to hurry and close the door.

"If we don't get out of here now, we never will," John said, and Terry laughed in agreement.

Terry, however, had no need to pull Madison away.

She didn't really care about the gift.

The box was big, but it was from Emily and Brian-- two people Madison didn't especially like. They might have been nice in their own way, but one had chased after her, and the other had chased after Terry. Not exactly people Madison were eager to call friends.

At least they weren't chasing them anymore. That at least was a relief. They hadn't needed to send a gift, or overnighted it, or anything. Just Brian and Emily stopping, was gift enough.

"You're scowling." Terry held open the passenger door of the jeep for Madison, and she scowled a little harder. "I'm not asking you to hold your curiosity for very long. You can open the present when we get home."

With a laugh, Madison put on her seat belt without comment and Terry shut the door. She watched as he rounded the hood, heard John and Izzy climb into the back of the jeep.

The driver's side door opened, and Terry peered inside a moment before getting behind the wheel. "Okay, you're not dying of curiosity."

Madison folded her arms, winced when it hurt her stomach some.

"Is this because I'm making you stay awake?" The jeep shuddered as Terry jumped inside, then shut the door. "Sleep, you can catch up on, but this is important." Terry started the engine and from the living room window, Madison noticed Ricky climb up on something-- probably the large box-- and wave at them with a huge Jake-like grin.

She waved back.

"God willing, you're going to wear this ring for the rest of your life-- though not because you can't take it off-- so follow Jake's advice, and have a good time."

She smiled.

"This isn't about the ring, either. Is it?"

"It's okay, Terry."

"No, really--" Terry shot her a glance as he pulled onto the main road-- "that smile looks fake."

"It does?" She tried to lean into the mirror to see what a fake smile looked like.

"Hey, are you thinking diamonds or something else?" John asked from the back seat. "I need to know what to Google."

"What?" Terry looked in the rear view mirror. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing? Research." Madison twisted in her seat to see John tapping into his smartphone. "I didn't have time to do this last night, and it slipped my mind this morning."

Izzy sighed. "You didn't have to tell him that."

"Well, it's the truth." John thumbed his screen and glanced up at Madison. "So do you want a diamond, or something else?"

"I got it!" Terry slammed the wheel with his palm, and Madison jumped. "Brian and Emily."

"What do Brian and Emily have to do with the stone? I need to know what to search."

"This is about Brian and Emily." Terry shot Madison a somewhat annoyed glance. "They're my friends, Maddie."

"I'll just go with diamonds then," John said, and Izzy shushed him. John didn't seem to be listening though, and mumbled to himself as he tapped something into his phone.

"They're good people, Maddie."

"Do you want a gold and platinum, or an all-platinum setting?"

"Brian is a decent guy, he's been a good friend for as long as I've known him, and unless you put up a fight, he's coming to the wedding."

"Wait, there's a diamond tutorial here."

"Emily's coming, too. And so is her father. If you have a problem with that, speak up...."

The phone in Madison's pocket rang, and she pulled it out while Terry went on about how Emily took very good care of her father. Izzy's name lit up on the screen, so Madison flipped open the phone.

"It's me," Izzy said in a near whisper. "Tell Terry to leave you alone if he becomes too much of a handful. The men are having a good time and are acting like boys." Madison looked into the back seat and saw John give Izzy a pained look. Izzy kissed John, coaxed him back to what he was doing and smiled at Madison. "If you need to, take a nap."

"Okay."

"Who are you talking to?" Terry glanced at Madison, and she put her phone away. "Was that Carol? Are you feeling badly, again?"

"No, it was just Izzy."

Frowning, Terry shot a look at the rear view mirror and kept driving. "Well?" he asked Madison.

"Well, what?"

"Brian and Emily-- may I invite them to the wedding?"

"Of course."

"But I thought--" Terry pushed out a sigh as Madison tried to get comfortable for that nap.

"Okay, do we care about clarity?" John asked from the back seat, and Terry groaned.

In that groan, though, Madison heard the fun in Terry's voice, as well as John's. Izzy was right. Incredible as it seemed, the men were having a good time.

Hugging her arms around her middle, Madison closed her eyes and let the motion of the jeep lull her to sleep. She smiled. For all of Terry's smarts, he could sometimes be clueless. She liked playing his guessing game, though.

It was fun.

* * * *

What had just happened? Terry tried to backtrack their conversation, but couldn't find out where he'd gone wrong. Sometimes, women were a mystery to him. What did he mean, sometimes? If they weren't a mystery, he probably would've been married by now. One look at the woman napping in the passenger seat though, and Terry was thankful for that mystery.

Maddie had been worth the wait.

A little puzzling at times, and not without her moments of heartbreak, but all those years of being single had been worth it for Maddie.

"Hey." John tapped Terry on the shoulder. "From what I can tell, all that's really important is that you like the ring. As long as you're happy, and you don't give up any major body parts paying for the stone, then you're good."

"Don't you mean, as long as Madison is happy?" Izzy asked. "She will have to wear this ring, not Terry."

"You might have a point." John grinned and went back to his phone. "Like I was saying--" and laughed as Izzy swatted his arm-- "the main thing that'll cost you, as far as I can tell, is the carats. The more carats, the bigger the price tag."

"Carrots?" Maddie came awake. "Are we going to the grocery store?"

"No-- that's carats, as in precious stones." John held up his phone so Maddie could see. "We're nearly there, and I've done as much reading as I can. Farrington's will have a good selection, though. I get all of Izumi's jewelry there, and that ring I had to cut off your finger."

"I'm sorry about the ring."

"It's no problem." John put his phone to sleep. "They can get it fixed all right. Terry, you have a ballpark figure you're aiming at?"

"Not really."

"That's asking for trouble." John patted Terry's shoulder. "Go in there, know what you want, what you're looking for, and what you're willing to spend. That way, the salesperson can't talk you into anything too painful."

"Maddie doesn't know what she wants."

"Yes, I do. I want you." She blinked at Terry, and Terry couldn't help feeling ten feet off the ground.

"Thanks for that, but I meant, what you want in a ring."

"I just want to go home."

"This first, Maddie. It's important."

She nodded, and looked through her rolled up window like a lost puppy looking for home. Man. He had to get that puppy comparison out of his system, or it would go on breaking his heart.

"A ballpark, Terry. You need one."

Terry breathed deeply, still heady over Maddie's saying that she wanted him. He wished he'd had a recorder on him, so he could play it back when things got rough.

"Two thousand?" John asked.

"Let him decide when he gets there," Izzy said, and John sighed, and put his phone away.

"Terry?" Maddie sounded timid. "Did he mean, thousand? as in dollars?"

"Yup."

She hugged herself and went silent.

The road wound into Watertown, and Terry headed toward the brick and mortar building with the elegantly scrawled Farrington's logo over the door. Terry pulled into the parking lot and Maddie started to rock against her seat belt.

He put out a hand, and she stopped.

"Have you had any painkiller?"

"I gave her some this morning," Izzy said, as Terry took his hand away to park the jeep. "As long as we're here," Izzy sounded upbeat, even perky despite the fact she hadn't gotten a wink of sleep last night, "we might as well try to find some wedding bands."

A monumental lump squeezed down Terry's throat. He looked at Maddie and saw her chewing her bottom lip without mercy.

"Maddie, stop." He nudged her elbow. "Just calm down a little, and you'll be all right."

For Maddie's sake, he wished he'd parked closer to the entrance. John and Izzy started to get out of the jeep, and Terry followed example. He prayed he hadn't made a huge mistake by dragging Maddie along.

Before Maddie had a chance to clutch up, Terry hurried from the jeep, helped her out, then secured her hand in his and made sure she was tucked at his side and not trembling like a baby chihuahua without a sweater.

Aw, there was that puppy image again. He really needed to stop that.

Standing in Farrington's parking lot, Terry had a moment of surreal pleasure. They were there-- not for a friend, and not to help John pick out something for Izzy, but for Terry.

To get an engagement ring for Maddie. Wow.

He sucked in a breath, tugged Maddie's hand and started for the store. She followed at his side, and John and Izzy came behind. He wished someone would see them, recognize him and ask why they were there. See this shy, pretty woman next to him? She had actually agreed to marry him. Miraculous, wasn't it?

Thank You, God. God had definitely pulled some strings to make that happen.

Terry opened the door, held it for Maddie but she refused to go in first. John nudged Izzy in, then Madison was willing, and Terry and John exchanged small smiles.

Glass displays with bright lights and black velvet, lots of expensive looking jewelry, watches, and other impressive looking items lined the showroom. Terry felt Maddie crowd into his side, as though she didn't want to go any further.

A saleswoman came up to them, smiled, and asked if she could help.

"We're here for an engagement ring." Terry said it as though it were a rite of passage, and the woman's smile deepened, as though she understood. This was special. It didn't happen all the time in Terry's life, or in Maddie's, and the woman seemed to understand the importance of it, the significance of what this ring meant.

"Do you have a preference in gemstones?" she asked, and Terry looked to Maddie even though he already knew she had none.

"I don't know about Maddie, but I was thinking of diamonds."

The woman smiled. "Diamonds are classic in engagement rings." She showed them to a display case and started in about some of the things John had mentioned earlier-- clarity being one of them. Izzy bent over the glass to look at the rings, but John stepped close to listen to what was being said.

"What draws your eye to diamonds so much, is the sparkle, the scintillation that dazzles when you move. Here, let me show you." She took out some keys, unlocked a display and removed a ring with a small stone. She held it up, and it twinkled like a tiny fallen star. "See the flashes of light?"

"How much?" John asked.

"This piece is not quite a thousand."

Terry frowned. "I can do better than that."

The woman put it back and pulled out another. "The center diamond is half a carat, and the setting is white gold."

"How much?" John asked.

"Two thousand."

"Can we see something else?" Terry asked, and John agreed.

The woman showed them to another display, and offered to take out anything that caught their eye.

"Maddie?" Terry nudged the silent woman at his side, and saw she wasn't even looking up. "I could use some help. Do you see anything you like?"

"Can we go home?"

"Not until you have a ring."

The expression on Maddie's face was somewhere between pain and uncertain fear. She slanted a look at the glass as though it hurt her eyes, then turned away.

"Do you have anything where you can see the diamond more easily?" Terry asked, and they were led to a different display. He pointed to the first ring he saw and asked John's question.

"Four thousand."

It still didn't look very nice, and Terry scanned the display for the perfect ring. He had yet to see one-- THE one he wanted for Maddie. He pulled her along, and Izzy kept looking until she cleared her throat and tapped the glass.

Terry followed Izzy's finger.

"That one-- could we see it?"

The saleswoman unlocked the case, took it out and held it up for them to see. The diamond scintillation she had made a big deal of before, now caught and held Terry's eye. This time, you could see the diamond-- a square, multi-faceted stone that sparkled and flashed as it moved in the light.

"This is a sixteen karat, white gold solitaire, with a one and a half carat, princess cut diamond." The woman let Terry get a very good look at the ring.

"Could we see it on Maddie?"

"Of course." The woman led them to the counter, and Terry had to all but drag Maddie with him.

He lifted Maddie's hand, placed and held her hand on the counter so the woman could slide the ring onto Maddie's finger. The ring was too big, but the woman assured them it could easily be sized down.

Izzy smiled, looked at Terry and seemed to not want to influence him too badly.

"Could we keep looking?" Terry asked, and the ring was set aside for safekeeping.

They went back to the display, and Terry saw another ring-- much like the last, but with a bigger stone, and the saleswoman took it out, and they went back to the counter to see how it looked on Maddie's hand.

Nothing else caught their attention in the display, and by now, Terry had to put an arm around Maddie's shoulders to make her walk. John had gone silent, and though Izzy wasn't saying a word, she was smiling, and Terry was busy thinking.

With a sigh, Terry looked to Izzy. "What do you think?"

"You should be asking Madison."

"I will, but I'd like your opinion."

Izzy hesitated. "Of everything we've seen, I personally like the ones you chose. They're very classy. Even classic. But that's just me."

Terry nodded, and rubbed Maddie's hand. She felt stiff as a mannequin.

"Well?" he asked her.

"I like the first ring."

"Really." Terry smiled.

Maddie nodded. "The thousand-dollar one."

With a groan, Terry asked the saleswoman if she could give them a moment. He waited for the woman to leave, moved Maddie over to one side of the showroom, and used his body to block her from escaping the store but tried to give her enough room to breathe.

She hugged herself. "I want the thousand-dollar one."

"You don't even like it."

"How do you know?"

"I don't. I'm guessing." Terry folded his arms. "This is important, Maddie."

"You keep saying that."

"I'm willing to pay to get this right."

"And I'm willing to save money. Let's get the thousand-dollar one and leave."

"I'd like one of the other ones. One of the nice, pretty ones."

"But I don't."

"But I do."

"You're not the one who has to wear it."

"But I'm the one who has to pay for it."

She opened her mouth for a retort, but none came.

"Maddie, let's go back and at least ask how much."

She stared at the floor for a very long moment and sighed. "I'm not giving in, Terry."

"May I at least ask?"

She nodded, let Terry pull her to the counter while Izzy and John watched.

"The smaller of the two rings--" Terry asked the saleswoman-- "how much?"

"Nine thousand."

Maddie blanched.

"Could we see it on her hand again?"

The ring was slipped onto Maddie's finger and Terry sucked in a breath.

"How much for the other?" Terry asked.

"Thirteen thousand."

Yanking off the ring, Maddie gave it back to the woman, then pushed her way between Izzy and John. For a moment, Maddie struggled with the entrance door, but she managed to get out before Terry could get to her.

"Maddie, wait up." Terry moved past a customer coming into the store, stepped outside and saw her limping to the jeep. "It's locked, Maddie."

She kept going until she made it to the vehicle.

"Maddie, come back."

"No."

"You need a ring."

"I'm going home."

"I'd like to see you try. I have the keys, and you don't know how to drive."

She folded her arms in protest. "That's not fair."

"Maybe." He shrugged, crossed the parking lot and came to stand beside her. "I'll teach you how to drive one of these days, then you can leave me high and dry whenever you want."

"That's not funny."

"I'm glad you don't think so." Terry sighed, leaned against the jeep and studied the windblown hair, the pink cheeks brought on by a blustery disagreement and an equally stubborn arctic breeze. "Look, I can appreciate the fact you don't want to break my piggy bank. I do, Maddie, and I love you for it. I'm not in danger of going bankrupt, all right?"

She looked uncertain.

"I don't go bragging about this, but I keep a zero balance on my credit cards. When a bill comes in, I pay it off."

"Even if you get that ring?" She pushed hair from her eyes and waited for an answer.

"I'll need a little time to pay this off," he admitted, "but you're worth the expense."

She shook her head. "No, I'm not."

He smiled and gazed skyward to collect his thoughts. "I want this to remind you that you're something extra-special. That someone on this earth loved you that much."

"I'm not worth it, Terry."

"I wish you wouldn't say that."

"I'm not."

He pushed out a breath, looked back at the store and saw Izzy coming out with John.

"I love you, Maddie."

"I know, but that's not the point. I don't want you to spend all your money on me. I'm not worth it. I'm not. All your friends are going to see that ring and say I'm using you, and that you're being conned."

"I don't care what others say. And if they're really my friends, they won't think that. They'll know better-- they'll know the truth."

"What is the truth?"

"That I lost my heart to you." Terry sighed, nodded to Izzy as Izzy came near and John hung back. "We're having a slight disagreement over the ring."

"I've been thinking..." Izzy spoke with hopeful excitement mixing into her voice, which amazed Terry, seeing she'd had even less sleep than Maddie. "What if you splurged on the areas of the wedding that are important to you, and scaled back on things that aren't as significant? Such as the wedding cake. You don't have to have a huge fancy cake. I could make a nice one, and save you a lot of money."

Terry smiled. He could see Izzy had taken to heart his promise to let her help plan the wedding.

"This is entirely up to you two, but that's what I would do. I would splurge on things that would last beyond the wedding, and things that you'll remember most, years from now-- like the honeymoon."

Eyes large as saucers, Maddie backed away and began hugging herself furiously.

"Easy, Maddie." Terry stayed where he was, leaning against the jeep, but he kept his eyes on Maddie and told Izzy to continue.

"The ring, the honeymoon, and a wedding dress are the things I'd suggest we concentrate on the most. That, and a good photographer. Keep the flowers at a minimum, have a modest reception, and absolutely no catering. You have me for that, and I'm sure Agatha would be more than thrilled to help out. Those are just some of the ways I can think of to keep the costs down, and if you give me time, I'm sure I can come up with more."

"I'm not wearing a big ring." Maddie shook her head with emphasis. "And Terry, you never said anything about a honeymoon."

"Izzy was just talking. Please stop looking at me like that, Maddie. Could we get back to the ring? Please?" Terry puffed his cheeks, turned and propped his arms on the roof of the jeep. Maddie was giving him that cold icy stare again, the one that made him feel like he was wandering around Antarctica without a coat. "I wanted you to have something nice. Is that so hard for you to accept?"

He glanced back to see Maddie still hugging herself.

Terry turned to face her. "Maybe Izzy's right. I haven't been able to get my mind around the wedding yet, but if I promise to keep the other things within reason, maybe you'll let me give you this ring?"

Frowning, Maddie looked to John for help. "You think it's too much money, so tell him. Tell Terry. Make him stop."

"The decision isn't mine. It's yours and Terry's."

"But it's too much money. You think it is-- I know you do."

"What I think," John paused and smiled at Terry, "is that if I were him, I would want to give the woman I loved the nicest ring I possibly could. After Izumi and I married, I bought her a thousand-dollar ring. At the time, it was all I could afford, but it's not the price tag that makes the biggest statement. It's the love that comes with it, and I think that's all Terry is trying to tell you."

A wash of satisfaction came over Terry. John understood. If only Maddie could get that through her pretty head, they wouldn't be standing in Farrington's parking lot in the biting cold.

Nibbling her bottom lip, Maddie turned to stare at the store. For half a minute, she was quiet.

"If I make you promise there won't be a honeymoon," she sighed, "then I'll let you buy me the ring."

"Sorry, no deal." Terry paced a few steps, turned and looked at Maddie. "I will agree to no sex on the honeymoon, though."

"How about no honeymoon, no flowers, no cake, no wedding dress, and you get the ring?"

"No, Maddie, we have to get something besides the ring, and Izzy's right, you should have a dress. No sex on the honeymoon-- but we do have one-- a nice dress, go easy on the flowers, a homemade cake, and I get the ring."

Maddie looked away, smudged her eyes and sniffed back what Terry could only guess were the onset of tears.

"Do you promise about the honeymoon?" Maddie asked in a shaky voice that went straight to Terry's heart.

"I give my word of honor."

With a gasping nod of agreement, Maddie leaned against the jeep as though she couldn't stand a moment longer without help. Her whole posture screamed defeat, but Terry hoped this was for her own good, that it could be even seen as a victory of sorts.

Hey, she was getting a very nice ring, and he hoped-- really, really hoped, they were still on speaking terms.

"Thank you, Maddie." He reached for her hand, but she couldn't take it, and Izzy stepped forward to give her a hug and a shoulder to lean on. He waited as Izzy dried the damp on Maddie's face, then straightened Maddie's hair.

Head bowed, Maddie leaned into Izzy as they made their way back toward the store.

"So," John fell into step beside Terry, "the second ring?"

Terry nodded. He couldn't help but look at Maddie, and saw her shudder. "Izzy, you said it's a good ring?"

"It is, Terry."

"Classy, didn't you call it?"

"Yes, very classy."

Breathing deep, Terry pushed open the door, held it for the women, gave a brave smile to John and went in. Either he was making a big mistake, or he was about to do a very good thing. From this close a perspective, it was hard to tell anything except that his heart was racing and that Maddie looked about ten seconds away from a dead faint.

This wasn't supposed to be so hard. So complicated. They were only getting a ring.

This wasn't even getting married yet. How in the world were they supposed to survive that? How?

Terry cleared his throat, went up to the counter where their saleslady stood with another woman. She nodded to him to wait a second, then came with a smile and a look that said she thought she knew they were ready.

They were.

"We want the second ring," Terry said as she slid the velvet tray to him. "Could we also find a wedding band to go with that, something that would match?"

For thirteen thousand, he guessed he could've asked for the plant in the corner of the showroom, and she would've hauled it out to the jeep for him. She smiled, moved around the counter to a display of wedding bands and showed them some white gold rings that matched the solitaire engagement ring Terry had chosen for Maddie.

Since Maddie was in no frame of mind to say or do anything, Terry picked out a delicate band, and the saleswoman took it back to the counter and placed it side by side to show him how it would look on Maddie's finger. Terry decided Maddie would love it, even if she wouldn't say so right now.

John nudged Terry. "You need a wedding band, too."

They went to another display, and Terry tried on some bands, feeling very much like he was pretending to be someone else.

Surely, he couldn't be Terry Davis. If he were, he wouldn't be here, picking out wedding bands, of all things.

Terry settled on a shiny band in white gold to match Maddie's rings, noticed his hand trembled, took off the ring and gave it to the saleswoman before he said something stupid about how strange this felt.

He had to fill out some papers, then came the sizings, and since he wanted Maddie to wear her engagement ring as soon as possible, they offered to have it sized within the hour. Not exactly the potted plant offer, but Terry smiled and thanked her, and then watched as Maddie's finger was sized.

"Make sure this fits," he asked. "It has to fit perfectly. Make sure it's not too tight, and has to be cut off. Izzy, did you give them your ring? Good. And make sure it's not too loose. It has to be just right, or--" he stopped short from finishing the thought out loud. Or else Maddie might get cold feet and call off the wedding. Did these people know what they were doing?

He glanced at the embossed plaque on the wall, claiming they'd been in business since the early nineteen hundreds. Okay, they probably knew a thing or two, but this was important.

Then came his turn to be sized, then more paperwork, then payment, and Maddie stood with Izzy and John, looking desperate to leave. When everything was set, Terry told the saleswoman they would be back in about an hour, and nodded to Maddie that they could go.

When Terry unlocked the jeep, Maddie crawled inside like a turtle reuniting with its shell.

"That was an experience." John helped Izzy into the back seat and gave Terry a weary grin. "You must be feeling dazed right about now. I didn't even put down all that money, and I admit to feeling lightheaded as we walked out of that store."

Dazed was close enough. Terry climbed into the driver's side, and sat a moment to catch his breath. It wasn't every day he spent several thousand dollars.

"Terry," Izzy spoke up from the back, "we should find a place to eat lunch. It's almost two."

"Is it?" Terry checked his watch, blew out a sigh and realized they'd spent the entire morning in Farrington's. He looked at Maddie and found her struggling to put on the seat belt.

He touched her hand, and she let him snap the belt in place.

"Terry, you can have my thirty dollars."

"What for?"

"To help pay for the rings."

"Thanks, Maddie, but the wedding is on my tab." He started the engine, and headed out of the parking lot with an inward smile. It had been sweet of her to offer. "Lunch is on me, as well, so where to?"

"Could we go to the MegaMart?"

"Sure, there's one here in Watertown, but I thought we wanted lunch?"

"Could we eat in the parking lot like last time?"

"I guess." Terry glanced in the rear view mirror and saw John trying not to smile. "Don't you feel up to a restaurant?"

"Please, Terry? Please?" Her urgency made him feel an inch tall for even thinking of turning her down, and since no objection came from the back seat, Terry headed for Watertown's MegaMart.

For all of Maddie's weakness and the draining fatigue of emotion, life seemed to pump something into her that he couldn't explain. She strained against her seat belt, and when the MegaMart came into view, she all but clapped her hands with excitement.

Terry checked the mirror and saw John looking worried. He could all but read John's expression. Was Madison all right? Izzy's concern was more measured, and when Terry parked the jeep, Maddie all but fought to get out.

"Hey, take it easy." Terry tried hard not to be embarrassed, especially in front of John and Izzy. Maddie was Maddie, and for some reason known only to her and God, she wanted to go to the MegaMart.

As Terry climbed out of the jeep, Maddie's face fell.

"You don't have to come."

"I have to get the food, don't I?"

Yes, women were a mystery to Terry, and this one was no exception. She folded her arms and stared at him as though he had done something wrong. Or had said something wrong. Or maybe both.

"What?"

"Izzy can come get the food, and you can stay here."

"What's the big deal? Why can't I come?" Then it hit Terry, and he kicked himself for being a man. "I'll wait in the jeep, and you and Izzy take all the time you want. John and I will will rest our feet."

"We will?" John sounded like he had something to say about that, but Terry gave him a look, and John gave Terry a look back; Izzy nudged John in the side and John knew he was defeated and waved Maddie and Izzy goodbye.

When the women were out of eye shot, John leaned between the front seats and eyed Terry like he'd lost what was left of his mind after leaving all that money at Farrington's.

"What was all that about?"

"Maddie wanted to spend her thirty dollars." Terry shifted uneasily in his seat. "I hope by her eagerness to keep me from going, she's not going to spend it all on me."

John burst into laughter, and Terry shook his head as his best buddy in all the world fell back in his seat and wiped away the tears.

"I'm glad you find this funny."

"Sorry, Terry, but wow." John sucked in a deep breath. "After all you're giving Madison, I'd say you have this coming."

Though Terry begged to differ, he let the subject drop and pulled off his coat. What he deserved was a swift kick in the pants for not letting Maddie get some sleep. He wished he could read her mind, that she had a ticker tape across her forehead that told him what she was thinking at any given moment and more importantly, why.

"Just enjoy it, Terry." John's laughter calmed, he took off his coat, pulled out his iPhone and got comfortable. "Thirty dollars, huh? Well, it probably won't take her too long. I give them forty minutes, tops."

Terry checked his watch, and ignored the growl of his stomach.

Forty minutes later, Terry looked into the back seat.

"Okay, so I was wrong," John shrugged. "It happens." He put away his phone. "The things we'll do for lunch-- I mean love."

"If they're not back in ten minutes, maybe you could go get--"

"Go get them?" John finished.

"No, I was thinking of something to eat."

"I'm with you there." Then John sat up, grinned, and pointed behind Terry.

"Are they back?" Terry turned, saw Maddie limping beside Izzy, each with two grocery bags. At first glance, it seemed much too much for simply lunch and Maddie's "shopping," and the more Terry looked, the more it didn't make sense. Both of Maddie's bags, and one of Izzy's bags looked substantial. They were carrying a lot.

"What on earth--" Terry squinted, blinked, then prayed he hadn't given Maddie too much money. At least Izzy had been with her. She couldn't have gotten into too much trouble.

The men got out of the jeep, and Maddie swung her bags behind her, and said something to Izzy.

"Don't worry," Terry overheard Izzy tell her, "we'll keep this in the back seat."

Enjoying all the hush-hush, John glanced at Terry, and wiggled his eyebrows.

With a groan, Terry climbed back into the jeep, sensing he wouldn't be privy to what was going on. "I hope one of you brought food," Terry called to them, and Izzy laughed.

"We can eat in Farrington's parking lot, if you like. After all the money you spent there, I don't think they'd mind."

"Sounds fair enough," John said, as he loaded the bags into the back seat.

Terry reached over, unlocked and opened the passenger door for Maddie.

Looking winded, Maddie slid into her seat and kept her eyes down.

"Get everything you need?" Terry asked, and she nodded. "Okay then." He didn't ask a thing more, but started the engine after everyone was inside, and let Izzy take care of unpacking lunch from the back seat.

For all of their shopping, Izzy and Maddie had stopped by the deli and bought sub sandwiches, so the majority of their time in the MegaMart had not been in finding lunch. Terry's only relief came in knowing that Maddie hadn't been alone in the store, and that she'd only had thirty dollars.

Four bags-- one for lunch, still left three.

What had she done, bought fifteen loaves of the cheapest bread? Fifteen boxes of fudge bars? Terry found himself guessing, and each guess was as outlandish as the first.

As he pulled into Farrington's, he slid a look at Maddie, and found her smiling. Her-- smiling. For almost the first time that morning, she was smiling.

That was enough for Terry. No matter what she bought him, he would be happy, for she was happy.

That simple.

He parked the jeep, and after Izzy passed around the small bottle of hand sanitizer she kept in her purse, Izzy gave them their subs. John prayed over their food, and Terry had the satisfaction of seeing Maddie eat.

"Isn't this nice?" Maddie asked with a mouthful of food. There was a sparkle in her eye that spoke of excitement.

Maddie had a secret.

If the secret hadn't been from him, Terry would have been able to enjoy his sandwich. Loaves of bread? Fudge bars? Thirty dollars worth of frozen chicken nuggets? He glanced into the back seat and tried to get a reaction from Izzy.

"Good sandwich?" Izzy asked, and Terry had to nod, "yes."

He should've known better. The Johannes women were very loyal.

His curiosity didn't touch his hunger, though, for Terry finished every bite of his sub, then polished off the last of Maddie's.

By the time they left the jeep, it was nearing three thirty, and though Maddie looked tired, the food and her secret had given some bounce to her limp. She didn't pause when Terry reached for her hand, and when they went into the store, she even smiled.

Then the saleswoman took out the engagement ring and Maddie's smile faded.

"Don't let it get to you, Maddie. It's only a ring." Terry slid it onto her finger, then gave it a small tug to make sure it fit. "How does it feel? Is it all right?"

"I guess." She looked at her hand, looked at him, then back at her hand.

The woman told Maddie how to take care of the ring, but the overwhelmed expression never left Maddie's face. Izzy asked some questions, Terry had to sign something, then it was time to go.

They walked out of Farrington's with a two carat diamond on Maddie's fourth finger, left hand. The stone blazed in the sunlight, scintillating the eyes with flashes of fire and brilliance that Terry noticed even from a distance.

With an audible sigh, Maddie stuffed her hand into the pocket of her coat. "How many times does thirty go into thirteen thousand, plus tax?" she asked.

"Too many times for you to worry about, so don't even try." Terry took her free hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Whenever you see that ring, do you know what I want you to think?"

She shook her head.

"I want you to think, 'I am loved.' That's what I want you to think. Remember that, and I'll consider it a reminder well spent."

As they climbed into the jeep, Terry heard Maddie hum a familiar tune.

The ring, the music box doll, even the teddy bear and roses were all important. The fact she could hum that tune right now, proved it. Terry prayed with all his heart Maddie would keep on holding on, and remember. Cruelty had a way of making you distrust even the most well-intentioned acts of love, and after they married... Terry sighed.

After they married, she would need all the reminding she could get.


"Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD..."
~ Psalm 119:156 ~

"Remember the word unto Thy servant [Terry], upon which Thou hast caused me to hope... Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage [the Johanneses' house]."
~ Psalm 119:49, 54 ~

end of chapter