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Chapter Three
Mr. Nice Guy

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
~ Matthew 5:3, 7 ~

Even before he opened the front door, something in the pit of Terry's stomach knew what to expect. The likelihood of being able to sneak into the house undetected, was next to nil, greater still when you mixed in a worried family.

Not that Terry tried to sneak, of course. He just didn't see why he should disturb anyone's Sunday morning sleep-in for no good reason.

He edged the front door open, then a little more, until a figure lying on the couch came into view. The click of locks had already woke the sleeping man, and as Terry came inside, John sat up and rubbed the bleariness from his eyes.

"I was hoping no one would wait up for me," Terry said with a rueful chuckle. He placed the trash bag on the floor, tugged the door closed.

"Yeah, well," John stood up in a stretching yawn, "I couldn't get any sleep."

"You didn't look like you were having any trouble, a moment ago."

John gave a half shrug. "I took a nap. What's in the bag?"

"Laundry," Terry said, pointing his chin to the bulging trash bag. "With all that rain last night, everything got soaked."

"Hmmm." John made no other response, his stare directed at the floor and not at Terry. "Everything go all right? Or would you prefer I not ask?"

"You can ask," Terry said with a lightheartedness he didn't quite feel.

John's gray-eyed stare moved from the floor to Terry. "Then did everything go all right?"

"Well," Terry rubbed his neck, trying to buy time so he could figure out the best honest answer possible. Escaping from a bathroom window two stories off the ground didn't exactly make it easy for Terry to shrug out a "Sure, everything's fine."

"I guess things could have gone better," Terry said at last.

The hesitance in Terry's answer, the length of time it took before he replied, caused a wary smile to crease John's mouth. "A cautious answer to a cautious question. I hope you're not holding back, simply because you're afraid of what I'll say."

"Not exactly you..." Terry slanted a look down the hall.

Wearing a dark red robe, and fuzzy blue slippers the girls had given her for mother's day earlier that year, Izumi came into the living room with Ruthie in tow.

"He's back," John said with a smile.

"So I see." Izumi looked Terry over, saw the bag and lifted her brows in an unspoken question.

"Oh, that's laundry," John said.

Though Terry appreciated his friend's attempt to shield him, Terry understood the inevitable next question. "Izzy, this time I'm being more careful. I give you my word."

"You've said that, before."

"This time is different."

"How is it different? Does this houseguest need money, a place to stay until who knows when, and emotional support until you're the one having nightmares?"

John blew out a heavy sigh. "Little Dove, Terry is doing what he feels is right."

Despite having heard John's loving pet name for her, Izumi pinned her husband with a solid stare. "Terry is setting himself up to get hurt again, and I seem to be the only one here who sees it coming."

"It's only going to be for a day or two," Terry said, venturing to put in a few words in his own defense.

"And," John added in a show of support, "this houseguest isn't from the crisis hotline. Relax, Little Dove. Everything is under control."

Izumi gave John a disbelieving look. "I'm not the one who slept on the sofa until Terry came home."

"Well, you're the one who kept talking about what could go wrong, and how could I let him leave without me..." John threw up his hands. "Let's face it, we were both concerned about him."

Izumi patted Ruthie down the hall, then turned to face her husband. "It's going to happen again."

"You don't know that."

Izumi sighed.

"Honey, I don't know what you want from me. Do you want me to lock Terry in his room? Is that what you want?"

For a long moment, Izumi looked as though she were considering the possibility.

"He's a grown man, Izumi. I won't do it."

The back and forth between John and Izumi filled Terry with regret. He hated to see his good friends struggle through disagreement because of him, more so, when a similar conversation had taken place a few months ago concerning a different houseguest. One regrettable but necessary eviction and a restraining order later, Terry still received the occasional call from the survivor of abuse Terry had met on the hotline. Victor. He had been molested as a child, turned to drugs as a teenager to drown out the pain, and now all Victor could see was his own suffering, his own needs. Everyone else didn't matter, not even the man who had gone out of his way to help.

Maybe Izumi had a point...

Then the slight image of Madison came before Terry. The discouraged gray eyes that were unable to meet his, the trembling he guessed wasn't related to the cold, the absolute and complete helplessness of the pain he could only sense lay beneath the surface. They meant big problems for Madison, no question about it, but why should that matter to him? He hefted the bag off the floor, weighed the consequences of his decision.

"Izzy, I have to do this."

"It's his decision to make, Izumi."

Outnumbered two to one, Izumi shook her head in quiet protest.

"If I get the flashbacks again," Terry said in a solemn voice, "I promise, I'll move out until I'm back to normal."

"You'll do no such thing." Izumi leveled Terry a look full of tender reproach. "You are family. Happy or hurt, you belong with us. I only wish you'd let your family take better care of you."

"I'll be careful, Izzy. I promise."

"You said that the last time."

"This time he means it," John said with a grin.

Terry sighed. "I also meant it the last time."

Head bowed in a moment of thought, Izumi looked at Terry. Even through her frustrated concern, Terry could see a great deal of compassion. "Take care of yourself, Terry. Over the years, you've not only been John's brother, but mine as well."

Izumi's words touched him, and he stooped to accept her offered hug.

"Be on your guard, Terry. Don't let anyone take advantage of your good nature."

"I won't, Izzy."

An unconvinced sigh escaped from Izumi, but she tried to believe him. Terry knew she tried, for after their talk, she took the bag of wet clothes from Terry, and offered to do the laundry for him.

Surprised but grateful, Terry thanked Izumi.

When she disappeared out the kitchen door on her way to the laundry room beside the house, John appraised the situation with a cautious but satisfied nod. "I think we won. Don't worry, Terry. She'll come around."

The kind but unrealistic statement brought a smile to Terry's mouth. Not even John considered Terry's most recent needy person a good idea, and they had yet to meet her.

Several poached eggs sat in a frying pan, sizzling and filling the kitchen with aroma by the time Izumi returned from the laundry room. She went to the table where her coffee waited, and seemed to enjoy letting the men be the ones to stand over the stove for a change.

"Your friend needs to lose weight," Izumi said, wrapping her fingers around the mug. "From the man's clothes, I'd say he's about sixty pounds overweight."

"Who?" Terry paused as he lifted plates from the cupboard.

"Your houseguest," Izumi said with a smile. "The guy you're trying to help. He needs to lose weight."

For a moment, Terry puzzled, then remembered Madison's clothes. "My houseguest isn't exactly a he."

Now John paused, his attention full on Terry. "Then what is he... exactly?"

"A she."

"A woman?" John's eyes went big with alarm. "Terry, are you trying to tell me you went to the Old Mill Campground last night, and took a woman you found there, to your apartment in Chaumont?"

"Yeah. So?"

"That's taking a big risk, isn't it?"

Frowning, Terry pulled out more plates. "I don't see how it's such a big difference from my last houseguest."

"But he was a man."


"Terry, what happens if this woman suddenly decides she can get more from you by claiming you kidnapped her, or assaulted her? It would be your word against hers."

Puzzled, Terry shrugged. "Why would she do that?"

"It's called extortion," John said, his voice hardening. "You're really putting your neck on the line with this one."

"Madison wouldn't do that," Terry shook his head, his mind rebelling at the thought of the helpless woman being somehow mercenary. "She's too lost, too..." he searched for a better word, "too damaged to do anything but hide in my storage room."

The mug settled on the table, and Izumi's eyes widened like her husband's. "She's hiding? From whom?"

"Me, I suppose," Terry said with a shrug.

Izumi gave him a searching stare. "And why is she hiding from the man who saved her?"

"I don't know-- at least, not for certain."

"What do you know for certain?"

"Not much. But I do know she needs help."

"If she's hiding from you, then, yes, she definitely needs help." The worried frown returned to Izumi's face, and when Terry looked to John, he found the same expression on his.

"How soon is this Madison character leaving?" John asked.

"I hope to have her out of my apartment in a day or two."

"Is there anywhere else you can take her in the meantime? A homeless shelter-- anywhere that isn't your apartment?"

Terry focused on the multi-colored plates in his hands. "I don't think they'd take her."

"Why not?" The concern rising in John's voice worried Terry into momentary silence.

"Madison has problems."

"What kind of problems?"

"I'm not sure." Terry sucked in a deep breath, waited a beat to gather his courage. "She seems to be afraid of people-- men in particular, and she acts strange-- too strange for most homeless shelters to probably take her. Even for them."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Izumi asked.

"It means," John said, folding his arms, "that Madison is a few tacos short of a combination platter."


"She's crazy." John turned to Terry. "Or am I wrong?"

"I don't think she's crazy. Just very, very hurt on the inside."

A groan slipped from Izumi. "I thought you said she wasn't from the crisis hotline."

"She isn't."

A silent exchange passed between husband and wife. It seemed Terry didn't need a hotline to find these hurt people. They could find him just fine without one. The thought remained unsaid by John and Izumi, but Terry felt it in the impact of their silence.

Without a word, John turned back to the stove and the poached eggs. Izumi picked up her mug, closed her eyes in what Terry guessed to be a quiet prayer, then took a deep breath.

"I hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Terry." Izumi touched the mug to her lips, then put the cup on the table without drinking. "For your sake, I pray Madison won't exploit the fact you're putting yourself at so much risk. What did John call you this morning? Mr. Nice Guy-- it fits you to a T."

A sympathetic smile creased John's face, but for once, John offered no encouragement. Terry knew, without question, they would stand by him come what may. He didn't take that fact for granted, but knew it in his heart. Their reluctance to deepen the debate proved it, as did Izumi's offer to go with Terry later that day, and help Madison contact her family.

* * * *

Fear snaked through Madison's veins like icy water, making the trembling even worse. It had found her. The monster lay coiled beneath the mattress, ready to be unleashed. It came to her now, even though she refused to look over the side of the bed, refused even to stare at the ceiling. Squeezing her eyes shut didn't help, and didn't make the monster go away. It smothered her, made her lungs burn, made her heart hammer against her ribs until they cracked.

A low moan broke through her consciousness, followed by the very real sensation of pain. It radiated from her side, the anguish both familiar and calming. I'm dreaming, she thought with renewed hope. This pain is real. She willed her eyes to open, daring the monster to either appear before her or prove itself only a nightmare.

Was she awake yet? Madison blinked, her eyes focusing on a metal drawer, some sort of green filing cabinet with a logo on the front. She pulled herself upright, winced when she felt the searing pain in her hip. Sleeping on the hard floor made things worse, but at least she wasn't on a bed.

When had the sun come up? She squinted against the light filtering through the vertical blinds over the windows. It took effort to remember the night before, the rain, the man who had brought her to this place.

The stiffness in her hip protested as she stood up. She crossed the floor, pulled the door open, and seeing no one, eased her way to the bathroom with a low moan that matched each step.

The novelty of being somewhere new, someplace different than what she had known, occurred to her as something of a miracle. She was here, and not in the other place, the other life. Madison celebrated this fact, the ordinary things that made the moment real. The fire in her hip, the cold bathroom tiles chilling her bare feet-- even the sharpness of hunger added to the certainty that she was not trapped in an unreachable dream. This was real.

After using the bathroom, Madison lingered at the top of the stairs. She waited, listened for some noise that might warn her of the man's presence. What was his name? Rubbing her forehead, it came to her. Terry-- that was it. He said she would have the apartment to herself, because he didn't live here. Who paid for a nice place like this, and didn't use it? The thought worried her, and the fear came that maybe this man who promised food and safety was nothing but trouble.

Her stomach rumbled at the thought of something to eat, and hunger prodded her downstairs to check the kitchen. Terry claimed there wasn't any food, but Madison had to see for herself. A search of the kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator proved him right.

Then another thought came to her, disturbing in all its possibilities. What if he never came at all? What if he never brought the food he promised? The memory of the dog ripping apart her meal, haunted Madison. The fear of being forgotten, tugged at her already ragged courage.

God, please don't forget me, she prayed in silence.

Going to the front door, Madison checked to see if she could get out, should the need arise. Just being able to touch the locks, to move them back and forth in their settings, made her feel more in control. Perhaps only a fool would stay to wait for a man to keep his word, but fear of cold and hunger stopped her from leaving.

Fatigued from too much thought and lack of food, Madison went back upstairs, one painful step at a time. She returned to her hiding place, remembering to again lock the door. God, don't let Terry forget me, she prayed.

When Madison woke the second time, the light in the room had changed. It was no longer morning, but later in the day. How late, she had no way of knowing, only that the emptiness in her stomach pleaded for something-- anything, but this gnawing hunger.

Her hip complained, but Madison got up from off the floor and forced herself to move until the pain lessened. She paused beside the door, sniffed the air in the hopes Terry had left the food in the hall like last time. When she smelled nothing, she cracked open the door. No sign of food, or Terry.

She should leave. Leave before Terry came back, if he ever intended to, and get far away from this place before something bad happened. The man owed her nothing, and since he wasn't going to bother keeping his word, she decided to go while the getting was good.

Madison stood there, trying to will herself to act on the decision. Maybe it would be better to die here, forgotten, with at least some shelter over her head, than to die out in the open.

But what if he came back, had not forgotten her food after all, but wanted to frighten her into payment for staying as long as she had? The thought terrified her into action. Even though Terry had taken her clothes in the excuse to launder them, she must leave without her things. Without even her socks and shoes. So convincingly did she persuade herself into going, the opening door downstairs almost went unnoticed.

"Madison?" Terry called from below. "Are you still here?"

The sound of his voice made her freeze with dread.

Footsteps moved up the carpeted stairs, the small creaks giving away Terry's presence.

Trapped, she backed from the door until a filing cabinet pressed against her shoulders.

"Madison? Are you still in there?"

Too afraid to speak, she remained silent.

"If the door's locked, she hasn't left," Terry told someone in the hall. "Unless, of course, she went out the window again."

"Went out the window?" a woman asked in amazement.

"Well, yeah," the pause in Terry's voice gave Madison the impression he struggled to find words, "she kind of panicked last night, and went out the bathroom window."

"The bathroom window. This bathroom? The one on the second floor?"


"Terry, what if she had fallen?"

"Hey, I didn't push her out there. I got a ladder, and she climbed down without a scratch. She just needs twenty-four hours, Izzy-- forty-eight at the most-- and she's on a bus for home."

No response from the woman called Izzy.

"One day, we're going to be able to laugh at this situation."

"I seriously doubt it," Izzy said. "Well, what now? What if she doesn't come out?"

"Madison?" Terry sounded more frantic now. "Would you unlock the door? You need to call your family, let them know where you are and that you're all right. Madison?"

"Where's the key for this door?" Izzy asked.

"In the junk drawer, downstairs."

"You'd better go get it."

Alarm pulsed through Madison. She backed into the farthest corner, pulled a stack of cardboard boxes in front of her, then crouched against the floor. Stupid, she thought, I'm so stupid. Now it's too late to get out of here.

Footsteps came to the door, a key twisted in the lock. Someone came inside.

"Madison?" Terry moved through the room, and her breath caught when his face loomed over the stack of boxes.

His eyes met hers, and the half smile slipped from his face. His brow knit together in an odd look Madison couldn't understand. He acted as though he were in pain, but she couldn't understand why, for she was the one straining her sore hip, not him.

A heavy breath parted his lips. He turned away, held up a hand to the woman coming inside. "I'll be with you in a moment, Izzy. I found her." He rubbed his face, then turned back to Madison. "I'm going to start lunch. When you're ready, you can join us downstairs. All right?"

Madison couldn't answer.

Terry's mouth formed a straight, grim line. "I give you my word-- as a Christian before God-- I won't harm you in any way. Do you believe me?"

Crazy with hunger, Madison nodded "yes," but crouched even further behind the boxes.

The look on his face deepened.

"Come downstairs when you're able," Terry said in a quiet voice. He shut the door behind him, and when the woman called Izzy began to speak, her voice was cut off by Terry's. Footsteps creaked as they went downstairs.

Ignoring the painful hip, Madison remained where she was.

The lopsided smile Terry had given her before going, had put a tight lump in her throat. If she hadn't known it to be impossible, she would have thought him only seconds away from tears.

* * * *

"Terry, what's going on?" Izumi followed him into the kitchen where he set the bag of groceries they had brought from home, onto the counter.

Head bowed, Terry felt unable to give an answer. A gentle hand touched his arm, and he looked up to see Izumi's strained smile.

"Go sit down. I'll cook lunch."

"She's hurting, Izzy. I never saw anyone tremble so hard. And then when I spoke to her..." Terry steadied his voice. "When I asked Madison to trust me, she wet herself. I don't think she even noticed, she was so terrified."

"Two days, Terry. Then I'm going to do all I can to get her out of your apartment before she turns into another Victor."

"She's not like that, Izzy. She's different."

"She's different, all right." Izumi tied on the apron Terry kept in the cupboard beneath the gas range. "She hides like someone running from the police, and doesn't even come out to thank you for saving her life. Has she thanked you, yet?"


"See what I mean?"

Terry remained silent. "If you saw her, you'd understand."

"I don't pretend to understand all there is to know about pain, Terry, but I do understand what that pain can do to my family."

"I wonder what she's been through, to hide from us-- from me, that way."

"You've had enough nightmares," Izumi continued, sliding a pan of water over a burner. "What are we going to do if she doesn't come down to lunch?"

"She'll come." Terry knew it in his soul. "She's too hungry to stay away."

It occurred to Terry that they could leave Madison's meal outside her door, but he decided against it. It felt too much like a jailer feeding a prisoner, and if they were ever going to get Madison to call home, they would first have to get her to talk to them. That wasn't going to happen through a closed door.

Several minutes later, while Terry set a platter of hot spaghetti on the small table in the dining area beside the kitchen, Izumi took out her cell phone and called John. She and Terry had left church a few minutes early, so they could go home and get food to bring to Terry's apartment for lunch. Today, John would fend for himself in the kitchen-- a fact Izumi didn't necessarily like. By the time she got off the phone, however, Izumi seemed happier.

"It appears the girls are helping John make lunch," Izumi said, folding away her cell phone. "They're making quite a mess, but--"

The abrupt stop made Terry look up. He followed Izumi's gaze to the woman standing at the foot of the stairs. She wore a pair of Terry's old beat-up jeans, hiked about her thin waist and tied with what looked to be a length of nylon rope from the storage room. The oversized sweatshirt covered one hip, the other revealing the thick strand of rope that held the pants in place. His socks covered her feet, and her arms hugged herself in the familiar death-hug he had witnessed the night before.

"I--" Madison's voice quavered, "I'd like to thank you and your wife for letting me stay the night."

"Wife?" Izumi looked to Terry, an amused smile on her lips.

"You're very welcome, Madison, but Izumi isn't my wife. She belongs to my best friend." Terry tossed a wink at Izumi. "I like to think of her as an annoying little sister." He chuckled when Izumi laughed, for they both knew it wasn't far from the truth. "Hope you came hungry, because we have lots of spaghetti." When Terry turned his back to Madison, he smiled as he went into the kitchen for the garlic bread warming in the tiny oven. The aroma of that bread had gone straight to the storage room, coaxing Madison out of hiding and into a pair of faded blue jeans Terry had forgotten he owned. Tomato sauce with meatballs, parmesan, a fresh salad thrown together by Izumi, made it a meal too irresistible to pass up.

Terry hadn't had this much food in the place since... well, since Victor.

After pulling out Izumi's chair for her, Terry sat down and left Madison to fend for herself. He imagined she wouldn't appreciate the gesture, let alone remain in the room long enough to get some meat on that overly slender frame.

Terry watched Madison approach the table in quiet desperation. At first, she hung back, then took the seat closest to the living room and the staircase. Hands tucked under her legs, those wide gray eyes fastened on the food with a hunger that stunned even Izumi.

Suddenly, Terry felt bad about going to church, and not coming straight to the apartment with food. How long ago had she last eaten? From the way Madison kept avoiding their curious gaze, Terry guessed he wasn't going to get an answer to that question.

Terry said a prayer over the meal, then started passing food around the short table. As a guy, Terry figured to take more than Izumi, but his mouth fell open when Madison piled as much spaghetti on her plate as she could possibly manage.

"Don't make yourself sick," Terry said with a smile.

Madison ignored him, ladling on sauce and grabbing a slice of garlic bread before Terry could even unfold his napkin.

"So, Madison," Izumi gave one of her polite smiles, "what brings you into this part of New York?"

The eating stopped, then the chin tucked against her shoulder.

"It's okay," Terry told Madison, "we'll talk after lunch."

A large gulp slid down Madison's throat. She paused, then resumed her eating.

What Terry feared might happen, happened. Madison ate like a starving person who didn't know when, or if, she would ever see another meal. As a consequence, she overate to the point of rush-limping upstairs to vomit-- even though Terry tried to tell her the half bath on the bottom floor was closer.

Izumi followed after Madison, only to have the upstairs bathroom door slammed in her face.

When Izumi returned, she started clearing the plates from the table. "Calm down, Terry. She's had too much to eat, that's all."

"Did you see her limp?"

"I saw." Izumi let out a sigh. "You said I'd understand when I saw her, and you were right."

"She reminds you of someone we know, doesn't she?"

The cautious look in Izumi's eyes made Terry wish he hadn't said those words.

"She's been hurt in some terrible way, some point in her life. After this, I think that's obvious. But, Terry, Madison isn't Jake. Neither was Victor, or what's-his-name with the goatee--"


"Yes, Donald. Terry, you can't save everyone."

"I know that."

"Do you?" Izumi didn't look convinced. "I can't help feeling you're going to come out of this hurt. Somehow, some way, this isn't going to turn out well. Especially for you."

Pulling out his cell phone, Terry decided he needed to get Madison on her way before she proved Izumi right. It was too much to hope Madison would come down for anything besides food, and when Terry went upstairs and found the storage room locked, he realized his mistake. First the call, then the food, not the other way around.

"Madison," he knocked on the door. "I want you to let me in. Now."

It amazed Terry when she obeyed. She hunkered away from him, her nose pointed at the carpet.

"It's time for you to call your family, Madison. You can use my cell phone; I don't care if it's long distance, but I need you to call home." He held out the phone, but she didn't take it.

"I-- I don't have anyone to call," she said, her voice nearing a low whisper.

"No family?" Terry looked at her, and she shook her head, "no." "What about friends-- someone who could come get you? There's absolutely no one?"

By now, Izumi stood in the doorway, listening to every word. Terry glanced behind his back, saw the uneasy alarm in Izumi's face.

"Does this mean I have to leave now?" Madison's thin voice quaked as she spoke. Her eyes didn't seem able to lift to meet Terry's, but Terry heard the plea.

"You were hitchhiking when I first saw you-- where were you headed?"

A shoulder rose, dropped in an uncertain shrug.

"You had a destination, didn't you?"

The chin bobbed up in a look of understanding. "My destination was Three Mile Bay."

Terry felt his hopes rise. "Then you know someone in the area?"

Her head shook "no."

"Then why did you come here?"

Another shrug, followed by a cautious whisper Terry almost didn't hear. "It was as far as my money would take me."

"Are you running from someone?" Izumi asked over Terry's shoulder.

When Madison didn't reply, Terry repeated the question.

"There's no one to run from," Madison said in a flat voice. "I don't have a husband, and I don't have any children. I don't have a home, and I don't have any friends." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I don't have anyone but God."

Strange, thought Terry, to claim God was on your side when everything in your life pointed to destitution and pain. It intrigued Terry, made him hesitate when he felt sure Izumi wanted him to make a firm decision.

"Please, mister. I don't have anywhere else to go."

"I can't let you stay here indefinitely. You understand that, don't you?"

She nodded.

If Terry knew of a defense against the pitiful helplessness before him, self-preservation demanded that he use it now. But he had nothing, not even the alarm Izumi felt so needful.

"I suppose you can stay... for a few days." Terry felt Izumi's hot disappointment, but kept addressing Madison. "I don't know what to do about this yet, but for now, I think you should concentrate on regaining your strength. We'll talk about your future, later. Maybe you could find some sort of a job..." Terry turned to look at Izumi and saw the sigh coming.

"Do I have to do anything to stay?" The question slid Terry's attention back to Madison.


Madison sucked in a breath, held it until her question came again. "Do I have to do anything to stay?"

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't trash my apartment."

"Besides that," Madison gulped. "Do I have to do anything special to stay here? Because if I do, I'd rather go back to the wild."

"That wasn't the wild, Madison. That was a campground."

"But..." she struggled to speak, and Terry had a hunch he knew what she meant.

"I don't expect any special favors in return."

The fear in Madison's face betrayed she thought he might force her to do just that.

With an exasperated groan, Izumi pushed past Terry, and looked at Madison with a flare of righteous indignation in her eyes. "Listen, Terry is one of the good guys. He wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone another human being. He's kind to a fault, and wouldn't accept payment if it was thrown in his face."

Terry smiled at the loyal defense. "Let me handle this, Izzy."

Shaking her head, Izumi returned to the bedroom door. "I wish John were here. Then again, he'd probably take your side. When you two band together like brothers, it takes dynamite to change your mind."

"Please, Izzy--"

"I won't stop you, Terry. You're old enough to make these decisions on your own. Sometimes, though, I wish I was your mom; I'd stand a better chance of protecting you"-- Izumi tossed a glance in Madison's direction-- "from problems like this one."

Evidently feeling the reproach of Izumi's statement, Madison ducked her head. "I can't pay you anything," Madison said in a quiet voice. "I have nothing."

With a sigh, Terry folded his arms, glanced at Izumi and saw the pity reflected on Izumi's face. "No one here is asking for payment, Madison. Find something useful to do with your life, and give back to society when you have the chance. Do that, and you'll pay me back with interest. Okay?"

The chin came up long enough for Terry to see the bewilderment on Madison's face. "I don't understand you."

"That makes two of us," Izumi sighed over Terry's shoulder. "I have to get back to John and the girls. It was nice to meet you, Madison."

Izumi's polite remark sounded just that-- polite-- but Terry appreciated it, all the same.

"I'll come with you, Izzy. I just have one more thing to settle here."

With a growing look of dread, Madison backed a few more steps from Terry.

He pointed to her arms. "Roll up your sleeves."


"I want to see if you have any track marks."

"I'm not a drug addict."

"Then roll up your sleeves."

Madison complied, then pulled off her socks to show there weren't any puncture marks between her toes. Whoever Madison was, she had been around drug users. Perhaps she wasn't a user herself-- Terry could believe that-- but she knew the usual places of injection.

"Okay, you can put my socks back on. If I ever catch you with drugs, you're out of this apartment. No arguments, no appeals. Got it?"

She nodded in understanding. "What about the landlord? Won't he mind me using your apartment?"

"You're talking to him," Izumi said with a smile. "Terry owns the building. She has a point, though, Terry. You'd better let Lauren know about your houseguest."

"Lauren Moore is the building superintendent," Terry said to Madison. "I'll talk to her before we leave." Terry turned to go, then remembered something. "My business card is on the refrigerator if you need to contact me. Oh, and Izzy did your laundry; it's in the bag by the sofa."

* * * *

For several minutes after Terry and Izumi left, the shock of actually having asked to stay, amazed Madison. Only a moment before his return, she had been planning her escape. Maybe the arrival of food had given her courage, or maybe it had been the presence of that oriental looking woman with the deep blue eyes. The wife of his best friend, Terry had said. The statement piqued Madison's curiosity. Their exchange had been familiar, like a brother and sister, and not like a man and woman who were unrelated to each other.

This Terry was an odd person. He might even be crazy. Odd or not, crazy or not, Madison had a roof over her head for at least the next few days.

As she headed downstairs, she noticed the stiffness in her hip felt better.

A quick inspection of the kitchen brought a further smile. There were leftovers in the refrigerator, soda pop and a bag of chips on the counter. Madison filled her plate, felt something stir within her that she thought had died in the cold of those first two nights in Three Mile Bay. She felt renewed hope for the future, a real chance at a new beginning. She'd get a job, find her own place to stay, and in the process, become normal.

More than anything, Madison wanted to be like everyone else. To be carefree, to live without that energetic monster in the shadows. No one else had a monster.

Now she wouldn't, either.

"And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee."
~ Psalm 39:7 ~

end of chapter