Be among the first to know when I post new chapters, to new books!

Click Here
Keep up-to-date on all the announcements and website news!

Subscribe today!

My policy is to follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); I hate spam too, and will never sell or give away your email address.
Chapter Thirty
Butterfly Wings

"The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him."
~ 2 Chronicles 16:9 ~

Comfort eased her into consciousness, a security that had come from holding Terry's hand as she tumbled into sleep. She had reached for him and he had been there, a firm, steadying hand that had let her rest while struggling with all that exhaustion. The lack of sleep had worn her down to nothing, left her with so little to work with that her thoughts had centered around kissing turning on Terry, and not on what had really mattered most last night.

As Madison's eyes flicked open and the darkness of the living room came into focus, she settled down to do some early morning thinking.

A solid night's sleep felt good, for a change. Her thoughts felt like they had feet under them, that if she put them on the ground they could stand and not topple over. And that was good, for after Terry's news about having to wait longer to get married, she had a lot on her heart.

She wanted to think.

Why was it the deeper she plunged into these unknown but happy waters, the more lost she felt?

All those years with the Dragon, she'd learned to crawl inside herself to survive, and it had worked. She'd waited, endured each moment as it had come, and yet, sometimes, the hardest thing to take hadn't been the Dragon, but the knowledge that the world was going on without her, and wasn't missing her at all. For her, time had mostly stood still, not really growing up, not really doing anything but surviving her existence, and the world wasn't missing her, it wasn't noticing that she wasn't there. It was going on without her like she didn't matter. It had been the loneliest feeling in the world.

She didn't want to survive anymore. She wanted to live.

The more she saw of this family, the more she understood there was a difference.

Crawling inside herself had worked when she'd been chained to one spot and she couldn't go any farther than she could reach, but here, she could reach as far as she wanted. The only thing to hold her back, was herself.

After all those years of wishing she could be somewhere else, here she was-- she WAS somewhere else, and now she needed to become more. She needed to be more. She needed to reach as far as she possibly could, or else she still wouldn't be free.

If the Dragon saw her right now... Madison shuddered.

He'd be so angry, and yet, he'd probably tell her she was stupid for thinking she could ever exist without him, and that the way he saw it, she wasn't. Look at her, she was a grown woman carrying around a doll. Did Izzy carry one, or Abby? The triplets did, but they were four, going on five. The Dragon would've loved that.

Yet who cared what the Dragon would have thought? what he would have wanted?

This was her life now, not his. He had no say. Not anymore. God had taken that chain off her, and now it was up to her to free herself.

The clarity of her thoughts was startling, and it frightened Madison. She didn't want to think, she wanted to coast, and to not have to deal with what it meant to be free. There was a responsibility here that she was beginning to realize, a responsibility to God, and to that eight-year-old child who'd lost everything when her momma had walked away and never looked back.

She remembered last night, when Terry said they'd have to wait longer than he'd thought for them to get married. Last night she'd been relieved, but now she wanted to take it all back. She wanted to go forward, not stay the way she was.

The problem though-- and it was a very big problem-- was that going forward meant even more change. Change wasn't easy, it meant stepping outside herself and learning even more new things and that wasn't going to be easy. It already hadn't, but more was needed. It made her want to stay on the couch with her Terri doll and watch the world go by... but Madison caught herself.

She didn't want that.

She remembered those treatment goals, and knew she'd never have them by staying like this. No one could live her life for her, she had to do it herself.

Maybe sleep hadn't been such a good idea, after all. She'd been happier running on fumes and not letting herself think too hard, carrying around her doll and crawling inside herself when things got too bumpy.

Madison shoved onto her other side, and let the doll slide behind her back. Her hip hurt, and she didn't want to think anymore. Life was harder than she'd thought it would be. Survival hadn't been a picnic-- it'd been brutal-- but this was hard in a different kind of way. It meant she had to use a whole new set of muscles, muscles she hadn't used since she was a child. Or maybe she'd never used them at all, because now she was supposed to be all grown up and eight years old was far from thirty-four. Which is what she was.

It didn't seem fair. How was she supposed to know how to live?

But did she want to live, or not?

She was thinking too much. Madison reached around her back, grabbed the doll and in the semi-dark tried to see her Terri. She couldn't, not really, but it no longer felt like her baby, something she wanted to take with her everywhere, but a gift the real Terry had given to show how much he loved her. Nothing more.

A strange sadness settled over Madison, like something was being left behind that she couldn't go back and find. It confused her, and she tugged the blanket over her head as hot stung her eyes. With no one to see her, she let herself cry very quietly. Very softly.

She cried for the past, for what had come before, for all the things that led to this moment, for the longing that came from seeing the familiar slip away.

When her tears had stopped falling, Madison dried her eyes, pushed back the blanket for air and felt like a caterpillar coming out of its cocoon. The comparison burned itself in her mind and she felt a fluttering of hope.

God had seasons to things, and maybe this was hers.

How she wished she had wings to spread like a butterfly's. She wanted to fly, or to at least skim the ground and taste what it was like to no longer be a caterpillar, stuck on the ground forever looking up and wishing she could be free. She was free, she was going to be even more free, and hope vibrated inside her at the thought.

Then the old pain flared-- her hip protested as she sat up on the couch, and she was reminded that no matter how much she wanted to change, her body was still the same as it always was, and it was hurting.

So much for her wings.

Something smelled good though. Her roses were still blooming and giving off perfume beside the couch, but there was a hungry, comforting scent of food in the house that made her stomach rumble. She hadn't noticed it until now, but something was baking in the kitchen. Madison pushed off the blankets, saw Izzy's inflatable mattress on the floor, and realized John had set it up last night without making any noise.

At least, not any that Madison had heard.

She followed the hungry smell to the kitchen, and peeked through the doorway. The overhead lights were off, but the cabinets had lights beneath them, and they shone above the counter top and splashed onto the floor in a soft glowing river.

Izzy sat at the table in her robe and slippers, cradling a cup of something that steamed, and reading from a book as if she were enjoying the peace and quiet of the morning.


Izzy startled a little, turned to look at who said her name, and smiled when she saw it was Madison. "Here I was praying you would sleep until nine. It isn't even five thirty."

"It's all right. I'm not tired anymore." Madison moved to the counter to get a better look.

"John and Terry put those lights in when we remodeled the kitchen a few years ago." Izzy smiled and pushed up from the table. "Sometimes, I like turning them on at night, or when the sun's not up-- like now. They give the kitchen a cozy feel, don't you think?"

Madison nodded.

"John tried not to wake you last night when he inflated the mattress," Izzy smiled as she went to the counter, "but I think I know what might have gotten you up." She gestured to the bread machine. "It smells good, doesn't it? I set up the machine before I went to bed, but next time, I'll show you how in one of our cooking lessons." Izzy leaned against the counter and sipped from her mug. "How was your sleep? Was it good?"

Madison's smile gave her answer.

"Thank God." Izzy sighed deeply, then motioned to the electric kettle. "Would you like some tea?"

"I know how," Madison nodded, and moved around Izzy to get a mug from the cupboard. She took some painkiller for her hip, then began to fill the kettle from the faucet. Her movements weren't fast, but she knew where everything was at, all she needed to do was not drop the kettle as it filled.

The sight of running water, and the water she'd just drank, caught up with Madison. She shut off the faucet and gave a hurried excuse to Izzy.

Madison sped through the living room, the hall, rounded into the office, and was startled to find Terry at his desk.

"Maddie, we--"

She had no time to talk, but headed straight for the office bathroom. Even in her urgency, it occurred to her that if she ever needed to get out of a tricky situation, she could always excuse herself by using the bathroom.

Was she the first to think of that?

A few moments later, as she finished washing up at the sink, she saw the grocery bags stashed against the wall. Her surprises were safe. She didn't need the Dragon's security cameras to know Terry hadn't been in the bathroom. If there was one thing in her life she could allow herself to go weak in the knees and be silly about, surely, it had to be Terry.

Yeah, she could.

Wasn't he wonderful? Just the most wonderful person in the world. Sweet, wonderful Terry had promised to stay out of the office bathroom, and since he had given his word, it meant that he had done just that-- he had stayed out. Oh, she loved him. She loved him to little itty bitty bits.

If there was anything worth getting off the couch for in life, he had to be one of them.

She opened the bathroom door, moved fast into the office and shut it behind her so he couldn't see anything, and looked at Terry. Who as it turned out, was looking right back.

"Are you all right, Maddie?"

"Oh, yes." She struggled not to hug herself and went to his desk.

He'd dressed in brown slacks and a creamy button up shirt, and the desk lamp cast a warm glow on his hair that made him seem like one big hunk of chocolate. She was hungry, and when his mouth moved, she backed away.

"Maddie, you're scratching."

She was? She looked down, saw the red streaks and forced herself to stop.

"If you have a moment, we need to talk." Terry got to his feet, rolled a chair from the side of the room and placed it next to his desk as though they were about to have a meeting of minds. "Have you had breakfast, yet? This could wait until you've eaten."

He hadn't eaten, but Madison knew she could fix that.

"Wait here," she told him, and started for the kitchen. It was hard not to let her excitement get away from her, because this was something she could do. Maybe. She didn't know how yet, but Izzy could show her. "Izzy?" Madison hurried into the kitchen. "Terry's up, so can I fix him some bread?"

"You sure may." Izzy told her to put on the oven mitts, then gave her step by step instructions how to take the bread out of the machine.

Madison got out a cutting board, then Izzy sliced the bread and showed Madison how thick she usually made the slices. The knife was the one part Madison couldn't do herself, but she got to put the bread on a plate, smeared the slices with butter and marmalade like Izzy said Terry often did, then filled a coffee mug with his usual mug of java.

The awful stuff.

While Izzy took out a tray, Madison worked on her own plate, and went without the marmalade because Izzy had said it had orange peel. That didn't sound right, but the bread smelled good, and when Madison sneaked a tiny bite, it tasted fresh. Her nerves strained to do everything just right, to not make any mistakes and when her hands began to tremble, Madison took several deep breaths until they steadied.

In her head, she could hear Terry's voice telling her to calm down.

Loading the tray with the plates, and Terry's smiley mug, Madison started for the living room only to find Terry watching from the kitchen doorway.

"Oh, go back! Go back!" Madison cried, and Terry hurried back to the hall as she stepped into the living room. After the work she'd put into this, they were going to eat in the office if it was the last thing she did. Breakfast wouldn't be as special if it was in the kitchen.

That's what you did on normal days. Today was special, this morning had made it so.

Edging into the hall, she tried not to slosh the smiley mug.

"Do you need help?" Terry asked, as she moved sideways into the office so she wouldn't bump her elbow.

"No, I have it."

"Is that coffee?" Terry came over, took his mug and her sloshing problem was gone.

She moved his Bible over, placed the tray on a corner of his desk and smiled. "Izzy made bread so that's what we're having for breakfast." Madison sat down in the rolly chair Terry had pulled out for her, then shifted their plates around on the tray. Her thumb pushed into some marmalade, and when she went to lick it off, she wished she'd had some of the sweet stuff, after all.

"This is a nice surprise," Terry smiled as he took his chair. "But then, you've been full of surprises, lately."

Madison couldn't help beaming. "You really like the pencil sharpener?"

"I do, thank you."

"You can use it in your work?"

"Sure can."

She closed her eyes and waited, and when nothing happened, she looked at Terry. "Aren't you going to say grace?"

He sighed. "I was just thinking how much I love you. Do you mind hearing that?"

Biting her lip, she shook her head and tried not to look at his mouth.

He reached across the corner of the desk, his hand up-- not a demand, just a gentle request, and she filled his hand with hers.

And her heart trembled.

"Dear Lord," he began, and she closed her eyes, "thank You for this food, and for the one who brought it here. Please, give us wisdom, and me, especially. Bless us. Please, bless us. In Jesus' name, amen."

"Wisdom for what?" Madison asked. She eyed the filing cabinet beside his desk and wondered how long she would have to wait for him to find a gift, if she hid one there.

"Maddie, I'd like to talk. A real heart-to-heart."

"About what?"

"About us." Terry leaned forward in his chair. "Please, don't be scared by what I'm about to ask you. I woke up early this morning, and I've been doing a lot of praying, a lot of thinking about you and me. Maddie, I want to help you."

"I know."

He touched her hand. "Getting married will already be hard for you, and I don't want to do anything that will make it worse. That's my biggest concern-- making this harder for you than it already is."

"Terry, what are you trying to ask me?"

He gave a deep sigh, let go of her hand and looked at her intently. "If I gave you a choice of getting married any time you wanted, when would you pick? Or, putting it another way-- how long do you want to wait until we get married?"

"You said we couldn't marry anytime soon."

"If we could-- if you could pick any time you wanted, how long would you want to wait?"

Gulp. Just this morning, she'd said she wanted to take it all back, and here was her chance. Her mouth wanted to work, but no words would come out. It was time to speak-- she knew it was, this was her chance, and she begged God for help. The words had to come, they just had to.


"Yes, what?"

"I-- I meant, I want to marry you."

"I understand that, but when?"

She was confused by the question. She was willing, so what was he asking? She'd said "yes." Last time, that had been enough.

"Maddie, I found out we can get married pretty much anytime we want."

"Oh." Now she understood. This wasn't a figurative question at all, it was very literal. Praying and pleading for help, she didn't want to lose one more chance of reaching her goal of getting Terry. "Could I have a moment?"

"Of course."

She breathed deep, steadied herself, braced her palms on the seat of her rolly chair and made up her mind to try and speak as honestly as she absolutely knew how. "If I could marry you anytime, I would want to marry you, today." There. That was honest. She swallowed hard and kept going. "Sometimes, I want to be with you so bad, I need to cut. It's easier to not touch you after I cut my stomach, and I don't want to cut anymore." Madison felt a little faint for having said that, but it was the truth. "I think that would help me, so that's my answer. Yes, that's what I want."

Terry looked a bit surprised, and yet he didn't. Not really.

"I've been wondering if waiting might be hard on you. I haven't forgotten what you told Carol-- that thinking about me made you hurt yourself, last Sunday. That was only six days ago."

Madison nodded.

It took him some time to speak again, and when he did, it was very carefully. "Then would being married help relieve some of that tension? I'm not talking about sex, but--"

"Things like kissing?" she asked.


"It would help, I know it would." She bit her lip. "We'd better not kiss so much we couldn't stop, though. And when you're really turned on, I'd need to stop."

His expression softened even more. "I'll go you one better, Maddie. I'll do everything I can to stop before that even happens. I know what it's going to do to me-- it's just the way I am, kissing has always done that to me, but I can stop before it gets too bad. You aren't ready for anything more, and it's up to me to make sure you feel safe. If we work together on this, I can stop."

"Thank you, Terry. Thank you." She loved him so much for saying those words, even though they didn't surprise her. They stunned her because a man had said them, but the fact they'd come from Terry, didn't surprise her at all. "And touching? Terry, what about touching?"

He shook his head. "No touching beyond that."

"Please, Terry, what if I'm ready for just a little bit?"

"I didn't think you liked that kind of contact."

"I don't, but--" she sighed and realized she wanted to say more than Terry might be ready to hear. "I don't like a lot of touching, especially if I'm not ready. Or, if I'm touched where I don't want to be handled. Which is a lot of places," she admitted. "But I want... to be touched... a little. As long as it's you. I want that, because I want you." She couldn't look Terry in the eye after admitting all that, but tried to peek up at him in a round about way. His dark socks with the yellow seams on the toes, the mug on his knee, his chin, that lopsided mouth that parted just enough to show white teeth. His chocolatey brown eyes as they peered into her soul.

It was too honest a gaze, and she had to look down at the carpet.

"I didn't see that coming." He put the mug on the desk and blew out a breath. "Wow, Maddie, you really know how to knock me for a loop. I don't know what to say."

"Say we'll get married today."

"Before we get back to that, let's come to an agreement on something. Intimacy will go at your speed, not mine. If you say 'stop,' then I'll stop. I'll soak my head under a faucet if need be, but you're in control. Are we agreed?"

"Thank you, yes-- I agree." Madison hugged herself, she had to hug herself or explode. "I love you, Terry. I love you so much it hurts."

"Are you sure, Maddie?"

"I'm sure I love you."

His gaze held steady, as though he wanted to make absolutely certain she knew her mind and heart.

"I want to be your wife, Terry. Whatever happens, I want it to be with you, I don't want to be with anyone else. If I'm going to be a butterfly, then I want to fly with you. I want to fly with you, Terry."

"A butterfly." His gaze was so wistful, it dipped away from her, as if he didn't want to push her from him.

"Terry, please."

When Terry spoke, husky emotion choked his words and she knew he was feeling a lot.

"I'm so proud of you, Maddie. So delicate, and yet so bold. Just look at you. You'll fly." His voice broke, then pushed on with a fierce certainty that made his face blaze with feeling. "You have such moxy, you keep trying, you don't give up. Even though you've had it harder than most, you still believe in God. You still have faith. It takes strength to come away from so much evil, and to not let it strip you of your humanity."

She wanted to look over her shoulder and see if he were talking to someone else, and not her, but he was-- he was looking right at her and those words were all for her.

Madison smiled. She was just grateful Terry wanted her in his life.

"You remind me to keep up the good fight, Maddie." Terry reached over, took her hand, bowed his head and started to pray. "Dear Heavenly Father, please bless what we're about to do. We know this marriage won't be easy, but as it's written in the Scriptures, 'Can two walk together, except they be agreed?' We are in agreement, Lord, and we will continue to work for that agreement in the days to come. Bless our love for each other. Give us grace, and remember Your promise that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Surely, Lord, the Dragon's sin was great, so give us greater grace, greater help, and make that help abound so much the more. In Jesus' name, amen."

When Terry let go of her hand, she opened her eyes. He looked so quiet and pensive, like he was thinking very deep thoughts, she used the desk to pull her rolly chair closer to his. She watched him carefully, smiled when he cast her a studied look.


"Are you changing your mind, Terry?"

"Not a chance."

"Then we'll get married today?"

He struggled not to grin. She could tell.

"I can't promise it'll be today, Maddie, but I'll do my best. I'd like very much for it to be today." He then explained a trip they'd need to take to Las Vegas, and added with a smile, "I guess you'll get to fly sooner than you thought."

That wasn't exactly what she'd meant, and when he asked if she minded having a second wedding in Three Mile Bay, she shook her head.

"I don't mind-- not if we'd already be married. We would, wouldn't we, Terry?"

"That's the point of going to Vegas." He sighed, and gestured to the laptop with his chin. "I need to read up on this, but I'll let you know what I find out. Brian seemed pretty certain of his information, so I don't think we'll come up against anything we can't easily solve."

"This was Brian's idea?"

Terry smiled and nodded, "yes."

"Did you thank him?"

"I did."

"Should I?"

"Probably now's not the best time. They're getting married today, and I'm guessing a call from us might disturb Stan at a time when Emily is trying to keep things as happy and upbeat as possible. We'll call later and thank them then."

Madison nodded, and got up from her chair as Terry pulled his laptop forward. She watched him a moment.

Hope, strong love, and something else, something that made her want to back away, surged through Madison and it took real effort to sort out the things that were the Dragon's, from the things that were Terry's. They got mixed up if she wasn't careful. Her body was so used to one man, she had trained herself to hate the Dragon's touch for so long, that it was hard to tell her senses that it was now good. That it was now okay. How could it be good? How could it be anything but ugly, even with Terry?

She went to the hallway and waited until her heart slowed to a steady beat. Behind her, she could hear Terry at his laptop, hopefully doing his best to set up their first wedding.

Please, God, help me.

Hugging herself, Madison made her way into the living room, snapped on the lighthouse lamp, then pulled her Bible and notebook out from under the couch. She wanted to tell Izzy her news, but not now. So much was on her heart, she curled up on the blankets, unclipped her pen and began to write. She wrote down all the thoughts she'd had that morning. She wrote until her hand cramped, and her writing grew so tired it became hard to read-- even more than usual. Writing it down made it real to her, and it calmed her to see the form of the words and to see that they were truly making some sense. Even a little.

That she wasn't crazy beyond belief.

When her hand gave out, Madison opened her Bible and read slowly from the New Testament until the beating in her chest steadied and she felt calmer.

The kitchen sounded very quiet, and even though Madison had switched on the lamp in the living room, Izzy hadn't come in. It was as though Izzy didn't want to crowd her since Madison didn't have a room to herself. Especially while the house was so quiet and empty and you could have the living room as your own.

Madison put away her notebook, Bible, then got up and went to the kitchen.

The sun had yet to come up, and at the table, Izzy was still reading from her book. Izzy looked up and smiled when Madison came in.

"Did Terry like his breakfast?"

Madison nodded, and took the chair next to Izzy.

"Did you two have a long talk?"

Again, Madison nodded and sensed Izzy already had an idea of what was going on. Which meant Terry must have talked this over in some degree with Izzy and John the night before. Madison pressed her hands together and wondered if any of her dreams in the basement had ever pictured her like this, on the brink of something so big and so normal. This was what normal people did. It made her feel strangely different, and yet she still had two arms, two legs, one head, and Izzy was still watching her as though she knew something important was being decided.

"I told Terry I didn't want to wait. He's going to see if we can get married today."

"Do you feel frightened?"

Madison hugged her middle and stared at Izzy's book. "I feel different."

"That might be because you're changing." Izzy brushed the hair from Madison's face and Madison leaned into her friend. "When you find the things you value in life, hang on to them, and change with them, and as you grow, you'll take them with you. The things that aren't important, will fall away, but spend yourself on the things that are worth the effort."

"Terry is worth the effort."

"That's called love." Izzy patted Madison's arm, then handed her the book she'd been reading. "I was thinking you might like to have this. John gave it to me after we were married, and I found it encouraging."

The title was My Beloved, My Friend: Married and Walking Together in the Lord and it had a Scripture entry and a thought for each day of the year.

"Look up today," Izzy whispered.

Madison opened the well-worn book and turned the pages until she found today's entry.

October Seventh
"Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD." (Proverbs 18:22)

Below was a thought based on the verse, about God's favor and blessings, and it gave Madison tiny shivers up her arm, as if whoever had put the book together had known she was getting married today. She looked at Izzy.

"When Terry said last night that you and he might be getting married soon, I thought of this entry. I wasn't sure if this verse would be on the seventh or the eighth, but there it is." Izzy sighed happily. "I don't believe in luck at all. Whenever a small thing like this lines up, I just nod, smile, and say, 'Thank You, Lord,' and go on my way. It's providence, a happy providence."

Curious, Madison flipped to the next day to see what she would find, but it didn't say anything remarkable or telling, and Izzy got up from the table while the house began to stir. If God paid attention to tiny little details, which Madison was sure He must, then it gave her more assurance about the bigger things, the things she often couldn't see anyway around.

God cared.

She'd already known that, but it was like getting a hug from Heaven, and on her wedding morning.

* * * *

Madison had left the office thinking they could get married today, and though he didn't think it unlikely, Terry didn't want to let her down. He sifted through the information, grabbed a legal pad and started to take notes as John dragged himself into the office in his PJs looking like he'd slept on his face.

"Morning." John tugged the chair from his desk, dumped himself in the seat and started up his laptop. "I need coffee."

"You know where to find it." Terry wrote without looking up, then looked back to his screen to check something.

"Any news?" John got up and checked Terry's smiley mug.

Since he still had some java left, Terry moved the mug to the other side of his computer where it would be safe. "Maddie gave the green light. She wants to get married as soon as possible, so I'm trying to set it up." Terry looked over to his friend. "Are you and Izzy available for a two day trip, say today and tomorrow?"

"Sure. If we can find a sitter for the kids." John looked thoughtful, and scratched at the stubble on his cheek. "Is this going to be a big deal, or just a small party like you were suggesting last night?"

"A small party with just the six of us. Besides Maddie and I, you and Izzy, and Abby and Jake. If they're awake, maybe you could go check things with AJ and make sure they can come."

"We could ask the Hopkins to babysit the kids," John nodded.

Terry made notes. "That's what I was hoping."

"What are you doing now?"

"The pre-application for the marriage license is online, so I thought I'd fill it out now and save us some time at the marriage bureau."

"You're getting married." John said it as though he were waking up for the first time that morning, and Terry looked up to see him grinning. "Whew." John shook his head and got to his feet. "I'd better go see about AJ so you can buy those plane tickets when you're ready. And I'll get Izzy to call Agatha." He started for the office door, paused then looked back at Terry. "How long have you been up?"

"Long enough to know she wants to get married today, and that I have to get moving." Terry took a gulp of his now cold java, then went to the filing cabinet to dig up Maddie's birth certificates and Social Security card. He brought them to his desk, looked them over, then started in on the pre-application while John went to go talk to AJ and Izzy.

This was sure to wake up the house in a hurry.

Five minutes later, he heard John shout back, "They're coming!" and Terry tried to ignore the fact that there was now someone watching from the doorway.

Out of the corner of his peripheral vision he could see Maddie.

"Do you know yet?" she asked.

"I'm afraid not. I'll tell you as soon as I do." He kept working and was thankful when she left. This had to get filled out, but as soon as he could, he'd start making reservations and then they'd know for certain.

With no waiting period to get married, it was basically a matter of getting down there today. He glanced at the time, figured he'd better buy the tickets now, make the hotel reservations, so Maddie would have an answer to her question. Then he could go back to filling out the paperwork while everyone packed.

He scanned flight departures and arrivals, figured in enough time to get to the airport and get their bags checked in, then tried to factor in getting married before tonight.

They could always get married tomorrow, but he had asked Maddie, and this was what she had chosen.

"Izzy?" Terry waited, and when no one came to the office, he pushed up from the desk and nearly collided with Izzy in the hall. "Have you called Agatha yet?"

"I have." Izzy kept folding the blanket she held as Abby came from Terry's old room and listened. "Agatha said they're more than pleased to babysit. I passed along our thanks, but she made me promise-- on a stack of Bibles-- that you and Madison would have that second wedding in Three Mile Bay. I told her that was your plan."

"Thanks." His mind at work, Terry nodded, moved past Izzy and his niece and went into the living room where Maddie was helping to put away her bedding.

When she saw him, she dropped what she was doing and stared at him intently.

"We can get a flight out of Syracuse this morning, and land in Las Vegas in the afternoon. Meaning we can get married today, if that's what you want."

She nodded that it was, and hugged herself around the middle.

"Instead of running hard to get back, I was thinking we'd just stay at a hotel, then take a flight back in the morning. That way, we can take things easy and won't risk pushing you to exhaustion again."

She paled a little but kept listening.

"I need to know how to book the hotel rooms, Maddie. I could put all the women in one suite, and all the men in another, or I could pair us off as couples. What do you want?"

Maddie kept hugging herself.

"I'll make sure each suite will have a separate room with a couch so you won't have to sleep in a bedroom. You won't have to be concerned about the beds, all I need to know is whether you want to be with Izzy or not."

"I need someone to wake me." She shifted on her socked feet and looked like a delicate butterfly braving a strong wind. This was an aspect of their marriage they were going to have to face-- Terry knew it and so did she, he only wanted to make that wind as gentle as possible. "I need someone there so I don't get really bad dreams, so if you don't mind, I'd like it to be you."

"I don't mind at all." Terry let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "We're getting married, and it'd be an honor. I don't want to scare you, but maybe you could do the same for me. Wake me if you notice I'm dreaming heavy?"

She smiled and nodded.

"We can do this, Maddie. This will take some teamwork and a lot of love and looking after each other, but we can do this."

Her sweet smile had him feeling twenty feet off the ground.

He nodded, backed away and started into the hall. "I'll get you one of my carry-ons. Our plane will take off at nine thirty this morning-- we'll need to leave here with enough time to get to the airport, so try not to take too long packing. If you forget anything, don't worry. We'll buy it in Vegas."

Maddie bit her lip and looked at him so deeply, Terry had to remind himself to breathe.

"I'll get that suitcase." He turned, went into the hall and found the door to his bedroom open. Knocking first, he looked inside and saw Abby and Jake arranging clothes in an overnight bag while Ricky watched. "I just need to grab a few things."

"Sure. Did you get the tickets?" Jake asked.

"Not yet." Terry opened his closet, dug around the back and pulled out a duffel and a small suitcase. He yanked out some clothes, stuffed them into the duffel, went to his dresser and added underclothes, then hurried to the master bedroom to collect his electric shaving kit. It went against his grain to stuff and not fold, but he promised himself he would later. Like after they arrived at the hotel.

Terry moved down the hall, dumped his duffel by the recliner and gave Maddie the suitcase.

"Will this do?" he asked.

She looked at the upright carry-on with wheels and gave an overwhelmed smile.

"I'll take that as a 'yes,'" Terry grinned.

He went back to the office, dropped back in front of his laptop as Debbie and Lizzie came in with their breakfast.

Munching homemade bread, the girls stood on either side of him while he bought the plane tickets, their eyes watching his web browser as though they could read every word. Which he very well knew they couldn't.

"When are you coming home?" Debbie asked.

"Tomorrow morning." Terry tapped his trackpad and the printer came to life. He did a search of hotels in the area while Lizzie ate so close to his arm she spilled crumbs onto his shirt. He carefully checked the photos of the suites, needing to find one with enough space so Maddie would be able to sleep on a couch outside of the bedroom.

The girls kept eating, and when the crumbs stopped falling onto Terry's shirt, they left to go pack for Mrs. Hopkins' house.

This hotel looked good. It didn't take long to make a call and book three suites, especially since he didn't make an issue about the pricing. The rooms were available and he had the money, and after going over some of the other details, it was back to the marriage license.

"Hey." John stuck his head into the office. "You got the tickets?

Popular question. "Yup."

"Hotel reservations?"

"Covered-- and I reserved a private shuttle to take us there from the airport."

Buttoning his long sleeved shirt, John came over to the desk and planted himself over Terry's shoulder. This was becoming a spectator sport. John grabbed a chair, and before Terry knew it, he had a volunteer to help think things through on the application.

Not long after, Maddie came through the office pulling her upright suitcase, and went into the bathroom to pack. She kept her clothes and most of her belongings in the bathroom, and since that was also the place of "the bags," Terry kept his attention away until the door had shut and there was no chance of him seeing anything he wasn't supposed to.

He had to knock on the bathroom door a few times to ask some questions about her side of the marriage license, but the job got done, and Terry submitted the online pre-application and was rewarded with a reference number.

The process had officially begun.

He then called the Office of Civil Marriages, and made an appointment for a ceremony for later that day.

The printer spit out its contents as laughter came from the triplets' room. John got up a minute, and when he came back, shook his head and muttered something about the kids still deciding what to take with them to the Hopkins' house. It was an unusual morning, which, knowing the munchkins the way Terry did, probably meant they were having fun.

Collecting his printouts and ID papers, Terry placed them, and the pad, into a document holder, and zipped the holder closed. John put on his shoes, then went out to get the minivan ready. Both men were frequent fliers, or they had been before they'd cut down on all that traveling, and Terry felt they were well versed enough to make this trip without turning prematurely gray.

Of course, he'd never gone anywhere with the express purpose of getting married. That was a new one, but aside from that life-changing event, travel was no big deal. Maddie, however, probably hadn't done much, and he was glad he'd opted to stay overnight in Vegas rather than subject her to fourteen hours of round trip flying. Better to split it up so she could take it in smaller doses.

"How are you coming along in there?" he called to the bathroom.

"I'm almost done."

"Come get me if you need help. I'll be outside with John."

Pocketing the all-important wedding bands, Terry picked up his documents, coat, and moved into the hall as Ruthie hurried past him into the triplets' bedroom with a stack of storybooks-- probably to see if she could find room in someone's backpack. Terry chuckled. Four years old, and on her way to becoming a literary nut.

Everyone was busy, everyone was packing, all except for one. When Terry came into the living room, he found Ricky, calm and composed, sitting on a small suitcase by the couch with Stan, all ready to go.

"You're a cool customer," Terry laughed in admiration. "I'm impressed."

"My Daddy packed me. He said I was easy because we've been living out of our bags mostly."

"That's a mixed blessing." Terry tucked the document holder beside his duffel. "Have you ever been on a sleepover before? Then for a guy like you, this should be a piece of cake."

Ricky grinned, and kept playing with his firefighter.

Terry put on his coat and headed for the front door.

Things were well on their way and Terry was feeling the joyful hum of knowing he was where he was supposed to be. And so was Maddie. Their faith was being answered and the sound of it filled Terry's heart, echoed in his soul and made him want to shout. The future lay ahead; they would walk it by faith and not by sight, but it encouraged Terry to keep walking, to keep praying.

It seemed fitting to him that this smaller journey should start a larger one, one he and Maddie would travel for the rest of their married lives.

The minivan sat in front of the house while John strapped in the boosters needed to take the kids to the Hopkins' house. Not a small task when it meant four kids and four seats. As John hunched over his work in the minivan, Jake came from his truck with the fourth booster needed for Ricky.

When Jake saw Terry, the young man grinned. "Thanks for including me and Abby on this wedding."

"Thanks for coming," Terry smiled.

"Are the kids almost ready?" John asked over his shoulder. "Except for that last booster, we're all set. I figure we drop off the kids, come back for the girls, take out the boosters, load up the luggage, then hit the road with time enough to spare at the airport."

"Sounds good to me. As soon as you're done, I'll get the munchkins." Terry waited until John had strapped in the fourth safety seat, then headed into the house. "The minivan's ready for all those going to the Hopkins' place," he called in his announcer voice, and a stampede of mini proportions came barreling into the living room while Ricky pocketed his firefighter.

Their mothers followed with coats, and Izzy had three backpacks and a bag that she handed over to Terry. Faces were kissed, small bodies were hugged, and promises were made that all would get a surprise tomorrow when their parents came back. Terry figured if all else failed, they could bring back something sweet and the kids would be just as happy.

"We'll call you tonight," Abby called after Ricky as they filed out the front door. "Be good, and make sure you thank Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins."

Ricky waved, and got in line as John, Jake, and Terry started loading the kids and their bags into the van. It wouldn't take long to get the little ones situated, then the guys would come back for the girls and the luggage, and it wasn't even seven thirty yet. Not bad for a large family on a little-notice trip.

* * * *

Though she hadn't had many clothes to pack, they were in there. They weren't folded or anything, but under the circumstances, it was probably good that she'd been able to pack at all.

She was getting married.

The only thing that kept her from panic was the fact it would be to Terry-- that and the battle cry she'd read from her notebook this morning.

There were other things that kept her from panic, but those were the two main things she kept repeating as she wheeled the suitcase into the living room. Her Bible was the next to go in, and then her notebook. And then Jane Austen.

Just for good measure.

The suitcase wasn't heavy, but she wasn't strong and the wheels came in handy. She moved it to where the family's other small bags sat for the overnight trip, stepped back, looked at them and took a deep breath. There. She was ready. She looked up as Izzy came into the room in slacks and a light blouse, looking comfortable but elegant as only Izzy knew how. (At least as far as Madison was concerned.)

"The men will be back in a few minutes, but I'm afraid we're going to have to let them wait." Izzy gave Madison a kind smile. "We have enough time to do this now, and that's what I'd suggest."

"Do what now?"

"It'd be nice if you had a shower. A quick one-- do you have another change of clothes besides what you've packed?"

Madison nodded.

"We could wait for Terry to come back, so he could walk you through the master bedroom--"

"Could you take me?"

"That's what I was hoping you'd say," Izzy smiled. "This shouldn't take long, and we can clean your stitches while we're at it. Abby, would you lock up the house?"

Wanting to smell nice for Terry when she kissed him, Madison went back to the office bathroom, pulled out her gray T-shirt with the butterfly on the front, a clean pair of jeans, some underclothes, then met Izzy in the hall. She didn't want to anticipate it too much, wait too long, just grabbed Izzy's hand, squeezed her eyes shut and prayed as they moved along the carpet.

"Don't tell me until we're in the bathroom," Madison asked, and Izzy kept quiet until the bathroom door sounded and Madison could feel the tile beneath her feet.

She'd made it.

There was no time for relief, or even much surprise, and Izzy helped her get into the shower and clean up without going too slow.

Much too soon, Abby knocked on the door.

"They're back, Mom."

"Tell them we're hurrying," Izzy said, but Izzy didn't start rushing things. She kept moving with purpose, but she wasn't hectic or frantic, and it kept Madison from plunging about without thinking. Izzy plugged in the hairdryer, and while Madison dressed, Izzy dried Madison's hair.

While Izzy cleaned up the damp towels, Madison brushed her hair then put on a little hairspray. She was done.

This was as ready as she ever got, and Madison closed her eyes for the return trip through the master bedroom. It wasn't until she heard Terry's voice that she realized she'd more than cleared the bedroom.

"I like your shirt," Terry said, and she opened her eyes to see him smiling.

The others didn't know what he'd meant, but Madison did. She was wearing a butterfly, the one she and Izzy had gotten at the MegaMart not long after she'd arrived in Three Mile Bay. As everyone moved about to gather coats, sweaters, and luggage, Madison concentrated on just being calm.

It was all she could do not to tremble.

They joined hands-- Terry caught hers-- and John said a prayer, and before Madison could remind herself to keep breathing, she was stepping out the front door between Abby and Terry.

Cool air filled Madison's lungs, making her colder than usual since she'd just come from the misty confines of a warm bathroom. She shivered in her coat as the men loaded in the luggage, and instead of thinking about what lay in front, she stared hard at the gravel and tried to study each stone as though her life depended on it.

"Maddie--" she heard her name and looked up. Terry held out his hand, and helped her into the minivan's middle row of seats.

Terry took the seat next to hers while Abby and Jake climbed in behind them. The smell of car exhaust wafted in from outside as John started the engine, and Terry slid the side door shut.

Stay calm.

She fumbled with her seat belt but couldn't get it to click. Terry's jeep was easier to work than this, and when Terry offered to do it for her, she let him. Abby laughed from the back seat, John said something from up front and all Madison could do was focus on the small spot on the upholstery in back of John's seat.

Had one of the triplets done that? Was it candy? Did Ruthie do that?

Stay calm.

She was thinking too much about staying calm.

I'm not trembling.

Don't notice. I don't want to notice.

"Have you ever been on a plane before?" Terry asked.

"I-- I don't know."

"Want some music?" Terry pulled out his phone, plugged in a white cord then tried to hand her the whole thing. When she didn't move, he put one bud in her ear, the other in his, then started to do something on the phone's screen as John pulled onto the main road.

She didn't want to watch what Terry was doing, she wanted to watch her spot. The spot on the back of the seat that had been working up until she'd gotten nervous. Terry moved through screens of photos with text on them-- he moved so fast she couldn't read what they said, and then he tapped one and a list came up. He tapped again and music sounded in her ear.

Someone started to sing "Jesus Loves Me," and Madison took a deep breath, then let it out until she was breathing on her own and could do it without thinking. She turned to look out the window but the bud in her ear tugged away from Terry's and she moved her shoulder closer to his.

Forget the window, all she needed was right here.

When the song ended, Terry scrolled to something else, distracting and entertaining her through the long drive with hymns, songs about God, life, and hope, and others that had no words at all. And when he scrolled past something that caught her attention, she touched his hand and he went back and played the song. A few were from a long time ago, when Terry was a boy, for the people sang to a rhythm and style that Madison remembered on TV as being called classic, which was another word for old.

The minivan slowed, then came to a stop, and she didn't want to know where they were. She was too busy not paying attention, too busy being distracted.

"We're here," Terry apologized, and shut off the music as Jake slid open the side door.

She pressed her hands together, sat still and tried to find the spot on the back of the seat again, the one that had almost kept her calm. When she couldn't find it, she looked about for something else, then saw a loose shirt button on Terry's seat as he climbed out. She dove for it, felt it in her hand and focused all her thoughts on the small object. It felt like it came from a shirt. Blunt edges, not stylish, very basic.

"Maddie, time to get out." Terry unfastened her seat belt, then he helped her from the minivan while Jake passed bags to John through the side door.

She stood in the blustery wind, her hand clutching the small button.

Stay calm.

Wind tugged at her coat, Izzy said something to Abby, Abby picked up a bag, John and Terry closed the minivan and Madison looked about, saw her upright suitcase and pulled out the handle to roll it at her side like she had in the house. The button, the suitcase, then she was walking at Terry's side into a building.

Was it bad that she wished she could feel her hip? She could feel it-- it just wasn't very bad right now. She'd taken painkiller earlier, and it was doing it's job.

"Do you want me to take your suitcase?" Terry asked, and she shook her head.

She desperately wanted to take care of it herself. It gave her something to do besides think. She kept her head down, watched Terry's shoes and did her best to keep up with them. He was wearing dark ones that squeaked a little on the shiny floor-- someone bumped into her suitcase, she pulled it closer and hurried to get closer to those dark shoes.

The dark shoes waited in a short line, and so did she, and when she needed something to do, her eyes followed the edges of the large grey-flecked tiles of the airport.

A large hand nudged hers. She looked up, and saw Terry's encouraging smile.

"Do you want to sit down?"

She shook her head, but took his hand and hung on to him with the happy relief of borrowed strength. She was calm, she wasn't trembling, and he gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze.

"What's this?" He took the button from her hand, looked at it with a thoughtful face but gave it back when the lady at the counter motioned them forward.

While he talked to the woman, Madison waited with the others.

So much went on around her, she didn't have time to do anything but keep Terry in her sights and move when Terry told her to move.

It was time to move now.

They had to put their carry-on bags and things on a conveyor belt to be x-rayed, then she followed Terry down a long hallway-- the longest she'd ever seen. She kept close to Terry, saw Izzy and John, and AJ following from behind.

Then Madison saw the plane through a small window, and took a deep, deep breath. They were getting on an airplane now. She followed Terry-- he said something to a woman in a uniform, and they kept moving between rows of seats while Terry read from something in his hand.

"Do you want a window seat?" Terry asked it as if it was a good thing, then motioned to some seats. "These are ours. John, Izzy-- you're in front of us, and Abby and Jake are across the aisle."

To get out of everyone's way, Madison hurried into the row Terry had said was theirs, and decided she would sit next to the window. Whether that was a good idea or not, she didn't know. She'd never been on an airplane before, or if she had, it'd been so long ago she couldn't remember. Right now, she didn't care, only that she hadn't lost her button, or her nerve, and she wasn't trembling.

So far, so good.

Terry put their luggage into the overhead bin, took the seat next to hers, then showed her how to buckle the seat belt.

More people filled the seats, though there weren't many. An older man with a big mustache stuffed his bag into the overhead bin, then took the third seat next to Terry. The two men struck up an easy conversation about how uncrowded this small airport usually was, and how that translated into getting in and out quickly-- talk that made them both sound like frequent travelers.

Hunkering down with her button, Madison was grateful when they didn't pull her into their conversation, though the man cast a congratulations her way when he learned she and Terry were getting married. A smile was all the reply the man seemed to need.

A safety video played, then the engines grew loud and the plane began to move.

"Do you want to close the window?" Terry asked, as the world sped by.

"What's the good of having a window seat if you don't look out?" The man chuckled, but quieted when he saw Madison. "First time on a plane?"

Madison nodded. She wasn't sure, but it might as well be.

"Terry, is she all right?" Izzy asked from in back.

"I'm okay." Madison locked onto Terry's hand, looked out the window and said a quiet prayer. She was doing things she'd never done before, and this was just one more.

"You're doing good," Terry said, as the plane lifted off the ground.

Buildings grew small, and the sensation of speed lessened even though it didn't feel good to look out there and see trees look like small green blobs against green and brown. Ribbons of road cut through the landscape, and then fuzzy white stuff crowded around her window.

"Clouds," the man next to Terry smiled.

Sure enough, they came out to blue sky and beneath them was a blanket of soft, billowy white. The engines weren't as loud now, and when Terry spoke, she could hear him much better.

"Would you like something to listen to?" Terry pulled out his phone, plugged in the earbuds, gave her the whole thing and let her play whatever she wanted.

The man beside Terry took out his laptop, and Madison started to explore the contents of Terry's phone. Terry had audiobooks, too. She tapped one and a man with a nice voice started reading from the book of Genesis. It wasn't music, but it was calming, and the more she listened, the more she realized she could understand what was being read. When she read the Bible on her own, it took her forever to make progress, and it didn't make it very easy to understand the passages.

But this way flowed, she didn't have to struggle to figure out each word, and she could pay attention to what was actually being said. It made a big difference.

She pulled a bud out of her ear, stuffed it into Terry's and saw him smile.

When the chapter finished, Madison tried another book-- Ephesians, then jumped to Esther, Habakkuk, then John, then selected a song before playing two minutes and thirty seconds from the book of Psalms. Then Madison got fancy and started arranging music by themes-- titles with hope in them, interspersed with Psalms and Proverbs. She tried to find the next one before the current one finished, so the moment the sound stopped, she could start the next thing and Terry wouldn't have to hear silence.

She looked up and saw he was listening.

If she knew the music better she could keep going, but the pressure to find things that matched before the sound stopped was beginning to trip her up. Getting tired, she finally left it on random on the music side, and watched the clouds.

She shut her eyes for only a moment, and when she opened them, she heard the last part of something being said over the loudspeaker. Confused, she looked to Terry.

"We're about to land," he explained.

She'd been asleep for longer than she'd thought. There was no time to focus on being calm. She looked out her window, saw the houses, roads getting bigger, saw train tracks pass beneath her. Her seat belt was on. She wasn't trembling, she'd survived takeoff, but she reached for Terry's hand, anyway.

The ground rushed closer, the wheels touched and the engines became even louder as the plane slowed. Things were going smoother than she'd thought they would, and she felt the relief of knowing they were on the ground.

"Las Vegas?" she asked hopefully.

"Sorry," Terry chuckled, "this is a layover. We'll be here for half an hour."

"Where is here?"

Just then, a man over the loudspeaker came on.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Detroit. The time is eleven fourteen..."

Madison watched as the plane taxied to their gate.

When they came to a stop, she heard the sound of seat belts clicking off, saw people getting up and pulling their things out of the overhead compartments. Terry lifted down her suitcase, tugged out his duffel while Izzy reminded Terry to make sure they didn't forget anything.

"We'll eat lunch in the airport," Izzy said as John, and the rest of them started out of the plane. "Madison, how are you doing?"

Madison was tugging her suitcase beside Terry with one hand, carrying her coat and button with the other and didn't have a free moment to respond. She was too busy trying not to bump into anyone. Terry helped her, and they moved into a passageway, and then another building. She followed Terry and kept moving until they stopped at a large screen. While Terry read what he wanted about their connecting flight, she saw Jake put an arm around Abby.

"I usually don't get to do air travel with him," Abby said with a returning hug around Jake. "Every time this guy would leave for the advisory board, I'd stay on the West Coast and pray his plane wouldn't crash."

Grinning, Jake pulled Abby close for a kiss. "See, Baby? God answered your prayers."

Abby laughed, and Terry came away from the screen.

"Okay, our flight's on time," Terry announced. "We have thirty minutes to eat lunch."

They glanced about the terminal, John saw a burger joint and they picked up their bags.

Unlike the last airport, this one was large. It had lots of light, had enough people to make her prayerful about sticking to Terry's side, and seemed to have some very clean floors. She knew, because she spent so much time staring at them.

They found a table, and while John took their order, Madison felt safe to relax and look around. The others were having a good time and it was beginning to rub off on her. She didn't necessarily like being in new places, but she was with the people she loved. Old places or new, as long as she was with her family, that's all that really mattered.

The fact they were on their way to make her an official part of that family, put a lump in her throat. Today was special, and the nervous excitement took away some of her appetite.

"Just fries, please."

"Come on, Maddie, you have to eat more than that." Terry looked at her with a pleading smile, and she nodded.

"And a small burger."

"How about a cola? A small one?"

"Okay." She smiled back, and stuffed the button in her pocket when Izzy passed around the hand sanitizer. They didn't have long to wait for the food, and after a prayer was said, she started in on the burger. The first bite coaxed back some of her appetite, until she soon found herself enjoying the meal. The others had taken off their coats and were wearing sweaters, but since Madison's only sweater was stuffed into her suitcase, she kept on her coat to keep out the Detroit chill.

When she couldn't finish all her fries, she let Terry have them, and sat back to sip at her cold cola. After a few moments, she zipped up her coat.

"Sitting in this terminal--" John sighed as he finished off his hamburger-- "it makes me a little nostalgic for the old days. We were really logging those frequent flyer miles, but with the way we're working now, we're proving we don't need to get around as much to get the same job done."

"Amen to that." Terry wadded his napkin and tossed it into their trash pile.

"Terry--" Madison whispered in his ear.

"The ladies' room is over there, I think." Terry nodded to his left and Izzy got up.

"I might as well use the bathroom, too." Izzy picked up her purse and Abby joined them. "Terry, how long will the next flight last?"

"About four and a half hours."

"Then if it's all right with you, we're leaving you guys to watch the bags. We're going to stretch our legs while we can and do some walking."

"Go right ahead," John smiled, and Terry waved to Madison as Izzy led the way to the ladies' room.

After they used the bathroom, and washed up, the three of them strolled at any easy pace through the terminal and did a little window shopping. Madison had already spent her salary, and then some, at the MegaMart, so she looked but didn't touch.

They passed a clothing store, and Izzy stopped, pulled them in and went to a display of sweaters. Izzy sorted through a few, pulled out a thin, pink sweater that opened down the front, and held it up to Madison.

"I think this will fit you nicely." Izzy smiled. "What do you think?"

"I think I don't have any money."

"You don't need any. This is a small wedding gift, and you need a nice sweater besides Terry's. Something feminine."

"It really is nice, Mom," Abby smiled, "but I'm afraid we don't have a lot of time."

"I know-- let's check out, then get back to the restaurant before your father comes looking for us."

"Thank you, Izzy."

Izzy smiled as they headed to the counter.

After Izzy had paid for the sweater, the cashier cut off the tags so Madison could put it on right then and there. It was a very soft sweater, and it looked pretty over the gray butterfly T-shirt. When Madison glanced in the mirror by the store's entrance as they left, she almost wanted to go back and see who the reflection belonged to, if that was really her.

She looked more feminine now, more attractive.

Not sure how she felt about that, Madison put her coat back on and took a deep breath as they neared the restaurant. She could see the men standing around their table with the luggage, talking and looking ready to leave.

"If everyone's ready, we should get going," Terry said, as Madison zipped up her coat.

"Thanks for waiting." Izzy looked about to make sure they didn't leave anything behind. She was always making sure they had everything, and Madison figured with three little girls, Izzy had plenty of experience keeping track of things. "We're ready."

Since she'd been through this before, Madison tried telling herself this was no big deal. The thing was, the next time they would get off the plane, they'd be in Las Vegas, not another layover. As they walked, Madison felt for the button in her pocket, kept pulling the luggage at her side and kept next to Terry. She'd already made her decision, she wasn't backing out.

It was only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

This time, when they boarded the plane, there were more people and it came as a greater relief when she was safe in her seat by the window next to Terry. As he took off his coat and pushed it in the overhead bin, Madison knew she needed to take off hers, as well. She unzipped it, handed it to Terry, and he put it away without noticing her sweater.

Then he turned to take his seat. And smiled.

"You look nice."

"Izzy bought it for me in the terminal. She said it was a wedding present."

"I'll go thank her." Terry went one row forward, then came back with a smile and got comfortable in his seat. "Do you mind if I take a nap? I'd like a little shuteye before we land."

"Terry?" Madison moved close to his ear and whispered so no one could overhear. "Is the sweater okay? It's not going to bother you?" She bit her lip. "I don't want to make things hard for you. I know I look nicer than I did before. It wouldn't be such a big deal except now we're..." she couldn't finish. "You know... our agreement."

"The way I see it, Maddie," Terry let out a breath, and whispered so softly she almost couldn't hear him, "you could wear a potato sack and still look fetching. That's just the way it is. I'll deal with it."

"What's fetching?"

"It means I love you, and that no matter what you wear, we'll go at your speed, not mine. The sweater looks great. Don't give me a second thought."

"I love you, Terry."

He sighed, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "I love you right back."

The engines grew loud, the plane began to move and somewhere a baby started to cry. It's momma quieted it down, and Madison looked out the window as they lifted off the ground and everything below them fell away.

Even if these wings were borrowed, she was touching the sky. If only for a few hours. Settling against her seat, she watched the clouds drift past her window.

* * * *

The sound of people talking woke Madison. She hadn't expected to sleep the entire four and half hour flight, but the chatter in the plane was expectant, and that probably meant the plane was about to land.

When she looked out the window though, she realized they already had, and that they were taxiing to their gate. All at once she had to remember to stay calm. Where was her button? She felt in her pocket for the round object she'd been focusing on, then found it next to her leg on the seat.

She looked to Terry. He was about to say something, but he glanced up as the flight attendant's voice came over the speakers.

It was a little after one p.m. and this time, they were in Las Vegas.

She fisted the button, looked out the window as the plane came to a stop. How she wished her rubber band wasn't in the suitcase, but on her wrist.

Madison unfastened her seat belt. She stayed where she was as Terry lifted down their things from the overhead bin. This was going to happen. She was getting married. It seemed no matter how many times she told herself that, it still seemed amazing.

The old defenses were made: Men were scum. Yes, she knew that, but not Terry. And not all men. Getting married was giving yourself over to a man, and letting him do to you whatever he wanted. And for the rest of your life. She trusted Terry though, and the thought of being with him for the rest of her life made her happy. So that was out. Men were stronger, they could hurt you and when they were alone with you, you couldn't stop them. Except that Madison trusted Terry.

This came down to trust.

Taking a deep breath, Madison pushed to her feet, took the coat Terry had placed on her seat and got ready to leave the plane. Her insides were shaking, her heart couldn't stop thumping in her chest, and now, she was trembling.

Not even her button could save her.

The moment Terry had a free hand, she took it and held on.

He looked at her, gave her fingers a squeeze, and she nodded that she was ready. The others joined them as they filed out of the plane, all smiles and excitement, and it was all Madison could do to keep her feet moving. She was happy, she just couldn't show it too much without either crying uncontrollably for joy, or turning and running like the chicken she feared she was.

Butterfly, child of God, not a chicken.

"Terry-- our battle cry?"

He repeated it over the crowd, and she tried to say it over and over but there was too much going on around her. They'd started out at a relatively small airport, worked their way up to a busier one, but this one was large and it teemed all over the place with people.

"Stay close to me," Terry said, and Madison knocked into his side in ready willingness. He shouldered his duffel, took her upright suitcase, then offered his arm, which she accepted readily.

John, Izzy, and AJ were next to them and Terry moved past the airport slot machines and headed for wherever. Madison didn't know what was going on, only that Terry did. Even Abby seemed overwhelmed in all of this.

They made their way through the crowd, and Terry nodded to some doors. Then Madison had to wait with the others while Terry went to see about their reservation for the private shuttle. Madison didn't ask questions, but hung onto her coat and suitcase and stayed close to the others.

"Have you or Terry ever been here before?" Jake asked John.

"Can't say we have." John checked his watch then nodded when Terry came striding back.

"Everything's all set." Terry took Madison's suitcase, then led the way outside. A van was waiting just for them, and it didn't take long for everyone to pile in and be on their way to the hotel. Terry sat on Madison's right, Abby on Madison's left, and the others on the benches all around.

It took Madison a moment to catch her breath as they moved through the Las Vegas traffic.

The thin sweater came in handy for all the air conditioning in the van, but outside was warm. This sure wasn't coat weather like it was up in Three Mile Bay. The climate was very different here-- instead of trees, they had palm trees, and instead of water, they had desert. And advertising. Everywhere.

"If we're all in agreement," Terry said as he took out a document holder from his duffel, "I thought we'd check-in, have our bags sent up to our rooms, then go straight to the Marriage License Bureau. Maddie, is that okay with you?"

Madison nodded. There wasn't any point in prolonging this. They'd come to get married and she wanted to get it done. She needed to get it done. The van turned and she swayed as she tried to get the top of her suitcase open. The zipper stuck, then she noticed her hand was shaking so badly the zipper wouldn't work.

Calm down. She needed to calm down.

Abby opened the zipper, and Madison worked her hand inside to find what she wanted. Brush bristles, clothes, then her fingers felt the strap of a purse and she tugged that out.

She opened the compact gray purse, and pulled out the rubber band, slipped the rubber band around her wrist and gave it a solid pluck. The pain steadied her, and she was able to close the suitcase on her own. A breath, then another, and she was breathing again, and then she remembered to hold onto her button.

"Maddie?" Terry's voice called her back and she felt solid enough to smile. "Remember to pray."

She nodded, and slipped the purse strap over her shoulder. "Could I read from your phone?"

He took out his phone, turned it on and gave it to Madison.

The notes app was easy to find, and she located their battle cry, first thing. Her heart was full to overflowing, she was pouring all her energy into steadying her nerves, and she didn't have much left over to remember battle cries. But she needed to.

"From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I."


She grabbed Terry's hand and he stopped. She wanted this more than anything in the world, or she wouldn't be here. He knew that and so did she. So did probably everyone here, except the driver. The driver was just doing her job, but John knew, Izzy knew, and Jake and Abby especially knew.

Terry took a deep breath, kissed Madison's hand then looked up as the van slowed.

Everyone looked out the side window at the large building coming into view. The building stood so tall, so impressive, that when Madison leaned back in her seat, she couldn't see the top of it from their van. The driver followed a fancy brick avenue with palm trees until they arrived at a-- Terry said it was a "portico"-- that stretched from the building to the other side of the avenue.

The van parked beneath the shelter, Terry got out, then helped Madison climb outside. While she stared at the palm trees swaying lightly in the desert breeze, someone came from the hotel with a cart for their luggage.

Taking off her sweater, Madison stepped beyond the shade of the portico and stared up at the blue Nevada sky. She could now see the top of the building, and it wasn't even the tallest in Las Vegas. She stepped back into the shade, went back to the others and followed them into the hotel.

Sticking next to Izzy, Madison watched from a distance as Terry went to the large desk up front. Terry opened his wallet, showed his ID, then everyone else's, nodded in Madison's direction, then opened his document holder.

The man at the desk didn't look satisfied, and Madison was beginning to feel embarrassed.

Terry, though, didn't seem at all embarrassed, even when an important-looking woman joined them. Terry again nodded in Madison's direction, showed the papers, then put them away like he was done and there was nothing more to say.

The important woman said something to the man at the desk, and Terry smiled. The woman smiled, looked relieved, then went back to wherever it was she came from. Terry leaned against the counter and began signing things, then pulled out his credit card and gave it to the man.

John looked back at the rest of them and nodded.

Everything was all right.

The uniformed man with the luggage cart was told to take their bags up, and Terry was given three cards which he passed out to John and Jake.

"They're calling taxis for us," Terry said as he came back to Madison. "This," he said, holding up a card, "is our room key. Remind me not to lose it."

"They had a problem with me, didn't they?"

"Not anymore, they don't." Terry slid the keycard into his wallet. "When they objected to the fact you didn't have more ID, I told them we'd just have to go somewhere else. The manager wasn't about to lose all this business, especially when you aren't the one paying the bill."

John clapped Terry on the shoulder, and Madison watched her future husband with wonder as he turned on his phone and did something smart. Whatever Terry was doing, she was sure it was smart.

"Okay, let's see if our taxis are here." Terry pocketed his phone, offered Madison his arm and they stepped outside as Izzy commented on what a nice day it was to get married.

October seventh.

Madison's insides began to tremble again, or they really had never stopped-- she wasn't sure. She wanted to be a butterfly so bad, but she had butterflies in her stomach and they were all fluttering hard to get out.

Two taxis were waiting for them, and Terry opened the door of the first, told the driver where they wanted to go, went to the second, told that driver, then came back and helped Madison into the taxi. She'd been in a taxi before, but never a Las Vegas one. It didn't matter. Terry climbed in after her, then Izzy and John, and AJ got in the second.

Soon they were back in traffic and Madison was rubbing the button between her fingers. She wanted to ask for Terry's phone, but there was no time.

They pulled up to an official looking building with a flashy sign that read, "Marriage License Bureau." They were here, obviously. Terry paid the driver, John and Izzy got out, then Terry, then Madison with her purse and sweater.

The second taxi pulled up, and AJ climbed out while Terry went over and paid the driver.

A mild breeze caressed Madison as Terry came back and took her hand.

The group went into the building, and Madison saw the ropes meant for long waiting lines, saw a handful of people already there, and braced herself to wait. She was all ready and willing to stare at the polished floor, when Terry spotted the pre-registered area, and she quickly found herself facing a woman behind a counter and a glass window.

Terry handled everything, and unlike the hotel, there was no need to say they would have to go elsewhere. Besides, there was probably no elsewhere to go to do this. Terry showed all their ID, Madison had to sign some things, then instead of meeting the eyes of the woman behind the counter, Madison studied the spicy-brown granite that matched the floor.

John, Izzy, and AJ stood outside the line and watched, John snapping the occasional picture with his iPhone.

About fifteen minutes later, Terry thanked the woman and started to leave. It surprised Madison. She had yet to get her feet sore, and she tugged at his sleeve to understand what was going on.

"We've got our marriage license," he smiled, and pulled her out of the line to their family. "Now we need to get married."

"So we're not married yet?"

"Oh, no." Terry slipped some paperwork into his document holder, then zipped it closed. "We've only got a license to get married. Something to make it legal. Now we have to get to the Office of Civil Marriages, which is supposed to be a very short walk from here. About one point five blocks, according to the website."

They left the building, and this time, Madison was feeling the butterflies in full force. She grabbed onto Terry's arm, and he let her hang on as tight as she needed.

She had to calm down or pass out-- it was that simple. She was almost there, if she could just hang on, she could relieve some of this after they got married. All she had to do was last out the nervous excitement.

They soon came to the office, everyone started to go in and she forgot how to breathe.

In out, in out, she could do this.

Madison kept moving but felt numb to everything and everyone in the world but Terry, and God, and the fact she was trusting God to get her through this. She was very aware of Terry as he touched her hand and gave it a squeeze as they went inside the building.

Since Terry had an appointment, they were expected, and she let him do all the talking. She couldn't get her mind to work past the fact she was getting married. To Terry. To. Day. The world reeled a little, but not out of fear. It was shock. Like sticking your finger into a light socket, but instead of a jolt of electricity, you got a jolt of joy that blasted you out of your socks.

That's what today felt like.

It overwhelmed Madison, left her stunned and feeling well toasted on both sides.

And she hadn't even kissed Terry.

"Traditional vows." Terry looked at Madison. "I think that reflects us best, don't you think, Maddie?"

It took a moment to figure out what was being decided.

"What version of civil marriage vows do we want?" Terry asked. "Non-religious, or traditional?"

"Traditional." Madison hugged herself, and a witness was picked.


They were led to a room with a white arch covered with green ivy. Benches were in front, and Izzy, Jake, and Abby found places to sit while the man who was going to preside over the wedding stood under the arch and told Terry and Madison where to stand. Izzy took Madison's purse, and Madison put her sweater back on since this place had the air conditioning turned up and she was trying hard not to tremble.

Off to one side, John stood as the witness.

The man opened his book, smiled at them, then began.

"We are gathered together here in the presence of these witnesses to join this man and this woman in matrimony..."

Madison prayed and listened to the words, and then she heard Terry's name as she'd never heard it before.

"Terry Edward Davis, will you take this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, comfort, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep yourself only for her, so long as you both shall live?"

"I will."

Gulping hard, Madison fought for control.

"Madison Olivia Jones, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him, so long as you both shall live?"

Just like Terry, she didn't hesitate. "I will."

"Take her hand and repeat after me."

Madison trembled as Terry took her hand and began to repeat the words.

"I, Terry Edward Davis, take thee, Madison Olivia Jones, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death us do part."

Then it was Madison's turn.

"I, Madison Olivia Jones, take thee Terry Edward Davis--" she stopped, unable to remember what came next. The man repeated the words, and she prayed really, really hard that she would get this right. When she was done, the man smiled and Madison was relieved when he didn't tell her she had to go back and try again.

"You may exchange rings now."

Terry took out a silver band and slipped it onto Madison's finger, so it paired with her engagement ring. Terry handed her the other band, but her fingers were shaking so wildly she almost dropped it. Sucking in a deep breath, she locked eyes with Terry, willed herself to stay calm, then looked down at his hand and steadied herself long enough to slide his wedding band onto the correct finger.

"Forasmuch as this man and this woman have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; by the authority vested in me by the State of Nevada, I pronounce that they are man and wife. You may now kiss each other."

There was a moment's pause, and Terry looked at her, as if asking for permission.

She nodded.

Terry leaned in, touched her lips with a light kiss as though he were afraid of breaking her, and was about to step away, when Madison caught his shirt and pulled him back.

Now was her chance. She shut her eyes and let herself kiss Terry.

She could feel everyone watching them and didn't hold him long, but when she let Terry go, he looked dazed. Like he'd just been spun around several times and now couldn't walk a straight line. He blew out a breath, and before he even looked halfway recovered, the congratulations began to fall.

She was hugged, and so was Terry, and though Madison tried to be aware of what was going on so she could thank everyone, it was hard to get past the tingly warmth of those two kisses. Pleasure still zinged across her skin, making her want to hide until it passed. She felt some relief, yet if she could just hold onto Terry awhile longer, she was sure she would feel even better.

All day, Madison had been calming nervous excitement, and now all she wanted to do was hide with Terry.

Izzy gave her another hug, and Madison squeezed her as hard as she could.

"Thank you, Izzy."

"You'll take good care of each other, I know you will." Izzy gave her a rocking back and forth hug. "God love you both."

"Could we have a wedding picture?" John asked. "Just one-- in front of the arch?"

Everyone moved out of the way for the picture, and Madison and Terry stepped under the arching trellis. After the kiss she'd just given Terry, she couldn't meet his gaze as easily. She shifted in a little as John asked, then Terry moved around until she felt Terry at her back.

Oh, Terry.

She looked down, saw Terry's hand hanging at his side. She touched it, brought it up to her side and let it rest there in a one-armed hug from behind.

A kiss was pressed to Madison's hair, a deep sigh grazed her ear.

Somewhere, their picture was taken, though Madison wasn't very aware of it happening.

She was breathing and yet she was breathless, she felt joy and yet she wanted to weep. If given half a moment she could grow silly and lightheaded, and if Terry didn't catch her, she might pass out.

His hand drew away from her side and she turned into him. She looked up at his brown eyes, and he turned away. Her heart stopped. His hand grabbed hers-- he squeezed it tight and life pumped back into Madison.

Terry didn't let go as he started to talk with the others in his casual, smiling way. The way Terry usually was, when he was around John and the others.

She watched as Terry took care of the paperwork, then put in a call for two taxis to come pick them up.

They were done here.

Collecting her purse from Izzy, Madison took off her sweater, then stepped outside with Terry as a married couple. John was smiling, Izzy was still a little teary-eyed, and AJ couldn't move five feet without hugging each other. Abby had said she wasn't a touchy-feely person, but with Jake, Abby was-- she really was.

As they stood waiting for the taxis, John looked to Terry.

"Where do we go from here, Buddy? What's next on your plan?"

"Well, the hard part's done." Terry nodded in Madison's direction. "I didn't want to wear her out, so the plan was to go back to the hotel, stay the rest of the day, then fly back in the morning."

"That's fine by me," Abby smiled. "Did you see where Uncle Terry booked us? I don't think I've ever stayed anywhere so fancy. Not even in San Diego."

"It's just a hotel," Terry shrugged, as Madison took his hand. "By Vegas standards, I don't think it's very much."

"Meaning it's not a casino." John checked his watch. "So, what are the plans when we get back? It's only three o'clock. What if we rent a few movies, maybe ordered room service and had a small family holiday at the hotel? Would that relax Madison? What do you say? The tab's on me."

Terry looked to Madison, and Madison buried her face in Terry's shoulder. She wanted to hide with him, but even this much contact was better than nothing.

"That's nice of you," Madison nodded into Terry's shirt. "Thank you, John."

"Of course," Abby offered up, "if there's any here who would rather not come, all they would have to do is not show up and the rest of us would understand."

"We would," John said, and Jake agreed.

It took courage, but Madison peeked out from Terry's shoulder to see Izzy smiling at her daughter.

The others were smiling as well.

Thankfully, the taxis Terry had called for arrived at the curb and Madison climbed in first. She was already thinking about hiding and not coming out until it was time to get on the plane and go home. This wasn't hiding-in-her-shell hiding, but hiding to make herself stronger. Hiding with the one she loved. Hiding with Terry.

That's what Madison told herself, and she knew her wings were too weak to do very much. She'd just come out of the cocoon, and her wings were still brand new. They were drying in the desert wind, craving for the sky, craving to do what they were meant to do.


She was meant to live, she was meant to be with Terry, and she was only getting started. Madison took out the dark chocolate button she'd been holding onto all day, and gave it to Terry.

"Does that belong on your shirt?" she asked.

"Now that you mention it, I think it does." He looked at her. "Do you need it back?"

Madison shook her head. She no longer needed the button when she now had its owner. As soon as Terry's hand was free, she held onto him and didn't let go. By now, she'd managed to memorize their battle cry and could recite it by heart-- just not under stress, so she needed to work on that. She'd faced down their first wedding and had said "I will," and had kissed Terry and hadn't passed out. Yet.

Her butterfly wings weren't dry, they were brand new, but as their taxi pulled in front of the hotel, Madison knew her time would come. She knew it wouldn't come today, but she also knew something else.

She and Terry wouldn't be watching movies with the others.

"The hope of the righteous shall be gladness..."
~ Proverbs 10:28 ~

"I [Madison] will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being."
~ Psalm 104:33 ~

end of chapter