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Chapter Thirty-four
Falling Skies with a Chance of Hail

"O continue Thy lovingkindness unto them that know Thee; and Thy righteousness to the upright in heart."
~ Psalm 36:10 ~

Rain slammed the garage roof as Terry measured the couch. Pastor Bill showed John some of the other furniture, but Terry did his best to block out their talk. He didn't want anything else here, and if these numbers were right, he couldn't even use this couch.

"It's too long." Terry let the tape measure scroll back, and all conversation stopped. "It'll jut into the bathroom doorway by a full six inches."

"What if you switch this one to the other side of the room?" John suggested.

Hands in his pockets, Pastor Bill made no comment. They had told him nothing about the first couch, or its use, but despite that, their pastor hadn't said a word when he'd glimpsed it in the moving truck. Terry had been right about him-- Bill was the soul of discretion.

The men were waiting on Terry to make a decision. The rain had gotten worse, and Terry dearly wanted to get this over before Three Mile Bay found out how he and Maddie would be sleeping.

Pressure aside, Terry needed to think clearly.

"Would you like to stay for lunch?" Pastor Bill asked. "If you need time--"

"It's kind of you, but Maddie's expecting us." Terry switched the couches in his mind and knew it wouldn't work. He'd needed one as short as the other, so it would clear the bedroom door.

In a perfect world, everything would fit perfectly, and there would be no need for adjustments. He decided to try the couch. Terry sat down, slanted a nervous glance at his pastor, then stretched out on the cushions.

"Comfortable?" Pastor Bill smiled.

"Not bad." Terry sat up while his mind kicked into overdrive. "Could we bring it back if it doesn't work out?"

"Sure." Bill nodded. "Marriages don't work that way, but this couch will."

"Why do I have a feeling you know what's going on?"

"I don't, but I can guess."

"It's for Maddie."

Pastor Bill nodded as though it confirmed his thoughts, and he stepped aside as John took the tape measure to make a few calculations, himself.

"I think it could make it." John looked it over and gave the armrest an encouraging slap. "The decision's up to you though."

"I'd like to take the couch."

"Then let's get this thing into the moving truck." John tossed the tape measure to Terry as thunder sounded in the distance. "What did Dad always say? Thunder is just God bowling with the angels."

"I remember that." Terry grinned as he pocketed the tape.

The garage door groaned as Pastor Bill opened it, but even he was chuckling. Overcast light spilled inside with the rain, and Terry and Bill hurried to cover the items nearest the door with plastic while John wrapped the couch to keep it from getting soaked. Then Terry lifted one side of the couch as John lifted the other, and while the two men negotiated the couch outside, Bill moved out of their way.

"Are you sure I can't help?"

"That's okay, we've got it." Terry blinked the rain from his eyes as they turned onto the loading ramp. Terry went first, moving backward with his arms full of couch while John steered. Rain got in Terry's eyes, Terry turned to look behind him-- just a quick look-- when his foot caught the edge of the ramp. Pain shot into his ankle, he opened his mouth to call out, but John was blinking too, and the couch kept coming. Terry clamped his mouth shut and pushed up the ramp.

The sound of rain on metal as it hit the roof of the truck's cargo area, made all talk impossible. Terry angled Pastor Bill's couch toward the empty space beside the first one, and John followed. The noise was deafening. Terry couldn't wait to block his ears, and he only pulled his hands away once they were back down the ramp and in the relative silence of the downpour.

It was then Terry noticed the hail bouncing off the ground.

"You all right?" John called.

"I'm fine." Terry didn't think about his words, but as he jogged to the truck's passenger side, his ankle forced him to slow down.

"It's getting serious out here," John huffed as he got behind the wheel.

Terry climbed in, slammed the door shut, and breathed in relief to be out of the storm. He glanced at the garage and saw Bill closing up. Terry waved to Bill, and Bill waved back.

John started the engine as hail struck their windshield. "Did the forecast mention all this white stuff?"

"Nope." Terry shook his raincoat. "Thanks for letting me haul you out here in all this weather."

"Hey, this is what family is for," John smiled. "This, and a hundred other natural disasters."

The moving truck pulled onto the road, the dull thump of the windshield wipers sounding more friendly than the hail pounding their roof. They could see the road, but Terry kept quiet as that visibility lessened and John cut his speed.

"You'd better pull off to the side," Terry advised.

John eased to the shoulder as a delivery van behind them did the same.

"If this doesn't let up in a few minutes, I'm calling home." Terry prayed the hail would soon pass, and that Maddie wasn't worrying about them. He tried moving his ankle and decided he could live with the pain. He had too many things to do, to slow down now.

"I think it's easing off. Let's see if we can't get home." John got back onto the road and kept his speed down, and the delivery van followed their example.

They had a short drive to get home, and it didn't take long before John was pulling up in front of the house. The delivery van passed them and went on with its business, the hail still coming, though not as heavy as before.

Opening his door, Terry got out as Jake met them in a raincoat and fishing boots. When Terry looked to the house, he saw Maddie waving from the window.

Terry waved back.

"Abby thought you might need some help," Jake called, as John went around to the back of the truck. "Uncle Terry, you're limping."

"I'm fine." Terry wiped his eyes as he went to help John open the cargo area. The hail had stopped, but the rain was picking up again. It was an improvement only by degrees.

Jake beat Terry to the back of the truck, and before Terry could insist this was a two man job, Jake was in position to help John lift the first couch.

"Would you take the bedroom door off its hinges?" John asked. "I think Jake and I can handle all the heavy lifting."

Even though John was overreacting about his ankle, Terry didn't fight it-- he would take care of the door. Anything to get these couches moved in and the job done.

Well before he reached the house, Terry saw Maddie waiting for him in the doorway. When he stepped inside, she rushed him with a hug. She didn't seem to care about his dripping wet raincoat, or the fact her clothes were getting soaked, and he was too happy to be home to pull her away. His foot throbbed, he was cold, and the rain had found its way down his neck.

Hugging Maddie, though. He could do that forever.

"You're hurt-- what's wrong with your foot?"

"It's nothing," Terry started to come back to his senses, and tore himself from Maddie. "They'll be through here with a couch, so keep the kids out of the way."

"How much pain are you in?"

"I'll be fine-- just keep the munchkins out."

Maddie nodded as Izzy and Abby came from the kitchen.

"He's hurt," Maddie told them.

Terry sighed, but made no comment as he headed down the hall.

Maddie followed. "Terry--"

"I pulled a muscle, but I'll live." Terry pushed into the bedroom, located the toolbox and began taking the door off its hinges as sounds from the living room announced John and Jake's arrival. Terry could hear the excited chatter of kids in the hall and was grateful when Maddie called that they should stay in their room while the men were carrying the couches through.

Terry lifted the door off to one side, set it against the wall as John came down the hall with the longer of the two couches wrapped in plastic.

"This isn't going to be easy." John and Terry exchanged glances, then John shouted to Jake to slant the couch as far back as he could in the hall to get it through the bedroom door. They angled and pushed, and to Maddie's credit, she kept out of the way. After several minutes of shoving, the couch made it through with only minor scuff marks on the doorjamb.

"We need to put this one against the wall," Terry directed, and Jake and John set the large couch as far back against the wall as they could.

After a breather, John and Jake went for the second couch while Maddie set about taking the plastic off the first one.

"We made lunch," Maddie said over her shoulder.

"Thanks, we'll eat as soon as we take the rental back."

Maddie was concerned-- Terry could see it in her eyes, but Terry didn't have time for that now. The second couch was coming, and she was struggling with the plastic. Terry went to help her, and he lifted one end of the couch so she could slip the plastic out from under its feet.

"Coming through," John called, and the second, shorter couch made its appearance in the doorway.

"Maddie, get in the bathroom." Terry gave her the wet plastic and watched as she went into the bathroom to keep out of the way.

The men angled as before, and it got through the door, but with less space in the bedroom, it was a tight fit. They moved the couch away from the closet and bathroom to preserve a walkway, but kept the couches from touching by about a foot and a half. Terry moved between the couches and was pleased when he didn't have to walk sideways. He had to turn sideways though to move around the shorter couch, and get past the dresser to reach the bathroom and closet.

To get to the closet, he had to reach over the couch or go around it, and he could no longer simply walk into the bathroom. It was an inconvenience, yes, but he was getting Maddie. As long as she could be happy here, then so would he.

As Abby and Izzy watched from the hall, and Maddie from the bathroom, John and Jake put the bedroom door on its hinges. John tested it, opened the door, and it bumped against the couch.

Okay, so it couldn't open all the way. They could live with that.

Terry looked at Maddie, and saw her smiling.

"Let's get the plastic off this second couch," Terry planned out loud, "then we need to get the truck back to the rental place."

"Dad and I will take care of the truck," Abby nodded. "You rest that foot."

"My foot is fine."

Abby gave Terry a disbelieving look.

"Thank you, Abby," Maddie called from the bathroom.

"I appreciate the help-- I do-- but I think I can manage a simple drive." Terry went to the second couch, glad he at least hadn't been denied this task.

"Do you think he needs urgent care?" Maddie asked.

Terry gave her a look, but she was serious.

"I'd like to at least see him off his feet and resting," Izzy said from the hall. "Terry, everyone can see you're limping, so let's take care of this, and if it persists, then we'll have someone look at it. What do you say?"

Terry groaned, and tugged off the last of the plastic. "I say 'thank you.'"

"He's mine." Maddie moved around the dresser with her armload of wet couch plastic. "I get to take care of him. No one help him-- he's mine." She took the plastic from Terry, and gathered it with her first armload. "Take off your coat and boots, and I'll get lunch."

"Since you've got things under control here, we'll take care of the rental." John smiled, and accepted the plastic from Maddie. "My lunch?"

"In the kitchen," Maddie said as she left the room.

Izzy smiled, and shooed the curious munchkins from the doorway while John and Abby left to return the truck.

Thunder boomed across the roof as Terry unzipped his raincoat. He saw Jake take the toolbox, and nodded his thanks, even though he could've put it away himself. He'd probably just pulled a muscle, not even sprained anything. Terry didn't know if he believed that, but it was a nice try. He took off his coat, dropped it on the floor since there was nowhere else to put it, and claimed the longer of the two couches-- the one against the wall. If Maddie wanted it, they could always trade, but for now, his foot needed a rest.

Terry moaned as he sat down. By the beating the window was taking, the rain had yet to let up.

He hoped the electricity didn't go out.

Doing his best to ignore the discomfort, Terry pulled off his boot. He took off the other one, set them aside, then leaned back and listened to the rain as Maddie came in with a plate of sandwiches and his smiley mug.

"Izzy said to ask if your ankle was swollen."

"It's a pulled muscle, not a sprain."

"So you haven't checked?" Maddie passed him the food, got down on the floor and started to pull off his socks.

"It was one foot, not both, and that's really not necessary." Terry took a sip from his mug before it spilled onto the new, old couch. "Maddie-- please don't tickle." He gasped, tried to keep a straight face as Maddie touched his foot.

"Does this hurt?"

"What do you think?" He tried not to smile, looked about for a place to set down his mug of apple cider and decided to just hold it and eat his sandwiches with one hand. He was starving. "Maddie." He coughed out a laugh as she tickled the bottom of his foot and she stopped. "It's not swollen, is it?"

She shook her head, bent and planted a warm kiss on his sore ankle. "Does it feel better now?"

"Much better," he grinned, and picked up a sandwich. He prayed over his meal, then started in on lunch as Maddie left the room. He noticed their wedding photo on the dresser, and his thoughts turned to Vegas. A few moments later, she came back with a cold compress and a towel.

He wanted to remind her that she'd just admitted his ankle wasn't swollen, but kept his mouth shut.

The compress was icy cold. Which was probably the point, but for something he didn't figure was necessary to begin with, it was hard to sit still and endure. Terry tried to distract himself with his sandwich, and smiled when Maddie curled beside him on the couch. She watched his every bite, and since she looked so eager to help, he handed her the smily mug, leaned back and decided to enjoy the rain for all it was worth. She edged closer to his side as he started in on his second peanut butter and jam sandwich. Strawberry jam on homemade bread. On a stormy day like this, it hit the spot.

Maddie snugged against him and Terry smiled.

"Have you eaten?" he asked.

She looked at his mouth, then leaned in and kissed him soundly. He had to pull back, but when he did it was a tossup as to what was booming louder-- the thunder, or his own heartbeat.

Terry fought to catch his breath, looked at Maddie and saw she was doing the same.

"Did you eat?" he asked again.

She shook her head, "no."

"It's sweet of you, but I wish you hadn't waited." He traded the mug for a sandwich as light blinked in the window. Thunder followed, and Maddie scooted closer to Terry. "Scared?" he asked, and she smiled and shook her head.

"Does it still hurt?"

"Not since your kiss." He sipped from his mug and noticed Ruthie looking into the bedroom. "Don't tell me you didn't eat, either."

"Mommy fed us." Ruthie smiled, seeming to take his notice of her as an okay to come inside. "Why do you have so many couches in here? Don't you want your bed back?"

"Your aunt and I prefer to sleep on these."


"Because we're helping to support the sofa industry," Terry deadpanned.

"What's the sofa industry?"

"Never mind." Terry took another sandwich and decided not to explain.

"Ruthie, where are you?" Izzy moved past the doorway, paused and came back. "I told you to leave them alone."

"But Uncle Terry talked to me."

"She's not bothering us," Terry grinned.

"Whenever you want privacy, close the door and they'll stay out." Izzy patted her daughter, and gave her an I'm-watching-you-Sweetheart look before leaving.

Ruthie gazed at the towel on Terry's foot. "Do you want me to make you a card so you'll feel better?"

He resisted the urge to point out that all this concern wasn't needed. Those blue eyes were genuine in their offer though, for he could tell Ruthie really wanted to make the card.

Terry knew when he was beaten.

"Thank you, that would be great."

It was all the encouragement Ruthie needed, and she ran from the bedroom in search of her sisters.

Terry sighed.

He would be getting three cards, not one.

All thoughts of protest were forgotten though, as Maddie got up and closed the door. He forgot about his ankle, the miserable weather, and for a moment the fact his name was Terry Davis. All he could think was that she'd closed the door.

She came back to the couch, picked up her sandwich and went about finishing her lunch, though Terry couldn't get past that door.

He eyed her like she needed to be kept an eye on. "Maddie?"

"You need rest."

"Okay." He took another bite. "I disagree, but okay." He could live with rest, so long as she didn't lean in and kiss him like there was no tomorrow. Not that he minded. Once in a while was good-- it made his day, in fact, but he needed to keep his head and it was hard to do while he was bracing himself for Maddie.

She finished her PB and jam. She blinked at him, and his heart started to race. As she started to lean in, he backed away.

"I'm eating, Maddie." He opened his mouth to show the food he was chewing and repel all incoming kisses.

She made a face, folded her arms and looked like she would wait.

He swallowed. "I thought you said I needed rest."

"You can."

"While we kiss?"

She nodded.

"Let's give that a rest, too." He tossed the crust onto his plate, took a sip from his mug and found it had gone warm. "Unless you want me to get serious, I need to back off."

Cocking her head to one side and looking too cute for her own good, Maddie paused, as though weighing what he'd just said against what she wanted.

"How serious?" she asked.

"The kind of serious I promised to protect you from."

She scooted away, and he downed the last of the apple cider.

"Thank you, Terry."

"I'm just glad the door's closed," he smiled, setting aside his mug and plate to take the cold compress off his chilly foot. He nodded to the facing couch next to the closet and bathroom. "That other one is newer, and it's also a little shorter. I was thinking maybe it could be yours. Think you can fit it?"

She stepped over, stretched out lengthwise and stared up at the ceiling. "We've got his and her couches, Terry."

"So it would appear."

The sore ankle had been worth it, and Terry leaned back and watched the happy contentment of his wife. When his un-socked feet grew cold, he stretched out on his own couch and enjoyed some distance-resting with Maddie.

"I'm glad it's raining," she sighed.

"You are?" He dug into his pocket, pulled out his phone while she rolled onto her side and looked as though she were being hugged even though he hadn't laid a finger on her.

"I'm not glad your foot's hurt, but I feel safe with you in here, especially while it's raining and cold outside."

"It's most definitely raining." He smiled as he checked the couches off his phone's to-do-list. "I think I know what you mean-- I'm enjoying this, too."

He started the phone app as rain pelted their window.

"Did you notice the carpet, Terry?"


He tapped voicemail, then put the phone to his ear.

"I vacuumed."

His eyes grazed the carpet as a man started to speak.

"...I'm a private investigator calling on behalf of my client, Timothy O'Brien..." Terry's brain refused to work and the words didn't register. He sat up, played the message again, thinking this had to be a wrong number.

"I'm going to clean the couches." Maddie got up and started for the door, but Terry motioned her back. "What is it?"

"Your mom-- what's her name again?"

Maddie frowned. "Why?"

"Her name-- what was it?"


"And your father?"

"The Dragon wasn't my father."

"Not him, your real father."


Terry pushed up from the couch, headed to the door and grabbed Maddie's hand as he went.

"Terry, what's wrong?"

"We need your birth certificate." Terry pushed into the empty office, went to his desk and got the key to the filing cabinet he wanted. "You never told me you had a half brother."

"I don't."

Terry stopped. He looked at Maddie. This had to be a case of mistaken identity. He opened the cabinet, found her file, and pulled out the birth certificates.

"What's going on, Terry?"

"I don't honestly know." He read the certificates, and they both said Candace and Harold Jones.


"I have a voicemail from a private detective." Terry forced himself to slow his words so he didn't run through them without thinking. "He claims he's working for the half brother of Madison Olivia Jones, and that this brother is looking for her." Terry saw Maddie's face blanch white, and he led her to the nearest chair. "Let's just take it easy. They could have the wrong Madison." Terry started the message, then put the phone to Maddie's ear.

Her eyes grew wide, her breathing became fast and labored and Terry saw panic set in. Tossing aside the phone, he pulled Maddie from the chair and into his arms. Though she needed to be held, he tried to do it carefully.

"Calm down. Try not to hyperventilate."

"She's going to find me, Momma's going to find me."

"If she does, then she has more to worry about than you. You've done nothing wrong." Every fiber of Terry's being, his every instinct was to protect Maddie. He'd never felt so protective of anyone, in his life. "You're safe here. Remember your battle cry."

"I remember. Please don't let her find me, Terry."

"Hush. You're safe." Terry rocked his sweet love. "If anyone wants to hurt you, they'll have to get through me first."

Calm eased into Maddie-- Terry could hear her breathing even out, feel her muscles relax, though she didn't try to free herself from his arms. Her need for comfort was still too great.

"You don't remember having a half brother?" Terry peered down at Maddie, and she shook her head, "no." "If we can trust the detective, she's not the one who's looking for you."

"I don't want to call back."

"Okay." Terry held Maddie and felt her begin to tremor again. "If you say so."

"I don't have a brother." She hid herself against Terry and dug in so hard he struggled to keep his balance.

"It's all right, I won't do anything unless you want me to. You're calling the shots."

"It's not me." Maddie stopped trembling as Terry rubbed her arm. "That detective has the wrong Madison. Tell him, Terry. Tell him he has the wrong person. Tell him to go away and leave me alone."

"Even if Tim really is your half brother?"

"I don't have one."

"Okay." Terry started to let go, but Maddie wouldn't let him.

"You think he's real?"

Terry gave himself a moment to collect his thoughts. "I think that detective knew a lot about you for there not to be something to this. Maybe someone's trying to scam us, but I think they have the right Madison."

"What should we do?"

"I think we should pray." Maddie nodded in agreement, and Terry bowed his head and quietly asked God for His protection. "Keep us from Candace Jones, or anyone else who would hurt Maddie, and deliver us from evil. Protect us, Lord, and give us wisdom. In Jesus' name, amen."

Maddie opened her eyes and looked up at Terry. "Now what?"

"That depends on you."

"I don't want to call."

"Then we won't."

"But you think I have a brother? One who's looking for me?"

Terry sighed. "It's not outside the realm of possibility."

She was calm enough to consider it now, and sank into a chair to think. Terry watched and didn't go to welcome John and Abby when the front door slammed shut and Izzy could be heard in the living room. Life was spinning, there were too many important things going on, and Terry was needed here. He was in shock, and so was Maddie.

"What if he tells momma where I am?" Maddie shook her head. "What if she's the one who put him up to this? And besides, I don't have a brother."

"A half brother," Terry reminded, leaning against the desk. "Your mom could have been in a relationship after she left you with the Dragon. He could be your little brother."

"Could I hear the message again?"

Terry retrieved the phone, and she listened to the detective's voicemail.

"It didn't say he was my little brother."

"Connor didn't have much time to leave the message. Maybe it was overlooked."

"But--" Maddie frowned, folded her arms and sighed.

Terry pocketed the phone and waited.

And waited.

She sat staring at the carpet, saying nothing, looking torn and miserable. Terry didn't lead, but let her come to her own decision. This had to be her making up her own mind. She'd asked his opinion, he'd given it, and now it was up to her. After all she'd gone through with her family, he wasn't about to tell her she had to face them again.

Her arms unfolded. "Please call him back, Terry. If I have a brother, then I want to know."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Make them promise I don't have to see Momma, and that they won't tell her where I am."

"They might have already."

"If they have, you won't let Momma hurt me."

"No, I won't." It heartened Terry that she trusted him that much, though it also scared him. He didn't know if he could trust these people, but he did know he could trust God. "Are you sure you're okay with me being the one to call the detective back? You don't mind?"

Maddie shook her head and started to hug herself. "I wouldn't know what to say."

"Then when I do, I want you sitting next to me so your wishes don't get lost in all this. We're just going to call back and see if this is real, then take it from there. We go slow. Does that sound good?"

Though Maddie looked shell-shocked, she nodded, "yes."

Terry pushed from the desk and started for the office door. "I'm going to fill the others in on what's happening. I won't be long."

When Terry went into the living room, he found Abby had gone home and John and Izzy were resting on the couch with hot cider. It was good they were already sitting down. Terry told them about the phone call, and Maddie's decision, and immediately saw the caution rise in their faces.

"Do you think we're doing the right thing?"

"Is this what Madison wants?" Izzy asked.

Terry nodded.

"Then I think you are, only be careful. Don't tell Madison, but after what her mother did, I'm slow to trust that family."

"I understand." Terry moved to the hall, stopped, and looked over his shoulder. "Pray for this call?"

"Count on it," John nodded.

Knowing his friends had his back, Terry returned to the office, only to find Maddie hugging herself within an inch of her life.

"Hey, don't hurt yourself."

"I'm not trying to," she whispered, as Terry rolled a chair beside hers.

"I won't agree to anything without first running it by you, so please don't leave the room while I'm on the phone." Terry leaned over, pulled a notepad from the desk, grabbed a pen, and handed them to Maddie. "If you want to talk to me without being overheard, write it out." Terry went to shut the office door, came back and took his chair.

"I can't believe this is happening to me." Maddie handed her pen to Terry as he listened to the message.

He jotted down Connor's number, then looked at Maddie.

"Ready?" Terry asked.

"What if I'm not?"

"We could do this some other time."

"No, do it now." Maddie sounded desperate to get it over, so Terry tapped out the phone number.

He took her hand as it started to ring.

"Hello, Connor speaking." The voice sounded groggy, like the man had just been roused from sleep.

"My name is Terry Davis-- I'm returning your call concerning Madison Jones."

"Whoa, yes-- please hold on." That woke him. Terry heard scrambling, some paper, and then the squeak of a chair and the breath of someone collecting their thoughts. "Thank you for calling. I first want to assure you and your wife that my client wants nothing, only to meet his big sister. If we truly do have the right Madison."

"I have my wife's birth certificate."

"You do?" The surprise was evident in Connor's voice, and Terry wondered what that meant. "That's great. We have so little documentation for Madison, it'd be great to have that kind of confirmation."

Terry got up, stepped over to the desk, grabbed the certificates and saw Maddie's face as he returned to his seat.

"Her parents' names were just as you said--" and Terry read out some of the information from one of the certificates. "Forgive me if I ask you to confirm Maddie's birth date?"

"I'm afraid we don't have her DOB, but the Madison we're looking for has gray eyes and blonde hair. Her middle name is Olivia, she has no distinguishable birthmarks, and she was adopted when she was eight years old. We don't have the name of the family who adopted her, though Tim tried to move heaven and earth to find out. She should be about thirty-four, though obviously that can vary since we don't know what month she was born."

Terry reached over, scrawled on the pad,

Any distinguishable birthmarks?

"I don't think so."

Then they have the right Madison.

She turned white and he dropped the pen, grabbed her hand, and gave it a tight squeeze.

"Before we go any further, I must ask if Candace Jones has had any part of this search." Terry waited, and all he got was silence. "Mr. Connor?"

"Please, it's just Connor." There was shock in the man's voice. "We found her, didn't we."

"Yes, I believe you have, but I have to ask that no one tells Candace where Maddie is at. Maddie has made that very clear-- Candace must not be told."

"I understand. Wow. Yes, I understand. Candace was in no way involved in Tim's search. Candace died-- I can't remember the date-- I'd have to look it up-- but please, tell your wife she has nothing to fear. This has nothing to do with her mother."

Terry paused, let go of Maddie's hand and wrote,

Your mom passed away.

Maddie hugged herself. She looked lost, and Terry didn't know what else to write but,

I love you.

She nodded.

"I'm sorry for your wife's loss," Connor said a little awkwardly. "Is there... anyone else you don't want notified?"

"Such as?" Terry asked.

"Mrs. Billingsly? Candace's mother? She's also deceased. Again, my condolences." Connor sounded anything but sincere, though Terry sensed he was trying.

"Hold on, please." Terry wrote out the news on the pad,

Grandma Billingsly passed away. I'm sorry, Maddie.

The news seemed to baffle Maddie. She looked confused.

"She's your mother's mom." Terry waited, and when he saw no recognition, Terry got back on the phone. "I don't think she remembers Mrs. Billingsly."

"Would it be possible to email a photo of Madison? I know Tim would appreciate a recent picture, and as a show of good faith, I'll send you the last known photo we have of her. Taken when she was eight."

"Let me ask Maddie." Terry wrote it out on the pad, tried to get Maddie to see it but she was staring at the carpet. He pushed the pad under her nose, she blinked, and he saw the lost look in her eyes. "Give me your email address," he told Connor, and exchanged addresses while Maddie hugged herself.

"Would it be all right if I gave you Tim's phone number?" Connor asked. "As I said before, Tim would love to meet his big sister. If she could call her brother, that would be great. The best time would be between six and ten in the evening."

Terry looked at Maddie. She was pale, her eyes were downturned and staring, as though they saw nothing at all.

"Maddie?" Terry didn't bother to try and write it out. "Do you want to call your brother?"

Her eyes met his, and he realized she was overwhelmed.

She couldn't answer.

"I can't make any promises," Terry apologized, "but give me Tim's number, and I'll make sure Maddie gets it. I'm afraid the news of her mother has hit her hard, so you'll have to give her some time."

"I understand, I'm very sorry." Connor gave Tim's number, then Terry asked some questions of his own about Tim.

Nothing big, just basic things. Like family.

"Tim's a straight-laced family guy," Connor explained. "He has two daughters-- a six-year-old from a previous relationship, and an eleven-year-old from his wife's first marriage. Tim's a little high-strung, but he doesn't beat his wife and he always pays his bills. He works as an accounting clerk for a small business here in Syracuse. May I ask if Madison has ever been married before? Does Tim have any nephews or nieces?"

"No, neither of us have been married until now, and she doesn't have any kids. I'm a partner in an independent contracting business, and one of the perks is that I get to work from home. We live in Three Mile Bay-- that's in Upstate New York."

"Yes, I know. Where you live, I mean. I had to look you up."


Silence held the line, then Connor spoke. "May I ask a question, more for my own curiosity than anything else? You don't have to bother your wife-- if you can't answer it, then forget it. I've been searching for Madison off and on for the past six years, and barring mistaken identity, I'll close her case today."

"Your question?"

"I have a few, but I'll settle for one. When I found her through the public marriage records, her maiden name was Jones, even though we know she was adopted and her name had been changed. Why was she using Jones? Unless her adopted family also went by Jones... but then I would have found her much sooner."

Connor was a PI all right. Terry looked at Maddie, saw the shock still sinking in and didn't feel comfortable speaking so openly with this man about her past.

"Until the time I met Maddie, her life was not--" Terry stopped, tried to come up with something that wouldn't betray Maddie and yet satisfy Connor's hard work. "I'm not at liberty to go into details with you, but before she came here, her life was not at all easy. I've been trying my best to make up for that."

Silence stretched out and Terry reached over and took Maddie's hand. Her fingers lightly caressed his, as though she were only half paying attention.

"You've got my curiosity, Mr. Davis, but I respect the answer." A chair squeaked, then Terry heard keys tapping. "I'm sending you that photo I told you about. For me, this case has been one-of-a-kind. I usually get cheating spouses, fraud, missing persons-- though none like this one. This case has been unique, and it's ending as it started. Unique. Please pass my best wishes to Madison on her marriage. I wish her every happiness."

"Thank you, I will."

"Best wishes to you too, Mr. Davis."

For some reason, those words took Terry off guard. He didn't quite know how to answer, for there was a compliment in Connor's tone.

"I'll make sure Maddie has Tim's number."

"Thank you." Connor inhaled, the sound of it carrying over the phone.

And then they hung up.

For a long moment, Terry sat in the chair and stared at the carpet. That had to rate among the strangest calls he'd ever had, and it took some time to get his mind back from the fact it had actually happened.

Terry looked at Maddie. She didn't ask anything, but sat with her eyes fixed on space.

"It appears you have a younger brother." Terry picked up the notepad, read the number, then tapped the phone's screen. "I'm entering Tim into my address book. You know how to use that, don't you?" He checked Maddie and she nodded. "Tim sounds real."

She closed her eyes as though the news was too much to take in all at once.

He would tell John and Izzy about the call, later. Right now, Terry wanted to stay with Maddie.

He had no idea what to say to her. If being quiet would help, then he would stay and let her know she wasn't alone.

More than ever, Maddie wasn't alone. She had a brother.

* * * *

His head hurt like crazy and there was no way he could concentrate. Not with a call from Connor due any moment.

Tim dabbed the tissue to his forehead. He probably should take the painkiller his boss had given him, but he didn't like drugs. Never did. If his boss saw he hadn't taken it though... Tim hid the ibuprofen in his shirt pocket.

He'd blacked out and now Karen would be mad. He should have eaten breakfast like she'd said.

He tried focusing on the screen, on the rows of numbers and not on the phone. Somewhere, an hour and a half from here, his sister was listening to Connor's message. Or about to listen. He could see it... She was thrilled and dying to call the brother she'd never met, but had always known deep in her heart she'd always had.

Dreaming again. Obsessing. Not healthy.

Tim threw away the tissue and tried to focus.

The phone started to ring and he picked up before it finished. He didn't even give Connor time to say "hello."

"Did you talk to her?"

"I spoke to her husband, but first I need to know if you're sitting down? I mean really sitting down. I don't want a repeat of last time."

Vaguely aware that his breathing was starting to race, Tim looked about for a chair before realizing he was already in one.

"Oh, man."

"I want you to calm down. Just remember to keep this in perspective."

"Please," Tim put his head between his knees, pressed the phone to his ear and tried hard to keep his voice steady, "what did the husband say? Every word. Please, tell me every word he said."

"First, you need to check your mail. I forwarded you something Mr. Davis sent." Connor stayed on the phone while Tim sat up and tried to get his trembling hands to obey. They wouldn't work and the webmail screen on his computer started to blur.

"Are you still there?" Connor waited, then kept talking. "He sent me a recent photo. You have to see it for yourself."

"I-- I'm trying."

"Here, I'll MMS it to you. It's amazing, Tim."

An image appeared on Tim's phone and it took Tim a moment to realize what he was seeing: A blonde-headed woman with city lights far below her. A balcony, she was on a balcony. The camera's flash showed peaches in her cheeks.

He sought out her eyes and his heart fell over. They were familiar. So were the cheekbones, and the forehead.

"Connor?" Tim went back to the caller. "It's her."

"I agree. And Tim, get this-- she has her birth certificates. The names match up."

"You gave her my number? When will she call?"

"I did, but Tim--" Connor went on even as Tim started to interrupt-- "she's shaken up, so it might be some time before that happens. She didn't want us to tell her mom where she lived. Terry was very definite about Madison's wishes, so I had to tell them they had nothing to worry about. I told him your mother had passed away, and Terry said Madison was taking the news hard. So you're going to have to give her time to mourn."

"It's not fair. Mother gave me away. I only had her for a few years, and Madison is the one mourning?"

Connor said nothing.

"When do you think she'll call?"

"I don't know, but Terry promised to give her your number, in fact, he said that twice."

"And you believe him?"

"You have no choice but to take him at his word, but yes, I do."


"He sounded like a decent guy. He said Madison hadn't had it easy before she met him, and he's trying to make up for that. So you might want to cut him some slack. And no, he didn't go into details. I got the impression details were for family ears only, so if you play your cards right, that might include you." Connor went into a description of Terry, his job title, the fact Madison hadn't been married before, and that she didn't have any children.

For the first time in Tim's life, Madison was beginning to feel like more than just a wish, a bunch of photographs that stared back from a past Tim had never known.

It was hard to think.

Tim's head throbbed and he didn't want his boss to see him on the phone again. Not when he should be working.

"He calls her Maddie."

"Who does?"


"I want to like him, Connor."

"You'd better start trying. I believe she'll call, or her husband will, but my gut says you'll hear from them, and when they do, my best advice is to not blow it. Don't come on too strong about how much you missed having a sister, and just be yourself."

Tim wanted to toss back that it was easy for Connor to say. People probably liked Connor, he probably had friends coming out his ears. But Tim kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to be yelled at, especially when his head was hurting and his boss might come back.

"You'll have my report tomorrow. If you need anything more, you know where to find me."

"Thanks, Connor. Thanks for everything."

"Hey, you'll get my bill." There was humor in Connor's voice, but also something else. A weary sense of victory. "You take it easy, Tim. This is happening because of you. You didn't give up. You just remember that."

Tim had no answer for that, and they hung up before Tim realized he hadn't gotten a word for word account of what Terry Davis had actually said.

Connor had probably given him the highlights, and Tim knew he would get a report.

Still, he wished he'd remembered to get every word. She hadn't had it easy? What did that mean, and had those exact words been actually used?

It took so much energy to think, to want something this much. Karen didn't understand that, but Connor did. Connor knew, and now Connor was going away. The case was closed.

Tim sent off a text to Karen:

Good news, we found Madison-tell u more wn I get home.

He took a long look at the picture on his phone, then went back to work before his boss returned. As Tim stared at the numbers on the screen, he thought of the smiling woman.

That was his half sister.

He needed no blood test to tell him what his eyes and heart already knew. A childhood wish was coming true.

* * * *

After all these years, it could still hurt this much. It startled Madison to know that, and she tried to keep it pushed back as she always had, back with all the memories and pain. They were dim and she wanted to keep them that way. The Dragon was recent, he refused to stay off in the corner, but Momma was different.

Momma's name brought hurt and Madison couldn't stand to remember. She'd fought so hard to numb herself to that pain, to erase and forget until she could almost wonder if she'd ever had a momma at all. Just an eraser smear where Momma had been, a worn out hole in the paper where the memories used to be, nothing more.

She would not cry.

She would not.

Fresh pain mixed with the old, forcing Madison from her chair. She looked to Terry, and he got up, stood there as though he didn't quite know what to do or say.

"What do you need from me?" he asked quietly.

"Is your momma dead?"

The pained look in his eyes said she was, even before he nodded, "yes."

"Do you miss her?"


"Do you remember what yours looks like? I can't see mine anymore, but I remember soft hands. I remember her laugh. It was so pretty." Madison choked back the tears. "She's not coming back, is she? She's really gone?"

Madison started to cry and Terry stepped close. It was an invitation to be loved, to be comforted, and even though Madison felt unloveable and unable to be comforted ever again, the moment those arms came around her, she felt both.

It felt so good.

She gasped and cried, and Terry held her so gently, he wouldn't have crushed flower petals. The thought made her smile through the tears, but then she remembered Momma's laugh and it was all Madison could do to catch her breath before the next sob came. She'd wept after Momma before, but this time was different.

Terry was here.

He held her through the tears, and when they stopped coming, he didn't seem afraid of the silence when all she could do was lean into those arms and rest.

She breathed in, out, very slowly, then tried to do it with her mouth closed, only to find her nose no longer worked. Terry pulled a box of tissue from a desk drawer, then stepped back to give her room when she blew her nose.

"When John and Izzy see you've been crying, and find out why, I believe they'll send condolence flowers."

"Please tell them not to."

Terry nodded.

"Do you think I'll scare the munchkins?" she asked, as she braced herself to leave the office.

"Don't worry, they'll be fine." Terry put away their chairs while Madison took care of her nose again.

They headed into the hall, heard the girls in their room, and didn't disturb their play by looking inside. Madison hugged herself as they moved into the living room and found John and Izzy. Waiting.

Terry looked to Madison as they joined their friends on the couch.

"Do you want me to tell them?" Terry asked.

She nodded, thankful for the help. It was so much to take in, Madison wondered how they could possibly understand. Biting her lip, she half listened, half prayed as Terry explained the call from the detective, and couldn't help but notice how Izzy leaned forward and watched her when Terry got to the part about Momma passing away.

"How are you doing?" Izzy asked her.

Madison didn't know how else to answer, and nodded that she was okay.

There weren't any words for what Madison felt, or if there were, they stayed away from her, but she would be all right. She had her battle cry to remind her of the Lord, and she had Terry, not to mention the rest of her family. The concern on Izzy's face said volumes. She had help. All Madison had to do was ask.

"So what's your impression of Tim?" John looked to Terry, and so did everyone else. "What kind of man is he, do you think he'll hurt Madison?"

"All I know is what Connor told me. If what he said about Tim is true, then Tim sounds normal enough. He doesn't sound like his mother, and that's a big recommendation, right there. Tim hired Connor to look for Madison these last six years, so that has to say something about Tim."

"Tim doesn't give up," John nodded. "And now he wants to meet Madison."

"He does." Terry looked to Madison, and she suddenly wished she didn't have to be in the room. "I'm leaving it up to Maddie, if, or when she wants to call him. I already gave Connor a heads-up that she was taking her mom's death hard, so hopefully he passed that on to Tim."

The fact she was taking it hard, registered on Izzy's face. Madison saw it, and wished Terry had left that part out.

"Connor said he'd email us an old photo of Maddie." Terry pulled out his phone and Madison looked over his arm to watch. "I don't know if he's sent it yet-- Okay, I've got an email here from Ben Connor and it's got an attachment."

Everyone crowded around Terry. Izzy sat on Terry's other side and John leaned in until everyone's heads nearly bumped.

"The last known photo of Madison Jones, aged eight. Date unknown," Terry read.

He brought up an image of a scrawny looking girl in a blue dress standing in a backyard. Stringy blonde hair came to her waist, for she'd grown it long to please her momma. She wore no shoes. Her toes were dug into the cool grass, where not even the bugs could scare her.

Memories were stirring, and Madison turned away from the picture.

"Do you remember this?" Terry asked. "This is you, isn't it?"

"It's me."

The others kept looking at the phone, but Madison didn't want to see it again. More thoughts were starting to come and she scrambled to keep them back.

"If you had mixed this photo in with a dozen others," Izzy said quietly, "I would've recognized you at once. Look at that lovely face."

"I'm not lovely."

"As your sister, it's my prerogative to disagree." There was a thoughtful smile in Izzy's voice, one that spoke of love. "You're not smiling, yet you look happy. Do you remember where this was taken?"

"No, I don't."

A woman with short blonde hair stepped into Madison's memory, her face so vivid, Madison could see the tiny beauty mark on her cheek. A tray of lemonade on a hot day, the crisp scent of freshly cut grass, a pretty laugh that made her want to run up and give her momma a hug.

Someone's hand gripped Madison's. She blinked, and saw Terry's concerned brown eyes looking back at her.

"Grandma's backyard. I remember Momma brought lemonade."

Drained and praying she would remember no more, Madison leaned into Terry and he pulled his arm around her for comfort. His arm stayed high around her shoulders where she could breathe, and it wouldn't trigger memories of another kind.

Painful to look back, yet painful to go forward. The stuck feeling was familiar, and so was the helplessness that went with it.

"Who would've thought getting married would lead to a half brother turning up?" John got up from the couch as thunder rolled above their heads. "We'll be going before the Lord about this, Madison. Our family will be making this a matter of prayer."

"Thank you." She was just starting a quiet prayer of her own, when Terry pulled his arm away and started to stand.

Terry gasped a little, fell back on the couch and Madison's heart jumped to her throat.


"I saw that," Izzy nodded, and waved to John. "You'd better call AJ and see if they can watch the girls. We're taking Terry to urgent care."

"I'll get our coats." Madison hurried while Terry protested that his ankle wasn't that bad.

All other problems were temporarily put aside in Madison's need to take care of Terry. He was hurting, and he was hers. Momma didn't take care of her own, but Madison did.

He needed socks, shoes that wouldn't bother his foot-- Madison rushed about their room and tried to keep her thoughts straight. She grabbed what she could, tugged out their coats, then headed into the hall as one of the girls came out from the triplets' bedroom.

"What's wrong?" Debbie asked, as she fell in behind Madison.

"Uncle Terry hurt his foot, but he's going to be all right."

On the couch, Terry looked sheepish, like he didn't want to admit his ankle was hurting. Madison would hear none of it though, not even when he asked to give it overnight, just to see how his ankle felt in the morning.

"I want to see it again." Madison got on the floor, carefully lifted Terry's pant leg but didn't touch anything. It was hard to tell, so she lifted the other pant leg to do a side-by-side comparison.

"Well?" Terry asked, as John talked on the phone.

"I think it looks a little swollen, but I'm not sure."

"Abby said they'll be here in five minutes with Ricky, so the triplets are covered." John hung up while Madison eased Terry into some socks, then a pair of slip-on shoes.

"I don't suppose I can talk you out of this?" Terry asked, and Madison shook her head, "no." "Okay, but I'm only doing this because I love you." Terry smiled when Madison kissed his nose. The gesture seemed to soften his protest, for when she helped him into his coat, Terry didn't fight.

A few moments later, Abby burst into the living room with Ricky and Jake. They stood in dripping wet coats, and while Izzy hurried to get towels, John closed the door before the rain got in.

"Is he all right?" Abby panted.

"I'm going to live, if that's what you're asking." Terry groaned as he gingerly raised himself from the couch. "At this point, I'm guessing it's a mild sprain."

While John readied the minivan, Madison went back to their room to get a ball cap for Terry, and returned in time to see Terry moving to the door without her.

She went to him, and he let her help him the few steps to the door.

Everyone was moving around them, but Madison only saw Terry. She zipped his coat, put the hat on him, and he smiled and kissed her cheek. How she loved him, how she wanted to be here for him.

The front door opened, and John ducked inside. "The minivan's out front. I parked it close to the house."

"Thanks." Terry looked grateful, even if he was trying to walk without anyone's help. He sighed when Madison tried to get his arm around her shoulder, and when she gave him an extra-pleading look, he gave in and let her help him outside.

He didn't let her shoulder any weight, but she did help.

John moved ahead and opened the minivan's side door, and after they climbed in, John slid it shut. She hadn't been in the rain that day, but from the tired look on Terry's face, she saw he wasn't eager to be out and about again. They took their usual seats, his face wincing a little as his foot bumped against the interior.

It didn't take long before they were on the road, and now that she had time to sit and think, she wanted to see her promises. Madison jerked Terry's coat sleeve, whispered for the phone, and he gave it to her.

He watched as she turned on the notes app and quietly read the verses. Maybe this was no big deal for Terry, but he wasn't the one who had to watch him suffer.

First the shock of her brother, then Momma, and now this. Madison reminded God that she wasn't letting go, she was still holding on. Even though the sky felt like it was falling, God hadn't gone anywhere.

She put the phone to sleep, slipped it into her pocket and tried not to get discouraged. It was turning out to be a hard day.

Then she felt it.

Terry caressed her hand, then started kissing her fingers, one by one, starting with the smallest and working his way to her thumb. She bit her lip to keep from looking up. He was just trying to distract her and it would not work. There was some serious thinking going on, and this was his ankle after all, if he thought--

She gulped when Terry licked her thumb.

She glanced at the mirror, saw John watching the road and not them, and she turned to look at Terry.

Terry was watching the road as well, and didn't seem to notice her.

It didn't matter. She didn't blink.

"You did that on purpose."

"Did it work? Are you no longer thinking about how much pain I'm in?"

"Are you?"

"Not right now." He started to kiss her fingers one by one, and she frantically worked to get her hand free before the lick came and John or Izzy thought Terry had completely lost his mind.

A giggle welled up in Madison, caught in her throat and nearly made it out before she smothered it by kissing Terry.

Pulling away before anyone saw them, she gripped Terry's hand.

"I did it on purpose," he whispered.

The minivan turned into a parking lot pooled with rain. John stopped by the entrance of the Urgent Care Center, let them out, then went to park the minivan while they hurried inside.

Walking with a limp, Terry went without help to the reception desk.

He filled out paperwork while Madison waited at his elbow. She wished he would do it sitting down, but was too timid to speak up while a nurse was nearby.

"Shouldn't you sit?" Izzy asked, and Terry grunted without looking up from his paperwork.

Emboldened, Madison tugged at his arm, and finally led him to some chairs near the wall. He went down those forms, scratching in this, filling in that-- Madison tried to see what it meant but got lost in the wording. Insurance stuff.

Then he limped to the desk, handed in his clipboard and was directed to a waiting area teeming with people.

They found one empty seat.

"It's yours," Terry waved at Madison, but Madison folded her arms and looked at him until the elderly man in the next chair chuckled.

"He has a sprained ankle," Madison explained, and the man nodded in approval.

"Woman sounds like she knows what she's talking about."

Terry sighed, and took the empty chair. He shifted his foot more than once, and Madison knew he was in some pain. Terry wasn't a complainer, but for once in his life that was going against him.

Someone was called, a seat on the other side of the room became available, and the elderly man got up and claimed it, leaving the one beside Terry empty.

Izzy motioned Madison into the chair. "He did it for you-- take it."

"We can trade when your feet get tired," Madison offered. Unzipping her coat, Madison looked up as John came into the waiting area.

Looking a bit drowned, John strode over, and stood next to Izzy.

"Looks like we picked a good day to come," John joked. "Hey, is that Mike?" John went over and talked to someone he knew, while Terry was confined to his chair. Mike-- whoever the man was, came over and talked to Terry, and for awhile, the men seemed to have a passably good time.

Then Mike got called, and Terry slumped in his chair.

John nudged Terry in the arm. "At least you can sit."

"Sorry for dragging everyone out here like this."

"Did you roll your ankle on purpose?"


"Then knock it off." John pulled out his iPhone and Madison saw Terry start to look for his own.

She took it out of her pocket, and was about to hand it to Terry, when it rang.

Her nerves were stretched so thin, the ring startled her.

She dropped it.

"At least it was on carpet," Terry sighed, and leaned over and picked up the phone. "Look at that-- another call from Syracuse. The last one was from Connor."

"The PI?" John asked.

Terry nodded, and turned the ringer all the way down.

"Are you going to answer it?"

"I probably shouldn't even have this thing on while we're in here." Terry waited. "It can't be Connor. It's not his number."

"Hey, wait a moment." John lowered his voice and Madison and Izzy leaned in to hear. "What if it's Tim?"

"It can't be-- I have his number in my address book. His name would show up if it was him."

"Then it's a wrong number," John shrugged.

Terry blew out a breath, moved his finger over the slider and answered the call.

"Hello?" Terry's brows shot up.

Madison watched him and knew something was happening.

"What?" she asked. "Who is it?"

"Let me put you on hold a moment while I talk to Maddie." He touched the screen, dropped his head and breathed like he needed more air. "Your niece is on the phone."

"Please tell me you mean Abby."

Terry raised his eyes. "She says she's Tim's step-daughter, and she wants to talk to you."

A gulp squeezed down Madison's throat.

"How old is she? Do you know?"

"If this is the step-daughter, then she's eleven. I have no idea if her parents put her up to this, but I'm afraid to ask."

Though she felt lightheaded, Madison reached for the phone and Terry handed it over.

A million thoughts jammed into her brain at the same time, careening against each other and getting nowhere fast. Though Madison felt she was in no way ready for this, she managed to squeak out,


"Hi?" came from the other end. The voice was young and even more nervous than Madison. "Are you Mrs. Davis?"

"Yes, I am. Could I ask your name?"

"I'm Paige." The girl gave a long pause. "Are you really Madison? Are you really her? Because if you're not, would you please tell me up front? Tim's been looking for you for the longest time, and if it's not you, I don't know what will happen. He's in the kitchen with Mommy-- they think I can't hear them, but I can. Tim's got his hopes up so high, I'm afraid he'll take it really hard if he's wrong. I just need to know. Is it you?"

"It's me."

"Promise? Promise it's you?"

"I promise."

"Okay. Then I guess it's all right. Madeline and I have been worrying about him, so if you're real, then I guess Tim will be okay."

"Madeline is your sister?"

"Yeah. We've been making sacrifices. That's what Tim calls them. We've been cutting back on groceries except for things Mommy needs for a healthy pregnancy, so we can pay the investigator. Mr. Connor gives Tim a low rate, but we're not rich. When we're saving money, we don't go to the movies, and we don't have vacations. Except Mommy sometimes has Tim take us out on bike rides, and we make sandwiches and go on picnics and stuff. She's like that."

"She sounds nice."

"We haven't been riding for a while. She says she's getting too big, but I think she's tired. Mommy hasn't been this tired since Daddy passed away. My real daddy." Paige let out a sigh. "Please don't tell Tim I called."

"He'll know when he sees the phone bill, won't he?"

"I guess so."

"How did you get this number?"

"I saw it on the top sheet of his notebook."

Madison heard a door open, then,


She heard arguing, a man's angry voice and a girl's defensive tone going back and forth. She made out a word here and there, enough to know Tim had found his daughter and that he knew who she was talking to.

"What's going on?" Terry asked.

Madison covered the phone. "Tim didn't know about the call, but he does now."


"I think angry would be putting it mildly."

Terry mouthed an, "Oh," and leaned back.

The urgent care room had emptied enough so that Izzy was now sitting on Madison's other side. John still had to stand.

"Hello?" A man's voice sounded in Madison's ear. "I apologize for my daughter's intrusion. It won't happen again." The call hung up before Madison could say a word, and she looked at Terry.

"What?" Terry asked, and Madison told him what had happened.

"I need to call my brother."

Terry nodded. "Please save the news about your past for when I'm there to help. This isn't the best time. Agreed?"

She wasn't brave enough for that talk, and nodded in agreement.

"I suggest going out to the minivan. For your sake, as well as mine, don't make this call alone. Please, take Izzy or John with you. In fact," Terry shifted in his seat, "my foot isn't hurting too badly, maybe I could put off the exam--"

"Oh, no, you don't." Madison got up, and so did Izzy. "You're staying put, if I have to ask John to hold you down. And I think he would, too."

John grinned, and told them where he parked the minivan.

As the women left, Madison glanced back at Terry. He looked helpless, as though he hated to be sitting where he was, when he what he wanted was to be with her. She knew he would be praying. She knew Terry well enough for that, and felt comfort in that knowledge.

"Is this rain ever going to let up?" Izzy sighed as the entrance doors opened to a smeared sky. "I think I see the minivan." She clicked open her umbrella, then held it high so Madison could take cover with her. "Try to keep your feet dry."

The women splashed across the parking lot while thunder and gray filled the heavens. It was an unusual day, the sort of day Madison knew she would never forget. Somewhere, she had a niece who had been going without vacations and groceries so her family could afford a private investigator to find her.

Izzy unlocked the van and both women climbed inside. Madison took the window seat, Izzy slid the door shut, then took the seat next to Madison.

"Are you nervous?" Izzy asked, closing the umbrella.

"Scared is more like it. Would you pray with me?"

The women joined hands and Izzy asked God for wisdom, that He would give Madison the right words to say to her brother.

Then, with Madison still holding onto Izzy's hand for support, Madison put the phone on her lap and tapped the screen for the address book. It wasn't after six like the detective had said was the best time to call, but Tim was home. She'd just heard him.

Placing the call, Madison put the phone to her ear, then held her breath as someone picked up.

"Tim? It's me. It's Madison."

"You... didn't have to call back so soon. I'm sorry Paige intruded. She shouldn't have."

"It's all right." Madison tried to steady the phone so it didn't tremble with her voice. "She wanted to make sure it was really me, so you wouldn't get your hopes up for nothing. I thought it was sweet of her to look out for you like that."

Regret sounded in Tim's voice. "Paige is a sweet kid."

"She said your wife is expecting?"

"Yeah. Anytime now."


"You're talking to me." Tim sounded as though he were pinching himself. "There's so many things I've wanted to say to you, now that we're actually talking, it feels surreal. I've dreamt of this moment all my life."

"I don't know what to say."

"Didn't you know I existed?"

"I'm afraid I didn't."

"Didn't you have a sense? Didn't you ever wonder if you had a half brother?"

"I'm sorry."

"You know, you were my hero growing up." Tim spoke as though he were talking to a famous person. "I'd hide under the bed and imagine my big sister would come and find me, and take me to live with her family. You would always save me. I'd even dream about it at night. Are you sure you didn't know about me?"

"I'm so sorry, Tim." Madison rubbed her forehead, but her heart was aching as well.

"I wish I could've been you. Why couldn't Mom give me up for adoption, too? If she didn't want me anymore, why couldn't she love me even that much? Do you know why?"

It was too hard. Madison felt the tears and couldn't hold them back.

"Instead of a family, I got left with Grandma. I got a 'goodbye' from mom when I was five, and from there on out, it was 'Shut up, and do as you're told.'" Tim's voice broke. "I accidentally found out about you from Grandma, and when I did, I knew I wasn't alone. I had a sister. I had to find you. You were all I had left."

Madison cried so hard she couldn't hear Tim. She fought for breath while Izzy soothed as best she could, considering Izzy had no idea what Tim was saying.

"Where have you been? Why couldn't I find you sooner than this?"

"I can't-- I--" Madison put the phone down. The urge to find something sharp came back, and it came back strong. She wanted to run, to cut, or curl up and never open her eyes. She put the phone to her ear. "I can't talk about that now. I'll tell you later."

"Then we'll talk again?" Relief sounded so thick in his voice, Madison realized he was crying, too.

She couldn't do this. She stared up at the dome light and tried to catch her breath.

"Yes, we'll talk again."

"I'd love to see you one day."

Madison nodded. "One day."

"I live in Syracuse."

She wiped the tears from her eyes. "Terry told me."

"It's an hour and a half from where you live."

Madison reeled. It was?

"Some day, I'd love to see you."

"Tim, I have to go."

"Please, I need you. It's all slipping away. You're all the family I've got left."

"What do you mean? You've got your wife and daughters. You've got a baby on the way. I am not all you have left."

"My wife is going to leave me, she's just waiting for the baby to come. It's happened before-- after Paige was born, my first love left me and our baby, and now Karen will leave me, too. At least your dad passed away. Mine walked. Mom left me, so did Andrea, and now Karen. You don't know what that's like."

Madison fought to keep from scratching her arm. She would not go there. She would not.

"Has Karen ever said she'll leave you?"

"No. But today, she yelled at me when I got home early from work."

"Why did you get home early?"

"Because I blacked out when Connor called to say he found you, and my boss sent me home."

It took effort to keep going, but Madison pushed on. "Why did you black out?"

"Aside from the fact I was out of my mind with shock?" Tim sounded reluctant to say. "I guess it was because I didn't eat breakfast."

"So Karen yelled at you for not eating breakfast?"

"Your point?" he sniffed.

Madison couldn't believe this. She was crying and arguing with a half brother she hadn't even known existed before today.

"She's probably not leaving you, not over that."

"Are you sure?"

"Tim, I have to hang up." Madison felt weak, drained of strength to the point of passing out, herself. "I'll try to call again, tomorrow."

"Thank you-- thank you for calling when you did. I'm sorry Paige barged in on you."

"It's okay." Madison closed her eyes. "I like your step-daughter, Tim. You have a wife who takes you out on picnics, and two girls who care about you."

"Yeah, Karen does that."

"Those are what I would call blessings."

"Blessings would imply the existence of God."

"Then what would you call your family?" Madison sighed. "I have to go. Terry is in urgent care with a sprained ankle, and I'm out of energy."

"But you'll call later, won't you? You'll call tomorrow?"

"I will. I promise."

"Thank you, Madison. I hope your husband is all right."

They hung up, leaving Madison to nearly pass out where she sat. Her tears had already stopped, but her insides felt wobbly, as though if anyone else tried to lean on her, she would topple over.

"That sounded like quite a conversation." Izzy patted Madison's hand. "Don't try to tell me anything-- you'll only repeat yourself when you see Terry."

Terry. Madison fought to get out of the minivan. Her hip ached, her heart was being squeezed in every direction, and if she were asked at that very second to add two plus two, she feared what she might say.

She was losing it, but she needed to get back to Terry.

Madison sent up a prayer as she and Izzy plunged into the rain, crossed the parking lot, then hurried into the building.

When my heart is overwhelmed... when my heart is overwhelmed...

They went back to the waiting area, only to find Terry still there with John. The men waved to them, and thankfully there were seats enough for everyone. Madison took a chair next to Terry, grabbed his hand, and tried to ignore the concern on his face.

"Start from the top," Terry whispered, and the three listened intently as she told them of her conversation with Tim.

As she went on, Terry's eyes grew alarmed, but Madison kept going, and kept her voice as quiet and calm as she could. She tried to manage Terry's concern with Tim's need for a big sister. And Tim did need her.

"Are you all right?" Terry asked.

She smiled. She was all right.

"Did you tell him about your 'adoption'?" Terry groaned when a nurse called his name. He brushed it off, and waited for Madison to answer.

"No, I didn't tell him." Madison got to her feet, helped Terry up, then pulled his arm around her shoulders.

She was going with Terry.

She was his wife, and she was going.

Terry was so preoccupied with Tim, he forgot to resist her help. He leaned on her, and though Madison stooped under Terry's weight, she kept putting one foot in front of the other, not realizing her own strength.

Something was happening to Madison. Like someone reaching for something in the dark and just barely making out what was in front of them, she sensed it rather than understood it. Her muscles were being used, though they weren't controlling her butterfly wings yet. She was becoming stronger, even though she didn't feel strong.

As her body moved beside Terry's, she could feel the wind tugging at her wings.

Her life was changing, and so was she, and the only thing that kept her from plunging headlong into fear was her faith in God. God knew what He was doing.

He had formed this butterfly, and even though her wings weren't ready yet, the wind would not crush her.

It might feel like it from time to time, but she was still here. She was still alive, and that meant she had to keep trying. Madison sighed. Life sure took a lot of effort. She had no idea how much work it took for people to keep going, but now that she was out here, trying to live like everyone else, there was no turning back.

As they sat down in the examination room to wait for the doctor, Terry took her hand and Madison breathed deep.

For a day filled with falling skies and a first meeting with a half brother she'd never known she had, Madison was amazingly at peace. She looked down at her hand joined with Terry's, then at Terry's smile, and knew why that could be.

Love could do that.

"We [Terry and Madison] have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."
~ 1 John 4:16 ~

"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine..."
~ Song of Solomon 6:3 ~

end of chapter