Terry's Journey: Chapter 35

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Chapter Thirty-five
Everyday Courage

"Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands."
~ Nehemiah 6:9 ~

For someone who'd been run through an emotional blender by her brother, Terry thought Maddie looked remarkably calm. She quietly watched the doctor examine his sore ankle, and when it was time for him to move to another room to get his foot X-rayed, she went with him. Though they acted like newlyweds who couldn't bear to be out of each other's sight, it didn't embarrass Terry in the slightest. Let the doctor and the entire medical staff smile all they wanted-- this woman loved him, and Terry wore it like a badge of honor.

A brother. If only Terry could feel as calm. Maddie now had a surprise brother and Terry now had a brother-in-law. Wow, had that ever come from left field. From the sound of it, Tim had some problems-- Connor had mentioned something about Tim being a little high-strung, and from Maddie's worn out eyes, Connor had been telling the truth.

Despite all that, she wasn't scratching herself, she didn't look seconds away from self-injury. Either she was doing a good job of acting, or Maddie had come away all right.

When he could, Terry held onto Maddie's hand to let her know he was there for her, though from her soft fingers, it felt more like she was comforting him, than the other way around. And she was comforting. After the X-ray was over, and he could go back to Maddie, her touch felt wonderfully reassuring. Terry felt guilty for hurting his ankle on the same day her brother turned up, but as long as Maddie was all right, then Terry figured, so would he.

A brother-in-law. Terry still couldn't get over that.

By the time they rejoined John and Izzy in the waiting area, Terry felt more than a little eager to get home.

"It's a mild sprain," Maddie told them, and John looked satisfied that it wasn't something worse.

As she told them what else the doctor had said, Maddie moved hard into Terry's side. The message was clear. She was going to help. Not wanting to push her away, Terry put some weight on her shoulder-- enough to let her know she was doing something useful, but not so much she would fall over. She was helping enough people, she didn't need him bleeding away precious strength. He knew he'd have to rest his foot, but momentarily toyed with the thought of going against doctor's orders. His sprain had been so mild, the doctor hadn't bothered to give him crutches. So maybe he could do away with the rest.

"The rain stopped." Maddie was all peaches and cream, and when she looked at him and smiled, he found himself smiling back.

As they drove home, Terry worked on patience to let his ankle heal. He wanted to be the one helping Maddie, especially now that she had Tim, and he wished there was something he could do to help. Making an injury worse wouldn't help Maddie though, and Terry prayed for more patience. And for the patience to have it answered. He was reminded of the man who prayed for patience, and wanted it now.

"I'm sorry my ankle is happening at the same time as all the rest of this." Terry looked at Maddie as she squeezed a soft hand over his. "You're taking good care of me, and I love you for it, but I want to help. What can I do to help you?"

When she didn't answer right away, he could tell there was something.

Maddie bit her lip, and when he coaxed her with a smile, she finally pushed out the words. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to keep my half of our appointment with Carol."

"That's tonight, isn't it? I'd forgotten all about that."

"Please, Terry, I need to see her. I can take Izzy or Abby with me, so I won't be alone."

"Do you feel like cutting?"

"Not at the moment." Maddie looked at him and he sensed she was trying to be honest. "I thought about it when I was talking to Tim, though. But I didn't. I didn't even scratch. You can ask Izzy."

"I believe you." Terry tried to breathe and stay calm. Okay. So she'd been under as great a strain as he'd thought. No big surprise there.

"I'm okay, Terry."

He nodded, the thump of his heart quickening despite the assurance. "Whatever you need Maddie-- you'll have."

"I'll drive her," Izzy spoke up.

"Do you want me to leave the minivan in front of the house?" John asked Izzy.

"No, we'll take the car." Izzy had already decided, and Terry smiled his thanks.

John flashed his grin in the rear view mirror. "Go back to your conversation-- forget we're even here."

Terry wanted to laugh, but his heart felt heavy.

"Thanks, Izzy." Maddie tucked her head against Terry's shoulder, and the weight of it had a calming effect on Terry. She took his hand, and as the vehicle moved down the road, Terry felt the smooth underside of her palm, the small curve of her long fingers. He knew God was keeping them safe. The water had risen but He had kept their heads above the waves, and they were still alive. So life was coming at them strong-- they could do this. God wasn't giving them a test they couldn't endure. Clutching that thought, Terry saw home ahead, the outline of their house showing through the trees, and silhouetting against a moody Three Mile Bay.

They pulled off the main road, slowed to a stop in front of the house as white forked over the water. No fly fishing today. It was a stray thought, one that made Terry smile in spite of himself. He slid open the side door, then eased himself out while Maddie hovered at his back.

Abby had the front door open, and was looking at him as though he'd just come through surgery.

"Mild sprain," Terry said blandly, and Abby shouted the news inside like it was something wildly important.

It wasn't.

As Terry limped inside the house, he heard the clamor of the munchkins and felt one of them take his hand. He looked down and saw Debbie.

"I'm okay, Sweetheart."

"Then why did you have to go?"

Terry had to admit. She got him there.

"Is Dad putting away the van?" Abby asked.

"We have an appointment tonight," Izzy nodded, "but we'll use the car."

"Uncle Terry isn't planning on going anywhere, is he? Not in the shape he's in?" Abby looked at Terry as though he were planning an escape of some sort, and Terry resisted the urge to tease his niece.

"I'm in fine enough shape, thank you very much."

"I'm taking Madison to Carol's," Izzy explained.

"I could take her."

"Thanks, Abby, but there's no need. Madison and I will do just fine." Izzy pulled off her coat as the little ones waited for their hugs. "Is that dinner I smell?"

Abby smiled, and Terry let go of Debbie to sink onto the living room couch. He knew that smile. Abby had been in the kitchen, and unless Jake had been involved, dinner stood in question. Ricky climbed onto the couch and looked at Terry, his small face breaking into a smile when Terry's did.

"Did your mommy fix dinner?" Terry asked, and Ricky nodded soberly. "That's what I thought."

"I may have cooked," Abby laughed, "but I followed Jake's instructions to the letter. If it works, it won't be because of me-- it'll be because Mom's been a good teacher, and Jake gave good directions."

"Well, however it turns out, thanks for trying." John wearily shrugged off his coat. "I don't know about everyone else, but I'm glad to be home."

"Everyone else is, too," Terry said from the couch. Terry handed his coat to Jake with a nod of thanks. "I guess the rain really played a number on the folks in this area, because urgent care was packed to the gills."

"You're sure it's just a mild sprain?" Abby asked.

"Yup. I know I'm limping, but it's not that bad." Terry looked about for Maddie, and didn't find her. "There's hardly any swelling, though I still have to ice it and give it rest." Just then, he saw Maddie come in with pillows, her face a picture of sheer determination. Anyone would think he'd shattered his leg, not rolled an ankle.

"You need to elevate." Maddie sounded no-nonsense as she knelt at Terry's feet and began to take off his shoes.

Terry looked to Ricky for help.

"Do you want your card?" the boy asked.

"Card?" Terry watched as Maddie pulled out a chair, padded it with pillows, then carefully propped his leg. He was now elevated. He made some adjustments until the pillows were comfortable, then noticed Maddie was gone. Where was she now?

"I think he needs his cards." Ruthie sounded very sure, and all four children ran to the hall.

"They kept busy," Jake smiled, as Abby and Izzy went into the kitchen.

Terry didn't ask doing what, knowing he would soon find out. John sank into the recliner and seemed to enjoy the show. A moment later, Maddie came back with something cold wrapped in a towel, and placed it on Terry's ankle. Easy for John to enjoy things, he wasn't the one with a cold foot.

As Maddie stepped away and started to collect coats, Terry snagged her hand, and tugged her back to the couch.

"Sit with me?" he asked.

"I have to help in the kitchen."

"Please?"

She looked as though she needed the rest anyway.

It seemed she couldn't resist seeing him beg, and she circled to his left, sat down, and he scooped an arm around her shoulders.

"Here they come," Jake warned, as four munchkins charged into the room with paper in their hands.

"What's this?" Terry laughed. He dropped his arm as the kids climbed onto the couch, surrounding them from both sides.

"It's our cards-- to make you feel better and get well soon." Ruthie held up hers. "Mine first, please." She sounded so polite as she thrust something into Terry's hand. "Jake helped."

"Daddy helped me, too," Ricky said, waiting patiently to go second.

Even as Terry and Maddie admired the drawings and carefully scrawled well-wishes, (no doubt also with Jake's help), Terry could see Maddie fighting like crazy to keep her eyes open. She was running on fumes, and if she had any hope at all of making that appointment with Carol, Terry knew Maddie needed to get some rest before tonight. He kissed all four munchkins for their thoughtfulness, then said he would put these in his room to remind him to get better.

He was about to call over Abby and Jake so he could tell them something, when Abby announced it was dinnertime.

"Good news-- Mom said the food turned out really well." Abby came into the living room with a smile she usually saved for landing large pike. "Stay where you are, Uncle Terry. Dinner's coming to you and Aunt Madison. I thought we could eat buffet-style in here, so you could keep your foot up, and we could keep you both company."

"Thanks," Terry smiled, as Jake took the kids to get their hands washed. "When you and Jake have a moment together, Maddie has some news to tell."

"You can't be pregnant?"

"Not even close. When Jake is here, we'll tell you what happened with the rest of our day."

Abby looked to her father, and John only smiled. "You're buying a car?"

"How about a pony?" Ruthie came in with clean hands and a big smile. "Ponies are more fun than cars, and they don't need gas stations."

"I'd rather you get a dog." Lizzie followed her sister into the living room and looked at Terry. "If you're getting a pet, then why can't it be a dog? Why does it have to be a pony?"

"You can ride a pony."

"Then get a really big dog."

Terry searched for a place to jump in, then noticed Abby coming back with two plates of steaming hot chicken Alfredo casserole. It prompted John to push up from the recliner and come get a closer look. Abby presented a plate to Terry, one to Maddie, then gave them napkins and silverware. John looked to Abby, then at dinner, and raised his eyebrows in appreciation for his daughter's handiwork. The sight of dinner broke off the debate over Terry's future transportation, and the kids ran to the kitchen to get their plates.

Soon Abby and Jake had pulled chairs next to the couch, John was back in his recliner, and Izzy was curled on the other end of the couch with Debbie. Ruthie, Lizzie, and Ricky ate on the floor with their toys, and this time, the TV stayed off. After John had Terry say a prayer over dinner, Maddie nudged Terry in the side to get him going.

"Guess who called today?" Terry smiled and tried a bite of casserole as the munchkins on the floor started up in a chorus of off-the-wall guesses. "This is good chicken Alfredo, Abby."

"Forget the chicken," Abby sighed, "cut to the chase. What's your news? Who called?"

Maddie nodded to Terry, coaxing him to not drag it out.

"A private investigator--" he started.

"A PI?" Abby gasped. "No way. An actual private investigator? Like on TV?" She stopped being starstruck a moment, and turned serious. "Are you in trouble? Is someone investigating you?"

Terry sighed, and tapped his fork on the plate. "This is good chicken."

"I don't want to know about the chicken."

"Then let me finish." He then told them the strange conversation with Ben Connor.

Abby went from baffled to stunned in as many seconds as it took Terry to get the words out of his mouth. As for Maddie, she kept quiet, and kept eating, hardly ever looking up longer than for a few seconds at a time. Since Maddie didn't usually eat without being coaxed, Terry was grateful she was keeping her strength up for the appointment with Carol.

"A brother. Aunt Madison has a half brother." Abby sat with her mouth open, still looking completely stunned.

"That's not all. Tim's step-daughter called Madison." Terry pushed on, and noticed Jake wasn't eating, either. This was the first AJ had heard of anything about Tim and his family, and AJ had a lot of catching up to do. Since Maddie had been detailed about her talk with Paige, Terry didn't hold back, and related everything Maddie had told him. This was family, and theirs had just gotten bigger by several people in one day.

"Then Maddie called Tim."

"There's more?" Abby swallowed, and nodded for Terry to go on.

The food really did look good, and Terry tried to get a bite in whenever he could without Abby or Jake urging him to get back to the story.

As Terry told them about Maddie's talk with Tim, Abby covered her mouth, and listened so intently, a ladybug could've tiptoed across the floor and Abby would've noticed. When he came to the part where Tim leaned on Maddie with his own problems, Terry watched to see Abby's reaction. Abby was protective of her family, but Tim was also family, so when Abby remained quiet, Terry wasn't surprised.

"I can only imagine what you and Aunt Madison must've gone through today." Abby blew out a breath, and looked completely wowed. "I don't know how I'd take the news of my mom's death-- even if she had left me with a creep. I'm guessing it was still a shock." Abby looked at Maddie, and Maddie didn't seem to know what to say. "A brother, even a half brother is great. I know I've never told Mom or Dad this, but I've always thought it'd be kind of nice to have a brother. You know, to go fishing with? Don't get me wrong, girls, you guys are the best. I wouldn't trade you for a boatload of fishing buddies."

The triplets grinned, and Debbie cozied against Izzy as they kept eating dinner.

"Are you going to meet him?" Jake asked, starting in on his meal for the first time. His face brightened. "This is good, Abby."

Now it was Abby's turn to grin.

"I don't know." Maddie shrugged and looked uncertain. "One day. I'd like to see him. I'd like to see his family, and meet all my new nieces. I never thought I'd have any besides the ones in this room."

"When you're ready, we could call, and drive down there to meet them," Terry offered. "Or they could come up here." Terry saw Maddie go pale at the thought, and wondered if he should've kept his mouth shut. "There's no rush. When you think it's a good idea, let me know." He saw Maddie calm a little, and understood the feeling, even though he wasn't in her position. She wanted to go forward, and yet was grateful she could do it in small steps.

"You're someone's hero, Aunt Madison." Abby smiled wide. "That's got to feel good. I've never been anyone's hero before."

"I don't know about that." Jake gave Abby a quiet, steady look. "You've always been mine."

Feeling as though he were intruding on a private moment, Terry turned his attention on dinner. He heard Abby's breath catch, saw out of the corner of his eye as Abby brushed something from her cheek, and tried hard not to smile when Abby reached over and touched Jake's hand.

Those two.

As Maddie finished her meal, her eyes began to close. She set aside the plate and looked ready to fall asleep right there. Terry was about to ask if she wanted to go lay down in the bedroom, when she curled tightly beside him, leaned against his shoulder like one big human pillow, and started to doze off.

"Abby, would you get the extra comforter from the master bedroom, please?" Izzy looked over Terry at Madison, all curled up at Terry's side like she was keeping warm. "John, you'd better turn up the heat. I haven't seen the forecast, but I'm guessing it's going to freeze tonight. Jake, I hope you and Abby make use of that fireplace."

"We will, Mom, don't worry."

When Abby returned with the comforter, Terry held up his plate, and Abby covered him and Maddie with the blanket, leaving plenty left over to entirely drape the chair propping Terry's leg. From this vantage it looked like an absurd tent, so Terry pulled it back until it only covered his foot, not the back of the chair.

"Is this okay?" Terry whispered, checking the woman cuddled at his side.

Maddie gave a low, contented moan, already half asleep. He held back from telling her that if she didn't look better than this before it was time to leave, then-- man, this was hard. He didn't want to get in her way, so if she thought she could handle it, then so be it. He wouldn't stop her, but it would be hard to see her go after the long hard day she'd just had.

The fact it was raining again, didn't encourage him.

As Terry finished his chicken Alfredo, he kept watch over Maddie and tried not to think about what he often did when it rained at night. That first night when rain and low temperatures made him search the Old Mill Campground for someone who needed help. The memory chilled him, and he tucked the blanket around Maddie and tried to think of something else. She was making good progress from the lost puppy he'd found, for she no longer reminded him of one, but the time would never come when he could go through a freezing night like this and not thank God for the fact Maddie wasn't out in all that cold.

With that, Terry tucked the blanket a little more.

* * * *

Warmth surrounded her like a hug from someone wonderful. Madison burrowed her face against the pillow, only to become aware of the pulse under her ear. Terry's heart. That had to be his heart, for it filled her with love and made her want to stay there forever. She listened with every fiber so it would become her beat as well. Peeking her eyes open, she found herself napping on his left arm, her head on his chest.

Knowing his arm must be stiff, Madison sat up, and Terry stirred. The house had gone to bed, the living room night-light was on, and she could hear rain beating the roof.

"Don't worry about Carol," Terry groaned as he got his arm working, "I rescheduled your appointment." He shifted his leg and Madison worked to help him move the pillows. "I tried to wake you when it was time to leave, but you kept sleeping, and I didn't have the heart to shout. Carol had a cancellation, so we rescheduled you to eight o'clock, tomorrow morning. Is that okay?"

Lightning blinked in the living room window, and Madison saw the night-light flicker.

"Is that okay with you, Maddie?"

"Thanks, Terry. I'm so tired, I don't think I could've gone tonight, anyway."

"Then I'm glad it worked out. I wasn't crazy about you leaving again-- not when you were already so spent. If you thought you could handle it though, I wasn't going to get in your way." Terry pushed back the chair and lifted down his leg.

"Thanks for letting me try, Terry."

He nodded. "Izzy made up our couches, so unless you want to sleep here for the night, I suggest we turn in like sensible people and go to bed."

"I want to be sensible, Terry."

"Good. So do I." Terry started to lean forward and get up, but winced, and Madison scrambled to help him off the couch. "Thanks, getting up hurts."

"I like it when we do things together," she smiled, as he gingerly stood. "It's like you need me, and I'm good for something."

"Hey." He pulled her hand, and tugged her close until their eyes met in the half darkness. He balanced on one foot and used the chair for support, and she smiled in spite of his serious gaze. "You are useful. Not because you're my wife, or you're a part of this family, but because you're a human being made in the likeness of God. You have worth."

"And you need me," she finished hopefully.

"Like I need my next breath."

"Never stop breathing." She moved into Terry, and his arms came around her shoulders. His balance shifted, a hand went to the chair to steady himself, but he held her and she didn't ever want him to let go.

"As long as I have life, I won't stop needing you," he whispered.

Madison closed her eyes and listened to the rain, to the sound of her heart, and to the sound of Terry's breathing. Private music, just for them.

He shifted his weight and groaned softly.

"At least you only have to stay off your foot for a small while, Terry. Three days isn't so long."

Terry pulled away a little, but she held on. "The doctor said to take it easy for one or two days-- I didn't hear three."

"He said one to three," Madison countered, "but when I repeated, 'three days,' he nodded 'yes.'"

"How about we compromise and go with two?"

"Two isn't three."

"I know," Terry smiled.

"Okay, but if it still hurts, then you rest one more."

"Fair enough." Terry kissed her good night, then they started for the bedroom together.

In her head, Madison was starting to call that room by its right name. There were couches in there, but it was a bedroom. She wanted to get used to that name and not flinch every time she said it, or someone else did. Crazy people did that, and she would not be crazy. Even if she was, it didn't mean she had to give in. She would fight it.

Madison clicked on the bedroom light and saw their couches covered in sheets and blankets, and looking inviting. Izzy had done a good job.

"I don't think I'm going to need help in here," Terry said, releasing Maddie's shoulder. "Something's always going to be within reach-- an instant crutch." Terry used one of the couches for support as he moved between them, then turned sideways and moved to the dresser, snagged some pajamas from the top dresser drawer without losing his balance, then headed into the bathroom with a triumphant grin. The door clicked shut behind him.

The house was asleep, and Madison closed their bedroom door as quietly as she could without waking anyone, especially the triplets down the hall. She had no idea if they were light sleepers, or if Terry's gargling in the bathroom would wake them. She'd never slept here before. Strange how nighttime and the shut door made the room seem smaller. She hadn't noticed that when it was day. A slight chill crept up her arms as she looked at the bed that was supposed to be Terry's. Izzy had made up the couches so the pillows were on the same ends.

That wouldn't work.

Hoping Terry would stay in the bathroom a little longer, Madison went to work remaking her bed. Maybe, one day, she would switch back the other way. When she was ready. That day was not this one. She hurried, and tucked, and was still working when the bathroom door opened. Not looking up, she kept going as Terry made his way around her couch.

He didn't ask what she was doing, or why, but collapsed on his bed with a tired groan.

"Bathroom's yours."

She looked up, and green flannel pajamas greeted her. Terry hadn't bothered to push back his blankets, for he'd dropped on top of his couch and lay on everything like a tired man who didn't care if he got cold.

"If you get up, I'll turn down your covers," she offered.

His eyes were sliding shut, but she leaned over and tugged his hand.

"Terry?"

"Yeah." He rolled onto his side, pushed off the couch and yawned as she moved to get the blankets ready. "I think I could use the pillows in the living room for my foot." He said it as though he were making a suggestion, and not a request, but he didn't need to say a word more.

She hurried to get the needed pillows, happy she could help. When she came back, he thanked her, and piled them near the armrest so he could prop up his foot.

"Do you want me to turn out the lights?" she asked.

"No, I'll wait for you." Terry shifted until he looked comfortable. "We'll pray after you're done with the bathroom."

She nodded, felt a bit self-conscious and moved to the dresser to get her pajamas and robe. It was then she noticed Terry's wedding band in a tray with some loose coins. He didn't sleep with his wedding band, and she knew she wasn't supposed to, either. Even though she had. Madison looked at her left hand, fourth finger, and the words, "I am loved," tumbled into her heart. Smiling, she took the rings off and carefully placed it with Terry's in the tray. Not wanting anything to hurt them, she picked out the coins, then glanced at Terry's couch. He was fighting sleep, so she grabbed her clothes and hurried before he dozed and she missed out on their nightly prayer.

Terry had a really nice bathroom, but the best part was the combination bathtub shower. It meant she no longer had to have someone take her through the master bedroom-- she was now independent, she could shower whenever she wanted. Madison changed into her teddy bear pajamas, put on the robe, and wondered if it was silly that she felt nervous. Nothing was going to happen.

As she moved into the bedroom, Terry gave a sleepy smile. "There's no night-light in here, so you might want to leave the bathroom light on."

She went back, turned on the light, then closed the door halfway. She wondered if she could sleep in her robe. Would he think she was odd? He would notice the robe, but then he'd probably already noticed she was odd. Madison moved between the couches to turn off the light by the bedroom door, and realized Terry wouldn't be able to see her if she took her robe off there. His head was by the door, so she'd be behind him.

It was half dark anyway, so even if he turned around, he wouldn't be able to see much.

Her baggy pink and black PJs might not be very attractive, but they were married and sharing the same room, and Madison figured it paid to be careful. Taking a deep breath, she scrambled out of her robe, then dove into bed as fast as she could, tugging the blankets far over her head.

"I could comment," Terry said from the other couch, "but I won't."

"I'm ready to pray now."

She pushed the blanket under her chin, then closed her eyes while Terry quietly thanked God for leading the detective to Three Mile Bay, so Tim could talk to his sister for the first time; Terry prayed for Tim, and Karen, and their girls, and for the health of the baby that was due any time. He thanked God for the day's other blessings, including the chance to exercise patience by enduring a sprained ankle, and that it had only been a mild injury. For the couches, the roof over their heads, and the fact they were together. As Madison listened, she realized Terry was pouring his heart out before the Lord, and that it was all gratitude.

When Terry finished, the sound of rain on their window filled the silence.

Her blanket was getting warm, and from Terry's breathing, she could tell he was still awake.

"Emily called us this evening," Terry said quietly.

Madison turned on her pillow. "Why didn't you wake me so I could thank her for the bread machine?"

"I tried, but you were out like a light." There was a smile in Terry's voice, and it made Madison smile, too. "They got back Sunday night because Brian had work today." Terry gave a sleepy sigh. "Emily said the trip went well. Her father was in one piece when she came back, so they're happy." Terry yawned, and it made Madison yawn and stretch beneath her covers. "Emily wished us congratulations. She was glad Vegas worked out."

"I'm glad too. I think I'm beginning to like Emily."

"Really." Terry breathed, and when he spoke, there was a decided smile in his voice. "What about Brian?"

Madison wanted to hurl something soft at Terry, but he was quietly laughing and it wouldn't have done any good. He stilled, and she listened to the rain, loving the way it made her feel cozy all the way down to her socks. She felt so safe.

"Terry?"

"Hmmm?" He was fading now, but she heard him sniff and asked her to go ahead.

"I'm remembering things."

"That's good." Terry began to snore a little, so she lowered her voice and kept going.

"Momma had trouble holding down a steady job, so we sometimes lived in a car." Madison took a moment to let the memories seep in, and they came much easier than she expected. On a night like this, she could remember almost anything, and be all right. She spoke dreamily, and let the words flow out how they wanted. "We'd visit Grandma-- I remember her, Terry-- we'd visit her and they'd yell at each other until Momma got her money and then we were back on the road. I hadn't remembered that until now. Seeing that picture reminded me of the way it used to be. I could be fearless-- I'd go barefoot and scare Momma by finding bugs in the grass with my toes, and yet when I was really little, I was frightened to death of the swing set in Grandma's backyard. I wouldn't go near it."

"Why?" Terry asked, his voice now much more awake than before.

It took Madison a long moment to accept what she was now remembering. She'd pushed away those memories for so long, it felt as though they hadn't happened. But they had. "The old man who lived next door told me that if I was a bad girl, the first time I got on a swing, God would make me fall off and break my neck. So I stayed away and it made Grandma so mad. She said she'd put it in just for me, and when the old man heard that, he couldn't stop laughing."

"Who was he? This old man?"

"No one. Just an old man. I always stayed away from the swings no matter where we went, because Momma was constantly telling me I was bad. There wasn't any way I wouldn't break my neck."

"He sounds like quite a neighbor," Terry breathed quietly. "You still don't believe that about the swings, or about yourself, do you?"

"I didn't even remember it until just now. I've spent so much of my life trying to forget Momma, I forgot the things that came with her." Madison listened to the rain and the memories kept coming. "How do I make them stop, Terry? I'm so tired-- I need to make them stop."

Terry started to hum, the tune familiar and comforting, and then he added words in a hushed voice:

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so...


It was a simple song, but one that reminded her of something important. She truly wasn't alone. His singing voice was a little rough, but at the same time it reached inside her soul and made her warm. She felt rocked back and forth, and comforted. She felt protected, and loved. When his voice faded away, she felt love for the One Who had first loved her, and for the one who had loved her enough to sing to her.

"That's your song," she whispered.

"You don't know how right you are." Terry sounded as though he were remembering something of his own. "When I was little, I used to sing that when I didn't know what else to do. I'd close my eyes and sing to myself. Do you think you can sleep now?"

"I love you, Terry."

"Oh, Maddie. I love you, too."

Terry exhaled, and his next breath sounded like the beginning of sleep. She heard rain on the window again, her arms felt heavy, and she could barely keep her eyes open.

Tired and feeling safe, Madison trusted herself to God and let sleep come.

* * * *

Tim's morning was getting off to a dismal start. Being sent home early was one thing, but to be told he had to stay home to be on the safe side, was another. What was his boss? a doctor? The man didn't know what he was talking about. "To be on the safe side." What did that mean? What was it supposed to mean? Just because he'd passed out yesterday, didn't mean he was sick or needed time off. Tim bit back frustration as he hung up the phone, fearing this might be a sign of no-confidence from his boss. There had been four layoffs in the past three months, and so far, Tim had managed to escape with his job intact.

He went back to the breakfast table to finish his coffee, now that there wasn't any rush to get out the door.

Karen took another bite of sliced apple. "Who was that?"

"Mr. Wendell." Tim thought about all the times he had showed up to work without being late, the times he'd helped out without being asked. It was being passed over like it hadn't even counted. Like he didn't count. He was next. He felt it.

"Honey?" Karen was looking at him, and he hurried to smile. "What did he want?"

"Who?"

"Mr. Wendell. Are you all right?"

Tim nodded, and stirred in another sugar.

"Well? What did he want?"

"He wants me to stay home today. To be on the safe side." Tim tossed aside the sugar packet and dimly wondered how much unemployment he could draw before he found another job.

"That was nice of him." Karen got up, went to the fridge and took out the milk. "Then I guess you can enjoy your morning for a change."

Tim looked at his wife. She didn't get it. She really didn't. This wasn't a kindness, it was a slap in the face.

"Mr. Wendell is always so thoughtful-- he reminds me of Mr. Scrooge. You know, after he was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?" Karen smiled as she poured a glass, then put the milk back in the fridge. "Ever since he gave us that large ham for Christmas, I haven't been able to get the image out of my mind. Do you want some milk?"

"You already put it back."

"I can get it out again."

He stared at her.

"Tim, what's wrong? What did I say?" Karen blinked at him and Tim closed his mouth before he made her any angrier. "Please, talk to me. Don't clam up. Just, for once in your life, talk to me."

"Thank you, I don't want the milk." Tim stirred his mug, and tried not to watch as Karen eased into her chair.

Her stomach bumped into the table-- she soothed a hand over her belly, and smiled as though the baby had already been born, and could see her and smile back. Karen looked up at him, and he turned away before she caught him staring.

"What are your plans for the day?" Karen waited as he tried to make up his mind what to say. "I really wish you'd talk. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in this marriage by myself."

"I hadn't... thought about it yet." Tim scooted from the chair to wash his cup out. He had to get points for that. It meant less work for Karen. When he turned, and saw Karen's disappointed face, he didn't know what to say.

"I'm not going to leave you, Tim. I wish you'd believe me."

"I do."

Karen gave a tired sounding sigh, one that sounded more than a little discouraged.

Not knowing what else to do, Tim started rinsing the breakfast dishes and placing them in the dishwasher. She always liked it when he was helpful. "I don't have any plans for today," he said finally, wanting like crazy to break the silence, "but I thought maybe I'd call Madison. If she's not too busy."

"So instead of talking to me, you'll talk to her?" Karen sighed, and didn't say anything more. She looked as though she were fighting a losing battle, and it irritated Tim.

He switched on the dishwasher, then left the kitchen before he said something else to make her angry. He was losing her. He knew it. He felt as though he were waiting on the train tracks, trying to stop the inevitable, and of course he'd be destroyed like last time. He'd been through this nightmare before, but now he had help.

He had Madison.

* * * *

When morning came, Terry woke to find Maddie dressed, and in the living room reading verses off his phone and entering new ones from her Bible. All those childhood memories had left sadness behind, for he recognized the look in her eyes, that struggle to put the past where it belonged, for he'd had that same struggle, himself. Wanting to help his wife, Terry limped to the couch to join her, and they did their quiet time together.

Even though the morning grew hectic, Terry noticed Maddie's spirits kept up, and he felt better about not being able to go with her to the eight o'clock appointment. He wished he could go with her to Carol's. He didn't like staying behind, but he kissed his wife as she left with Izzy, and gave her to God's safekeeping.

With Maddie gone though, the house felt empty. And not just because she wasn't there to fill it. The triplets had preschool Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings-- that is, when they weren't staying away because of the flu, and now that the flu had run its course, it was back to school for the munchkins. When John returned from dropping them off, Terry didn't like the fact he was so glad to see his friend again. Loneliness wasn't supposed to kick in that fast. Terry had seen the house empty before, but with his leg propped up, he felt stranded on the couch, and it didn't feel natural. There should be more noise than this, more activity. More something.

As John settled in the recliner with his laptop, Terry felt grateful for the company and the fact John didn't go to the office where they usually worked.

All this quiet was getting to him.

No munchkins, no women, and even the rain had stopped. It didn't feel normal.

Terry checked his email, leaned back on the couch and started to answer a client when the phone in his slacks pocket rang. He let it go to finish his thought, then fished out the cell phone while he looked over his reply. The client had been vague, and Terry wanted to be as concise as possible before hitting send and making a confusing situation even worse. Work helped. It made him feel connected, and he didn't have as much time to think about being stuck with a bum ankle.

His mind on the email, Terry answered without seeing the caller ID staring him in the face.

"Hello, Terry Davis. What can I do for you?"

Silence.

Terry scanned his email, tacked on a period, then turned all attention to the caller. "Hello?" Terry waited, and was about to ask if the caller was still there, when he heard a quick intake of breath, then,

"It's-- it's Tim, Tim O'Brien."

"Well, hello, Tim." Terry smiled into the phone, and John's head bobbed up. "Thanks for calling. I'm afraid Maddie isn't here right now."

"She isn't? Do you know when she's coming back?" Disappointment sounded heavy in Tim's voice.

"She'll be gone for an hour and a half, maybe two. Her schedule got turned around yesterday when I sprained my ankle, so she's playing catch up today." Terry paused. "Maddie told me about your call. I know we haven't met, but I feel like I know you. I'm glad you found your sister."

"Thanks, I'm glad too." There was uncertainty in Tim's voice, as though he wasn't sure of himself, of Terry, or of what he wanted to say. "She told me about your ankle. I hope it's feeling better."

"It is, thanks. It's just a mild sprain, but Maddie has my leg propped on a chair and these pillows under my foot to keep the swelling down. There isn't any swelling to speak of, but Maddie's tenacious. When she makes up her mind, she puts her whole heart and every ounce of her being into it-- she can be very intense."

"How long have you known her?" The question seemed innocent enough, though Terry sensed it wasn't at all the reason why Tim had called.

"Let's see... this is October, and I met her in early September, so it's been about a month now. It feels longer only because we pack so much life into each day."

"How did you meet?"

Terry stopped short of answering. It was the natural next question, but there wasn't a funny story he could tell, nothing that wouldn't bring on more questions, and he wasn't so sure he should answer. Not without first talking to Maddie.

"This could take a while," Terry hesitated. "How much time do you have?"

"All day," Tim said glumly.

"Then let me get back to you. I have to check with someone." Terry thanked Tim for waiting, then hung up to call Maddie. As Terry waited for her to pick up, he noticed John blankly staring at his laptop, an obvious sign that his friend's concentration was anywhere but on his work. There was simply too much going on. "Hey, Maddie? Guess who just called?"

"Tim?"

"Good guess." Terry took a deep breath. "I'm interrupting your session, aren't I?"

"I was talking to Carol."

"Then I'll make this as brief as possible. Tim asked me how we met, and I want to know how much should I say? Do you want me to tell him about the Dragon?"

"You shouldn't have to tell him alone."

"Maddie, I don't mind. If this will make it easier for you, then I'd rather be the one to break the news. You can fill in the missing blanks later, and answer anything I wasn't able to, but I think I can help you both by telling him now. He deserves to know."

"I trust you."

"Thank you, Maddie, that means a lot. Would that be a green light?"

"Be gentle with him? like you are with me?"

"I promise."

"Then the light's green. Just please don't tell him about my goals? He can know I have problems, but not my goals."

"I give my word."

"Thank you, Terry. I'll pray."

"I will, too. Talk to Carol, and let me handle Tim. We'll be okay."

They hung up, and Terry paused for prayer. John sat quiet and didn't even bother to stare at his laptop. Then, gathering his calm, Terry called Tim. Tim answered so fast, it made Terry wonder if he'd had his hand on the phone the whole time.

"I just got off the phone with Maddie. You might want to grab a chair, because this could take a while." Terry took a deep breath. "You were asking how I met your sister, and it's a long story. I have to start from the beginning, before she came to Three Mile Bay, where I first met her. To do that, I need to tell you where she's been for the past twenty-six years."

"Okay. Connor said something about Madison not having it easy before she met you, and that you were trying to make up for that." Tim sounded too optimistic, too hopeful.

"Not having it easy is putting it mildly." He had to get Maddie's brother ready for bad news.

Terry started from the beginning-- not at the Old Mill Campground, but with a frightened eight-year-old. There was no other place to start, and Terry prayed for strength. He told it as simply as he could, which wasn't very hard, for he didn't know that many details, but he knew enough to turn Tim into a very quiet man. As Terry came to Three Mile Bay, he was able to offer more, though Terry still kept things as simple as possible so Tim could keep up. It was a lot to ask anyone, let alone Tim O'Brien, but by the time Terry came to the end of his narrative, Tim was weeping.

Terry waited, and gave this man who'd been searching for his half sister, some time to find his voice.

"How badly was she hurt?" Tim asked. "How much can you tell me?" Despair and rage mixed in his voice, and in the background, Terry could hear a woman trying to soothe him.

"She's not in any physical pain right now, or if she is, it's minimal. She has osteoarthritis of the hip, and she has a limp, but her doctor has her on an OTC painkiller, and most times the pain is manageable. She's also in therapy for self-injury. I don't know if you're familiar with that or not, but it's when someone uses physical pain to cope with intense emotional pain."

"Is she all right?"

"She hasn't cut in about a week and a half, and that's good. I don't want to discourage her. It can be addicting though, and she's been doing it since she was thirteen. I don't have to tell you that's a lot of history to overcome."

"Oh, man."

"She's a survivor, Tim. She's also a child of God, she loves the Lord, and she isn't in this alone. Not by a long shot. She's putting one foot in front of the other and going forward, and she's doing it right in front of me. I'm watching it happen. I tell you, Tim, everyday courage takes the most bravery. Courage is hard-won stuff, and those everyday battles-- win those, and you win something priceless. She's proving that."

"I always knew she must be special." Tim sighed. "Are you sure she's not in any pain?"

"Most of her pain isn't physical. She has a lot of scars, and they're not pretty, but most of them are on the inside. Each day is a struggle for her. Memories intrude, and her body hasn't forgotten what happened. Intimacy is a problem."

Tim was silent.

"I'm incredibly blessed to know her, and not a day goes by that I don't thank God for the gift of her friendship, and her love. Maddie is a remarkable woman. Of course, she's my wife, so I'm hardly unbiased."

"That's okay, I don't mind." Tim sounded as though he'd been smiling when he said that, and a moment later, Terry heard him put down the phone to blow his nose. When Tim picked up again, he started talking. "I can't believe there wasn't any family all this time, and no adoption. All these years-- I can't believe it. Grandma lied to me while my sister was being--" Tim went silent. "Is he dead? You said he was dead, right? I thought I heard you say he was dead, but I can't remember. I can't--"

"He's dead."

"I can't believe she was handed over like that. It's not true. Is it?"

"I'm afraid it is. Maddie will answer any questions you still have, but I'm thankful for the chance to speak to you first. You needed to know, and I didn't want her to have to tell you. She's been through enough."

"I understand. Tell her not to worry, I understand. And it won't go any further than this-- I don't spread stories around the water cooler." Tim sniffed heavily into the phone. "I won't tell anyone except my wife. She's looking at me right now like I've gone completely nuts, though she's shaking her head 'no.' First I pass out, now this. I can tell Karen, can't I? Do you think Madison would mind?"

"Karen is fine."

"So that's why we haven't been able to find her?" Tim sounded nasally, as though he were wiping his nose. "All this time. I should've been looking harder for her, I should've--"

"You couldn't know, Tim. This is in no way your fault."

"I wish I could believe that." Tim sighed. "Karen's putting a cold compress on my forehead, so I better hang up. Tell Madison... tell her I'm sorry." Tim gasped so hard Terry could hear it over the phone. "Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me all this. I wasn't expecting it, but it makes me feel like family."

"That's because you are," Terry said quietly. "Maddie will get in touch later, and then you can ask her whatever it is you wanted when you called."

"I did want to ask her for some advice. That is, if I'm not bothering Madison too much." Tim cleared his throat. "You've done a lot for my sister. I'd like to thank you. From the way you told her story, it makes me think you don't want to be thanked, but all the same-- thank you."

By now, Tim was crying again, and Terry had a hard time saying anything that would be easily heard. In the background, Karen tried to calm her husband, but Terry couldn't make out what was being said from all the loud weeping. When the line went silent, Terry hung up. A grenade of emotion had just gone off in that man's life, and it appeared he already had problems of his own. Terry hated to add to them, but this was Maddie's brother. Half brother or full, a secret this big would have been impossible to keep.

"How did it go?" John asked.

It was a full five minutes before Terry could answer. Somewhere in Syracuse, Karen was trying to hold Tim together; Terry could only hope and pray that he'd handled the matter with enough care so Tim would be all right.

As all right as anyone could be, with news like that.

When Terry could speak, he told John what had happened, and related Tim's half of the conversation-- what little of it there had been. There wasn't much to say, for John had heard most of it. The morning had moved at a snail's pace for Terry, and now he watched the time for when Maddie would come home.

How he wished she would come.

* * * *

The trees outside her window were one continuous green blur, the hues darker than usual since the skies were overcast. The rain held back, but Madison didn't care. She kept thinking about what she and Carol had talked about. Madison had so much she'd wanted to ask, she'd gotten a notebook from Carol to keep her thoughts straight. She'd made notes, had written down things she didn't want to forget, and had even found the courage to ask things she normally wouldn't have dared.

One thing Madison knew for sure, it wouldn't have happened if Terry had been there. His sprained ankle had been a blessing in disguise.

She held the new spiral-bound notebook on her lap, a quiet witness of what she'd said in Carol's office. Izzy kept driving, and didn't talk, and Madison noticed she hadn't asked about the notebook-- a kindness Madison didn't take lightly.

Then there was Terry's talk with her brother to think about. She had so many things going on, she felt dizzy with motion.

"Are you doing all right?" Izzy sounded a little concerned, so Madison worked up a smile.

"I was just wondering how Terry did with my brother."

"You could call and find out."

"Are we almost home?" Madison asked.

"We're not far." Izzy checked her speed, and Madison decided to wait.

It was hard though. One thought spilled into another, jamming her brain into a crazy tangle. Normal wasn't like this. Normal drove their car to work every day, got married, led responsible lives, and did normal things. Like pay bills and have kids. And normal sure didn't have to break the bad news to newly discovered half brothers about their hard-to-believe pasts. Tim would never believe it. If Madison had walked into a restaurant, pulled aside the first person she saw, and blurted out her life's story, she doubted that person would take her seriously.

Of course, if she actually did pull a stranger aside, there was also a high chance that person would call for a straightjacket. But that wasn't her point.

"We're almost home," Izzy said, but Izzy's words didn't register.

Madison would never be normal, so why was she putting so much effort into something that would never work?

When the car rolled to a stop in front of the house, Madison dropped her head back. She felt tired, like she'd been climbing uphill and needed a rest. She forced herself to move, popped open her door, and cold wind pushed into her face. The pages of her notebook began to flap, she looked about, and clamped it shut before anyone saw what she had written.

The front door opened, and John came out with a wave. "Did you find the office all right? Did you get lost?"

"Terry gave good directions," Izzy smiled. "Did you miss me?"

"Didn't even know you were gone." John said it laughingly, but he slipped a gentle arm around his wife as they went inside. "Terry, they're back."

Madison took off her coat, hugged her notebook and went to the couch-- all without looking at Terry. She set aside her purse and tucked into Terry's side, loving the way his arm came around her shoulders and made her feel safe and warm. Even protected. Her reasons for trying, and trying hard, were coming back to her; they hadn't gone anywhere, she just had to keep going.

"Thanks for driving me, Izzy." Madison smiled at her, and Izzy smiled back.

Madison felt Terry's eyes as he quietly studied her face.

"Hard session?" he asked.

"It was long." Madison rubbed her cheek against his cable knit sweater. "Thank you for talking to Tim. I can't thank you enough for that. How did he take the news?"

The hand on her shoulder caressed in small, comforting circles. She looked up, and noticed Terry motioning to John. John nodded back, and led Izzy into the hall. Terry looked down at Madison, and the caresses on her shoulder deepened.

"Terry?"

In a quiet voice, Terry told her about his phone call with her brother. Her heart ached, and she buried her face in Terry's sweater as he spoke. Tim had believed her, because he had believed Terry. A mixed blessing. Now someone else was suffering because of what the Dragon had done to her, and she hated that. She wished Tim didn't have to know.

"He took it like a man, but it hurt." Terry's chest rumbled with a groan. "I can't imagine what he's feeling, but then, he and I are in the same boat. We love the same woman."

"Should I call him now?"

"If you're up to it." Terry pulled out his phone, and handed it over. "The O'Briens might be having lunch right now, but you could try him anyway. I think we have his cell phone number."

Madison tapped her brother's name in the address book, and waited.

"He's not picking up."

"Guess he's eating." Terry checked the time. "I hate to mention it, but someone we both know is getting on the hungry side. You see, I hurt my ankle carrying a couch for this lovely woman, and now I'm stuck here. I'm not supposed to use my ankle, so I can't get food from the kitchen. Isn't that something? I don't suppose you know anyone who might be going that way?"

Though she suspected him of trying to cheer her up, she couldn't help it, and smiled. When she kept looking at him, he moved closer. He lowered his head, and she met his mouth with a kiss. His lips were so gentle, she wanted to stay there all day, then a stomach rumbled and Madison had to fight hard not to smile.

"I'm sorry." Terry looked so embarrassed. "I'm not romantic, I know--"

She stopped him with a kiss. "Do you want leftover chicken, or tuna salad?"

Lunch was spent on the living room couch with Terry, and Madison wouldn't have had it any other way. She had a friend in him, one she enjoyed spending time with, one she truly liked being around. When he wanted something, he didn't bully, and when he kissed, he didn't force.

The more she knew him, the deeper her love grew.

The house shifted gears as Terry went to work on his laptop, John left to pick up the triplets, and Izzy cleaned up after lunch. Madison put the new notebook in her dresser drawer, set Terry's get well cards from the munchkins around the picture frames, then got out the vacuum to start her house chores. Stray brown rose petals could be found in the living room, and Madison wanted to get them all today. The engagement roses had been laid to rest, but its crystal vase was in the kitchen for safekeeping, and every now and then Madison liked to peek in the cupboard and remember her pink blooms.

She was no ladyfair, but they had been oh-so-sweet.

Noise filled the living room as she pushed the vacuum over the floor, its motor whirring so loud she had to shout to ask Terry to raise his good foot so she could clean beside the couch. She got around the TV, the table, and was about to start down the hall, when the front door opened and John came in with the girls. Madison smiled and kept going, but John waved her down.

"What?" she shouted.

"Someone--" John mouthed the words but she couldn't hear, so Madison had to shut off the vacuum. "Someone's outside," John said in a hurry. "There's a minivan across the street, and a man is staring at this house. And Madison-- I'm not making this up, I promise-- he looks a lot like you."

A lump tried to squeeze down Madison's throat, but her mouth had gone dry. She looked to Terry. Somehow, Terry didn't seem too surprised.

"Did you know--"

"I didn't," Terry shook his head, "but I can't blame him, can you? Not after everything he's heard today. He must have drove non-stop from Syracuse, to get here so soon."

"If he saw John and the girls, do you think he's wondering if he has the wrong house?"

"Not after seeing the triplets," Terry smiled. "When I told him your story, I gave a decent description of this family, and the girls. He knows who he just saw out there."

Pushing her hands together, Madison left the vacuum, went to the couch, and took a seat next to Terry. She would wait until Tim was ready to come to their door. Until then, Madison grabbed Terry's hand and watched the window. She couldn't see the van from where she sat, but knowing it was out there, was more than enough to keep her praying.

Tim was here, but what next? Life didn't stop because you were happy, it kept moving, kept coming, kept pushing you to either fight or give up. She was learning that. There wasn't much room for an in-between. You had to make decisions, and live with them, and then keep looking and asking God what to do next until it was time to make another one. Madison fairly vibrated as she waited for her brother to find the courage to get out of his van, and come ring their doorbell.

God help her, she was going to meet Tim, face to face. Madison checked the time. If her brother couldn't find his courage, and do it soon, she would go out there and find it for him.


"But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face."
~ 3 John 14 ~

end of chapter