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Chapter Thirty-eight
Husbands, Love Your Wives

"... and be not bitter against them."
~ Colossians 3:19 ~

Since the music wasn't helping as much as it had in the past, Madison focused herself on other thoughts as it played. Dread of meeting her sister-in-law was staring her in the face, and since cutting was out of the question, Madison looked for something else to take its place. Not even the wedding dress could get her mind off this. She thought of her next goal, and it wasn't the second wedding. She knew it wasn't enough to know she wanted something, she had to have a plan. Saying everything was out of the question was like saying she couldn't be with Terry at all, for he was a man, and it was just the way God had decided to make men.

A plan meant knowing her own limits, what she could accept, and what was simply out of the question, and being fair about it. It beat sitting there, not thinking about Karen, so Madison decided to make a list, the ugliest list in the entire world.

Terry flicked her a look, one that made her think he was checking to see how she was doing. "Are you sure you don't want to take a nap?" he asked.

She shook her head, hugged herself, and started with the very worst. It had always given her a great deal of pain, so it came first. What should be number two on her list wasn't hard to figure out, either. She had night terrors over blacking out, not being able to breathe, so number two on the list would be strangling. It was absolutely out of the question. Pushing aside her own shame, she concentrated on what could kill her, on what gave her the most pain, and added those to her list of things to avoid at all cost.

"That was some rainbow, wasn't it?"

She looked up. "Is there another one?"

"Not yet, I was just trying to make conversation." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Terry slide her a look as she tapped the phone's colorful display, and found the notes app.

"If I make a note that says, 'Madison, highly personal,' will you promise not to read it until I say you can?"

"Of course. Just make sure you name it, so I know to keep out." He paused. "Should I be concerned? Are you doing all right?"

She nodded. "Just don't read this yet."

"I won't."

She didn't need him to say a thing more, for she trusted him to keep his word. With a deep breath, Madison started to type her list. It was scary to see those words, but it felt powerful, as well. Absolutely, no way, under any circumstances. She wanted to make it plain. For as long as she lived, never again. All thoughts about meeting Karen fell away as Madison found the letters that spelled each word to form her destiny.

The sound of the traffic, the motion of the road kept her from getting too lost in her thoughts. While she was dreading one thing, she felt distracted enough to face this. At least enough to make a list. No way would she ever willingly let a man do this to her-- and Madison punched out the words with an anger that had Terry glancing at her. She started to add something else, then stopped. She wouldn't put that down. It wouldn't be fair to Terry. Or herself. If she was brutally honest. No, she couldn't put that down.

Time passed, and Madison kept working on her list. This wasn't a lighthearted stringing together of words, a sentence to a line, a list any normal couple would make. It took steadiness, and the memory of Terry holding her last night to write it.

The jeep turned and Madison swayed without looking up.

There wasn't a living soul on earth she felt this close to, but Terry. She'd found shelter with him, and safety. She was safe. Safe enough to write this.

She looked at him, saw his face all thoughtful and quiet as he watched the road. She wondered what he would say. Terry was a man, but he was reasonable. He wouldn't want to hurt her.

Terry glanced at her, smiled, then looked back at the road. "What?"

"Nothing." She turned back to her list, finished the last few lines, then kept the music going, in no way ready to show him what she'd written. It'd take giant-sized, God-standing-beside-her-and-holding-her-hand kind of courage, and that, she didn't have. Not now. A voice inside her screamed to delete the note before Terry saw it, but then a calmer one took hold. She'd faced the ugliness enough to put it into words, and that was a start. It wasn't exactly falling into Terry's arms, but it was a start. If she could face writing that list, then she could certainly face Karen. Facing Terry and discussing the list with him, would be another matter.

Funny how switching her dread around made the next few hours seem not as bad.

After the music, Madison played some chapters from the New Testament, then went back to look at her note, when Terry interrupted.

"Sorry, I need the phone. We're getting close enough to Syracuse to call Tim."

"We are?" With a gulp, Madison selected something else to make sure it didn't land on her highly personal list if he needed the notes app, then turned off the app as Terry pulled to the side of the road. She handed over the phone. Time had slid past quicker than she'd thought possible, and now all she could think about was Terry not seeing what she'd written.

He wouldn't, though. Not on purpose.

Terry tapped the screen, put the phone to his ear and waited. "Hey, Tim, we're nearing Syracuse. Yeah, I was just looking at the time. Okay, that sounds good to me." Terry nodded. "I should be able to find it-- no problem. Sounds good. We'll see you then." Terry hung up, tapped the screen and studied it while Madison held her breath. "We're going to meet Tim at his place, then head out to eat before visiting Karen."

Terry's thumb worked the screen, and she leaned in to watch. A map scrolled by. She watched him zoom in. He glanced at her, saw she was watching, and smiled. She hugged herself and smiled back.

"Would you like to pray?" he asked.

She nodded. Though she didn't know what made him think to ask, she really didn't want to think about it too hard. The way she looked was probably a dead giveaway. She didn't feel at all normal right now, and it likely showed all the way from outer space. Terry unwrapped her hand from around her middle, held it, and said a quiet prayer-- nothing fancy, just a few simple words to ask for God's blessing for today's meeting.

"And Lord," Terry added, "please be with Maddie. Help her, and help me."

Madison gulped. It was as if he'd read her mind. He certainly hadn't read her note. When she opened her eyes, Terry sat still a moment before letting go of her hand.

"Are the girls coming to lunch with us?" she asked.

"Tim didn't say."

"I'll be all right, Terry. I feel fine."

He looked at her thoughtfully, then passed her the phone. "I'm going to need the map when we get closer to Tim's home, so if you would, keep it handy."

Madison nodded that she would, and Terry smiled.

The jeep started to move again, and the trees and ground swept past them while Madison tried to keep her heart from beating too hard. She hadn't lied, she did feel fine. Under the circumstances, this was as fine as she was going to get. It felt good knowing that no one but Terry could even accidentally see her note, for they had to know the passcode to open the iPhone. Still, it was comforting to be the one to hold the phone right now. She watched the scenery, the few buildings tucked behind trees, the open space of land and sky, the greenery that kept her from seeing anywhere for too far, and watched the road speed by. Part of her thanked God she wouldn't be meeting Karen just yet, and the other half, the side of her that didn't like slow torture, wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. A warm hand took hers, and she accepted it without looking away.

"Do you recognize any of this?" Terry asked.

"No, should I?"

"This is the way to the airport. We drove through here on our trip to Las Vegas."

"We did?"

Terry pointed to an upcoming overhead sign. "That leads to the airport."

"I don't remember that." Madison turned in her seat to look back as the green sign fast disappeared behind them. "I don't remember seeing any of this."

"It's no big deal," he shrugged. "You weren't sightseeing last time. You had a lot on your mind."

"I still do."

Terry slanted her a look. "Would you care to talk about it?"

"Not exactly." Madison straightened in her seat, clutched the phone and hoped he wouldn't ask to see her highly personal note. "I'd rather talk about it later."

"Later, huh?" Terry pursed his lips and frowned at the road. "Is this a postponing of bad news kind of later, or would you rather I not ask any questions until then?"

"It's not bad, but I guess that depends on how you look at it."

"So long as you're not planning to leave me, change your name, and move to Alaska." Terry glanced at her. "You're not, are you?"

She shook her head.

"Then later works for me."

She smiled at him, and he seemed content. They drove in silence for a while, then Terry cleared his throat.

"Since we have the privacy, and since you're saving your news for later, this might be a good time to talk about my work." Terry glanced at her. "Don't worry, this isn't bad. I suppose I could say it depends on how you look at it, but--" Terry blew out a breath. "It isn't bad, no matter how you look at it. John and I have a client in the wings. A big one. We've been taking time off from our last client-- something we usually do, but then--" Terry winced, and Madison wondered if Terry had found another way to look at it.

"Go on, Terry. What happened?"

"Well, I met you," Terry smiled. "John hasn't brought up the client, even though I know it has to be in the back of his mind. He hasn't been pushing work at me, so we've pretty much been doing light stuff, nothing heavy. We're far from running short on cash, so that's not a worry. This client won't wait forever though, and we have this wedding coming up." Terry scratched his forehead. "I don't know, maybe we should cut the client loose. I debated even bringing this up, because I have eyes. I can see what you and Izzy are doing, and I know it isn't easy to plan a wedding. The last thing I want to do is add pressure."

"Terry, before you hurt yourself with apologies, what do you need from me?"

He smiled. "You set the date for whenever you want. I meant it when I said that. I just need to know what sort of time frame we're looking at, so I know how to plan." Terry sounded apologetic, though Madison didn't blame him in the slightest for needing that information.

Even so, she bit her lip. She knew what she wanted, but coming on the heels of just having made her list, she felt awkward about saying it out loud. It was just a date on a calendar, but still, she was making plans he didn't know about. She unfastened her seat belt, pushed up, and whispered into his ear.

The jeep swerved into the next lane before quickly righting itself.


"You asked," she said, and put her seat belt back on.

"Does Izzy know?"

She shook her head. "You said I could set the date, remember?"

"I know, but I thought--" Terry blew out a breath. "I don't know what I thought, but it certainly wasn't that. Izzy's going to have a heart attack, and she's perfectly sound. You can't be serious." He glanced at her. "You are though, aren't you?"

"I don't know yet if it's possible. I need to see how some other things develop first." She liked the way that sounded. Cryptic, gently vague, and yet nowhere near a lie. Like she was normal and had plans.

"What things?" Terry asked.

"Please, Terry, let me handle the wedding?"

"Maddie, I hope you intend to let Izzy go on helping? It'll be too much for you alone. I know it'd be too much for me."

"Please, Terry?"

"I'm tempted to do something for your own good, but I won't." Terry groaned. "I won't. I got the ring I wanted, so I'll stand back. Do the wedding whenever you want, however you want. Just don't kill yourself in the process. That's all I ask."

"I won't, Terry."

He didn't look convinced, so the moment his hand was free, she held it, and it seemed to soothe him.

"I'll tell John to hold off on that client."

"Thanks, Terry."

Terry nodded, and sighed, leaving her to be glad she'd only told him about a date on a calendar, and nothing else.

"If Izzy says it can't be done then, I won't even try."

"Okay." At least Terry looked as though he was breathing again.

Madison looked out the window. It was either pretend calm or go crazy, and since she'd just gotten Terry breathing on his own, she decided it would be better to try for the first. Outside was looking more and more like a city-- fewer trees, more asphalt, more roads, and from their present view she could actually glimpse the sloped horizon. On her left, a broad building filled her window, followed by parking lots, then empty space with a few shrubs and the feeling that she was no longer in Three Mile Bay. There were plenty of trees like back home, but these were turning with the colors of autumn; fall had stronger hold here, and here, there were billboards, people selling you things, people in a hurry with plenty of roads to get them where they were going. And more traffic. Not bumper to bumper, but more. More than Madison had grown used to in the relatively quiet Chaumont area.

A large hotel sprang up on her right. The sky had flattened to a solid gray while the buildings kept gathering in around their lanes of the road. They went through an underpass, came out to a raised bridging view of business-like buildings with long signs, some well placed trees, and in the distance, a landscape of squares and spires.

"Do you know where we're going?" Madison asked.

"You saw me looking at the map."

"So we're not lost?"

"We are not lost."

"Would you tell me if we were?"

"I won't even dignify that with a response." Terry negotiated a wide turn on a bending overpass as a large building moved by Madison's window. "Try to enjoy yourself, Maddie, I've been here plenty of times. I'm just not as sure of the way to Tim's place."

"Then we're lost?"

He grinned. "Oh, ye of little faith."

Terry sounded confident, so Madison relaxed a little but kept praying and kept her eyes open. She had no idea how big Syracuse was, only that it was definitely bigger than back home. Another city flashed before her, one much bigger than this, and she blinked to get herself back to the present. She watched Terry. She was with him now.

"Don't worry, I've driven this way many times before." Terry tossed her an encouraging smile, and she hoped she hadn't hurt his feelings.

"If we get lost, it's all right, Terry. As long as we're together--"

"We are not lost."

As they moved to the right, Madison checked with Terry. "Is this our exit?"


What looked to be a massive apartment complex stood on their right, jutting into the sky, while a parking lot spread around it like a gray blanket marked with white lines.

"Can you imagine being the landlord of something like that?" Madison asked.

"The more tenants you have, the greater the responsibility," Terry said with a shake of his head. "Start the map on the phone, will you?" He waited a moment, then reached for the phone when she had it ready. Terry placed it on his knee, its non-slip case coming in handy. He tapped something, then a voice sounded and gave a turn by turn direction of where to go next.

"Turn right at..."

Daylight dimmed as they drove beneath a concrete overpass. The ornamental trees, chain fences, industrial buildings, all screamed city. The concrete got in the way of the sky, but what sky she could see, looked sad and gray. It wasn't really fair. For all she knew, it could have been just the same back home as well, but here, a gray sky felt different. Probably because it wasn't home. They turned right, and the sky opened up to solid clouds, a construction zone on one side of the jeep, and a wide building on the other. Terry slowed, and the voice spoke up again.

On and on they drove, and Madison turned from the window to the moving map on Terry's knee. The voice kept telling Terry where to go, though once in a while she couldn't hear what it said, and even Terry had to glance down to check the map.

When she looked out her window next, there were houses and trees. They weren't exactly city trees, but they didn't look spontaneously natural, either. Rain began to pelt the windshield, but not enough to make Terry turn on the wipers. The voice told them to turn, and the houses began to look more and more middle-class. Well-kept homes with tidy lawns hugged the road, and the voice told them to turn left. They passed a small church, kept going, turned right, saw more homes, and Terry kept his speed slow.

"Are we getting close?" Madison asked, expecting to see her brother in front of any one of these homes.

"Close, but not yet. Tim has an apartment, and according to the map, we're not there." Terry turned, and the homes grew slightly smaller, though they still looked very well kept with trimmed shrubs and neatly swept sidewalks. "Maddie, up ahead."

Madison looked, and saw several rows of wide buildings. They weren't handsome like Terry's complex in Chaumont, but what they lacked in looks, they made up for in volume.

"Your destination is on the left," the phone announced, and Terry cut his speed as they turned onto a narrow lane with houses on the right, and apartments on the left. He read off the building numbers out loud, though Madison had no idea which one would find Tim. Up until a few minutes ago, she hadn't even known he lived in an apartment.

"There it is-- we're here." Terry pulled their jeep in front while Madison tried to steady her hands long enough to work her seat belt.

Outside her window, a man across the street climbed out of a pickup truck and caught her eye. For a moment, he had the dark look of the Dragon. She blinked, and the man's face turned into what he really was: young, a bit cocky, and too interested in a new face in the neighborhood. She turned away. He wasn't like the Dragon at all. Thank God.

The air nipped at her nose as she got out of the jeep. It was cold here, but not as cold as in Three Mile Bay. She didn't even feel the need to zip up her coat. She hurried around to Terry, tucked herself at Terry's side, and Terry smiled.

"Ready?" Terry asked.

She nodded. "We promised Izzy to call when we got here."

Terry pulled out his phone, made a quick call home while Madison adjusted the purse strap on her shoulder. It felt as though everyone on the lane knew they were here, and were staring at them, though when she found the courage to look up from the sidewalk, she found the man had gone.

"Okay, let's go." Terry took her hand as they started up the walk to the building. "Hey, you're trembling." He squeezed her fingers and she tried to find her courage.

She wanted to say something brave, to show she was relaxed and full of confidence, but her dry mouth failed her. How she wished she could be like the people living on this lane-- normal and ordinary. It must be wonderful to not stick out like a sore thumb, to know you would blend in anywhere you went. To be able to handle whatever came up without even blinking, because you handled it all the time. To take the everyday for granted, to not have to try so hard at just breathing. Oh, she wanted to be like them. As Madison worked to keep up with Terry, she prayed for help.

"Sorry, I'll slow down." Terry read the apartment numbers, then started up a short flight of steps to the second story while Madison followed. He took her hand again and nodded to a door at the end of the walkway. "That's the place. Why don't you do the honors?"

She shook her head, and when Terry saw she was too timid, he moved over and rang the bell.

"He should be home. When I called, he said he'd be ready for us." Terry waited, reached over to try again when the door opened to a short, blonde-headed girl with a fair complexion.

"Daddy, they're here!" The girl beamed at Madison, then Terry, then yelled the news a second time. And then stared at them and didn't invite them in.

"Hi," Terry smiled. "I'm Uncle Terry, and this is Aunt Madison. Are you Madeline?"

The girl nodded, and was about to yell again when Tim came striding to the door.

"Please, come in. Madeline, why didn't you show our guests inside?"

"You didn't tell me to. You just said to tell you if they got here while you were still on the toilet."

Tim opened his mouth, sighed, and waved them in. "This is my daughter, Madeline. And this," he said, turning to the girl, "is Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Go tell your sister we have company, and we can't wait all day to leave for the restaurant. I'm sure they're hungry and want to eat."

"Not if you give them a snack, too, Daddy." Madeline saw the parental fear in her father's face, and went to get her sister.

Tim's smile was apologetic.

"Speaking of food, we have some out in the jeep," Terry offered. "It's not much, just some frozen sloppy joes to heat up for later. We thought it might come in handy while Karen's resting."

"Thanks." Tim brightened as though he hadn't expected it. "That'll help out."

"We brought something for the baby," Terry added. "Could we bring it in? The hospital probably isn't the best place for gifts. It's out in the jeep."

"Sure, thank you. That was nice of you guys." Tim looked to Madison. "Do you want me to help him?"

Madison nodded, and Tim stepped outside with Terry. She wished she could find her tongue so she could remind Terry to bring in the presents for the other two girls, as well, but she was struggling with shyness. Unlike her young niece.

"You're pretty," Madeline smiled.

"Thank you." They were the first words Madison had finally managed, but at least her tongue hadn't fallen out.

"Paige is still fixing her hair." Madeline leaned against the armrest of the couch while Madison glanced about the tiny living room. "I told Paige she was fine, but she's taking. For. Ever. You'd think her life depended on it or something. You want to see our room? I have a goldfish. Her name is Wendy because my best friend Wendy gave her to me before she moved away. Have you ever been to New Jersey?"

Not knowing what else to say, and not wanting to insult a best friend named Wendy, Madison smiled and followed.

The living room opened to a kitchen on the left, and straight ahead was a narrow walkway that led to three rooms. The middle was a bathroom; the door stood open and Madison could smell a faint whiff of why Tim had been in there. The door on Madison's left stood open as well, and before Madison could think, she'd glimpsed a large bed that filled most of the room. Half from awkwardness, half from dread of what she'd just seen, Madison hurried to look away as she realized where she was being led.

"I'll just go wait," she told Madeline, and went back to the front door. She couldn't help it if she looked odd. She couldn't go there. Things would get even odder if she went into a flashback in front of the girls.

Thankfully, Madeline just shrugged and pushed into the girls bedroom.

From what Madison had seen, the snug apartment wasn't quite as small as the one she had in Chaumont, but it seemed to have enough room for everyone. The master bedroom had been very small, but it had been big enough for that awful bed. Madison shivered.

"Paige, you're missing everything." Madeline's voice carried easily from the girls' room. "Don't you want to see what she looks like? She's even prettier than her picture."

Suddenly self-conscious, Madison worked the zipper on her coat and pretended to be busy.

A moment later, the girls came out, and an eleven-year-old with straight red hair and arresting light blue eyes stood beside Madeline. Tall enough to come to Madison's shoulder, yet every bit a little lady, Paige smiled shyly at Madison until Madison felt that one of them should speak.

"Should I hug you both?" Madison asked. "Would that be all right? You are my nieces."

The girls came close, and Madison gave them each a hug. Though it felt awkward, Madeline didn't seem to notice.

"Have you seen your mom yet?" Madison asked, and Paige shook her head.

"Tim's mostly been sleeping since he got home from the hospital," Paige sounded like she had on the phone, "but he promised we could go see Mommy and the baby after lunch. Thanks so much for coming, Aunt Madison. I really wanted to meet you." Paige looked expectantly at the front door as someone passed the living room window. The girl had neatly brushed her hair and tied it back with a ribbon that matched her burgundy dress, and Madison thought she looked very pretty. "What's he carrying?" Paige asked.

The door opened, and Tim came in with a large, flat box, followed by Terry with the frozen food and the grocery bags.

Tim looked about and set the box on the couch.

"Clothes for the baby!" Paige cried, her face at once lighting up with delight. "Oh, Aunt Madison, thank you!" Paige went to Madison and hugged her, and Madison was glad when she could return the hug without pausing to steady herself.

Smiling, Madison looked over to find Tim staring at Paige.

"Daddy, can we open it?" Madeline asked, tugging on one end of the large box.

"Not now, Maddycakes. We have to get going." Tim showed Terry to the kitchen, then stepped back and looked at Paige again. As though he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. Paige stood beside Madison, hand in hand, like they were good friends. Madison hoped they were.

"Where do you want the diapers?" Terry called.

"Diapers?" Tim went back, and when someone mentioned cinnamon rolls, Madeline followed.

"If I'd have known this was what big sisters were for," Tim said jokingly, as he rounded into the living room with a grocery bag of diapers, "I'd have found you long before--" he stopped, looked at Madison, and sighed. "I'll put this away." He disappeared into the master bedroom, then came back a moment later and told his girls to get their jackets. "We're taking our generous guests out to lunch."

* * * *

The busy diner suited Terry just fine, and when Paige and Madeline scooted in on either side of Maddie as they took their table, Terry simply took a seat across from them. After the food came, and Terry and Maddie had bowed their heads and said a quiet prayer over lunch, the girls moved in and took up Maddie's attention with talk of school and friends. Since Maddie seemed to be having a good time, the men were on their own.

"Thanks again," Tim said, picking up a golden french fry, "you guys didn't have to bring gifts. We didn't invite you because we expected anything."

"I know," Terry shrugged, "but it isn't every day you have a baby."

"It isn't," Tim admitted. He sat quiet a moment, then shook his head. "It was really something to hear."

"What was?" Terry took another bite of his hamburger as Paige confided in Maddie how she'd always wished her eyes weren't blue, because her hair was so red.

"But it's such a beautiful contrast," Maddie said, and Paige's face lit up with confidence.

"Did you know that?" Tim asked. "Paige is calling my sister, 'aunt.'" Tim looked at Terry as though it was significant, something to be wondered at, and the girls kept talking, oblivious to what the men were saying. "This, from someone who steadfastly refuses to call me dad. I'd like to think of this as progress, but I've been a part of this family for two years now, and to her, I'm not even 'the old man,' just 'Tim.'"

"Have you talked to her about it?" Terry asked.

"I've talked to Karen, and Karen has talked to Paige." Tim pushed a fry through a puddle of ketchup. "Karen doesn't want Paige to think I'm trying to take Bob's place in her heart, so I've learned to stay out of it."

"Bob is Paige's father?" Terry put down his burger to sip cold soda. "Paige told Maddie he passed away?"

Tim nodded. "Bob Flanagan was a volunteer firefighter for Onondaga County--" Tim stopped and looked across the table at the girls. Paige had turned quiet. Tim put down the french fry, grabbed a napkin and wiped his hands. "When everyone's done, we'll go see Mom. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" He looked at Paige, and the girl nodded. "Then finish your meal."

As Paige nibbled an onion ring, Tim turned back to Terry.

"Did you have any trouble finding our place?"

"No, it was an easy enough drive."

The question had been meant as a subject changer, for after that, Tim said no more about Paige's father. Even Madeline was quiet. The rest of the lunch passed off in relative silence until it was time to gather their jackets and coats. The girls grew eager as they told Maddie of their excitement about seeing the new baby, and Terry smiled as that excitement began to wear off on Maddie. Instead of dreading her meeting with Karen, she looked more relaxed. A confidence was coming to Maddie's expression now that she wasn't busy focusing on whether Karen might like her, and it made Terry want to hug his newly acquired nieces.

"We never gave the girls their presents," Maddie whispered as she and Terry went out to the jeep.

"Better save it for later." Terry opened the passenger door for Maddie, and thought about what Tim had said over lunch. He sent up a prayer for the O'Briens. Tim was in over his head, but then, Terry knew so was he; their families were only one of the many reasons why both men needed God.

* * * *

Tired was an understatement, though it was true. Karen closed her eyes as Mrs. Powell left the room. She hadn't needed her neighbor's observation to know she was tired. She was feeling sick, and swollen, and nothing was going as she'd planned, but the baby was healthy. The baby's mommy was tired to the point of tears, but Connie was healthy and that's all that mattered.

Karen repeated the words to herself until she could whisper them without shedding tears. Everything would work out all right. It had to. She opened her eyes to look at the hospital bassinet parked beside her bed.

Precious, sweet, little baby. Things would be better now. Tim would have to believe her when she didn't leave him, wouldn't he? She'd given birth, so now she could prove she wasn't like Andrea. Karen grabbed a tissue and wondered if hormones were causing her to find hope where there was none, or if she had a valid reason to keep fighting. She was determined not to let go, and yet despite it all, she knew she was losing him. She was tired. Mrs. Powell had been right about that.

The fatigue of her body and her heart weighing her down, Karen turned her head on the pillow and gave herself permission to go back to sleep.

* * * *

When Karen opened her eyes, a nurse was in the room. At first she thought it was time to feed Connie again, and then she heard the nurse say Tim's name, and then Karen remembered.

Self-conscious of what she must look like, Karen touched her hair and half wished she'd thought to bring her makeup with her to the hospital. Her bag hadn't been packed to meet Tim's long-lost sister though, and besides, and she'd just been in labor. It wasn't as though she didn't have a good excuse to look the way she did. Karen remembered a photo Bob had taken of her just after giving birth to Paige; their new bundle had been an absolute joy to look at, but herself? Karen tried to forget the photo as Tim came in. Avoiding cameras were one thing, making a good impression on your husband's half-sister, was another.

"Feel like visitors?" Tim asked.

"Only two at a time, please," the nurse reminded before leaving the room. "And please keep the visits short to give mother and baby time to rest."

Tim nodded, looked back to Karen for permission, and Karen smiled that it was okay.

"This is Madison," Tim led a gracefully tall woman into the room. "Madison, this is Karen. My wife."

For a moment, all Karen could do was stare. When she felt air in her mouth, she closed it, reached a hand out to Madison, and the woman came forward and shook it with a warm smile that almost made Karen forget about her lack of makeup. "Please forgive me for staring, but you look so much like your mother. Doesn't she, Tim?"

"I know, I told her the same thing." Tim pulled out a chair from beside the wall and offered it to Madison. "If Terry doesn't mind waiting, I'll let one of the girls take my place." Tim excused himself before either of the women could say a word.

Karen wanted to thank Tim, for she craved to see the girls, and hoped Madison wouldn't mind.

"Mommy?" Paige came in and the baby started to cry.

Karen felt torn, looked at the bassinet, saw Connie was all right, and reached for her firstborn. "Honey, don't you look pretty? You're crying, too? Oh, Baby, it's all right." Karen patted the bed, let her daughter sit beside her, and hugged Paige with all her strength. With a free hand, Karen touched her newborn, and soothed Connie, until both children had been calmed, and Paige could talk without sobbing. Paige had handled last night so well-- Karen told her daughter that, and Paige sniffed and hugged her mom. Another woman in the family dealing with hormones. The thought made Karen sigh. Puberty wasn't something she looked forward to, but she couldn't hold it back anymore than she could hold back time. As their visitor quietly watched on, Karen showed Paige her new baby sister.

Paige smiled through her freshly dried tears, and when Karen coaxed her, Paige let down an index finger and Connie grabbed on. When Madison smiled, Karen took measure of her visitor.

"Do you have children?" Karen asked.

Madison shook her head. "I'd like to, though. One day."

"Would you like a large family? or maybe a small one? The more kids you have," Karen smiled, and hugged Paige, "the more energy it takes to raise them."

"Kind of like the larger the apartment complex, the more it takes to run it?" It was on odd comparison, one Karen couldn't relate to, but Madison smiled. "Terry and I haven't talked about how many, but we do want kids. I suppose we'll be happy with however many God wants us to have."

"That's a pretty answer," Karen smiled, "but I warn you that things never happen the way you think they will."

Madison nodded. "Sometimes, you pray for one thing, then get another?"

"Yes, exactly. What if you don't get everything you want?"

"Then I'll trust that God knew better than I did."

Karen stared at her. God-talk was all good and well, but it wasn't what she had expected-- not from Candace's daughter. Despite the elegance of those long limbs, the graceful features, Madison wasn't what Karen had expected at all. Though this woman wasn't a pushover, she lacked cunning, that cold-blooded manipulative charm that Candace had possessed.

"How much do you remember of your mother?" Karen waited, waved Tim away as he knocked on the open door and asked if she was ready to exchange one of her visitors for someone else. "In a minute, Honey. Madison, you look just like her. I never met her, and I wouldn't have wanted to even if I could have-- I know, it's a terrible, horrible thing to say about anyone's mother, let alone a mother-in-law, but in her case, it was true. Seeing you in person, talking with you, I feel like I'm meeting a little of Candace for the first time, and I know that's silly. Just plain silly. From all Tim has told me, and from what I see of you, and from what you did for the girls last night in calming them down, you're nothing like her. And that," Karen reached over and touched Madison's hand,"is a huge, huge compliment. Even so, when Tim told me Paige had called you again, and the girls had talked to you, I confess, I was wary. He'd shown me your picture, and I couldn't help comparing you to your mother. I can see now how wrong I was, and I apologize."

"It's all right," Madison shrugged. "Momma wasn't my favorite person in the world, either."

"That's a crying shame." Karen grabbed a tissue and willed herself not to melt. "What we put our children through." She took one look at Paige, and felt tears. "Don't pay any attention to me. I'm worn out, my hormones are off the charts, and I'm being silly." Madison touched Karen's hand, and Karen grabbed it and gave it a tight squeeze. "What am I thinking? Neither of you have held the baby!"

"Take pictures," someone called into the room, and an iPhone was passed inside and handed to Madison.

Big sister went first. After everyone washed their hands, Paige carefully sat in a chair, cradled her arms, and a nurse lowered Connie to Paige. It was a moment that made Karen's eyes damp with joy. When Madison offered to include Karen in the pictures, Karen declined, and thankfully, Madison didn't ask why.

Then came Madison's turn, and Paige took the phone and snapped two pictures before the phone was safely placed at Madison's side. Karen had made sure, for Paige was known to be clumsy, and in the past had dropped one too many things for Karen to feel good about seeing that expensive device in her daughter's hands. Karen had noticed Madison watching the phone, as well, and felt good about her own judgment.

So this gentle soul was Tim's sister. As Connie kicked her tiny feet, and Madison hugged the baby close like it was the sweetest bundle of love on earth, Karen's heart melted even more.

When the baby had been returned to the nurse, Karen asked for the smartphone and told Paige and Madison to stand back so she could get a picture of the two big sisters together. As Karen took the photo, a pang of sadness touched her heart. She couldn't remember the last time she'd ever seen Paige this happy. A memory stirred, and Karen could name a time. Paige's sixth birthday, when Bob had surprised Paige with a large wooden dollhouse. The memory was bittersweet. Karen gave the phone back to Madison and waited for her middle daughter, her cuddle-bug, to come in and give her a hug. Poor Tim. She'd been so lucky with Madeline; their Maddycakes had been small enough to accept Karen early on, but Tim and Paige had struggled.

As much as Karen didn't want to admit it, they still did.

* * * *

From what he could glean by the door, it was going well. Terry hoped they were taking pictures, for he'd already promised to email them to Tim. Though Madeline stayed close to her father, Terry could tell she was eager to see Karen and the baby, for when Paige and Maddie came out, Madeline all but bumped into Paige as Madeline headed inside. Tim went in a moment, then came out and motioned to Terry.

"I told Karen you were next," Tim nodded, and Terry pushed out of his chair and exchanged a smiling glance with Maddie.

Maddie was smiling. It was a good sign, a very good sign.

He went into the room and grinned at the girl who had climbed onto the bed and was cuddling with Karen. He noted Karen's jet black hair and realized Paige's red mane had come from Bob. The light blue eyes, however, were from Karen.

Karen extended a hand, and Terry stepped forward and shook it as gently as he could, for those blue eyes looked tired.

"Congratulations," he nodded at the bassinet. "She's beautiful."

"Thank you. Please, sit down."

Terry took the chair and smiled as baby Connie fussed a little, but didn't cry.

"I'm glad you were able to come for a visit. I've been wanting to meet both of you ever since Tim told me he'd found Madison."

"Thank you for inviting us," Terry smiled.

From all appearances, Karen was running low on energy and trying hard not to show it. Terry figured it was only a matter of time before the nurse kicked them all out. Karen looked down at the child cuddled at her side, and gave her another hug.

"Would you like to hold your sister?"

Madeline could barely contain herself as the nurse explained how to hold a newborn. A second chair was pulled out, Madeline washed her hands, then cradled her arms the way she'd been told, and the nurse transferred the baby from the bassinet to Madeline's arms. Terry noticed Karen reach for a tissue.

"Mommy, look! I'm holding her!" Madeline grinned as Terry stepped out of the room to get the phone from Maddie, then came back, and snapped some pictures. Arms full of baby, Madeline looked overwhelmed, and smiled ear to ear at the lightly fussing newborn. After a while of baby gazing, Madeline's arms grew tired, and Madeline wanted to get up and go back to her mother, so the nurse rescued Connie.

"Would you like to hold her?" Karen offered to Terry.

"May I?" His hands were already washed, he was set. The only thing he had to hold though, was his peace, for the nurse began to inform him how to cradle a newborn. Instructions were well and good for little Madeline, but him? He might as well be told how to breathe. Terry listened politely, then smiled as the baby was lowered into his arms. He cradled her against his chest, and Connie responded with a small contended cry. "Well, hello there, munchkin." Terry felt his heart tug, and took a deep breath to keep from embarrassing himself in front of the women. He'd missed this. "Tim's right," Terry said quietly, "Connie has your eyes."

"Look at you. You've been around babies before." Karen said it with a laughing smile in her voice.

"My friend's wife, Izzy, had triplets, and I helped out." Terry sighed as Connie yawned and her tiny fists hugged her chest.

"Were they natural, or did your friend's wife use fertility treatments?"

"They were conceived naturally." Though Terry felt a bit awkward commenting on John and Izzy's intimate life, he was used to such questions. Izzy fielded that question a lot, and if she wasn't careful, John sometimes answered by saying they got the triplets by having lots and lots of-- John was never allowed to finish, for he would get a sharp elbow in the side, or a swat from Izzy that said "shut up," and then he'd have to suffer through the usual questions about what it was like to raise triplets.

"I can't imagine having three at the same time." Karen watched as Madeline went to stand beside Terry and play with Connie's hand. "I feel overwhelmed with just one baby, let alone three."

Terry didn't have to imagine. Screaming baby times three meant not just stereo, but absolute surround sound, arms able to hold only two at a time, and the mommy/daddy guilt that went with it, all the resting, and eating Izzy had to do so she could breastfeed triplets and then the pump she used in private so she could get John and Terry to help with the feeding. And the laundry-- Terry could go on and on about the laundry, but he spared Karen for she'd just given birth, and was worn out enough.

"Being a mom is hard work," he agreed.

"I wish we could put Connie in the pink dress." Madeline played with Connie's tiny fist and made a face to get her attention, though Terry knew the baby couldn't see her sister yet.

"What dress, love?" Karen sounded as though she were fighting sleep and Terry wondered if he should put the baby down and leave.

"Aunt Madison and Mr. Davis brought clothes and diapers for Connie."

"They did?"

Terry glanced at Karen. "We left them at your apartment. Along with some leftovers from back home. Maddie and I thought Tim could heat them up, and have something hot to give the girls so you would have a little more time to rest. I don't know about Tim, but John usually doesn't mind when someone wants to help out in the kitchen."

"John-- is he your friend?"

"Yeah, he's Izzy's husband, and my childhood buddy." Connie had fallen asleep against Terry's shirt, but as he spoke, the baby woke and started to cry. "Maybe we'd better return her to her bassinet."

"I think she wants her mother," the nurse smiled, gently picking up Connie, then taking her over to Karen. "I'm going to need to ask everyone to leave so mother and baby can rest."

"Thank you." Karen looked at Terry, and he sensed emotion. Flustered gratitude? Embarrassment? Some anger was there as well, but Terry sensed it wasn't directed at him. "Please, thank Madison for me?"

Terry nodded, and left the room while Madeline lingered behind. Was Karen angry with Maddie? That didn't make sense. Tim went in as Terry joined Maddie and Paige, and soon after, Karen's door closed to the sound of raised voices. Not urgent ones, but angry tones, the sound of an argument. Terry could hardly believe his ears-- Tim and Karen were fighting in the hospital. He couldn't make out the exact words, for the door was shut and the baby had started to cry, and Terry wasn't trying to eavesdrop. The voices quickly lowered, and soon after, Connie quieted. Paige stared at her mother's room, then shot a mortified look at Madison and Terry. Unless Paige wanted to explain what she thought was going on, Terry pretended he hadn't heard a thing.

"You know what I just remembered?" Terry looked at Maddie and Paige and played the idiot. "I forgot to bring the congratulations card. Sometimes, I think I'd forget my head if it wasn't attached to my shoulders." He chuckled when he got a smile from Paige. "I believe I left the card back at your apartment. Do you think someone will find it?" He smiled when Paige nodded. "That's good. I noticed the gift shop here is closed, so I'd hate to think we'd lost it." He paused. "I thought Connie looked a lot like your mom. What do you think?"

Paige started to say something, then looked over at the door as Madeline came out.

The sisters exchanged a look. Madeline shrugged, came over, and slumped into a chair.

The door closed again, and no one spoke.

"Does anyone want a breath mint?" Maddie opened her purse, and passed out white mints, though Terry noticed she didn't take one for herself. He saw her open a small bottle of acetaminophen, shake out two pills, then dry swallow them without trying to attract attention.

Terry sighed. He knew what that meant.

Several minutes later, Tim came out. He nodded to them, and pulled out his keys. "Karen's feeding the baby, and after that, she needs rest. Is everyone ready to go?" The girls got up, looked at Tim, and he put a hand on each of their shoulders as if to say everything was going to be okay. The small gesture went a long way with Madeline, for after that, she perked up and began to smile. Paige, though, kept quiet.

No one spoke as they moved through the hospital corridors on their way to the elevator. Tim kept his eyes on the floor, and more than once, Terry thought he heard Tim sigh.

They got into the elevator, someone punched the ground floor, and Maddie leaned against Terry. Terry put an arm around her, though it did little to cheer her. He had no idea what Karen and Tim had been fighting about, but Tim had come away looking as though his world was ending, and Paige, as though she had seen it coming.

Of course, as Terry headed into the cloudy overcast of a late Syracuse day, and felt the steady rain, it could have been his imagination. He could have been reading things into their expressions that hadn't been there at all.

While Terry unlocked the jeep's passenger door for Maddie, Tim jogged over, seemingly oblivious of the rain.

"I know it's early, but will you come back to the apartment for dinner? I promised Karen."

Terry nodded, and Tim looked relieved, and ran back to the minivan to let the girls inside.

The moment Terry climbed behind the wheel, Terry felt Maddie staring at him with such a helpless, questioning look, he almost forgot to start his engine so he could follow Tim back to the apartment.

"What were they fighting about?"

"I don't know. I didn't want to intrude by asking." Terry eased the jeep through the parking lot, the windshield wipers working at a decent clip since the rain was getting heavy. He kept Tim's vehicle in view and adjusted his speed. "Karen said to thank you for the baby gift, by the way."

Maddie closed her coat, put on her seat belt, then hugged herself as though she needed the comfort. Terry switched on the heater. The rain had made the air bone chillingly frigid, and it was past the heat of the day. It would only get colder. The minivan turned right at the stoplight, and Terry followed.

"She looked tired, didn't she, Terry?"

He nodded.

"I wonder how much longer it'll last."

Terry didn't ask what Maddie had meant. They both knew.

* * * *

Even though Karen had wanted him to take everyone out to a nice restaurant, after he'd left Karen's hospital room, Tim had made his own plans. He had expected to heat up the sloppy joes for his guests, for it would be less expensive, but after they'd arrived home, his sister had surprised Tim with her resourcefulness.

Madison had shooed Tim from the kitchen and managed to throw together a decent meal from what she could find in the fridge and the cupboards, and all without touching the leftovers. That had meant the joes could be saved for tomorrow, for when Karen got home from the hospital. Though Tim hadn't wanted his sister to work while she was a guest in his home, he hadn't wanted Karen to work, either. And, he had wanted to save money.

All through the dinner preparations, Terry had stood by and watched, and when Madison had needed to use a knife, it had become apparent to Tim why Terry had lingered. Tim had remembered what Terry had told him about her problems, and he had watched closely as Terry helped Madison. Terry had done it without belittling her, or making her feel that she was somehow inconveniencing him because she had needed the help. Someone might lose their patience in that kind of situation, maybe yell, and make the person they were helping feel ashamed. The thought had crossed Tim's mind that it could happen, and Tim had watched Terry to see if he could catch any reaction that would give Terry away.

From the easy banter of conversation as the two had worked, Tim had concluded that if Terry was going to give himself away as someone with a quick temper, it wasn't going to happen this evening.

The food had been good-- not as nice as Karen's, of course, but Madison had known how to put together a last-minute dinner. Half a dozen times during their meal, Tim had wanted to ask Madison for advice. The girls had been there, so he'd backed off, but even after Paige and Madeline had gone to the living room to watch TV, he had kept quiet.

"Tim?" He looked up from his coffee to see Madison folding a dishcloth.

"I shouldn't have let you cook dinner," he sighed.

"That's all right. I'm only glad I knew how. Is it all right if I give the girls their presents now?"

He nodded. He hadn't known there were more, though it didn't surprise him. It appeared Madison and Terry were the generous sort, especially when it came to their nieces. He and Karen didn't have much family to dote on the girls, and it was lucky that Madison wasn't playing favorites. "This one is actually my niece, and that one isn't." He held onto his mug and felt the warmth soak into his hands. He watched Terry get up, go to Madison and whisper something in her ear. Madison smiled, and Terry wrapped his arms around her. It was a gentle hug, very tender with slow motions as though Terry hadn't wanted to take her by surprise.

With the two standing there and speaking in hushed whispers, Tim looked away. He felt he was intruding.

Terry came back to the table, sat down, and poured himself another cup of coffee.

"You're welcome to stay the night," Tim offered. He smiled when Terry looked at him as though it were out of the question. "It might freeze tonight, and after the rain we've had, the roads will be slick. Of course, it isn't dark yet."

Terry quirked an eyebrow. "Is that why you invited us to dinner? To buy time?"

Tim chuckled. "I didn't think of it until now. No, dinner was Karen's idea. After what you did for the baby, she wanted a chance to say thank you properly." Tim turned the mug, felt the warmth and wished it could warm all of him, not just his hands. He wondered if he should turn up the heat, but the apartment didn't feel cold.

"It was our pleasure," Terry smiled. Terry took a sip, stared at the table, then opened his mouth as if to say something. He closed it and took another drink.

As Madison went into the living room, Tim sat back and listened to the TV.

"Do you tell your wife everything?" Tim asked suddenly. He winced when Terry looked surprised. "Sorry, just forget it."

"No, it's okay." Terry looked at his coffee as though he were giving it some thought. "I'd say it depends. If it's something I think she should know, then I tell her. If it's not important, or has the potential to hurt her and she doesn't have the necessity to know, then I'd probably keep it from her, though I wouldn't lie."

"Would she get angry if she found out?"

"Maybe." Terry nodded slowly. "There would be that possibility, yes."

Tim leaned forward. "What if it wasn't all that important, and you simply forgot to tell her something, but she thought it WAS important. And then got angry with you for not telling her? What would you do?"

"It sounds like you have a specific instance in mind," Terry mused.

Not knowing if he should talk about this in front of Terry, Tim kept quiet.

"I'd listen to her in love," Terry answered, "and hopefully, with God's grace, we'd be able to work it out."

"With God's grace?"

Terry nodded. "And listening to her in love. I'd have to, especially if she'd just given birth and her hormones were a little," Terry paused, lowered his voice and smiled, "shall we say, a little stretched-to-the-limit?"

"Tell me about it." Tim shook his head, forgetting his previous reluctance to talk about this in front of Terry. "It wasn't that I forgot to tell her about the baby gift, it wasn't that. She already thinks I don't talk to her. I don't listen, I don't communicate, it's a wonder I even know how to sign my name." Tim sat back in his chair. "She didn't say that last part, but it's the way I feel. What does she want from me, I mean, really?"

"I don't know," Terry shrugged. "As for Maddie, I'd say most of the time she just wants to know I love her."

"What does that mean-- love?"

"You mean a definition? Well, the one I've always liked is 'God is love.' But love also suffers long, and is kind," Terry's voice quietly shut out the TV and the smell of coffee relaxed Tim, "love isn't jealous or resentful, it doesn't show off, it isn't arrogant. Love doesn't behave unseemly, it isn't selfish, it isn't easily provoked, it doesn't think evil of the other person when it has the chance to think better. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Terry sighed, and looked at Tim. "That's what I believe love is."

Tim wished he believed that. It sounded good, but he was staring at the end of his marriage, and all Karen cared about was his lack of communication skills. It was hard not to be resentful, even bitter. Didn't she care if their family broke apart? He stirred in more cream and almost didn't notice the tap on his shoulder.

"Look what Aunt Madison gave me." It was Madeline, and Tim smiled for her sake.

"What is it?" he asked, as his daughter placed a glitter-covered book on the table beside his mug. He pushed aside the cup as she opened the cover.

"It's a journal, and it has stickers, and a place to draw secret messages, and it comes with a pen that glows in the dark. See?" Madeline started for the kitchen light switch, but Tim held her back.

"I'll take your word for it, Maddycakes. Thanks for showing me." He smiled, kissed her cheek, and watched his little girl take her journal back to the living room. He picked up his mug, and sighed. One had come in, but not the other. What had he expected? A miracle? Tim pushed out a sigh and looked at Terry. "So what do you think? You can have the master bedroom, and leave in the morning. The roads should be safer by then. That is, if you stay long enough for it to get dark." He turned when he saw Terry looking at something behind him. "Paige?" Tim set his mug down. "Do you need something?"

The girl held up some kind of book. "Do you..." she sighed, looked dejected and was about to turn back, when Tim realized what she wanted.

"I'd love to see your present. If you wouldn't mind showing me."

Paige came forward and handed him a heavy, hardbound book with birds and clouds printed on the cover. It could be locked closed, but since it was open, he flipped the cover only to find empty lined pages.

"It's a journal." Paige shrugged lightly, but Tim knew from experience that the more casual Paige's manner, the more it meant she liked something.

He handed it back to her, and nodded. "It's very nice."

Paige nodded, and started back for the living room, leaving Tim to wonder if he'd said anything wrong.

"Hey," he called after her, remembering something Terry had said. About hoping all things. Paige stopped, and looked back at him expectantly. "Mom's coming home tomorrow. She asked me to pick out something for Connie to wear from the new baby clothes we got today-- you know, something pretty your mom would like. I'm not good with things like that. Maybe you could help me out?"

"Something from Aunt Madison and Uncle Terry's box?" A smile reached the girl's eyes, and she nodded, "yes."

"Thanks, Paige." Tim watched as she went back to the others. He wouldn't win any parenting awards, but Karen couldn't call what had just happened a lack of communication. The problem with hoping all things, and bearing all things, was that it required patience. And patience, Tim had a feeling, required something more than just a mortal fear of his family breaking up. A faith which worketh by love. Tim looked at Terry and guessed Terry would probably be shocked that he knew those words, but he did. He remembered a years ago sermon he'd once heard with his grandma at the church she gave money to, but almost never attended. Tim couldn't remember the occasion, only the passage the minister had preached from: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."

After listening to Terry speak of love, and seeing that love work with Madison, Tim could almost believe it.

"Do you mind?" Tim asked. "If Paige calls you uncle?" He wasn't at all surprised when Terry smiled, and shook his head. "I meant it-- you and Madison are welcome to stay the night. You could have the master bedroom. I could take the couch."

"Thanks, but we really should go before it gets dark." Terry checked the time, then pushed up from the table. "Thanks for dinner. I'll send you those pictures after we get home."

"Just drive safe." Tim scooted back his chair and got up. "Before I forget, thanks for the card." He saw Terry's smile, and wanted to ask about John and Izumi, and their family. Their names had been in the card, they were obviously like family to Terry, and Tim was curious. Though he'd met them, he didn't know much about them. Now that Tim realized Terry and Madison were leaving, Tim remembered he had also wanted to talk to his sister, ask her about their mom, and exchange memories, but now just wasn't the right time. Too much had been happening.

He showed Terry into the next room, and found the girls on the couch. Paige and Madeline were seated on either side of his sister, and they were showing her a photo album. Madison's album, to be precise. Tim felt annoyed at first, for he had wanted to be the one to show it to Madison, but he glanced at Terry, and decided to bear all things.

"That's yours," Tim said, going to stand beside the couch. "I meant to give that album to you. It has some of my dad's side of the family in there, but I have copies. No, I mean it, you keep that album. It's yours." Tim stared at the facing photo, a woman in a rocking chair, and folded his arms. "You may not want to remember all of that, but it's yours." He was about to tell her there had been more, that their grandma had burned many of her photos, but he stopped short. She didn't need to know that-- not now, if ever.

"Thank you, Tim."

He nodded, and stepped back, and as Madison closed the album, Terry gathered their coats, and the girls started to get up and say goodbye.

"When can you come back?" Paige asked.

"I don't know, but don't worry, we know where you live." Madison went over and gave Paige a hug, then gave one to Madeline. "Call whenever you want-- you have our number."

"Thank you so much for the journal." Paige sounded wholeheartedly sincere, as though she didn't mind at all showing that she meant it, and Tim felt like pulling out a camera to document the occasion. "I like that it locks."

"I thought you might, since you and Madeline share the same room. Privacy is a little hard to come by?" Madison guessed, and Paige smiled. Madison touched Paige's hair. "Don't wish you were someone else. I like this person right here." Madison gave her another hug, and Paige smiled, and wiped something from her eyes. "Tim," Madison looked at Maddycakes, then hugged her, "you were right, fair skin does run in the family."

"I told you it did." Tim watched as Terry helped Madison into her coat. "Thanks again for coming. We enjoyed having you both."

"We enjoyed coming," Terry nodded. "Don't forget, we expect you all to come and visit our bay. We'd love to have you."

"Thanks-- some day, we'll take you up on that." Tim watched as Terry handed Madison her purse, then the photo album. He noticed how Madison leaned against Terry, the brief touch of hands as Terry helped her put the album into her coat to keep it safe from the rain. Terry wrapped her arms around her middle to keep the coat closed, then kissed her forehead, and Madison leaned into Terry's shoulder like someone who didn't want to be anywhere else. Tim couldn't help but smile.

Tim pulled out an umbrella, then walked his sister and brother-in-law out to their jeep. The rain had mostly stopped, and early evening had set in. Feeling brotherly and gallant, Tim held the umbrella over Madison as Terry unlocked the jeep. Tim smiled when she moved to give him a hug.

She looked back at the apartment building, then at him. "I wish I knew what to do, Tim."

"Pray." He surprised himself with that one, but he didn't take it back. An unqualified request, one not made in the heat of an emergency.

"I will-- I promise, I will."

He swallowed, gave her a nod, and watched as she climbed into the vehicle. He took a deep breath, then shook hands with Terry. "Thank you for taking care of my sister."

"There you go again. I guess I'll have to keep waiting for that day to come when you cut it out." Terry grinned, and started around the jeep. "We'll keep in touch."

Tim hoped they would, and waved to his sister as rain began to drizzle his umbrella. Madison waved back, the jeep started, and Tim watched as it pulled away. He stood there, listened to the tiny droplets as they hit his umbrella, watched the mist as it swept past his lane, and he wondered. If people had been standing in line to get a license to parent, he would never have given one to himself. Miraculously though, he had been entrusted with a child. How had he wound up being a father, and how had he ever managed to get Karen to marry him, let alone convince her that it would be a good idea to share the responsibility in raising her daughter? He'd held his baby girl today, met her in person for the very first time, and even now, standing alone under this umbrella, he marveled at the memory. How miraculous. He was a father again. The responsibility was amazing. His own father had run out on him, and he did not want to prove he was his father's son by repeating history.

Tim watched as a bird swooped in to find shelter beneath a tree, and knew the girls would be waiting for him. He turned from the drizzling scene, and started back up the walk for home.

With a thoughtful heart, Tim went inside as the mist turned to a softly falling rain.

"Be not afraid, only believe."
~ Mark 5:36 ~

"But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
~ Hebrews 11:6 ~

end of chapter