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Chapter Thirty-nine
Picking Up Jewels

"That ye be... followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
~ Hebrews 6:12 ~

Terry turned on the heater, made his way down the lane while Madison pulled the album from her coat. Mist gathered on the windshield, making Terry feel like he was driving through clouds hugging the ground. Though the neighborhood looked as if it had already tucked itself in for the night, Terry kept his speed low to avoid hitting anyone who might dart into the street. When it started to rain, he turned on the wipers.

"I can't believe he gave me this."

"That was nice of him," Terry nodded, not daring to take his eyes off the road. "Do you recognize any of the photos?"

"Kind of. I know Grandma, and Momma-- I know their faces. The places behind them seem familiar, like they're from a dream I'd forgotten about."

"Daylight's fading. Do you want me to turn on the overhead so you can see better?"

She shut the album, hugged it, and sat quiet.

The rain was growing heavier and it seemed she had a lot on her mind, but so did he. He wanted to top off their tank, make a call home before they started the drive back so Izzy wouldn't pray too hard when she saw it was raining and getting late. While night driving on wet roads didn't rank high on Terry's comfort level, he'd feel better knowing Izzy wasn't watching for them at the window. Terry passed a liquor store hanging out beside some houses, then saw a gas station up ahead, its glowing sign easily seen against the dark clouds.

"Need to use the restroom?" he asked. "Now's your chance."

Maddie shook her head, and put the album on the back seat. As though she needed a little distance between it and her, then sat back and closed her eyes.

"You did well, Maddie."

She smiled, and he hurried to take care of things so they could be on their way.

Rain pounded the hood above the station as Terry stood at the gas pump and breathed in the damp cold. Tim might be right, it could freeze later. Terry pumped the gas, got back in the jeep and found Maddie watching him.

"We'll be off in a moment." Terry pulled out his phone and called John, and wasn't at all surprised when John informed him that Izzy wanted Terry to be careful.

"And here I was, planning to drive on the wrong side of the road."

"Hey, I was just delivering the message."

"Tell Izzy careful is my middle name." Terry stuffed the gas receipt in his pocket, eager to get moving. "We've already had dinner, so if you haven't eaten, tell Izzy not to hold up on our account."

"I'll tell her."

"See you later, Buddy." Terry grinned, and hung up. "Delivering a message." Terry shook his head. "If she hadn't, John would've done it himself." Terry started to put the phone away, but Maddie reached for it, and Terry handed it over. "Do you think we'll ever be like that?" Terry asked, as he pulled away from the pump. "Know each other so well, we'll be able to finish each other's thoughts?" He glanced at Maddie, and she smiled before going to work on the phone.

A highly personal note, huh? Exactly when she planned to show him what all the secrecy was about, he had no idea, only that she'd said she would. Or at least that's what she'd implied. A question or two might clarify the when, but that would only make her nervous.

He could wait.

He turned up the heater, made his way to the Interstate, then settled back for the drive home.

The sky grew dark early, and the rain kept pouring, but visibility was good, and Terry had little trouble seeing the road. A bigger problem was dinner digesting in his stomach, and when he felt his eyes begin to grow heavy, he turned on the radio. The music made Maddie sit up a little straighter, for she had fallen asleep. She put the phone in her pocket, hugged herself in her coat, and before long, Terry had the sense she had drifted to sleep again. He adjusted the heater, and time crawled by like it always did on long drives when conversation was scarce. He was about to check the rear view mirror when a loud blast snapped his attention to the road.

He turned on his emergency flashers. That blast had come from the jeep.

"What happened?" Maddie was awake now, and so was he.

"Is your seat belt on?" Terry searched the side of the road but could find no clearing. The traffic behind them shone brilliantly in his rear view mirror, and they were getting closer. When Maddie didn't answer, he asked again, and punched off the radio to hear himself think. The jeep felt like he had the brakes on, even though he didn't, and he still couldn't see anywhere to pull over.


His jaw clenched as someone leaned on their horn. It was only a two lane road, and cars were now passing them. Terry shot a prayer to Heaven and tried to maintain as much speed as possible. He prayed everyone saw his emergency flashers. Then the righthand shoulder opened to an empty strip, and his heart surged with gratitude. If he pulled close to the shrubs, there would be enough room.


"We've got a flat tire. Just sit tight." Terry felt the ground bump as he left the highway. He needed to get as far away from the traffic as possible, but he needed flat ground, and the closer he got to the shrubs and trees, the more the ground leaned at a slope. He heard something swipe against Maddie's door and winced. Better the paint job, then someone getting hit by oncoming traffic, though from the headlights, he could see the ground wasn't flat enough. He moved away, more toward the road, then shut off the engine and put on the parking brake. "Stay put. Whatever you do, stay put." Terry snapped open his seat belt. "I mean it, Maddie. Stay inside and don't move until I tell you to get out so I can jack up the jeep."

"You're not going out there, are you?"

"I am, if I'm going to change that flat tire." Terry leaned over to get the flashlight beneath his seat.

"But it's raining. And it's dark."

"I noticed." He blew out a breath when the light clicked on. All he needed were dead batteries.

"But Terry--"

"Just stay in the jeep." As Terry opened the driver's side door, rain filled his face.

"Should I call for help?"

"Why should you? You've got me, don't you?" Terry climbed out, quickly closed the door behind him, then made his way to the jeep's tailgate. He zipped his coat, thankful that at least the traffic was fairly light. He didn't need roadside assistance-- not when he had flares, and everything he needed in back. He could handle this. Besides, in this weather, it would take longer for assistance to get to them, and he didn't want to sit around and wait for the roads to ice over.

* * * *

In the passenger seat, Madison sat facing the open tailgate as Terry took things out from the back. His hair was wet, she could see his breath in the light of the passing traffic, and the rain wasn't letting up. She could pray, but she was doing that already. She could call John, but they were too far away for it to mean anything-- not while Terry was out in the wet cold with cars whizzing past him. Why weren't they slowing down? Didn't they care if they killed him?

Indignant, Madison looked about. Spotting the umbrella, she zipped her coat all the way to her chin and braced herself. Terry was on the right, so she wouldn't have to brave the side with the traffic. She'd have to be brave, but not crazy.

Cold sucked the breath from Madison as she opened her door. She reached for the umbrella, heard Terry shout something at her but kept going, closed the door, and slowly made the short distance to the rear of the jeep where he was working mostly in the dark. The flashlight was tilted into the grass. Terry adjusted the beam, but it wouldn't stay put.

Seeing her chance, Madison stopped fumbling with the umbrella and went for the flashlight.

"Get back in the jeep!" Terry's anger made her shiver, but he started working when she held the light steady. "Keep behind me."

She nodded, then realized why he'd said what he had. Their vehicle and his body would be in front of her if someone struck them. They'd be wiped out of course, but he was so wonderful, it made her want to shield him; he looked angry enough though, so she stayed where she was. The flashlight under control, she worked to free the umbrella.

"Maddie-- the light."

She held the beam still, then used her teeth to open the stubborn snap holding the umbrella shut. Using one hand, she found the release button on the handle, and the canopy sprang open. She held it over Terry, and he said something she couldn't hear. "What?" She almost screamed to compete with the sound of the traffic, and even then, Terry didn't seem to hear her. The beam bounced, and she braced herself for Terry's shout, but it didn't come. He kept working as fast as his hands could move, his breath trailing in the light.

He didn't ask for a single thing, but briskly pointed her light to here, then there, and she did her best to help. Flares glowed around them, and now that she was out here and could see better, cars were trying to stay away from their edge of the road. Or most of them were.

She hadn't known what it took to change a tire. She'd seen people do it on TV, and could guess it wasn't easy in real life, but watching Terry's shoulders as he worked, was different. It took sheer muscle, and though Terry grunted, he kept going. Nothing stopped him. Even the hardest, most difficult thing that seemed to take the most strength didn't get in his way for long. The old wheel came off, a new one was put on, and she kept holding the flashlight and the umbrella. It didn't seem fair-- she felt she wasn't doing nearly enough, not when he was kneeling in mud and grass.

Though rain kept getting in her eyes, she held the umbrella over him at all times.

Until Terry looked up, saw the umbrella, and barked at her to cut it out.

Her teeth chattering too hard to argue, she obeyed, and just worked to hold the flashlight still. The shelter felt good. Hands growing numb, she gripped the flashlight and struggled to keep firm hold on the tugging umbrella; each gust of wind threatened to take it from her, but she focused on the light, and on keeping it steady for Terry.

"Get in the jeep," he shouted.

She shook her head.

"It's off the jack-- you can get in. I'll be with you as soon as I put the tire in the back."

They were taking the flat tire with them? Madison was too cold to ask questions, and hurried to get into the jeep. Terry took the flashlight, she climbed into the passenger seat, and he shut the door-- almost before she could get her umbrella closed.

Tossing the umbrella onto the floor, she worked to get her wet shoes off. A thump sounded as Terry did something in the back of the jeep-- she couldn't tell what. One shoe came off, then she fought with the knot on her shoelace when the other wouldn't come. She warmed the tips of her fingers in her mouth, then tried her shoelace, and the knot finally gave way. Her socks were slightly damp, so she kept them on, and though the outside of her coat was soaked, the inside liner felt dry and warm.

The tailgate slammed shut. She wished she could see what was going on. Then she saw him jog around the jeep, and she hurried to lean over and open his door for him. He jumped inside, and the jeep rocked with his weight. He tugged the door shut, sat still and puffed air.

He looked at her. "Your hair's wet."

"So's yours."

He started the engine, turned on the heater, and Madison put her hands to the vent.

"Let's get out of here." Terry pulled away from the side of the road, gained speed, and Madison felt the relief of knowing they were back with the rest of the traffic. "Are you all right?" he asked.

She nodded.

He wiped rain from his face, and she looked about for her purse. She opened it, took out a clean handkerchief, and started to dry his forehead.

"Never mind me." He tried to brush her hand away, but she came back and dried the rain from his handsome face. "Are your feet wet? Do you need to take off your shoes?" He turned on the overhead light as he drove, and she smiled at him, and patted the handkerchief over his chin. "Maddie, say something-- let me know you're all right. You're chattering like a chipmunk on caffeine."

"I'm f-fine."

Terry turned up the heater, but it was already on high.

She caught a drop of water falling from his earlobe, then sat back to warm her hands. She rubbed her toes, then held up her foot to a heat vent.

Terry glanced over, and motioned to the handkerchief on her lap. "Use that and try to dry your hair."

Though the thin material didn't hold much, it did take some of the rain out. Wringing the handkerchief, she used it again, then put her face to the vent and sighed deeply. It was a great feeling. She looked at Terry and smiled. Not as great as some other feelings she could think of, but it felt good.

The jeep sped up.

"We need to get home before you catch cold."

"I'm f-f-fine." She still couldn't get the words out very well, so she warmed her head and used the vent like a hairdryer. Closing her eyes, she took in the feeling that surrounded her.

"What are you smiling about?" Terry sounded mystified. "I just had you standing in the pouring rain, and here you are, smiling. You have little to be happy about."

"That's not true." She moved closer to the vent. "Like you said, I've got you, h-haven't I?"

Since he didn't have a comeback for that, she kept drying her hair.

When her teeth no longer chattered, and she could lean back and not have to hug herself to keep from shaking, she was free to concentrate on warming her feet. Since she didn't want to put her wet shoes back on, she pulled her knees to her chest, and perched her cold feet on the edge of the seat to keep them off the chilly floor. Though sleep tugged at her, rest would have to wait, for whenever she nodded off, a foot would slip from the seat.

A ringtone sounded, and Madison put her feet down a moment to get the phone in her pocket. The waterproof case had proved its worth today, for she pushed the slider and the phone answered as though it hadn't been through a rainstorm at all.

"I'm guessing that's from home," Terry mused, and Madison nodded that it was. "We should've been back by now. Tell them everything's all right."

"I will. Guess what, Izzy? We had a flat tire."

"Well, don't just spring it on her," Terry sighed.

"You had a what?"

"A flat, but Terry changed it while I held the flashlight, and now we're driving again. You should have seen him, Izzy. He's so strong."

"Don't tell her that." Terry looked so pained, Madison turned so she could keep going.

She told Izzy all about the tire, and just how wonderful Terry had been, then about their visit with Tim and his family, and the sweet new baby. The women stayed on the phone and chatted for quite a while, the time easily slipping by. When they finally hung up, Madison noticed the rain seemed to be getting lighter while the outside cold had deepened. Madison kept her feet up, and prayed they would reach home soon. Her legs were cramping, and the inside of her coat now felt damp.

"We passed Watertown some time back," Terry said, as though reading her mind. He must of known that came as welcome news, for he smiled, and took her hand.

"Terry, your hand is cold."

"Sorry." He started to pull away, but she held on.

"That's not what I meant. You're ice cold. Have you been warming yourself?"

"The heater's on." Terry shrugged as though it was no big deal. "We'll be home soon."

"You asked me about my feet, but I should've been asking about yours."

"Calm down. I'll dry off when we get home. I've been colder, and so have you."

Madison tried to adjust the heater vents, but the ones closest to Terry were already aimed at him, and she didn't think hers could reach him very well. She prayed nothing bad would happen. He was her responsibility. He belonged to her, she was supposed to take care of him.

After what seemed like an hour, she noticed their church pass by the window. They were getting close. She gathered her purse, got the photo album from the back, and made sure she had the umbrella. She put her shoes on and shivered at the cold reception her toes found. The skies were completely black, it was still raining, and Madison waited for that familiar sight to fill her window.

The moment she saw the comforting glow in the trees, she knew they were home. The dark outline of the house came into view as Terry pulled off the main road, and Madison thanked God for getting them home safely.

Light spilled from the house as the front door opened, but Madison was quicker than even the umbrella that hurried out to meet them. The moment the vehicle came to a stop, she opened her door and jumped out as fast as her legs could manage. She didn't bother with her umbrella, but ran to John just long enough to ask for help.

"Terry's wet, and I know he's cold. Please-- he needs to dry off as soon as possible."

"I'll put the jeep away," John nodded. He looked over as Terry jogged to open the garage door. "Get inside the house. I can handle this."

"Thanks, John." Refusing John's umbrella, Madison ran to the house.

She was out of breath, her hip ached. She wasn't used to even these short bursts of speed. She pushed inside, and stood dripping on the living room carpet as two of the triplets came down the hall and greeted her in their pajamas.

"Is your flat tire all right?" Ruthie asked. Before Madison could stop her, Ruthie hugged Madison and got the front of her PJs wet.

Lizzie waited for her turn. "I like it better when you're home."

"I like it better, too," Madison smiled, and gave Lizzie a careful hug so she wouldn't get as damp as her sister. "I hope you don't need to change, but thank you for the hugs." Madison took out the photo album and sighed with relief when it still looked dry. Tim had kept this album for her, and she hated to think of it getting damaged so soon after being given to her. She took off her shoes to make sure she wouldn't track the carpet, then, with the girls following and asking questions about the album, Madison rounded into the hallway and saw Izzy coming toward her with extra towels for the bathroom. "Thanks, Izzy. I can take those. I have to hurry-- Terry will be in soon, and I need to start the shower so it'll be ready for him."

"Do you need me for anything?" Izzy asked, waiting as Madison dumped her shoes in the bedroom before taking the towels.

Madison shook her head. "I can take care of Terry. I know how."

A smile came to Izzy, one that made Madison feel somehow important. Like she was a member of Izzy's club. Like she'd made it. Or was making it. She was taking care of her husband. She was doing something big. She was being trusted with Terry's health and happiness.

It was a happy-sober thought.

As Izzy shooed Lizzie and Ruthie away, then called off latecomer Debbie, Madison hurried into the bedroom to get Terry's things ready. She placed the album in the dresser drawer with her sweet Terri doll, then hurried out of her coat. The extra towels were set out in the bathroom, along with Terry's pajamas, and some dry socks. She started the shower, made sure the water was turned to the "H" setting, then turned it off when Terry didn't come and the water ran hot. Her wet coat went into a corner in the bathroom, along with her shoes. She gathered her pajamas, robe, and got them ready on her couch just as Terry came into the bedroom.

Finally. She was about to go find him.

"The jeep's in the garage." Terry started to take off his coat, but Madison hurried over and helped him. "I can do it, myself," he sighed. He made a face as he looked down at his muddy shoes. "I should've taken them off before I came in the house."

"Never mind that. I've got your pajamas in the bathroom, and the shower's ready for you."

Terry shook his head. "You go first."

"No, I got the bathroom ready for you." Madison got down on her knees, made him lift a foot and pulled off his shoe, then stripped off a wet sock. "You're soaked, Terry, and you're going into that hot shower."

"I could use the one in the master bath." Terry lifted his other foot. "You don't have to do that, you know. I'm perfectly able to take off my own shoes and socks." He groaned when she got up, said nothing, and started to help him out of his sweater. Terry shut the bedroom door, then rather awkwardly let her pull it off of him. "I'll take this shower, if you take the one in the master bedroom. You can get Izzy to help you."

Madison went into the bathroom, turned on the shower, then came out and handed Terry a large fluffy towel.

"Maddie, you're not staying in those wet clothes."

"I'll change now, and take my turn after you're done."

He didn't look convinced.

Madison put her hands on her hips, and stared at Terry. "The sooner you get in there, the sooner I can take my shower."

"I still say ladies first," he mumbled, but hurried into the bathroom, and shut the door after him.

Not knowing how long he might be in there, Madison scrambled to her couch, climbed under a blanket and changed in private as fast as she could. When she came out, she covered her pink and black PJs with a robe, and tied it shut. She put on a dry coat, slipped on a dry pair of sneakers Terry had in the closet, then gathered her damp clothes, and started for the laundry room to get a basket. Her mind kept busy, her hands kept going. She would try hard to not think about being different. She would just try to keep going, to keep taking that next step. One small step wasn't anything to get excited about, but they could, and they were, beginning to add up.

She had to simply not stop. To keep moving. To not look down and realize that by making her plans, and dreaming, her toes were leaving the ground.

* * * *

What was up with Maddie? Terry wished he knew. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the hot shower, or the chance to get into dry clothes. He hurried into his pajamas, slung his socks over his shoulder, and started toweling off his hair as he went into the bedroom, eager for Maddie to get her shower.

He looked about, didn't see her, and rubbed the towel over his head. Something was happening with Maddie, but there was always something going on with her. It was just the way she was. This time though, it was different. Last night, when he'd held her, there was something there that had been there before, but was now more... Terry couldn't explain it. More noticeable. More something. Whatever it was, it was stronger.

A laundry basket pushed in through the bedroom door, followed by Maddie. She moved around him in the narrow walkway, and he gave her as wide a berth as he could.

And there it was. She looked up as she moved past, and his breath caught. Caught like someone was squeezing his heart and wouldn't let go. He couldn't breathe, but if he died, Terry doubted that he'd care. He was too happy. All he could see was her, all he could hear was that fast intake as she bowed her head and hurried into the bathroom.

Oh, no.

Closing his eyes, he forced himself to breathe. Nice and slow. Terry opened his eyes, and looked at the mirror over the dresser. A movie star he wasn't, but being near Maddie was like getting a huge boost of male ego. If they made pills of the stuff Maddie was feeding him, someone could make millions. If she could love him, then that had to mean something good about himself, didn't it? Self-esteem. Even when the truth was uglier than a hairless mutt. Terry turned from the mirror. He couldn't get caught up in whatever was going on with Maddie. He had to stay the course, and keep his feet firmly planted on the ground.

Just because she had his heart, didn't mean he couldn't use his mind. He was rational, he could think. Just then, Maddie came back through with the laundry basket, moved past him, and he backed into the couch to keep well out of her way.

"What about your shower?" he asked.

"I will in a moment. You should be resting your ankle."

"My ankle's fine." He watched as she gathered more clothes and added it to her basket. "You're doing laundry? Maddie, not tonight. Aren't you tired?"

"Not so tired I can't do this," she smiled.

He shook his head, went into the bathroom, and hung up his towel. It was then he noticed she'd been tidying the bathroom. She hadn't needed to, he would've done that. He'd only left the bathroom in such a mess because he'd been in a hurry to get out. FOR HER SHOWER. As long as he was here-- Terry found the hairdryer and moved to the bedroom before Maddie came back.

She was tired-- he could see she was, and instead of taking care of herself, she was doing laundry.

It annoyed him, it made him weary, it made him want to hug her.

As Terry leaned over to find the outlet behind the dresser, he noticed his ankle. Now that he thought about it, his ankle wasn't perfect. It wasn't hurting, but he hadn't exactly given it a full two days of rest. He plugged in the dryer, then blasted himself with hot air. He'd see how his ankle felt in the morning, but for now, he was just glad to be home and in dry clothes again. He ran a hand through his hair and decided it was good enough. He unplugged the dryer as Maddie came in, and groaned as she shut the bedroom door, fresh from her trip outside. Though the laundry room was close to the house, and the walkway was sheltered from the rain, she'd been helpful enough.

"You have a load in the washer?" he asked.

She nodded, her arm brushing his as she moved past him between the couches.

"When it's time, I'll put everything in the dryer."

"I can do it."

"I know you can. That's not the point." Terry followed her into the bathroom-- a move he could tell surprised her. She was about to take a shower. He gave her a you-know-me-better-than-that kind of look, and put the hairdryer away. "I appreciate the help with the flat tire. Now let me help you with the laundry."

She bit her lip, and looked at him so sweetly, he didn't know what to say.


"Okay, Terry."

"I can finish the laundry?"

She nodded.

As he turned back to the bedroom, her words melted his heart.

"I love you, Terry."

He didn't dare look back, for he knew if he did, he would only kiss her. "I love you, too. Please, take your shower." He closed the door, and stood outside the bathroom a moment to let his heart catch up. He loved her. If he hadn't, he would've kissed her. He took a deep breath, checked the clock to have a good idea of when to go out and put their things in the dryer, then went to Maddie's purse to find his iPhone.

He sank onto his couch. The photos of the girls and Baby Connie made him smile, and he tapped, and one by one, sent them off to Tim. He leaned his head back, groaning at the relaxed muscles that had been soaked by that hot shower. It was good to be warm again, to have dry socks on his feet, and to know Maddie was safe and not holding that silly flashlight on the side of the road. Not for the first time that night, he thanked God for getting them home in one piece. He went back to the phone and flicked through pictures as rain and the sound of Maddie's shower made him feel content. His toes wiggled in their socks; never again would he take dry socks for granted.

"Uncle Terry?" A small voice called outside the closed bedroom door. "Are you in there?"

Terry smiled, hit send on one last photo, then put the phone to sleep. "I'm here. You can come in."

The door cracked open, and Debbie looked inside. She saw Terry, smiled, and came to his couch, dressed and ready for bed. "Lizzie and Ruthie missed you."

"They did?" Terry slid the phone under his couch for safe keeping, then smiled at Debbie. "And what about you? Did you miss me, too?"

The girl shook her head. "I knew you'd come back."

"Thank you for that."

"So can I come next time?" Debbie climbed onto the couch as Terry made room for her.

"I thought you said you hadn't missed me." Terry looked down at the little one, and she smiled. "Maybe a little, huh?"

Debbie nodded, and leaned her head on Terry's arm.

"Some trips I think I need to make with others--" Terry pulled his arm around the child, and Debbie yawned and looked like she was getting cozy-- "but it's good to know I'm wanted. Thank you." Terry hugged his niece, and she smiled, her eyes at half-mast. "Ready for bed?" he asked, and she nodded that she was. He smiled, remembering back to days gone by when small munchkins fell asleep here and there, and had to be carried to bed all the time. Terry got to his feet, lifted her off the couch, and smiled when she hugged his neck. "You're getting too big for this," Terry groaned, but it was more for play than anything else. The small arms about his neck told him she didn't want to be put down, and the truth was, she couldn't have weighed more than what he bench pressed. Still, the triplets were growing up. No doubt about it. Not that long ago, this one had been as small as Connie.

Not in any hurry, Terry made his way to the girls' room, and smiled at John as John tucked in Ruthie. Terry sailed Debbie to her bed, helped her to take off her slippers, her robe, then got a kiss good night.

"Sleep tight, munchkin." Terry pulled the blankets up around Debbie, put her slippers away, then saw the other two girls waiting for their turn.

"Good night, Uncle Terry." Ruthie smiled sleepily as Terry leaned over the bed and kissed her hair.

A faint smile touched Lizzie's face, but she was so tired, she was out soon after Terry tucked her in. John made sure the night-light was on, and as the men left, Izzy came in and looked over her girls.

In the hall, John whispered to Terry. "Did you let Tim know you got home okay?"

Terry nodded.

They moved away from the door and talked about their day, John speaking in the experienced hush of a father who didn't want to put his kids to bed a second time. They touched bases about their work schedule for tomorrow, what needed to get done, the client that John agreed could wait. Leaving the girls' door open a crack, Izzy came to John's side, and John slid an arm around Izzy's waist. The men talked shop until Izzy began to fade, then they parted with a quiet "see you in the morning."

The house was tucked in for the night, which was more than Terry could say for himself. He checked the time, went into the bedroom for a coat and saw Maddie sitting on her couch with a notebook on her knees, a pen busily working across the page.

He put on shoes, lifted the coat she'd been borrowing off the back of her couch, and smiled when she looked up.

"Have a good shower?" he asked.

She nodded, and as she went back to her writing, he noticed an open Bible at her side.

He was about to tell her where he was going, but didn't want to interrupt. Her hair looked damp, as though she'd been in a hurry to leave the bathroom and get to her notebook. He sighed. At least the house felt warm so it would be harder for Maddie to catch cold. Before he went to get the laundry, he paused at the door, and looked back at his wife.

Whatever was going on with her, Terry prayed it wouldn't stop. He could either fear it, or accept it, and since he didn't understand it, he chose to trust God, and her, and accept the change he saw in Maddie.

* * * *

The tape was in the office bathroom. She would get it, after she finished. The pen kept going through the paper, but this was important. She had to get this right. And there were so many. Everywhere she looked, there were more. Like picking up jewels, great and precious and all over the place. "He [Jesus] is faithful that promised..." Hebrews 10:23; "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." James 4:7, 8; "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7-- especially a sound mind-- Madison loved that verse, and underlined those words. She hadn't even touched the Psalms yet. There was a goldmine there, but she could only write so fast.

Her hand cramped, but one by one, she marshaled her troops together, tore them out of the notebook and set them on her bed like soldiers going to war. She would put the best ones first, her line of defense. She counted them out, then wrote more, making sure she would have enough for the days ahead. The words formed slowly on the paper, for she kept looking back at the printed words, then at her notebook to be sure she didn't make any mistakes. It was slow going, but she found confidence in writing them out. Staking claim to them. Her promises, her verses.

She was so taken with her writing, that it wasn't until she was ready to go find the scissors and tape, that she noticed Terry was on his couch, reading from his phone.

He looked up. "Ready to sleep?"

She shook her head, and thanked God that she could trust Terry to not read her highly personal note. Madison left the bedroom, found the things she needed from the office, and while she was there, quickly stuck a surprise into Terry's desk. She hurried back to the bedroom and shut the door. Though Terry acted like he was reading, she felt him watching her as she went back to her couch, and began neatly trimming off the rough edges of her torn paper. She wanted them to look nice. She glanced at Terry, and he looked back at his phone.

"Sorry if I'm keeping you up."

"It's all right." Terry sounded casual, and she kept trimming paper.

She should have put this off until tomorrow, but she felt a sense of urgency. She could fail so fast it scared her.

Madison looked at the wall over her couch. She was making her stand, even though to put these up, she would have to kneel. She cut some tape, took out her first promise.

And taped it to the wall.

The second one went up, and then the third, until she had a good line of defense where she could easily see it when needed. Grabbing four more, Madison took them into the bathroom, and taped them beside the bathroom mirror.

She meant business. These were here to remind her why she wasn't going to cut. Why she was going to fight.

She went back to the bedroom, taped even more over her couch, then gathered the clippings and cleaned her bed. It was getting late, she was keeping Terry up, so she needed to hurry. She looked back at the other couch, and saw Terry trying not to read her wall.

"It's all right-- I don't mind if you read these." She swallowed as Terry got up and stood in the walkway. "Do you think they'll bother you? Do they look too messy?"

"This is fine." Terry leaned in to read, the clean scent of shampoo tugging her closer because it belonged to him.

She pulled herself away, and focused on anything but him. The clippings went into the wastebasket, the tape and scissors went on the dresser. She took off her rings, and carefully placed them in the dish with Terry's wedding band. It was hard to get around him, for he was everywhere. When she looked back, he was still reading.

"This is good." He looked at her thoughtfully. "Tell me what you need from me. Tell me, and I'll try my hardest to be there for you."

"You are, Terry." She smiled and hugged herself. "You're always there for me."

"I mean it. Tell me what you need. I don't know what you need unless you tell me. I don't want to fail you."

"You aren't." She stepped close to him and leaned her head against his shoulder. His strong, gentle shoulder that never turned her away. He wasn't relaxing, so she stopped hugging herself, and hugged his arm instead. His face buried against her neck, and a hand gently caressed her back. Pain flashed as someone else invaded her, forcing what wasn't his. Her eyes squeezed shut. It took strength to not push away, and stay calm. Terry was holding her, a hug and nothing more. It was Terry.

His breath was slow, he kissed her cheek, then drew his hand away. She looked up at him, but he had turned and was going past her to the bathroom.

"You want the light on?" He waited, and she nodded, "yes."

The carpet, the couches, her robe. Her breath steadied.

"I finished the laundry while you were working in your notebook." As Terry came around the couch, she moved away from him to switch off the overhead light. He turned down his blankets. "I thought about offering you hot cocoa, but you were so engrossed in your notebook, I figured another time."


He took off his slippers, then looked at her to ask her question.

"How much money do you want me to spend on the wedding? I mean an actual number, so I won't spend more than you want me to, and Izzy and I can start buying things."

"You could start now, but if you want a budget ceiling, I'd have to first look over the finances." Terry climbed into his bed, kept his face turned away, and Madison used the chance to take off her robe and get under her blankets. "I'll get back to you on that, tomorrow."


"I'm still here." There was a smile in his voice, one that made her feel loved.

"Thanks for finishing the laundry."

"Good night, Maddie." Terry turned, and looked at her from his couch, and she met his gaze. For a long moment, they lay there and held each other with their eyes, until Terry started their nightly prayer. He prayed for Tim, and Karen, and for the girls. Terry's voice wrapped Madison with strength, a confidence that Someone greater than herself was looking out for them. He didn't speak with hesitation, but with certainty, a faith that knew its Author.

As Madison closed her eyes, the last thing she saw were the promises she'd taped to the wall above her couch.

* * * *

Even before Terry fully woke up, he could smell the scent of coffee, freshly brewed, and enticing. He groaned, turned on the couch and stuffed a pillow over his head. He wasn't interested in getting up. The room felt cold, and he was warm and snug right where he was, thank you very much. No amount of java was worth getting out of bed for-- not while he could still feel like drifting back to sleep.

But what was that, layered over the coffee? Terry tried not to inhale, even under the pillow, but he had to breathe. Bacon. Just what his waistline needed. He lifted the pillow to see the clock on the dresser. Okay, so he'd already slept in. This was torture, pure and simple.

He pulled the pillow off, sat up and blinked at the couch next to his. Empty-- which gave him a general idea of who was pulling him out of bed this cold bleak morning. He rubbed his face with both hands and noted the lack of rain on the roof. That didn't mean much. Clouds could be lurking over him right now, waiting to pounce the moment he thought the skies were clear. He pushed off the couch, slouched into the bathroom, then put on a robe on his way to the hall-- all without opening his eyes more than he had to. He'd forgotten his slippers, but until he had coffee inside of him, he didn't care.

"Morning, Uncle Terry." A happy faced munchkin greeted him in the living room, already dressed for preschool.

Terry paused. Right, this was Thursday. He was all for oversleeping, but somebody had let him get away with too much. He patted Ruthie's head and moved into the kitchen.

"Good morning," Izzy smiled from the kitchen table. She sat in her robe and slippers, not at all looking ready to drive the kids anywhere. Across from Izzy sat John, dressed for the day, and finishing off a plate of toast and bacon. "You were right, Madison," Izzy turned to the woman at the sink, "the bacon did the trick."

"Did what trick?" Terry frowned, looked about, and sighed when Maddie handed him his smiley mug.

John paused between mouthfuls. "Anyone ever tell you, you aren't exactly a morning person?"

"Who? Me?" Terry fell into a chair, pushed his elbows onto the table and cradled his mug. Some days, it was just harder to get out of bed, that's all. He sipped his java, and hoped that would do the trick.

Izzy drank from her mug, and closed her eyes as though she were enjoying her morning. "I feel like it's my birthday. Someone else is cooking breakfast, John volunteered to take the girls in to preschool, and all I had to do was get them dressed and ready to go. I've had a relatively quiet morning."

"Mommy!" Lizzie came in with a sweater pulled over her head-- one arm in, and one arm out. "Debbie says I can't wear this because it's hers, and it's not. I had the red one."

"Did not." Debbie came in, and Izzy looked at the others.

"I said relatively quiet, I didn't say it was absolute." She put down her cup, and helped Lizzie out of the sweater. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart, Debbie is right. Yours is blue. I laid it out on your bed."


"Go put on your sweater and let your sister put on hers." Izzy gave her daughter a smile that Terry recognized all too well. It said, "I'm mom, now do as I say."

"But I wanted red."

"Lizzie, you were the one who picked that sweater out in the store. Unless Debbie wants to trade, then you're going to be fair about this, and wear what you have. I don't want to hear any complaining."

For a moment, Terry thought Lizzie would push it, but she sighed, and left the kitchen with Debbie in tow.

"When your birthday comes along," John got up from the table and kissed Izzy, "we'll try to give you a better morning than this. Girls, get ready," he called to the house. "Your ride leaves in ten minutes. Terry," John slapped Terry on the shoulder and grinned when Terry blinked at him, "Abby called. Now that Karen has had her baby, Abby and Dick want to have the engagement party the Friday after next."

"When?" Terry sat up. "Have they talked to Maddie?"

"Yup. Madison gave it the go-ahead. Abby said to call her to confirm the date when you have the chance." John finished his mug, then left the kitchen with a second call to the girls to get ready.

Curious, Terry looked at Madison as she set a plate in front of him. "Have you told Izzy what you're hoping to do?"

"I haven't even told you that."

"Have you told her the date?"

"You've set a date for the wedding?" Izzy smiled and looked at them expectantly.

As Maddie took a seat at the table, Terry bowed his head and said a quiet prayer over his toast and turkey bacon. When he opened his eyes, Maddie was twisting the edge of her sweater, or rather, his old sweater. He rather liked seeing it on her, for it made him feel closer to her, but he wondered if she tired of wearing the same few clothes every week. He didn't bring it up, remembering how hard it had been on her the last time they'd shopped for clothes.

"Do you want me to tell her?" Terry asked, and Maddie shook her head.

"I changed my mind about the date."

"Since when?"

"Since John told me Dick and Abby's plans."

"They could change the date, Maddie. They could move it up so the engagement party took place before the wedding."

She shook her head. "I don't think it was ever really possible to have the wedding so soon. It was never going to happen this Saturday."

Izzy's mouth dropped open. "You can't be serious."

"She was." Terry started in on the bacon and found himself sighing. This was good.

"I suppose it is a local wedding," Izzy stammered. "Almost all of the guests attend our church, so it's not like a lot of people will have to make unscheduled traveling plans. But still." Izzy looked as though her quiet morning had derailed and was now plowing into the countryside. "We need time to get the dress, and then there's the cake, and the food for the reception. Not to mention the flowers. And what about a wedding registry? People have been asking what to get you guys, and I've been telling them I'd talk to you about setting up a registry. Which I've been assuming we will, won't we?"

"Not necessarily." Terry added more marmalade to his toast. "We're not a young couple setting up house for the first time. We live here, I have my apartment and she has hers. We don't need more stuff, and if we do, we can get it ourselves. Isn't that right, Maddie?"

Maddie nodded.

"So..." Izzy paused, "are you saying you want the wedding for this weekend?"

Terry looked at Maddie. "I'm going to let my better half answer that. Whatever Maddie wants, and whatever won't collide with Dick and Abby, is fine with me. Maddie, you wanted a number? Would it be helpful if I got it to you this morning?"

Maddie nodded, and Terry picked up his plate, and moved breakfast to the office to look over his finances. He knew Maddie had an ally in Izzy. Whatever the women worked out, he wanted to make sure Maddie had the resources to carry out their plans. He could juggle some things, and set aside a decent amount, but Terry wanted to see if he could give Maddie something she wasn't expecting. In case Izzy's plans required it, or Maddie saw something extra she wanted for the wedding.

While his laptop came to life, Terry opened a desk drawer to get his Bible out for later. On top, he saw it-- a gift with a small card that read, "You are loved."

"Maddie, you sweet knucklehead." He took the present out, set it on his desk and admired the way she had gift-wrapped its long adjustable neck so not an inch of it showed. Yes, he wanted to give Maddie more, for she had already given him so much.

* * * *

"Don't tell me you haven't finished your breakfast?" John laughed as he sat down, and opened the laptop on the desk next to Terry's. "When'd you get that?" he asked, nodding to the new addition beside Terry's pencil cup.

"This morning."

"Madison?" John asked, and Terry grinned.

"What time is it?" Terry asked, then answered his own question by looking at the time in the menu bar. "Man, I'd better get this number to Maddie before she thinks I forgot about her." Terry pushed up from the desk, grabbed his unwrapped present, and went in search of his wife. He didn't have far to look, for she was at the kitchen table, writing in her notebook, and talking with Izzy. The moment he came inside, Maddie stopped. And smiled when she saw the gooseneck lamp in his hands.

"Thanks for this," Terry said, feeling as though he were giving an acceptance speech. "I'll use it wisely, and put it next to my husband of the year award, all the while praying that I become worthy of these loving distinctions."

Maddie bowed her head and giggled.

"Go ahead and laugh, but what do you want me to say? Maddie, you're spoiling me." He felt the weight of the lamp in his hands and shook his head. It wasn't heavy, but it wasn't cheap plastic, either. "It's nice, thank you. And yes, I can use it-- my other one was getting a little unreliable. But you already know that because Izzy told you, didn't she? Why am I not surprised." Terry chuckled, placed it on the table, then leaned down and gave Maddie a kiss.

The look Maddie gave him was something close to bliss, and he had to step back before he kissed her again.

"And for the reason I came-- here's your number." Terry placed some paper in front of her. "You can think of that as the ceiling to your budget. Stay below it, and you'll be good." He started to leave when she tugged his hand.

"Are you sure, Terry? This number is bigger than I thought."

He smiled. "Nothing says you have to go that high, but yes, I'm sure. How you choose to spend it on the wedding, is up to you." Terry kissed the top of her head, picked up his lamp, then left the kitchen to go start his morning. He and John would have quiet time, then get down to work. As Terry went to the office to replace his lamp, he thanked God for his ankle. No more rest, now things could get back to normal. Terry laughed out loud. Who was he kidding? With a nutcase like him in the family, this house was never normal.

* * * *

Madison could hardly believe the number Terry had scribbled. She opened the paper again, peeked at the writing, then closed it to think. She'd talked it over with Izzy, and agreed this weekend would be too soon. If they worked hard though, they might be able to do it next week. Right now, it was too soon to tell.

After Izzy dressed, and they both had quiet time of their own, Izzy called Agatha and Abby, and the four of them settled at the table to see what could be done in so short a time. Before they started in on the wedding, Madison showed off pictures of her new baby niece, and the women enjoyed highlights of Connie, Madeline, and Paige, along with how Karen was doing. Madison had never been surrounded by so many women, talking about girl things, in her life.

As the talk turned back to the wedding, Agatha pulled an armful of wedding magazines from a large bag, and placed them on the table for everyone to look through. She'd come prepared.

They needed flowers, and Agatha knew the local florist well. If they wanted out of season flowers, or arrangements that would take too long in advance to prepare, then they would be in trouble. Next week would be out of the question.

"Would roses mean trouble?" Madison asked.

"Roses should be available all year round, but are you sure that's what you want? They can be expensive."

Madison was sure. Roses reminded her of Terry, and so long as they didn't push the wedding back, that's what she wanted to use. The cake seemed to be a big problem with the ladies, especially after Agatha opened a slick looking magazine that showed them what a reception could look like. But Madison didn't see it that way. It was simple. They were only having a small group at the house for the reception, so they wouldn't need a big cake like the one the women were talking about.

"But it's a wedding cake," Izzy reasoned, "it's supposed to be special."

"It will be. You're making it."

"But I've never made a wedding cake before."

"You said in the parking lot--"

"I know what I said," Izzy sighed, "but now is different. I'm not as sure now. Don't you want tables set up with wedding favors like Agatha suggested? Look at the magazine. Compared to that, my homemade cake will look out of place. It won't belong."

"I don't want fancy tables, or wedding favors. We can eat buffet-style in the living room. I just want enough white cake to serve to our guests."

"That simplifies things," Abby smiled.

"But what about the edible wedding favors?" Agatha asked.

"I want to have this wedding next week, not next month. Anything that gets in the way of that, has to go."

"Buffet-style?" Agatha closed her magazine and sighed. "It'd be nice if we could still do something special. Maybe a seafood pasta dish, serve it with a crusty bread and a salad, and make sure we have something fun for the kids. What do you think? With all the cutbacks you're talking about, the main problem I see will be if anyone has previous plans for the Saturday after next, and of course what you intend to use as a wedding gown."

"If you're serious about this, Madison, then we need to get out the invitations as soon as possible." Izzy looked about the table. "We don't even have a guest list."

"Yes, we do. The list for the engagement party." Abby pulled out a copy of the email she'd sent to Dick. "Just pare it down, and everyone who attends the party Friday night, can come to the wedding the next day. That should be convenient for Aunt Madison's brother and his family. They won't have to drive up twice. We could even put them up at Uncle Terry's apartment. Aunt Madison, do you want me to run this by Uncle Terry, and see if I can't get the invitations out as soon as possible?"

"Thanks, Abby."

"You'd better wait on those invitations until we can confirm with Pastor Bill about having the church on Saturday." Agatha hunted for her purse. "I'll call our pastor, Abby, and you'll be in charge of managing the guest list, and getting out the invitations."

Abby nodded, and Agatha pulled out her phone as John came back from dropping off the girls.

The women were in earnest, plans were being set in motion, and before Madison knew it, Abby had placed an email in front of her with names Madison didn't know. All of these could go to the wedding, but a smaller number had to be invited for the reception, and it was beyond Madison to know who to invite. Madison put a circle around the few names she recognized, then whispered to Abby to let Terry figure out the rest.

"Good news-- we can have the church on the Saturday after next," Agatha confirmed, and put away her phone. "Who will be the best man? Does Terry know?"

"I don't exactly know what a best man is, except for what I've seen on TV," Madison admitted a little shyly, as she wrote the date down in her notebook with a heart on either side, "but I can't imagine Terry picking anyone but John."

"I have to agree," Agatha smiled. "And your maid or matron of honor?"


Smiling, Izzy touched Madison's arm. "It'd be an honor."

"And who do you want for your bridesmaids and groomsmen?" Agatha asked.

"Couldn't we keep it small? I wouldn't mind asking Abby, and Karen, and all my nieces to be bridesmaids, and Tim, Jake, and Ricky to be groomsmen, but that would be the entire family. As long as they come to the wedding, that's what's important. Besides, from what you showed me in the magazines, all the bridesmaids have to pay for their own clothes. Tim has enough expenses with the new baby. If I ask Abby to be a bridesmaid, it'll look odd that I don't ask Karen, and if I ask Karen, I'll feel badly that I don't ask Paige, and then Madeline will feel left out."

Abby smiled. "I vote we cut through the family awkwardness and just ask Mom."

With a half laugh at her daughter, Izzy nodded in agreement.

"That brings us to the wedding gown." Agatha opened one of her glossy magazines to an equally glossy haired woman in an over-the-top white confection, then slid the magazine toward Madison. "We have a lovely bridal boutique in Watertown."

"To show I'm a good sport," Abby grinned, "I'll go with Aunt Madison for moral support."

"Knowing you, Madison would come back with wading boots and a fly rod." Agatha tapped the magazine. "The bride is the centerpiece. You need a gown."

Madison nodded, "I know."

"Will there be a bridal shower, any parties other than the one Dick and Sara Doyle are planning?"


"Then I suggest you don't skimp on the gown. Everyone's talking about this wedding. What about the groom? A tuxedo or a suit?"

"I suppose whatever one wears, the others will have to as well." Madison thought it over. "I don't know if everyone on our guest list will have a tuxedo."

"I have a tux." Terry smiled as he walked into the kitchen, looked over the magazines on the table and let out a whistle. "I hope you ladies aren't getting carried away. I was hoping to make this a suit and tie affair."

"I believe you'll get your wish," Agatha said dryly.

"I hope you're not too disappointed." Terry gave one of his sweet lopsided grins, and Agatha looked as though she couldn't help but cave in. "We've never been the extravagant kind. We're meat and potato folk, you know that."

"And yet you own a tuxedo," Agatha smiled, and collected her magazines. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you've been listening from the next room."

"I might have heard a word or two."

"As long as this is what you both want." Agatha got to her feet, her smile warming even more. "I have the rest of the day free. If you like, we can start looking for a wedding gown this morning."

"I thought the groom wasn't supposed to see the dress until the day of the wedding?"

"I was talking to the bride."

Tossing a wink to Madison, Terry leaned against the counter and listened while Madison made plans to go shopping. It was hard to pay attention when it felt like Terry could crack a joke at any moment, but Madison got through it, and when Agatha left, Abby got up and showed Terry the guest list.

"Cutting this list down for the reception will be hard." Terry puffed his cheeks, and nodded slowly. "It'll take some time, but it's doable. When do you need it by?"

Abby folded her arms. "Tonight would be good."

"But I thought we weren't going to have it this week."

"We aren't. You're getting married the Saturday after next."

Terry looked at Madison, and Madison looked at her notebook. The wedding itself wasn't a big deal. They were already married, but Madison could think of a good reason to put the wedding off a little longer, and that reason was healing beneath her T-shirt. And that was a big deal, all in itself. Plowing through to the end of the week would be easier than holding out and being brave for another seven days, but she could do this.

Taking the list, Terry leaned next to Maddie, and kissed her ear. "Don't do it all yourself?" he whispered, and Madison nodded. He smiled, and left for the office, and Madison went to brush her hair and put on her shoes.

They were saving a lot of money, and that meant the number Terry had given her could stay high. If she was careful about the dress. Who would've thought Terry would give her so much? Her plans now seemed more possible than ever before. How much would it cost though, and how should she go about it? And where? She would need help with that.

She would need help with a lot of things.

She had nine days, not counting the wedding day, to get ready, and be ready. It would never happen, but that was doubt speaking, and Madison fought to shut out all doubt. She had to move forward, not backward.

As she passed the office in the hall, she saw Terry at his desk, his new lamp watching while he worked.

He was worth it. She hugged herself, and went to get ready for a day of shopping.

* * * *

The bridal boutique Agatha had talked about was a pillowy showcase in white and pink pastel. Everything shouted romance, right down to the doves carved into the white framed mirrors. And those mirrors were everywhere. It was either a peacock's dream come true, or a shrinking violet's nightmare. The gauntlet ran about the room, neatly waiting on hangers for some poor unsuspecting woman to walk by. Madison fought the image, but it stuck. What women did for men.

"This is perfect," Agatha spoke with Izzy as a consultant led them to a dressing room. "With my figure, nothing looks like it does on the hanger, and now I get to help dress Madison. This is better than playing with fashion dolls."

Abby smiled at Madison.

The dressing room was a grand place. It had a long fancy couch with carved wooden legs, white statues holding vases of creamy blooms, and of course more mirrors. A chandelier hung from the center of the room, more lights lined the ceiling, and everything matched in pink and white. The only colors that didn't coordinate, were the clothes they'd brought into the store. They could take off their coats, go look at gowns, then bring back the ones they liked, and Madison could try them on here.

"While the others watch?" Madison looked about in horror, and the woman called Gloria motioned to a screen.

No door. Just a screen to change behind. A door on the changing room-- yes-- but everyone could fit into the room, so it didn't really count. This fancy place didn't have a door where she could take off her clothes in private? Madison swallowed hard, but followed the others outside to start "the hunt," as Agatha called it. Abby moved close to Madison as Izzy and Agatha went to look at gowns.

"Signal me when you want to get out of here, and I'll back you up."

"I need a dress, Abby."

"I know, but you probably won't be able to make up your mind, today."

"Oh, yes, I will." It felt like a challenge to Madison, and for the first time since stepping inside this boutique, or store, or whatever this ode to lace and pink was called, she made up her mind to come away from here with a wedding dress.

She pulled a gown down, took one look, and put it back. Abby gave her an I-told-you-so glance, but Madison kept going.

"How about this one?" Abby asked, but shook her head when she saw all the feathers. "You're making me happier than I can tell you, that Jake and I eloped."

"Thanks for helping, Abby."

"It's the least I can do." Abby pulled out another, shook her head, and the search was on.

Plunging necklines, lots of exposed skin, were all out. Despite being immodest, Madison was feeling exposed enough. Everything was meant to make a woman look as attractive as possible, and Madison kept telling herself it was for Terry.

While the other two women consulted with the consultant, Abby and Madison started gathering possibles. They worked like women on a mission, and by the time the others were ready with suggestions, Madison and Abby had carried several dresses to their room. They were ready to start, though Madison dreaded having to change behind the pink and white screen.

"This is so much fun," Agatha smiled, as the women sat down on the dressing room's couch while Madison gathered her courage. "I wish we could do this all the time."

All the time? Finding the push she'd needed, Madison grabbed the first dress and moved behind the changing screen.

She might not be normal, but she was determined, and that had to count for something.

There was a petticoat, and it was hard to put on, but she climbed into it, and came out to let someone help with the buttons in the back. One look at the mirror though, and she called off the buttons. It wasn't worth the effort. The next wasn't any better, for it made her look as though she'd decided to pull billowy white curtains off the windows, and the next she couldn't get out of fast enough. As Agatha left to find more dresses, Madison kept working through the ones she already had.

Izzy stayed and tried to help Madison make up her mind, but the gowns either made Madison feel she was placing a huge man-target on her chest, or a target on her backside. She could take her pick, and she refused to. She hated the way it made her feel, the way the material sat against her skin as she looked in the mirrors. If she could've gotten away with draping a white comforter over her jeans and T-shirt and walked down the aisle, she would have. In a heartbeat.

When Agatha came back, Madison tried on her suggestions; by the time Madison had gone through them, it was after lunch and the women were talking about a restaurant.

"But the dress--"

"We can come back after lunch." Izzy sounded tired, and Madison knew how she felt for she'd been climbing in and out of gowns until she felt dizzy in the head with decisions, but she wanted to give it a little longer.

She really didn't want to have to come back.

"What if we stay a half hour more," Abby suggested, "then we go to lunch?"

Izzy and Agatha agreed, and everyone went back to hunt dresses.

It was then Madison remembered to pray. She kicked herself for not doing that sooner, and as she and Abby paired up once more, Madison sent up a quiet prayer to find her gown before they went to lunch. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small request, but she added with courage, "something Terry would like." It was a brave thing to ask, but if she was going to look nice, and dress up like a moving target, she wanted to do it right.

Izzy found some wedding gowns with lacy long sleeves, tapped Madison on the shoulder, and the women carried three possibles back to the dressing room. Madison prayed it would be here. She wasn't trying to be picky, she really wasn't. These looked nice on the hanger, but so had many of the others.

She climbed into a white gown, adjusted the lace sleeves, then moved out from behind the screen as Izzy came around to fasten the buttons in back. Madison was already turning to go change when Abby called her to stop.

"Look in the mirror." There was hope in Abby's voice, too much hope.

Madison turned, and looked. The slender form didn't look like her, though it was her face staring back. Silk showed through lace as it ran the length of the slim gown, and gracefully formed behind her in an elegant train. Though it showed her figure, it wasn't clingy or tight. If anything, her thin frame worked in her favor. The two layer dress-- a glossy satin with a lace overlay-- had the effect of lightly dusted snow, its faint shimmers catching the eye as Madison turned in front of the mirror. It wasn't a ball gown, with huge gathers, but the sweetheart neck covered in lace, and the lace covered shoulders and arms gave Madison refuge. She wasn't used to being pretty, to looking attractive for a man. In the old days, she would've punched one in the face, or lit herself on fire before doing something like this, but that was then. This was now.

"Aunt Madison," Abby glowed with approval, "you're a knockout."

"I am?" Madison backed away from the mirror, but Izzy came close and hugged Madison.

"It's perfect. Absolutely perfect. I can't wait to see what it looks like with the veil."

As the women fussed over the details of the dress, and what Izzy should wear, Madison thanked God, and began making secret plans for the next part of the wedding. She had a crazy number on a piece of paper, and more fight than ever before.

Madison's plans were just beginning.

"Jesus said... If thou canst believe, all things are possible to [her] that believeth."
~ Mark 9:23 ~

end of chapter