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Chapter Forty
Don't Tell Terry

"Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her... she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life."
~ Proverbs 31:10-12 ~

In all the excitement, the ladies stopped talking about lunch and Madison found herself hunting for a matron of honor dress for Izzy. They were kept in a different part of the boutique where color splashed on the hangers. From soft purples to violent reds, they made Madison grateful she was back in her sweater and jeans and not having to face the changing screen. She had no idea what she was looking for, even though Izzy kept asking Madison for her opinion.

"What kind of dress do you want me to wear?"

"Anything you like," was the only answer Madison could think to say. "According to those magazines, you're the one who's going to have to pay for it."

Izzy laughed, and Madison smiled.

"What color are your roses going to be?" Izzy asked.

"Pink." It caused Madison a big gulp to say that, for she was standing in a very pink room.

"I think I saw a blush colored dress over there..." Agatha beelined past Madison, and Abby moved out of the way.

"Do they sell shoes in this place?" Abby asked.


"Because you need shoes to go with your wedding gown, and Mom will need something to go with that."

Madison turned, and saw Agatha holding a soft pink dress to Izzy. When Izzy tried it on, everyone gave their approval. It had a modest sweetheart neckline that matched Madison's gown, though this one didn't have any lace; its full pleated skirt came to the floor, while the capped sleeves flattered her neck and shoulders. These fancy terms came from their consultant, for Madison had no idea what it all meant, only that it dressed up Izzy's everyday elegance to a high shine.

After Izzy changed, they found the boutique didn't have much of a selection when it came to making your feet pretty. That meant going somewhere else, so Izzy pulled out her wallet, and plunked down some plastic.

"You aren't supposed to pay for my things," Madison whispered to Izzy.

"Don't worry. Before we left, Terry made me promise to give him all the receipts. He'll be keeping track of all this, and will pay me back."

Though it made Madison feel better, it brought up a private concern. Terry would know everything she bought. That would be a problem. Her heart sank a little more when she remembered both dresses would need a few alterations. That meant they would have to come back to this place, after all, though at least it wouldn't be to buy more clothes.

Happy over their progress, the ladies went to a tidy, garden-themed restaurant. When the others ordered soup and salad, Madison followed their example and ordered the same thing. She didn't have time to think for herself, she was too busy trying to figure out how to go about something important. While the women talked over which store to get the wedding invitations, Madison moved the salad around her plate and wondered who she could get to help her.

Izzy couldn't, because she wouldn't know about those sorts of things, and Abby... Madison didn't want to impose on her anymore than she already had. She could ask Jake, but Jake wouldn't know.

But John would.

After they had a light dessert of fruit cocktail, the women went shopping for shoes. It sounded innocent enough, until Madison found herself standing in stilts, hanging onto a shelf for dear life.

"She's going to break her neck, Mom."

"She isn't used to high heels, but she won't break her neck. Twist an ankle, maybe." Izzy sighed, and motioned for Madison to sit down. "You'd better try something easier." Izzy handed Madison a pair of white satin sandals that had straps and two inches of heel.

This was easier? Madison didn't know about that, but since she was already trying things on, she strapped on the two inches of satin sandal and got to her feet. She had to pull her baggy pants up a little so they could see the shoes. The sandals were the wrong size, so while Madison took them off, Izzy searched the shelves for the right number.

"I found it." Agatha came around the corner, and handed Madison a box of tissue paper. "They only have one pair left in your size. It's Providence."

That, or poor timing. Still, Madison strapped them on, took a step, and prepared to fight for balance.

To her surprise, she didn't have to, she could stay upright without having to grab the shelf. They looked dressy, not something she would wear at all, but they fit, and as she walked back and forth like Agatha told her to, she had to admit they were comfortable.

"They make you taller," Abby groaned. "And you were already supermodel tall."

"Then maybe I should wear sneakers."

"Oh, no, you don't." Izzy shook her head and gathered the scattered boxes. "Those shoes are just right for you. Abby, start looking for a pair in my size, would you?"

With a sigh, Madison unstrapped her new shoes, and placed them in the box for safekeeping. Shopping was scary. It meant leaving her comfort zone in a big way, spending money, making decisions about her appearance, and doing it under pressure. Even so, it was kind of fun. In a white knuckled sort of way. She had Izzy, she knew God was there, so it wasn't like being in a car crash. Not that she'd ever been in one.

They found Izzy's shoes, then went to another store and plunged into the world of fonts and themes. Abby was planning to phone everyone herself to see if they could make the wedding, for it would shorten the time it would take to get a card back to see who was coming and who wasn't. These invitations were really keepsakes. Madison didn't know why they were there, only that Izzy felt they needed something to mark the day by, a special invitation to remind people when to come.

Though Madison was using blush pink for Izzy's dress, and the wedding roses, she didn't think Terry would like it dripping from the invitations; instead, she chose a respectable silver on white, with a monogram of the bride and groom at the top. Since the bride didn't have any parents to request the honor of anyone's presence, at Abby's suggestion, the Johannes family would do it for them. A separate card would go to those invited to the reception. Their selections made, Abby would arrange to have the invitations and cards printed as soon as she got the reception list from Terry.

"I'll handle this," Abby told them as they left the store. "Leave the guest lists and invitations to me. If you guys can handle everything else, it'll be a fair tradeoff."

Madison wasn't so sure about that, for it seemed to her that Abby had more than her fair share of the wedding to handle.

"Where to next?" Agatha asked, as they climbed into Izzy's car.

"I don't know, I'll have to ask the bride." Izzy looked in the rear view mirror at Madison. "Do you have any other shopping errands you want to get done? Now's a good time."

The car went quiet as Madison struggled to say something, anything that wouldn't sound like she had something to hide. She shrugged, hoped she was smiling, and shook her head.

"Are you sure?"

"We still have time before the big day, Mom."

"I know, but it's such a shame to waste this outing, especially since Agatha is here."

"Makeup." Madison swallowed hard, then wondered if she'd actually said that out loud. "I don't have any makeup." The other women looked at her, and for a moment, Madison wondered if someone was waving their hands behind her to make them look at her like that. "I'll need some for the wedding, won't I?"

"Yes," Izzy blinked, and seemed to come to her senses, "of course. For some reason, that was the last thing I expected to hear you say." She started the engine. "Is there anything else?"

There was, and Madison was fighting to get it out. Maybe she could ask Izzy to keep it from Terry. This was her chance to get help, and she needed it badly.


"What kind of clothes?"

"Ones that fit."

Looking thoughtful, Izzy glanced in the mirror at Madison. "Are you sure you're up to this?"

Madison nodded. "I'm sure."

No one asked why she wanted this for the wedding, or what it even had to do with the wedding. They just took one look at what she was wearing, and headed to the store. A department store, not the MegaMart. She didn't know why she should be disappointed, only that she was. This place was new-- okay, she knew why-- it was unfamiliar, and it made her feel clunky. Like she was homemade in designer surroundings. This didn't have to be hard. All she wanted were clothes, and they had that, at the MegaMart.

"Where do you want to start?" Izzy asked, as they passed some mannequins that didn't have faces.

"Jeans, I guess." Madison looked about, and was grateful when no one asked her where to go. They headed off as though this was no big deal, with Abby even pulling out her phone to keep away the boredom.

Catchy music scrubbed the air just enough to make things breezy and yet remind Madison that she wasn't at the MegaMart. They passed wooden shelves, racks of clothing, and Izzy stopped. She pointed to the near wall, an entrance with a sign that read, "Dressing Rooms," and Madison's heart sank. Of course, she would have to try on more clothes.

Since Madison didn't really know what her size was, or should be, she started with what looked about right, grabbed a size smaller, one larger, and went into the changing room. She was so happy-- this place had doors.

It took more time than Madison liked, but she at last found a size and brand of jeans that Izzy said fit her well. Madison had no idea what the right size would look like on her, but she did have an idea that what she'd been wearing had been too big. When she got in front of the mirror, she found these weren't tight, and she liked that she didn't feel sloppy. They really did fit her.

Next, Madison wanted a dress for the engagement party, some skirts, a few long sleeved shirts, and sweaters her size. Compared to everything else that day, she didn't have to struggle so hard to find the courage to try them on. For what she had in mind, she hoped they would do. She needed more, of course, but she said nothing about that, and let Izzy take her to find the dreaded makeup. This place had a store within a store, and a saleswoman who asked questions about what she did, and didn't do. Madison didn't understand what "exfoliate" meant, let alone if she did it or not. When Izzy answered for her, the woman left off with the exfoliation and did some sort of color test to find out which shades of makeup would look best on her.

Abby looked sympathetic and watched as foundation was added, then blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, some awfully hard stuff to put on called mascara. Madison just could not stop blinking long enough for the woman to stroke it onto her lashes. It got on though, and with every new suggestion, a bottle or container was added to the counter. By the time the saleswoman had finished with Madison, Madison was ready to pay and get out of there before the woman told her she needed something else.

While Izzy paid for the makeup, Madison stepped away a moment to catch her breath. Feeling calmer, she went back to the mirror.

And smiled.

Did they sell perfume?

* * * *

The update from their client in Seattle made Terry's eyes bleed. He had to hand it to the guy who'd written the report-- he was obviously bucking for promotion, for he'd pulled out all the stops to show he knew what he was talking about. He did, but it didn't make it any easier to read. Terry flipped to the summary, grinned when he saw their performance numbers, then went back to endure the terminology meant to impress. This thing was killing him.

He reached for his mug, but found he'd already drained the last of the coffee.

"Do you want me to call Anderson?" John looked over his laptop at Terry, and made a face. "Is it as bad as that?"

"No, I just need to stretch." Terry pushed back from the desk with a groan. "You'd better be the one to make that call. I once made a joke about Anderson's toy poodle, and I don't think he ever forgave me."

"You didn't."

Terry shrugged. "How was I supposed to know it was a champion show dog?"

"What'd you call it?" John grinned.

"A Q-tip with legs."

"Oh, man." John shook his head and laughed. "That is no way to treat a client."

Grinning, Terry moved into the hall while John checked up on the account. Unlike Seattle, no detailed report was necessary. Anderson didn't represent a bank, just a small law firm in Los Angeles that had needed help protecting their network.

Terry stretched his legs, and went into the kitchen to fix a late lunch. He glanced at the rooster clock above the fridge. Make that a very late lunch. Aside from picking the triplets up from preschool, he and John had been working the afternoon away without taking a breather, so no wonder he was fighting to stay awake. He was starving. Terry pulled out bread, lettuce, sliced tomato, the bag of shredded cheese, only to go back for mustard and mayo. He had made three sandwiches, and was finishing up a fourth when John came looking for food.

"Almost ready," Terry said, as he slathered on the mayo. "How'd it go with Anderson?"

"Fine. There was no mention of any slight against his dog, so I guess you're in the clear." John accepted the plate from Terry, then waited while Terry put the food away. "I wonder how much longer the girls are going to be."

"I have no idea." Terry picked up his plate and headed into the living room as Debbie came down the hall with Linda, a munchkin the same age as the triplets who lived a few houses down the street. "Hey, you two, I hope you're staying out of trouble." Terry smiled as the girls nodded, and went to play with their dolls on the floor by the couch. "I'd like to call, but I don't want it to look as though I'm checking up on them."

"So you want me to?" John sat down at his desk, waited a moment to pray before he started in on a sandwich.

"If you ask, it'd be the same thing as if I had."

"No, it wouldn't. I'm not the one about to walk down the aisle. I can be as obvious as I want. I could even ask what's for dinner, and not have to wonder if the woman I love will still say 'yes' when we exchange vows."

"Daddy--" Ruthie came to John's desk and stared at her father-- "what's for lunch?"

"You've already had yours."

"But you're eating."

"If everyone wants a small snack," John sighed, "I'll get something as soon as I'm finished." John went back to his sandwich, paused, and looked up when Ruthie continued to watch. "Okay?"

Ruthie nodded, and left the office to go play with the others, and the men went back to their food, and their work, and the subject of checking up on the girls was dropped.

While Terry ate and tried to focus on the screen, he wondered how Maddie was doing. Was she all right, was picking out a wedding dress as hard for her as picking out clothes at the MegaMart? He could only imagine. Frowning, he tore off some sandwich, and focused on the update from Seattle.

He had prayed. If he was needed, Maddie had his number.

* * * *

The moment the front door sounded, Terry was out of his chair and pushing into the hall. He glanced at his watch. Nearly five. Linda's mom had come for her an hour ago, the day was getting late, and Terry had been fighting the urge to call Maddie. He rounded into the living room with John behind him, the triplets squirming their way past the men to get there first. Terry stopped when he saw the department store bags Izzy and Abby were placing on the floor.

"Where's Maddie?" Terry ignored the smiles on their faces, and was about to go outside and find his wife, when Agatha held the front door open, and Maddie came in with two more bags and a case. "There you are." Terry breathed in relief. "Are you all right? Did they walk your legs off?"

"What a thing to say." Agatha pinned Terry with a playfully serious look. "I suggest you choose your next words more carefully."

"Why? What happened?" He looked at Maddie.

Maddie bit her lip, then spoke in a quietly timid voice he almost didn't hear. "I bought makeup."

"Oh. Okay," he nodded, "you look nice. I like it."

"I washed it off."

Terry slid a look at Agatha. "You could've warned me."

"I was referring to all the work Madison has been putting into the wedding."

"All this is for the wedding?" Terry cast a look about the room as the triplets began peeking inside each and every one of the many bags.

"Did you get everything you needed?" John asked, as he stepped around the girls to give Izzy a kiss.

Maddie stood there and looked at Terry, and for some reason, he didn't move. She looked guilty, though for the life of him, Terry couldn't fathom why. She had every right to spend that money, though from the look of things, he guessed most of the wedding budget was still intact, for he'd given her a lot. Still, he couldn't understand how all this was tied to the wedding.


He looked about, stepped around the munchkins and went to Maddie.

"I'm not done."

"What?" he asked, about ready to kiss her.

"I didn't get everything I needed." Maddie was serious. So serious, she was trembling.

"Hey, it's all right." He took her hand, and as she tucked into him, she carried the honeyed scent of something wonderful. He breathed it in, held his breath, and counted to ten slowly.

"Izzy said she promised to show you the receipts."

He nodded, almost not hearing her.

"Do you have to see them?"

"See what?

"The receipts."

"I have to pay the bills." He inhaled the soft air, put his lips to Maddie's neck and felt the warm throb of her pulse. "What are you wearing?"

"Terry, please. Couldn't you find a way?"

He just breathed. Never was torture so sweet. Something whispered in his brain, a plea, a warning that only a cold shower or a brisk walk would be able to fix. He'd been there before, as a teenager battling desire, so Terry backed away.

"Please, don't look in the bags."

"What?" He rubbed his face and tried to think.

"Terry--" she lowered one of his hands and he caught the intent look in her eyes, the quietly desperate hush of her whisper-- "please, don't look at those receipts."

"Why? What did you buy?"

"Terry, please. I'm begging you."

"Easy, Maddie." He tugged an arm around her shoulders before she hurt herself from sheer intensity. "If it's this important to you, I'll work something out with John so I can still take care of the bills without seeing exactly what you bought."

"I'm not done."

"Will the name of the store give away your secret? That will be on the bank statement."

"Maybe. It might also be true of what I'm about to do next."

"Then I guess John will have to keep an eye on things until the wedding. I doubt he'll mind--" Terry was cut off by a wild hug from Maddie, and knocked back a step. When he returned her hug, she retreated. He tried desperately not to breathe. It only made it worse.

"Thank you, Terry."

"What is that? Are you wearing perfume?"

Her eyes widening, Maddie backed away.

"Thank you for letting me help pick your wedding dress." Agatha moved past him and gave Maddie a big hug. "I had a very good time."

"Thank you for coming," Maddie smiled.

As Agatha left, Abby got ready to leave.

"Whatever else got done today, the important thing is, Aunt Madison has her wedding dress. It's a good one, Uncle Terry. I won't say more, but it's a good one. Do you have my reception list?"

"Your list? I thought I was the one getting married?"

"I'm responsible for everyone showing up. I'll also need contact information."

Terry nodded. "I'll have it to you by the end of the day."

"I'll be waiting." Abby turned and hugged Maddie. "I don't know all your plans, but if you need help, you know where to find me."

With a quick glance at Terry, Maddie bit her lip and nodded.

It made Terry think. If Madison hadn't told Abby, then Izzy and Agatha probably didn't know, either. As Terry watched Abby leave, he couldn't help but feel a little lost. It appeared she hadn't told anyone, and he wished Maddie had help with whatever it was she was doing.

"Madison, I can take care of the kitchen. Why don't you take the night off?" Izzy smiled as she took off her coat and started down the hall. "Don't forget, you and Terry have an appointment after dinner."

"Thanks," Terry called. He agreed with Izzy, he thought Maddie needed the rest.

With a sigh, Terry watched as his buddy followed after Izzy, no doubt to ask what he could not. Terry wished he knew what Maddie was up to. Her secrets were piling up, and it felt, whether it was true or not, that everyone had a better idea of what was going on than he did. He looked down at the triplets. Even the munchkins had looked inside those bags. He turned and saw Madison kneel on the floor beside a case. She tenderly zipped it open, revealing at least two tubes of lipstick, what looked to be glossy nail polish, and all kinds of makeup. Female stuff.

"Is that yours?" he asked.

She nodded.

"That's a big step for you."

"Do you think you'll like it, Terry?"

"I hope you're not doing that just for me." When she looked up at him, he shrugged. "I've always thought you were fine the way you were." As hurt touched her eyes, he gulped hard. "I mean, I guess some women could use the help, but you're naturally beautiful the way you are."

The smile she gave him, made him feel warm inside.

She rummaged in her bag, and came up with a small black compact. "It will tie my look together," she tried to explain.

He could only nod.

Madison put it back, and zipped the bag shut. "Izzy said these were the basics of what she has."

"Then I guess you're all set." Terry hoped that if Maddie didn't enjoy using that stuff, she wouldn't think there was any pressure on his part to wear it. "Do you want me to carry these shopping bags to our room? I promise not to peek."

"Would you mind if I did it myself?" She got to her feet. "I was thinking I'd take them to the office bathroom."

"I'm already staying out of there, so that's a good choice." Terry backed off. "This'll be safe in there." He took one last look around before the bags were stowed away in the Forbidden Room. Though he wasn't exactly dying of curiosity, it was getting to him. Was she going to tear apart her wedding dress, and make a new one with the contents of all these bags? Leave it to Maddie to hide yet more secrets in the office bathroom.

He left Maddie to her work, and retreated to his desk to pour over the reception list. It wouldn't be easy to concentrate-- not with Maddie going back and forth through the office with crinkling bags.

Reception, church, church, reception. As Terry ticked down the names, his eyes wandered to the woman limping to the bathroom. He looked back to the list. He would work to get this done before dinner, and afterward, they would go see Carol.

* * * *

One by one, Madison lined the bags against the wall. Her hip ached, but she kept going until everything had been safely placed in the bathroom. She wondered what Terry would say if he knew most of the day hadn't been spent on finding the perfect wedding dress. After seeing all these bags, he might believe her. Her heart bumped up a notch as she made sure the door was closed all the way. Then she picked up the bag. The bag that had cost her so dearly that day. Not in money, but in courage.

Hands trembling, she pulled out a soft blue nightshirt. The neck was ordinary, like any regular long sleeved shirt, and the front had two breast pockets that made her feel safe. But this wasn't daywear. The nightshirt came to just above her knee, and that was where her safety ended. All afternoon. It had taken her that long to find this. It wasn't nearly what he deserved, but she needed something else besides her comfy two-piece pajamas. She pushed the nightshirt back in the bag, then looked at the matching robe.

The others hadn't understood-- not really. Izzy might've come the closest, but no one knew yet.

In a little while, that would change.

* * * *

He watched as Izumi put away her purse and kept his thoughts to himself. To him, it had seemed like an ordinary shopping trip. So Madison had bought some clothes. Izumi had given him a run-down of what Madison had brought back, and nothing stood out of the ordinary. It sounded rather run-of-the-mill if you asked him, and Izumi had asked. That was the problem.

"Honey, I don't see the big deal." John moved to the bathroom and watched Izumi.

"She asked me to not show the receipts to Terry."

"Did she spend that much?"

"Not compared to what Terry gave her." Izumi dried her hands on the bathroom towel. "She showed me the budget Terry gave her for the wedding, and I have to tell you, I was surprised. It was like he was inviting her to buy out the store."

"It was probably encouragement to get new clothes."

"With--" Izumi lowered her voice, whispered a sum in John's ear, and John let out a whistle.

"Okay, he was trying to show his love."

"I promised to give him the receipts, John. I gave Terry my word."

"Then give them to me," John shrugged. "I'll have a talk with him, without spilling any beans."

"Would you?" Izumi went into the bedroom, took a small stack of receipts from her purse, and handed them to John. "I don't know what to do with these."

"I'll sort it out. Terry's working to get her ID, and when that happens, he can put her on his credit cards, and then they can have the sort of conversations we do." Smiling, John tugged his wife into a hug. "You aren't failing Terry, or Madison. He and I will sort this out, and you won't break any promises to either one."

"She's planning something, John. She was too shy to tell me what, but she took forever picking out that nightshirt. And it was satin."

"Well, if she is," John kissed Izumi, "that's between Madison and Terry."

Izumi nodded in agreement, smiling as she tugged out the hair clip that kept her mane from off her shoulders. "I need to start dinner before someone comes looking for me."

With a groan, John let go of her and watched as she moved to the bedroom door. All these years, and she could still break his heart. He grinned when she saw he was watching. She laughed, and went to fix dinner, leaving him with the receipts. He looked them over and started for the office. On one or two, Izumi had written, "Wedding gift from John and Izumi," making John grin and shake his head. Izumi, it seemed, was intent on sharing the expenses with Terry.

Not that John could blame her. His buddy had waited a long time to get married, and John only wished he could do more.

As John moved down the hall, adding up the notes from Izumi, he nearly bumped into someone coming from the office. He smiled at Madison, and was about to go around her, when she touched his sleeve.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Could I talk to you?"

"Sure." John looked about, moved Madison into the living room and nodded to the receipts when she noticed them. "I've been asked to talk to Terry. Don't worry, we'll work it out so he won't know what you guys bought."

"Thanks, John. Thanks so much."

He smiled, and held back from asking what the big deal was, or why her voice was all low and hushed.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I need help."

"Help with what?"

She pulled his sleeve, as though she wanted him to bend down a little, and when he did, she put a hand to his ear and started to whisper. No one would have been able to hear her, not unless they had been invisible and could have held their breath without making a sound. John was holding his, and he still had trouble hearing her.

"Let me get this right." He was stunned that she was coming to him, and not Izumi. "This will be the real deal?"

She nodded.

"And you want me to help set it up?"

She nodded again.

John raised his eyebrows, looked at the hallway, then at Madison. "He doesn't know?"

Madison shook her head.

"Why me?" John lowered his voice when she glanced urgently at the hall. "Why are you asking ME? Why not Izumi, or Abby? Or Agatha? Agatha would be perfect for this. Why don't I call her right now--"

"John, please. It's for Terry. You're his brother. You know him better than anyone."

"Yeah. Yeah, I probably do." John felt the receipts in his hand. "How much is your budget again?" He waited as Madison took a slip of paper from her pocket. When he saw Terry's handwriting, he groaned. Wow. His buddy was in love, all right. Not that he'd needed this as proof. "It's a big responsibility. I don't know. Are you sure you want me to do this? Ask Izumi-- I'm not at all romantic. I'll just ruin it for the both of you."


Closing his eyes, John pushed out a sigh. "I'll do it on one condition."

"Name it."

"All decisions go through you." He looked at her, making absolutely sure this was clear. "This is your--" he mouthed the word "honeymoon," and she nodded that she understood. "Then okay." John swallowed hard. "I'll plan it. This is probably a big mistake, but I'll do it."

"It needs to be somewhere he'd like." Madison spoke so low, John fought to hear her. "You know where he's been, and where he hasn't." She glanced at the hallway. "All I've got are some clothes, and makeup. I don't even have boots!"

Her sober-serious look made him smile. "If this is what you really want, I'll look into--" He shut down, folded his arms as Terry strode through the living room on his way to the kitchen with a sheet of paper. He nodded to Terry as Terry paused, and looked at them.

"What's up?"

John shrugged. "Just talking."

"Is Izzy in there?"

John nodded, and Terry went through to the kitchen.

Hushing his voice, John kept his eyes on the kitchen doorway. "I'll look into this, then get back to you with some suggestions." He turned to Madison, saw her grateful nod, then hurried to his recliner before Terry came back and really asked what was going on. What in the world? How had he gotten himself into this? On the other hand... John kicked out the footrest to do some serious thinking.

If Terry could've wish for anything, this probably would've come close. All in all, he thought she'd pegged Terry pretty well. Though it wouldn't be easy to keep it from him, her plan had merit.

With a sigh, John settled back to think.

* * * *

With some help from Izzy, Terry had managed to come up with a reception list in a relatively short amount of time. He hadn't wanted to get in the way of dinner, and had tried to keep his questions at a minimum. Should we invite this person? Leave off so-and-so? He'd taken the list back to the office, and emailed Abby the contact information she'd asked for, along with the names of the fortunate, or not-so-fortunate, depending on how you looked at it, of those who would be invited to the house after the ceremony.

Then Terry hurried to get dressed for their six o'clock appointment with Carol.

"Maddie," he called to the office bathroom, "are you paying attention to the time?"


He wondered what she was doing in there. Wrapping more surprises? Surely, the things she'd bought that day were for herself. He sure hoped they were.

That reminded him-- Terry moved to the living room, and found John in his recliner, staring hard at the ceiling. "Am I interrupting?" Terry asked.

Smiling, John closed his footrest.

"I need to ask a favor."

"This is the day for it."

"Izzy has the receipts for today's shopping--"

"I'll handle your finances until the wedding," John nodded.

Terry frowned. "How did you know what I wanted?"

"How's the reception list coming?"

"Abby has it."

"Good. Good," John sounded far off, as though he wasn't in the room. "I'm impressed. She means business."

"Who? You mean Abby?" Terry blinked at John, as John climbed from the chair. "You aren't making much sense. But then, you look about as tired as I feel."

John gave him a woeful look. "I hope not, because you look terrible."

The men grinned.

A moment later, Izzy's call to dinner set the house in motion, and Terry went to make sure the munchkins were washing their hands.

* * * *

The evening passed without much happening, despite Terry forgetting that Carol would split their sessions. It meant he'd had to wait in the empty reception area, whittling his time away with the new Hoppin' Froggies app on his smartphone, but he hadn't minded. Maddie was getting the help she needed, and that was all he cared about. When he could join them in the office, he didn't waste time with small talk.

He wanted to know what he could do to help Maddie when she felt the need to hurt herself.

"All those verses on the wall means she's putting up a fight, and I want to make sure I'm doing my part to help," he explained. "What can I do to help her?"

Carol nodded, and the rest of the session was spent in discussion on that very matter. When it was over, Terry came away encouraged that he was supporting Maddie. Though it was her fight, it was his as well, because they were doing this together, even though at times he felt he was walking in the dark.

That night, Terry's thoughts kept him awake long after the house had gone to bed. He watched Maddie from his couch, the way she clung to her blankets in her dreams, the small murmurs that made him wonder if he should wake her before they turned ugly. Their love meant he had to not only give her to the Lord once, but daily. He wasn't God, he couldn't watch over her twenty-four seven. He couldn't keep her heart from remembering past wounds, he couldn't heal them, he couldn't will her happy. He was just a man, and not a very good one at that. Anything good that could come from this relationship had to come from God, for there was none good but Him. All good gifts came from Him, and love was most definitely at the top. Whether it came in the form of nail prints that wiped away a lifetime of sin, or the tender heart of Maddie, all good gifts came from the same place.

This was just another day, and once more, Terry had to give her to the Lord. He could pray with Carol and Maddie, talk with them, try as hard as he humanly knew how to do everything he could, but it wasn't until he talked with God, that Terry found he could close his eyes and find sleep.

* * * *

Early Friday morning, Madison waited on the living room couch with her notebook. She was the first to get up, even before Izzy. The house sat quiet, waiting for the day to start. Madison went over some verses in her notebook, trying to memorize them word for word, until the door at the end of the hall opened and John came padding in with his laptop.

Like her, he was dressed for the day, though he looked like he could've used a little more sleep. She smiled at him, moved her feet off the couch so he could sit next to her.

"When I texted you, I said to meet me here before breakfast, not to stay up all night." He gave her a good-humored smile as he opened his laptop. "Were you able to get up without waking Terry?"

She nodded as John moved the cursor on the screen, tapped the trackpad, and brought up a website. Personal computers were new to her, but after having played with Terry's iPhone, they made a little more sense to her than before. The idea of a web browser didn't seem as foreign, though she was still thrown by the words that went with it-- URL, link, website. App, though, she had down pat. She watched as John tapped, brought up a browser, tracked the cursor to some text and tapped again.

"I looked into what we talked about last night, and this is what I came up with." John turned the laptop a little, glanced at the hall, then smiled at Madison. "You'll be too late for trout season, but there's always hookless casting, and Terry loves to practice almost as much as Abby does-- especially when it's in a place he's never been before." John grinned broadly. "Terry would love this." Photos of solitary people standing in the water in tall boots and heavy pants scrolled past Madison. "These were taken in the Catskills, near Roscoe-- which, by the way, is called 'Trout Town, USA.' And for good reason." John went on to explain how two rivers came together to make for some good fishing, but Madison didn't understand very much.

"Terry's never been there before?"

"No-- well, yes, but not for very long. We didn't have our gear with us, and it drove us bananas." John confided in an even lower whisper, "The trout were begging for it." He gave a pained look, and went on. "We've been meaning to take a trip down there for years, but haven't had the time to do the place justice. Though I'm not into fly fishing, I can appreciate its history, and the mother of all fly fishing museums is there, too." John tapped the screen. "If Terry had a dream vacation, that would be it."

Madison looked at all the trees, the rocks and water, the hands holding slacked jawed fish. It was about what she'd expected when she'd told John she wanted to go fishing with Terry.

"While this place is a good idea--" John leaned back and looked philosophical, his gray eyes flicking to the hall-- "I can see a few problems ahead. Mainly, you. By your smile, I take it when you said you wanted to go fishing, you meant you'd watch. But that still leaves us with Terry. Once he finds out what you're up to, you're about as likely to get him out there, as a cat is to volunteer for a bath."

"Why not?"

"He knows you won't have a good time." John closed his laptop. "Listen, Terry loves to fly fish-- I can't think of any other pastime he loves more, but as sure as I'm sitting here, Terry would no sooner haul you out there on your honeymoon, than I would Izumi." John folded his arms and smiled at Madison. "My wife isn't the bait and tackle type, and if you don't mind my saying so, neither are you."

Madison didn't mind. Being compared to Izzy was a compliment.

John shook his head. "Do you have any other ideas?"

"That was it."

"Well, you can't stay in Three Mile Bay." John looked about the living room. "I mean, you're welcome to, of course, but sharing your honeymoon with another couple and three little kids isn't exactly what I'd call romantic." He shot Madison a wry smile. "Not that I'm a very good judge."

"You're not giving up, are you?"

"Look, I don't know how long I'm going to be able to keep this from Izumi. Besides the fact she and I don't like to keep things from one another, she'll catch onto the fact I'm up to something pretty quick. As for Terry-- just how much of this do you want me to keep from him? Is absolutely everything a secret, or just part of it?"

"You can tell Izzy."

"All of it?"

Madison nodded. "Please ask her not to tell anyone else?"

"You got it. As for Terry?"

A door opened in the hall and Madison quickly whispered in John's ear. He nodded, smiled, and opened his laptop as Terry shuffled his way into the living room in his pajamas.

"Are you guys up already?" Terry's hair was flat on one side, and his eyes were out of whack. He moved to the recliner, slumped into the seat and yawned. "I had to use the bathroom, and when I saw the other couch was empty, I thought I'd see what was so important that you had to get up at five in the morning for."

"Actually, I think she got up earlier than that." John worked his laptop as Madison tried not to watch. John smiled, looked up at Terry a moment as he typed something. "Madison has asked me to help plan your honeymoon."

"You're kidding." Terry frowned. "You are, aren't you?"

"No--" John slanted him a look-- "I'm not."

Terry gave Madison a kind, considerate look, and kept quiet.

John grinned. "I'll remember that vote of confidence when I'm spending your money."

With a chuckle, Terry pushed up from the recliner. "I take it you've been sworn to secrecy?" He nodded when John smiled. "Fair enough. As long as I'm here, is there any coffee?"

"I'll get it." Madison went to the kitchen, got out Terry's smiley mug as Terry came to the doorway, and watched. "Thanks, Terry."

"For what?" Terry inhaled as though a burden had been lifted off of him. "You could've saved yourself some grief yesterday, and told me what all those bags were about. You were just shopping for the honeymoon." He stretched with a smile. "Whatever you and John are planning, try to enjoy it, Maddie." He took his mug, and gave her a kiss in return. "It's okay to relax. We already agreed what to expect from each other. As long as I have my honey with me, and there's a moon, that's all that's required."

She smiled, and hugged Terry's shoulder as he sipped his coffee.

"Thanks for this, Maddie. It's just what I needed." A deep sigh rumbled through him as the scent of French roast filled the air around Madison.

In that quiet, still moment, she closed her eyes and enjoyed the simple pleasure of just being with Terry.

* * * *

The next few days were special for Madison. When Pastor Bill came to talk with them about the wedding, Madison shared with him her long wished-for desire of being baptized. Now that she was free from the Dragon, and had more courage, things that hadn't been possible before, were opening before her like an unfolding flower. Madison went down the very next Sunday, and was baptized in front of the entire congregation, with Terry quietly cheering her on from their pew. Pastor Bill made her feel so safe when he dunked her beneath the water, that by the time it was over, and she was back in dry clothes and at Terry's side, Bill had won a lifelong friend.

Then the week kicked into high gear, and wedding talk was everywhere in the house. With the exception of Tyler, who according to his mother was expected to move back to Three Mile Bay, but had yet to show up, Abby had confirmed everyone on her guest list. Things were picking up.

To Madison's surprise, Abby's boss, Dennis Beckman, would be flying out from San Diego for the wedding. Madison figured this Mr. Beckman must have been a very good friend for him to do such a thing, and that thought was confirmed when Jake moved his easel and studio in the little yellow house to make more room; it turned out Jake had offered their couch to Dennis for the weekend, and Dennis had accepted. Madison had guests coming, too-- Tim and his family would be driving in from Syracuse, and that meant getting Terry's apartment ready. The storage room was cleared out, its contents taken to a self-storage facility that Terry and John shared. Madison helped all she could with the lighter boxes, and when Terry and John put in the beds for the girls, Madison stayed away, and cleaned the kitchen downstairs.

All through the work, Madison kept praying about the honeymoon.

The next morning, John ushered her into the office and closed the door. He pulled a second chair over to his desk.

"Do you have any other ideas yet-- anything else you'd rather do?" John asked, as they sat down.

Madison shook her head. "I just want Terry to be happy."

"I was afraid you'd say that." John turned his laptop to her and pointed at the screen. "I figure the best way to make Terry happy, is to convince him that this honeymoon wasn't planned for him only. No pup tent, not even a quaint country inn with a clawfoot tub and potbelly stove. Terry will want more, if he's going to leave you to fly fish. That means we'll have to go all out on the accommodations."

"We don't have to do that." Madison frowned. "What's a potbelly stove?"

"They're pretty handy to have around in the winter, but back to this." John pointed to the screen. "This place is called The Pembroke. I've never seen it in person, but according to the reviews, it's supposed to have some of the best accommodations around. It's rustic, but sophisticated, extensive hiking trails, but with a spa to work the knots out of your muscles at the end of the day. You get the drift." John scrolled through the classy graphics. "Since the bedroom will be a problem for you, I'd recommend the two story, Monarch Suite. You'll need the space to sleep downstairs." When she looked at John, John pointed to the pictures. "Despite the grand name, it's not a huge suite. From the photo, I think there's enough room on the floor to make a bed. What do you think?"

The taste of blood in Madison's mouth made her sit straight. "What about Terry?"

"If you stay at The Pembroke, it'd be a close enough drive to Roscoe, Terry could get in some fly casting, and even take in that museum." John put an elbow on his desk, tapped a link and loaded another page. "There's information here about the local fly fishing areas near the resort-- and they're impressive-- but personally, I'd go with Roscoe."

"Then we should do it."

"Okay, then I'll see what we can get."

The uncertainty in John's statement had Madison tasting blood again. He meant it was short notice for a popular place and they might not get anything. John picked up his phone and Madison went to the kitchen to clean the stove. As she scrubbed and polished, she kept her thoughts from what was going on in the office.

Someone came to the doorway and she looked up. It was Terry. She went back to work.

"Don't hurt yourself, Maddie. That stove can't fight back, you know." Terry said it with a smile in his voice, but she didn't look up. "What's wrong? Is all this wedding stuff finally getting to you?"

"What do you mean, finally?"

"I mean, you've been under a lot of pressure. It's understandable if you need a break."

"I'm fine." She kept scrubbing, and a little while later, paused as John looked over Terry's shoulder into the kitchen.

John shook his head.

She nodded that she understood, and Terry looked around to see who she was looking at.

"What's going on?" Terry asked.

"Nothing," John sighed. He left, and Madison went back to her scrubbing.

It was disappointing, but there were other resorts, other inns. This would not stop their honeymoon.

"Do you want me to clean that for you?" Terry offered, stepping close to her. He gently put his hand over hers, and she realized she was shaking.

She leaned into Terry, and he held her. He didn't make her feel small, tell her she was doing it all wrong, or laugh at her for not being able to handle everything at the same time. He simply held her until her hands no longer shook, and she felt calmer, then he let her go and she finished the stove on her own while he made tea. She smiled at Terry. Even though these had been small things, she and Terry had worked together well.

Going into the living room, Madison snuggled on the couch with her chamomile tea while Terry went to the office. He came back a moment later, and joined her.

"John is on the phone and he waved me out." Terry crossed his ankles. He wanted to ask about the honeymoon, what John was doing-- Madison could feel it. Instead, he drank his tea and waited for the door to open.

She was doing the same thing.

On the floor by Madison's feet, Lizzie sat with a picture book and a stuffed frog. When John came out, even Lizzie looked up at him expectantly.

"Madison? Could you come into the office?" John waited as Madison got up from the couch. His face was unreadable as he showed her inside. "I need to talk to you," he whispered.

She took a seat beside John's desk, and kept her mug from spilling by drinking a little more off the top. When sweetened with stevia, chamomile was one of those things that tasted as wonderful as it smelled, and her toes curled with contentment. She was relaxed and happy, no matter what John had to tell her.

"I've been looking at other places-- but you've probably guessed that." John straightened his rolly chair and sat down. "The Pembroke is one of the best, so I gave them another shot. Instead of talking with a booking agent, I tried the direct approach and called Pembroke's front desk. While I was on the phone, I was told someone might have just cancelled, and to give her a moment while she checked." John grinned. "Guess who'll be staying there, after all?"

"Me and Terry?"

"No, some couple from Michigan. Yes, you and Terry. I snapped it up the instant she said it was available."

Madison fought to not bite herself.

"This suite isn't the Monarch, it's--" John looked at his notepad-- "the Empire, and it has a loft instead of a full second story. But, hey, it's still not bad for roughing it in the Catskills, right?"

Madison nodded. "How long?"

"Five days, and five nights." John paused as that sank in. "Are you good with that? I didn't have time to run it by you, but you'd said you wanted a few days together."

She took a breath, and nodded, "yes."

"Now we can move on to more important things," John grinned. "I think I can do it on my own, but we're running short on time, and we could use some advice if you want Terry to love this. I mean, really, love this. Is it okay if I bring in an expert? if I swear her to secrecy?"

"Bring her in."

"Do you think you can spare today?" John glanced at the time. "We have a lot of work to do, and we need to get started."

"I have to check with Izzy first, but I think I can take today off."

"Then you'd better get your coat, because whether or not our expert can get away, we're going to spend more of Terry's hard-earned cash."

It took a moment for Madison to find Izzy and ask if they were having their dress alterations that day, or tomorrow. They had so much going on, it was hard to keep it all straight. When Izzy wasn't sure, Madison had to get out her notebook and look up their schedule. By the time the women had gotten everything worked out, John was waiting in the living room, talking with Terry.

"AJ and I will take good care of her," John was saying, as Madison came from the hall. "There you are. Are you squared away with Izumi?"

Nodding "yes," Madison pulled on her coat, and Terry came over and helped her. "What about Ricky?" she asked, for she'd known all along who their expert was, though it surprised her that Jake was coming.

"They're bringing him over," John said, as he checked his phone. "We should be able to get everything we need without going too far. If I think we're going to run late, Terry, I'll let you know."

"Thanks, I appreciate it." Terry zipped up Madison's coat. "Did you take your painkiller?"

She smiled, and gave Terry a hug as the front door opened and the Murphy's spilled inside. Abby's smile was larger than any picture Madison had seen of the Grand Canyon, though Jake looked more subdued. The triplets came down the hall with Izzy, and Ricky went to greet them with the toys he'd brought. The fact they were trucks and boats didn't seem to phase them, and they quickly pulled him into their play.

"Thanks for watching Ricky," Abby smiled. "Is everyone ready?"

Though Terry gave them curious looks, he kissed Madison, and let her go without asking the question she knew he was thinking. She loved him for it.

* * * *

Though Terry had some suspicions, he tried not to dwell on them. Just because Abby had looked like she was about to go Christmas shopping, didn't mean a thing. Terry knew better. Maddie didn't have a fishing license, and while she could enjoy fish, she'd never really touched one while it was still moving. No, he had to take a big picture view of things. He had to consider why Madison had enlisted John, and that didn't necessarily have to do with anything that Abby might consider Christmas. Izzy and the others had their hands full with the other aspects of the wedding, so John could have been a logical choice for hotel reservations and travel plans. It didn't matter that Terry thought his buddy was sometimes about as romantic as a roadkill skunk, if John put his mind to it, he could put together a honeymoon that Maddie might enjoy. Terry had faith in him. Really.

And even if things were less than desirable on their honeymoon, at least Maddie had asked for help, and it had been given. For that, Terry was truly grateful.

The more Terry thought about it, the more sure he was that John wouldn't be planning anything too fun. Though Terry thought fondly of the tent and sleeping bags in the garage, he was bracing himself for room service.

* * * *

When Madison came home with John, it was a little before dinner. Terry greeted them at the door, then looked about and asked where Abby and Jake were.

"They went home. Where this little guy is going," John said, nodding to Ricky. "Get your things, your daddy said he'll have dinner ready in about ten minutes. Hot dogs," John added, when Ricky looked at him expectantly.

That put some urgency into Ricky, and the boy was soon out the door with his grandpa.

"How'd it go?" Terry asked, as Madison eased herself onto the couch. He took her coat, and she could tell he was trying hard to not ask too much. "You look worn out."

"We did so much walking, my feet hurt," she admitted.

"How's your hip?"

"It's okay. I took more painkiller in the store." Madison curled onto her side, just glad to be home again.

"Is this the last outing before the wedding?"

"I think this is the last big one. It's okay, Terry, I wanted this."

He stood over her a moment, then started for the hall with her coat and purse. When he came back, he covered her with a small blanket, and she smiled at him, and closed her eyes. They'd taken everything they'd bought to AJ's house, and now Madison could rest. All those aisles... it had been such a huge store. Madison pulled the blanket tight, and drifted off as Izzy came in and called everyone to dinner.

Madison couldn't hear her, for she was already fast asleep.

* * * *

At last, Friday dawned bright and early. The munchkins didn't have preschool today-- a mixed blessing for a house already charged with excitement. Abby and Jake were picking Dennis up at the airport this morning, and Ricky was here, doing his best to keep up with his aunts. They ran in the hall, playing games at the top of their voices and feeding off the excitement, and Terry and the others didn't have the time or the energy to shush them.

The wedding was tomorrow, and for some reason, Terry was feeling nervous. It was silly, for he'd already pledged himself to Maddie before God and man, but something in the air felt different. He'd seen it in Maddie's face over the breakfast table, and even now, as he made his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth, he had the feeling that tomorrow was going to change his life. Which didn't make sense, for he was already married. Terry wet his toothbrush, squeezed out some paste, then started in on his pearly whites when his eyes fell on the row of verses Maddie had taped beside the bathroom mirror.

She'd added a new one this morning, one that stopped Terry's heart as he read her uneven handwriting:

"A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts." Song of Solomon 1:13

He choked on the toothpaste, spit it out, and stared into the sink. It was just a verse, a promise she had put up. To help her. As the room began to spin, Terry grabbed the hand towel and wiped the paste from his mouth. He moved to the bedroom, sat on a couch and put his head between his knees. From the corner of his vision, he saw John pass by the open bedroom door, then come back.

"Hey, you feeling all right?"

Terry lifted a hand to signal he was okay. He knew he wasn't inspiring much confidence with his head between his knees, but it wasn't entirely his doing. He didn't understand what that verse had to do with Maddie, but she had to be more careful where she put her notes. Didn't she know he had to use that bathroom, too? He refused, absolutely refused to think about what Maddie had written. It worked against everything Terry had purposed within himself.

Blowing out a breath, Terry got to his feet, squared his shoulders, and went in there to brush his teeth.

He shaved, moved into the bedroom for his clothes and found Maddie making their couches.

"Did Tim say he'd call before he left Syracuse?" Terry pulled socks from the dresser, put on his wedding band and noticed Maddie wasn't answering. "Honey? Is Tim going to call?"

Maddie nodded without looking up.

"The apartment is ready for them, right down to clean sheets on the beds. Did you and Izzy ever get around to putting any food in the fridge?"

Another quiet nod from Maddie.

"I was thinking we'd go to my place and be there to meet them when they got in. What do you think?" As Terry moved around the couch to the bathroom with his clothes, Maddie looked up at him. "Try to relax, okay? You're going to have a good time at the party. Just wait and see if you don't."

She sent him a pretty look that made his heart summersault and fall all over itself.

He went into the bathroom and shut the door. His heart raced. Forcing his mind away from the verse taped beside the mirror, Terry changed out of his pajamas. This party would be good for them. They needed to get out of the house, away from this bathroom. They needed a change of scenery, and they needed it bad.

Avoiding the mirror, he fled to the office until it was time to leave.

* * * *

He'd seen it. She was sure he had. The look on his face had told her he had. But it hadn't gone according to plan. He hadn't acted the way she thought he would. He was supposed to ask her about it, and she was supposed to give her little speech. Instead, he'd asked about Tim, talked about the party.

But nothing about Song of Solomon 1:13. And she'd picked out that verse so carefully.

Madison sank onto her couch. She'd been praying she wouldn't have to find the courage to do this another way. She was running out of time though. They were getting married tomorrow. They were already married, but that wasn't the point. Their reservations began tomorrow, and her insides shivered whenever she thought about it. She didn't know how she'd managed to make it this far, let alone found the courage to tape that verse next to the bathroom mirror. And he hadn't said a word. Not a single word.

A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away before someone noticed. Terry had left the bedroom door open and the kids were running around as though someone had fed them a bagful of jelly beans.

She needed to check on everything in the office bathroom one more time, just to make sure she hadn't messed up. As she passed through the office, she saw Terry trying not to watch her. He turned his chair away from the bathroom as she ducked inside. And there it was, in all it's glory. Her wedding dress. They'd had a small wedding rehearsal at the church that week-- nothing big, but enough for all the moving pieces of the ceremony to know what they were supposed to do. Madison's suitcase was mostly packed. Terry's was, too, he just didn't know it. She had to keep breathing.

She went over what she would wear for the party one more time, wondered if she would change her mind at the last minute and just wear a shirt and jeans, then left to go help Izzy get the house ready for tomorrow.

The last thing she wanted to do was sit still. Keep moving, keep praying her promises, and don't sit still.

* * * *

A few hours after lunch, Terry got a call from Tim that they were leaving Syracuse. Tim's boss had given him permission to get off from work early that day, and everyone had been loaded into the family minivan for the drive to Three Mile Bay. From the noisy sounds in the background, Tim's family was excited to come, right down to Baby Connie, and Terry was more than happy to have them.

"You have the directions to my place, so we'll meet you there."

"We'll see you." Tim's smile sounded in his voice, and when they hung up, Terry went to get Maddie.

"They're on their way," Terry called to the bathroom at a fast walk. He rounded the couch, stuck his head in the bathroom and saw Izzy working on Maddie's face. "What are you doing to her?"

"Izzy's helping me to put on my makeup." Maddie waved him back without moving her face. "I'm not ready for you to see me yet-- go away."

"You're coming with me to meet Tim though, aren't you?" Terry waited as Izzy applied eyeshadow. "Maddie?"

"I'll be there, just not right now. It's a long drive from Syracuse, so we have plenty of time." Maddie sounded so insistent, so in control, it flustered Terry.

He sighed, left the bathroom, went to the office and plopped down at his desk while John read from his laptop. Terry figured he might as well get ready for the party, too. If they went to meet the O'Briens, and he and Maddie stayed there long enough, they would have to head straight over to Dick's place. He'd better get ready now.

Moving past the munchkins in the hall, Terry went to change into a good pair of slacks and a long sleeved shirt.

* * * *

"Hold still." Izzy's mint scented breath fanned Madison as the lip liner went on, making it hard for Madison not to smile. A little lipstick, a light blush dusted over her cheeks, then the makeup was over and Izzy began Madison's hair. "Up or down?"

"Down." Madison held still and watched in the mirror as her hair was styled into lightly tousled waves. It was more attention than her hair had ever had, and when it was over, Izzy waited for a verdict.

"Well, what do you think?"

"I like it. I look like me, only better."

"This is just a light frosting." Izzy smiled as she put Madison's makeup away. "When you have your hair done tomorrow, I'm pretty sure Maxine will have a few more tips on how to do this better. We don't have a makeup artist in Three Mile Bay, but after Maxine and I are done with you, you won't need one." Izzy's smile was confident. "We'd better hurry. Something tells me Terry is waiting."

"Izzy? Do I... do you think I look normal?"

"I'd be lying if I said you did. I think you're exceptional. That's what I think, and exceptional doesn't happen all the time. Come on, let's see how the dress looks on you."

The dark gold and light blue leaf patterned dress came to Madison's knees, the crisp, cool colors reminding her of the time between late fall and early winter. It belted around her waist in black leather, and had a sleeveless, high V-neck that complimented her figure. As Madison stood before the mirror in her makeup and new party dress, she felt strange. Like she was truly showing her butterfly wings for the very first time. Not just a picture on a T-shirt, but the real thing.

Madison put on a matching button up sweater that she kept open, put on the low heel dress pumps she'd bought to go with the outfit, picked up her new clutch handbag, then asked Izzy to look her over.

"You're ready," Izzy nodded. Only two words, and yet they gave Madison so much courage.

She hugged Izzy, then smiling, went to find Terry.

"Aunt Madison, is that you?" Ruthie sat up in the hallway as Madison picked her way through the toys and munchkins. "How did you do that?"

"Your mom helped me." Madison started for the office door, paused, took a deep breath, and stepped inside.

* * * *

It was getting late. No matter how many times Terry checked his watch, it kept getting later. He'd wanted to be there well before Tim arrived, so they needed to leave. It was hard to wait with so much going on around him, and Terry struggled to do anything but stare at the time. He skimmed a news website, and looked over at John when John cleared his throat.


John nodded to the door.

Terry looked over, and his heart squeezed in his chest. "Maddie?"

"Do you like it?" she asked, and stepped closer. "It's new."

He nodded dumbly. It sure was.

"Well?" She looked down at her dress, the stylish purse in her hand. "I can take it back if you don't like it."

"It's... it's fine." Terry reminded himself to breathe. The room was swimming around him, but the dress, the hair, the makeup, was fine. She was confusing the daylights out of him, but the dress was fine. Not wanting to make an idiot of himself in front of John, Terry pushed out of the chair, carefully moved around Madison, and went to their room to get their coats. "You ready to leave?" he called back to the office. When she didn't answer, he went back and looked inside. "Maddie?"

She was still facing his desk, and when she turned, he saw wet pooling in her eyes.

"Oh, Maddie--" he went to her and pulled her into a hug. "Don't cry, please, don't cry. You'll ruin your mascara."

"You don't like it, anyway."

"I like it fine." He squeezed her, and tried hard to not think about how much he needed to feel her beside him. "I like you. I like everything about you. The dress is wonderful, and you look wonderful in it." He closed his eyes and steadied himself, willing himself to place her needs before his. "I love you."

"I love you, too." She sniffed, and he took out a clean handkerchief. "We need to talk, Terry."

He nodded. "Outside. We can talk in the jeep." Terry helped her into her coat, and he nodded to John. As they moved into the hall, he saw Izzy. He tried to say something, but Izzy coaxed them out, and Terry was grateful for the silence.

A strong afternoon sun burned with not a cloud in the sky as Terry walked hand in hand with Maddie out to the garage. He didn't dare let her go until he had to, and even then it was only to open the garage door. He unlocked the jeep, helped her inside, and noticed her shoes for the first time. No sneakers. She was wearing sheer pantyhose, stylish low heels, and it all put a lump in his throat.

Leaving the garage door open, he pulled away from the house and got onto the main road with no intention whatever of going to his apartment. He'd noticed Abby's truck pulling up as he left, but hadn't stopped to say "hi" to Dennis. Terry simply pointed his truck away from the house, and drove, and neither one said a word for a full ten minutes.


"I'm listening."

"Did you bring your iPhone?"

He tugged it out of his pocket, and handed it to Maddie. "I'm trying, Maddie. I really am."

"Could you pull over somewhere safe?"

"What? Now?" He looked at her, and she nodded. "Why not?" he shrugged. He pulled onto a dirt road, and parked beside some trees so they couldn't be gawked at by everyone in Three Mile Bay who happened by. He turned off the engine, sat there, and stared out the window as Maddie held onto his phone. Lake Ontario glistened before them like a shimmering blanket.

"Terry, I need you to read something."

"What?" He rubbed his forehead, stopped as she handed him back his phone. "What's this?" he asked. At the top of the screen, he saw, "Madison, Highly Personal." He looked at her. "Are you sure you want me to read this?"

She was white as a sheet, and trembling like she was drying in the wind, but she nodded, "yes." She hugged herself. "It's a list-- a list of things I can't ever let happen to me again." She started to cry, and when Terry squeezed her shoulder to comfort her, she shook her head. "Don't-- please. Just read it, and put a mark beside the ones you agree to."

He had a sinking feeling about this. What was this? A list of things they could and couldn't do? He was almost afraid to look. He knew it had to have taken Maddie a lot to write this, and even more to put it into his hands. He also knew he had told her before they married that intimacy would go at her speed, not his. He had meant every word. Whatever it cost him, he would do all he could to make this relationship work.

"Do you mind if I take a walk?" He looked at her, and saw she didn't mind. "I won't go far." Terry popped open the driver's side door, and got out. The air breathed strength into him.

He prayed, then started walking.

The first item on the list brought tears to his eyes. Reading this wasn't going to be for the faint of heart. No foreign objects. The phone was trembling now. As his eyes ran over her words, everything blurred. He moved behind a tree so no one could see him, and wept.

* * * *

Over and over, Madison kept praying the verses she'd memorized. He loved her. She knew him, she knew Terry, there was a high likelihood he would agree to everything on that list. Even so, she didn't know what normal looked like. What if normal meant something on that list that Terry had wanted?

When the phone in her purse sounded, Madison was so tightly wound up inside, she nearly wet herself.

"Maddie?" Terry's voice cracked over the phone. "Was a mark supposed to confirm yes, if I will, or yes, if I won't?"

Squeezing her eyes shut, Madison lightly pounded her head and tried to speak each word as plainly as possible. "If you agree not to do that, then put a mark next to it."

"Okay, got it." Terry hung up, and she prayed God would help her.

A few minutes later, she saw Terry walking back to the jeep. He climbed inside, handed her the phone, and shut the door. Though his eyes were red, she could tell he still loved her.

"Please tell me you never thought I could do any of those things to you."

"I was hoping-- I knew you wouldn't."

Terry was quiet. He looked thoughtful, and she waited for the next question to come.

"Aren't you going to ask me why I made my list?"

He shook his head. "You needed to write it, just as much as you needed me to read it, so we knew where we stood. I get it." He looked at the phone. "Aren't you going to read my answers?"

"I already know you marked every one of them, so I don't need to."

He smiled. "Thanks for that. You can look, though. I added something that I thought should be there."

Curious, she scrolled to the bottom and read what Terry had added. She covered her mouth, this time unable to stop the tears from coming.

"I know what that's like, because it's happened to me. It's painful, it's degrading, and I know by reading everything else, that it's had to have happened to you." Terry's voice broke. "I will never, ever, do that to you. You have my word."

"Thank you, Terry. Thank you. This means so much to me. Thank you for understanding." Madison locked hands with him, and gazed at her ugly list, now the most beautiful in the world.

"Could I ask you something? before we go to meet your brother?" Terry sniffed, his eyes focused on the dashboard, and not on her. "That verse you put by the bathroom mirror-- it wasn't by accident, was it."

"That's not a question."

He looked at her, and she squeezed his hand.

He nodded, his smile slipping into a brief sob before he let go and started the engine. "Okay. All right, then." She saw him wipe his eyes, heard him suck in air, as though he needed the oxygen as much as she did. "You've given me notice. From here on out, I won't feel as bad about seeing you look this pretty. In fact, with your permission, I'm going to let myself enjoy it a little." He looked at her, and she nodded an emphatic, "yes!"

She hoped Terry was paying attention. If he wasn't, she would have to do this the hard way.

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."
~ Hebrews 13:3 ~

end of chapter