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Chapter Forty-one
Our Brave Romance

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
~ Amos 3:3 ~

He had to think. He hadn't gotten this far in their marriage by letting his passions rule him. She was putting him on notice, but a cool mind was better than a distracted one, and he fought to remember that. Still, this was big. What had just happened between them was big, and it sucked the air out of that jeep even though he tried to keep breathing. Her timing. It unnerved him. That highly personal list, the verse to put him on notice.

All happening right before their honeymoon.

He tried to play it down, but she couldn't have done more to get his attention if she'd stood in the middle of the road and waved a big white flag. She was surrendering herself, she was trusting him to do the right thing.

His heart began to race, and he gripped the steering wheel.

He tried to force a relaxed calm into his veins, one he didn't feel but needed desperately. Wiping his eyes, he struggled back thoughts of what he'd do if he spiraled into a flashback when he was holding her close, thoughts of his own abuse, and the risk of making things worse for Maddie if he broke down when she needed him most. This came at him in rapid-fire thought, and it was all he could do to keep from pulling over and taking several deep breaths. She was counting on him so heavily.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the timing was just a strangely bizarre coincidence. Maybe she wasn't putting him on notice at all, and she'd been too embarrassed to tell him that he'd misread her signals. He tried to remember her face. She'd nodded that it was okay, she'd even squeezed his hand, but what if he was reading more into it than he should? After all, what did he know about women?

He was new to this.

Doubt, even a tiny margin of it, gave him anguish, but it also gave relief. He kept doubt in the back of his mind and decided that this one time, it was a healthy thing. He could be mistaken. And even if he wasn't, that didn't mean anything had to happen soon. They had already agreed about the nature of their honeymoon, and until he found out otherwise, and had agreed to it, he would assume nothing had changed. So far it hadn't, right? There. He felt better now. In a painfully agonizing sort of way that really didn't make him feel good at all. When he thought about it.

With a happy little sigh, Maddie smiled at him, and Terry's heart ran away in complete and total bliss. He groaned. It meant he had to start all over again, and remind himself of why he was doubting her timing.

And he was determined to doubt it.

As the apartment complex came into view, Terry searched the parking lot for Tim's minivan.

"I don't see them." Maddie turned and looked at Terry, and he remembered his doubt. "Your ears are turning red."

"They are?" Terry pulled into his parking space, checked the mirror as he shut off the engine. "It's nice weather we're having, isn't it? I'm glad it's not raining."

"Why are your ears doing that?"

"Maddie-- the weather."

"It's not raining," she agreed. "You're not embarrassed, are you?"

"I hope the rain stays away so it won't spoil our wedding, tomorrow. And rain won't help our wedding photos any."

"You are. You're embarrassed."

"Are we going to change the subject, or not?"

"I don't see why. I'm the one with all the problems, not you." Maddie looked out her window, as if trying to not make him any more self-conscious than she already had. "I was the one with the list. You don't have anything to be embarrassed about."

"Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but it's not helping. My face is growing warmer, and your brother will be here any second." Terry pushed open the driver's side door. "I need air."

He felt her watch as he climbed outside.

"You can talk to me." She leaned forward in the seat and looked at him through the still open door. "Terry? If something's bothering you, you can talk to me about anything."

"Nothing's bothering me."

"You don't have to be embarrassed. I won't tell anyone what we talked about. Why would I, when they're my problems?"

"Maddie, I'm not embarrassed." Terry looked at her and wished he could will away the heat in his face. "I'm ashamed, all right?" He paced from the jeep, watched the street for the minivan, then looked back and saw Maddie's tearful face. "I meant me, not you. I could never be ashamed of you." He moved to the jeep, reached inside and touched her hand. "I meant me. I'm ashamed of myself."


With a groan, he leaned against the door as wind tugged at his open coat. He looked over the parking lot, hoping the minivan would show up so he wouldn't have to answer her.

"Why, Terry?"

"Because I'm not ready." He looked back at Maddie and wished he hadn't needed to say those words, for they gave him no relief. "I'm not positive what you've got planned for our honeymoon, but if it has anything to do with that note by the bathroom mirror, then it's happening a lot sooner than I was expecting." He tried for a shrug, but couldn't pull one off. "This whole thing is catching me by surprise. I always thought I'd be ready before you, that I had more time than this."

"Terry, what are you trying to tell me?"

He glanced away, unable to look her in the eye. "If you're going to try something during our honeymoon, I won't be ready."

"But, you're a man."

"What does that have to do with me having flashbacks?" He fought the shame, but knew he had to get this out. Maddie deserved an answer. "I need to be stronger for you, and I'm not. I wish I were." He paused. "I'm sorry it can't be now. I can't risk going into a flashback while we're together. I can't try until I'm ready, until I can handle the flashbacks on my own. You shouldn't have to deal with my abuser, at the same time you're fighting yours. You've been through enough."


"I don't want to be helpless while I'm holding you, okay?" Terry shook his head. "I need to be strong for you. I need a little more time. Just give me some time, and I'll be strong."

She looked at something behind him, and he turned to see a minivan pulling into the parking lot.

A horn tooted, and Terry waved to his brother-in-law.

"I love you, Terry."

He glanced at Maddie, turned back and smiled as the minivan pulled beside their jeep.

"You are strong. You're a lot stronger than you think."

"Please, not now." Terry prepared to smile as a vehicle door sounded, then a moment later, Tim came around the minivan's hood with a great big grin. Terry stepped forward to meet him. "Glad you could make it."

"We're glad to be here," Tim shook the offered hand and didn't turn down Terry's hug. "Is that my sister?" Tim looked over the roof of the jeep as Maddie climbed out. "That's amazing."

"Don't tell me she looks like her mother."

"She does-- she really does."

Terry kept quiet as Maddie went to hug her brother, too busy thanking God that at least Maddie's heart wasn't like her mom's. That was where the likeness ended. The outside was only the wrapper for the heart, for the things that come from the mouth, come from the heart-- the heart was what was important, what Terry treasured most.

The side door of the minivan slid open, and Paige and Madeline jumped out and rushed Maddie as though they hadn't seen her in years, and not since last week. While Tim helped his wife out, Connie cried and fussed as though the entire world had forgotten about her. Which it hadn't. Tim lifted the newborn out of her carrier, delivered her to her mom, then unstrapped the carrier from the back seat while the baby's aunt marveled over how much she'd grown since they'd last seen her.

"Thank you again for the newborn clothes," Karen smiled as she cradled her baby. "We've been having such a good time dressing her in those outfits."

"We're saving the really nice dress for the wedding," Paige added excitedly. "You look so stylish, Aunt Madison."

"Thank you." Maddie looked embarrassed, and Terry couldn't help but smile.

"Do you live here?" Madeline looked at the apartment complex as Terry helped Tim unload their things.

"We live somewhere else," Maddie smiled, "but it's Terry's apartment."

"I hope that means we won't be getting in anyone's way." Tim shouldered a diaper bag. "This probably sounds crazy, but getting away for even a weekend feels like a vacation to us. I can't remember the last time we've ever done something like this."

"You aren't in the way." Terry grinned as he unlocked the apartment door. "You're family. That means even if you were, it doesn't matter." Terry showed Tim into the living room, and Karen and the girls followed.

"You have a nice place." Tim stood looking about the room while Maddie hurried inside.

"Yoo-hoo." Lauren knocked on the open door as Maddie tucked herself beside Terry.

"Hi, Lauren." Terry invited her into the apartment. "Maddie's family just arrived. Thank you for staying alert in case we weren't here to let them in."

"It was my pleasure," she smiled brightly.

"Tim, this is Lauren Moore-- a good friend, and building superintendent."

As Terry introduced the O'Briens to Lauren, he sensed Lauren was pleased to finally satisfy some of her curiosity about where Maddie had come from. She was expert at getting information out of people, a fact Tim seemed to infer from her title. He clearly looked nervous as Lauren started her line of questioning, and Terry had to smile when Maddie changed the subject the first chance she had.

"The bedrooms are upstairs," Maddie told Karen. "Terry put a crib in the master bedroom, and there's a second room for Paige and Madeline. There's a full bath at the top of the stairs. Izzy and I made sure there's lots of towels."

"Is everything all right?" Lauren lowered her voice and looked at Maddie as though it obviously wasn't, and it annoyed Terry. "Do you need someone to talk to, because if you do, you know where to find me." When Maddie stared at her, as though she had absolutely no idea of what Lauren was talking about, Lauren turned her back to the others and whispered loud enough for Terry to overhear, "Your eyes are red, and so are Terry's. Have you been crying?"

"I-- I'm fine," Maddie stammered. "We both are."

"Did you say something about a crib?" Karen asked. When Maddie nodded, Karen gave the baby to Paige. "Would you mind showing me?" Karen smiled to Maddie, then slowly followed Maddie up the steps like someone who had recently given birth.

"Are the stairs too much for her?" Terry asked Tim. "Would she prefer to sleep down here on the couch?"

"Thanks, but our apartment is on the second floor." Tim watched as Paige carried Connie upstairs with the women. "It's not like Karen can avoid them. The doctor said to just take it easy, and to not go up and down several times a day."

Lauren looked to Terry. "Something is going on. Has the wedding been called off?"

The mere suggestion made Tim's mouth drop open.

"We're fine, thank you." Terry started up the stairs with the bag from Tim's minivan. "Are you and Ralph ready for the party?"

"Yes, but--"

"We're fine," Terry called, and headed for the master bedroom. Maddie was hanging back, unable to go in, but Terry smiled at her, and stepped inside while Karen admired the crib. "Once upon a time, that was my nephew's," he said, nodding to the small bed. "I was instructed to offer it to you guys, if you had a use for it. Izzy said we have a lot of baby things no one's using right now, so she's planning to talk to you about it this weekend. She said to give you a heads-up." Terry grinned when he saw Karen's surprise. "It's all in the family." He turned, and saw Tim standing behind him with the rest of the bags. "Go ahead and make yourself at home. The party won't start until--" Terry checked his watch. "Man, it's later than I thought. Dick will be expecting us in about an hour."

"Terry-- about you and my sister? Are you sure you're all right?" Tim blew out a sigh when Terry smiled, and patted him on the shoulder. "I thought my superintendent was a handful. I'd hate to meet your landlord."

"Actually, that would be me." Terry winced at the dazed look Tim was giving him. "I know, I need to get a life. I'm working on it." Terry smiled, but he felt the awkwardness mount when Tim kept staring, as though he didn't know what to make of his sister's husband. "It's not much-- not like the large spread where you guys live. I try to keep the housing affordable, the apartments maintained, and the few tenants I have happy." Terry shrugged. "It works out most of the time."

"You're probably the most remarkable person I've ever met."

Terry paused. "I don't know how to take that, so I won't," he decided, and headed for the hall. "I'm told there's food in the fridge, so help yourself. The directions to Dick's house are on the freezer door, but if we stay here long enough, you might as well follow us there."

"Lauren went home," Maddie said, as she joined Terry in the hall. "You are strong, Terry."


"Aunt Madison?" Madeline came running up the stairs. "When can we go fishing?"

"We're not here for that," Tim said from the bedroom. "You and Paige come get your bags so you can change for the party. We're leaving soon, and I don't want to be late."

"Terry--" Maddie tugged at his sleeve, then hushed her voice as the girls passed them in the hall-- "you won't make it worse for me."

He couldn't argue that, or anything else, while they were surrounded by family.

"Which bed is mine?" Paige asked, as the girls went to their room with small bags slung over their shoulders. "Can we sleep anywhere we want?"

"I get the bed by the window!"

Needing to get away, Terry headed for the stairs. Maddie turned from the girls' open bedroom door as they passed. The girls sounded excited, as though they were on vacation and loving every minute of their adventure.

At least someone was having a good time.

"I can help you," Maddie whispered. "Our honeymoon won't be so bad if we help each other. Please, Terry." She took his hand as they went into the living room. "I can help you-- I know I can."

"So you are planning something."

She bit her lip, and he fought the urge to kiss her.

"Are you mad?"

"Of course not. I'm just mad at myself for not being ready."

"How much time do you need?" she asked.

He looked at her. They weren't having this conversation, and yet, here they were. "I don't know," he shrugged, then wanted to take the shrug back, because she was dead serious and he wasn't trying to be flippant, "however long it takes to make sure I won't have a flashback."

"You won't ever know that-- not for sure." She leaned her head on his shoulder and caressed his arm. "It's all right. I understand."

He looked at her sweet face.

"I'm scared, too," she said quietly.

He swallowed, and looked back at the stairs.

"When my heart is overwhelmed," she whispered, and kissed his shoulder.

"Mom, I can't find my brush," sounded from upstairs.

"Use mine," came the answer.

A baby started to cry, and Terry closed his eyes as Tim began soothing Connie while Karen helped the other two girls. Upstairs sounded busy, while downstairs, Terry stood with Maddie, both quiet and trying to work out what they would do. He needed to think. It seemed he'd only just gotten his brain to work, when the phone in his pocket gave an impatient sound. Today was a difficult day to get away and think.

With a sigh, Terry checked his phone as Madeline came downstairs in blue jeans and a sweater. He smiled at the girl, then answered the call from Dick. Had Tim arrived? Did they have the directions to his house? While Terry talked to his friend, Maddie and Madeline went to the couch to wait while everyone got ready.

He wasn't ready, Terry didn't feel he was, but what was he supposed to do? let Maddie get hurt? He fisted a hand, tried to get through the conversation, when he saw Tim coming from the stairs with Connie cradled in his arms.

"Karen is helping Paige with her hair," Tim smiled at the couch. He looked to Terry, saw Terry was on the phone, and went to join the girls.

"It sounds like you have everything under control," Terry nodded, wishing he could say the same for himself. He thanked Dick for calling, hung up, and looked back at Maddie. Her hair. She'd done something different with her hair. Terry groaned, and pushed through to the dining area, then into the kitchen to get a glass of water.

She wasn't making this easy.

What if he went into a flashback? It could trigger one of her own and then she'd never want to try again. Had she thought about that? Had she?

He stared at the cupboard without opening it. Panic flushed through him, mixing with an eager sort of awareness that scared him. It made him feel ashamed, and yet he knew he had nothing to be ashamed about. Feelings from the past nudged their way into the present, and it took an all-out war on his part to keep from losing himself in his old room, the room where the bed creaked when it moved, and he could smell the sweat on the blankets. A time when his greatest thought wasn't what he'd get for Christmas, but when the hurt would go away.

Bypassing the cupboard, Terry turned on the kitchen faucet, splashed water on his face and tried to get his breathing under control.

"God, help me," he whispered into the sink.

The sound of footsteps made him straighten. He grabbed a towel and dried his face as someone cleared their throat.

"We're ready when you are." It was Tim.

"I'll be there in a second."

Tim was quiet, then Terry heard him leave.

A moment later, more footsteps, then Terry felt Maddie's presence at his side. He opened his eyes and saw her, concern showing in her lovely face. He tossed the towel away, then took her hand and breathed deep. He didn't say a word, and he still didn't know what he was going to do, but he felt stronger. He'd come a long way to get here, and God hadn't deserted him. God wouldn't desert him now.

"Have I told you how pretty you look?" Terry asked.

A tiny smile tugged at her mouth, so he kissed it, and she leaned into him and deepened the kiss. She usually let him do that, so it didn't surprise him at all when she was the first to pull away.

He felt dizzy, nowhere near able to think clearly.

She looked at him as though trying to see what he was thinking, and when he smiled, she bit her lip and looked shy.

"Maddie, I--"

"I'm strong, too," she whispered, and quickly left the kitchen.

He sucked in a breath, held it, then let it out slowly. Pushing away from the counter, he went after her, only to find her listening to something Karen was saying. He couldn't tell what the conversation was about, for he wasn't paying attention. His eyes were on Maddie.

Maddie bowed her head, then slid a look in Terry's direction. It was shy at first, then he saw her smile.

It was then he noticed Karen had stopped talking. He looked about, saw Karen was smiling in his general direction, then suddenly realized that everyone but the baby was smiling at him, as well. Terry looked back at Maddie. What? She pointed to her lips, then to Terry's. Still not understanding, he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his mouth. The light pink smudge made his face go warm. Tim grinned as he put on his coat, and no one said a word when Terry made sure he got off the rest of the lipstick.

That stuff was slightly dangerous.

Paige smiled at Terry as he stuffed the handkerchief back in his pocket.

Since everyone was putting on their coats, Terry went outside and unlocked the jeep. While no one looked, he did a quick check in the mirror. Man, if he had shown up to the party wearing Maddie's kiss... He turned as she stepped outside, and all thoughts of embarrassment faded away.

She smiled at him, and without needing to check, he knew he had on a stupid grin.

He shook his head as he opened the passenger door for Maddie. "What have I gotten myself into? I'm not only in over my head, I'm drowning. Maddie, you're killing me."

She looked alarmed, but he just smiled, and helped her into the jeep.

As he closed her door, he caught his reflection in the window. Sure enough, an idiot stared back. She was turning him into putty, right when he needed most to think clearly.

While Tim loaded his family into the minivan, Terry locked the apartment, then passed Karen the keys. When Terry came back to the jeep, Maddie had the sun visor down and was using the mirror to put on more lipstick. She glanced at him, but he looked away.

He wasn't going to say a word.

When Tim waved to him, Terry started his engine. The sun was setting on a long day, but it wasn't over yet. As Terry backed away from the apartment, he saw Tim's minivan following at a comfortable distance, and he pulled onto the street to start the drive to Dick and Sara's house. Maddie blotted her lips with some tissue, put the lipstick away, then closed her purse with a sigh. Deciding they needed something to fill the empty silence so neither one could talk, Terry turned on the radio. Though he wanted to talk to Maddie, he didn't trust what she'd say, or what he might say in response.


He turned down the news, but left it on.

"Do you want me to change back into my old clothes?"

"No, you're making progress."

"Too much progress? Am I going too fast for you?"

He smiled. "I'll deal with it."

She offered her hand, and he took it gladly. He checked the mirror and there was Tim, his headlights shining in the fading light.

If they were going to talk, it wouldn't be about them.

"Tim and Karen seemed to be doing well together, didn't you think?" Terry asked.

"I think they're trying not to do anything to mess up our wedding," Maddie answered. "Tim and Karen don't look like they're getting much sleep, and I'm guessing it's because of the baby, and Karen told me she's having problems nursing Connie. Added to that, Paige said Tim is worried about losing his job-- he didn't actually tell her that, but Paige overheard her parents talking about it. They're under a lot of stress right now."

Terry glanced at Maddie. "How come I didn't catch all that?"

"Because you have a lot on your mind."

"I know, but I feel rather selfish that I wasn't able to pick up on any of that. I don't have any firsthand experience with nursing problems--"

"Neither do I."

"And I don't have any accounting jobs open."

"Same here."

"But the least I can do is not be so self-absorbed in my own problems, that I can't be sympathetic."

"Then you won't spend the rest of the evening thinking about how to get out of our honeymoon?" Maddie's voice brightened a little. "That's an answer to prayer, because I was getting worried."

He looked at her, then remembered the road.

She unnerved him, she really did.

* * * *

A large two story, off-white house with a circular driveway was grander than anything Madison had expected. A few tall trees greeted them as they pulled up the driveway, black lampposts lighting the way to the house. Cars were everywhere, and when she looked behind them to make sure Tim was still there, she saw two more waiting behind Tim's minivan to get in.

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Madison gripped her purse as Terry backed up and came to a stop between an SUV and an expensive looking car.

"This is it." Terry shut off the engine. "I hope they don't wait too long to serve dinner, because I'm starved."

"You know someone who lives in a place like this?"

He popped open his door and cold wind swept inside. "It's only Dick and Sara Doyle," he shrugged. "You've met them before."

Even so, the Doyles weren't very well known to her, so she couldn't just brush this off like Terry was doing. She opened her door, climbed out and shivered as the air rushed up to take her breath away. The trees in back of the house rustled in the wind. She saw Tim helping Karen from the minivan, heard Connie's cries and the close sounds of car door slams as people got out of their vehicles.

"Hey, Terry! So tomorrow's the big day, is it?"

As Madison closed her door, she saw Sheriff Peterson shake Terry's hand. At Sheriff Peterson's side, stood a quiet looking woman; it was the sheriff's wife, for Madison recognized her from church. The wife was listening to her husband, and as Madison joined them, she felt the impact of the next question.

"I heard Madison's brother will be coming to the party?"

With a gulp, Madison held onto her purse and felt the patterned material to distract herself from thinking too much. The man didn't forget a thing, and she hoped he wouldn't think to also ask about the rest of her family. Maybe check and see if she hadn't left out anything else. Momma came to mind. Though she hadn't known her momma had passed away until recently, it had been a long time since Madison had counted her as family; when the sheriff had asked if she'd had any family, saying "no" had been automatic. Before she'd known about Tim or had married Terry, she hadn't had anyone. That had been the truth.

Trying not to bite her lip, she listened as Terry gave a very brief explanation of how Tim had found her using a private investigator-- without mentioning the Dragon. It wasn't easy to trust someone who came from the law. The Dragon had mistrusted the police on a constant basis, but he'd had a reason to. She didn't. Madison reminded herself of this as Terry waved Tim over.

The sheriff smiled, shook hands with Tim, and then Karen, and then that was it. No questions to do background checks, or anything. The sheriff moved on. She had a past, but now that people could see Tim, it seemed to Madison that they felt they could understand her more. She had something in common with them, for she had a brother, and that brother had a family, and what was more normal and gently sweet than to see a young family with a baby? What people couldn't explain made them uneasy. She understood that, and was grateful for the difference Tim's appearance was making. People who didn't know her very well, were relaxing around her more than they ever had in the past.

"Hey, John--" Terry grinned as John and Izzy walked up with the triplets-- "where's AJ?"

"They're here somewhere."

"Tim, Karen-- I'd like you to meet my brother, John Johannes, and his wife, Izumi." Terry smiled as the women shook hands. "Their three munchkins are Ruthie, Debbie, and Lizzie-- all aged four. And over here, Tim and Karen's new munchkin is Connie, and her sisters are Paige and Madeline-- aged eleven and six. Did I get the ages right?"

Madeline grinned and nodded.

"You have a lovely family," Karen smiled to Izzy.

"Thanks, so do you." Izzy smiled at the little one in the cute pink sleeper as the group started for the house. "What a sweetie-pie. Seeing yours, makes me miss the time when mine were small enough for newborn clothes and baby bottles."

"And middle of the night feedings, and diaper changes," John chuckled.

"You miss it, too-- admit it."

Smiling, John nodded that he did, but leaned in and whispered something that Madison just barely overheard. "We've fished our limit, Honey."

"I know." Izzy took John's arm, and they went inside to the sound of a loud greeting that Madison guessed was Dick Doyle.

Terry and Madison went next, followed by Tim and his family.

The house opened to a two story foyer with a glass window over the entryway. Dick greeted each guest by name, his handshake firm, his voice at once friendly and warm. He shook Madison's hand, invited them past some stairs and into a wide room with a high ceiling. People Madison had seen before but couldn't remember their names, chatted with each other, but as they saw Terry, and John, and Izzy, the greetings turned warm. Then people began to realize it was her, and Madison saw surprise register on their faces. Dick introduced Tim and Karen around the room while Sara changed places with Dick and met people at the door. It wasn't a large gathering, but big enough to impress Madison that Terry and AJ had a lot of friends.

"It's good to see you!" Terry clasped someone's hand, then pulled him into a hearty hug. "I heard you got in this morning. You came with Abby and Jake?"

The man nodded. "They're taking Ricky to play with the kids in the den." He motioned to Madison. "So, this is her? I'm Dennis Beckman, and it's a pleasure to meet you." He looked at Terry as he shook her hand. "And people said you'd never fall. I knew you were just waiting for the right one to come along. It only made sense."

"I wish you could've told that to everyone else." Terry smiled as someone came around and collected their coats. "It was good of you to fly out."

"And miss seeing you go down the aisle? I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Dad sends his regards, by the way. He also sent a wedding gift-- I left it at your house."

"Madison," Tim came over, his eyes wide with excitement. "Do you know who I just saw? The Answer Lady from 'Bassin' the Weeds with Dennis.'" Tim leaned in for emphasis. "Abigail Murphy. I was going to ask for an autograph, but Karen was afraid I'd embarrass her, so I didn't, but I've never met someone who's been on TV before. I had no idea she was related to Jake. You should've told me."

"I guess I never thought to. It's just fishing stuff."

"But it's Bassin.'" Tim stared at Madison as though he couldn't understand why she wasn't as excited as he was. "You should've seen the episode where Dennis Beckman tested Abigail Murphy's fly casting accuracy. He lined her up against several others, and she blew them away. It even had Dennis Beckman shaking his head. She was amazing."

Terry cleared his throat and smiled at the man watching them. "Tim, I'd like you to meet Abby's boss."

"Thanks for talking up our Abby," Dennis smiled, and extended a hand to a wide-eyed Tim. "Every bit of publicity helps the show." When Tim looked too stunned to move, Dennis folded his arms and talked to Terry. "Some of the ladies will probably be tired after organizing the wedding, but when the ceremony's over, maybe John and I could find a few interested parties, and get in some fishing this weekend. Would that be all right with you?"

Madison held her breath.

"Wish I'd thought of that, myself," Terry grinned. "I'll bring it up with John, and see if we can't do that. You know we always have plenty of spare fishing gear. Just in case anyone is interested in taking advantage of the bay."

"Yeah," Tim nodded. "Count me and my girls in. Thanks."

"Not that I don't want you around, but you're forgetting something, aren't you?" Dennis nudged Terry in the arm. "From what I understand, you'll be taking off after the reception."

"I will?" Terry turned to Madison, and Madison eyed her thanks to Dennis.

"Oh, right. Abby said it was a secret."

"It still is," Madison smiled, and led Terry away from Dennis Beckman, Mr. Blabbermouth with the TV show. Madison looked for someone else they knew, someone who couldn't accidentally tell Terry where he would be going tomorrow. The kids were in the den watching television, some were playing, and most were eating cheese and crackers; in the main room, Paige stood with the women, shyly watching the few teenagers who were there, Dave Donovan especially. Everyone was sipping fancy fruit juice and eating appetizers, and looking as though they were having a good time, including newlyweds Brian and Emily Donovan. While Madison went to a long table to get a drink for herself and Terry, and debated whether or not she wanted to say "hi" to Emily while Brian was nearby, Abby shouted to someone, and Madison turned to see who had just come in.


A grinning man with a baby sling strapped to his chest rushed forward and hugged Abby.

"Well, well, would you look at that." Terry accepted the drink from Madison, then took Madison by the hand, and moved closer to the hugging friends.

"When did you get in?" Jake asked.

"A half hour ago. Mom said I'd been invited, and to get down here quick, so here I am. Jake, it's good to see you." Tyler shook hands with Jake, then clapped a hand on Jake's shoulder. "Thanks for helping me out that time while you were in San Diego. That phone call meant a lot."

Jake smiled, and looked at the baby.

"This is my son, Paul." Tyler turned and let Abby and Jake get a good look at him. "He's two months old."

"He's a precious one." Abby touched Paul's cheek and the baby looked up at her.

"Since my wife wasn't feeling well, I brought Paul with me to give her a chance to get some rest. Mom stayed home to keep her company." Tyler glanced at Jake. "I don't know how much my parents have told everyone, but I married Ava last year."

"The same Ava we talked about in the phone call?" Jake asked quietly, and Tyler nodded.

"Things got better, then worse," Tyler looked as though he didn't want to go into the details of his life, "then Dad offered me a position at the bank that I couldn't refuse. The timing was Providential. So I'm back with my parents again, and, God willing, we'll be looking for a house soon."

"I know Abby and I have enjoyed being back with her family," Jake tried to encourage. "It's good to have that support nearby. It can make things easier."

"I have a family to think about," Tyler nodded. He adjusted the sling, smiled at his son, and looked genuinely at peace. For all of his hinted-at past trouble, Tyler looked happy. Probably not as successful as he would've liked, for Madison sensed he would've rather not had to work at his father's bank, but she also sensed Tyler knew he was where God wanted him to be. And in the end, that was all that really mattered.

"Welcome back." Terry gave Tyler a big hug. "It's good to have you home."

Madison smiled. She didn't know the man, but he didn't seem to lack friends, and while they welcomed him and the baby, Madison slipped away to visit with the women. Though none of the men at the party made her feel like the Dragon had, she still felt easier, more comfortable around the women than she did the men. Madison found Karen resting her feet on a couch, deep in discussion with Izzy. The topic was breastfeeding, and Izzy was giving advice, and Karen was asking questions, and since Madison had nothing to add to the conversation, she stayed quiet, sipped her fizzy juice, and watched everyone else.

Dick was everywhere. People had stopped arriving, and he was going about the room and pulling anyone who was alone into conversation, and only leaving when he had successfully added another person into the mix so no one was left without someone else to talk to. When he reached Madison, he smiled, and soon had her talking and feeling at home. Which wasn't easy, since this big house wasn't hers, and she didn't know as many people as he did. He knew everyone.

"Thank you for this party. It's so much nicer than I thought it would be-- not that I didn't think the party wouldn't be nice. I just mean--"

"I know what you're trying to say," Dick nodded. "My wife wanted to make tonight memorable for you and Terry, and AJ. She thought she'd splurge a little." Dick looked down as Ricky came over and presented him with a handful of food.

"Grandpa, do you want some?"

"Thank you, I don't mind if I do." Dick smiled as Ricky took one of the crackers and cheese, and gave it to him. "Are you hungry? Then I'll remind the chef to not keep dinner waiting."

Ricky smiled, as though he knew something funny had just happened, and went back to the den with the other kids.

"You have a chef?" Madison asked, and Dick shook his head.

"That's my tease for Sara." He looked about and nodded to someone. "Have you met Dr. Gregory?" Dick waved a man over, and before long, Madison found herself listening to stories from the doctor's veterinary hospital. Dick had a way of drawing people into conversation that rather amazed Madison. She was too unsure of herself to be that confident. To her disappointment, the conversation and stories were cut short when Sara announced that dinner was served, and everyone started for the dining room.

A separate table had been set up for the kids, which, from the mild annoyance on Dave's face, Madison guessed was meant to include him, for there were cards showing where everyone was supposed to sit.

While Tim placed a baby carrier beside Karen's chair, Madison hung back until she spotted her name on a card, and was happy to see she was supposed to sit next to Terry. She sat down, placed her glass next to the crystal beside her plate, and waited as the dining room filled.

Terry pulled out the chair beside her, and smiled. "Having a good time?" he asked, and she nodded.

After everyone had been seated, Dick said a blessing over the food, then they all settled in to enjoy dinner. Sara chatted about tomorrow's wedding with Pastor Bill, Agatha, and Izzy across the table, while others talked of local news and recent concerns the city council had brought up. All in all, the evening passed quickly for Madison. She felt accepted among Terry's friends, she was included, she was one of them. For the first real time, she felt what it was like to be a part of a community.

When dessert had been finished, and Tyler had to get up and change Paul, and Karen had a similar need with Connie, the guests began to go home in ones and twos.

Dick and Sara saw Madison and her extended family to the foyer as coats were closed, and children were checked to make sure no one had forgotten their shoes.

"Thank you for the engagement party, and the welcome home for AJ," Terry told their hosts. "You guys didn't have to do this to get a wedding invitation out of us. You would've gotten one, anyway."

Dick laughed, and hugged Terry, then turned to Madison. When he saw she wouldn't object, he hugged her as well. "In case we don't get the chance to, tomorrow, Sara and I wish you both a long and happy marriage."

"Thank you." As Madison hugged Sara, and everyone said their good nights, Dick said something to Tim that made Madison smile:

"Welcome to the family."

Though Tim had looked a bit lost by the warm reception he'd been getting from the Doyles, he shook Dick's hand, thanked his hosts, then followed the others out to the driveway.

"I'm confused." Tim spoke in a hush when they were out of earshot of the house. "Are any of you related to the Doyles?" Tim frowned when Jake grinned. "I don't understand-- your son calls Dick, grandpa."

"In many ways, he is." Jake smiled, and waved good night as he and Abby went to their pickup with Ricky.

Terry nodded to Tim. "I'll explain it, sometime. Would you like me to show you the way back to the apartment?"

"Thanks, I can find it." Tim paused before everyone went their separate ways. "Madison? Could I ask you something? How did you find all these people?"

"I got on a bus and went as far as my money would take me." She smiled when he looked thoughtful. "I ended up where God wanted me."

"You believe that, don't you."

"I think you do, too," she smiled, as she turned to leave with Terry. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you," he smiled, and the group parted ways.

* * * *

It had been a good evening, one Terry was sure he'd never forget. He'd enjoyed the conversation with his friends, the pleasure of welcoming Tyler back to the neighborhood. It appeared Tyler's parents hadn't entirely approved of his marriage or everyone would have known about Ava. Terry couldn't ignore that, but he knew Tyler, and until he had something that proved otherwise, Terry chose to think the best of his young friend. He took heart that Mr. Greene had offered Tyler a job at the bank, and hoped it was a sign that the family was coming together. More than ever, his prayers would be with the Greene family.

Terry breathed deep as he watched the road, the beams of light pushing into the darkness as they headed back to Three Mile Bay. The radio was off, but he felt relaxed, and in no need of something to fill the quiet between him and Maddie.

She sighed, and he glanced at her, and smiled.

"Tired?" he asked.

"I was just thinking about something John said to Izzy, today-- that they'd fished their limit."

"Oh, that." Terry checked his speed. "Izzy's doctor said it would be dangerous for her to become pregnant again, so John had a vasectomy."

"If my doctor ever said something like that, would you do the same for me?"

"In a heartbeat."

"What if we didn't have any kids?"

"You come first. Why? Have you seen a doctor-- is there something I should know about?"

"No, I was just wondering." Maddie sat quiet, then looked at him. "Would you mind if we waited before we started a family? Waited for me, I mean? I need to be stronger than I am right now before I become a mother."

"We can wait," he nodded.

"When we get home, would you do something for me without asking a lot of questions?"

"Are we still talking about the same thing, or did we just change subjects?" He shook his head, and prayed he would be able to keep up with her.

"I changed subjects. Kind of."

"Okay," he said slowly. "What do you want me to do?"

"I need you to finish packing your suitcase."

"Finish? I hadn't even known I'd started." He glanced at her. "Should I pack light, or heavy?"


"Will we be gone a few days, a few weeks..."

"A few days."

"Then I'll pack light. Will I need to bring my sandals, or should I bring a coat?"

"I'm taking care of everything else-- I just need you to go through your underthings."

"So you're gutsy enough to go on a honeymoon, but not enough to dig around my underwear drawer?" He said it lightly, something to make her smile, but she kept staring out the window as though her thoughts weighed heavily. "I'll do it Maddie, and I won't tease you about it. I promise."

She was quiet, and for a moment, he worried that he'd hurt her feelings. "Do you know what you're going to do yet?" she asked.

"I hope you don't mean what I think you are." He sighed when she nodded. "Couldn't we hold off until you're ready to start a family? Then we'd both have more time, and I wouldn't be putting you at risk of anything. Come on, Maddie, it makes sense. You know it does."

"We can do this without my getting pregnant. We don't need more time for that."

"But I need more time so I can be with you without giving you flashbacks."

"But you don't know it will happen. You won't ever know until we try."

He stared at the road.

"Would you sleep on the living room couch, tonight?"

"Why? Are you mad at me?"

"I could never be mad at you, Terry."

"Please, don't say that. Of course you could." He sighed. Moments like this, he was tempted to wish he was someone else so he wouldn't slow her down so much. For her sake. "If you think you have a valid reason to be angry, than have at it. You don't need my permission. Okay?" When he didn't hear anything, he took a quick look at her, and she nodded, "yes." "So are you mad?"


"Then why do you want me in the living room?"

"I don't want you to see me in the morning. Agatha said it's not good for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony."

"Oh, well." Terry let himself breathe a little easier. "If you have a bad dream tonight, I'd want to be there." He shook his head. "If you want to hold with tradition, I'll compromise by not looking at you until you come down the aisle, but tonight, I'm staying put. Unless you kick me out of our room, I'm afraid that's as good as I can do."

"I can't kick you out," she smiled.

"You just keep thinking that, and we'll get along fine." He smiled back at her. He was glad they were nearing home. He felt drained, and needed sleep so he'd be awake for tomorrow.

Before Terry pulled off the main road, he checked his rear view mirror, and saw the headlights of John's minivan nearing in the distance. Terry parked in front of the house, left his engine running, then got out to unlock the front door for Maddie before he opened the garage so they could put their vehicles away for the night. A pair of headlights blinded Terry a moment as he headed for the garage. He waved to John, opened the garage and stepped back to let John pull inside.

"Hey, Terry?" John called through Izzy's open passenger window. "Don't put your jeep away. I need to get it ready for tomorrow."

When Terry only stared at him, John laughed.

"Humor me."

With a shrug, Terry went back to his jeep, turned off the engine, then went inside the house. It seemed everyone was up to something, and he was too tired to play guessing games with John. When it came to Maddie, though, it was a different story.

As Terry rounded into the bedroom, he found one of his suitcases on his couch, unzipped, and yawning open for him to get to work. Maddie wasn't wasting any time. She stood packing some folded things into another suitcase on her couch, and from a quick glance, he noted something about their trip. These bags weren't carry-ons. It meant Maddie either didn't know she'd have to check them in before they got on a plane, or, more likely, because she'd had a taste of air travel, and she had John to help her plan things, that they weren't going by plane at all.

Interesting. Terry went to his suitcase and did a quick inventory of what she'd already packed. Hey, if she wanted him to know what else needed to go in the bag, then he had to know what was already there. Jeans, shirts-- nothing that screamed any destination in particular. She could've told him they'd be staying in the area, and he would've believed her by what he saw in that suitcase. Shrugging, he went to the dresser and pulled out a week's worth of socks and underwear, some T-shirts, and went through his usual routine of packing for a business trip, though this time, it wouldn't be business. This would be strictly personal. He looked over to see what Maddie was packing, and she closed her suitcase until he went back to his own.

"In the morning, I'll need to pack some things from the bathroom," he said over his shoulder. "It'll be hard to do when I'm not supposed to see you."

"Are you sure you won't sleep in the living room?"

"I'm still going to need the bathroom."

She sighed, and he could hear her crinkling something behind his back. "We'll make it work. Somehow."

Terry wished he wasn't getting in her way. Not the bathroom, but his past. It was getting in her way, and he hated that. "Maddie?" He waited, heard the suitcase zipper as she closed her bag, then turned to face her. "I'm thinking about it, and maybe, if we're careful--"

She looked too hopeful, and he held up a hand to stop her from speaking. He saw the open door, and went to close it.

"If we're careful," he continued, "maybe we can catch any flashbacks before they get too bad. I'm not saying it will work, but I am saying I'm willing to try."

He was grateful when she didn't take his agreement lightly, as though he'd just decided he didn't care whether or not he made her worse. She hugged herself, studied the carpet, and for a second, he thought maybe she'd take back the honeymoon offer. It would've been fine with him. This was her decision, and he was letting her be the one to make it.

"What's the time you're afraid of the most?" she asked.

"When I'm holding you," Terry said quietly.

Maddie nodded. "I'm afraid it'll be like I'm with the Dragon, and I won't know it's you." When she went silent, he wondered if she needed to stop talking. "I need to be with you," she said finally, her words not soft, but decided enough that it gave her a slightly fierce appearance. She was being firm, as definite as he'd ever seen her. "The longer I wait, the harder it gets. My cuts are healed, Terry. I need to either go forward, or hurt myself, but I can't stay where I am." She swiped at her eyes, and looked as though she refused to cry. "I won't go back, I won't. I have to do this. I have to face it."

"You know you won't have to face it alone, don't you?"

She nodded. He wondered if she would accept his arms right now, but when he started to move, she came forward, and he pulled her into a tight hug. She shuddered, and he made sure he kept his arms up around her shoulders where she wouldn't flinch from the contact.

"You won't be alone, either, Terry. We can help each other."

"Our brave romance," he whispered. He kissed her hair, and stroked her shoulder. It was hard not to think of his past as a liability to their relationship.

That night, as Terry went to bed, he heard Maddie in the hall with Izzy, going over tomorrow's plans. He and Maddie had exchanged a lot of fears, a lot of concerns during their talks that day, and he refused to shut his eyes until they had given them to the Lord. They needed to pray. When Maddie came back, and they'd had their good night kiss, Terry turned his head so she could take off her robe and get under her blankets. Then, with the bathroom door half open so the light could spill into the room, Terry prayed about their marriage.

"We're doing the best we can, Lord, and our eyes are upon Thee. If you don't help us, then this marriage won't work, and everything we do will fail. Be with us, Lord, and help us. Bless tomorrow, bless Maddie for being so brave, and cause our feet not to slide. Keep those flashbacks away-- don't let our abusers spoil what You've given us. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus' name, amen."

Maddie added her "amen," to the prayer, then turned on her couch until her back was to the room. "Good night, Terry." She sounded tired, but he sensed a nervous tingle in the air that reached across the room and danced across his heart.

Dear God, don't let this hurt her, he prayed quietly.

Terry squeezed his eyes shut, turned his back to the room, and tried not to think about tomorrow. "Good night, Maddie." Tugging the blanket over his shoulder, he prayed for sleep.

* * * *

Muffled voices, and morning sounds-- he could hear them through the closed bedroom door, and they woke Terry against his will. He couldn't smell coffee, and without it, he wasn't getting out of bed. It meant breakfast wasn't ready, and that meant he probably wasn't supposed to be awake yet. The room was still semi-dark, so after a quick glance at the clock to confirm what his body already knew, Terry rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

He was getting married today. He glanced over at Maddie's couch and wasn't surprised to find it empty. Sleep, please. He closed his eyes, heard someone move down the hall and wondered if tonight, he would be holding Maddie.

His heart started to race, so he forced calm, punched his pillow, and tried to get comfortable.

He'd been waiting for this day, hoping it would come, but telling himself it wouldn't, for a long, long time. Probably since the day John had married Izzy.

This wasn't working. Terry sat up on the couch and stared at the darkened window. It was early-- too early for him to get up, but he couldn't hold still when their morning was about to dawn. He climbed off the couch, and noticed a gift bag on the dresser with a familiar name on the tag. Dennis had said he'd dropped off a wedding gift from his father. Curious, Terry opened it and found a slab of smooth crystal etched with a lake, a man, and the graceful loops of an experienced fly caster. Beneath it, a quote from Genesis: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea..." Smiling, Terry stood it on the dresser, and promised himself to thank Dennis' father.

Working out the cramp in his shoulder from having slept on the couch, Terry shuffled into the bathroom and tried to think of something that didn't have to do with Maddie. Not exactly a good time for that, considering what day it was. He ran through code, counted backwards from a hundred, recited the Gettysburg Address into the mirror as he shaved. All the while, he kept his eyes away from the verses, for he had to concentrate on getting through the day, and not on getting his vows wrong in front of all their friends.

That would be fun.

He closed the bathroom door, took a quick shower, then padded into the bedroom with a towel around his waist to find his clothes. He wondered if that was a good idea-- what if Maddie walked in on him. Then again, it wasn't as though they weren't about to go on their honeymoon. And, he needed to find his clothes.

He hurried, took out his best black suit, then heard someone knock on the bedroom door.

"It's me," came John's voice. "You awake?"

"I'm getting dressed."

"I hope you're not getting into your wedding clothes. It's too early."

Terry frowned, stuck the suit back into the closet and went to get some jeans.

"Can I come in?"

"Yeah." Terry barely looked up as John stepped inside, then closed the door behind him. "Where's Maddie?"

"In the kitchen with Jake-- he's putting the finishing touches on the wedding cake."

"No kidding?" Terry buttoned his jeans. "I wouldn't mind getting a look at that. I'd like to see what he can do with frosting."

"Sorry, Izzy wants me to keep you from seeing Madison until I get a green light. Right now, it's bright red." John handed Terry his smiley mug. "There's no coffee. Our morning routine has been blown out of the water, replaced by crazy, wedding chaos. You're doing good they won't allow you near Madison right now. She's in the kitchen with everyone else, and I gotta tell you, I barely got out of there with what I did."

"No coffee?" Terry took the mug and found orange juice. He looked at John, and saw he had a bowl of cereal. "What about mine?"

"Sorry, I didn't have much time before I was chased out."

Terry put the mug on the dresser, then pulled on a shirt. This wasn't how he'd imagined the start to his wedding day, but then, he'd also expected coffee.

"Are the munchkins still sleeping?"

John nodded. He crunched cereal, then pointed his spoon at Terry as though he'd just thought of something. "Your jeep's ready, but don't dig around in the back until you get where you're going. Madison has gone to great lengths to keep this a secret, and I want to keep it that way. The tank is full, and everything's been loaded in but your bags. Well, almost everything."

"So, I'll be doing some driving?"

Instead of an answer, John smiled, and shoveled in more cereal.

"Whatever plans have been made," Terry picked up his yellow mug and gave a nod to his friend, "I just want you to know I appreciate your helping Maddie."

John smiled in return.

"Dad, is Uncle Terry in there?"

"Yup." John moved to the door, opened it, and Abby looked inside.

"Would Uncle Terry mind getting his clothes, and going to our house to wait until it's time for the ceremony? We'll need this bathroom when Maxine gets here to do our hair, and help with the makeup, and it'll be too hard to keep him from seeing Aunt Madison."

"So you're kicking him out of the house?"

"Kicking is a harsh word, but, that's about the size of it."

John looked to Terry, and shrugged. "I'll help get your things."

"What about breakfast?"

"Though we don't have corn flakes," Abby offered, "you can share Ricky's WheatyBams."

"Sounds great." Terry chuckled, and moved to the dresser to dig up his shaving kit. What a morning. Hurriedly gulping down the orange juice, he set aside the mug and went into the bathroom to grab a few things to put into the kit. Electric razor, aftershave, toothbrush. He went back to the bedroom, tossed his comb into the bag, put on his wedding ring, then went to the closet and pulled out his suit.

"Dad? Is he getting his clothes?"

Shutting the door on Abby, John came to help Terry collect his suit while Terry took out a crisp white shirt, a dark tie, and reached down for his best pair of dress shoes. After snagging socks, Terry pushed out of the bedroom with Abby and John at his heels.

"Aunt Madison is in the kitchen, so don't go in there," Abby cautioned, as Terry headed into the living room. "I think the girls are waking up. Dad, would you--"

"I'll take care of them," John nodded as they went to the front door. He handed Terry the suit he'd been carrying. "You have everything?" John asked, as Terry glanced at the kitchen to see Jake grinning in the kitchen doorway.

"Where's Ricky?" Terry asked.

"Sleeping in Mom and Dad's room."

"What time did everyone get up?" Terry asked, but he was shooed away by Abby, and if not pushed, quickly ushered out of the house and into the freezing early morning without much ceremony. And without a coat. Shivering in his T-shirt, Terry hurried across the way to AJ's house with his clothes. As he passed his jeep, the outdoor security light from the house made it easy to notice a mound of gear packed in the back. "What on earth?" He paused, looked through the rear window and saw someone had spread a dark blanket over everything. Whatever was in there, was bulky, and it took up a lot of room. Cold wind cut through his shirt, and Terry hurried on his way.

The small yellow house seemed to invite him inside as he opened the door. Jake had moved his easel and studio off to one side of the living room, and as Terry turned to close the door, Terry could hear the reason for the move stirring on the couch. A snore caught, and Dennis blinked, opened his eyes, and saw Terry.

"Is it morning?" Dennis asked.

"The sun isn't up yet, but it's threatening to." Terry looked toward the kitchen. "I was told to help myself to Ricky's WheatyBams."

Dennis grinned sleepily. "The little guy picked up the habit in San Diego, from yours truly. Least it's healthy. Is that your suit? Sweet." Dennis got up from the couch, followed Terry into the kitchen, and without being asked, started searching the cupboards for their breakfast. "I'll admit, I'm not used to going to weddings so early in the day-- when's the ceremony, again? Before noon?"

Terry nodded.

"Maybe it's because you've got a long drive ahead of you, and they don't want you arriving late at night. Hey, I found it." Grinning, Dennis held up a box with cartoon characters, passed it to Terry, then started the hunt for bowls.

"You'd better not tell me more." Draping his clothes over one end of the table, Terry helped himself to a handful of dry cereal and changed the subject. "How's business?"

"We're doing all right." Dennis plunked two bowls on the table, then went to the fridge. "I'm trying to talk Abby into doing some segments for the show. Either get a crew up here, or send her out on location. I'm still trying to work it out." Dennis shrugged. "Her face is on TV right now, but we're shooting new episodes that she's not in. I'm not eager to see what that'll do to our ratings. You heard Tim. When people think of 'Bassin' the Weeds,' they don't just think of me. They think of Abby. I've been getting that kind of feedback everywhere I go."

"Does Jake know about this?"

"Why do you think I'm sleeping on the couch?" Dennis poured milk. "No offense, but I'm not just here for your wedding. He and I are trying to convince her this will be healthy for her career."

"Will it?"

"If she doesn't stay out there-- and I mean, front and center of our audience-- then yes, it's going to hurt her." Dennis looked about, sighed, and went to get some spoons.

"How much of the time would she have to be away from Jake and Ricky?"

"I'm pretty sure we can work out a family-friendly schedule."

"Do you want me to put in a good word for you?"

"Thanks," Dennis smiled, "but if Jake and I aren't enough to swing it, then I'd rather not go any further. That TV show comes with a lot of responsibilities, and a lot of pressure, and I won't blame her if she wants to stay clear and just work the magazine and website."

"I'll certainly be praying about it." Terry picked up his bowl, his mind busy with what Dennis had just told him.

It seemed this morning was just full of surprises.

* * * *

"He's out of the house," John called, coming into the kitchen with a long specialized case under his arm. "I don't think I'll need much time."

"Let me know when you need me." Izzy watched John leave, then went back to fixing the children's breakfast. "You'd better get what you want before John's ready to go out to the jeep." She glanced at Madison. "I don't know how many trips he can safely make without Terry noticing from AJ's house."

Madison wiped her hands on a towel, took one last look at Jake as he leaned over the cake on the kitchen table, then hurried off to the bedroom. Her heart pounded out of her chest. Everyone was helping her, Terry had left, and now she could finish packing without him noticing things missing from their room. She smiled as she met John in the bedroom, busily working on Terry's fishing gear. Seeing he was in the way, John moved the long case so she could climb onto her couch and reach inside the closet.

It only took her a moment to realize she needed help. Terry had a few cloth bags, and even though she already had an idea of which one she wanted, she pulled it out, then opened it a little to show John.

"Is this it?" she asked, and John gave a nod.

"Don't forget the things that go with it, like the cuff links." John carefully laid out what Madison had been told earlier was an expensive fly rod, and placed it into the case. "And a shirt-- not a regular one. It'll be in a garment bag of its own. Do you see it?"

She nodded, and prayed Terry wouldn't suddenly walk in on them.

"Hold on, I'll get something for your clothes." John left a moment, then came back and handed her a garment bag.

She hurried to the office bathroom, knew it was growing late as she worked, then raced back to the bedroom while John placed the remainder of Terry's fishing gear back where it belonged. While Madison loaded her arms with Terry's clothes, John hefted her garment bag, lovingly picked up the case, then looked about the room to make sure they'd gotten everything.

"I need eyes to watch for Terry," John called, as he headed into the hall at a fast clip.

"I'm coming." Izzy sped to the front door in jeans and an old button-up sweater. "Maxine will be here soon."

"Did you turn off the security light?"

Izzy nodded.

"Then let's go." John pushed outside without a coat, and Madison followed after him. John glanced at Izzy, for she was keeping herself between him and the little yellow house as they moved. Izzy's small frame didn't offer them much cover, but they were running out of time. "Do you see anyone at the window?" John asked, as he opened the jeep's tailgate.

"No." Izzy rubbed her arms, her back to John and Madison. "Hurry, I'm freezing, and Madison doesn't have a sweater. Terry won't forgive us if she catches cold on her honeymoon."

"I think he'll understand." John grinned as he tenderly replaced the blanket over the mountain in the back of the jeep. "I'm telling you, I know what I want for Christmas. That case is--"


"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying." When John took the garment bags from Madison, she glanced at the yellow house. "We're done here-- you can go back."

Izzy nodded to Madison, and the women went inside to get ready for Maxine.

* * * *

This was not happening, please God, this was not happening. Everyone was waiting for him, and he simply could not find them. Desperate, Terry dumped his shaving kit out on the couch, while Dennis stood by and watched.

"Maybe you dropped them in the bathroom."

"I've checked. I've looked everywhere, but I can't find either one. I was sure I put them in my shaving kit." Terry forced a breath, and stopped to think. "I was supposed to get my clothes..."

"You did that."

"And come here until it was time to go to the church."

"It's time," Dennis gestured to the front door where the photographer stood with a camera slung around her neck, ready to get her first snapshot of the groom going to the church to get married. This moment wasn't intended for the photo albums, so she waited outside. "Maybe you left them back at the house."

"I already checked there. I turned my dresser upside down. If they're not in the dish on my dresser, or in my shaving kit, then I haven't got a clue."

"Gentlemen," Ms. Owens stepped inside and gave one of her impossibly white smiles, "I really hate to interrupt, but you're running late, and after all the guests arrive, they'll be wondering where the groom is. I don't suppose Mr. Beckman could lend you his cuff links?"

"Yes, of course." Dennis fumbled with a sleeve, then offered his wrist to Terry to speed things along. "Man. I guess I should be grateful you aren't missing your shoes." He chuckled as Terry took the cuff links out, and Terry couldn't help laughing, then panicking a little when his fingers wouldn't work the swivel bar through his own button hole. "Here, let me," Dennis said, and he finished placing them in for Terry.

"I promised Mr. Johannes to get you there on time," Ms. Owens said, her voice coaxing them along.

"We're coming." Dennis put in Terry's boutonnière, nodded to Terry, and they headed out the door.

Terry hopped into Izzy's car-- for she didn't want him touching his jeep-- and Dennis climbed into the back, with Ms. Owens and her camera getting into the passenger seat. The time was late, but Terry could blame it on those stupid cuff links. It wasn't his fault. It probably was, but it felt better to not blame it on himself. He sped up a little, and tried to ignore the fact that Ms. Owens was now clicking away. Just what he needed. A snap-happy photographer getting in his face.

He checked his speed and slowed down despite every nerve in his body telling him to do otherwise. He prayed Maddie wasn't waiting at the alter, thinking he'd abandoned her. They were already married, so hopefully, she couldn't be too nervous.

The thought haunted him though, and he kept checking the time.

Then Terry recognized Tim's minivan up ahead, and relaxed a little in the knowledge that he wasn't the only late arrival.

As Terry pulled into the church's crowded parking lot, John came from the building in his good suit, his face the picture of relief. Terry smiled, found a spot to park, and John came around to the driver's side, even before Terry could shut off the engine. Jake soon joined him, along with Doc Gregory, and Pat O'Shea, a local lawyer and good friend of the family.

"I couldn't find my cuff links." Terry climbed out of the car as Ms. Owens hurried outside. "Please, tell me Maddie isn't crying because I'm late." Terry straightened his suit jacket, then looked at John when he didn't answer quickly.

"She is, but not because you're late." John hesitated, and the other men smiled.

"It's her wedding." Pat slapped Terry on the back. "It's a woman's prerogative to shed a few tears."

Terry looked back at John though, and he could tell it wasn't quite what the others had assumed it was. He raised his brows to John-- a quiet question between men-- and John shook his head, saw Doc was watching, and smiled.

"We're ready when Terry is."

"Then let's get in there." Dennis slapped Terry on the back, then went inside with the others as John and Terry went over what they were supposed to do, one last time.

"Sorry we got here so late." Tim greeted them as he and his family hurried to the main entrance looking flustered, and breathless. "Your directions were good, but it was just one of those mornings when nothing went right."

"Tell me about it," Terry smiled. "Don't worry. It's not that late, so I don't think we were off by much."

"Your ring." John nudged Terry as the O'Briens went into the church, looking relieved that they hadn't held up the ceremony.

Terry took off his wedding band, then handed it over to John with a smile.

The men went around by the side door, stepped into the sanctuary, and greeted Pastor Bill. Then the three went to the altar as the church speaker filled with soft violins. This was it. Terry faced the pews, smiled at his friends, and felt better knowing that John had his back. He could do this. No problem. Relax, he told himself, and just breathe.

Izzy came up the aisle in a light pink gown, smiled, then took her place on the left. So far, so good.

As the strains of "Here Comes the Bride" filled the church, Terry struggled to swallow. He was a grown man. He was already married to the bride, so this would be no sweat.

Then he saw her. Coming down the aisle on Tim's arm.

Tall, slender, a vision in white that shimmered as she moved. Pinned up blonde hair showed beneath a thin veil that lightly revealed a delicate face he tried to recognize as Maddie's. He felt like looking to Izzy for assurance that this woman-- this mirage floating down the aisle was his Maddie. He struggled to recognize her, started to loosen his tie, but stopped, not wanting to embarrass anyone. Including himself.

His palms were damp. He discreetly dried them on his pants, tried to find her limp to make sure it was really her, but realized this woman was taking such slow, timed steps it was hard to see any limp at all.

She came closer, her eyes met his, and he fought like crazy to swallow.

It was Maddie.

No other woman could do that to him.

She smiled, and he prayed dearly that his grin wasn't as stupid as it felt.

They turned to face Pastor Bill as the music stopped. What a moment that had been.

Terry wrestled for that much needed breath to stop the room from spinning. He stole a look. It was her. The longer he looked, the more he saw that it was really her. It was only that he'd been so unprepared. He'd always known Maddie was beautiful, but he hadn't braced himself for this. The white lace covering her dress looked so delicate, he would've been afraid to touch it, and the thin veil covering her face made her skin softly glow. Like he was looking through a cloud, and seeing an angel, only this one was earthborn, and she was his.

He shook himself, tuned his ears to Pastor Bill, and listened as Bill spoke of the purpose of marriage, and Terry's heart sounded in agreement.

"First, marriage was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of contingency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. Thirdly, marriage was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined." Pastor Bill went on, and Terry listened, and the congregation hushed as he came to the questions.

"Terry Edward Davis, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?"

Terry nodded. "I do."

"Madison Olivia Jones, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

"I will." Maddie's voice sounded a bit choked, and Terry hoped she wasn't crying.

"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

"I do," Tim said quietly.

Pastor Bill nodded, and Tim went back to his family.

When Terry and Maddie joined hands, Terry could feel Maddie tremble. He gave her fingers a squeeze and kept his eyes on the pastor as he was asked to repeat his vows. He'd said them once before, and he'd tried to keep them every single day. As long as he had breath, he vowed he always would.

"... to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance..."

Pastor Bill nodded to John, and John passed forward Maddie's ring.

His heart full, Terry held Maddie's hand and slipped the wedding band onto her finger. He loved her. He prayed she knew that.

Then it was Maddie's turn to say her vows, and her voice sounded as though she was fighting to stay above the tears. In his heart, Terry said the words with her, walking through them so she wouldn't be alone. His ring was pressed into her hand, and with her head bowed ever so slightly, and with a smile parting her lips, Maddie placed her token not only on Terry's finger, but on his heart, as well.

"Let us pray," Pastor Bill said. "O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; send Thy blessing upon these Thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in Thy name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof these rings given and received are tokens and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to Thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Smiling, Pastor Bill added, "Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as Terry and Madison have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving rings, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

The congregation answered, "Amen."

Pastor Bill smiled at Terry. "You may kiss your bride."

Terry turned to Maddie, lifted the light veil and didn't pause too long to take in her loveliness. Everyone was watching. He placed a kiss on her lips, looked in her eyes, and smiled. She took his hand-- a firm grip, and everyone clapped their hands and cheered. They turned to face the congregation, the music started back up, and Izzy handed Maddie the flowers Terry was sure Maddie must have been carrying up the aisle. He just hadn't noticed them until now. Pink roses. Like the pink boutonnière he was wearing, and the smattering of roses in the church.

Okay, now he got it. They were matching.

Everyone stood as they started down the aisle, and Terry paused to look behind him, and saw John. John grinned, and Terry knew he would remember this day forever. Maddie tugged at his hand, and they started moving again while people wished them congratulations. Terry thanked everyone he could, knowing that most were not coming to the house for the reception. They were keeping it small, but that didn't mean he didn't appreciate each and every one of them for showing up. He waved to Lauren and Ralph, smiled to Stanley McCall, half asleep in his wheelchair beside Emily and a grinning Brian. Brian gave Terry a smile that said, "We made it," and Terry nodded in return. By God's grace, they had. Terry tried not to miss anyone on the way out, but before he realized it, they were in the sunshine, being barraged by a hail of white rose petals.

"Smile and look over here," Ms. Owens called, and Terry suddenly remembered that the photographer had been hovering during the entire ceremony.

"We're going home to take the wedding photos now," Izzy called to him from inside.

Nodding that he'd heard, Terry started for Izzy's car with Maddie in tow while people took pictures and tossed petals. Maddie was holding onto his hand like glue, and he had to admit, he wasn't willing to let go. He smiled at the people gathering to watch them leave the parking lot, then he turned to smile at Maddie. She looked breathless, so he kissed her, and they clapped and cheered, and she looked at him as though he was the only one that existed in her world.

Somewhere, deep inside him, he knew their honeymoon had already begun. He wished he could take her from here-- he didn't know where, just so long as they were alone. The photographer was waiting though, and they had the reception.

He took a deep breath, and carefully helped Maddie and her wedding veil into the car, then rounded the hood while someone pelted him in the leg with a bag of flower petals. He turned, and smiled at Ricky, while Jake gave an apologetic shrug.

"See you back at the house," John shouted, as Terry brushed rose petals from off his windshield.

"See you there," Terry called. He climbed behind the wheel, then shut the door with a puff. So much was going on, and so much was ahead, he fought to simply take one step at a time and to not think too far into the future.

As he pulled from the parking lot, Maddie sat quiet like someone saving herself for later.

Terry knew better than to talk to her now.

They could do this. They were doing this. Terry focused on the road and on breathing. He was tempted to keep on going, to not go back home, but he made up his mind to stick to their plan. Whatever that was. He didn't know what was going to happen, but then, he had a hunch neither did Maddie. The future was up for grabs, and all they could do was cooperate with God and trust Him from moment to moment.

Marriage was a starting place for the rest of their lives, and though his hands were sweating again, he couldn't think of anyone else he'd rather brave each moment with, than Mrs. Madison Davis.

Courage steadying his heart, Terry thanked God for the day they'd already had, and for the rest of the day yet to come.

"This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
~ Psalm 118:24 ~

end of chapter