Terry's Journey: Chapter 42

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Chapter Forty-two
Fly

"My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away."
~ Song of Solomon 2:10 ~

As Terry parked in front of the house, the Hopkins' car pulled in behind them, with Agatha getting out and hurrying to open Maddie's door before Terry even had the chance to enjoy the fact they were home. Agatha helped Maddie out of the vehicle while being careful not to hurt her veil, as John's minivan honked to answer Terry's wave. Everyone wore smiles, for the air held a kind of energy, the kind that came without even trying.

While Agatha held Maddie's train off the ground and fussed over the dress, Terry stepped back to keep out of the way. He noted Agatha's husband tried to do the same when he asked them if he could watch TV. Before Terry could give the go-ahead, Agatha sent her husband a quick nod and shooed him inside. It seemed the poor guy wasn't needed for anything, but then, until it was time to stand in front of the camera, Terry wasn't so sure he was needed, either. With a burst of excitement, Izzy hurried over with Ms. Owens, and Terry went to watch from a safer distance beside the minivan with John.

"Don't get your clothes dirty," John called after the triplets as they ran to the swings beside the house. With a sigh, John smiled at Terry. "I'll be relieved when the family pictures are over. I don't know how long I can guarantee the girls will keep their dresses clean." John paused. "Everything okay?"

Terry nodded, looked back at the ladies as they started off for the beach with the helper Ms. Owens had brought. Though he didn't know what they were doing, he was sure they'd call him when it was time for anything important.

"Could I ask you a question?" Terry looked at John, and John waited for him to speak.

They were alone, so Terry used this chance to ask his friend something he wanted to know, something only John could answer. "In the past, when you've tried to wake me from my flashbacks, how hard was it? I'm not all there when it happens, so I'm not sure."

"It wasn't a walk in the park, but it could've been worse."

"Was I ever physical?"

"You may have struck out a few times," John shrugged, "but I didn't take it personally. You didn't know who I was, and you snapped out of it before I had to fight you."

Terry swallowed hard. "If you were Maddie, do you think I could hurt you before I realized who you were?"

"I guess it could happen. By accident. You don't have rough nights like that very often though, so try not to let it scare you. If you have a bad dream, Madison can always come to us for help."

"What if I'm not asleep when it happens?"

The question made something click inside of John-- Terry could see it by the way John looked at him; a realization of what this conversation was really about. "You're only guessing that could happen, Terry. It might not."

"But what if it does? When my foster dad abused me, it sometimes triggered flashbacks of my step-father."

"Have you told Madison any of that?"

"I told her I could have them, but I didn't go into it. She knows I was abused, though. It isn't a secret." Terry felt the breeze and tried to think. "My making her flashbacks worse is one thing, but her getting me out of them, is another."

"Then tell Madison to keep a glass of water handy. Tell her if she can't snap you out of it, then to toss the water in your face, and to use her best judgement about getting away from you until you realize it's her and not someone else. Take it easy-- your flashbacks have never lasted that long to begin with, and you've never hurt anyone."

"But what if I hurt her?"

"It'd be an accident, and I'm sure Madison would understand."

As Tim's minivan pulled up, Terry turned his back to the newcomers and prayed for wisdom. "I told her I wasn't ready, but we're going through with it, anyway." Terry shook his head. "It's crazy, but the thought of facing my abuser again doesn't scare me half as much as the thought of burdening Maddie with not only her abuser, but mine, as well. Because of me, she'll have to fight even harder. And as it turns out, maybe even me."

"You don't know any of this will happen."

"You don't know it won't." Terry folded his arms. "You know enough of what it's like to wake me, so you know I can't handle it on my own. You know what I am. You can say it-- I can face the truth."

"And what do you think is the truth?"

"That I'm a coward, that I run from pain."

"You're no coward. You gave your apartment to a recovering drug addict. Two of them, if I remember right."

Terry shook his head. "Don't try to prove me wrong."

"Keep it up, Buddy, and that's exactly what I'll do. And I won't just try." John nodded to Tim as the O'Briens walked over. "Izumi's on the shore with Madison."

"Oh... okay." Tim looked to Terry, then back at John before moving his family toward the women.

"I should be able to handle this on my own," Terry reasoned.

"This is why your breakdown happened." John pushed his hands into his pockets. "You aren't afraid of the pain. If you were, you would've given up on trying to help people, long time ago."

Terry was working on a comeback, when John kept going.

"You aren't afraid of the pain, but I think in your fight to protect me, and Izumi, and the girls, whenever you tried to help someone, you kept it all to yourself. When they wept, you wept with them, and you wouldn't tell me what you were going through, because you were trying to protect your family. I appreciate that, but I think it was your downfall." John was on a roll-- Terry could feel it. "You shouldered a great deal of responsibility with Victor, and Donald, and you never came to me, or any of the rest of us for help. And so you had a breakdown. You gave until you had nothing else to give. You didn't just fall apart, and start having night terrors after having gone so long without them. There was a reason. It's important you remember that."

Terry groaned. "If that's true, then all I need to do is find a way to love my neighbor as myself, without breaking myself in the process, and everything will be dandy."

"It'd be a start." John looked thoughtful. "I'd be open to starting some sort of ministry with you where we support each other, while helping others. Two are much stronger than one." He shook his head. "But that's not what I was trying to say. Accept help when it's offered, and come ask for it when you need it. Don't just gut it out."

"I haven't been making things easy for you and Izzy, have I?"

John shrugged. "I'm a father of triplets-- easy went out the window a long time ago. Just remember, you aren't a coward, trying to run from anything. Caring came with a price, and you weren't afraid of that price."

"Anything else?" Terry asked. He was listening, especially after that offer from John.

"Though you're trying to stay aware of your flashbacks, don't let them rule your life. I don't believe that time during your breakdown is a good average of what to expect in the future. It doesn't represent what you're normally like. Just look at yourself, you've already been getting better. Not exactly one-hundred-percent back to your old self, but you're married now, so of course you're different. In fact, I haven't had to come running lately, so it's safe to say your sleep has at least improved."

"It has," Terry nodded. He looked up to heaven and added, "Thank You, God."

"And thank you, Madison?" John waited, and Terry had to grin. "I've got eyes," John smiled, "I can see she makes you happy."

"I hope you won't regret your offer about starting a ministry, because I just might take you up on that. What I've been doing hasn't been working."

"Not with everyone, but this isn't a perfect world, and the outcomes we get won't necessarily be the ones we wanted. Hold on a moment-- Girls!" John waved to them, shook his head as Ruthie finished a running jump that nearly had her tumbling into the dirt, while Debbie and Lizzie stopped chasing a neighbor's cat around the swing set. John sighed, and looked back at Terry. "What's important is what God wants, and where He puts us. We can only do our best, and learn from there. We all learn, Terry, and I learn a lot, just by being around you." John smiled. "You've made a big difference to the people who know you best. Without a doubt, you've helped Madison, and you help your tenants when they can't make their rent on time. The elderly, the families living paycheck to paycheck-- you've made a big difference in their lives, and that hasn't gone unnoticed. Don't look so surprised. More than one has come to me and told me they weren't supposed to tell anyone, but they wanted me to know what a generous man you were, so don't think I didn't know."

"I won't argue the point any further. Right now, I just need to focus on Maddie." Terry almost ran a hand through his hair before he remembered the pictures they were about to take. "A glass of water, huh?"

John shrugged. "Do you want her, or not?"

"I want her."

"Then give her the water."

"Man." Terry blew out a breath. "That was quite a pep talk."

"Anytime you think I need it, feel free to return the favor."

"Are you going to tell Izzy about this?"

John gave him a look.

"That's what I thought."

"Don't worry, her lips will be sealed."

The mention of Izzy made Terry think of the time. He looked to the beach, saw Ms. Owens taking snapshots of Maddie's train and figured the photographer was getting creative. So long as someone out there was keeping track of the time, he didn't mind. They had to know their schedule better than he did.

AJ's red pickup came in from the main road, parked next to Tim's minivan while the triplets shouted and played from the swing set like munchkins who'd already forgotten to be careful about their clothes. When Jake let Ricky out, the boy watched from a distance, and looked content to stand with Dennis, as though not wanting to join in on all that noise; then Ruthie saw her nephew, and came and pulled him into the fun.

"Will you keep an eye on the kids, Dad?" Abby smiled when she got a nod from her father, then she and Jake went into the house-- most likely to get the reception ready, while Dennis moved to watch the photo shoot.

"Terry?" Izzy called from the distance. "We're ready for the bride and groom pictures."

"Sounds like you're up." John smiled as Terry headed for the beach. "Remember to say 'cheese.'"

"Thanks." Terry straightened his tie, glanced at Tim and Karen as they stood enjoying the expansive view of the bay. "Beautiful, isn't it?" Terry grinned when Tim nodded that it was. Terry looked over to where Maddie stood waiting for him, while Ms. Owens' assistant held a white screen that bounced light from Maddie's face. Terry inhaled deeply, then went to stand beside Maddie while the photographer gave directions. Maddie though, stood perfectly still, like a well-poised figurine.

"A little to the right, please."

Terry moved, remembered to smile, and the shutter clicked. He took Maddie's hand, was alarmed when her fingers were ice cold, but knew there was little he could do it about it now. The morning was growing late, the air cold, and the breeze was getting strong. It tugged at Maddie's veil, and caught behind his shoulder. He looked at her as a wisp of blonde hair strayed into her eyes. She blinked, tucked her hair behind her ear, then looked at the photographer. Her hand was warming in his, but she felt stiff, as though she was stepping through the motions of what needed to be done.

"Maddie."

She looked at him-- a deeply earnest gaze that he felt all the way to his soul. He squeezed her fingers, and she looked back at the camera.

"I love you," he whispered, and he saw the beginnings of a smile hover around her mouth. She kept her face on the camera and not on him, but he pressed a kiss to her fingers, and she closed her eyes for a long moment before he saw her breathe again. The photographer kept clicking away, and Terry held onto Maddie's hand, unwilling to let her go. They walked to the dock, and looked out over the bay. It was all choreographed by Ms. Owens, but Terry got in every chance he could to catch Maddie's eye. Each time he could make her smile, the more confident he felt that he could hold her. He could shatter her-- he was well aware of that-- but he also knew how very determined she was, and how that will to keep fighting was making her strong.

The call for John and Izzy came, and Terry laughed when a brave gull swooped to get into the picture. Maddie moved closer to Terry, gripped his hand, and smiled for the camera. Then it was Tim and Karen's turn, and then AJ's, and then the bride and groom with just the munchkins, and Paige holding her baby sister. After one more with all the family, including the Doyles, Izzy asked everyone to head inside, for guests were arriving and people were getting hungry.

The truth was, people had been hungry for a long time, but now it fit in with the schedule, or so it seemed to Terry. Sara Doyle went to the kitchen and Terry could hear the excited chatter of something going on. Terry would've gone in to see what the excitement was all about, but Sara told him it wasn't time yet-- whatever that meant, and she turned him away. Since the reception was being held buffet-style, people could sit where they liked, which was a good thing, for the living room soon filled when Emily and Brian arrived with Dave, then fishing buddy Vince Russo and his wife Susan from just a few houses away. When John confirmed with Terry that all their guests were present, John moved a small table to the center of the room, while everyone parted and chatted about the wedding.

Terry was curious. What was the table about?

He was going to ask John, when Jake carried in a large cake plate with a two tiered, white wedding extravaganza, and clapping erupted on all sides of the living room. It was something to look at. The top tier was smaller than the second, and lined at its top base were what looked to be large, ornate white roses made of frosting with soft green leaves. White beading decorated the sides of both tiers, giving it a delicately professional look that puzzled Terry.

"It's amazing," Terry said with admiration, "but I thought the plan was to have a homemade cake?"

"This is," Maddie smiled. "Jake and Izzy made it."

"They made that?"

"Izzy baked the cake, and Jake did all the frosting. He piped the roses and beads."

Grinning, Terry came to get a closer look while people pulled out their phones to take snapshots before the cake was forever destroyed. "You did this, Jake? I knew you were talented-- I already knew that, but this-- where'd you learn to work frosting so it comes out looking so good?"

"From an art major in San Diego. His wife liked roses, so he alway puts them on their anniversary cake, or whenever it was her birthday. It's not that hard, once you know how."

"Maybe for you, but me?" Terry shook his head. "Not in a million years."

"I'd like to get a picture of the cake cutting," Izzy requested, "then you and Madison can change clothes."

"We're changing?"

"After you cut the cake," Izzy nodded, and Ms. Owens moved in with her camera like a hunter moving in on her prey. "We'll serve lunch after we get a few pictures."

"I don't suppose we could eat the cake first?"

Izzy smiled at his joke, handed him a silver knife, then told Maddie to stand at his side while the photographer got into position. Terry forgot about hunger the second he realized Izzy had handed him the knife, and not Maddie. It had a mostly blunt edge, but it still saddened him, especially when Izzy told Maddie to place her hand over his so they could cut the cake together. It made sense, couples might even do it by tradition, but for them, it had an unintended significance that he hoped was lost on most of their guests. Only a few people knew, so it wouldn't mean a thing to them, but Maddie's hand trembled, and Terry had to steady for both of them. As the blade sank into the cake, they had enough sense to smile, and everyone cheered.

"Feed him a bite," Susan Russo coaxed, so Maddie took some onto her fingers, and smiling, popped it into Terry's wide open mouth.

Terry grinned, and kissed Maddie by way of thanks, then everyone laughed when John pointed out the frosting on the side of Terry's mouth. Maddie licked her fingers, and looked at Izzy as Izzy ushered them into the hall. It was good cake, Terry only wished he could've had more.

"Are you packed?"

"I thought you were going to feed us?" Terry asked.

"You're running a bit late, but we will, one way or another. Are you packed?"

"I don't know." Terry looked to Maddie for confirmation.

"We're ready," Maddie nodded. "Terry, are your clothes here, or at Abby and Jake's place?"

"Here. I only brought enough for the ceremony."

"Then could I change first?"

"Go ahead." Terry stepped back as Maddie went into the bedroom. The cake was being carried away, and he could smell lunch. His stomach growled in protest, but thankfully, no one heard.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Karen asked from the couch.

"Thank you, but we've got it under control," Agatha called from the kitchen. "You just rest your feet, and take care of that sweet baby of yours."

As Jake passed Terry with the munchkins and Madeline in tow, so they could wash their hands before lunch, Terry noticed the living room looked different somehow. Then he saw them. Roses. Someone had brought the roses back from the church, and they decorated the living room in a grand way. It wasn't that he couldn't appreciate a good flower, especially when it was edible, but his senses were being overloaded. How much happiness could one man take before he just had to step back and breathe?

Terry pulled off his tie and watched the closed bedroom door. He'd kind of hoped someone would've told him more about this honeymoon by now. After all, he was supposed to drive there, wasn't he? He would at least need a general sense of where they were going if they hoped to get there before nightfall. Terry leaned against the hallway wall and couldn't help but smile. Maybe Dennis had told him too much.

"Terry, are you out there?"

"I sure am."

"Would you go away? I can't change if I know you're out there."

"I'm going." He didn't want to hold up progress, and moved back to the living room as lunch was being served. It didn't help when Tim came over and ate in front of Terry.

"How long have you known John?" Tim asked, as he loaded his fork.

"Since childhood."

"Really." Tim looked intrigued. "It must be nice to have a friend as long as that."

"It is," Terry nodded. "For as long as I can remember, we've always looked out for each other." Terry folded his arms, and thought back to his younger years. "We stuck together, too. John passed up an Ivy League education so we could attend the same school. He claimed he was saving money because he couldn't afford to bury his dad and go to an Ivy at the same time, but John had a scholarship. He could've swung it."

"Excuse me," Izzy smiled as she passed between the men, and sensing where she was heading, Terry followed to see what was going on.

"Madison," Izzy asked through the closed bedroom door, "do you need help getting out of your wedding dress?"

"Thanks, Izzy."

Knowing better than to volunteer, Terry kept his mouth shut and stepped back as Izzy went inside. At least Maddie sounded okay. He went back to the living room, checked the time, and wondered if he could just stay in his suit. He understood why Maddie couldn't travel in her wedding dress, but they could save time if he stayed in his suit and tie. Though the food looked good, he was beginning to think of ways to excuse themselves from the reception and just leave.

"I'm glad my girls will have each other," someone said out of the blue, suddenly jolting Terry from his thoughts.

He turned to find his brother-in-law behind him, with second helpings of Izzy and Agatha's handiwork. "I don't want Madeline to have the kind of childhood I had. It's good to not be alone, don't you think? Besides his excuse, do you know why he did that?"

"Did what?"

"Turned down a good college just because you couldn't get in?"

"We did go to a good college, only not the best one John had been accepted into."

The next question was plain in Tim's face-- "Why?"-- but Tim didn't have a chance to ask it, for half a moment later, Izzy came down the hall, and gave the nod to Terry. The nod that said, "It's okay. You can go in."

Now wasn't the time for this talk with Tim, a talk that opened a brand new can of worms. Excusing himself, Terry headed for the bedroom and hoped he hadn't misunderstood Izzy. No matter the look, Terry still knocked before turning the handle.

"Come in, Terry."

He opened the door, and saw Maddie in a pale green skirt and matching sweater, her hair still pinned up from the wedding. He sighed with contentment as she placed her coat and purse beside a suitcase on her couch. They were new clothes, and he didn't want to tell her how good they looked on her.

"Excuse me? Uncle Terry?"

He turned and found Paige politely waiting to speak to him.

"Mr. Johannes said there's a bathroom in the office?"

Terry smiled, and opened the office door for her.

He went back to the bedroom and went inside before he was noticed again. "We've got a full house out there," he said, as he shut the bedroom door. "You'd better get out there and eat before they pick the place clean."

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

"I probably should tell you to eat anyway, but I have to admit, I'd rather pass up lunch, myself."

She didn't say anything, but watched as he went to the closet to get some clothes.

"I was talking with John." Terry pulled out a pair of slacks, and slid a watchful look in Maddie's direction. "He's the one in this family who's mainly dealt with my flashbacks, so I talked to him. I knew my flashbacks could get rough, but he said I've almost hit him when he's tried to wake me."

Though Maddie's brows went up, she didn't run from the room in fear, so Terry went on.

"He said I've never hurt anyone, but that you should keep a glass of water by our bed, and to splash it in my face if you can't snap me out of it." Terry paused. "You might even have to leave me alone for a bit, if you think you need to."

"Okay." She went back to her suitcase, and he waited to see if she would say more.

When she didn't, he pulled out a shirt, then watched her a little longer.

"Maddie?"

"Yes?" she asked, as she took out the scented jar candle he'd given her earlier, and rearranged it in her suitcase.

"Never mind." He picked up his clothes and headed to the bathroom. "Do you want to take your verses with us?"

"I've already packed them."

With a sigh of gratitude, Terry went into the bathroom, and shut the door.

By the time he'd changed into his slacks and shirt, and stepped back into the bedroom, he found Maddie waiting with her purse as though she had nothing left to do. He moved beside her to hang the suit in the closet, then reached in to pull out a coat. Since he couldn't find his suitcase, he assumed it had already been taken out to the jeep. He had Dennis' cuff links in his pocket, to give back to their owner before they left, so as far as he was concerned, he was ready to go. Terry looked at Maddie, shut the closet door and thought about their conversation about waiting to have kids. He'd need to make a run to the drugstore, though it might be awkward if he happened to run into anyone he knew.

"Uncle Terry? Aunt Madison?"

Terry opened the bedroom door and let Abby inside.

"I'm afraid it's late enough you won't have time to eat lunch with us," Abby apologized. "Sorry our timing didn't work out any better than this. Mom and I packed your lunch, but I know you probably wanted to eat it with us. If it makes you feel any better, we didn't leave out any of the trimmings."

"As long as you included the trimmings," Terry smiled.

"Dad's putting your lunch in the jeep, but Mom wants to know if Aunt Madison would like to throw her bouquet before you leave?"

"Why? The only unmarried ladies out there are all but munchkins, themselves. I doubt Tim would appreciate it if Maddie tossed her bouquet to Paige or Madeline."

"I guess you could always keep the flowers," Abby shrugged. "Nothing says you have to toss them."

"Then I'll give them to someone special," Maddie said, picking up her bouquet.

Terry was careful to let Maddie pass without touching her. He might've been able to get away with more, but he didn't want to find out. Not when they were about to leave. He went with Maddie and Abby into the living room, and when everyone saw them, even the triplets looked up from their meal, and smiled.

"Excuse me," Maddie said in a quietly brave voice. "Who here has been married for the longest time? I'd like to give them my bouquet."

"That has to be Dick and Sara," Brian grinned, and Maddie went over and presented her bouquet to the couple.

"Sorry, but we've only been married for fourteen years," Dick said with a shake of his head. "My first wife passed away, and while Sara is my second chance at happiness, I think there's probably more than one couple here who's been married longer than that."

"Seventeen years," Vince bid, and everyone laughed.

"Agatha, how about you?" Dick asked.

"Twenty-two years."

"Whoa, close," Terry grinned, and looked at John. "But not close enough. John, tell these good people how long you and Izzy have tied the knot."

"Twenty-three years."

Everyone clapped as Maddie handed her bouquet to Izzy, then gave Izzy a hug.

"Do you have any words of wisdom for the newlyweds in your midst?" Terry asked, as Brian put an arm around Emily.

"You're putting me on the spot," John laughed. "Let's see... there's never go to bed angry. Always be quick to listen, slow to speak, and when the trash is full, take it out. More points if you do it without being asked." He paused a moment. "Remember that your marriage will be stronger if you can walk in agreement. It takes time, but it's worth it. I know it's been that way with Izumi and myself. Keep talking to each other, try to keep that communication going. Take time to be affectionate. Remember you aren't the only one in this marriage, and then pray for each other. You need that support-- I know I do."

Without looking, Terry reached for Maddie's hand, and she filled it.

John turned to Terry. "I've known this guy since we were in grade school. He's been as constant as the tide, and his friendship has been something I've relied upon for most of my life." John shook his head. "Terry is one of those big-hearted people who give more than they take, and I can't think of a better way for God to give back to Terry, than to bless him with today."

"Amen," Jake said, and Abby added her agreement.

"Madison," John turned to her, "you fit into this family better than you probably know. Before you came, there was a Madison-shaped hole in our family that I hadn't realized was there until it was gone. You've filled it so completely, it's changed everyone. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is look at Terry. He's missed you dearly."

Madison looked at Terry, and Terry kissed her hand.

"You've been missing from us, and I want you to know how very glad we are that you're finally home." John came over and hugged her, and she wiped some tears from her eyes.

"I know people have a tendency to look at you guys as being a part of my family, but I want to thank you for letting us be a part of yours." John's voice broke. "May God bless Terry and Madison Davis. Long life to you both."

Unable to speak, Terry went over and crushed John in a great bear hug. His eyes were misting, and he was in danger of weeping. Even worse, he had no words to express what was in his heart. When he searched and could find nothing else, he simply said, "Thank you."

"You'd better get out of here before we make idiots of ourselves." John sniffed, and the men tried to regain their composures. "Izumi, where's that envelope?"

Izzy came forward while she dried her eyes, and passed something to John. She then went to hug and stand beside Maddie.

"What's this?" Terry asked, as John placed a large envelope in his hand.

"It's for you and Madison," John smiled. "Go ahead-- open it."

Sensing something big, Terry pulled out a short stack of paper. He read from the top sheet, only to find an address with no name, and a suite number.

"That's where you'll be staying for the next five days. I've made an itinerary-- each day has its own sheet-- but you don't have to follow it." John shrugged when Terry looked at him. "Madison asked me to help with the plans. Reservations have been made in your name where necessary, but you can always cancel."

"So you weren't kidding when you said you were planning my honeymoon."

"You thought I was kidding?" John gave a mock hurt look, and Terry grinned. "Is the last of the luggage in the jeep?"

"No, Maddie has a suitcase."

"I'll get it," John said, while Terry pulled out his phone to punch in the address.

The older kids and the munchkins had finished eating, and were ready for dessert, and Agatha, Abby, and Sara were getting plates ready, for dish noises could be heard coming from the kitchen. Beneath the din of conversation, Terry heard hushed whispers, and he glanced up from his phone to see Izzy and Maddie in one corner of the room. They looked in deep conversation, with Maddie hugging herself, and nodding to whatever Izzy was saying.

"So you'll be gone a few days?" Dick asked, as he looked over Terry's shoulder at the trail connecting home with the address John had given Terry. "Looks like you have quite a drive ahead of you."

Terry looked at his friend. "You don't know where I'm going?"

Dick shook his head. "They've kept it one big secret. Let me see your phone a moment. Wait-- I know this place." A smile spread over Dick's face, and he handed the phone back to Terry.

"What?" Terry asked.

"Nothing," Dick smiled.

"What aren't you telling me?"

"Absolutely nothing you won't find out for yourself."

"I guessed as much." Terry smiled, not bothering to pull up the additional information the map offered with the address. "For Maddie's sake, I'm glad it'll be nice. Room service is a luxury, but this is a honeymoon, so why not?"

"There are other luxuries besides room service," Dick smiled, and before Terry could ask what that was supposed to mean, Dick moved off, and started talking to Dennis.

Curious, Terry was about to take a closer look at the address when John came through with Maddie's suitcase. Terry slipped the phone into his pocket, handed Dennis his cuff links, then went to get Maddie's coat, and purse.

As he stepped into the bedroom, Terry looked behind him to see a trio of munchkins tagging along.

"What's this?" Terry asked in amusement.

"Can we come with you?" Ruthie asked.

"Yeah, can we?" Debbie nodded.

"Please?" Lizzie chimed in.

Smiling at his girls, Terry got down so he could look them in their solemn little faces. "Debbie, do you remember when I told you some trips I have to make with others?"

The girl nodded.

"Well, this is one of those times. Not even your mommy and daddy are coming."

"Why not?" Ruthie asked.

"Because..." Terry rubbed his face, and silently begged anyone nearby for help.

"Because we said so," John's voice came from behind. "Now scoot, so your uncle can leave."

"Thanks." Terry smiled to his buddy, and grabbed the last of Maddie's things. He took one quick look at the bedroom while Agatha made the call to cake and ice cream. It wasn't able to get the triplets' attention, so John coaxed them to go, and after a pleading look from Lizzie that Terry answered with a hug, the girls traipsed off to get their dessert.

"Try not to let them guilt trip you," John said, as the men moved into the hall. "Izumi and I will take them somewhere they'll enjoy next week, and if we're successful, they won't even notice you're gone."

"Funny." Terry pinned the manilla envelope under his arm, closed the bedroom door, then fished the jeep keys from his pocket. "I'll call you when we get there."

"From your demeanor, I take it you didn't explore the address," John smiled. "That's an unexpected show of restraint."

"What's my demeanor have to do with it? I'm pretty sure you booked us a fancy hotel. Hey, it's what I would've done." Terry stopped John, as John was about to say something. "You don't have to ruin her surprise-- I understand. You did good, Buddy." Terry punched John in the shoulder. "I'm grateful for all the help. Maddie deserves a good time."

"Whatever you say." John stuffed his hands in his pockets. "As long as you're being such a good sport about it, maybe you could hold off reading the next day's itinerary until you need to."

"I'll play along," Terry smiled.

They went into the living room and found some starting in on cake and ice cream. Maddie stood with Izzy, all quiet and still. When Terry went over to Maddie, and helped her into her coat, Ruthie put down her plate, and came over to watch. As though she was waiting for something. Terry handed Maddie her purse, then Maddie stooped and gave the girl a hug. When the other two saw that, they came over in true Johannes triplet fashion for theirs.

"I'm coming back," Maddie told them, and Ruthie looked hopeful.

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"They're only leaving for a few days, Ruthie." John picked up his daughter, and smiled at Maddie. "It's all right. Izumi and I will keep them busy."

"Have a good time," Abby said, coming to Maddie and giving her a hug. "Don't worry about everyone. Jake and I will look after them."

Terry said goodbye to his little munchkins, hugged AJ, and Ricky, while John did his best to explain, once again, that Uncle Terry and Aunt Madison were coming back. This wasn't a business trip-- the girls knew what those looked like, and since it looked like a vacation of some sort, the triplets felt they were missing out.

"We're going fishing after they leave," John told the girls in a conspiratorial whisper, and they smiled at their daddy as though they had a secret of their own.

For one of the few times in his life, Terry wasn't eager to go fishing with the others, and he let Abby coax him and Maddie from the house without a fight. As he helped Maddie into the jeep, something caught his eye. He closed her door, went around to the back of the jeep while John followed. On the rear window, someone had added a big white decal that said "Just Married." It even gave the date.

Terry groaned. "That comes off, right?"

"Why are you asking me that? Someone else could have done it. It doesn't automatically have to be me."

"I guess I should be thankful there aren't any tin cans tied to my bumper."

"Tin cans." John winced. "I knew I'd forgotten something."

Terry laughed as he went to the driver's side. "I'd better get out of here while the getting's good."

People waved from the house, and even across the street, neighbors could be seen coming out to watch the newlyweds leave. Terry felt a little like a goldfish being watched in a bowl as he pulled away. He checked Maddie, saw her struggling with her seat belt, but couldn't stop the jeep. Too many were watching, and with a small toot on the horn, he waved to the neighbors across the street, then swung onto the main road and made their getaway.

He checked the mirror, then let out a careful breath. They'd made it.

"Terry, my hands won't work."

"Hold on." Terry eased to the side of the road to fasten her seat belt. "Try to keep breathing, okay?"

She nodded.

It was good advice. He needed to remember that, himself. There was something else he needed to remember, as he got back onto the road, and he wondered if he shouldn't try and make that stop further away from home. Just in case someone saw him. He knew he was being crazy, for everyone knew he was married. Still, it'd be too easy for people to gossip if they saw him buying condoms.

He glanced at his knuckles, realized they were turning white, and loosened his grip on the steering wheel.

"Do you want the radio?" he asked.

"Could I have the phone?"

"I'll need it after I make a stop."

"What stop?"

He bit his tongue.

"Terry?"

"I need to run by a drugstore."

She went silent.

He tugged the phone out of his pocket, handed it to her, and soon, music filled the jeep so much she had to turn it down before their ears hurt.

"You hanging in there?" he asked, and when she didn't answer, he glanced at her. "It's just us, Maddie. No photographer, no friends, no family but you and me. There's no pressure, because no one's watching."

"We're watching each other," she said quietly.

He kept his eyes on the road. "It was a good wedding, wasn't it? Everyone had a great time, and you were beautiful. I've never..." he stopped when he saw Maddie hug herself out of the corner of his eye, and he took a deep breath. "And that cake. I've never seen a cake so decked out, in my life. It was well frosted."

A gasping laugh came from Maddie, and he tried not to smile.

"We've got the open road, and someone to share it with." Terry inhaled the air, even though it was too cold to roll down the windows. "This is what I call a good time." Maddie was watching him, all right-- he could feel it, but he tried to ignore it and kept his eyes on the road. "This is nice," he nodded, then looked in the mirror as someone honked behind them. He checked his speed. He was going the limit, but he accelerated, not wanting someone to ride his bumper for several miles. He forgot all about it when, a few minutes later, someone else honked. A man in a baseball cap waved as he passed them, and ten minutes after that, a minivan tooted its horn.

"Why are they doing that, Terry?"

"I'll give you one guess." Terry jabbed his thumb at the rear window. "John knew this was going to happen. Don't try to tell me he didn't."

"It's not so bad. Is it?"

"I guess not." Terry scooted down a little in his seat. "I wonder if that decal would work on John's minivan?"

Maddie smiled, and when a police cruiser honked as they passed and didn't pursue, even Terry had to grin. They had a long drive ahead of them though, and the honking continued to such an extent, Terry had to pull over and deal with the source of their problem. Thankfully, the decal was easy enough to remove, though he still wondered about trying it on John's minivan.

When Terry had reached enough mileage to make him more comfortable about not running into anyone he might know, he found a drugstore, and prayed he wouldn't have any trouble finding what he needed. Maddie didn't say a word as he parked the jeep.

"Do you want to be a part of this?" he asked, and she shook her head. "Okay, I'll be back soon." As he climbed out, Maddie was hugging herself, and still listening to music. She was focused on staying calm. He could get that. He could also understand they were both suffering from a rather unsubtle case of nerves, and he was relieved she didn't want to go inside the store with him. It was bad enough he had to go in there.

The drugstore doors swooshed open as he went inside, and he fought the crazy sensation that everyone knew why he was there. They were strangers-- he'd gone to some trouble to make sure they were, but even if they weren't, none of them were mind readers. They wouldn't look at him and know.

He grabbed a hand basket, meandered harmlessly and read the layout of the store. Hairspray. He dropped it into the basket, figuring it would look better if he didn't check out with only one item. He smiled at an elderly couple, edged past a display of potato chips and made a round about path to the area of the store he wanted. A few things along the way couldn't hurt to make him look like a casual shopper, and when he finally reached the area he wanted, he stopped as though he were reading cereal boxes and not what they actually were.

He felt like picking up the first product he saw and hiding it under the bag of potato chips, but he didn't have anything to be ashamed of. Marriage was right and honorable, and he was doing this for Maddie. The second box seemed like a better choice, so he placed it in the basket and went on with his shopping. After a few more minutes of loitering, he headed to the checkout-- then realized he could check himself out without anyone being the wiser. By the time he'd run everything past the scanner, he had shelled out fifty dollars and ninety two cents for what had basically amounted to a ten-dollar box. Still, he was new at this and had needed the camouflage.

As he stalked back to the jeep with his groceries, Terry heard someone call his name. He looked over, recognized someone he knew coming toward him, but in the general direction of going toward the store, and not from it.

"Terry Davis! Didn't expect to see you in this neck of the woods!"

"Just picking up a few things," Terry smiled.

"I thought I heard you were getting married? Is that right?"

"Yeah. Today, in fact. My wife is in the jeep. We were just getting some groceries before we take off for a few days."

"Congratulations," Nick checked his phone, then edged toward the entrance. "I left Nicole with a babysitter, so I gotta run. We should get together sometime, and celebrate."

"Sure-- take care," Terry smiled as the man went on his way. Okay, almost everyone knew about his marriage. Terry hefted his bags, and finished the last few steps to the jeep. When he reached the driver's side, Maddie leaned over and unlocked the door.

"I thought you said you'd be back soon?"

"I tried to be." Terry leaned in and lifted the bags into the back seat.

"What's all that?"

"Groceries."

"I thought you only went in for one thing?"

With a sigh, Terry climbed behind the wheel, shut the door and looked at her. "Next time, you go in."

She bit her lip, then a smile teased around her mouth.

"Go ahead, and smile. It didn't cost you a thing. I just ran into an old friend out there." Terry started the engine. "Did you remember to bring any toothpaste?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because I just bought a two-pack." Terry fastened his seat belt. "It's time to start the map," he announced, and Maddie passed him the phone.

She looked in the back seat and he heard the crinkle of grocery bags. "You bought pretzels?"

"If that's what you see." He made sure the map had their destination, turned the volume up all the way, then placed his phone in the cup holder. He negotiated the parking lot, found his way back to the road as Maddie opened the bag of pretzels, then noisily munched away. "How about feeding me some?" he asked. A pretzel found its way to his mouth, then he tasted salt as it passed onto his tongue. "Tfanks."

The radio wasn't on, but since he needed to hear the turn by turn directions from his phone, it didn't matter. Snacking kept them busy, and they relaxed enough for Terry to start enjoying their drive. When he wanted another pretzel, all he had to do was smack his lips, and Maddie would feed him another salty twist. It helped with his hunger pangs, and to pass the time.

The afternoon was getting long, the excitement from the wedding was beginning to wear off, and after the bag of pretzels was put away, the quiet of being together started to set in. They'd spent time alone before, so Terry didn't think this was anything too new, only this time, it was.

If only he didn't feel like such a newlywed.

"Do you want to take a nap?" he asked finally, trying like mad to say something.

"I'm not tired."

"So." Terry sucked in a breath. "How about telling me what's in the back? That's quite a mountain we've got under that blanket."

"You looked under it?"

"No, I only meant, that's quite a mountain from here."

"How much longer until we get there, Terry?"

"I don't know-- look at the phone."

She didn't look.

Terry flicked her a glance. "Do you want me to speed up, or slow down?"

"I don't know. I just want this to be over."

"The drive, or the honeymoon?"

No answer.

"Maddie?"

"I'm thinking about it."

"While you're thinking, could you feed me some of those potato chips?"

"You're going to get thirsty."

"I bought fruit punch." He glanced at Maddie. "If you wanted something else, you should've told me before I went in."

She shook her head. "We're a mess, aren't we, Terry?"

"Nah, you and I are just getting started." Terry watched the back of the semi truck in front of them and adjusted his speed. "We're not doing as bad as you might think."

"What do you like about me that isn't messed up?" She was smiling now-- he could hear it in her voice.

"Let's see--" he thought out loud. "There's so much to choose from, I can't make up my mind. There's your sense of decency, and your willingness to trust after so much evil." He watched as the semi took the next exit. "The fact you haven't taken the easy way out after all these years. There's a lot to love about you, Maddie."

He heard a sniffle, and stopped talking.

"What do you like about the way I look?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I hadn't noticed."

"Terry--" she prodded his side, and he smiled-- "I'm serious."

"Your eyes. When the light is just right, I love the way they change color with your mood. Sometimes they're blue, and other times, they're as stormy as the bay in winter."

"Is that what you love best about my face?"

When he didn't answer right away, she pushed at his side.

"Honestly? I love your mouth even more. I love it when you talk to me, and I love..." He didn't finish.

"You like my kisses?"

"No, I love them."

She hugged herself, and went quiet.

He'd made a mistake speaking so bluntly, so much from the heart. But she'd asked.

"Terry?" He could hear the gulp in her voice. "Could you speed up a little?"

He gave a small nod, and tried not to show any emotion. Especially when he sensed Maddie going into a kind of lockdown. She didn't speak, she didn't look at him, but stared straight ahead while she hugged herself with both arms. If he didn't have to stay behind the wheel, he would've hugged her, soothed her somehow, but he had a feeling she wouldn't have heard him. If he didn't know any better, he would have said she was clutching up, going into a flashback, but every so often, when he glanced at her, he would see her blinking at the road ahead of them, her face still very much in the present.

For the next few hours, they sat in silence while Terry followed the phone's directions. He was now wishing he'd looked into where they were going, instead of leaving everything to surprise. Of course, John knew, and Terry didn't want to ruin anything for Maddie, but the last thing he wanted to do was wind up in the wrong place. He'd drove through here before, but as someone passing through, not as someone intending to stay. The sun was close to setting, and they weren't at their destination yet. He glanced at Maddie to see if he could glean any information from her expression, but she gave none. Except for the very real impression she gave of never having been this way before.

No big surprise there.

As he kept following the map, the Catskill Mountains swallowed the sun whole, then began to wipe the sky of light.

"Turn left..." the phone announced, as trees lined the dimming horizon.

He turned, kept following the road, until he was told his destination would be on the right.

"Terry, I don't feel good."

"Hold on, we're almost there." He passed black ornamental gates, pulled to a stop, then turned on the overhead light to read the printout John had given him. "I need to check in. Will you be all right if I leave you in the jeep?"

She nodded and hugged herself, and Terry prayed she would be okay. He located the building he needed by the fancy sign out front, and found a place to park.

"Did you bring your phone?" he asked, and nodded when he saw her hold up her purse. "If you need me, call, but I'll try not to take too long. Just stay put, and I'll come get you, okay? Just keep breathing, Maddie. I love you. Don't forget that."

"I love you, too."

He unsnapped his seat belt, took the phone from the cup holder, then popped open his door. If she'd been feeling better, he would've taken her with him, but maybe this was for the best. She could calm down better out here, than while he was busy filling out paperwork. He'd go with that hope, and gave Maddie a smile as he walked away.

He loved her. Oh, how he loved her.

* * * *

She wouldn't die. Even though it felt like she would, she knew she would not die. She'd been through this before. She'd survived it by crawling inside herself, by hiding from the shame, the hurt, and the pleasure, and then punishing herself for feeling as much as she had later on. She was dead to it now, she had to be. Maybe it wouldn't mean anything at all, and she'd be like a tree hollowed out by heart-rot. That would be good, wouldn't it? Then she wouldn't need to cut.

If she didn't let Terry touch her though, she knew she'd cut anyway; but God didn't want her to, so she'd have to fight. No matter what, she couldn't hurt herself. She couldn't deal with it like she used to-- she couldn't take her old escape. She could, of course, but she'd have to not take it. To choose another way, even though habit was so strong she could taste it.

She would not cut, no matter what happened tonight. Madison didn't know if she actually believed that, but she knew she had to turn herself to flint, make herself as hard as stone so she would not be moved.

"God, help me. Please, help me!" She gripped her arm until it hurt, then gripped the seat and stared hard at the dashboard, the light glinting off the textured surface from the outdoor lamp in the parking area. She wished she could climb into the tiny crevices, and not be found. But then she'd be no better than she was before-- invisible, chained, and forgotten. She didn't want that. She wanted to claim her place in the world, and that meant claiming her place with Terry.

She found her purse again, opened it and searched it by the light from the parking lamp. She had to find them, and she had to find them NOW. She found the paper, pulled them out and tried to make her hands hold still. They shook so much she couldn't read her own handwriting. Overwhelmed... She needed to remember that verse, but couldn't.

Someone came to her window, and she jumped.

"Maddie?" The door unlocked, and it opened to Terry. His warm touch steadied her hands. "Are you okay?"

"I-- I can't remember the cry."

"'From the end of the earth,'" he led her through the verse in a hushed voice, then kissed her forehead. "We're checked in."

She didn't ask any questions, just let him help her from the jeep while she focused on her battle cry. She'd worked so hard to memorize her verses, but right now, it all came down to a few lines of strength. The moon cast its light on her, showing wide buildings that looked liked a country club she'd once seen on TV. Only these had cobblestone walkways with carefully placed scenic trees, a lawn with small animal statutes that looked like something out of a dream.

"Someone is waiting to show us our suite."

She nodded, squeezed Terry's hand as he led her over the smooth stones to another building. The door stood open, and they stepped into a tall room with stairs on one side. A man stood near a fireplace, and smiled when Terry introduced her.

"I hope you'll enjoy your visit at The Pembroke. You'll be staying in our Empire Suite, which has some of the finest accommodations our resort has to offer. The bedroom and bathroom are in the loft, but when this suite was booked, I understood you preferred to camp out on the floor. To accommodate this, we've removed some of the furniture to ensure there's enough room for a comfortable stay. Will this floor be all right?"

"Yes, thank you." Madison didn't know what else to say. John had been very thoughtful, and so had this man.

"If you need anything, or have any concerns, please call the main desk and we'll be happy to accommodate in whatever way we can." The man gave Terry some keys, shook their hands, and when Terry started to tip him, he turned it down.

"That's not necessary. I'm the owner." He smiled, and left the suite to Terry and Madison.

She looked about the room and saw the couch was against one wall with a large flat paneled TV on the other. A fireplace was at one end of the room, with some small pieces of furniture lining the walls, but for the most part, the center of the suite had been left empty. Thick curtains were drawn over the windows, a milky white lamp stood on an end table beside the couch. There was an overhead light, but it stayed off, giving the suite a more intimate feel. It wasn't fancy in a Las Vegas way, but it felt inviting, like somewhere she could retreat to and find refuge. It felt like a home, and she liked that. Terry pressed a button on a remote, and as the fireplace came to life, she felt herself glow like those flames.

"Terry? Would you unlock the back of the jeep?"

"So you're letting me see what the mountain is made of?" He grinned as they went outside.

The moon followed them across the parking area where their jeep sat waiting for them. Terry unlocked the tailgate, but she opened the back herself.

"You'd better let everyone know we made it here okay." She lifted the blanket just enough to get what she needed. The sleeping mat was bigger than what she'd remembered, but it wasn't heavy, and she had no trouble at all carrying it into the suite. She noticed Terry had turned quiet. He didn't say a word as he followed her inside, watched as she unrolled the mat on the floor, and didn't even comment at the way the mat inflated on its own. It was a sleeping mat people used for camping, only this one was wide enough for two. He followed her back out to the jeep, watched as she started to pull out bedding, then took some in, himself.

Pillows, and lots of blankets, all went into the suite. Then Madison shoved out their suitcases, and Terry asked her to step aside before she had a chance to struggle with their heft, and easily carried them inside. She lifted out Terry's garment bags, saw Terry's face when he came back and saw them.

"What's up with that?" he asked. "Why'd you bring it?"

When she bit her lip, he shook his head, and carried the bags into the suite. If it had been possible, she would've left his garment bags in the jeep, but she didn't want his clothes to get wrinkled. Everything else, though, he didn't need to know about, and after lifting out their packed lunch, she closed the tailgate just as he was returning.

"What was the rest of that stuff under the blanket?"

"It isn't time to show you, yet."

"What do you mean? We're here, I've seen the resort, I've been impressed that you and John didn't go out and book the first thing to cross your radar, so now I get to see what else is under the blanket, right? I know there's more. Granted, most of it was bedding, but I saw enough to know there was more."

"Please, Terry."

"This woman and her secrets." He smiled, took the food, the bags from the drugstore, and walked her back to the suite. "It's a good thing for you, I'm in love."

"Why?"

"Because if I wasn't--" Terry closed the suite door with his foot-- "I'd do something rash, like tickle your feet until you told me everything. Or," he grinned as he locked the door for the night, "sing off-key until your eyes teared. Which fortunately for me, isn't that hard to do."

She smiled. "I don't think you could get information out of me, Terry. I'm too determined."

"You are, huh?" He opened his mouth, as though about to say something, but closed it and just looked at her, his face both playful and tender.

Unable to look at him and not do something about it, she turned to the stack of blankets and pulled out the thickest comforter. Unfolding it over the mat, she proceeded to make a bed. She took off her coat, went back to work while Terry leaned against the arm of the couch and watched.

"Did you call home?" she asked finally.

"I forgot."

When Terry took out his phone, Madison hurried to get as much done as she could before he hung up and started watching her again. Two pillows. One for her, and one for Terry. Madison gulped when she saw them side by side, but it was where they belonged. She got to her feet, spread a sheet over the bed, then a comforter, then a second, for it would be really cold tonight. Izzy had already looked at the forecast.

By the time Madison finished, she looked over to see Terry pretending to watch the fireplace. She knew it was pretend, for she'd caught his gaze sliding away from her as she'd turned in his direction.

"Well." After what seemed like an eternity, Terry studied the room from where he sat. "It's a nice place. Upscale, and yet still laid back. I like it."

She nodded.

He rubbed his hand on his knee and kept looking at everything in the room but her and the bed. "It's a nice place," he said again.

She tried to find something to say, but nothing came.

"So," his eyes met hers, "I guess it's getting close to bedtime. What do you think?"

She nodded.

He looked at the stairs. "The bathroom's up there. Do you want to use it first, or should I?"

"I have to find my clothes--" Madison looked about, only to see her suitcase by the door. A crazy thought danced through her that she could still take her bag and leave. She lingered with that thought until she realized Terry was talking to her.

"Should I change first?"

Her eyes traveled back to Terry, and she nodded, "yes."

He took a deep breath that even she could hear, pushed away from the couch, and went to his suitcase. As he pulled out his pajamas, she was glad that at least they reminded her of home. It helped her to relax a little. She watched as he moved up the staircase to the loft, and hoped it wouldn't be too hard for her to use the bathroom. The bedroom was up there, too, and she supposed it would be a little like going through John and Izzy's master bedroom with her eyes shut. She could do that.

Feeling more at home, Madison moved to her suitcase, opened it, and found her new nightshirt and matching robe. She took out her prescription pain ointment, for her primary physician-- Dr. Nelson-- had mentioned that if Madison ever became sexually active again, to use it before intercourse. Madison didn't know yet if being with Terry would definitely cause pain, but she wasn't taking any chances. She stuffed the tube of ointment into her pocket, took out her bottle of acetaminophen, and dry swallowed two pills. She, and Izzy, and even Carol had gone over everything they could think of to make this work. And there was always the phone if she needed more help.

Closing the suitcase, Madison went to the freezer bag to search through their packed lunch. She'd talked to Izzy before leaving, so she knew the cups were in there. Then she spotted a small stack beside the silverware, and slid one off. She closed the freezer bag, then wrapped the plastic cup in her nightshirt, and went to the couch to wait her turn for the bathroom. She would've been willing to wait a long time, but Terry soon came down the stairs in his green pajamas and gave her the nod.

So much for being willing to wait.

"The bathroom's in the bedroom," he cautioned. "I'll have to walk you through."

She took his hand when he offered it, and he gave her fingers a gentle squeeze as they moved up the steps. He told her when to close her eyes, and a few steps later, the carpet turned to tile beneath her shoes.

"You're here," he said, and let go of her hand. "I'll wait outside the door until you're ready to go back." He shut the door for her, and she found herself in a great big bathroom with a fancy looking bathtub.

She turned to find a large mirror, and a pale face staring back at her. Despite all the makeup, she still looked washed out. Like she was on a tall mountaintop looking down. She closed her eyes, and started to change her clothes. The wind was tugging at her to fall, the mountain was awfully steep, and there didn't seem anywhere else to go but up.

She had butterfly wings, so it was time to use them.

It was time to fly.

Madison changed, used the ointment, fastened the last of the buttons on her nightshirt, then looked at herself in the mirror. The soft blue material deepened her eyes, so she supposed that was all right. So long as she didn't look worse. She reached for the robe, but stopped. She would go as she was. Izzy had said to wash off the makeup before going to bed, so Madison washed her face, then freshened up her hair to make herself pretty for Terry.

Tears stung her eyes, but she willed them back. Then one by one, the verses she'd memorized marched before her, and she could see them as clearly as if they had been taped to the wall. Sweet words, bold words that told her through Christ, she could do all things. Even be with her husband.

"God, don't let what happened with the Dragon get in the way of me being with Terry. Please."

"Maddie, who are you talking to in there? Are you okay?"

"Yes, Terry."

"Are you ready to come out?"

"Almost." She took the plastic cup, filled it with water, then sucked in a deep breath. "I'm ready now." The door opened slowly, probably because Terry wanted to give her time to close her eyes so she wouldn't see the bedroom behind him, but she couldn't move. She kept her eyes open as the door creaked, and Terry's face came into view.

Everything around her slipped away, and all she saw was Terry.

As he took her in, his eyes stirred with emotion, and with lust, but also love. A great deal of love.

"I'm ready, Terry." She held out her hand to him, and he took it with so much tenderness, she knew he hadn't understood. "I'm ready to go downstairs," she said gently.

He nodded, blew out a breath, and she closed her eyes.

The carpet felt soft to her bare feet as he led her through the bedroom, though she couldn't help but shiver a little.

The night was getting cold.

"You can look now," Terry said, as they started down the stairs. "Sorry about that, Maddie."

She gripped his hand, and tried to breathe while she kept the cup from spilling. Her heart was full to overflowing, just like this cup, and it was all she could do to keep from passing out. As they came to the last step, she fought for air.

"Terry?"

He looked at her.

"Would you kiss me?"

He grinned his sweet Terry lopsided grin, took the cup, and went and placed it on the floor beside their pillows. Then he came back to her, and pulled her close with the gentlest of tugs. He could have been pulling thread through the softest cotton, and she wouldn't have come any easier.

"Are you wearing your wedding band?" she asked. Her fingers felt his, but he nodded, "yes." "I need to remember it's you. I'm wearing mine." She showed Terry her rings, and he kissed them.

He turned her hand, planted a warm kiss in her palm, and met her gaze so firmly, Madison's breath caught. He caressed her cheek, and her heart raced as his mouth lowered to hers. He kissed her with such pained need, it broke her heart. He'd been holding back for so long, she strained to give all of herself and to answer his touch.

She felt his breath as he pulled her close.

"Don't leave me, Terry. Don't leave me alone when you're done." She melted as he kissed her, and as they moved to the bed, she sent up one last prayer.

A prayer without words, a cry that only God could hear.

Overwhelmed, but pulsing with love, Madison took to the sky.

* * * *

She could hear him sleep, that soft breathing that said he wasn't awake, and she needed him to be awake. Madison shook his shoulder, and a snore caught in his throat.

"Terry?"

The arm cradling around her pulled tight, and she kept shaking him until his eyes fluttered open.

"Terry, I have to use the bathroom."

His arm moved, and she straightened her nightshirt before pushing the covers back. The fireplace was off, but the lamp on the table was still on, casting enough light to see by. The suite felt cool, but not cold, and she absently wondered what time it was.

She sucked in a breath, held it, then slowly got to her feet. Her knees wobbled, and when she started for the stairs, she gasped, and had to stop a moment.

"Maddie?"

Behind her, Madison could hear the rustle of blankets as Terry climbed out of bed. A hand went to the small of her back, and she stiffened at his touch before relaxing.

"Do you want me to go away?" he asked, and she shook her head. "Does it hurt?" he asked quietly.

"Just give me a moment." She swallowed, looked at the stairs, and felt weak.

Suddenly, the floor disappeared from under her, and she found herself in Terry's arms, floating toward the stairs. She put her arms around his neck, hugged against his open pajama top, and closed her eyes. Someone else tried to invade the moment, so she clung to Terry even harder.

"If we can't do this without hurting you, then I won't touch you, Maddie." He pressed his forehead to hers. "I mean it. Tonight will be the first and last time I ever touch you."

"Could we talk about it later?" She closed her eyes as they neared the bedroom, then opened them when he lowered her, and her feet kissed the cold tiles. "Don't leave, Terry. Please, don't leave me alone."

"I'm still here." He took a step back as she moved to the toilet. "Your limp is worse."

"It doesn't hurt that bad. You were gentle, Terry."

"I'm glad to hear that, because right now, you're giving a great impression of someone in pain."

"I'm all right."

"Please be honest with me, Maddie. I need to know."

She flushed the toilet, made her way to the sink and felt more sure of herself with each step. "You aren't the Dragon. It hurts, but you aren't him. You treat me differently."

"But you are in pain?"

"I feel some," she had to admit, "but it's because of the Dragon, and what he did to me, and not you. You didn't hurt me-- the Dragon did." She washed her hands, and looked at Terry. "I don't know how I look to you, but I don't hurt as much as I have in the past. The ointment my doctor prescribed is helping, and so is the painkiller. When the Dragon was finished with me, I usually had to fight not to crawl. This time, I can walk. See?" To prove it, she crossed the bathroom to Terry, and his arms came around her as she leaned into his hug.

"If it ever becomes too much for you, Maddie, tell me to go soak my head under the faucet, and I will."

"No, stay with me."

"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." He held her tight, and her eyes caught the gleam of diamond on her ring finger.

She sighed as she remembered three small words: "I am loved."

"You aren't the Dragon," she said again, taking great pleasure in that truth. "I will be with you, Terry. I will." She hugged him fiercely, and closed her eyes as he gathered her even closer. "Do you know what? I flew tonight."

He pulled her back a little, looked into her eyes as though he wasn't quite sure he'd heard her right. Then a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"I love this woman. This wonderful, sweetheart of a woman."

"You didn't have a flashback, Terry."

"God blessed us." Terry hugged her, and nuzzled her ear. "He blessed me with you. Lovable, kissable, Maddie." He groaned softly. "Get ready, I'm carrying you through the bedroom." He lifted her, she closed her eyes, and when she put her hand to his chest, she could feel his heart quicken to her touch.

Just as quickly, dragon eyes flashed before her, and she blinked hard to make them go away.

She was with Terry. She was safe.

Terry carried her downstairs, then lowered her onto the bed. He crawled in after her, and she quickly cozied into his arms, even as he tugged the blankets over their shoulders. Touch sparked more touch, and they triggered things she had to fight like crazy to keep at bay, but as she felt warmth surround her, she knew she was home.

The sun was warm on her face, the wind felt gentle on her wings.

And Madison was flying.


"Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled [Terry and Madison]: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge ['the Dragon']."
~ Hebrews 13:4 ~

"I [Madison] found him whom my soul loveth [Terry]: I held him, and would not let him go..."
~ Song of Solomon 3:4 ~

end of chapter