Terry's Journey: Chapter 44

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Chapter Forty-four
New Every Morning

"It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness."
~ Lamentations 3:22, 23 ~

She didn't know how early it might be, but the window was still dark when Madison crawled from bed. Terry mumbled after her, seemingly half aware that something had changed beside him. She held her breath, he slid back to a deep slumber, and she slowly made her way to the stairs. While she didn't know for certain what was on today's itinerary, she could guess.

Holding onto the banister, she took one step up, paused, and waited for the pain to come so it wouldn't have to sneak up and surprise her later. If there was going to be bad news, she wanted to get it over with now. It was hard to know what she felt, only that what her body was telling her, wasn't what it usually did after being with a man. Taking another step, she tried not to brace for something worse, but it was hard not to think it wouldn't come. After all, how could her body forget? Even when sex hadn't been the cause, during that pelvic exam in the doctor's office, there had been pain afterward. It's just the way things were. Though she'd told Terry she thought they had a chance to make this work without pain, she'd been talking in faith, and by promise, not what her life had told her was probable.

She'd done everything she could to be ready for last night, including things she hadn't done the night before. She'd waited to go to bed a full half hour after putting on the pain ointment, so the ointment was already working, and she'd felt easy enough with Terry to tell him exactly where it hurt so he could understand her better. She'd just wanted him to know, but he had listened, and made suggestions about what they could do about it, so by the time she'd closed her eyes to sleep, she was in surprisingly little pain.

Which is why she wanted to know how God would answer the rest of her prayer.

The ointment could still be working, which could explain why she felt the way she did this morning. That could be it.

Please, God, cause it to be more than that.

Tightly holding on to her prayer, she went up the staircase, hesitated, then pushed into the bedroom without pausing to think, or let herself register where she was. It wasn't until she'd safely made it to the bathroom, that she fully realized what she'd done. She'd kept her eyes open and had stared at the carpet the whole time, but she had made it through on her own. And without any awkwardness.

Hardly worth throwing a party over, but for her, it felt lightly powerful. Dazzling, and a bit scary. What other powers did she possess?

Only God knew, for He was the one Who had made that possible.

It wasn't until she was washing her hands, that once again, she realized she still felt very little pain. Not in any measurable way. While she appreciated the pain not giving her trouble, it was kind of dismaying that it could be overlooked for even a moment. She wanted to be aware of the difference, to be grateful each and every single second for that difference, not to shrug it off and go on with life as though it was no big deal. Was this her answer? In the past, she had known pain that had lasted for days, and this had not been like that. It had hurt, and now it hardly hurt at all.

The comfort of a self-hug calmed her down, and she wondered how much longer she'd have to wait before knowing for sure if the ointment had worn off.

What if this was wishful thinking, and she was deluding herself with hope? Maybe she was hurting more than she realized, and nothing she or Terry had done last night had changed a thing. One thought latched onto another, and they spiraled into fear, and a voice inside her said to pray.

Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, she did just that, and calm descended once more.

God was answering her prayer. She just had to have faith. If not this morning, then some other time, but if she held on, His answer would one day be, "Yes." If it wasn't that, already. The fact she could sit without wincing could be counted a victory right there. She didn't have her phone with her, and there wasn't a clock in the bathroom, so she didn't know how close to morning it was, but the ointment shouldn't be so strong she should feel this well-- not if it was there.

This wasn't her imagination. She stood, and found the only part of her that really hurt, was her hip. This was good.

The temptation to compare herself to others, to wonder if this was how normal people felt, only lasted a moment. It didn't matter. She wasn't anyone, but her. This was her life, this was what she had, and it was a good thing to be her. She tilted her head back and shut her eyes as the walls of the bathroom fell to a green valley; she was perched on a tall mountain, like in one of those paintings she'd seen in the country restaurant. That next cliff? She could get there. God had given her wings, and through Him, she could do anything, so long as she kept believing and didn't let fear keep her back. The ground was a long way down, but all things were possible.

They were.

Blinking, she looked in the bathroom mirror, turned on the faucet, and splashed water on her face. It ran down her arms and onto the floor as her body woke up and her soul took flight above those mountains. Riding the wind, she wanted to shout-- she felt so free. Knowing she had to calm down, she shook herself from the daydream and grabbed a towel, but still caught herself smiling in the mirror.

"Thank you for my life, God. Thank You."

God's lovingkindness was sweeter than life, and that sweetness stirred into her heart and made her all the more grateful for this chance to live hers. Even those puddles on the floor were something to thank God about, for if she hadn't been alive to make them, they wouldn't be there.

She was awake, and the day was calling to her, and she wanted to get dressed and answer it as best she could. To do that, she would need boots, and they were out in the jeep.

Some days, a woman needed boots. Rugged lace-ups. Her first pair, ever.

She got into her new blue jeans and a bright flannel shirt, mopped up the water by the sink, then did her best with a light dusting of makeup. Nothing ambitious, for she figured it wouldn't mean much where she was going. She tucked in her shirt, put on some thick socks, then started into the next room. Her breath caught the moment her eyes fell on the bed. Heart tripping, she backed into the wall while panic closed her throat. Forget that high view, she was crashing into the valley and there was no way out. She shut her eyes, and fled back to the bathroom, falling against the door as she fought to catch her breath.

Life had caved in on her awfully fast. She hugged herself, and as the tears began to well up inside of her, she remembered where she'd come from. Not that bedroom just now, but where she'd come the last so many days with Terry, and the years that had stretched beyond that with the Dragon. She was here, and God had given her today.

She'd already come so far.

Calm pulsed back into her veins, and she took a deep breath. The mistake was hers. She hadn't given herself a moment to brace for the bedroom. She'd been careless. She could do better-- she would do better. Putting her hand on the doorknob, she sent up a prayer, then filled her mind with one thought. One thought that could crowd every corner of her mind for the few moments she needed. Settling on that one thought, she turned the handle, kept her eyes on the floor, and pushed into the next room.

His smile was lovely, and when it went lopsided, that's when she felt its full force. He had a loveliness all his own. He was so casual about it, as though he had no idea he had all that at his disposal. He could've been as homely as a naked mole rat, and she still would've gone weak at the knees. She loved him that much.

Madison was halfway down the stairs before she let herself celebrate, but only for a moment. She wanted to keep moving, or else those small victories would become huge mountains again.

A check found Terry still asleep, his soft snore reassuring her that he was out just like the lights downstairs. She'd left the bathroom door open, and its glow shown from the top of the stairs, leaving her with just enough to find the jeep keys on the end table. She slipped on her shoes, lifted the keys and bit her tongue when they jingled. Too bad for her, they sounded like what they were-- keys-- and from the bed, she heard Terry moan. She eased her free hand around the keys to keep them from making any more noise, though the damage might have already been done. Her eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark, so she couldn't see Terry well enough to be sure. A few moments passed, and just when she was beginning to feel silly, Terry's faint snores drifted to where she stood by the end table. When they came steadily, she tiptoed to the door.

She hoped she was guessing right, or she would feel even sillier than she did right now. She knew John though, and he wouldn't delay the surprise any longer than he thought he had to, especially since she and Terry had enjoyed their fancy dinner the night before.

As she opened the door, the air greeted her with a cold shock to the senses, only adding to her adventure.

How could she go back to sleep when she felt so wide-awake? So ready to get her feet wet? That's what John had asked when they'd picked out her boots. "Ready to get your feet wet?" He'd tossed some outdoor joke at her that she hadn't understood, but she was ready for new things today, even that.

A faint change in the sky told her the sun was trying to come up, and she rubbed her arms and hurried to the jeep before she froze without her coat. Which key went to the tailgate? The keys fumbled as she tried one after another. The parking area had an outdoor lamp, and she held up the keys to see if they were marked. They weren't. It took several times through the key ring before the fifth key turned with effort, and the tailgate opened. Eagerly, she pushed back the dark blanket and searched for her boots. She'd been so proud of them. They made her feel like she could walk through anything.

"Maddie?"

Madison's heart jumped to her throat as she spun about.

Behind her stood Terry in pajama bottoms and untied sneakers, an iPhone screen lighting up his face like a flashlight. His hair stood on end, and his eyes looked as confused as his appearance.

"Terry? What are you doing out here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing?" A breeze blew past them and he shivered noticeably. "Why is the jeep open? Did you lose something?"

"Aren't you cold, Terry?"

"Never mind that-- what are you doing out here in the dark?" He glanced at the outdoor lamp, and turned off his phone. "I looked all over the place, and thought something had happened. Burglars don't usually kidnap, and nothing was missing but you..."

"I'm sorry." She tried not to smile. "I was only gone for a moment, and you were sound asleep. I didn't think you'd miss me."

"Well, I did." He rubbed his arms, and looked about. "What are you doing out here, anyway?"

"Just getting my boots." She turned to pull them out, then neatly covered the things over in the back of the jeep.

"I didn't know you had those. What else have you got back there?"

"You'll find out soon enough," she smiled, shutting the tailgate while Terry stomped his feet to keep warm. "I'm sorry I scared you, Terry."

"That's all right." He followed her back to the suite. "I'm just glad you're okay." As he shut the door behind them, she hurried to turn on the fireplace. "I noticed your limp doesn't look any worse than usual. Or am I wrong?"

"I'm feeling good," she nodded, as she punched up the flames. "You're turning blue."

"I doubt it," he grinned, but went over to the fire anyway and took off his sneakers. "Thank You, Lord. Your mercies truly are new every morning."

"I only went to the jeep," she sighed. "I wasn't in any danger."

"That's not what I meant." He smiled as he warmed himself before the fireplace. "Did you need to run cold water this morning?" He looked over his shoulder, and she shook her head. "That's a blessing. We'll take it as it comes, but all things considered, it sounds as though God is in the process of answering prayer." Terry said it with a bit of a question in his voice, and when she nodded in agreement, Terry bowed his head. He looked back at the fireplace, and she could tell a burden was lifting from his heart. "Don't say it, Maddie."

"I didn't say anything."

"If you weren't thinking it, then I'm glad, but if you were, wipe it from your mind. It has no place between you and me."

"But I'm so much trouble."

"I knew it." He shook his head, went over and picked up the top to his pajamas. "Give me one good reason why I should be sorry."

"We had to have a conversation before you could hold me last night."

"I said a good reason."

"I make you sad."

"Only when you think knuckle-headed things like this."

"I cut myself."

"Not lately, you haven't." He moved directly in front of her, and she swallowed. "You're my wife, and I don't regret a single thing except the time we're using to have this talk." He kissed the tip of her nose, and smiled. "By the clothes you've got on, I have a feeling you know something I don't."

She went over and picked up the envelope with their itinerary, and handed it to Terry. "If you did have any regrets, would you tell me?"

"I don't know about you, but I probably shouldn't have gone back for seconds on that maple ice cream." He pulled out a sheet of paper and began reading. "Are you sure you're up for this?" He looked at her as she went over to the couch to exchange her shoes for boots. "You don't have a fishing license, you know."

She felt good, for she'd guessed right. "I can watch. You don't need anything special to watch, besides the right clothes. And I have those."

He smiled, and she could feel him watch her as she got up to cross the room. She wasn't limping-- well, not more than she usually did, so he could relax. If that's what he was thinking. She looked over at him, and saw his thoughtful face. They were so busy trying to read each other's mind, it was kind of annoying, especially when they guessed right. If she'd been able, she would've run somewhere, did something terribly athletic to prove she was feeling well, but she'd never been able to do that anyway, so she settled for going upstairs without Terry.

He called after her, and she smiled.

Carefully, she paused at the top of the stairs just long enough to grab onto a thought, then pushed into the bedroom, and hurried into the bathroom before she froze up and had to call for help. There. She'd done it more than once. Catching her breath, she turned to close her suitcase when Terry came bounding in.

"You made it through?" He looked at her, and she nodded, and went to start the shower for him. "On your own. You did it on your own."

She didn't know how to answer, but suddenly found herself caught up in a great big hug.

"Maddie, my girl, you're one surprise after another." He squeezed her so hard she gasped, and he laughed, and spun her about. Then he let her go and she was left to find which way was up while he checked the shower. "Are you sure you don't mind?"

"Mind what?" She latched onto a towel rack until the room stopped spinning.

"The fishing-- I intend to do a lot of it. I don't want to drive all the way back to Roscoe, just to stare at the scenery."

"I don't mind."

She'd just gotten the words out, and he was out of the bathroom to get his clothes. She wished she could do that-- pick him up and spin him around when she was happy. It must be nice to be so strong. She tidied his towels, took hold of her big thought, then pressed into the bedroom while her eyes tracked the carpet.

"Hey, you're getting good at that." Terry's voice moved past her, but she didn't look up.

It was like Peter walking on water. If he watched the waves, he'd sink. So she had to keep her mind on faith, and her eyes not on the thing in the room.

As she passed onto the stairs, the phone on the couch began to ring. She hurried down, but by the time she'd reached her purse, the phone had stopped. The number was from home and no voicemail had been left, so Madison called back, praying that nothing was wrong for someone to have called so early, and on a honeymoon. John answered on the first ring, and in the background, Madison could hear the clamor of small voices.

"Sorry about that, you can go back to sleep--"

"Wait, we're awake," Madison tried to get in before John hung up. "Is everything all right?"

"We're fine." John sounded as though he were giving someone a look of displeasure. "I told the girls we'd call you after lunch, but they got it into their heads they couldn't wait. They know the phone isn't a toy. Right?" John sighed. "I'll have a talk with them later."

"Could you put the girls on?" Madison asked, and a moment later she heard an eager,

"Aunt Madison? Guess what, we're getting up early 'cause Daddy's taking us hiking, and Mommy's making trail-mix and everything. Do you and Uncle Terry want to come?"

"Ask them some other time," John said in the background.

"Daddy got a hook in his arm," an excited munchkin clamored over the voice of her sister.

The phone shifted.

"It was a tiny flesh wound, not even worth mentioning." John spoke in a no-big-deal voice, and before Madison could ask questions, she'd been passed to a triplet.

"When are you coming home?"

"On Thursday."

"That's..." Madison could see the girl counting the days on her fingers. "Can't you come faster?"

"Okay, breakfast time," John said, and the phone moved away from the girls. "Sorry about that. Is Terry around?"

"He's in the shower, getting ready for our trip into Roscoe."

"I envy you. It should be some good fishing. Tell him we're all doing well, and everyone sends their love. I have to get going, too, but I had an interesting talk with your brother before he left Sunday evening. He was asking some pretty big questions about God, and we spent the better part of an afternoon discussing some passages from the Bible. I'm praying for that guy-- he's asking the right things."

"Thank you, John." She would've said more, but he had to run, and they hung up with Madison thanking God for someone like John in the family to be there for her brother at a time when her brother was asking questions. A moment later, Terry came jogging down the stairs, buttoning his long sleeved flannel shirt. "You just missed John."

"Are the munchkins sick?"

She shook her head and told him the reason for the call, then what John had said about Tim.

More than ever, it gave them cause for hope, and as they walked to a nearby restaurant while dawn hued the sky, Madison kept thinking about the promises stuffed in her suitcase, the paper she'd taken down from the wall in their bedroom. God was keeping His word, and it made her want to claim even more, this time for her family. They ate toast and cereal, and Terry read from his iPhone while Madison sipped chamomile and enjoyed the quiet of the restaurant. They were early and few people were there, and it gave her room to think and feel more relaxed. If only the world would stay this way.

After they had paid their bill, they headed back at a comfortable walk while the world woke up around them. When Terry saw their jeep, he lightly bumped her shoulder.

"I trust John packed my gear?"

Oh. Madison had been waiting for this.

"He did, didn't he?"

She toyed with how to answer.

"Maddie?"

"John said you really know how to handle a fly rod."

Terry's eyes narrowed. "Why do I sense this isn't a compliment?"

"Since you're already so good at fishing the old way," she explained, "we thought a do-it-your-self fly rod made more sense."

"A what?"

"You know-- popsicle sticks and glue," she smiled brightly. "We thought you'd appreciate the challenge, since you're probably bored to death with the real thing."

Arms grabbed around her, and she laughed out loud as Terry pulled her in for a gently wrestling hug.

"Popsicle sticks? Popsicle sticks?" he laughed, and pulled her toward the jeep. "Here I've been making a mental list of things I would've brought from home, and you make jokes."

"It was easy," she smiled, hugging him as they fell into step. "I think I'm picking up your sense of humor."

He gave her a pained look, then stared at the jeep as though he was trying to see inside as they grew near. "John's too cautious when it comes to my best fly rod, so I doubt he packed it, but I'm hoping for at least my old standby. Abby's flies would've been nice. I would've had to cut their shanks, but it would've been worth it to see how the trout responded. Do you happen to know if John packed them?"

Since Terry didn't look as though he really expected her to know that, Madison kept quiet.

In record time, Terry had gotten the tailgate open, had ripped back the blanket, and the next, he was standing in odd silence. He climbed inside, and moved stuff about, the bottoms of his shoes and his back the only things she could see.

"I can't find my fly rod."

Madison gulped.

A moment later, "What's this?"

"I don't know-- I can't see. What are you holding?"

"This." He pushed out of the jeep, lifted out a long hard case with a soft cover in dark green. He looked over one end, saw the brand name clearly sewn into the fabric on one side, and a smile crept over him. Placing the large object on the bed of the jeep, he smoothly zipped it open to reveal a treasure trove of goodies. He whispered something under his breath as his eyes fell on the prized fishing rod tenderly tucked in there by John. Terry wouldn't have to make do with his old standby, after all. He explored the pockets, the small cases with all kinds of things in them.

"There's more." Madison leaned in, and tugged out a heavy-duty tote from under the blanket.

Terry looked at her, then at the bag. He opened it, pulled out new waders in his size, the boots he usually wore, and his baseball cap.

"John did all this?"

"With the advice of Abby. She's reviewed a lot of products, so John relied on her to know what to get."

"I feel like it's Christmas." Terry pulled a case from a side pouch, and shook his head. "Is this what I think it is?"

"It's a fly tying kit for beginners-- it was a gift from Abby and Jake." Madison stuck her hands in her coat pockets and wondered what Terry was thinking. "It comes with a manual," she added, and Terry gave her a look.

"You did all this for me?"

"You don't like it?"

"Are you kidding? What's not to like?" He carefully closed the tote, went back to the case and touched his fly rod. "Thank you. Having this with me on the fishing trip, means a lot. All of this-- it... it's unexpected." He looked at her. "This came from the wedding budget?"

She nodded.

"Didn't you get anything for yourself?"

"I got you."

"Anything besides me? Because this is some pretty cool gear." He unzipped another pocket on the tote and pulled out a hard case. He glanced at Madison, and opened it to find some sunglasses. "No way." He put them on, turned to look in the window and grinned. "If there's something you want, start leaving hints, because I'm evening up the score at Christmas."

"I didn't do this to get stuff out of you."

"I know." He put the shades away. "If we're going fishing, then let's get out of here before we burn our daylight." The gear was put back, though much more carefully than when he'd taken it out, and he gently helped her into the jeep. Like she was something extra-special. "I hope you don't regret this trip," he sighed. "When you want to come back, just say the word, and we'll leave."

Guessing it wouldn't have done any good to debate with him, she let the subject drop. They were going, and not to turn around and drive back after a few minutes of fishing.

She hadn't bought these boots to wear in the suite.

On the drive to Roscoe, Terry was more considerate than usual. When she started to play music he liked, he asked if she would rather listen to something else. When they neared a gas station, he wondered if she needed to stop and use the bathroom, or maybe stretch her legs. Would she like a quick snack? They could pull off for one. It would be no trouble. She turned everything down, for as she kept reminding him, those stops would only burn daylight-- time he could use for fishing.

The scenery begged to be admired, and soon she was taking pictures like an out-of-town tourist. The trees looked to be past their peak of fiery autumn color here, but she loved the warm cinnamon, the muted shades that said this was life, and all was well. Trees crowded the sides of the sloping mountains, towered along the roads, and seemed to welcome them wherever their jeep turned. She had come to love autumn, not only for the color, but since it would forever remind her of these soulful days with Terry. The road crossed over water, snaked around bends, and this time she put down the smartphone to enjoy the view. As the land opened up, a house here and there began to scatter into the landscape. Terry had come this way before, on their way to the museum, so he hadn't needed the phone, but as they passed through the outskirts of Roscoe, he asked Madison to start the map.

They were getting close.

If the fishing didn't pan out, one of Abby's friends who knew the area, had listed a few of the best fishing spots.

It took some navigating, but Terry found their destination, parked their jeep, then while Madison loaded up on sunscreen, Terry went down to the stream to "check out the action." She couldn't see anyone else around-- a fact that at any other time would have made her happy, but she felt as though she didn't belong there and would've been glad to see someone else to prove her wrong.

As she worked lotion onto the back of her neck, Terry came back and announced they had the whole area to themselves.

"Are you sure this is the right place, Terry? This looks like someone's private property."

"Relax, this side of the bank is open to public fishing. See that yellow sign? You can get out of the jeep."

She leaned through her open window and saw the sign nailed to the tree. Breathing easier, she climbed out, felt the ground under her new boots and looked up at the pristine sky. The trees kept her from tumbling off into space, but if they hadn't been there, she imagined she could lose her balance, and do just that, for the sky seemed endless.

"Hard to imagine New York City is only two hours from here, isn't it?" Terry shouldered the fly rod case, his wading tote, took out the two folding chairs, then locked the jeep. As he started down the steep bank, he called out to watch her step.

She did, though it wasn't easy. She slid a little, grabbed onto some weeds to stop her momentum, then kept going before Terry got too far ahead. He looked over his shoulder, and she smiled. This wasn't exactly like going fishing on the bay, where home was just a few steps away. Here, the Willowemoc Creek flowed with trees on all sides with no place to go but a steep rocky bank that leveled out to more rocks and then water.

"I'll put our chairs over here, so it'll keep you away from any stray line." Terry led her to where the shade and sun looked inviting, and set out their chairs. Then he sat down, and started getting his things ready.

"You really like fishing, don't you," she smiled, as she took the chair beside Terry's.

"There's no hook on this, so it isn't really fishing-- it's casting." He opened a small box, and kept talking, but she could tell he was already having a good time. "Do you know who taught me to love this? My step-dad. He gave me my first fishing rod, but he didn't know how to use it, and when I found I could get away from him by going out to the water, I suddenly couldn't get enough. Funny, isn't it?" Terry looked out over the stream, then back at the small box. "Let's try this one." He snapped the barb off using a hand tool, then showed the fly to Madison. "Let's see how these trout like Abby's handiwork."

Though Madison didn't want to take off her coat, Terry did, and climbed into his chest-high waders as though they were made for him. He slung the corded sunglasses around his neck, then put on his baseball cap.

"I won't go far if you need me," he called as he headed off, and she nodded.

She pulled out her hand and looked over the raw scrape she'd gotten coming down the bank. Oh well. Sitting back in her chair, she soaked in the fresh air. With no one there but her and Terry, she was beginning to enjoy the solitude, the sounds of birds and the bugs floating about in the air. The only thing that told her they weren't out in the middle of nowhere, were the occasional sounds of passing cars on the nearby road. She watched Terry's line arc over the water in graceful loops, and admired the way he handled himself. He wasn't out there wondering what to do, for he knew, and was content to simply be himself. He enjoyed being alone. For all of his easygoing smiles, there was a part of Terry that enjoyed being by himself.

She didn't dwell on the thought for long, for drowsiness was pulling at her eyes, and she decided to take a nap.

* * * *

It had been too long since he'd gotten in some serious fly casting. Terry breathed in the air, let his line sail out and watched the water for any signs of trout. His arm felt rusty, so he practiced hitting targets when a tug on his line made him smile. A sharp tug, and then it was gone. He'd gotten some interest. He turned to tell Maddie, when he saw her catnapping in the half shade, and kept the news to himself. No wonder she was tired, for she'd gotten up so early, even the early bird would've been still in bed. She was having a good day though, a very good day.

As the sun traveled overhead, he tried different flies, and went downstream a short way, just to see how the fish were biting. He tried different approaches, even setting aside his rod and just watching the trout, and the flow of the creek, when he checked the sun and decided it was time to head back.

Whistling, he hiked along the bank, when he saw Maddie up ahead, standing by their chairs.

"Hey, you're awake," he smiled to the woman who was hugging herself tightly. He pushed around a fallen tree stump, and went to her, bracing himself for a where-were-you look, but when she gave him none, he pulled off his sunglasses and kissed her cheek. "I don't know how long I was gone, but I'm sorry I lost track of the time. If it helps my case, I didn't go far."

She gave a one-shouldered shrug.

He hesitated, sat down and gestured to the fly rod. "I had a few tugs, but I have to confess, what I really loved was the clearance I could get over the water. I wasn't snagging my line in any of the trees. There's this really good spot downstream where I could really let go and cast my heart out." He started putting his gear away, and looked at Maddie. "Are you hungry? I was thinking we could find a place to eat in Roscoe."

She nodded, and stared at the ground.

"I'm really sorry, Maddie. Are you angry?"

She shook her head.

He paused, trying hard to let a familiar feeling pass, and when it didn't, he took off his waders. Like tape sticking to his hand, he tried to shake the uneasiness loose. He found her coat in the tote, and while she put her coat back on, he put his waders away. She was quiet, and for some reason, so was he.

After his rod had been packed, he asked for a phone, and when he saw the time, he groaned. He should've worn his watch.

"Are you having fun?" he asked, trying to rally her spirits as they climbed the bank.

"Uh-huh," she grunted.

He looked back to see her struggle with her footing.

He gave her a hand, and pulled her up, and after some effort, they made it back to the designated parking area. He unlocked the passenger door and carefully helped Maddie in, then went around to the back to put away their gear. He didn't want to waste time finding a restaurant. If he was starving, then so was she. He climbed behind the wheel, started the engine, and noticed Maddie had yet to put on her seat belt.

"You'll feel better after lunch," he tried to coax.

She looked at him, and he fought back his own thoughts. It was awful to not trust her in that moment-- in that instant, to think the worst and to deep down feel that it was an act of betrayal to read what he did in her eyes.

"Do you have something you want to tell me?" he asked quietly.

She nodded. "I put it back."

"What back?

"The small knife in your tote."

He thought back to the pocketknife he'd kept with his old gear-- the same one John had packed inside the wader tote. She hugged herself as though she was the last leaf on a tree, hanging on for dear life.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

Her head snapped up, and her eyes trained on him with such intensity, he wasn't sure what he'd said to get such a reaction.

"Let me see your stomach," he coaxed, and unzipped her coat, himself. He tugged the shirt from her jeans, lifted it a few inches, then pushed her jeans back to see if he'd missed something.

"I didn't cut myself."

He saw the disappointment in her eyes.

"You were thinking about it, Maddie." He dropped her shirt, closed her coat, then sat back and left the engine running. "Please don't look at me like that. You were thinking about it."

She was quiet.

"Tell me I'm wrong."

Again, silence.

"Do you want to tell me what happened?"

"I woke up, and saw you were gone, but I knew you'd come back. You told me you wouldn't go far." She hugged herself, and he felt badly for mistrusting her when she had trusted him. "I got up, but it was warmer out in the sun, so I took off my coat and put it in the tote. That's when I saw the knife."

He waited, not wanting to interrupt.

"I thought maybe it would be good to have it in my pocket, just in case someone came while you were gone. But I knew I shouldn't touch it. I knew it was dangerous for me to even look at it." Tears began to crowd into her voice. "That's when I started thinking that this morning was a fluke, that maybe the next time with you wouldn't go as well. What if I had to cut but didn't have a way out? The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that I needed that knife, that maybe I even needed to cut right now, but I kept thinking about all the chances God was giving me, and I kept thinking about you, and I didn't want to mess it up. I was close to it, though. I was really close." Defeat sounded in her voice. "I was hoping if I put it away before you came back, you wouldn't have to know."

He let her words sink in, heard the engine, and switched it off. "Thank you for telling me the truth."

"You believe me?"

"I believe you."

"Do you want to check the tote for the knife?"

He shook his head, then rubbed his face with both hands. "I love you, Maddie. I want what's best for you, and I'd like to think I know the truth when I hear it."

"And you saw my stomach."

"I would've believed you without seeing all the evidence."

"You would've, anyway. Eventually." She gave him a small smile as she touched her stomach. "I'm sorry I took the knife."

"I'm sorry I thought you'd cut yourself."

"Don't be sorry for that. You saw inside of me, and I wouldn't have wanted you to lie to yourself."

Terry didn't know how to tell her all that he was thinking, only that sorrow was part of what he felt. Happiness was there, as was guilt, and relief. "I'll be more careful in the future-- I give my word."

"In the future, I'm going to cook like Izzy does," Maddie said with a sniff. "I'm going to chop, and cut, and dice, and that's all I'll ever use the knives for. I'm not there yet, but one day, that's going to be me. God will get me there. You'll see."

"I believe I will," Terry said quietly. He started the engine, and as Maddie put her seat belt on, he thought the changes in her were more visible now. She had been overcoming, for God had been giving her victory, and that success had encouraged her to rely even more on Him than before. It encouraged Terry, it gave him hope for the future, and he needed that hope, especially after the knife scare. He couldn't always shield her-- they both knew that-- but even so, he promised himself to take better care of her. Whether she was safe with knives, or not.

Still calming down, Terry headed into Roscoe to find a restaurant, and found himself admiring the scenic small town. The shops along the main street, the many homes with Old Glory out front, the tree with the wooden bench beneath its hefty branches for any and all passersby, all spoke of a quintessentially American town. In short, it reminded him a lot of home-- except bigger and more organized. He spotted an Italian restaurant, and the next hour was spent enjoying chicken carbonara while chatting with the nice couple across the table. When Maddie had something to add, Terry kept quiet, but when shyness overtook her, he shouldered their half of the conversation and worked to find ways to include her again. Around him, Maddie had come out of her shell, but around others, the shell was still there, though not as solidly on as before. He could tell she was trying.

When they left the restaurant, the gifts and crafts shop across the street caught his eye, and wanting to give Maddie a change from the fishing he'd put her through, and was about to put her through again, Terry took her by the hand, and walked her over.

"Why are we here?" Maddie asked, as they looked through a large window where handcrafts of all kind were set out on display.

"I thought maybe we could do a little shopping." He took her inside, and smiled as a woman greeted them from behind a counter.

"May I help you?" she asked, and Terry shook his head.

"We're just looking."

Terry perused a rack of postcards, each card showing different scenes around town. He picked one, showed it to Maddie, and she nodded. They'd send one home, just to get a smile from the munchkins. They browsed beautiful earthen pots-- all locally made, according to the sign-- before Maddie went over to several shelves lined with porcelain. Terry followed her, and smiled when he saw what had captured her interest. An angel, painted in light pastels, holding two hearts to her chest.

"It's a night-light," Terry whispered, when he saw the cord running from the base. Leave it to Maddie to find another glowing angel.

She caressed the hearts with her finger, and Terry checked the price tag. Hey, he was a man; it was his job to check.

"Do you think this would go well in our bedroom?" he asked.

She looked at him in surprise, and he shrugged.

"If we get her, we won't have to leave the bathroom door open, anymore. What do you think?"

When she looked back at the angel with longing, he had his answer. The sales lady must have been watching, for when he started to look around for help, she came over with a ready smile.

"We'd like to buy the angel," he explained, and she took it down from the shelf, and brought it over to the counter.

"Will there be anything else?" she asked in a perky voice, and before Terry could shake his head, Maddie was looking at another part of the store.

Smiling to the woman, he went to stand beside Maddie as she looked at photo frames. One in particular seemed to grab her attention, and Terry thought he knew why. The words, "Our Family," had been carved into the wood, but it was the pair of cuddling doves in the "O" that made him think of John and Izzy.

"The wedding frame we love so much was John's idea," Maddie asked a little timidly, "so I don't suppose he and Izzy would like this?" She sighed, and shook her head, as though answering her own question. "It was a stupid idea. Never mind."

"It wasn't stupid. I know they'd love this." Terry took it down, and handed it to Maddie. "Is there anything else? You're not being reckless with our money. I'll remind you, you still have the balance of the honeymoon budget, and this trip qualifies as our honeymoon. The angel was on me, though. Just so you know."

Maddie bit her lip, and looked about the store from where she stood.

She went to the counter, gave the frame to the woman, then went over to a pile of huge handmade cloth dolls. Terry picked one up and looked it over. Large eyes tucked under a prairie bonnet, with thick yarn braids made for a cute doll. Maddie chose three pink dolls with different print dresses as a woman with white hair peered at them from across the store. Yes, they were picking up three. Terry smiled at her, and the woman went about her own shopping. A sizable die cast dump truck came next, and Maddie took her gifts to the counter, and placed them beside the others. For AJ, Maddie chose a throw pillow with a cozy house on the front and "God Bless Our Home," embroidered in its flowerbed. A token of appreciation was picked out for Agatha, and then Maddie nodded that she was done.

It truly was more blessed to give than to receive, for Terry could see the delight in Maddie's face as she looked over her gifts. He was glad she was finally having some fun.

They paid for the gifts, stowed them in the back of the jeep, and with full stomachs, and some shopping behind them, they moved on to the next fishing spot with Terry being careful to avoid a repeat of the morning.

There wasn't much for Maddie to do while she sat there, watching him cast, so he tried to involve her more. He waved her to the water's edge, and smiled at the surprised look on her face when he coaxed her to step in front of him. Turning away from the water, and with no one around, he put his arms around her and guided her through the principles of fly casting.

When she giggled, he checked the sincerity of his pupil.

"Are you paying attention?" he asked, as blonde hair drifted into his face.

She smiled like a schoolgirl, and leaned into him as he guided her arms for a slow backcast. When he felt her sigh, he momentarily lost track of his thoughts.

"Now what?" she asked.

He shook himself, and finished the cast.

"I never thought fishing could be so nice, Terry."

"Now that you mention it, this is nicer than usual." He kissed her, and watched the stream as it gurgled past them. "We should do this again."

They practiced a few more casts together, then explored upstream, taking every chance they could to spot trout. He did some more casting on his own, with Maddie resting a while on the shore, but then they went back to the jeep, with Terry looking over his map and deciding to take the long way back to the resort so they could enjoy the view. They didn't hurry their drive, and though Maddie had to take painkiller for her hip, past problems kept in the past and they were able to stay in the present, with each other, and enjoy the gift of today. She sat relaxed in the passenger seat, her head leaned back, a smile on her lips as light filtered through the moving trees and onto her face.

Because the road had taken its time to wend through the mountains and countryside, they reached the resort later than Terry had intended. They ordered takeout since Maddie was tired, then brought the food back to their suite so they could eat after they'd had their showers. Maddie went first, then Terry, with Terry hurrying into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt before going downstairs to eat.

He smiled when he found the fireplace on, and the jar candle Maddie had packed, sitting on the end table, doing its best to add to the cozy atmosphere. He jogged to the bed where Maddie was setting out paper plates and napkins.

"You sure know how to make a place feel like home," he sighed.

Happily exhausted, and his arm sore from casting, Terry ate pizza with his wife, then cozied in front of the fireplace with her until they both fell asleep.

The few days of their honeymoon were spent in easy enjoyment of each other's company, with small hikes on trails, an afternoon at a movie, a picnic on the floor when the weather proved to be too chilly. It didn't matter if their plans worked out or not, so long as they were together. They were getting to know each other as man and wife, as friends, as people who would share almost everything for the rest of their lives, and the prospect didn't frighten Terry. Though Maddie may not have intended it, she had taken up residence in his heart as though she had belonged there, and the fact of it was, she did. Now that she owned him hook, line, and sinker, he couldn't see his future without seeing her there, as well. They were like bookends-- even though they weren't exactly matched, they were most definitely a pair, for they worked better when they were together than when they were on their own.

The last day of their honeymoon, Terry expected tears, or sorrow of some sort from Maddie, but she looked at complete peace with the world. Unusual for her, even when she was happy. He carried their luggage outside, waited while Maddie did one last search of the suite, then locked the door and headed to the jeep with Maddie at his side.

Another morning, and her limp was no worse than usual. Praise God, His mercies hadn't stopped.

With a heart full of memories, they turned in their keys.

They were going home.

* * * *

Though they had left later in the afternoon than Terry would've liked, he made sure they had called ahead, so everyone back home had an idea of when to expect them. He hadn't thought that would cause a problem, but it had. Since they wouldn't get home until around dinnertime, Izzy had said they would try and wait up for them. The whole family, waiting dinner, because of them. A nearly half day drive, and they would wait? He hadn't said anything at the time, but just thinking about it made him speed more than he should. When he caught himself, he slowed down. "Never do anything you wouldn't do in front of the police." It was something John's dad had once said in half jest when Terry was a boy, and Terry had taken him seriously; as an adult, Terry still tried to live up to that.

"You look like you could relax." Maddie smiled, and Terry knew she was right. "Do you want me to tell Izzy to go ahead without us? I'm sure she'll save us leftovers."

Terry nodded, and felt the pressure ease as Maddie made the call. When the girls had finished chatting, Terry turned on the radio and Maddie took a nap. He could still taste the roast beef sandwiches and ice cream sundae they'd had just before they left, and figured it would be enough to last them until they got home. It seemed everything was late today. They'd slept in, then decided to take one last romantic walk before packing, and then packing had taken forever because Maddie had trouble fitting everything they'd brought-- plus the presents they'd purchased-- into the back of the jeep. It had been on the stressful side for both of them, so by the time they'd had their late lunch, the shared ice cream sundae had been a welcome diversion.

Time passed, and the radio helped to keep Terry awake. Though he'd gotten a good night's sleep, the lull of the road was beginning to get to him. Probably too big of a lunch, he guessed. He needed to stop thinking of each day as being a holiday, and get back to normal, everyday eating.

About three quarters of the way through their drive, Maddie began to take note of the signs.

"This is near Syracuse, isn't it?"

He nodded.

"Then we're getting near home."

"That's the first time I've heard you claim Syracuse was near home," he chuckled, but Maddie sat up and paid more attention.

Time didn't go any faster for being more alert, but it did pass, and when Maddie saw the familiar ground of Watertown, she started collecting her things.

"I'm not stopping the car," he said teasingly. "We're still several miles from home, and unless you intend to get out and walk--"

"I just want to be ready."

"You miss being home, don't you."

"I had a wonderful time, Terry, but I miss the kids, I miss Izzy and John. I'm ready to go home."

He nodded in understanding. "Now that life will be theoretically calming down, would you mind if John and I went back to work? I mean in earnest-- not the light stuff we've been doing. I'm especially referring to the client waiting in the wings." He glanced at Maddie, and she readily nodded her willingness. "My schedule will be tight at times, and it might mean I won't be able to make it to all our sessions with Carol. I will try my absolute hardest to be there, though. On my honor."

"You have to work, Terry. I understand."

"On my overloaded days, maybe Izzy could take you in."

"We'll work something out," Maddie nodded.

"You need to keep going to those sessions, and I need to keep going with you, when at all possible." Terry shook his head. "I'll make the time."

"Izzy can go with me-- don't worry."

It was easier said than done, but Terry tried to not worry by giving his worries to the Lord. It seemed he hadn't even gotten home, and already, the cares of this life were knocking at his door. The end of one thing was the beginning of another-- that was life. He was at a new beginning with Maddie, and it made him curious to know what was ahead. They passed a sign that said Chaumont, and he smiled. Besides that. Maddie zipped up her coat, gathered the scattered wrappers of sugarless candies, the granola bars, the snacks they'd enjoyed in the jeep over the course of their honeymoon, and stuffed them into her purse.

"You won't be graded on how clean the car is," he smiled.

"Please don't give the girls their presents until I'm there. I want to see their faces."

"I'll let you do the honors," he nodded. He caught the bay through the trees, the glorious sight of moonlight over the water, and he knew there was no other place on earth that looked as beautiful, as wonderful, as it did right here. He was biased-- right down to the ground-- but this was home, the place where his roots dug deep.

He didn't have to announce a thing, for the moment they saw the living room window, all lit up, and waiting for them, Maddie hugged her purse.

Terry pulled off the main road, and as he parked in front of the house, the front door opened, and John came out. John waved, noticed the outdoor light wasn't on, and went back in a moment as the others flooded outside.

Maddie couldn't get her door open fast enough.

"Welcome back," Izzy cried, and rushed forward with the girls to give Maddie a great big hug.

"Good to have you back," John hugged Terry.

"Oh, Izzy," Maddie smiled, "we had such a good time-- but I told you that, already." Maddie scooped Lizzie into a hug, then spun the laughing girl around. "You've had a haircut! I love it, but when did this happen?"

"Yesterday," Izzy smiled. "All three were overdue for one. It's only a few inches shorter, but it'll grow back fast."

"Me next!" Ruthie moved in front of Maddie, and got a hug and a kiss while Terry put Debbie down, and swapped her for Lizzie.

"How was Roscoe?" John grinned, as Terry got an enthusiastic hug from his niece. "We got your postcard, and the kids have been showing it to everyone in the neighborhood." John waited while Terry put the girl down, and picked up the last triplet. "Is it my imagination, or have you gained a pound or two?"

"It's not your imagination," Terry laughed, as he held Ruthie. "I ate well, and your fancy dinner didn't help one bit." He nodded to John. "I know I thanked you already, but it really was thoughtful of you. And not just that meal, but all the work you put into the itinerary. And the fishing gear-- I couldn't get over that fly rod case. I know I have Abby to thank, as well, but you did a lot of work. I owe you."

"Nah, that's what brothers are for." John lifted Ruthie from Terry's arms. "Want some help carrying bags? Izzy has dinner waiting for you and Maddie, and it'll go faster with the two of us."

Terry grinned, and went around to the back of the jeep. As he opened the tailgate, he heard a familiar voice across the way. He turned, and saw Abby stepping toward him. She gave him a laughing hug, then moved aside to make room for Jake and Ricky.

"Look at you," Abby exclaimed, as Jake moved to hug Terry, "aren't you looking fit and happy!"

"I don't know about the fit part," Terry smiled, "but I'm definitely happy. Thank you for the kit, by the way, and for the gear you helped pick out. I intend to use it for many years to come."

"Where's Aunt Madison?" Abby asked, looking about as Terry lifted Ricky, and gave the kiddo a hug.

"I think she's with your mom." John nodded to the house, and the men watched as Abby went inside.

Jake smiled. "Want help with the luggage?"

"That's the second offer I've had tonight, and I certainly won't let it go to waste." Terry gave Ricky one last hug before putting the boy down, then started to unload the bags. "How is everyone? Any news you haven't already reported?"

"Tim and Karen took that crib," Jake said over his shoulder as he went into the house with a suitcase and a bag of dirty laundry.

"Izumi gave them some old baby things from the triplets," John added, his arms full of blankets. "Tim was curious about you. It was to be expected," John shrugged, and Terry nodded in understanding. "I told him what we usually do when people ask about your childhood and family. There was shock, and then pity. It was hard for him, especially after the news about his sister. I think it was probably for the best that I was the one to tell him." John nodded for some pillows to be added to his load, but Terry moved so slowly, John nudged his arm to coax him along, and the pillows were added.

John knew where his thoughts were, which was why John was trying to keep him moving. The friends knew each other well.

"After all the questions about your past, he had a grand tour of our office and I talked up your ninja code writing skills--" John moved back a step to get out of Jake's way-- "and before Tim left, I think Tim was properly impressed with his brother-in-law."

"That's great," Terry smiled, but he quietly groaned inside. Hopefully, Tim knew enough to not be impressed.

"You want these in your room?" John asked, and Terry nodded.

"We missed you and Aunt Madison," Jake said, hauling the wading tote behind Terry into the house. "With just Abby and the triplets, and Mom and Dad, it was quiet around here." Jake grinned, for the living room was filled with munchkins trying to talk over each other, Abby talking over the sound of the munchkins, and Maddie and Izzy adding their comments to the conversation as the women moved into the kitchen.

Home sweet home.

Terry moved past the scene, and into the hall, edged past John coming from the bedroom, and came face to face with a room that would've knocked him to his knees, had not Jake been behind him. It was hard to see what he and Maddie had come from when he was so fresh from his honeymoon, but Terry went in, moved inside a room with two couches and looked for somewhere to put his things down. The only place he saw was his couch. John and Jake had already started to fill the far end of the walkway, so Terry dumped the suitcase on the couch, waited for Jake to do the same, then went back into the hall.

Life was waiting for them, but he didn't want to go back to the way things were. They weren't, were they?

He pushed outside, grabbed another armload, and hauled fishing gear without thinking. He wanted to finish, so he could put the jeep away, and get a moment alone with Maddie.

"This is it," Jake said, coming through the front door with two cut-down boxes stacked in each arm. "Dad is parking your jeep in the garage."

"Thanks-- I'll take those." Terry took the boxes, was grateful the woman at the store had wrapped the parcels individually in brown paper, and glanced at the munchkins playing on the floor. Though it was nearing their bedtime, he couldn't tell that by looking at them, for all the excitement seemed to be fueling their energy.

He may be about to make matters worse.

"There you are," Izzy said, getting up from the table as Terry stepped inside the kitchen. "Are you ready for dinner? Madison says she won't eat without you."

"You didn't have to wait," Terry smiled at his wife, who was sitting at the table with Abby, enjoying a cup of tea. "What do you want me to do with these?" Terry hefted the boxes, and Maddie's eyes went wide.

"Oh, yes!" Maddie motioned for him to set them on the table. "Terry and I brought back gifts." She picked up the thick flat parcel, gave it to a smiling Izzy, then hunted through the boxes for something as Izzy unwrapped her present.

"I absolutely love the doves-- thank you, this is very thoughtful of both of you." Izzy gave Maddie, and then Terry a hug.

Maddie beamed, and handed Izzy a small parcel. "This is for Agatha, for when you see her. I really appreciate all the help she gave for the wedding. And this is for Abby and Jake, because we love you." Maddie gave the wrapped pillow to Abby, and Abby hugged and thanked her, while Jake called out his thanks from the doorway. Then Maddie bit her lip as she looked over the remaining large gifts. "You'd better call them," Maddie nodded to Terry, and Terry leaned back.

"Calling all munchkins-- your Aunt Maddie has something for you."

Jake and Terry made way as four youngsters came running to the table, and looked at Maddie expectantly.

"Since Ricky's present is a little heavy, we'll let him go first." Maddie moved some things aside, then lifted out a foot long object wrapped in paper. When she set it on the floor in front of Ricky, the boy smiled, for it was wide, and looked like something to be reckoned with.

"Go on," Jake encouraged, "open it."

Very quickly, Ricky got down on the floor and the paper came flying off, only to reveal a sixties style dump truck. For a full ten seconds, the boy stared in fascination, and ran his hand along the edge of the dump mechanism.

"I think it's safe to say he likes it," Abby smiled, and Ricky nodded. "What do you say?" she asked him.

"Thank you."

"Let's take it into the living room," Jake suggested, and Ricky pushed the truck and made the wheels go round, and drove it into the next room, where beeps and dumping sounds could be heard for the next several minutes.

"Now for the girls." Maddie took out large soft bundles wrapped in brown paper and string, and gave one to each of the triplets.

"Thank you," the girls chimed, while Izzy went to get some scissors.

Debbie squeezed her present, as if testing it, then looked at Lizzie, who hugged hers and smiled, and that made Ruthie excitedly poke her finger through the paper on hers. Terry folded his arms and grinned. He'd seen the way the triplets worked together to solve problems before-- this time, to solve the mystery of what was inside. He figured they already had a pretty good idea that it was a soft toy, they just didn't know what kind.

Izzy nipped the string on the first present, and Lizzie tore off the paper before her mother had the chance to get to the next.

"A doll!" Lizzie held up a doll almost half her size, dressed in a pink calico gown with yellow yarn hair and a matching bonnet.

"Hurry, Mommy!" Ruthie couldn't wait to open hers, and cried in delight when she found a doll similar to her sister's.

When Debbie opened her gift, Terry noticed John was in the kitchen doorway with his phone, taking pictures. John snapped one with the girls and their new friends, then another with Terry and Madison, before the munchkins took off for the living room to play. Terry hoped the kids knew they didn't have much time left before they would be ushered off to bed.

"Thank you for thinking of the girls," Izzy hugged Maddie, and then Terry.

"That's quite a truck," Jake chuckled, coming from the living room. "We'd better get going, Abby, so they can get around to eating dinner."

"It's great having you guys back," Abby said, going to hug the newly returned couple.

After everyone had said their good nights and goodbyes, John went to lock up the house for the night. With a groan, Terry fell into a chair at the kitchen table while Izzy opened the oven and pulled out their meal, where it had apparently been keeping warm since dinnertime. Maddie sat in the chair beside Terry, and resumed her tea, her face a picture of happy fatigue.

"Here's your chili casserole," Izzy said, setting two plates before them. "You'll find cheesecake in the fridge."

"So much for losing weight," Terry chuckled, but he shook his head and smiled when Izzy looked at him. "Thanks, Izzy."

"I'll leave you two alone," Izzy smiled. She turned on the lights beneath the cabinets, but switched off the overhead, giving a softly private feel to the kitchen before leaving.

The couple prayed over their meal, then Terry started in on the casserole, looked over at Maddie, and kept his voice low, even though from the sound of it, John and Izzy were getting the girls ready for bed.

"Have you seen our room?"

"You mean, since we got home?" Maddie shook her head. Her eyes closed as she tasted the food. "I can hardly wait until I learn how to make this. Izzy's so good--"

"Maddie, we have two couches in our bedroom."

The words fell like crashing cymbals to the table, for Maddie suddenly went quiet. She stared at her plate.

"When can we move them out?"

"I was hoping you'd say that." Breathing relief, he dug back into the casserole, only to notice Maddie had stopped eating. "What's wrong?"

"What are we going to sleep on, if we take out the couches?"

"I thought about shoving them together, but I know from experience that my couch gets uncomfortable the closer you get to the edge." He shrugged. "We'll use the camping mat. It worked in our suite, so we'll use it here."

"You're willing to sleep on the floor? For weeks, and maybe even months?"

Food caught in his throat, and he reached for Maddie's tea.

"I couldn't do that to you, Terry. What if I'll never be well enough to sleep on a bed? If we couldn't think of something else, you'd be stuck on the floor, forever."

He put the cup down and shook his head. "So long as I'm stuck with you, then I say, bring it on. I'll keep looking for the bright side." Terry loaded his fork, and kept eating. "The bright side-- like having more space in the bedroom because we moved out the couches. The fact we wouldn't be in this situation if you weren't making progress. No, I'd rather be on the floor than the couch. This is a good problem to have, Maddie. Very good." Terry gave her a look, and she seemed to believe him, for she went back to eating her dinner.

"You're really easy to please, Terry."

"I beg your pardon." He sat back and studied her. "I don't happen to be married to just anyone. This is a first rate sweetheart we're talking about, one who gives everything she has, even when she doesn't have it to give."

She didn't answer.

"I have every reason to feel loved, Maddie. You're not talking me out of this."

She looked at her plate, and was silent.

"I'll get the couches moved out as soon as I can, but for tonight, maybe we could bed down between them, in the walkway. There won't be much room, but we could sleep on our sides." He smiled when she nodded in agreement. "Then we'll go with that. See? Was I so easy to please?"

She smiled, and ate her casserole, and Terry took heart.

The night had grown late, he felt drained from a day of packing and travel, and to top it all off, he faced a possible lifetime on a mat on the floor, or some other non-bed alternative. Weary though he was, he could honestly say none of it mattered. Not in any way that made him want to take up arms and fight, or rail against God. What had God done to him, except to be faithful in bringing them home safely? As Terry finished his dinner, he didn't need to renew his faith in God's master plan for their marriage, weigh his love for Maddie against the ache in his back, or measure out the fairness of the situation. Love was a great equalizer, and Terry had that in abundance.

As her hand reached across the table, and touched his, Terry smiled.

He was tired, but he was happy.


"Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
~ Acts 20:35 ~

"Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator."
~ 1 Peter 4:19 ~

end of chapter