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Chapter Forty-seven
Always Have Hope

"Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side."
~ Psalm 71:21 ~

The mirror was too short. Madison backed away, turned sideways and touched the blouse covering her belly. Though everyone knew she and Terry were having a baby by now, at seventeen weeks, people could still miss the signs unless they looked closely. If she wasn't careful, they could get her to worrying that the baby wasn't growing like it should. Izzy had warned her not to listen to them. The doctor had said the baby was doing well, and Madison had heard the heartbeats. She was tall and slender, and she simply wasn't showing very much this early in the pregnancy.

She was still growing though, and while it was good for the baby, it wasn't so great for Madison. The stress of the added weight hadn't been helping the osteoarthritis in her hip, making it more important than ever for her to keep up with her exercises. Little by little, the muscles around her hip were being strengthened. It helped that Izzy had started taking regular walks with Madison around the neighborhood, and when the snow prevented them from going out, they walked laps around the house. Thankfully, Dr. Nelson had cleared Madison to keep using acetaminophen for the pain, and so far, Madison had been able to manage her flare-ups.

So far, this hadn't been more than she could bear.

Madison turned in front of the mirror, straightened her hair, and hoped the gas in her belly wouldn't embarrass her tonight. Even though Terry had yet to redeem the coupon for his spaghetti dinner, she had done it for him. Before she got any bigger and she didn't feel like a romantic dinner for two. It had meant getting the rest of the family fed a little earlier than usual, but Izzy had helped. Izzy had fixed their meal and cleaned the kitchen, so everything had been ready for Madison. All Madison had to do was fix their own dinner, and get ready, herself.

The house smelled of the garlic bread that had just been taken out of the oven, and it made Madison hungry no matter where she went. She added lipstick, then went into the bedroom to slip on a bracelet for a touch of jewelry.

As Madison moved into the hall, she could hear Izzy reading to the girls in the master bedroom, the laughter of little ones enjoying time with their momma. Passing by the office, Madison paused to see Terry and John working at their laptops. Not wanting Terry to see her and get the wrong idea that his dinner was ready, Madison hurried to the kitchen.

She checked the spaghetti sauce, then went to set the table.

She wanted dinner to be perfect.

* * * *

The smell of dinner kept reminding Terry he hadn't eaten yet, and he fought to push it out of his mind, and keep working. Not easy to do when he could smell the garlic butter from here. The small red box sitting inside his desk drawer was tempting his empty stomach, but that box was for someone else, not him.

"You should've taken her to a restaurant." John looked over his laptop. "That's what I'm planning with Izumi."

"I tried," Terry shrugged. "Maddie wanted to stay home."

"That works, too," John grinned. "I'd say you're ready."

"You think so?" Terry looked over the bouquet hiding beside his desk. "I've never given anyone Valentine's Day flowers before, or at least no one who was my sweetheart."

"Nothing says it like red roses."

"But you think I should have taken her out?"

"Not if she wanted to stay in." John leaned back in his chair like the longtime married guy he was. "Forget it. You're doing fine."

"I just feel so guilty." Terry swiveled toward the door. "She's in the kitchen, fixing our Valentine's meal, carrying our child, doing all the hard stuff, while all I do is sit here and wait."

"Did you turn in any of those Terry-coupons to make this happen?"


"Then there you go. If you want to feel better, clear away the dishes without being asked. It's not equivalent to her carrying your child, but--"

The screen on Terry's phone lit up, and Terry smiled.

"Don't forget your flowers," John said, going back to work as Terry stood and got ready.

Though today was Valentine's Day, the couples had decided to split the holiday so Terry and Maddie could celebrate today, and John and Izzy, tomorrow. That way, someone could babysit the munchkins.

As Terry passed through the living room, he smiled when he saw the lights in the living room had been turned down. It made him pause to check his breath, just to be sure.

Looking into the kitchen, he saw Maddie at the table, lighting a white taper candle. A second candle flickered in front of her, bringing out the softness of her face, the peaches and cream in her cheeks. The kitchen lights had been turned off, leaving just Maddie. Which was fine with Terry.

He sighed, and she looked up.

"When you fix a romantic dinner, you don't play around." Terry came around her, hugged her with one arm, and he felt her relax against him. "Will you be my Valentine, Maddie?" He presented her with the roses, and her eyes were full of surprise. "You know me better than that," he smiled. "Surely you knew flowers were coming." He smiled as she turned into his arms and hid her face against his neck. "You're not crying again, are you?" When he felt the wet against his skin, he dropped the bouquet on the table, and hugged her.

"I'm going to stop, Terry. I promise."

"You're happy-- I understand." He rocked her and looked at the table she had prepared. "I love your Valentine, Maddie."

"Thank you for the roses," she sniffed, leaving his arms to look at the red blooms. "I didn't expect you to do anything. I really didn't."

"You thought I was too busy," Terry nodded. "I wish you had believed me when I said I could have afforded the time to take you out, tonight. You could have saved yourself some work."

"I wanted to fix your dinner." Maddie took out her crystal vase from a cupboard, filled it with water, then arranged her roses. "You don't mind, do you?" She smiled when he shook his head. "I've been trying so hard to learn to cook, I wanted one night to cook for only you."

"Then I'm happy we stayed in." Terry watched as she carried the vase to the table. "Have you given any thought about what we talked about?"

She shrugged.

"You have your ID now, so it's not a problem." He pulled out her chair. "I know you're frightened about hurting the baby, but you wouldn't start until after Little Bit is born. And by the time you'd take your first driving lesson, there wouldn't be any snow on the ground."

"Aren't you afraid I'll wreck our new sedan?"

He tugged out the chair next to Maddie's, and sat down. "That's just the point. It's yours too. As long as you stay safe wrecking it..." He smiled when she gave him a look. "You want to learn, I know you do."

"You'll be the one to teach me?"

"I'll give it my very best."

She looked comforted, and nodded in agreement.

That night, as they ate, the small circle of light falling about them felt private. As though they were the only ones in the house. They talked about their day like couples usually do, and each time Maddie smiled, Terry smiled too. He couldn't help it, and even if he could, he didn't want to fight it. Why would a naturally hazy sky fight off sunshine?

After he'd eaten all the dinner he could possibly hold and still save room for dessert, Maddie served him ice cream. And not just any ice cream. It was their flavor, and to Terry, it always would be. Raspberry sorbet. He smiled, and took another spoonful of memories. "Before I forget." He went to get something off the living room couch, then came back and gave Maddie the small, heart-shaped box. "Sweets for my sweetie," he smiled, and kissed her, tasting their first honeymoon on her lips.

"Oh, Terry, it's beautiful." She held the red box with the white ribbon as though it was something extra-special, and not a quick purchase at the MegaMart.

"It's not much," Terry warned.

She opened the box, and bit her lip at the small assortment of candy.

"I know you've been trying to eat healthy for the baby, but I thought you both deserved a little Valentine's Day milk chocolate."

She took one out, and put the box away. The one chocolate though, she ate slowly-- very slowly-- relishing each taste.

"I'm glad to see pregnancy hasn't affected your taste buds," Terry smiled.

"Honestly, I've been craving chocolate something terrible. I just haven't been giving in to it." She touched her belly, and an odd look crossed her face.

"What?" he asked. "Gas?"

"I don't think so." She sat still. "It feels like butterflies woke up in my belly. There it is again."

Terry held perfectly still.

Maddie looked at him. "I think it's the baby. I was having gas earlier, but this is different. I felt something when I was eating, but after I ate that chocolate, the butterflies really got going."

Terry got down on his knees, and put a hand on her belly. Maddie moved his hand, and he sighed.

"Can you feel it?" she asked, and he shook his head.

"Our baby is in there."

"I believe you," he smiled, rubbing Maddie's belly. "Hello in there. Did you like the chocolate? Happy Valentine's Day." He sighed, and put his ear to her belly. "I wonder what we're having."

"Would you mind very much if we waited to find out?"

"You're kidding, right?" Terry smiled at his wife, but she looked every bit serious. "Why?" he asked.

"I've been hearing stories from everyone about what labor is like, and I want to save it as a surprise. It would be another good thing to look forward to. So would you mind if we waited? It's not as though it really changes anything. Our baby will be our baby, no matter if we know now or later."

"What about the baby shower?"

"We could ask everyone to get things in yellow. I was thinking, if it's all right with you--" Maddie folded her hands, and Terry couldn't help but smile-- "maybe we could decorate the baby's corner of the bedroom in yellow, and with a teddy bear theme. I wouldn't want to crowd you out with lots of pink, anyway."

"So you think we're having a girl?"


"I'm just trying to pick up on any and all clues. Now that we're going to wait."

"Thank you, Terry."

"You're in your second trimester." Terry went back to his chair. "It's a little early for the nesting urge, isn't it?"

"I don't know. I've never nested before."

"Teddy bears?" Terry scratched his head, trying to picture a teddy bear-themed crib. "Okay. Why not? No stuffed toys in the crib, though. It's not safe." He kept thinking, and smiled. "This is going to drive our family crazy. Everyone has always found out as soon as they could, and I mean everyone. We knew what the triplets were going to be, and AJ knew about Ricky. Be ready for some begging."

"But it's okay with you?" Maddie asked, and he nodded.

"Little Bit came into this world as a surprise, so why not keep the surprise going a little longer?"

"Do you want it to be a boy or a girl?" Maddie asked.

"Either one is okay with me," Terry smiled, scraping off the melted edges of the raspberry sorbet. "As long as you and the baby are healthy, I'll be over-the-moon happy."

"You'd like a boy though, wouldn't you? To carry on the Davis name?"

"The Davis name isn't that important," he laughed. "It's more important our child will carry the name of Christ. Boy or girl, whoever you've got in your belly, making you feel like so many butterflies right now-- that's our child. That's the person God gave us, and that's who we'll love."

"I love you, Terry."

Terry smiled, gave Maddie a spoonful of raspberry sorbet, then leaned back in his chair to enjoy the candlelight. She slid an envelope across the table to him-- one sealed with a heart sticker. Smiling, he opened it, took out a handmade card lavishly crowded with pink and white hearts. Inside the card was a message, one meant for a husband. He reached for Maddie's hand, and planted a kiss on her palm.

He leaned in to kiss her smiling lips, but Maddie got up, and tugged him toward the living room.

"I thought I was supposed to clear the dishes," Terry said, but Maddie had him by the hand, and he couldn't resist. He didn't want to. "Where are we going?" he asked, as she led him past the couch. "I'm willing to sit through a chick-flick if there's going to be popcorn. I'll even watch Pride and Prejudice with you, if that's what you want." He smiled as Maddie led him into the hall. When they came to the bedroom door, he tugged her to him and kissed her mouth.

She pulled him inside, and closed the door.

After spending part of the night on a makeshift bed on the floor, they moved to the real bed to get some sleep. Maddie put her phone by his pillow, and let the music play at a low hum, and decided to go without her earbuds. Though it didn't seem like a good idea to Terry, he kept quiet. She'd been sleeping with earplugs lately, so if she could go without plugging her ears at all, Terry figured it would be an improvement.

Before they nodded off, he shifted to reach behind him, and when the mattress creaked, Maddie stiffened. He put his arms around her and she burrowed against him.

"Just listen to the song," he whispered.

"I never thought I'd love to cuddle so much, but I do." She looked up at him. "Don't let go of me tonight?"

"I won't."

Maddie moved her leg, and even though the bed stayed silent, she clutched his shirt.

"Maddie, I'm going to reach for something behind me, okay?" He waited until she nodded before leaning back to feel behind him. It was supposed to be there, unless it had fallen off the bed and onto the floor. His fingers knocked a thin edge, he reached a little more, and Maddie strained to look over him without moving the bed to see what he was doing. He rolled back, the bed shifted, and he winced when Maddie gripped his pajama top so hard he could feel her fingernails. "I've got it." He pulled a large red envelope from under the blanket, and held it in front of her nose. By the light of the guardian angels on their nightstand, he saw he'd gotten her attention. "You thought I'd forgotten your Valentine's Day card, didn't you?"

She un-fisted his pajama top, and reached for the card.

Not being the creative type, he'd resorted to the greeting card aisle at the store. Not that he had to tell Maddie that-- it was obvious. She tugged out a thick white Valentine with a shimmery red heart filled with the strongest Valentine's Day wish Terry could find-- some sweetly sentimental thought that didn't say half of what he felt. He waited as she opened the card and was serenaded with one of her favorite love songs from the phone.

"My card is singing. Oh, Terry, I love it!" She hugged him, and he winced when the bed moved but couldn't be heard.

She set the card open on the blanket, rested her head on his chest and read what he'd written while the tune played. By his pillow, he listened to the gentle, low melody coming from her phone.

"I'll love you forever, too, Terry."

He smiled, and stroked her hair. The night was rocking him to sleep. It felt good being with Maddie like this, satisfied, content, and relaxed. Maddie's card stopped, he looked over and caught her opening the card again to start the tune over.

As he drifted to sleep, the tune played one more time.

A few days after Valentine's, Maddie woke Terry in the middle of the night, put her earplugs in, and for the first time, they made love without moving their bed to the floor. Before going back to sleep, she took the earplugs out, and made sure the phone was still playing. After that night, they stopped moving their bed, and she no longer wore earbuds or earplugs to sleep.

* * * *

One night, late in February, as Madison lay on her side next to Terry in bed, she felt Terry touch her belly.

"Did the baby just move?" Terry asked.

"You felt that?" she smiled. "I guess since I'm on my side, it's easier for you to feel the baby. My belly is flatter when I stand."

"So what I felt a few moments ago-- that was our baby?" Moving to get a better vantage, Terry smiled at the bump under Madison's pajama top. "Hello, Little Bit. Can you move again for your daddy?" Terry kept feeling around when the baby didn't budge. "Please?" he asked, but the baby held still. "Little Bit doesn't know me yet," Terry smiled at Madison. He kept his hand on her belly, and started talking to the baby while Madison brushed the happy tears from her eyes.

She could hardly wait for them to meet, face to face.

* * * *

By early April, Maddie's nesting instincts were in high gear. She was eager to get their bedroom ready for the baby, and though Terry offered to help, Maddie told him to stay put. He had a job to do. Finish the Singapore account in time for the baby's delivery.

So while Terry worked in the office, Maddie sat in the living room with Izzy, shopping for a crib on Izzy's laptop.

Talk about distraction. Terry had worked through distraction before when Abby and Izzy had gone through their pregnancies, but it was a different matter when it was your wife. Even harder when he worked from home and he could hear Maddie and Izzy talking excitedly from the living room. John might be able to work just fine, but Terry had to close the office door. He had to.

It took some time before Maddie brought him a printout of the crib she liked. She and Izzy had measured it, and had determined it would fit in the bedroom.

Terry smiled when he saw the French white railing, the matching changing table that set above the drawers. "I can see why you like it. Even we don't have a bed this nice."

"It turns into a toddler bed, and a full-sized adult bed," Maddie explained, showing him the pictures. "Here's the mattress Izzy and I thought would be a good idea-- it's supposed to be very safe for infants. I've also picked out some fitted sheets, and matching receiving blankets for feeding time."

He looked over the printouts while Maddie chewed her lip. "Are you doing all right?" he asked.

"What do you think of the crib? Do you like it?"

"I like it." He handed the paper back to Maddie. "It sounds like you've been doing your homework, and it's within our price range. If this is the one you want, then go ahead and place the order. Would you like me to take you out for a walk? I can spare a half hour."

"Izzy and I will go walking later. But thanks, Terry." Smiling, Maddie kissed him, and went off to buy the nursery for the baby.

Maybe this crib would satisfy her nesting needs. So far, she'd organized their dresser from top to bottom so he now had trouble finding anything on the first try, and as of yesterday, she'd started in on their closet. Terry had an urge to hide his fishing gear. Overall, he thought she was bearing up fairly well, considering her hip was aching more often, and she was having weird dreams about childbirth. When Maddie slept, she needed so many pillows to keep her comfortable, it left little room in bed for Terry. He stayed, however, knowing he needed to be there for her while she slept.

Probably the hardest of the pregnancy symptoms to deal with were the mood swings. She fought so hard to manage them, Terry could tell it annoyed her whenever he noticed she was struggling. He was careful not to say anything about them, and tried not to offer his shoulder whenever she melted into tears. It was almost impossible not to. He supported her as best he could though, by not getting in her way, but still doing all he could to take care of her and show that he cared. Maybe it was the showing that he cared that sometimes got him into trouble. He couldn't always tell. Her swings hadn't been as noticeable during the first trimester, and while he knew mood swings usually lessened during the second, Maddie seemed to struggle more.

One Tuesday, about a week and a half after Maddie had decided on the crib, Terry and John were on a conference call when something bumped in the hallway. Terry glanced at the closed office door, then focused back on the call. He was being asked a question-- a rather important one, when a man's laughter in the hallway caught Terry's ear.

Terry looked to John, and John shrugged.

When the call was over, Terry gathered his notes, and handed them to John.

"Are we expecting visitors?" Terry asked, getting up from his desk.

Since neither of them knew, John checked his phone's calendar as they pushed into the hall. Terry was about to crack a joke about how no one told them anything around here, when Tim smiled at him from the living room.

"What on earth are you doing here?"

"Aren't you glad to see him?" Maddie asked, coming from the kitchen with a tray of mugs.

"I meant it in a good way." Terry closed his mouth, but nodded his greeting to Tim.

"What brings you here?" John asked, shaking hands with Tim.

"Since I had a few days off, Madison asked me to help her put together the new crib." Tim shrugged. "She didn't want to disturb you, since you guys are so busy."

"I'm not so busy I can't put together Little Bit's crib." Terry looked at Maddie as she handed out mugs to Tim and Izzy. "Some things a father likes to do. Or at least to be asked."

"By the size of the box, I could probably use the help," Tim admitted. "It's big-- almost a crate."

"It's here?"

"In your bedroom," Izzy smiled.

John nudged Terry. "Go put together the crib."

"What about the progress report?"

"I'll finish it."

"Thanks," Terry sighed.

John waved to Tim, then headed for the office as Izzy checked the time.

"I need to pick the girls up from preschool," Izzy apologized. "I had hoped the crib would get here earlier, so the girls wouldn't be in your way. Would you like me to take them to a friend's house, instead of bringing them straight home?"

Terry nodded his thanks to Izzy.

"Terry?" Maddie put down her mug, and he hurried to help Maddie up from the couch. "Could I talk to you in the kitchen?"

Quietly, Tim drank from his mug while Terry followed Maddie into the next room.

She was trying not to hug herself. Terry knew it by the way she kept forcing her arms down to her sides, and it only made him want to hold and comfort her. When she took a slow, cleansing breath-- a breathing exercise Carol had taught her, Terry took a small step back. At twenty-six weeks, she was more clearly showing, the belly beneath her loose pullover giving her a wonderfully expectant look.

"Why aren't you talking to me?" Maddie asked.

He blinked. He'd been bracing for something else-- he didn't know what-- but not that. "I don't understand," he said cautiously.

Tears spilled from her eyes, and he realized they'd been near the surface all along. "Honey--" he stepped close to her, then paused, not wanting to annoy her like in the past.

"You're doing it again," she cried.

He looked about. "Doing what?"

"Being careful." She stabbed the air with her finger. "Just because I'm pregnant, doesn't mean I'm fragile. Don't avoid me, Terry."

"I didn't think I was." Terry wished he hadn't contradicted her, for she cried all the harder. "I don't know what to do, Honey. Tell me what to do." He wished John was handy, then he could ask for advice. Not that John would know. With a sigh, Terry moved close, checked to see if she minded, then put an arm around his crying wife. She moved into his arms, and he hugged her.

"I'm going crazy," she whispered between sobs. "I just know I am."

"It may feel that way, but the opposite is true. You trust my judgment, don't you?" He smiled when she nodded against his shirt. "You're this baby's hero, Maddie. I would have gone bananas weeks ago. God clearly picked the right one for this job."

A laugh erupted against Terry's shirt, and Maddie reached for a paper towel. This had been so much easier when Izzy had been the mother, and John the father, and all Terry had to do was stand back and be supportive.

By the time Terry and Maddie came back to the living room, Tim was by himself.

"I'm sorry we kept you waiting," Terry apologized. "I'll get the tools from the garage."

"I'll come with you," Tim nodded, and fell into step with Terry. "Is she all right?" Tim whispered when they were outside. "Hormones can play havoc with a woman. Karen cried through this last pregnancy, though she swore she sailed through her time with Paige."

"Maddie is dealing with it better than I would," Terry smiled. "It was good of you to come. I had no idea the crib was supposed to be here today, let alone that she'd asked you to help."

"It's okay," Tim shrugged, as Terry hefted down the toolbox. "My boss is relocating his business, so I have some time off."

"That sounds ominous."

"Not really." Tim followed Terry back to the house. "My boss told me he's reorganizing the company, and that's why they were cutting back employees. He said he's happy with my job performance, and said I'll be staying. I still can't believe it." Tim blew out a breath and looked as though he were a hundred pounds lighter. "I feel like something's going on, like maybe someone's trying to get my attention."

Terry stopped, and looked at Tim.

"I don't know," Tim sighed. "First I find my sister-- the one nobody thought I'd EVER find, then Karen doesn't leave me after she has our baby. If that's not enough, you have an accident and an angel saves your life. I'm the last person you ever thought would believe you, right? Well, I did." Tim didn't look too happy about it, but there it was. "And then there's Paige. It's nothing stellar-- she's not calling me Dad, but at least I feel like she's accepting the fact that we are a family." Tim shook his head. "I can't have everything. I have my family and my job, so I'm not going to tempt fate, or God, or whatever."

"God, Tim. God."

Tim was quiet.

The back door opened and they could see Maddie waiting.

"If you ever need someone to talk to," Terry offered, "you have my number."

Tim gave a half nod, and they stepped into the kitchen.

"Did you find the toolbox all right?" Maddie asked. "How long do you think it'll take to put the crib together? Would you mind if I helped? I could read the directions."

"Sounds like you're eager," Tim grinned.

When Terry saw the chest-high box crammed into what remained of the bedroom's walking space, he let out a whistle.

"Two delivery men managed to get it in here," Tim said, squeezing around the box. "Madison told them the crib would be in this room, so this is where they left it. The unpacking they left to us."

A panicked thought had Terry looking at Maddie. "You and Izzy did measure the crib for this bedroom, right?"

Maddie nodded.

"There's probably a lot of packing material in there, that's why the box is so big," Tim reasoned.

"Let's hope so." Terry maneuvered around the box while Madison stayed in the hall and watched. "I need some scissors to cut these straps," Terry called, and Maddie disappeared, then came back and tossed some scissors onto the bed behind him. The straps came off, then Terry pulled out the metal staples, and the box opened.

Tim tugged out the packing material, along with pieces of the crib and some confusing instructions.

"It appears some assembly is required," Terry joked.

One by one, the packing was removed, and the crib found its way onto the bed and carpet. Terry started at step one on the instructions, and Tim scrambled to find the right pieces while Maddie carried away the packing foam.

When John joined them, Terry was forced to look at the time.

Terry groaned. "According to the manufacturer, this was supposed to be easy."

"Look at the bright side," John said, stepping around their progress, "you took so long, now you're getting another volunteer to add to the confusion."

It took some doing, the teamwork of three men, and the urgent prayers of Maddie, but they finally had the crib together and were scooting it in place beside the bed. Terry had to admit, for all the hard-to reach fasteners, and complicated directions, once the crib was assembled, it was one sturdy piece of furniture. The off-white finish fit in nicely with its surroundings, giving the room an unexpectedly classy feel. The drawers, and shelf behind the drawers offered a lot of storage space, and the changing table on top made it a space-saving unit that Terry thought would do quite nicely. The fact this crib would change into a toddler bed, and full-size twin bed made it a good investment.

As Terry gathered his tools, Maddie pushed the remaining packing material into the hall while Tim did his best to help.

"You're staying for dinner," Maddie told her brother, and she didn't allow him to turn down the offer. Tim had helped, so he was going to be fed. Period.

Tim wisely accepted, and got out of the way as Maddie opened drawers and looked the crib over.

"John just told me it's finished," Izzy said, coming into the room. When Izzy saw the crib, her mouth dropped open and she hugged Maddie. "Oh, it's even better than we planned. And look how it well it fits beside the bed. I love the drawers."

Their job done, Terry moved out of the way with the other two men as the triplets poured inside the bedroom to see the crib.

The next few days were spent with Maddie fussing over the crib, dressing it with a fitted teddy bear sheet, and draping a teddy bear quilt, and a receiving blanket over the railing for added effect. She stocked the shelves with diapers, and other essentials. By the time Easter rolled around, Karen gave Maddie high marks for getting the bedroom ready for the new arrival, though it was beyond her, and Abby, and even Izzy, how Maddie could stand to wait and find out what she was having. While the usual debate of "Didn't she want to know?" and "Of course she did, she only wanted to save it as a surprise for later," went on, Terry just smiled. Maddie was a fighter; she just didn't always know it.

Easter came and went, and Terry and Maddie kept praying for her brother. While Tim emailed Terry, and even John a few times to ask some questions, on the whole, Tim kept to himself.

As Maddie entered the last few months of her pregnancy, Terry and John worked like maniacs to finish the Singapore account in time for the baby's arrival. Better yet, Terry wanted to be free to help Maddie through the last few weeks of her pregnancy. He knew it wouldn't be easy for her, and wanted this account to be done. Sloppy work would never do though, for he and John were responsible for people's lives. How would he like it if his bank account were wiped out, because someone else had been in a hurry and hadn't done his job? Loving his neighbor as himself was a standard Terry held himself to every day of his life, so this account would get his very best.

Terry stayed up late, right up until his agreed-upon bedtime with Maddie. He poured over his work every waking moment he could, until he dreamt it in his sleep.

Then came the home stretch, when he was fueled by coffee, and live reports back from the techs in Singapore. Izzy watched over Maddie's sleep, while he and John hammered out the bugs and got things running.

By afternoon, Terry fell into bed, not intending to wake up for at least the next two days. Maybe three, if he could go without food for that long. His eyes felt like sandpaper, but he and John had finished. Seven months of work, and they were done. He would celebrate, but he was too worn out. A few seconds after hitting the pillow, Terry was out like a light.

He was done.

* * * *

Though she needed earbuds to get onto the bed, music actually helped other than to smother the sounds of the mattress giving way beneath her. Which was a good thing, for lunch was causing heartburn, and her hip was scolding her for that extra-long walk she'd taken with Izzy. Music was an umbrella for the clouds that had been gathering over her since they'd talked with Mrs. Harper across the street. Madison's nerves couldn't take much more. Even Little Bit was kicking and moving more than usual.

Madison knew she had to settle down. She listened to the music, the calm of the melody. She looked at Terry, fast asleep on the mattress beside her. He'd been sound asleep all morning, and all afternoon. Not even her clumsily getting onto the bed had been enough to stir him.

She wondered just when he planned on waking up? Maybe this was his way of celebrating. At least he was done working himself into the ground. That was the important thing. Oh, how she had missed him. Though Terry had made sure Izzy was there to help her, it hadn't been the same. If Madison could have, she would've sewn herself into Terry's clothes to be with him in the office. She wouldn't have minded listening to him work, even though he could sometimes drive her crazy.

Sitting in bed with pillows behind her back, and pillows under her legs, she studied him. How she envied him, for he could sprawl on his back, and breathe all the air he wanted without feeling labored. His stomach was muscled and mostly flat, while hers was not. Sometimes, Madison felt overwhelmed, like her body was failing her, especially when her hip acted up like this.

Little Bit kicked, and Madison smiled and caressed her belly. On the other hand, Terry didn't get to carry their child. Madison wouldn't have traded this for anything. Well, for one thing. She would trade this bloated feeling for giving birth and holding her baby, but she wouldn't have settled for anything less.

Her mind wandered back to Mrs. Harper, and Madison checked Terry. He really needed to wake up. Even after all this sleep though, he still looked so worn out, she hated to spoil his hard-earned rest. As much as she needed him to wake up, the least she could do was wait. She wished she could tell him her news so they could agree and move on. She hated the uncertainty, especially when she'd already pictured the way things would be. She could see the future, and it was comforting. When your body was an uncomfortable place to be, and your emotions were paper thin, you took comfort where you could.

Fingers brushed her hand, and she looked over and saw Terry blinking. Now that he was awake, she felt guilty. She pulled out an earbud as his mouth moved.

"How long have you been there?" he yawned.

"Please try not to move the bed. I need to talk to you."

Eyes half closed, Terry smiled. "Man, is my wife pretty."

"I am not." Madison lightly slapped his arm. "You're still asleep."

"Do these eyes look asleep to you?" He smiled, and Madison felt herself give in to that easy grin, the warmth of his hand when it sought hers. "Go ahead. I'm listening."

"I'm sorry if I woke you, but you can go back to sleep after I'm done." Madison saw Terry's smile turn sleepy, but when she squeezed his hand, his eyes opened and he nodded for her to continue. "This is important. When Izzy and I took our walk this morning, Alice Harper from across the street waved us over. She and Frank are getting divorced, and she's moving to Wisconsin to live with her daughter."

"What?" Terry sat up. "I didn't even know their marriage was in trouble."

"Izzy said in the ten years the Harpers have been in the neighborhood, they've pretty much kept to themselves."

"That's true enough." Terry rubbed his neck. "But why tell us?"

"They heard we had someone draw up plans for an add-on because we didn't have enough room, but were worried we might have changed our minds."

"Why?" Terry asked.

"Because they want us to buy their house. I told them we were still going through with it, that the only reason we haven't done anything yet is because you and John have been so busy."

Terry leaned forward on the bed and it was all Madison could do to not stuff her ears and hum.

"Sorry, I'll hold still. Let me get this right-- the Harpers want us to buy their house? The one across the street?"

"Please don't look at me like that."

"Like what? This is the way I always look."

"Besides the two-day-old beard, and the bloodshot eyes?"

"Besides that."

"I don't want to move, Terry, and I'll remind you that you don't either."

"We could at least look at the house. There's no harm in looking."

That lopsided grin got to her every time. Maybe it was the pregnancy pumping all those hormones into her system, maybe that was it. Madison didn't know. She only knew she found herself agreeing that it couldn't hurt to at least look. But to only look. Nothing more.

They called the Harpers, and Alice and Frank were all too happy to invite them over tomorrow, so they would have a chance to clean the house. If only they agreed more often, Madison thought, maybe they wouldn't be selling their home. Maybe.

At dinner, John and Izzy kept quiet, though John must have heard all about it from Izzy. It appeared they didn't want to influence any decisions. That was fine with Madison, for she already knew they were welcome here. She knew no one was hurrying them to the door, no one was ready to see them go. The conversation was carefully kept away from moving, and while John and Terry talked of their great relief over having finished the Singapore account, Izzy and Madison exchanged smiles. The men were trying a little too hard.

The next day, Terry showered, and shaved off the beard Madison had admired that morning. Madison didn't know why, but she put on her best maternity sweater to look nice for the visit. It didn't matter how she looked. They weren't buying the house. Izzy came from the kitchen as Madison and Terry went into the living room. John came from the office, and the triplets looked up from their board game on the living room floor.

"Have a good time," John smiled.

"We're just looking," Madison said, and Izzy nodded that she understood.

The sun came out as Madison and Terry stepped outside, making Madison wonder if she needed the sweater, after all. A chilly breeze off the bay made her decide to keep it on, and she took Terry's arm as they crossed the street.

A few steps, and they reached the Harpers' house. Madison had to admit it wasn't far. It wasn't white like John and Izzy's house, but the bluish-gray was easy on the eyes, and the white outlining the windows and doors gave it a happy charm. Of course, she'd seen the house before, but she'd never given it much thought. The trees in back were the same as the others that populated the area, and if she looked about at a quick glance, it was easy to miss, except for the windows and white door.

It was one story, like John and Izzy's, but it wasn't as big side to side. That was a plus. It meant less to vacuum.

Terry rang the doorbell and smiled at Madison, but Madison prepared herself to not like the house. She didn't want to move, she really didn't.

The door opened, and Frank showed them inside.

"Thanks for coming." Frank's smile looked nervous, as though he didn't quite know what to do with himself. "Do you want me to stick around, or would you be more comfortable if I left while you guys looked around?"

"Stay, please." Terry shook his hand. "I'm sorry to hear you and Alice are leaving."

"It couldn't be helped," Frank shrugged, leading them into a large room. "She would've been here to welcome you, but something came up. To be honest, I don't think she wanted to be here for this."

"Are you sure you both want to sell?"

"We're sure." Frank nodded to the fireplace. "It smokes, but only because it needs to be cleaned. It's been on my Honey-Do-List for ages. We haven't used it in a long time." Frank waved to the room as though he wished it would go away. "This is the living room, it's wide open to the breakfast nook and the kitchen. There are two bedrooms down the hall-- our girl Missy used to have the larger of the two. The other is for guests."

"The master bedroom?" Terry asked, and Frank showed them the door to the right of the fireplace.

"Help yourself. Look around. If you want to know anything, just ask. I'll be here," he said glumly.

Terry gave Madison a pained look. She could tell Terry was having second thoughts. She looked about the large living room, and its dark gray carpet. It felt soft under her shoes, so it wouldn't have to be replaced anytime soon. True, the house looked bigger on the inside than it did the outside, and all this open space would need to be vacuumed. She liked the way it opened up to the next area though-- a table with chairs beside the kitchen. She could see Terry at a table of their own, laughing with their child while she got breakfast ready. Behind the table, sliding glass doors led to a patio, and though they were facing the wrong way to see the bay, the stand of trees surrounding the property gave a private feel.

While Terry stepped onto the patio, Madison inspected the kitchen. She looked over the counter space, and approved of the island counter, for she and Izzy relied on theirs. Though the cupboards could've done with a good cleaning, there were a lot of them. She looked around a corner, and found herself in the hall.

The first bedroom had purple walls-- not a color Madison would have picked for herself, but she liked the size of the room. She stood back a long while and was quiet.

"This place is kind of sad, isn't it?"

Madison jumped-- not an easy thing for a woman in her third trimester to do-- at the sound of Terry's unexpected voice. She steadied her heart as Terry gave her an apologetic look. "I don't suppose you could make a little more noise?"

"Sorry," he smiled. "I was just outside, and from what I saw, the roof looks to be in good shape, and the trees seem healthy." Terry shrugged. "The backyard is probably the happiest spot on the whole property."

"He'll hear you," Madison whispered.

"What's with you? Don't tell me you've been enjoying yourself."

"Can't you see our child in this room?" Madison moved out of the way so Terry could look inside.

"With purple walls?"

"We can repaint them."

Terry shook his head. "I thought you said you didn't want to move?"

"I don't." Madison sighed, and looked down the hall at the bathroom. "It isn't the house's fault the Harpers are getting divorced." She looked back at the bedroom. "It's not so far to get to the bathroom, is it? Do you think our baby will mind that the bathroom isn't closer?"

"That depends on what shape the bathroom's in." Terry went to go see the bathroom while Madison waited. When he came back, he gave a noncommittal shrug. "The caulking wasn't bad. I wouldn't mind getting a building inspector in here, and have an expert opinion before I trust my own. I know a good one-- she was reliable when I had to make a decision about buying my apartment complex. So you're really interested?"

"I'm interested enough to think about it." When Madison saw his wariness, she smiled. "You were the one who dragged me here."

"Dragged is a strong word." Terry looked into the purple bedroom again. "You're right, I would like to know how sound this house is, and if it's a good investment or not. A place-- any place-- is a commitment, but this one scares me. It's only available because the Harpers are getting divorced."

"The house isn't jinxed," Madison whispered. "I didn't think you were superstitious."

"I'm not," Terry sighed. "I'm not. I'll call the inspector when we get home."

It was a terribly big decision though, one that was testing Madison's faith. It was one thing to be part of a larger household, another thing entirely to be responsible for the house.

* * * *

When they had finished looking around, Terry and Maddie went home to find John and Izzy waiting for them. Of course they had to be told what was going on, for Terry never intended to keep any of this a secret, and neither did Maddie. Terry lost no time in contacting Sue, the building inspector he trusted, and in sitting down to look over his finances.

"Do you think you can handle a mortgage?" John asked, coming into the office and sitting down at the desk next to Terry's.

"I've crunched the numbers--" Terry looked over his spreadsheet-- "and after the job we've just finished, I can afford to pay off Maddie's wedding rings. We'll still owe on the car, but my credit is good, and I've been through the loan process before. I'm pretty sure I can get another mortgage. I've paid off the first one for the apartment complex, and at least this one should be smaller."

"Then why do you look so downcast? Izumi and I could loan you some money--"

"No, thanks, I'll be all right," Terry smiled. "It's just that a house is such a big commitment. If this actually happens, I'm going to be a homeowner."

John grinned. "A homeowner across the street. It'll still be a short commute. You gotta appreciate that."

Terry could.

"Thanks for not moving away." John gave Terry a punch on the arm, and Terry nodded. It was as touchy-feely as they were going to get, but Terry knew it came from the heart. John really hadn't wanted Terry to move out, but across the street? John could live with that.

Maddie had been right. It wasn't the house's fault it was so sad right now. Terry held onto that thought, but when Sue's report came back, he had to deal with the slightly mixed results. While the Harpers' roof had been good, there were some other repairs that needed to be done. Still, the foundation was solid, and there wasn't any mold. While it was overall a good house, it wasn't a buy-and-move-in-proposition, either. There would be waiting involved while the repairs were made.

To his surprise, Maddie didn't seem to mind.

"As long as we can afford the repairs," Maddie said, as they lay in bed one night, planning, and talking it over, "then we can wait. Besides, I won't want to move in right away. I'm going to need Izzy's help after I have this baby, and I'm going to be even more tired than I am now. There's so much I need to learn from Izzy, it'll be easier to do if we're still here. I also want to learn to trust myself to work with a kitchen knife after the baby's born, but we won't have to wait to move for that to happen. I can work with Izzy in her kitchen until Carol agrees I'm ready to work in my own." Maddie smiled. "I like the sound of that-- my kitchen. It's a big responsibility. I only help out around here, and in our home, everything will be up to us."

Terry smiled as determination firmed Maddie's mouth.

"We can do it. Make any repairs you need to. We'll just be across the street. We can work on the house at a nice pace from here, and move in when we're ready."

"You're sure about this?"

They looked at the crib railing where Maddie had taped up the latest ultrasound printout. The tech had known they were waiting to find out the gender, so nothing showed but a sweetly small face.

"I've prayed about it," Maddie nodded. "I'm sure."

He grinned. "The more I think about it, the more I can see us in that house." Resting his arm on the stack of pillows between them, he placed a hand on Maddie's belly, and the movement he'd seen a second before stopped. "It's me, Little Bit. How are you doing in there?" To his joy, the baby kicked at the sound of his voice. They had so much to do-- hiring a buyer's agent was only the start. If he thought about it too long, he could grow weary fast. A small jab under his hand made him smile.

"You think we'll be able to get the house?" Maddie asked, and he nodded. Maddie rested her hand on his as Little Bit kicked.

"Am I invited to the baby shower next month?"

"Abby's so happy we're thinking of a house this close to home, she wants to invite everyone." Maddie caressed his hand, and closed her eyes. Her body was so tired, he could tell she was doing good to stay awake for as long as she had. He kissed her hair, said a quiet prayer for the night, for the health of their baby, and Maddie, then let Maddie go to sleep.

If Terry hadn't felt like a father before, he did that night. Faced with a future mortgage, car payments, a wife, and a new baby, he finally felt he had arrived.

* * * *

The first day of summer fell on a Saturday in June, which was also the first day of fishing season for smallmouth bass. For Terry and John that meant a wonderfully full day on the edge of the water. While John used the weight of the lure to make each cast, Terry used the heavy fly line, for Terry was all feathers. It made for different rhythms, different casts, but Terry loved it all. John was able to use the slick new case he'd gotten for Christmas, and Terry was able to test out his new gear on the smallmouth in the bay. For once, Terry could get away from the paperwork of the house he and Maddie were buying, and the well-wishes of everyone who constantly asked how soon until the baby's due date. While everyone else needed to pause and check the calendar, Terry could've answered them in his sleep.

Man, sleep. He hardly got any, not with Maddie getting up so often to use the bathroom.

He'd needed this. He kept up the back and forth rhythm until he was afraid of catching his quota of five for the day, and then went without a hook at all. He soaked up the sun like it wouldn't show up the next day. Every so often, he rubbed on more sunscreen, for Maddie was all mother right now. Thirty-five weeks into her pregnancy, she kept saying she felt like she was about to pop, though her due date was next month. Abby would've joined them if she could; she was on a boat somewhere in the Thousand Islands with her camera crew, and Jake, and Ricky, filming a segment for Dennis. Although the weather had been perfect for it, Terry had missed his little fishing buddy.

When the day ended, Terry, Maddie, John, Izzy, and the munchkins gathered around the firepit to enjoy the day's catch and a good sunset.

That night, Terry had no trouble falling asleep, even with Maddie's trips to the bathroom. He was so out of it, he was soon lost in a dream of a roof repair gone wrong. As he and Maddie panicked over the lemon they had bought, and tied themselves to with a mortgage, Terry became dimly aware of someone thrashing beside him.

The leaky roof faded, and Terry blinked, thankful that he'd only been dreaming, but at the same time wondering why he was awake.

The blanket next to him jerked, and Terry pushed onto his side, and checked Maddie.

In the semi-darkness, he saw the sweat on Maddie's face, and his thought went to the baby. Something was wrong.

"Maddie?" He shook her arm, and she clutched her pillows even harder. On her side, and very pregnant, he wasn't sure if this was a flashback, or if she needed an ambulance. "Maddie, what's wrong?" Her eyes-- they were staying closed. "Honey, wake up. Come on, I'm here, and you're all right. You're safe." When she shook her head, Terry grabbed the cell phone playing by her pillow, lit the screen, and held it to her face.

She was awake.

"Maddie, I need you to open your eyes so I know you're all right."

"My belly," she gasped.

"What about it?" He pushed back the blankets, checked the sheet beside her and saw that it was dry. She wasn't bleeding. When he touched her belly, Maddie stiffened. "Does that hurt?" he asked.

She shook her head.

He pulled up her pajama top, and felt for movement.

"Little Bit is definitely awake. Come on, Maddie, open your eyes." Terry rubbed Maddie's face until she finally gasped and got her eyes all the way open. "What's wrong? Tell me what's wrong. Is it the baby?" He placed her hand on her belly, and it seemed to calm her. "You had a flashback, didn't you?"

Maddie shook her head.

"A night terror?"

She nodded. "I hurt myself."

"No, you kept our baby safe. See?" Terry got out of bed, went over and turned on the overhead light to assure her that all was well.

She moaned, and he hurried back to the bed.

"What?" he asked. "You're not hurt."

She couldn't hear him as she gazed at her stomach.

"Maddie, those are old scars." He touched her face until she looked at him. "I don't know what you were dreaming, but you haven't hurt yourself since before we were married. Can you hear me? Then calm down." He took heart when she clutched his hand, and her breathing started to come in normal breaths.

"I dreamt I was with him again." Maddie started to shake, but she steadied when Terry squeezed her hand and coaxed her to breathe. "It wasn't a flashback. This was different. I was trying to get away from him, and he was chasing me outside. I don't remember hurting myself, but I looked down, and I saw blood. I wasn't pregnant in the dream, but when I started to wake up, I thought--" Maddie began to hyperventilate, and Terry steadied her. "I thought it was real. I thought it had really happened." She started to cry as she looked at her belly. "It's so ugly, Terry. My belly keeps getting bigger, and it's so ugly."

He leaned down, and kissed the tears from her face. "Do you know what I see when I look at your belly? When I see those old scars protecting our growing baby, I see hope. I see you not giving up. I see so much love, and I see hope."

Maddie wept and clung to him, and he tried to hold her as best as he could with the pillows between them.

"I'm never touching anything sharp again for as long as I live. What if I do something to hurt our child, Terry?"

"The Maddie I know would never do that-- not in a million years." Terry hugged her with everything he had. "The Maddie I know will keep taking each day at a time, and will keep growing in grace. Do you know how she'll do that? She'll grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior until the day He takes her home. Which, by the grace of God, won't be for a very long time." Terry took a deep breath, and held his friend as the music from her phone softly played by their pillow. "Listen to that, Maddie. They're playing our song."

She sniffed, and her hand relaxed in his.

Keeping hold of her hand, he pulled the blanket up over Maddie and her pillows.

"Leave the light on?" she asked, and he nodded, and got comfortable while she watched his every move.

"I'm not going anywhere," he smiled.

"Thank you, Terry."

Though Maddie was tired, she was still too shaken to fall asleep, so they talked of baby names until the wee hours of the morning. When she at last drifted to sleep, Terry let her rest as long as she wanted. She was giving this child all her strength. She was holding nothing back.

* * * *

The new yellow maternity dress made her feel like doing something nice with her hair besides adding a ponytail, though she had trouble finding enough energy to put on her shoes. She couldn't bend down to put them on, and once she did, she knew they would soon pinch her feet. Her feet and ankles were a little swollen-- with emphasis on the "little," for she had already prayed, seen her doctor, and talked to Izzy. It wasn't preeclampsia, and though she sometimes felt like it, she wasn't dying.

"Maddie?" Terry came striding into the bedroom in his T-shirt and jeans. "Aren't you ready yet?"

She tried not to glare at him. She tried, and prayed she didn't fail.

"Do you want help with your shoes?"

"You might have to go without me," she sighed.

"It's our baby shower. You have to be there. If I come without you, they'll throw me out."

"What if I need to use the bathroom?"

"The Doyles have more than one. You'll have your pick." Terry knelt, and helped Madison into her shoes.

"I mean on the drive there? I'm drinking so many fluids to help with the swelling, and the baby's sitting on my bladder, I'm a time-bomb waiting to go off."

"It's a half hour drive, but say the word, and I'll find the nearest bathroom."

She looked down at her feet, but couldn't see them. Terry handed her a purse, and she had to think a moment before she realized that he'd given her the wrong one. Not that he would know the difference between her handbags. She slipped in her smartphone, and moved into the hallway as Terry followed from behind.

"Everyone else has already left, and Karen called a few minutes ago to say they're almost at Dick's place."

"So we're going to be late?" Madison asked, trying to waddle faster.

"We're on time-- they just wanted to get there before us. I'm only following instructions," Terry shrugged. "They said to leave now, so that's what we're doing. Slow up, before you hurt something, and I have to carry you."

"You wouldn't be able to. Not even you." Madison waited by their silver four-door sedan while Terry locked the house. The baby gave a small jab, as though knowing they were going to a party. It wasn't just any party, it was all for Little Bit; Madison only wished she didn't feel so tired before they even got there. It didn't seem fair to everyone else.

A light summer breeze came off the bay and fanned Madison as Terry opened the passenger door. She almost hated to get inside the car, it felt so good.

"You look pretty in that color," Terry smiled. "Wearing it on honor of the baby?"

Madison nodded. Her nerves were calming, and when Terry helped her into the car, she was able to breathe. The sunlight from the window felt soothing, the hum of the engine, even the familiar scent of Terry's soap put her at ease. The thought of going to a party didn't seem as overwhelming as before. It took effort to not melt into tears for no reason, to not panic at every odd sensation, to not worry twenty-four seven about the baby.

She pulled out her phone and went over her promises for Little Bit while Terry opened his window and let in some air.

When they neared the Doyles, Madison was grateful she hadn't needed to use the bathroom until now. As something yellow and orange bobbed in the distance, she wondered what it was. Someone dancing? The movement had been too light for that, and there it was again, bobbing in the wind. As they came closer, Madison realized they were balloons-- pale yellow and orange balloons tied to a mailbox. Some read, "Baby Shower," while others had, "Welcome Precious Bundle" printed in happy white letters. Beyond the mailbox, the circular driveway was crowded with cars. It amazed her to find so many, for she had thought this was going to be a small party. Abby had been joking about inviting everyone, hadn't she?

Madison looked to Terry, but he was busy finding a parking space. Since Abby, Izzy, Sara, Agatha, and Karen had let Madison pick the date for the party, Madison had chosen Saturday, after lunch. The women wouldn't have to feed everyone, and it wouldn't get in the way of work.

"Quite a turnout, isn't it?" Terry pulled in back of a familiar minivan, and grinned at Madison.

"Did you know all these people would be here?" Madison asked.

"They didn't tell me a thing." Terry got out, rounded the hood as Sara and Dick Doyle came from the house with Izzy and Karen.

Sara waved, and Madison smiled.

"Are you surprised?"

"I saw the balloons," Madison nodded, hanging on to Terry's arm as he helped her from the car. "Thank you for the party. It was very kind of you."

"It's not over yet." Sara stepped forward, and gave Madison a huge hug despite her big belly. "We're just getting started. Come in, and let's get you seated. We saved you a recliner so you can put your feet up. Dick, doesn't she look radiant?"

"She sure does."

Madison looked back at Terry, and Terry nodded in agreement. Madison took Karen's hand, and thanked her for making the long drive. As Karen insisted that it wasn't too long of a drive to come for her baby shower, they went inside. Sara showed them through the foyer, and into a wide room with lots of people. They were all smiling and expecting Madison to say something, and for one awful moment, Madison didn't know what to do.

"I-- I didn't expect so many people." She looked to Terry, and he laughed, and moved to her side with a hug. "Thank you. Thank you for coming."

"We have the best family and friends in the world," Terry nodded to the room.

People came around them, and Madison was finally able to slow her heart down to pick out a few of the faces. All of Madison's family was there, as well as Agatha and her husband. Emily came, but not Brian, since Emily's father had a minor medical emergency; though Brian had stayed, he'd insisted that Emily and Dave come. Sheriff Peterson and his wife were there, as well as AJ's friend, Tyler Greene, and Tyler's wife, and baby, and Tyler's parents. There were more, and as Madison was thanking them all, Sara and Jake carried something into the room. Everyone clapped, and it took Madison a moment to realize what was going on.

Then Madison saw the cake-- a teddy bear wearing a bib that spelled B-A-B-Y.

"Terry, look." Madison held onto her husband's hand and fought like crazy not to cry.

Terry hugged her, and smiled. "It's a sweet one, Jake."

"I got the design off the blanket you draped over the crib," Jake explained.

"It's wonderful," Madison smiled, wiping her eyes. She was glad she hadn't used mascara, especially when Dick snapped a picture of them in front of the cake.

"We're serving up cake and ice cream before the main event," Dick announced, while Madison whispered to Terry.

She had held it as long as she could. Madison hurried, and by the time she'd returned from the bathroom, Sara was waiting for her by a recliner. A dessert plate found its way into Madison's hands, and at her side, she found Terry in a comfortable chair, already enjoying some cake. Dick made sure the recliner kicked out, and Madison had to admit her feet felt better for the thoughtfulness.

Madison listened to the talk around her, the visiting between friends, neighbors, and family. The large room looked different than the last time she'd been there-- couches had been moved in, tables were against the wall, and balloons of all kinds had been tied to anything that would hold them down.

"It was good of you to include Ava," Tyler said nearby, as he sat with Abby and Jake. "She's starting to feel like she fits in here."

Abby ate some ice cream, and nodded. "That's because she does."

On the other side of the recliner, others were carrying on a conversation of another sort.

"How's business?"

"Decent enough," Terry shrugged. "I'm going to have to clear out Maddie's apartment to make room for new a tenant, and no one's moving out. So business is good enough."

"That reminds me," Dick asked, "have you heard back about your broken window? Henry, have you heard anything about Victor?"

"Well, he's stopped harassing Terry with phone calls. And it appears Victor has moved on and left the area. That doesn't solve any cases, but it does keep the peace."

"I was thinking I'd like to do something," Dick said thoughtfully. "Not about Victor-- you've already warned me to stay away, Henry-- but something to do for those I can help. Jake and I are trying to accomplish some good through the advisory board, and I believe we are. We're making progress. Unlike Jake though, I have more resources, and I'm retired. Terry, if you ever need help with another crusade, I hope you'll give me a call. I'd like to help out."

"Crusade? Sounds like you've been talking to Abby," Terry said with a smile in his voice.

"I've been listening to her. Abby knew I wanted to do more, and suggested that you and I work together-- though I don't know how you'd feel about a partner. She said if Jake wants to join in, she wouldn't be opposed to it, so long as Jake doesn't work alone. I'd rather keep Jake out of this, though. And after all you've been through, I don't even know if you'll be going back into the brink. Or if you'll consider a partner."

"Abby thought we should work together?" Terry paused, as if thinking. "I haven't talked it over with Maddie yet, but John and I were hoping to start a ministry of some kind. What, I don't know, but I'm not going to do it alone, either. I'm done with that."

"Then count me in," Dick said, and the subject was changed to how Ricky was doing in preschool.

Nothing about the talk surprised Madison in the slightest. She sorted through the frosting and ice cream on her plate, and looked at Terry. When she saw he was watching her, she smiled encouragingly. She had known all along God wasn't done with him.

The cake had been so nice, Madison wanted to show Jake how much she loved it by eating the entire slice she had been given. There was so much frosting though, she had trouble getting it down. Thankfully, Sara offered to take it from her before anyone noticed. Her feet up, Madison sipped orange juice and enjoyed the party when some people got up, and she was able to see part of a table behind them. A table stacked with presents.

"Terry," she tugged at his hand, "are those for our baby?"

"They're in baby gift wrap, so I would assume so."

"You're going to help me, right?"

"Everyone, let's get down to the presents," Dick announced. He came and placed a chair beside Terry and Madison as everyone got ready. "Sara will sit here and keep a list of who gave what so you'll have something to consult for your thank you cards."

"Have you gotten any rib kicks?" Karen asked from the next couch, and some of the other women gave knowing smiles.

Madison shook her head. "Not yet."

"Has the baby turned?"

"Little Bit is head down, and on my bladder."

"You're carrying narrow, so you know what that means," Agatha said, and looked to the other women. "It's a boy."

"She's been craving orange juice, though," Karen shook her head.

Madison looked at her glass.

"She's carrying low," Abby pointed out.

"That's because she's closer to delivery, and the baby dropped lower," Izzy disagreed. "She was carrying high before she was carrying low."

"Madison hasn't had any morning sickness, and I did, and I had Connie," Karen piped up, and the women laughed.

"Let's face it, ladies," Izzy said, "without an ultrasound, we can predict this child's gender with an accuracy of fifty percent."

As Madison took another sip from her straw, Terry leaned in.

"Do you want any more orange juice?"

Madison snorted, juice nearly coming out her nose. Terry handed Madison a napkin as Ruthie came forward with a teddy bear.

Hurrying to the chair beside Terry, Sara pulled out a notepad, and nodded that she was ready. Everyone smiled, and Dick took pictures.

"Thank you," Madison handed off her glass so she could hug Lizzie. The girl smiled eagerly as Madison took the teddy bear, and admired its fluffy ears. The bear played a different tune when you squeezed each one of its big paws, and when you hugged it, the bear's stomach lit up. Madison thanked Lizzie, and told her the teddy bear would get a good home next to the crib where it would be sure to get hugged every day.

Then Debbie stepped forward with a medium-sized box. Terry opened this one, and found a night-light that showed the night sky on your bedroom ceiling. Debbie had loved hers for a long time, and was sure the baby was going to want one, too. Terry hugged the sweet munchkin, and promised they would use it when the baby came home from the hospital, though Madison knew Little Bit wouldn't be able to see the stars yet.

Ruthie came next with a heavy gift bag she had to lift with both hands to get onto Madison's lap. Or what was left of her lap. Inside the bag were storybooks-- some from Ruthie's own bookshelf, for she had outgrown them, some were gifts from her friends at preschool, and some she'd bought with her mommy. If Madison had let her, Ruthie would have opened each book and explained every page. She was so excited to give these to the baby, Madison thanked her more than once.

Next came John with a stroller, Izzy with a baby monitor, Tim with a car seat, Karen with a stack of onesies in different sizes, Paige with a baby bottle gift set, and Madeline with a memory book. Even eight-month-old Connie gave a baby rattle. Abby presented them with a toy aquarium that lit up, and Ricky gave a snuggly lop-eared dog.

Then came Jake. Everyone was grinning when Jake stepped forward with his present, and when Madison saw it was large and flat, she had an idea why.

"What is it?" Terry grinned, getting up from his chair to accept the gift.

"It's not much." Jake took a step back and watched as Terry tore away the wrapping paper. "It's not just for the baby. It's for your family."

The back of a large gold frame-- that was all Madison could see, until Terry turned it to reveal a painting of Madison in her wedding dress, and Terry in his suit. They were on the dock, the bay was at their back, and Terry's mouth had that lopsided grin Madison loved so much. The way she leaned against Terry's shoulder, and the look in Terry's eyes, made Madison feel as though she was on that dock again-- though absolutely none of their wedding photos looked like this painting.

"I used your wedding pictures to get the details of your gown, and Uncle Terry's suit," Jake explained, "but I filled in everything else from watching the two of you on a day-to-day basis. I figured your child might like to have it one day."

"I'd like to have this," Terry said, setting it down to take a step back and get a better look. "Is it my imagination, or are you getting better?"

"He's getting better," Abby smiled. "An art gallery in Sackets Harbor has shown strong interest in Jake's artwork. We're not sure they're a good fit, but it's encouraging. And as far as I'm concerned, not at all surprising."

Jake shook his head. "Obviously, an unbiased opinion."

"Well, congratulations. We'll be praying it works out." Terry looked at Madison, and she motioned for his handkerchief. "Are you all right? I think we should put this up in our room, don't you? That is some painting, Jake." Letting John put the painting in a safe place, Terry sat down and hugged Madison until she could stop her tears.

"Thank you," Madison told Jake, and opened her arms to give him a hug. Though she couldn't find better words than thank you, Jake looked as though he understood.

"I don't know," Dr. Gregory said, looking at the box on his knee, "after seeing Jake's painting, my baby sling seems pretty lame."

"A baby sling?"

When Dr. Gregory saw Madison's interest, he brightened, and brought it over, and Madison was soon admiring his gift.

There were so many presents, Madison didn't know how to thank everyone enough, and was grateful for the list Sara was making, so cards could be sent later. By the time all of the presents had been opened, Madison was quietly panicking how they would be able to get them all home. Thankfully, Terry was able to pack everything into their car, so that John only had to carry home the painting.

Though the baby had been given a lot of presents, Madison had come away with the realization that her child was not only coming into a family, but a community.

* * * *

Madison sat in the living room of her tiny apartment while Terry, John, Tim, and Jake carried out the furniture from her old bedroom. As the wide couch she used to sleep on made its way into the living room, Madison listened to the grunts and strains of the men. She wished she could help them carry the couch, not sit from a safe distance, and watch.

The apartment felt even smaller with her belly so huge. Her due date had come and gone, and even though she'd already known women didn't usually give birth on their actual due date, Madison was struggling with disappointment. Especially today. It seemed she couldn't get comfortable, no matter what she did. Her hip wasn't great, but it wasn't awful, and in general she felt achy.

She had thought getting out of the house might help, so she had come to watch the men move out the furniture, and to thank Tim for driving up from Syracuse to help with the furniture. The activity wasn't making her feel any better, though.

"Stay out of the way-- coming through." Terry and Jake backed through the door as they manhandled the couch outside. John and Tim pushed, while Terry and Jake pulled. It was a snug fit through that door. Madison had seen it all before, but it still looked like a lot of work. "Any contractions yet?" Terry hollered.

"Be careful," Madison called back. "I'll let you know when it's time."

It took a lot of her own pushing to stand up from the recliner, but she finally managed, and waddled into the bedroom. She wanted to get the last of her things before they took out her dresser and moved it into storage, before it would then go into their house, once the house was ready. Madison saw her "Home Sweet Home" rabbit from the bookshelf, and put it into the box she'd brought. She was sentimental beyond reason right now, and was taking everything.

She opened her top dresser drawer, then took a break to go use the bathroom.

When she came back, the tightening that she'd felt earlier, returned. Madison tried to stay calm. She'd had Braxton Hicks before, had gotten excited thinking it was the real thing, and she was still pregnant. She just needed to keep moving.

She worked her way to the bottom-most drawer, then found she couldn't reach it, for she couldn't bend over.

"The couch is in the moving trailer," Tim announced, coming into the room, "so the dresser is next, if you're ready."

"Could you reach the bottom drawer for me?"

Tim smiled, and opened it. "What's this?" he asked, picking up a spindle of recordable DVDs.

Madison's heart dropped to her feet.

"What is it?" Tim asked.

"Would you do me a big favor?"


"Would you destroy those? Break those discs into hundreds of little pieces?"

"Sure." Tim looked at the spindle. "Should I ask what's on them?"

"I've never checked, so I don't know, but they're probably movies of me and the Dragon." Madison saw her brother turn pale. "Please, I'd forgotten they were in there. Terry doesn't know I have them." The dull ache tightened, and she leaned against the dresser until it passed. It felt like her period was starting-- a really bad one. The pain was coming regularly, in waves, and they were getting stronger. It had been gradual at first, but this was more obvious.

"It's starting, isn't it?" Tim asked, and Madison nodded.

Tim hurried out the bedroom door before Madison could swear him to secrecy about the discs. She'd felt so safe, she'd been stupid and had forgotten they were in the dresser. She would have kicked herself, if her condition hadn't made it physically impossible to do.

She eased into the living room, then lowered herself into the recliner as Terry ran into the apartment with John.

"Are you all right?" Terry breathed, and she nodded.

"I want to go home, though."

"You don't want the hospital?"

"The contractions are too far apart. Where's Tim?"

"I think he left." Terry knelt by the recliner, and rubbed her knee. "You're going to be all right. I'll stay with you. You won't be alone."

"I know," she nodded. "Please, could we go home?"

"Sure. Sure, Maddie." Terry helped her up, and they left the apartment with the front door off its hinges. Lauren would have to look after things until Terry could get back.

When they came home, Izzy had Madison's hospital bag ready by the front door, for John had called ahead. Tim, though, was nowhere in sight. Trusting Tim to do as she had asked, Madison focused on the baby.

At Izzy's coaxing, Madison walked around the house to help the baby along, then went to the bedroom to take a nap, for she needed to save strength for the delivery. When sleep wouldn't come, Madison moved to the couch and turned on the TV to help herself calm down. With Terry pacing back and forth though, it was hard to do.

"Please go finish moving the furniture?" Madison finally asked. "I'll be all right. I'll call you the moment I'm ready for the hospital."

"What if I can't get back in time?"

"Izzy can drive me, and Jake can step over and watch the kids. Now would you go, before someone wanders into the apartment because there's no door?"

"Are you sure it's safe for me to leave?"

Madison smiled, and nodded.

"Promise you'll call? the moment you're ready to leave? Call before that, call the instant you know."

"I promise."

"Try not to do anything important until I'm with you, and think, 'don't push'-- not until you're at the hospital." With a sigh, Terry nodded to John, and the two headed out the door.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Madison turned up the volume to watch the show and get her mind off the contractions. Izzy joined her on the couch, and was a calm presence that steadied Madison. The pains were so far apart, Madison knew it was too soon for the hospital. Still, they were getting worse, and already, she was beginning to wish she hadn't sent Terry away.

* * * *

It was impossible to sleep, though Madison was trying so she could keep up her strength. She gripped the pillow. Terry was beside her, trying his best not to move the mattress, but she knew he was awake. She checked her phone. Three-ten in the morning, and they were awake.

"Should we call the hospital?" Terry asked.

"The contractions aren't less than five minutes apart. Unless my water has broken, we can't go."

"How bad is the pain?"

"I've had worse." The brave answer didn't impress him, for his hand touched hers.

"Tell me when it gets bad, and I'll call the hospital."

She nodded.

Madison closed her eyes, and prayed for sleep, but sleep would not come. She thought the contractions weren't supposed to be this sharp, this soon. Terry finally dozed off, but the pain kept Madison awake until morning, when Izzy knocked on the bedroom door to see how Madison was doing.

The talking woke Terry, and he sat up to listen.

"The pains aren't coming less than five minutes," Madison sighed. "I wish they were, because I don't even want to think about getting out of bed. It hurts too much."

"Did you get any sleep at all?" Terry asked, and Madison shook her head.

"Let me get you some breakfast. You can eat in bed," Izzy offered.

Madison thanked her, and while Izzy went to make breakfast, Terry rubbed Madison's back to try and ease the pain.

"I feel guilty about sleeping through your labor," Terry sighed. "You should've given me a strong nudge. I would've kept you company."

She patted his arm. "Do you know where Tim went?"

"No, I'm afraid I forgot about him in all the excitement. He's probably sleeping at my place-- he has the key. It's the weekend, so he won't have to show up for work until Monday. I know Tim was anxious about you and the baby, so I'm guessing he'll stick around as long as he can."

Picking up the phone that had been playing all night, Madison turned off the music, and called Tim.

"I'm getting voicemail."

"Maybe he's sleeping in," Terry shrugged. "I'll try to stop by my apartment later, and see how he's doing."

Madison didn't have much time to think about her brother. Another contraction came, and she had to ride it out as best she could while watching the stopwatch on her phone. Her phone rang, startling her so badly, she almost wet the bed. Tim's name showed on the screen, and she answered it as best she could while bearing down on the pain as Terry rubbed her back.

"Tim? Where are you?"

"I saw him, Madison. I saw the Dragon."

"You what?" Madison gripped the phone. "I asked you to break those discs."

"I did. I promise, I did. The second one from the top though-- it had a name on it. It wasn't yours, and I was curious. I give you my word, Madison, I didn't see you anywhere on the video. It wasn't what you think-- it was his last will and testament." Tim sounded shaken. "I was ready to turn it off at any moment, just in case it was one of those videos you don't want to see, but this man came on. Madison, he wasn't what I was expecting."

"What's going on?" Terry asked.

Madison shook her head.

"He was so mild-mannered, so... so normal." She could almost hear Tim shudder. "I wanted him to be a monster I would've recognized anywhere, but he wasn't. He could have been anyone, he could have been me."

"Tim, are you all right?" Madison's breath caught as she felt another contraction.

"You're still having them, aren't you?"

"Where are you?" Madison asked. "I was getting worried about you." She groaned, and Terry slipped the phone from her hand.

"Tim, it's Terry. Maddie's been in labor all night, and hasn't gotten any sleep. I've been timing her contractions, and they're more than five minutes, but if this goes on much longer, I'm taking her anyway." Terry listened, and nodded. "It's hard to see her like this. All right, but tell us where you're at so she can at least rest. Good. I'll tell her. Use it for as long as you want." Terry hung up, and placed the phone next to Madison. "He's at my place-- he's going to stay over the weekend to see how things turn out with you and the baby. He also said we should wait before taking you to the hospital."

"I have to use the bathroom." Madison pushed back the blankets, and slowly got to her feet. She hadn't taken three steps when she felt something pop. Wet gushed from between her legs. Her first thought was that she'd just wet herself in the worst possible way, and right in front of Terry. The thought that followed, made her shiver. "Terry? It's time."

"What happened?" he asked.

"My water broke."

She didn't have to say it twice, for Terry was out of that bed and flying into his clothes.

"Call Tim and tell him which hospital we'll be at?" she asked, and Terry grabbed her phone.

A few moments later, Terry was pulling on his shoes and shouting at the bedroom door that it was time.

Madison wished he wouldn't say it that way. It sounded so final.

Someone knocked on the door, and since Terry had gotten his pants on, Madison called the person inside. She hated to move, for every time she did, more would leak onto her pajamas.

Izzy rushed inside, already dressed and with a phone to her ear, lining up a babysitter. "Abby and Jake would like to come-- if that's all right with you."

It was fine with Madison. She'd never done this before, but if everyone wanted to wait at the hospital while she gave birth, it was fine with her. Plans had already been made about who would be in the delivery room. Terry and Izzy would be her support team.

"I'll get the car ready, but don't push until I get you to the hospital. Okay?" Terry didn't look comforted when Madison nodded, but he ran off, nearly stumbling over Debbie as he left.

Madison smiled at the girl, who was soon joined by her sisters. They watched Madison with wide eyes, and Madison tried to stay calm for their sakes, remembering Paige and Madeline's reaction to the night when Karen went into labor. John came looking for Madison's hospital bag, and Izzy directed him to the living room.

The women let the girls stay, but closed the door, and Izzy helped Madison change. The contractions were getting much worse now, and Madison focused on getting to the hospital, on staying on her feet. She wanted to get down on all fours and push, but knew she had to get to the hospital. She had to wait. She gasped, the pain so bad she wanted to scream.

When Terry came, she grabbed onto him and made her way to the car as fast as she could manage. She heard Agatha somewhere in the background, telling the munchkins everything would be all right.

Madison wanted to believe it.

It was hard climbing inside the car, but Madison got in, and before she knew it, Izzy and John were in the back seat, giving directions to a hospital Terry had been to before.

"How are you feeling?" Terry asked.

Madison couldn't speak. It took all her strength to ride out the pain. She wanted to pull her knees up in the worst possible way, and push.

"Hang in there," Terry said, and she felt the car speed up. "God, be with Maddie, and Little Bit," Terry prayed out loud, his eyes wide open. "Don't let the pain get so strong Maddie can't bear it. Give her a safe delivery, Lord. Cause the baby to be healthy."

Madison added her "amen" as she gripped the seat.

When they arrived at the hospital, they examined Madison and told her she was fully dilated. Madison could've cried her thanks to Heaven. She was ready for it to be over-- more than ready. The pain was sending her through the roof. When Dr. Nelson asked if she wanted an epidural, Madison nearly screamed "yes." As they gave her the drug, she held on to Terry's hand, and soon, she was able to speak without screaming.

Even Terry was smiling again.

A nurse propped up Madison's leg, and while Terry propped up the other, Dr. Nelson directed Madison to push. It helped that Izzy patted the sweat from Madison's face, for it stung when it ran into Madison's eyes. Gripping Izzy's hand, Madison pushed.

"When my heart is overwhelmed," Terry kept repeating, and Madison wanted to tell him to be quiet.

She was trying to push.

Madison cried, and Izzy squeezed her hand.

"I see a head, Madison. I need another push. Focus your pushes right here."

Madison screamed, and pushed even harder.

"Good job," the doctor coached her. "Now push, push, push."

"You're doing good, Maddie." Terry's face was pale, but he hadn't passed out. He supported her leg as she bore down and gave it everything she had.

"There you go. There you are," Dr. Nelson said. "Good job, Madison. Good job."

Madison gasped as a baby started to cry.

That cry was the most beautiful sound Madison had ever heard, but it was more than beautiful. It filled her with such love, such intense joy, it was overpowering. Madison's heart nearly burst as she tried to catch her breath. She looked at Terry, but Terry was busy watching what was going on, his eyes filling with tears.

A laugh spilled from Terry's lips. "We've got a girl, Maddie! A girl!" Terry gentled Madison's leg down, then came and planted a kiss on Madison's forehead as Madison zeroed in on the gasping cry of her daughter.

Her daughter.

A bundle in a blanket was placed in Madison's arms, the umbilical cord still attached. Face to face for the first time.

The baby opened its tiny mouth and let out a cry.

"It's all right, it's me. It's momma." Madison hugged her baby, kissed her baby's small head, and thanked God. The little one responded by quieting down so fast, Madison checked to make sure everything was all right, but she was just happy to be next to her momma, that was all. They removed the umbilical cord while Madison held her sweetheart, then a nurse explained they were taking the baby to the warmer to be cleaned up.

Madison didn't want to let go of her daughter, and the nurse seemed to understand, but the baby needed to be cleaned.

She didn't have any strength left, and she had to fight not to cry as the baby left her arms. The warmer was across the room, and Madison tried to watch what they were doing. Terry followed with his smartphone, sobbing uncontrollably, but trying to film what he could. Then Madison saw him push the phone to Izzy, and come to the bed.

"Are you all right?" he asked, wiping the tears from his face.

Madison nodded, and he smiled and shook his head in amazement over what had just happened.

"They're asking for a name. I like the last one we settled on for a girl-- remember?"

"Tell them," Madison breathed, and she watched as Terry went over and talked to the nurse.

When Terry came back, he hugged Madison. "I love you. I love you so much, Maddie." He kissed her, then broke into another sob as the nurse stepped forward, and offered the baby into his arms for the first time. "Oh, God is so good. Thank You, God. Thank You." Terry blinked back the tears and smiled as he looked into the face of his daughter. "Hello, Sweetheart. I'm your daddy." Terry looked at Madison. "She's so tiny. She really is a Little Bit." He lifted her into Madison's arms, and hovered while Izzy kept recording video.

"She's absolutely beautiful," Izzy beamed from behind the smartphone. "What's her name?"

"Gabrielle Hope Davis," Madison said, smiling down at her baby. "Gabrielle, after an angel, because one of them looked after Terry, and Hope, because I'll always have hope."

"We're calling her Ellie for short," Terry added.

"It's a sweet name," Izzy smiled, wiping the tears from her eyes. She turned off the camera. "Do you want to be the one to tell the others, or should I?"

"Please, would you tell them? I'd like to stay with Maddie and Ellie." Terry thanked Izzy, and slipped the phone back into his pocket while Maddie adjusted her gown at the direction of the nurse and started to feed Ellie. "She may have my brown eyes," Terry marveled, "but I knew this baby was going to have blonde peach fuzz-- I just knew she would have your hair."

Madison hadn't known any such thing, but she loved to see how much of Terry she could find in her baby daughter. It seemed Terry could see Madison, and Madison could see Terry.

"A girl!" Tim burst into the room and hugged Terry, then stepped close to the bed and hugged Madison. "Congratulations!" He touched Madison's arm. "I want you to know I was praying for you and the baby."

"You were?"

Tim nodded, and moved to see Ellie.

It took a little moving of blanket, since Madison was nursing, but she showed Tim his new niece.

"She looks just like you," Tim whispered. "There's some of Terry there, but she looks just like you. Did it go all right, are you and the baby okay?" Tim nodded when Madison told him they were fine. "I-- I never told you everything that happened yesterday."

"Terry said you were at his place."

"I was there this morning. But not yesterday." Tim paused. "I want to apologize. You know for what."

"I don't, Tim. You can talk in front of Terry. I haven't told him about the DVDs, but it's time he found out." Though she didn't have the strength, Madison briefly explained the discs to Terry, how they had been shipped in the box along with her birth certificates.

"What was on the discs to make your landlady send them here so quickly?" Terry asked.

"I don't know. Ask Tim. He watched one of them before destroying the spindle."

"There probably was ugliness on the other DVDs, but I didn't watch them, I only saw the one, and it was his last will and testament. I'm sorry I watched it, Madison. You trusted me to destroy it first."

The nurse tapped Tim's shoulder. "Mother and baby need rest now. You can come back later."

"The Dragon didn't have any money," Madison sighed wearily. "And even if he did, I wouldn't take it."

"That's not what I wanted to tell you." Tim asked for just one more moment with his sister. "I was at your pastor's house last night. He led me to the Lord."

"Oh, Tim."

The nurse looked at Tim kindly, but then nodded to the door. Tim smiled at Madison as he left, and to Madison's relief, Terry was allowed to stay. Rest sounded so good to the exhausted new mother. While Ellie nursed, Terry settled into a chair by the hospital bed, and the push of the delivery began to fade even more.

Relaxing, Madison closed her eyes. "You'll stay?" she whispered.

"I won't leave you," Terry promised.

It was all the promise Madison needed.

* * * *

The day Terry brought Maddie and Ellie home, the house had been cleaned from top to bottom. Terry knew, for Izzy had been cleaning all morning, well before he left for the hospital. As he pulled in front of the house, he saw the living room curtains move, and knew they were being anticipated.

In the back seat, Ellie was snug as a bug in her new car seat, while Maddie was seat-belted beside her and keeping her company.

"Are you ready?" Terry asked, as the front door opened, and John came out with the triplets. Terry looked in the back, and Maddie nodded. "Okay. Just let me know if we get to be too much for either of you." Terry pushed open the driver's side door, and smiled at their greeting party. "We're home," he announced, even though it was obvious. "Maddie's pretty tired, but she's eager to show Ellie to the munchkins."

"It's good to have you guys back," John said, coming to the car as Terry opened Maddie's door. "Welcome home. Girls, give them room. Don't crowd Aunt Madison."

"I think Ellie enjoyed the ride-- she slept all the way home." Maddie got out, and waited as Terry unbuckled the baby. "Oh, thank you, girls." Maddie hugged Debbie, Lizzie, and Ruthie, and read the cards they gave her. "I'll put these on the dresser, where I can see them every day."

The dresser was already pretty crowded, but Terry smiled and shook his head. Knowing Maddie, she would make room. He carried Ellie, and helped Maddie into the house while the munchkins followed as close as they could to get a glimpse of the baby.

In the living room, Maddie took a seat on the couch, then Terry lowered the baby into her arms. While Izzy smiled and watched, the girls climbed onto the couch and crowded around Maddie.

"This is Ellie," Maddie smiled, introducing the tiny newborn on her lap to the three five-year-olds. Ellie fussed a bit, and put part of her hand in her mouth, fascinating the girls. Ellie's yellow sleeper made the small blonde fuzz on her head stand out even more, though the receiving blanket hid some of the sleeper.

The munchkins went and washed their hands, and the first one back was Debbie.

"Her fingers are so tiny," Debbie marveled, as she let Ellie grab onto one of her own.

Terry looked up from his camera and grinned at John, who was busy taking pictures of his own.

The front door opened, and AJ came in with Ricky.

"Oh, Uncle Terry, Mom is right-- Ellie really does have your nose." Abby came close as Ruthie climbed onto the couch for her turn to hold Ellie's hand. "She's so precious. Ricky, look at your cousin. Isn't she precious?"

The boy looked at the newborn on Maddie's lap, then back at his mommy, as though he didn't quite understand what all the fuss was about. Terry laughed, getting the whole thing on camera. Jake picked up his son, so Ricky could get a better view, and father and son watched as Ruthie played with Ellie's fist.

They were home. Terry didn't know so much love could fit into one heart, but it was possible. He had proved it. As Lizzie got her turn, Terry thanked God for sending Maddie into his life. The future held promise: a ministry to be explored, a house that would be waiting for them across the street, a family he loved with every fiber of his being.

A brother-in-law with newfound hope.

Always have hope.

Terry would forever remember those words, and with Maddie, they would journey together in faith. For they were on a journey of the heart.

"Jesus answered them... These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
~ John 16:31, 33 ~

Terry and Maddie: "Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me."
~ Acts 27:25 ~

end of book

Thank you for reading Terry's Journey! You can download Terry's PDF by right-clicking here. (It's a 5.4 MB file.)

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