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Chapter Five
A Bleeding Heart

"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust."
~ Psalm 103:13, 14 ~

It took Terry several minutes to get his grief under control. By the time he climbed into the jeep, his clothes were sopping wet and fast soaking the vehicle's upholstery. The thought came to him to be grateful the downpour hadn't spoiled their Labor Day barbeque, that at least everyone had a day on the beach before the rain started.

Terry tried to focus on that thought. God held back the rain until now. And Terry had held back his tears until leaving Madison.

Back to her.

Terry let out a low moan. Why did everything in his life have to come back to the pain? It seemed no matter what he did, life was bent on reminding him of what he tried so hard to forget. Madison's troubled gray eyes held seemingly terrible secrets, but Terry felt as though he shared in their quiet torment simply by being in her presence.

From her panicked reaction to the hypothetical woman, Terry knew his guess of abuse had been correct. What kind of abuse almost seemed irrelevant. Madison was a survivor. That was what mattered.

Focus on that, he thought, starting the jeep before the tears had a chance to come back. Remember God's grace, claim His precious promises, and keep moving forward.

I have to keep moving forward.

The renewed determination helped to staunch the fresh wave of grief threatening to overtake him.

I'm a mess, Terry thought. Thank God, John isn't here to see this. Or, for that matter, Izzy.

Every trace of grief must be wiped away before he could return home. Otherwise, Terry feared John's offer to help Madison might be taken back in a frenzy of trying to protect the wrong person. Madison needed the help, not Terry.

"Please, God, don't let me break down," Terry prayed as he turned the jeep onto the main road. "For her sake, make me strong."

* * * *

It didn't make sense to wait up for Terry after the triplets had been put to bed, although the thought had occurred to John to do just that. Wait on the sofa with a book, then doze off until Terry came home. The gesture would let the guy know someone had noticed he was gone. It would also make Terry feel like someone was watching over his shoulder every waking moment, and John didn't want to do that to his friend.

Rolling onto his side, John stared at the digital clock beside the bed. The time kept getting later, and still Terry had yet to come home.

Izumi's sigh broke through the silent darkness of the bedroom. "Why don't you call the apartment?" She leaned over to snap on the bedside lamp, turned to look at John. "Neither one of us are going to get a wink of sleep until we know he's all right."

John shook his head. "I'd feel like an intruder. He and Madison are probably talking, and Terry forgot about the time."

Another glance at the clock squeezed a distressed moan from John. "I think I liked it better when he was helping Victor. The man was a bloodsucking leach, but at least Terry didn't have the Madison factor to contend with." At the feel of Izumi's touch, John rolled onto his back, lifted an arm to let his wife come closer for some serious snuggling. "I wish I knew what God was thinking when He sent her to Three Mile Bay. With Terry searching for someone to save, it was only a matter of time before he found her. It was inevitable." John looked down at Izumi. "Not that I'm questioning God. He knows best-- obviously-- but I wish I had God's foreknowledge. It'd make getting to sleep easier."

"Why don't you call the apartment? Or Terry's cell phone?"

"I can't shadow the guy for the rest of his life, Little Dove. I am my brother's keeper, but even that has its limits. Do you really want me to call and ask if he's cried lately? We'd both feel like idiots. Besides, if Terry needs help, he'll let me know."

"Are you so sure about that?" Izumi tilted her head toward John. "If Terry was having a nervous breakdown at this very moment, would he burden you with that knowledge?"

Reaching out with a free hand, John grabbed the cell phone beside the clock. He would try Terry's cell, ask something work related, then mention in passing that he'd noticed Terry hadn't come home yet. It couldn't hurt.

The call rang only once before it answered.

"Hey, John. What's up?"

The strain in Terry's voice made John grip the phone.

"Hey, Terry. Listen-- about that Osaka contract-- did you send our recommendations to their office like they asked?"

"Sure did." Terry cleared his throat. "Everything should be set. Don't tell me you're worried."

"What, me? Nah. I was only checking. Say, when are you coming home? Izumi is getting concerned."

The statement prompted a jab in John's side.

"I'm home right now," Terry said with an ironic chuckle. "I'm sitting in the jeep in front of the house."

"Then why haven't you come in?"

"Because," a smile sounded in Terry's voice, "I just pulled up. Would you tell Izzy to stop worrying? And tell her Madison accepted our offer about the doctor. She'll be waiting for us tomorrow morning."

"Will do." John paused. "Everything all right?"

"I got caught in the rain again, but I'll live."

"See you in the morning then."

"Yeah, see you."

John waited, hung up when he heard Terry's dial tone. Had that exchange sounded like a struggling man? Knowing Terry as well as he did, John felt he knew the answer.

The front door in the living room opened, then shut with a quiet thud. Terry was home, but John remained in bed. Besides pray, what was John supposed to do? Go out there and make him talk? When Izumi made a motion to reach for her robe on the pretext of checking the girls, John pulled her back to bed.

"We can't always do the work of his guardian angel, Izumi. When he needs us, he knows we're here."

* * * *

Sleep was impossible, eating, out of the question. When nine o'clock neared, every car that pulled past the apartment sent Madison into a state of nervous anticipation. A dining chair beside one of the living room windows enabled her to keep watch for Terry's jeep without having to remain on her feet all morning. The engine of an approaching vehicle made her breath catch. She leaned forward, saw the car pull into view, then sank back. Another false alarm.

Maybe he wouldn't come. Maybe he had forgotten. The thought filled her with hope and anxiety at the same time. She wanted to talk to a doctor-- wanted it, but also feared it. What if she was even more messed up than she thought? What if it was too late to untangle the hurts into something treatable? Fingers locked around the edges of the chair, Madison tried to steady her fraying nerves.

After Terry had left last night, she thought of a hundred more questions to ask. In her current state, even the things he had said seemed jumbled together. Something about bringing clothes today, and coming at nine o'clock. The time read eight fifty. Ten more minutes to go.

How she needed to use the bathroom. If she got up, Madison feared she might miss Terry. He might knock, think she wasn't there and decide to go home.

When her bladder became urgent, she retreated to the half bath off the living room. Sure enough, as she washed her hands at the sink, the doorbell sounded.

"I'm coming," she called, knowing full well no one could hear her.

As she rushed out of the bathroom, the front door opened. Terry's head peered inside, and when he saw her, he flashed a brilliant smile. He must use whitening toothpaste, Madison thought as Terry stepped into the living room.

"Hope you're ready," Terry said, glancing at the sofa. "Izzy brought some clothes for you to try on. If they don't fit, we'll stop at a store before heading to the medical center. You're still using the sofa?"

Madison nodded, "yes."

"Good. Hey, Izzy," Terry stepped outside through the still open doorway, "do you need any help with that bag?" Madison didn't hear the reply, but when Terry remained where he was, Madison guessed Izzy didn't need help. "Looks like we've got a pleasant day for this," Terry said, car keys jingling in his hand. "Glad the rain is over-- at least for now. This is our wettest month, so I expect we're in for more of the same." He moved out of the way as Izzy came inside with a large bulging cloth bag.

A polite smile curved Izzy's mouth as she greeted Madison. "Good morning."

"Hi," Madison said in a low mumble.

Terry shut the door, then came toward Madison at the same time Izzy tried to hand her the bag. It was too much. Madison stumbled backward, then made a hasty retreat to a bookcase lining the wall. She gripped the shelf, let herself breathe again.

After a moment of silence, Terry slipped the car keys into his pocket. "Izzy, why don't you take Madison upstairs and see if any of those clothes fit?"

Uncertainty betrayed itself in Izzy's expression, but she gestured toward the staircase and Madison nodded, "yes." The women went up the steps, Madison following Izzy's lead into the bathroom.

Izzy sorted through the contents of the bag, picked out a denim skirt and white top, selected some undergarments, then handed them to Madison. "We don't have time to go through everything right now. Try those on and see how they fit."

When Izzy didn't leave the bathroom, Madison took the clothes into the storage room, and locked the door behind her before undressing. Five minutes later, she had on the new used clothing. With a hand pressed to her waist to keep the skirt from falling, she returned to the bathroom.

"Oh, my," Izzy said in obvious surprise. "That skirt is rather long on Agatha, but not on you. You're taller than I thought."

The statement didn't surprise Madison. To someone as petite as Izzy, Madison imagined the entire world must look tall.

"And that waist..." Izzy sighed. "Poor Agatha lost weight to get that slender, and you've got her beat by a mile. Let's see, I think there's a belt in the bag somewhere. Here it is. Put this on, then leave the shirt untucked to hide the gathers. I hope Agatha doesn't see these clothes on you. She isn't vain, but I'd hate to hurt her feelings."

Despite the uneasy openness Madison experienced with wearing a skirt, she forced herself to dress the way Izzy wanted. Izzy knew more, understood what it took to appear normal. Madison didn't.

The undergarments didn't fare much better. From the way they fit, Madison concluded that "poor Agatha" must carry all her remaining weight in her hips. Madison's chest felt constricted, her waist unprotected. Grateful for the belt, Madison put on ankle socks, then tried on the pair of brown canvas shoes Izzy found in the bag. Her narrow feet moved around in the shoes, but when the laces were tightened, they managed to stay on without falling off.

"There, that doesn't look too bad," Izzy said when Madison straightened. "You'll need to go shopping later, but at least you have something to wear for the time being." Izzy picked up her purse, put the strap over her shoulder and started for the door. "Terry is waiting, so we'd better get moving before the entire morning disappears."

When Madison descended the stairs, she heard Izzy call to Terry. He stood up from the black leather recliner beside the coffee table, put his hand into his pocket to dig out the keys, then paused when he saw Madison.

"If we have any time left after setting up the doctor's appointment," Izzy said as she headed toward the front door, "I'd like to take Madison shopping. Poor Agatha. It wouldn't be kind to let her see Madison in those clothes."

"What?" Terry came out of his trance, looked at Izzy. "What are you talking about?"

"Never mind what I'm talking about. I don't want you telling Agatha."

A puzzled expression furrowed Terry's brow, but after a moment of deliberation, he shrugged. Keys in hand, he followed after the women as they stepped outside. "First the medical center, then lunch," Terry said, turning to lock the apartment, "then I guess we'll go shopping. John doesn't know what he's missing."

Even though Izzy and Terry talked on the way into Watertown, Madison sat in the back seat and remained quiet.

The drive didn't last anywhere near as long as Madison expected. Much too soon, the jeep sat in the parking lot of an impressive three story building. Cars crowded the lot, a man in a motorized wheelchair passed by Madison's window. She tried to swallow, realized her mouth felt dry.

Terry climbed out of the jeep, circled the hood, then opened Izzy's door.

"Time to get out, Madison," Terry said with a coaxing smile. He opened Madison's door, and she willed herself to her feet. A cold breeze chilled her legs as they crossed the parking lot, went up some steps and passed through an automatic door.

Negotiating around an elderly couple, Izzy led the way to a reception area where they joined a short line cordoned off by fancy braided rope and metal poles. A man got in line behind Madison, causing her to shrink closer to Terry's back. Finding it easier to stare at shoes than faces, she kept her head down and her mouth closed.

A tug on her arm, and she looked up. They were already at the front of the line.

"She wants to know if you prefer a male or female doctor," Terry said, motioning to the desk where a woman sat with a computer.

"Female," came Madison's rapid answer.

The woman tapped at the keyboard, waited a moment for something to happen, then looked up at Madison. "The only one still accepting new patients is Dr. Anne Nelson. She's new to this center, and specializes in family medicine."

Madison blinked. She didn't understand.

"No one else is accepting new patients," the woman repeated with a hint of annoyance.

"Oh." Madison nodded. "Dr. Nelson is fine."

The woman tapped a mouse, then rattled off questions Madison couldn't answer. Phone number? Address? Terry moved forward and gave the needed information, then Madison heard,

"Do you have insurance?"

"No, she doesn't," Terry said, "but I'll pay her expenses."

Unsure what that might mean for Terry, Madison started to ask. Before she got out the words, he waved off the question as though it didn't matter.

"I need you to fill out some forms," the woman said, passing Madison a clipboard with paper and pen. "When you're done, bring them back to me."

Eyes fastened on a few of the questions on the topmost form, Madison nodded without listening. They wanted to know a lot.

"Let's sit over there," Terry said, leading Madison over to some padded chairs against the wall.

Taking a deep breath, Madison clicked the pen and began from the top of the first form. Address? Madison whispered to Terry, and Terry whispered the location of his apartment. Phone? Again, Terry relayed the information, then leaned back in his chair with his eyes carefully avoiding her paperwork. When she continued on to the more personal questions, she understood why he tried to give her privacy.

Some of the questions, while intrusive, were not too sensitive. Others were plain scary. When she came to "Pain during intercourse?" Madison hunched over the clipboard and circled, "Yes."

Please, God, don't let anyone see this, Madison prayed in silent desperation. Her pen shook when it came to the place on the form where it asked her to describe all of her symptoms, and when they had first appeared.

They only provided six lines.

* * * *

It took Madison over an hour to complete the paperwork the receptionist had given. A faster or more confident person could have done it in a fraction of the time-- though Terry didn't try to hurry Madison's progress. The strain on her face, the tremble of the clipboard, all betrayed the courage it took for her to sit there and answer those questions.

With a sigh, Madison stood up, stared at her handiwork, then looked to Terry for instructions.

"Go to the desk and give it to the woman."

"I"-- Madison bit her lip-- "I don't know if I gave the right answers."

"This isn't a test," he smiled. "Did you do the best you could?"

She nodded.

"Then take the forms to the desk."

Another sigh, then Madison went back to the line and waited her turn.

Izumi checked her watch. "When we're done here, we should take her to lunch before going shopping."

"Shopping?" Terry tried to remember their plans. He kept looking at the line, watching Madison to make sure everything went all right.

"She can't wear Agatha's clothes, Terry. The poor dear would be so embarrassed."

"Who? Madison?"

For a long moment, Izumi stared at Terry as though he had one ear missing. "It took her a long time to fill out those forms."

"Yes, it did." Neither one wanted to say it, though he figured they both had the same thoughts. Madison must have an interesting medical history-- or lack of one-- to have taken so long.

Minutes later, Madison reached the front of the line. For a seemingly long time, she stood at the desk, speaking and then waiting with the receptionist. When Madison looked to Terry with a plea in her eyes, he went to go help.

"Dr. Nelson can see me today." A dramatic gulp slid down Madison's throat. He could almost hear it.

"Great," Terry smiled. "What time?"


Though Terry kept the thought to himself, it occurred to him that when Madison's paperwork had been forwarded up the chain of medical command, someone had decided her case merited prompt attention. He had no way of knowing how close this was to the truth, but from the renewed gentleness of the receptionist, Terry felt an uneasy certainty.

"Maybe we should come back tomorrow," Madison said, shifting from one foot to the other. From her movements, Terry guessed she was in pain.

"The doctor might not be available tomorrow. If they can see you now, it might be to your advantage to let them."

Her eyes darted to the floor, the desk, then back to the floor.

"Okay," she said with a hesitant nod. "I guess I should get it over with as soon as possible."

"That's the spirit. The sooner you start, the sooner it ends."

They moved to another waiting area, and once more, Madison sat in silence. Then a female nurse in bright medical scrubs appeared at a door.


"That's you," Terry said, prompting Madison to get up.

As Terry watched the frightened woman disappear behind the door with the nurse, he said a quiet prayer. He hoped Madison stopped trembling long enough for the doctor to examine her.

* * * *

First Madison was weighed, then led to a room where her blood pressure and pulse were taken. She answered more questions.

The nurse smiled, promised the doctor would be with her shortly, then left the room. Alone, Madison waited on the examining table.

Nerves prevented her from thinking clear thoughts. She studied the white linoleum, tried to read the printouts tacked to a bulletin board about the importance of low cholesterol, then stared at the jar of tongue depressors on the counter.

A knock sounded on the door. The handle turned, an African American woman with a tapered haircut and a crisp white coat came inside. From the top of her head, to the tip of her patent leather shoes, she exuded an air of polished professionalism.

"I'm Dr. Anne Nelson." She stepped forward to shake Madison's hand. "How are you feeling today? Any pain?"

"Yes, in my hip."

The doctor gave a confident nod, reached for a clipboard and scribbled something with a pen.

Madison was asked to get up and move about the room, extend her hips, let the doctor see her range of motion.

I can do this, Madison thought. This isn't so bad.

Next, she was sent to a curtained dressing room and directed to change into a medical gown. Then came a large room with serious looking equipment and another table. A man wearing an odd apron asked her to get up on the table, and it took every ounce of Madison's courage not to cry.

The equipment took pictures of both hips, then the man sent her to the dressing room to exchange the gown for her clothes. Her fingers shook so badly, she nearly didn't get the belt on.

A nurse led her back to the examining room. This time, Madison had to cover herself with a white sheet, then take off her clothes below the waist.

Too frightened to disobey, she did as she was told.

The doctor returned, her face kind, but layered with a calm confidence that Madison couldn't help but admire. If only she could be as calm.

The results of the X-rays went over Madison's head like wind over the hood of a car. She struggled to understand, but kept nodding as the doctor talked.

The doctor and nurse put on latex gloves, then told Madison to lay back on the examining table, spread her legs beneath the privacy of the sheet, and place her feet in plastic stirrups.

As Madison complied, the tears began to fall.

* * * *

Unable to read the magazine in the waiting room, Terry folded his arms and tried to pass the time talking to Izumi. Some time later, a female nurse came to the door and searched the waiting area. Terry expected to hear another patient's name being called, but instead of speaking, the woman stood there and looked. When she saw him, her brows went up.

"Are you Terry?"

He stood. "Is something wrong with Madison?"

"She's asking for you," the nurse said with such kindness, Terry knew in the pit of his stomach that something was most definitely wrong.

Without a word, Terry followed the nurse through the door, down a short hall, then into a small room. A doctor stood beside the examining table-- Terry assumed it was Dr. Nelson-- her voice struggling to calm the distressed figure lying prostrate beneath a quaking white sheet.

The doctor looked up, and Terry saw the professionalism of the woman slip when she asked, (with hope in her voice), if he was Terry.

"That's me," he answered.

A familiar head appeared from under the white sheet, then a pair of terrified gray eyes.

"Madison? What's wrong?"

"I'll give you a moment in private," the doctor said, surprising Terry by turning to leave with the nurse. "When she's ready to continue, I'll be outside."

The door shut, and Terry found himself alone with a very frightened Madison.

The raised knees beneath the white sheet trembled. He glimpsed a pair of empty white stirrups, felt his stomach turn slightly sick. "They aren't hurting you, are they?"

"No." Her voice sounded little more than a whimper. Her eyes were red, and he knew she had been crying.

"What's wrong? Did they frighten you? Is that why you asked to see me?"

She looked undecided, then shook her head, "no."

"Then why?" he asked.

She gave a watery hiccup. "I was afraid you left."

"You mean, left without you?" Frowning, Terry shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm not leaving this building until you're ready to come with me."


"You have my word."

"But what if you forget?"

"Madison"-- he blew out a sigh-- "I couldn't forget you if I tried."

"But what if you do?"

"I gave my word, what else do you want?" A thought came to him, and he retrieved the cell phone from his pocket. "I carry this thing with me everywhere I go. I'm never without it. Here," he said, and placed the phone on the sheet beside her, "hold on to that, and when you're ready to go home, you'll give it back to me. I wouldn't leave without my cell phone, would I?"

A hand crept from under the sheet, and took the phone.

"Are we good?"

She nodded.

"Okay then. I'll tell the doctor you're ready."

Fearing tears of his own, Terry didn't trust himself to look back at Madison before he left. He found the doctor close by, her face professional but very sympathetic. She said little by way of an explanation-- Terry understood to retain the confidentiality her patients relied upon-- but thanked him for his help.

When Terry returned to the waiting room, he felt drained of emotion.

"Is Madison all right?" Izumi asked in alarm.

"I think so," Terry said, dropping back into his chair. "She was scared I had left the building without her. She's calmer now."

"Left without her?" Izumi settled back with her purse. "It reminds me of something that happened last month with one of the girls. I went into the grocery store alone, and forgot Ruthie was sleeping in her booster seat in the back. I realized my mistake only minutes later, but by the time I got back to the car, she was crying so hard she couldn't speak. It was only ten minutes, but I still carry guilt."

Terry tried to smile, but stopped when it felt shaky. John was right, he thought to himself, I really am in over my head.

* * * *

Clutching the printouts the nurse had given her, Madison made her way slowly down the hall, paused to gain her bearings. Which door had she come through? Which one led to the waiting area? A nearby nurse must have recognized the confusion, for she nodded to the door on the right before disappearing into an office.

It hurt to walk, but Madison pushed open the door, breathed in relief when she saw Terry and Izzy waiting in some chairs.

Dropping his magazine onto a small table, Terry moved to his feet and came to Madison.

"I see you made it out alive," he said with a lopsided grin. When she made no response, he sobered. "Did they say you can go?"

Madison nodded.

"Okay, this way." He started toward yet another reception area and another woman with a computer. "You'll need to give her the paper the nurse filled out and handed to you," Terry said as they moved in front of the desk.

This time, there was no line.

The paper turned in, Madison stepped back as Terry pulled out his wallet. The receptionist said something-- a number in dollar amount-- and Terry handed the woman a credit card. He waited, then smiled as Izzy joined them at the desk.

"We're almost done here." Terry glanced at Madison. "Did they give you any prescriptions?"

It took a moment for Madison to locate the blue slip of paper between the printed sheets of instructions and medical explanations. She showed the slip to Terry, then tucked it back into the papers when she realized what the writing said.

Terry gave a good-natured shrug. "Don't worry, I didn't read it. What happened between you and your doctor will remain private." He slipped the credit card back into his wallet. "Let's get out of here. I'm starving."

* * * *

Even from his limited vantage behind the wheel, it didn't take much observation for Terry to notice Madison wasn't feeling well. His eyes kept darting to the rear view mirror, hoping the slumped rag doll in the back seat would recover some of the color missing from her cheeks.

"Are you hungry?" he asked, hoping to coax a relaxed answer from those pale lips.

She gave a thin smile.

"There's a good restaurant near here. They make excellent corned beef sandwiches. Very fancy, lots of vegetables."

Another glance in the mirror found his audience with her eyes closed.

"I don't think she's feeling well enough to go into a restaurant, Terry." Izumi peered around the seat, smiled at Madison with a kind concern Terry appreciated. "Are you going to be sick? Do you need Terry to pull over?"

"No, I'm fine," came the weak response.

"She needs something to calm her stomach, Terry." Izumi straightened in the seat, looked out the window and pointed to a fast-food restaurant. "Pull into the Hamburger Plaza drive-through, and we'll eat in the car. Some french fries and soda should make her feel better."

Terry hoped Izumi was right. Madison made no effort to ask for anything when it came time to place their order, but nodded weakly to anything Izumi suggested.

In the parking lot, a shady area beneath some trees afforded privacy as Terry parked the jeep. He got out, went to open Madison's door so the breeze might do her some good. She slumped against the seat, and when Terry started to unfasten her seat belt, she tried to pull away.

Fingers trembling, Madison undid the seat belt herself. She slid onto her side, hugged her knees to her chest and lay down on the short bench seat Terry had installed so he could haul the triplets around in their carriers and boosters.

"You don't look well," Terry said, taking off his jacket. He rolled the garment, placed it beneath her head for a pillow. "Have you eaten anything today? Anything at all?"

A sigh escaped her lips. "I wasn't hungry."

"You can't keep skipping meals, Madison." Terry passed the carton of fries, the small soda cup to her. "You'd better sit up to eat. I don't want you surviving the doctor's office and no breakfast, only to choke to death on fries."

"It hurts to sit," she mumbled, cramming a single french fry between her lips.

Terry frowned. "Is it because of the exam?"


"Did they give you anything for the pain?"

Madison nodded. "That's what the prescription was for."

"For pity's sake, why didn't you say something sooner? We could have gone to the pharmacy first."

"But you said you were starving."

"It was a figure of speech, Madison. I could have waited." Terry almost slammed the door shut as he left her to her fries and cold soda. Forget the pain-- make sure Terry gets his lunch on time.

He jumped behind the wheel, tugged the door shut and stared out the window in a fog of anger and self-reproach.

"Terry?" Izumi handed him a large hamburger in a wrapper. "Try to eat. She needs you to calm down."

Turning his eyes to the rear view mirror, Terry glimpsed Madison's frightened face staring back at him.

He accepted the hamburger, said a quiet prayer, then pulled back the wrapper to reveal a triple layered burger with lettuce and lots of cheese. Just the way he liked it.

"Madison." He nodded to her in the mirror.

She paused her timid nibbling of a french fry, and blinked at him.

He forced a grin. "You're forgetting something."

The reminder was met with complete bewilderment.

"My cell phone. I want it back."

The half smile as she pulled the phone from her skirt pocket, almost made Terry's day. She held it over his shoulder, and he accepted it without explanation to Izumi.

"After you're done with those fries, we're heading to the nearest pharmacy to get that prescription filled. Okay?"

Madison nodded, and resumed her nibbling.

* * * *

It would take an hour before the prescription at the MegaMart pharmacy would be ready. Terry wanted to tell the man behind the counter that Madison needed the medicine right now. Couldn't he see her limp? Terry hoped the prescription was to help her hip, but couldn't be sure. The exam had made it hurt to sit-- that was what Madison had said-- and the medicine was to help with that pain. But what about her hip?

"Do you need to sit down?" Terry asked, looking about for a store bench so she could rest.

Madison shook her head.

"Sorry"-- he sucked in a breath-- "I forgot. Sitting hurts." He hesitated. How he wanted to ask more.

"It's all right, Terry. My hip isn't too bad right now. The exam made the other things worse than usual, but the pain will go away."

Terry stiffened. Other things? The remark had been meant to make him feel better, but it held implications Madison probably at first didn't realize. She had more than one injury separate from her hip. And those injuries made it difficult to sit.

Regret and shame chased their way across her face. She had said too much-- Terry saw it in the downcast eyes, the tremble of her lip.

In an effort to distract Madison, Terry grabbed at the first suggestion within reach. "Since we have to wait for an hour, and we're at the MegaMart anyway, why don't we do our shopping here? How about it? Are you feeling well enough to pick out some clothes?"

When Madison accepted, Terry sensed it was more to change the subject and erase the memory of that one unguarded comment, than anything else.

Happy to get Madison out of her friend's ill-fitting hand-me-downs, Izumi led the way to the women's clothing section. After perusing the racks, she suggested some garments, handed them to Madison, then pointed out the dressing room.

It took a long time for Madison to emerge-- so long, Izumi went to see if she needed help. When Izumi returned, she explained in a hushed voice how Madison preferred baggy clothing. If the clothes showed her figure, they were immediately set aside. Madison would rather wear the men's clothing Terry had first seen her in, than choose something that actually fit.

"She has her reasons, Izzy."

The response made Izumi sigh. "I'm afraid she's going to come out of here with maternity clothes. Terry, there is something very wrong with her."

"I know."

"How much do you know?"

Terry paused before answering. "I can guess."

"She's been abused, hasn't she?"

"That's very probable."

"Oh, Terry." Izumi closed her eyes a moment. He could sense the warning to be careful coming, and breathed a sigh of gratitude when it didn't materialize.

Something else that didn't materialize-- Madison from the dressing room. Once more, Izumi went to go check, and once more, Izumi exchanged clothes with others from the racks.

By the time Madison emerged, she wore an oversized gray shirt and baggy jeans several sizes too big. Despite all her efforts, a young man moved past them, gave Madison an appraising grin that drove her to hide behind Terry.

"I think we've done enough shopping for one day," Izumi said, leading Madison to the dressing room to change back into her old clothes. "If those oversized shirts and jeans are what you want, then they'll have to do for now."

After going through the checkout, Terry led the way to the store pharmacy with Madison's shopping bags in hand. To his dismay, he noticed the limp in her gait seemed more pronounced than before. The stress of choosing new clothes had wilted her like a squashed flower being trampled on by yet more feet.

To make matters worse, when Madison received her prescription, Terry realized it was only a pain ointment, not some powerful drug meant to wipe out her other problem. Namely, her hip. Since the ointment required a prescription, Terry hoped it meant it was powerful enough to actually do some good.

Her hip was another matter, one he intended to ask about at a later time.

As Terry carried the shopping bags into the parking lot with Izumi, Madison began to lag farther and farther behind. He came to a stop, waited, then moved on more slowly.

The whimper that squeezed from Madison's lungs as she climbed into the back seat of the jeep, sent a pang of remorse into Terry. He had been the one to suggest they shop for clothes in the MegaMart, and now she was in worse pain than before.

Couldn't he do anything right?

He took Izumi aside and spoke in a hushed voice. "Would it be okay if I brought her to our house for dinner, tonight?"

"Terry, look at her. She needs rest."

"I'll make a comfortable place for her on the living room sofa. She'll get plenty of rest. Please, Izzy? I don't want her to be alone."

"Terry, your heart is bleeding all over the pavement."

He grinned.

"If she's coming," Izumi sighed, "I'd better set another plate for dinner. Please don't leave her unsupervised around the triplets, though. I don't know her well enough for that."

"Thanks, Izzy."

"I don't know why you're thanking me. You've been fighting sadness all day, and now you won't get a break until after dinner."

Though he wanted to refute Izumi's claim, Terry realized she was right. One look at the back seat, however, and Terry pushed aside his own feelings.

Home meant a safe place, a shelter from the hurts of others. He always found refuge with his family, and now Madison would, too.

"Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in Thee: yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast."
~ Psalm 57:1 ~

end of chapter