Be among the first to know when I post new chapters, to new books!

Click Here
Keep up-to-date on all the announcements and website news!

Subscribe today!

My policy is to follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); I hate spam too, and will never sell or give away your email address.
Chapter Nine
Reaching for Hope

"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."
~ Proverbs 16:24 ~

Having not eaten since yesterday's lunch, Madison had little energy to offer the cleaning effort. First she faded into silence, then began to droop so much Terry made her sit down until he realized her problem. It took effort to calm down and head back to the Johanneses' house to make an early lunch for her. He reproached himself for letting her go so long without eating, for not being more careful when it came to food and Madison. His thoughts came as rapidly as his stride, and it wasn't until he reached the Johanneses' front door that he thought to look back.

His heart twisted when he saw Madison limping to catch up.

Tuna sandwiches. He would make lunch and focus on something else besides the wounded puppy.

Slapping together generous slices of bread, tuna, and mayo, he made enough to satisfy his own hunger, as well as hers. He settled at the kitchen table while Madison stared at her meal. He hoped getting her to eat was not going to become a daily habit.

A sturdy look on his part, and she picked up her sandwich and began nibbling like a rabbit in someone else's garden. No wonder she looked so thin. She seemed unused to the concept of regular meals, and he suspicioned she was accustomed to starvation of some sort.

It made him think. Her first memory of abuse was somewhere between the ages of seven and nine, and she had suffered acutely up until a few weeks or months ago. The evidence pointed heavily to a family member being the abuser.

Though it grieved Terry to even think such a thing, he could not change facts or what he saw with his own eyes. No friend of the family could have such continual access for so long a time, without it being a close relative. Horror and disgust churned in Terry's stomach until even the taste of his tuna sandwich turned bitter. He forced himself to eat. Little good would come from lingering too long over the past, especially when it picked the scabs of his own traumatic childhood. Better to not think too much, than to let the pain ooze out and overtake him again.

He shoved away from the table, and did it with such force, Madison jumped at least an inch off her chair. Doing his best to ignore it, Terry grabbed his hat from off the table.

"You can finish the inside windows after you're done eating. Okay?"

She nodded hurriedly.

"I'll be outside if you need me. And stop looking so frightened-- all I did was get up." He put on the work gloves while trying to force back the visceral sensation of his step-father pushing him down, the heavy breathing that never failed to sear Terry with deep-rooted shame. "You wanted this," sounded sharply in his brain, until the echoes of it reached his heart. His knees buckled, and for a moment, he had to brace himself against the kitchen chair.

Not again, Lord. Please, don't let him win again.

The sound of someone choking made Terry look up. Madison was stuffing the sandwich down her throat so she could leave with him.

"Hey," he let go of the chair, "slow down." He moved to her, picked up a glass of water and pushed it into trembling hands. "I won't leave until you're done, so slow down."

Water spilled from around her mouth, dribbled down her chin and onto her shirt. She placed the cup on the table, jerked the coat on as though he might leave without her.

"You've got crumbs." Terry touched his cheek, and nodded when she swiped her mouth with the sleeve of his old coat. "Good enough. Let's get out of here."

Moments away from leaving, John, Izumi, and Dick came inside. Dick was laughing over something John had said, and John sounded deep in discussion as they pulled off gloves and hats, relating some incident of Abby as a little girl.

Then John saw Terry, and John's face turned sober.

For the life of Terry, he could never figure out how his friend managed to tell when he was having a rough time. Did he talk different, look different? Maybe he wore an invisible sign that only John could see. Whatever it was, his friend's perception always baffled him.

"There's not much left to do in the house, if that's where you're going. Dick and I finished the windows, and I even cleaned the bathroom-- didn't I, Izumi?"

Izumi arched an eyebrow. "You scrubbed the toilet bowl."

"So? That counts." John cleared his throat, pressed on as Izumi went into the kitchen to start lunch. "The gas company will be out here sometime tomorrow, so the house is almost ready for Abby and Jake."

Dick grinned hugely. "Sara and I will come by this weekend and plant those tulips. After seeing their old appliances, I'm planning to get them a new washer and dryer. There's bound to be a lot of laundry with a four-year-old running about."

Eyes fixed on John, Terry almost missed the generosity of Dick's offer. "That's kind of you. I'm sure they'll appreciate it."

"Anything to help out," Dick said, as he took a seat on the couch. "Looks like it's about to rain. At least it held off long enough to get the roof patched."

John nodded to Terry. "Still going out?"

"I was thinking I would. Do you want me to pick up the triplets from preschool?"

"No, I'll do it right after lunch."

Terry pulled off his gloves, determined to get out of the house and do something to keep his mind off the pain and the puppy sadness hanging about him. "If you don't need me, I'll run some errands before it starts raining."

A knowing flicker of grief touched John's mouth. His eyes spoke clearly, "I think you're running."

"By the looks of those clouds, it'll start raining any minute now," Dick said with a laugh. "Better take an umbrella, or you'll get caught in a downpour."

"I'd also suggest you take a coat," John added. "It gets colder when you're wet."

"I won't get wet."

"Then take an umbrella."

"I won't need one."

"What about her? Won't she get wet?"

At the reminder, Terry turned to Madison. The automatic assumption that she was going with him, caused Terry a wincing pang of chagrin. Behavior similar to this had been the teasing reason he had christened Abby and Jake, "AJ." The last thing he wanted was an abbreviation of himself. Unfair? Perhaps. Embarrassing to a grown man nearing fifty? Absolutely.

Even so, John and Terry both knew Madison was coming with him.

"I'll get an umbrella." Feeling deflated, Terry motioned for her to stay put. As he moved down the hall, into his room, John followed in concerned silence. Terry knew better than to think his friend's concern lay in coats and umbrellas. He bit back a smile, tugged a coat from his closet while John stewed in unaccustomed restlessness.

"We'll wait dinner for you."

"There's no need." Terry zipped up his coat. "If I think I'll be late, I'll call ahead of time."

John folded his arms. "Your important errands came up all of a sudden."

"I never said they were important."

"You never said they weren't."

The men stared at each other.

"I'm fine, John."

"If you say so." After a moment, John cracked a smile. "Okay, I'll back off."

"Hey, I'm not complaining." Terry bent to retie his shoelace. "I appreciate the concern."

John only grinned and shook his head. "Are you sure you don't want us to wait dinner for you?"

"Nah. I should be home long before then."

"Got your umbrella?"

"Ah, knew I forgot something." Terry returned to the closet while John chuckled in the background.

Both men moved into the living room, but the moment Terry saw Madison crowded into a far corner, pity stabbed his already wincing heart. On the couch, Dick talked away, as though nothing and no one-- especially in that room-- had a problem in the world. To Dick's credit, his conversation didn't seem to require any response from the woman huddled in the corner.

The relief in Dick's face when Terry joined them, was unmistakable. No, the former prison warden hadn't missed those telltale signs-- the inability to look someone in the eye, the aversion to close contact, even the trembling. Unlike Jake, however, this one trembled like a chihuahua on caffeine. Terry coaxed Madison from the corner, then called goodbye over his shoulder as he took her outside.

Before he had the umbrella out, a wet splash landed on Terry's chin. He tugged her to the garage where his jeep was parked.

"Here, hold this." He placed the closed umbrella into her hand, then pulled out his keys to unlock the garage. The drops came more frequent, pelting the side of the building as Terry raised the garage door.

Eyes closed, head tilted back, Madison opened her mouth and let a raindrop land on her tongue. Her lips curved into a smile. She caught another, and something very much like a giggle bubbled up from somewhere deep inside her. Rain splattered her face, dripped from her eyelashes like ornaments hanging from a Christmas tree. Terry's breath caught. When she smiled-- really smiled-- she lit up like a Christmas tree, all sparkly lights and animation. Her hand raised to catch the rain, her face full of wonder at such a simple and ordinary moment.

Her natural joy marveled Terry.

"Isn't it pretty?" she asked, braving the dark skies with her upturned face. "Oh, Terry, isn't it pretty?"

"After what happened at the campground, I'd think you'd be frightened of the rain."

Her eyes moved to his. They held for a moment before darting away. "Now is different. The rain is different when you're safe." When he gave no immediate reply, her eyes flicked to him before retreating behind generous lashes.

"Are you safe, Madison? Do you feel safe with me?"

"Yes, Terry."

"I'm glad then." He sucked in the breath he'd been holding, released it and let in the joy that Madison had found and then shared with him. Like someone reaching for hope, he followed her example and held out a hand to the falling raindrops. Some splashed between his fingers, but others he caught in his palm. They joined up with other drops until they ran down his wrist and soaked into his shirtsleeve.

"It's coming down heavy now." Terry moved Madison into the jeep before she caught cold and his happy feeling disappeared.

With Madison buckled into the passenger seat, Terry pulled away from the garage. He got out, lowered the door, locked the garage, then jumped back into the vehicle as rain poured into the bay like someone emptying water from a boot. It pelted the roof, splashed down the windshield in small rivers as the wipers swished back and forth.

Terry switched on the heater. "If you get cold, let me know."

She blinked at him, then turned timid eyes to the downpour beating against the window as he pulled onto the main road. With a hard rain like this one, not even Madison could stand against the onslaught and declare how pretty it was to catch a few drops on her tongue.

* * * *

It quietly stunned her to see the weather turn so harsh and without warning. To Terry, it seemed to come as no great surprise, though she wondered where was he going. Why didn't he tell her?

Madison forced herself to sit back in the seat and breathe. Did it really matter where they went, as long as he took her with him? The thought of sitting in the apartment by herself, quieted further anxious thoughts about their destination. This unknown was to be preferred to the other, to the ghosts that seemed to hunt her whenever she was by herself. The thought of last night gave her chills. Whatever had happened, it made her frightened to be alone.

God, please help me. I don't think I'm going to make it.

She zipped her coat, pulled the collar up around her chin and tried to ignore the heat behind her eyes. Rain covered the road now, turning the pavement into a thinly veiled mirror of the sky. Terry turned up the heater. He said nothing as he drove, and though Madison was grateful for the warmth, she would have preferred his talk to his silence.

When they pulled into the broad parking lot for MegaMart, she unfastened her seat belt and waited as Terry found a parking space close to the entrance. People braved the rain as best they could, most hurrying along beneath the shelter of an umbrella. Terry got out, rounded the hood with his black umbrella, and Madison gladly took shelter with him. Despite the wild torrent, the rain seemed to take on a friendly glow as long as she was with Terry.

Inside the store, she struggled to remember the friendly feeling and hold on to it. People were everywhere, getting out of the rain and doing their shopping at the same time. Madison could hear them, watch their feet as they moved past the grocery basket Terry pushed. Did Terry notice one of the wheels squeaked? She concentrated on the squeak, then felt someone take her hand. It was Terry.

"Hold onto the basket so I don't lose you, all right?"

She nodded.

Terry seemed to know where he was going. She followed the squeaky wheel, doing her best to keep up with the cart and stay out of the way of people who jostled past her.

"I've been reading that website your doctor referred you to." It was Terry's voice that spoke, and in the midst of the hurry bustle, it came as a welcome comfort. "Your doctor's first pick of pain reliever was not ibuprofen, but acetaminophen. I didn't have any at the apartment, so we'll pick some up while we're here. Your limp is getting worse. Are you tired?"

She shook her head "no."

"Tell me when you are, and I'll find a bench so you can rest." The cart moved down an aisle, and Terry paused to put something in the basket. A package of brightly colored construction paper. Next came non-toxic glue sticks, bright crayons, a child friendly marker set, a large box of assorted stickers with princess themes, more with flowers and hearts. To this was added a box of multi colored pipe cleaners. None of it made any sense to Madison, although the stickers had caught her attention.

The cart pushed past a display of notebooks, and she lingered long enough to yearn for a thick, spiral-bound notebook with pastel flowers on the cover.

She bit her lip when Terry added it to the basket. He tossed in a pack of ballpoint pens, then moved the cart into the next aisle. For the next several minutes, all she could think about was the notebook. Why had he picked it up? Who was it for? Men didn't like flowers decorating their things, but maybe Terry was different. After all, he had picked up those stickers.

A bottle of acetaminophen found its way into the basket, and Madison didn't have to ask who it was for. But that notebook... how she longed to have someplace of her own where she could spill her thoughts into written words. Terry wouldn't like flowers. He'd grow tired of it, and then maybe she could ask for it and he wouldn't care. It had a stiff back for writing purposes-- she'd seen it when Terry put it into the cart and it had held perfectly flat. So perfect.

A pink toothbrush tossed into the basket, followed by toothpaste and a bottle of mouthwash. A compact gray purse with a long shoulder strap and matching wallet, even though she had nothing to put into it. Terry assured her that given enough time, she would need these things, so into the cart they went. And oh, that notebook. If only...


At the sound of her name, she looked up from the basket with the squeaky wheel and prayed Terry would give her the notebook if she asked now.

"Which of these brands--" Terry gestured to the shelving on the store wall-- "do you usually use?"

She moved closer, and saw they were sanitary pads. "It's okay." She moved back to the cart, "I don't use any, Terry."

"You don't? You use tampons, instead?"

Her face heating with embarrassment, she shook her head, "no."

"Well then, you must use pads. Pick your usual brand and let's get out of this aisle."

Madison looked at the floor-to-ceiling shelves, all crowded together with bright tags and numbers with dollar signs. She looked back to Terry, and saw the understanding turn on in his mind.

"You don't use any of this stuff. At all."

She shook her head.

"Then what do you do when your period comes?"

Shame heated her face. She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug and prayed he would forget his question.

"Dear God." Terry blew out a stiff breath. "Your abuser wouldn't let you have these things."

It wasn't a question, so Madison didn't answer. Her past must be terribly obvious, for him to make a guess and be so absolutely correct.

"Okay, this will be a first for you. You have the general idea of what these things do, right?" He moved the cart so a customer could reach the shelf beside Madison. He waited a moment for the woman to leave, then repeated the question.

Madison nodded. She saw the commercials on TV. She knew what they were for, and also knew she couldn't have them.

Terry nudged her with the cart. "Pick one. This isn't your old life, so decide what you need and put it into the cart."

Why couldn't Terry forget and just move on? She wouldn't ask for the notebook. He could keep it, pretty flowers and all.

"Madison? Go on."

Her eyes glossed over the shelves again, then flicked back to him.

"Can't you decide?" he asked.

She shook her head vigorously, "no."

"Well, they can't all be that different from each other." Terry picked up a soft white plastic bag, turned it over and looked at the picture with some text beside it. "You don't need this one." He placed it back, gave a quick smile. "Your bladder control's fine. Right?"

She shrank back a step, and he grasped her hand and placed it back on the cart.

"Okay, I'm calling home." Terry pulled out his cell phone, punched the screen then held the device to his ear as he waited. "Hey, Izzy? We need some advice. Which brand of sanitary pads do you use?"

Biting her lip, Madison watched as Terry tried to tactfully explain the problem. If only she'd just picked one, like Terry wanted. Now even Izzy would know. Let them shake their heads all they wanted, but Madison would never tell them she had to use wads of toilet paper to make up for what other women took for granted.

"What do you mean the one with some pink on the front?" Terry looked helplessly at the rows of small boxes and bags lined up before him. "They all have some pink on the front." A woman reached around Terry, pulled something from the shelf and gave him an odd look as he tried to get Izumi to describe, EXACTLY, what the box looked like. He rummaged, read labels out loud until breathing a sigh of relief and tossing a white plastic bundle into the basket. He thanked Izumi, then returned the phone to his pocket. "We'll get you several, so this won't come up again for a very long time." After nearly emptying the display, Terry pushed on.

"Did she laugh?" Madison asked.

"Of course not. She understood." Terry checked the list on his cell phone. "The rest of this I'll buy over the Internet. Come on, we're ready for the checkout."

They passed one aisle after another, before Terry pulled to a stop. He stepped away from the cart, returned and dropped a hairbrush and an oval hand mirror into the basket. "Now we're ready."

As she stood in the checkout line with Terry, her eye wandered back to the notebook.

"When we get home," Terry said, advancing the cart a few feet, "I want you to take some of this acetaminophen. Your limp is worse, and I'm guessing it's because you're tired. Did I make you walk too far? Maddie, are you listening?"

She looked up at him, nodded her head "yes."

"Get the umbrella out of the cart." Terry started placing things onto the checkout conveyor, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet. "You're having dinner at our place. Okay?"

She nodded, kept her eye on the notebook as it moved past the cashier and into a shopping bag. Terry placed the bags into the grocery cart, then accepted a receipt from the cashier. The squeaky wheel moved to the large glass entrance doors. Terry opened the umbrella, placed it into her hand with the admonition to stay close, then pushed off into the rain.

She held the umbrella over Terry, not paying attention to the wet sliding down her neck as she tried to keep it centered over him. When he unlocked the jeep, she refused to get in and kept the umbrella perched over his head as he loaded the vehicle.

"Get in," he said, taking the umbrella from her, and shielding her as she climbed into the passenger side of the jeep. He shut the door, shutting out the rain and the gusts of wind that drove the rain even deeper beneath her collar.

Terry jumped into the jeep, folded away the umbrella, and shut the door with a laughing chuckle. "It's really coming down, isn't it? Hey, you got your feet wet. You're supposed to walk around the puddles, not through them." He started the engine. "When we get home, I'll ask Izzy to lend you some dry socks."

The windshield wipers swooshed back and forth, and all she could think about was the notebook. It had flowers. Terry wouldn't like it.

"How's your hip?"

Madison didn't hear the question, and when she didn't answer, Terry slipped into silence. On the drive home, the only sounds to be heard were the swish of the wipers, the beat of the rain, and the cascading spray of passing cars.

* * * *

Even before Izumi heard the familiar voice in the living room, she knew who it was. She could hardly be kept in doubt, for the triplets giggled and laughed as they only did for Terry. Setting aside her Bible, Izumi climbed off the bed while rain continued to pound the roof with such unrelenting force, it made her glad Terry was home. John appeared from the office, met her as she moved down the hall.

"Sounds like he's bought the girls some goodies," John smiled.

It hardly surprised Izumi that when they reached the living room, three little girls were hovering over wet grocery bags deposited on the carpet. They tugged at looped handles, trying to get a better look at what was inside, but polite enough to contain their curiosity until given permission from Terry. From the eager glances passing between the girls, Izumi knew that they knew the contents were meant for them.

Terry burst into the house, dropped more bags onto the floor, then jogged back to the jeep parked in front of the house. As John went to help, Izumi noticed Madison, shy, wet, and shrugged against the wall beside the door.

"You poor dear." Izumi went to her, coaxed her past the crowd of girls, and down the hall to the master bedroom. Before Izumi had managed to get a step further, Madison began to struggle against the urge to come inside and dry off in the bathroom. The woman shook her head and panicked so noticeably, Izumi let her stand in the hall while she went inside to locate a dry pair of socks and a hairdryer.

Izumi took her into the kitchen, plugged the hairdryer in beside the coffee maker, and started drying Madison's hair like she was one of her daughters. The only difference being Madison had to sit in a chair so Izumi could reach all that wet hair.

"Put on your socks, like a good girl. That's it. Why didn't Terry take better care of you than this? Here, take the hairdryer and warm the legs of your jeans. They're soaked from your knees down." Izumi moved into the living room and shook her head when Terry came jogging back with the last of the bags. The girls crowded around him, and he grinned his lopsided grin and told them to go ahead and look at what he'd brought.

Those few words of permission set off a small frenzy. Squeals of delight erupted as the arts and crafts bounty spilled onto the carpet. Izumi had to admit Terry had outdone himself. The girls loved to cut and paste and make all sorts of paper creations, and on this rainy late afternoon, it came as a welcome treat.

When they saw the princess stickers, even Terry had to back away as the girls eagerly ripped open the slim package and began to divide them three ways. "Play fair" had always been Izumi's maxim, and the girls had learned it well. As they made three piles of princesses and castles and princes and dragons, John came back from putting the jeep in the garage.

"Oh, an arts and crafts party, huh?" he grinned at Terry, and Terry grinned back. "That ought to keep them busy. But look at all that stuff, Terry. It looks like a mini version of Christmas."

Grinning ear to ear, Terry pulled off his wet coat. "Where's Madison?"

"In the kitchen, drying off." Izumi folded her arms. "She wouldn't set foot in the master bedroom, so I took her into the kitchen."

A hint of familiar sadness pulled at Terry's grin, and she saw it slip.

"When she's dry, get her to come out here, would you? Since we're home to supervise, I was hoping the girls could play with her. There's enough art supplies here for four... although it looks like the stickers have already been divvied up. It's just as well. She's probably too old for that sort of thing, anyway."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" John asked.

"You could take out the trash."

John smiled at Izumi. "I was speaking to Terry. Besides, it's raining."

"The trash still needs to be taken out."

Izumi went into the kitchen to start dinner and check on you-know-who with the hairdryer. It whirred in Madison's thin hand like some unfamiliar piece of equipment she didn't quite know what to do with.

"Why don't you go into the living room?" Izumi asked. "Terry has a surprise for you."

"What is it?"

"Go in there and see for yourself." Izumi unplugged the hairdryer, and gave Madison a few moments to gather her courage. Running on pure mothering instincts, Izumi offered an encouraging smile as Madison timidly crept out of the kitchen.

Since pity wouldn't fix dinner or get John to take out the trash, Izumi struggled to push aside excess sympathy. Right now, she had to get to work and figure out what was for dinner before someone asked. And they would ask.

Her menu settled, she filled a large pan with water, then placed it on a stove burner with the fire turned up. She began to go through the people she knew at church. After seeing how hard Terry was trying to make Madison happy, Izumi felt pressure to act as soon as reasonably possible. She asked God for wisdom, then decided to pick up the phone and arrange to meet Emily McCall for lunch, tomorrow. Emily was pretty, had a gentle way about her, and had been a faithful member of their congregation for the past six years.

More to the point, Izumi happened to know Emily was praying for a godly husband.

* * * *

Hope had spurted up in Madison at the mention of a surprise. She hoped it would be the notebook, and at the same time, told herself not to wish for it too hard; when her wish didn't happen, it would make the disappointment all that harder to bear.

After all, it was just a dumb notebook. It wasn't hers, and that was that. One day though, when she made her own paycheck, she would get all the paper she wanted and write for as long as her hands would hold out. Until then, she had to be content with watching others get what she so desperately wanted.

Spotting her, Terry waved her to the other side of the room, near the couch.

"Did you get dry socks?"

She nodded.

"Good. Sit down. The floor won't hurt you, will it?"

Up until a little while ago, she had been sleeping on the floor, so she ignored the over-concern and sat down several feet away from Terry. He smiled good-naturedly.

"Hey, munchkins." Terry whistled to get their attention, and all three girls looked up from their projects. One was already cutting some construction paper and gluing pieces together. "Wow, Debbie. You already have something going? Good, good. Madison is new to this sort of thing, so do any of you have an idea for her? Something easy for her to make?"

"She could do origami." This came from a girl wearing a shirt that said "Lizzie" on the front.

"That's certainly an idea." Terry grinned with good humor. "I was thinking of something a little easier than that, though."

"Paper dolls?" offered a girl with "Debbie" on the front.

"Oh, she should make masks, like me." A pigtailed girl with "Ruthie" stood up and carried her things over to Madison. "I can show you how. It's not hard."

Madison gulped apprehensively as the child sat down at her side, easy and natural in her innocence, and completely genuine in her helpfulness. "You have to make the eyes and mouth first, so you can put stuff around them. Like this." Munchkin Ruthie showed her a scrapbook bulging with sticker collections and craft projects, and then pulled out a template that her mommy had made. It had dotted lines cut out for eyes, mouth, and even an optional nose. Using the cut outs for a guide, Ruthie traced a pencil onto a vibrant orange sheet of construction paper.

"The fun part comes next," said Munchkin Debbie, abandoning her project to come be a part of this one. "When you decide what you want to be, you get to cut out eyebrows and whiskers, and things."

Ruthie gave her look-alike, Lizzie, a frown. "I'll show her."

"I want to make masks, too."

"Then make your own. Madison and me are busy." Ruthie began tracing out something on a black sheet, then handed it over to Madison. "Here, cut this out. I'll draw and you cut."

"But I want to play, too," whimpered Lizzie.

"I'll play with you, after I play with Madison," Ruthie said in a very patient, grown up voice that had Terry smiling.

With a sigh, Lizzie handed Madison some chubby, bright colored scissors. Moving to a cross legged position, Madison accepted the scissors and picked up the paper with Ruthie's pencil tracing. She had only cut a little way, trying very hard to stay within the lines, when Ruthie dropped another sheet into her lap.

As Debbie came over to give instructions on how to make the mask "the right way," Terry moved away until Madison sat by herself with three small girls eager to show her what to do. Only after Madison had proved herself by cutting out a mustache and bushy eyebrows, did they seem to relax and accept her into their group.

Lizzie began a kitty cat mask, and Debbie was going to be an astronaut, though she didn't know yet how to make the glass part of a helmet. They traded scissors, glue, scraps of paper like they had been doing this all their lives. Sometimes, they didn't even have to speak for them to work in seamless harmony. They chatted about preschool that day, then commented that it smelled like mommy was making hot dogs. At this, Madison began to secretly hope they were right. She loved hot dogs. She had eaten one once, and it had been an experience she never forgot.

Ruthie scooted next to Madison, their knees touching, and began to color in parts of the mask with crayon. It was such a simple gesture, one showing complete trust, that it struck Madison as something amazing. Did these little girls have no fear? But then again, why should they? They had two parents-- three if you counted Terry-- a nice house with nice things, food every day, and no one to beat them or teach them what had been beaten into Madison from a very young age. To trust so openly, was to make yourself vulnerable, and Madison had never trusted anyone unless there had been absolutely no choice.

These three four-year-olds-- who were quick to inform her they would turn five in a few months-- knew no such fear. They looked at life with expectations of kindness and of their love being returned without question.

As she sat there, cross-legged on the carpet with construction paper and art things scattered all around her, Madison envied them. It wasn't a green envy, but a sad sort of wistfulness that made her ache inside.

From a nearby recliner, John sat watching them from over a newspaper. He kept glancing over at them, then returned to his paper until he stopped checking. Madison assumed that meant she wasn't doing anything wrong to make their daddy uneasy. The knowledge of it made her relax a bit, but only a bit.

Then Terry came down the hall, and immediately, all three held up their projects with, "See this, Uncle Terry?"

"That's looking good," he said, and moved to the couch with a laptop. "Smells like your mommy's cooking hot dogs."

Oh, how Madison hoped so. She worked the scissors until her fingers pinched in the small handles. Lizzie handed her another sheet, and soon Madison found herself cutting out the pieces for three different masks.


"What?" John looked up from his newspaper, smiled at Munchkin Debbie.

"Did God make the rain?"

"He sure did."

"Did He make the clouds?"


"Did He make all the water for Noah's ark to float on?"


"If it rained a lot, would you make us an ark?"

"If the situation called for it, sure."

The answer seemed to satisfy the child, and she went back to her mask. John smiled, and returned to his paper, and Terry kept tapping away at his laptop.

In all the mess on the floor, Madison didn't find the notebook. Though she tucked the disappointment deep within her, she still felt its sting.

Still, as Madison cut the last of the pieces she'd been given, she knew she had a lot to be thankful for. She quietly thanked God, and after a quick glance at the laptop, an idea came to her. Gathering brightly colored scraps of paper, some glue and scissors, she moved to a small area by herself to start her own project.

* * * *

From over his laptop, Terry saw Madison working alone. He wished the others would pull her back into their circle. It wasn't good for her to be on her own so much of the time. If he could, he would have sat down on the carpet and joined their projects, all the while working to include Madison in everything. Since he'd always been clumsy when it came to creative things, he kept out of the way and watched.

He'd been proud of his girls, the way they helped her and showed patience when she didn't understand their way of doing things. The triplets were close, not only as sisters, but also as best friends. Their communication was often silent, their bond, inseparable. To be an adult, and included in their circle was always an honor. Terry had prayed arts and crafts would bring the girls together, and in a way, he figured he had succeeded. Even so, it pained him to see Madison alone.

When Izumi called everyone to dinner, the girls were the first to dash off and wash their sticky hands in their bathroom. Terry set aside his laptop, and John put down the newspaper. The men went into the kitchen to help Izumi set the table, even though by now, both knew their offer would be too late.

It never hurt to show your willingness.

The rain pounded hard as everyone gathered at the kitchen table for hot dogs, cream of corn, and baked tortilla chips with fresh salsa. It took some coaxing to get the girls to take off their masks, and even more coaxing to get Madison at the table.

"Come on, we're waiting for you," Terry called from the kitchen.

"I'm not hungry," came the return call from the next room.

John sighed, and gave a patient look to Izumi that Terry didn't miss.

Pushing away from the table, Terry got up and went into the living room. Madison sat on the floor, still working on something.


At the sound of her name, she jumped.

"Please put down whatever it is you're doing, and come sit at the table with the family."

"Do I have to?"

He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Aren't you hungry? We're having hot dogs, not some exotic dish no one can stomach. Everyone likes hot dogs."

"Couldn't I eat in here?"

"Not if you want dinner. Izzy set a place at the table for you. Your only option is to accept gracefully."

The scissors came to a stop. She looked thoughtful.

"Come on, get up. Dinner is getting cold, and I'm not leaving here without you. Your place at the table is wedged between two of the triplets, so you'll be perfectly safe."

This prompted Madison to her feet. She winced, and Terry suddenly remembered the acetaminophen. While she limped into the kitchen, Terry hurried to fill a glass of water and tap out two pills.

"For pity's sake, Maddie. Why didn't you remind me?" He heaved a sigh, dropped the pills into her hand before she sat at the table. "Sometimes, I think you'd starve yourself to death, rather than ask for something to eat." He pulled out her chair, gently pushed it beneath her as she sat down. "I wish you'd learn to speak up. I really do."

Moving around the table, Terry resumed his seat. He flashed an apologetic look to John, then everyone bowed their heads while John prayed over the meal.

When the food started passing around the table, Terry caught the hunger in Madison's face. Her eyes didn't leave the plate of hot dogs, and when it came to her, she took four. John's eyes popped wide, as did Izumi's, and even the girls giggled, but Terry forced himself to remain placid. If he had to go without his usual helping tonight, he would do so gladly, if only to see her eating a large meal.

"Listen to that rain come down," John commented as he held the bowl of corn while Debbie ladled some onto her plate. "I hope the road doesn't flood. I'd hate to have to go anywhere tonight." He glanced at Terry, and Terry understood the meaning.

"The couch?" he asked, and John nodded.

Terry glanced at Madison, and sighed with relief to see her biting into a fully loaded hot dog with all the works. Her eyes closed half-mast, and her mouth tipped into a smile.

"Good?" he asked.

"M-humm." She swallowed, took another bite until Terry feared she might choke. One by one, all four hot dogs reached the same fate. Her face turned a little green, and though he feared she might lose her supper, she sat back and refused dessert like a sensible woman.

While everyone enjoyed a dish of ice cream, Madison stole back to the living room, no doubt to work on her project. At least, Terry thought with some satisfaction, she ate all her dinner.

Half an hour or so later, Terry returned to the couch. On the floor, Madison flipped through Ruthie's scrapbook. As he sat down and lifted the laptop, he couldn't help feeling he was watched. Then he saw it, a square of bright blue paper with stars cut out and pasted all over with glue. In large yellow letters, he read its message.


Even though his name was misspelled, he knew instantly who it was from. He looked over to Madison and caught her watching. He opened the card.


The words were simple, but they made him smile.

"You're welcome, Madison. You're very welcome." He closed the card, looked again at the front. "Thank you for this. It was a thoughtful gesture." He turned to Madison and saw a faint smile around her mouth. How anyone could smile and yet look so sad, was beyond him, and yet Madison managed to do it very easily.

"It's still raining." He tucked the card away for safekeeping, continued his thought out loud as the girls returned to start tidying up before bed. "I'd like you to stay here tonight, if that's okay with you. You can sleep on this couch, and I'll make sure you have enough pillows and blankets to be comfortable."

"All right, Terry."

The words sounded tired, making him grateful she wouldn't have to brave a storm-tossed drive back into Chaumont.

He cleared off the couch, helped the girls clean up their mess, then went to collect some sheets and blankets. Stepping into his room, he gathered a pillow, the thick warm comforter off his bed, two sheets, and a clean pillowcase from the linen closet in the hall. An excited shout that she had first dibs on the bathtub, was proceeded by Debbie, and then Lizzie. They sped past him, their combined voices at once serious and carefree. Not as anxious for a bath as her sisters, Ruthie came last, her arms full from the remnants of their party.

"Thanks for helping Madison," he told the pint-sized girl. She beamed a sweet smile at Terry, and he planted a kiss on her forehead. How he loved his munchkins.

A boom of thunder rattled window panes. The lights flickered, then came back on.

"Better have your flashlight handy," Terry told the girl. Excited chatter came from the girls' bedroom, and Ruthie dashed off to tell her sisters how neat it would be if the power went all the way out.

Terry stepped into the living room, quietly noting Madison was still on the floor beside the sofa. Thin arms hugged her legs, and her forehead rested against her knees.

"I hope you're not afraid of a little thunder and lightening." Terry put down his bundle, pulled off a sheet and flapped it open. "You told me earlier the rain is different when you're safe." He glanced at the bowed head, shook open the pillow case and stuffed the pillow inside.

Slippers padded through the living room as John passed through from the kitchen with an emergency flashlight.

"Good night, Terry. Madison."

"'Night," Terry smiled, and watched as John disappeared into the master bedroom. Izumi came out a moment later, and headed for the girls' room, no doubt to make sure they were making progress and getting ready for bed.

"If you need the bathroom," Terry continued, "use the one adjoining the office. No one should bother you there." He opened the heavy comforter, draped it over the bed as another boom of thunder rattled the house. "Just listen to that."

Madison's head came up. She looked toward the roof, apprehension glinting in her gray eyes.

"You're safe," he reminded her. "Pray about it, give it to the Lord, then move on. Come on, climb into bed so I can turn out the lights."

"Could you leave one on?" she asked timidly, moving onto the couch and taking refuge beneath the covers.

"Do you want a night-light?" Terry didn't wait for an answer, but went into the kitchen to dig up the spare light hidden somewhere in the junk drawer. He found it, pugged it in beside the couch, and clicked it on.

"Thanks, Terry."

"It's no problem," he smiled, first turning off the overhead light, then the lighthouse lamp he had given Izzy for Christmas several years back. Madison burrowed beneath the comforter, facing the side of the sofa where a small arc of light glowed against the wall. "Before you go to sleep, wait a moment. I'll be right back."

He snagged the grocery bag in his room, came back and placed it on the floor beside Madison's couch. "I forgot to give this to you earlier, but you can open it in the morning. Do you need anything else? Are you comfortable?"

"I'm fine." She sat up a little, looked over the edge of the cushion.

"Try to get some rest, Maddie." He moved away from the couch, saw her reach for the grocery bag. It crinkled as she pulled out the notebook. She gasped, hugged it to her chest like someone clinging to a great treasure.

He knew she wanted it, but hadn't realized how much until now. Smiling, he went to his room, and closed the door.

Rain slammed against the house, but inside, everyone was safe and dry and snugged beneath warm blankets. As Terry lay awake in bed, he thanked God that Madison wasn't struggling to survive somewhere in all that wet and cold. She was in the living room, cuddling a spiral-bound notebook and enjoying the safe comfort provided by a simple night-light. More than once, he tiptoed to the end of the hall and looked across the room to the couch. Only when he heard the rhythmic sounds of her slumber, did he go back to bed and allow himself to truly rest.

Come what may, he determined to be a faithful friend to her. His last prayer before slipping beneath the pleasant waves of slumber, was to ask God for more strength.

More and more, Terry was realizing it would be no easy task to help Madison find her place in the world.

"And I [Terry] thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry [of helping Madison]..."
~ 1 Timothy 1:12 ~

end of chapter