"Terry's Journey"
A Contemporary Romance

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Terry's Journey PDF

Plot Summary

A sequel to Abigail's Journey, and third in the Journey series.

As a survivor of abuse, Terry Davis is determined to make a difference in someone's life the way his best friend, John Johannes, had changed Terry's so many years ago on a school playground. Having seen John's daughter, Abigail, rescue Jake Murphy from Jake's tortured past, Terry is more intent than ever to offer a lifeline of his own to someone in desperate need. But it won't be easy.

Protective of Terry's wounds, John has tried to keep his friend from helping anyone too much, knowing from Terry's former experience as a volunteer hotline crisis counselor that Terry's nightmares would return. Then she arrived in all her painful helplessness-- Madison Crawford with the haunting gray eyes and secretive past, needing to be rescued while claiming to need no one. As Terry tries to help Madison and then becomes involved with her on a more personal level, John's concerns deepen for the dear friend he loves like a brother.

This may be Terry's journey, but Terry won't be making it alone.
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Chapter Twenty-three
The Struggle for Sanity

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
~ Matthew 22:39 ~

Though sleep tempted him to try and get more rest, Terry spent some time with the Lord before sunrise, then climbed out of bed when the light shone through the slats of his window blinds. His heart wouldn't let him sit still any longer. Hope made him buoyant. His insides were dancing, his pulse humming so much he couldn't help but sing in the shower.

At the sink, when he shaved in front of the mirror, his smile kept getting in the way of the electric razor. Who was that grinning man? Surely, it couldn't be Terry Davis, the guy with no significant other in his life, the one who feared he would never fall in love? Laughing, Terry tugged on jeans, pulled a merino sweater over a white T-shirt, then headed downstairs, still humming and grinning like he was the happiest man on Planet Earth.

This morning, he was.

He needed to start planning what to fix Maddie for breakfast, and the thought of her being just next door, made his heart sing even louder. God was so good. The fact Terry had no silverware in his kitchen did nothing to dampen his spirits. He was hoping, he was in love, and it felt wonderful.

Cell phone in hand, he went to the fridge and called Maddie. The phone rang four times before she answered.

"Hey, neighbor, can I come over and borrow some forks and spoons? And some food. It looks like I've given nearly everything away."

"Sure, come over." Her voice sounded hazy, like she'd just been awakened from a deep sleep. "I'll unlock the door."

Terry glanced at the time and winced. "Sorry I woke you."

"It's okay, Terry. I don't mind."

"I'll be over in a minute then."

They hung up, and after a cursory check of the pantry, Terry had a good idea of what he still needed to make a nice breakfast. Nothing heavy-duty, but special enough to celebrate the morning. This wonderful, wonderful morning with Maddie.

The sweater did little to keep him warm as he stepped outside and went to Maddie's door, just a few steps away. He rang the doorbell, huffed out a vapor trail against the freezing early morning. If the weather hadn't already been enough to warn of the coming winter, the numbing temperature as he stood waiting on Maddie's doorstep was enough of a reminder. He should have put on a coat.

He rang the doorbell again, then remembered Maddie had said she would unlock the door and tried the handle. It worked, and the door turned on its hinges with a low creak.

"Hey, Maddie?" He looked about the living room, saw no one, and stepped inside before he froze to death. If it had been this cold yesterday, the rain would have almost certainly turned to snow. Thankfully, Maddie had remembered to turn up the thermostat, so the apartment was comfortable. "Maddie?" he called again, moving to the kitchen. He heard something, and started for the room that wasn't really a bedroom, but a room with a couch.

"In here," she called, as he moved down the short hall and came to the open bedroom door.

He looked inside, not wanting to invade her privacy but knowing Maddie well enough to be a little concerned that she hadn't met him at the front door. The room looked clean and orderly, not like the last time he'd seen it, and Maddie lay on the couch, covered with a thick comforter pulled up to her chin.

"How are you feeling?" Terry asked, and ventured inside. His heart lodged in his throat when he got a better look at the pale, pale face staring at him from over the blanket.

"Hi, Terry."

He nodded without thinking, moved to the couch to place a concerned hand on her forehead.

"I don't have a fever, so I'm all right."

"You're whiter than bed linen, Maddie. What's wrong? Do you feel sick?"

"No, I'm fine."

"You can't be-- you're so pale."

"Do you think it's the flu?" she asked in an almost hopeful voice.

"You've taken your temperature?" He relaxed a fraction when she nodded "yes." "And you're sure you have no fever? I don't get it. You were just fine, yesterday." He checked her forehead again, but she felt normal. She just didn't look it.

"Maybe I have the flu?" she asked again, and Terry didn't answer.

"Do you feel like getting out of bed, and going somewhere today?"

"Where?" she asked.

"I don't know where-- that's not the point-- do you have enough energy to go somewhere if you wanted?"

Her eyes turned away and she shook her head.

"Have you been coughing?"

"No."

"The last time you turned this pale, what was it? six, seven days ago, when you told me about the Dragon for the first time? Remember? In the evening, we went to the MegaMart to pick up some hot dogs to eat at my place, because you looked so pale I didn't want to scare John and Izzy. That night, you gave me the keychain. I remember that night clearly, and you look paler now, than you did then."

She closed her eyes.

"Maddie," he crouched in front of the sofa, "what's going on? Are you taking anything I should know about?"

The gray eyes opened and she shot him a stare. "You mean, drugs?"

"I mean-- yes, I suppose I do. But I know you better than that." Terry blew out a frustrated breath. "The trouble is, I'm starting to see a pattern here, and I don't know what to make of it. How's your hip? Are you in any pain?"

Her mouth opened, but she didn't answer.

"It's the pain, isn't it? I knew it." He punched the air and she backed further under the blanket. "Why haven't you been taking your painkiller? That's what it's there for." He stood, turned to get the bottle of acetaminophen when he saw it open on the floor beside the couch. "How long ago did you take that?"

"Two hours."

"And you're still in this much pain?" It didn't make any sense, but that pale face looked so drained, he couldn't just shrug it off. "I'm taking you to the emergency room."

"No."

"You're not well, Maddie. If you had a mirror, you could see for yourself." Terry started for the bathroom. "That's not a bad idea, if you could see what you looked like--" he shoved open the bathroom door, stepped inside and skidded to a complete and total stop.

His heart slammed against his ribs. Seven or eight large drops of something dark were on the floor in front of the bathroom sink. They were dried, and if he didn't know any better, he'd say that looked a lot like--

"Maddie?" He pushed back into the bedroom. "Did you get hurt? There's blood on the bathroom floor."

He didn't think it possible, for she was already so pale, but she blanched even more.

"Did you have a nosebleed? Maddie, I'm getting scared here and I need some answers. Is that why there's blood in the bathroom?"

She shook her head.

"Your period?" he asked, and again, she shook her head. "Then show me where you got hurt, and I'll get something to clean the cut. The way you're looking, I don't want to take any chances with infection." Terry went back to the bathroom, opened the medicine cupboard, plucked up the antiseptic and noticed the bottle was smeared with dried, brown smudges. He noticed blood in the sink, and more on the faucet handles.

The phone in his jeans pocket sounded. Absently, he pulled it out and answered.

"Is now a good time?" John asked. "I'm curious what happened with Brian."

"Huh?" Terry forced his mind to work. "What about Brian?"

"That's why I'm calling you-- to find out what happened. I didn't get much sleep last night thinking about it."

"Sorry, I have to go." Terry pocketed the phone and went back to the bedroom where Maddie was still hiding behind her blanket. "There's blood on this bottle, and there's even more in the sink. Why didn't you call me? I could have taken you to the emergency room."

She blinked, and didn't say a word.

"Show me where you got hurt." Terry moved to the couch, and she hurriedly tugged the blanket up to her eyes. "I won't be mad, okay? I just want to see where you're hurt. There's a lot of blood in the bathroom, and I don't mind telling you I'm scared. Now show me the cut. Did it happen in the kitchen? Were you trying to fix a snack, and the knife slipped? Is that it?"

Her breath was coming fast now, fast enough for him to hear it behind the blanket.

"Maddie. Show me where you got hurt, or I'm taking you to the emergency room."

She didn't budge an inch.

"Okay." He turned to leave. "I'm starting up the jeep."

The blanket came down a few inches. "Terry--"

"Don't tell me this is because of the flu, Maddie. I'm not buying it. Accidents can happen-- I understand that-- I've cut myself on enough knives to appreciate the fact I'm sometimes clumsy-- but I do care that you're trying to hide it from me." He tried to calm down, but found it hard. "I even once cut myself on a stupid butter knife, so I understand. Okay?" His mind screamed that it hadn't been something so trivial. Whatever had hurt Maddie, it had not been a butter knife.

The way she lay there, not moving, her peaches and cream complexion drained of all color, he couldn't wait for her to find courage to tell him what was wrong.

"We're going to the emergency room."

"No, I'm all right."

"You keep saying that, but I don't understand. I really don't." Terry put down the antiseptic, not liking the heavy feeling settling in his heart. "Did you, or did you not, have an accident in the kitchen?"

"Terry, it's okay."

"How did it happen?" he pressed. "Did you break a china plate and cut yourself? I won't be angry if something's broken, but I need to know how you got hurt."

"Please don't worry."

His mind felt numb, for he knew the next question. He hadn't worked at the crisis hotline for nothing. Especially when he considered Maddie's troubled background. He knew he had to ask, but it came hard.

So hard.

"Did you do it on purpose?"

"Terry--"

"Please, just answer the question. Was it on purpose?" He took in a deep breath, and willed himself to get out all the words. "Are you cutting?"

Alarm shone in those gray eyes, and Terry didn't want to believe what he was seeing.

She remained silent, and so did he.

The phone in his pocket went off. Terry jerked it out to find John trying to reach him again. He let it ring, shoved it back and tried to breathe. She wanted to lie, to tell him he had gotten it all wrong; he could feel the intensity of that gaze and knew she wanted to lie. She wanted to, but couldn't, so she hid under that blanket like a puppy dog who'd just been caught wetting the carpet.

"Maddie, I need to see how badly you're hurt."

He prayed he was wrong, that maybe the paleness was because of her hip, that the blood was just a clumsy accident in the kitchen. Anything but what he was thinking.

Kneeling, he looked into those troubled gray eyes and prayed for strength.

"Maddie, please show me."

She shook her head, the fast intake of her breath threatening hyperventilation. He reached out, touched her fingers as they tightly held the blanket.

"I won't be angry, I just need to see how badly you're hurt so I know how to help. Please, Maddie. I care too much about you, to walk away."

Her eyes squeezed shut, and a tear spilled onto her cheek.

"Let me help you. Please, let me try."

Her eyes turned on him, and he was struck all the way to the heart with the depth of their pain.

"Do you want me to get Izzy? Would you feel more comfortable showing her?"

"No."

"Then would you show me?"

The panicked look on Maddie's face deepened. "Promise you won't hit me?"

Pulling the dagger from his heart, Terry fought for composure. "Maddie, have I ever?"

"Promise?"

"You have my word. Before God, I will never, ever, lay a hand on you in anger."

The oath seemed to steel her with courage, for the blanket lowered. He half expected Maddie to show her arms, or maybe her wrists-- places that could be easily covered and that she wouldn't mind showing a man. She wore a T-shirt, though, and her arms were fine.

Then he saw the front of her shirt. Blood had seeped through, staining the material. Her slender hands trembled as she lifted the edge of her shirt to show her belly.

Terry had a working knowledge of self-harm, what it could look like, what the symptoms were, the warning signs that would help someone identify a possible problem. Although limited, he had some experience dealing with cutters, and had always thought he could handle even the worst cases that might come his way. But nothing could prepare him for what he was about to see, for none of them had been Maddie.

He groaned at the sight before him.

Her delicate stomach was crisscrossed with ridges of broken skin. They ran over each other in grotesque crosses and slashes, some old, others much more recent. Every scar bore testament to the pain they must have inflicted. They ran from one end of her belly clear to the other, a battlefield that must have taken years to scar so badly.

His mouth went dry. He let out the breath he'd been holding, pushed himself off the floor and went to get the antiseptic. It made sense now. He could count three times in the past when she'd come down with inexplicable paleness. Once that Sunday morning when he brought her to church for the first time, then the day she'd given him that keychain. And this morning. He fought to search his memory for other times, times he might not have been paying attention, but couldn't think of any.

"How long..." His voice failed him, and he moved to the bathroom to get cotton swabs and bandages. Maybe he should take her to the emergency room. He couldn't think straight, and washed his hands so he wouldn't infect the wounds before returning to the bedroom.

She was sitting up now, and on the verge of tears.

"Hey, hey." He dropped the items on the blanket beside her, knelt on the floor to level with her eyes. "I'm not angry, Maddie. Do you hear me? I still care about you very, very much."

"You think I'm crazy."

"No, that's not what I'm thinking." He twisted open the bottle, poured a little into the cap and used it to dip in a cotton swab. "Would you lift your shirt again?"

Smearing her eyes with the back of her hands, she obeyed, and Terry braced himself to look at the lacerated skin.

"Have you ever cut yourself this deep before?" When she didn't answer, he looked up to find her nodding "yes."
"Oh, Maddie." He didn't know what else to say, and started to apply the antiseptic. She winced, and he tried to be gentle.

"I'm sorry, Terry."

He rubbed away his tears with his shoulder.

"I didn't want you to know."

"How long have you been doing this?"

"For a while."

"Years?" he asked, and she nodded "yes." "Oh, Maddie." He kept saying that, but the number of scars running across her belly-- new and old-- were heart-numbing.

"Do you think God minds?" she asked in a timid voice that choked on a sob before she could get all the words out.

"He minds." Terry looked up at her. "He minds, and so do I. This has got to stop."

"But I'm not trying to kill myself."

"I can appreciate the difference, Maddie, but our bodies are God's temple. I can't remember the verse at the moment, but He minds very much. Do you understand?"

She shook her head, wiped her face on a shirt sleeve while he went back to work.

"I can't believe I missed this." Terry grabbed another cotton swab, trying as hard as he could to not inflict more pain. "I should have recognized the signs. I should have taken better care of you. I'm sorry, Maddie. I'm so sorry."

"Terry?" The fear in her voice made him look up. "Does this mean we can't be friends anymore?"

"Do me a favor, Maddie, and never say anything like that again. Never, okay? I couldn't walk away from you if I tried."

"Are you going to try?"

"What do you think?" He gave a look that had her smiling through the tears. "That's never going to happen. You're stuck with me for the long haul, whether you marry me or not."

"Thank you, Terry." Genuine relief sounded in her voice, but Terry was feeling anything but relieved.

"I need to get you to the emergency room. Some of these are deep, and I don't know what I'm doing. This one is at least two inches long, and it's deep. I need help."

"It'll be all right."

He shook his head. "Maddie, I'm no doctor but these cuts look serious."

"It's okay."

"No, it isn't." He applied a bandage as best he could over the long cut but knew it wasn't enough. She needed stitches. "If I take you to the emergency room, are you going to run away?"

"No, Terry, please don't."

"Will you run away?" He pressed the question home with such force, Maddie winced.

"Will you stay with me?"

Unable to speak, he nodded.

"Then I'll go."

Feeling more gratitude then he could utter, he squeezed her hand, then reached into his pocket for the cell phone. As he punched in John's number, a knock sounded on Maddie's front door.

"Come in," he shouted.

Amazingly, the visitor must have heard him, for the door opened and a moment later John stood in the doorway of the bedroom. The phone in his pocket sounded, and John answered it to hear Terry speaking just a few feet away.

"Are you all right?" John asked as they put away their phones. "You sounded scared when I talked to you, so I hurried over as soon as I could."

"I don't have time to talk," Terry said, pushing to his feet. "I have to take Maddie to the emergency room. She cut herself." Terry went to her closet to find a coat, and a sweater to cover her bloodstained shirt.

"Depending on how bad it is," John suggested, "you could always try urgent care. They open at seven, and it'd be less crowded than the emergency room."

Checking his watch, Terry nodded. "That sounds right. If we leave now, they should be open by the time we get there." As he located the sweater he'd given Maddie yesterday, John moved close to Terry.

"How bad is it?" John asked in a hushed voice so Maddie wouldn't overhear.

"I don't know." Terry forced himself to calm. "It didn't look pretty, I can tell you that much."

"How did it happen?"

Terry glanced at John before going back to the couch. He didn't know how to tell John, and worried what John might say in Maddie's presence. John might not understand.

John, however, didn't look ready to go away. "I'll help you get her down there."

"I can handle it."

"I didn't ask if you could handle it." John gave Terry a solid look. "I can help. I can fill out paperwork while you take care of Madison."

With a sigh, Terry helped Maddie into the sweater, then her coat, careful to not let John see her shirt. He knew John wasn't going anywhere, and silently thanked him for being stubborn. Not giving Maddie the chance to move on her own power, Terry scooped her up and headed for the bedroom door. John moved ahead of them, and held the front door wide open.

Terry carried Maddie outside, too busy to care what the neighbors might think.

"Jeep keys are in my right pocket," Terry said, and John fished them out to open the passenger door. Terry placed Maddie on the seat, not bothering to put on the seat belt. He didn't want to risk getting the cuts infected, and shut the door.

Before letting go of the keys, John locked the apartment, then climbed into the back seat before tossing them to Terry.

John had wanted to make sure Terry didn't leave without him.

No one spoke as they made the drive to the Urgent Care Center. Terry found a parking space near the entrance, then got out to carry Maddie into the building. John went ahead of them to the reception desk, and while John handled the paperwork, Terry found a chair in the waiting area to place Maddie.

"Don't leave me?" she asked.

Terry squeezed her shoulder, then with a bowed head and quiet voice, he prayed out loud so Maddie could hear. "Make this to go well, Lord, and cause the wounds to heal. In Jesus' name, amen." He took the seat next to hers, and held her hand. "Maddie, you have to stop. You understand that, don't you?"

Her answer came in a whisper. "I don't know how."

"Terry," John came striding over with the paperwork, "you'll have to finish these. I filled in as much as I was sure of. She doesn't have any allergies, does she?"

Turning his attention to the details of getting Maddie help, Terry prayed for wisdom and help for himself. Right now, he felt like a tidal wave had swept out the feet beneath him, and he struggled to not to let his emotions get in the way of taking care of Maddie.

When the paperwork had been finished, Terry handed it in to the nurse. She looked it over, then slanted Terry a puzzled look. He moved close and whispered, "Self-injuries."

Sighing, the nurse nodded and went about her business. She looked all too familiar with the problem.

Since it was so early in the morning, there weren't many in the waiting room, and after a few minutes Maddie's name was called. Still holding Terry's hand, Maddie got to her feet, and tightly clung to him as they followed the female nurse. They passed through a doorway, and saw other nurses dressed in scrubs, getting ready for the long workday ahead. Their nurse took them to an examining room, and then filled out some paperwork before asking Maddie to change into a dressing gown.

"I'll be outside," Terry said, squeezing Maddie's hand.

Even though Maddie looked as if he was abandoning her, Terry left the examining room and waited outside the door. In a way, he hoped he wouldn't have to watch the stitches being made. He didn't mind the sight of his own blood, but the sight of other's suffering made him dizzy with sympathy. Years ago, when Izumi was in the hospital, waiting for Abby to come, Terry had had to wait outside because he couldn't stand seeing Izzy in so much pain. Not much had changed, and Terry still felt woozy just thinking about it.

A man in a white lab coat went into the examining room, leaving Terry to pace outside. Terry wished he'd had the presence of mind to ask for a female doctor. The nurse was still in there with Maddie, so maybe Maddie wouldn't panic with another woman nearby.

The door opened, and the nurse smiled at Terry. "She's asking for you."

Terry nodded, and went into the room.

Lying on her back on the examination table, Maddie had a white sheet covering her body from the hips down, and her dressing gown had been pushed to below her armpits, so only her stomach showed. When she saw Terry, she reached for his hand. Grabbing it, Terry stood beside the table and hoped he wouldn't pass out.

The doctor pulled on latex gloves. "When was your last tetanus shot?"

"I had one this month." Maddie didn't say more, and Terry guessed her primary physician had made sure Maddie had been given one, especially after seeing the scars.

"She'll need some stitches," the doctor explained to Terry, "but they should heal without any scarring. She's been given a shot of local anesthesia, so she shouldn't feel any pain." The doctor made no mention of the other scars, and set about his work while the nurse assisted him.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Maddie held onto Terry's hand for dear life as the doctor gently drew the skin together. Terry felt the woozy sensation flood his brain, and decided to just watch Maddie's face.

"When you leave," the doctor spoke to his patient as he worked, "you'll need to be careful not to pull out these sutures."

Maddie nodded.

"They'll dissolve over time, so you won't need to have them removed."

The doctor gave them instructions on how to care for the wounds, and what to take for the pain while she was healing. When Terry chanced a glimpse of what was going on, he wasn't surprised to find the doctor closing the smaller cuts as well as the larger ones. Good. Terry looked back at Maddie's face, and found her watching him. He gave her a smile, and maintained a tight grip on her hand to give her courage. Just because Maddie had done this to herself, it didn't mean she enjoyed the pain.

Hopefully, though, the local anesthesia was doing its job.

"She'll need to rest while these heal," the doctor said to Terry, as if to make sure Terry understood.

Terry nodded. "I'll see that she does. She's going to see a psychiatrist, as well."

While the doctor looked gratified to hear it, he kept any personal remarks to himself. Some gauze and white tape were applied, then the nurse smiled, and patted Maddie's sheet-covered knee.

"You can get dressed now."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Terry went outside and the doctor soon followed. "Thanks," Terry told him, and the doctor gave a tired smile before going to his office. A few minutes later, the door opened and Maddie came out dressed in her everyday clothes, still looking pale, but ready to leave. "Is it okay for her to walk?" Terry asked the nurse.

"As long as she doesn't overdo it," the nurse nodded. "And remember to take care of those stitches."

"Thanks." Maddie smiled weakly, and the nurse patted her on the arm before leaving.

Hovering beside Maddie, Terry led her out to the waiting area where John sat reading his iPhone. Between all the cuts, the doctor had given Maddie nine stitches, and Terry didn't want to advertise the fact to everyone in the building.

"How'd it go?" John asked, getting up to meet them.

"She'll be all right." Terry pulled out the wallet from his hip pocket. "Would you take her out to the jeep, and make sure she sits while you guys wait for me? I have to stop by the desk."

With a knowing look, John led Maddie away.

Though Terry hadn't wanted to say it in front of Maddie, he needed to pay for the treatment she'd just been given. Terry didn't mind the out-of-pocket expense. She'd gotten the care she needed, and that was all that mattered.

When Terry left the building, he found John and Maddie waiting in the jeep, ready to go home.

* * * *

He knew. He actually knew. Her secret was out in the open, and he knew. Terror shimmered through her veins, followed by the reminder that Terry wouldn't leave her. He'd tightly clung to her hand through the whole thing, and he hadn't hit her, or told her that if she got any sicker, he would finish her off. There was no hot anger, just concern and a gentle insistence that the cutting had to stop.

Wasn't he wonderful? Madison closed her eyes on the drive home and pretended he was still holding her hand. Then the shame peeked through and she fought to keep from crying. She was so tired. Why did he have to find out? Why? She had hoped to clean the bathroom before anyone saw it, and had been too weak to do it last night. That Terry had been able to guess before he even saw her belly, was frightening. What else did he know?

Why hadn't she been able to scare him off? It baffled her, but then, he was so nice, if he were hiding angel's wings under that coat, she wouldn't have been at all surprised.

As much as Terry wanted her to stop cutting, she knew she couldn't. She'd already tried, and had failed. Would God hold that against her? Terry had said God minded, but what if it wasn't possible for her to stop? Would He still mind then?

She struggled with the pain swirling inside. The local anesthesia was beginning to wear off a little, but that wasn't what hurt so much. She longed to be normal, and the stitches on her belly only seemed to mock her. Being normal would never happen, it was something always out of reach, no matter how hard she struggled. Hope plummeted, and she fought to open the passenger door at the first red stoplight they came to.

"Whoa, Maddie!" A hand shot out to hers, stilling the frustration long enough for her to stop. "Hold on, okay? I'd already planned to call Dr. Jacoby today, but just as soon as I can, I'll make that call."

"Why? It won't get any better."

Terry squeezed her fingers. "I'm praying it will."

"But what if it doesn't?" Panic started to well inside her once more, and she let go of Terry's hand to fight the door.

"Hey," John said from the back seat, "you can't get out now. The light's about to turn green." John reached around her seat, caught her left shoulder as the jeep started moving again.

Heading to the side of the road, Terry parked, leaned over to grab her before she could get the door open now that they'd stopped. "Calm down. Maddie, calm down. You're a little scared-- I can understand that, but calm down." He held her firmly, and only started to let go when she stopped struggling. "You're going to be all right."

"No, I won't."

"I need you to be willing to face this, Maddie. You can't move forward unless you do, and that's something I can't do for you. You must face it."

"I can't."

"Look at me." He gently moved her chin so she looked directly at him. His chest heaved, and she could see the strain he was under. "Whatever there is to face, I promise you won't have to do it by yourself. Do you hear me? We need to have faith and keep moving forward. He will help us."

Her eyes half closed, but Terry would not let go.

"You were meant to survive this, and I refuse to let you give up now."

He offered his hand, and she clamped onto it as hard as she could.

Terry's jaw tightened with resolve. "Don't let go of hope."

Swiping away a tear, Madison could no longer look at him. His hand tugged away from hers, and the jeep moved back onto the road. She had no idea what was going on, only that things were changing, that her world had forever changed the moment she'd let Terry see her wounds.

His hand reached over to hers. The hard squeeze told her he was still fighting for her sanity. She was struggling, but he wouldn't let her go without a fight.

Why wasn't he running away? For the life of Madison, she could not understand. He should be running as fast as he could, screaming at the top of his lungs to get away from her. His heart broke easily, so why wasn't he trying to save himself?

Cars zipped past her window, people going on with their lives with no troubles like hers to face. She couldn't suck in the air fast enough. The more she felt for Terry, the closer it shoved her toward the ragged edge of insanity. She was feeling too many things, things she couldn't understand and didn't want to.

Only the quick pulse of the hand gripping hers, held her back from thrashing about in the seat.

* * * *

That intensity was back in full force, and Terry struggled not to let it gain a foothold in him. Whatever it was, it radiated from her in strong waves, a sensation so very real, he could almost taste it. Her nails dug into his hand as she clung to him, and when he flicked her a glance, he saw wild panic.

"Have faith, Maddie. Have faith."

Time for Terry to calm down. He had to deal with whatever was tiding through Maddie. She didn't have the best grip on reality, and it fought with his confidence that God was in control, that everything would turn out all right. Terry's emotions were shoving at him hard. It wasn't anything romantic, but the fear of losing himself again in a sea of shattered glass, like a window that couldn't be fixed and had to be swept up and thrown away because it wasn't good for anything else. Terry didn't want to shatter.

"Do you think it's going to rain?"

"What?" Terry was pulled from his thoughts by the passenger in the back seat. John. Terry had nearly forgotten he was there.

"If the sun stays out long enough," John continued, "how about we go fishing?"

"Yeah. Okay." Terry blinked hard, and fought to remember his battle cry. He could feel Maddie's pulse beating wildly, and feared if he slowed down, she might jump from the vehicle.

"Have you and Madison eaten yet?"

Terry glanced at Maddie. "No, not yet."

"Why don't you head over to the house, and we'll feed you a late breakfast?"

"Okay." Terry glanced in the rear view mirror at John. "Thanks."

"Just watch the road," John said.

Instead of going back to the apartment complex, Terry changed lanes and headed to Three Mile Bay. The fact Maddie had been willing to show him those cuts, both encouraged and discouraged Terry. She could have waited and shown Izzy, but because Terry had asked her, Maddie had been willing to trust him enough to show him her pain. On the other hand, Terry was discouraged by the fact those cuts were even there. Besides the meager answer he'd managed to pull out of her earlier, he wondered how long she had been cutting. Okay, years-- but how many?

The older the habit, the harder it would be to break.

They reached home none too soon for Terry. He pulled to a stop in front of the garage, let go of Maddie's hand and noticed the red half moons on his skin where her nails had dug in. He shut off the engine. Now to face the others. Terry got out, rounded the hood to open Maddie's door, while John climbed out and waited beside the jeep.

Terry felt the need to tell John. He didn't like keeping secrets, and this one was a doozy.

As Maddie got out of the jeep, he saw the familiar wince, the quiet pain he'd noticed before and had not been able to fully explain. She had a lot of problems, both physical and mental, and it was hard to know which was responsible for what. In this instance, the direct correlation between the one and the other, struck Terry as ironic. Her outside health mirrored the health of her inside.

Even now, she looked like a frightened colt, waiting for a moment to bolt and run away.

"Easy, Maddie. Take it easy or you'll hurt yourself even more."

She gave him a scowl and it felt like a kick to his chest.

"You may not want to admit you care about the pain, but I do. So deal with it." He glanced at John, who was still waiting by the jeep. "I'd like to tell my family what happened. Though if you want me to, I'll keep quiet."

Head bowed, she squirmed and writhed on her feet as though her skin were chafing against her bones. "They're going to think I'm crazy."

"They're going to think you need help," Terry reworded, "but they're my family-- I know them. They won't make fun of you because of this, and if I ask them not to, they won't tell anyone outside the family."

"I wish I was dead."

"No, you don't." He took her hand and steadied it with his own. "May I tell them?"

Her fingers dug into his skin. She nodded "yes."

How Terry wanted to blurt his entire heart to Maddie. Now that he allowed himself to love her, that love grew stronger with every breath he took, and it was hard to see her like this.

"It's going to be all right," Terry whispered. "We've taken a hit today, but we're going to remember Psalm sixty-one, verse two, and take heart. Do you remember my battle cry? Make it your own, Maddie." He could see her struggling to remember, and helped her by reciting it out loud. "'From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.' We're overwhelmed, right?"

She nodded emphatically.

"Then cry to God, and He will lead us to the high rock. We're down here in the valley right now, and the water is deep. So let's go higher."

She leaned against Terry.

"God, lead us higher," Terry prayed. "Help us to not forget You, or Your promise to never leave us, and forgive us when we do. Please, help us, Lord."

Maddie hid her face against Terry's shoulder. She looked steadier now, and Terry made sure he didn't move too fast, so she could stay at his side as they walked to the house.

Looking as though he'd been doing some praying, himself, John followed.

Noise poured from the house even before Terry opened the front door. It was a weekday, and no sleepy, sedate Sunday home from church, and inside, the house breathed with life. A thick quilt had been spread on the living room carpet, and a board game was in progress that not only included the triplets and Ricky, but Jake and Abby, as well.

A shout sounded, and Debbie celebrated with a little wiggle when her token landed on a treasure box.

"That's the second time in a row," Ruthie lamented, and slumped against Jake. "That's not fair."

"Keep playing and maybe it'll get better," Abby said, giving the dice a good shake before letting them clatter to the board. "Let's see, that's--"

"Hi, Uncle Terry." Jake smiled from his vantage on the blanket. He sat cross-legged with Ruthie on one side, and Lizzie on the other, and though his hair was uncombed and his face showed a day's worth of stubble, Jake looked happy to be surrounded by family. He coughed into the sleeve of his flannel shirt, and gathered the dice for Ricky's turn while Lizzie counted out her plastic gemstones with simple math.

Abby looked up from the game, and smiled. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Terry greeted as he brought Maddie inside. "I see you're having fun."

"I would if I landed on treasure," Ruthie said, as the dice were passed to Debbie. "Why can't I get any gems?"

"Keep playing and don't give up," Jake coaxed. He quickly grabbed a tissue and looked ready to sneeze. Ruthie leaned away from him, and when the sneeze didn't come, she and Ricky burst out laughing at Jake's shrug.

"Uncle Terry, guess what?" Lizzie said, as John came in and shut the front door.

Terry glanced at the little girl and saw she was waiting for him to guess.

"I don't know, I give up." Terry moved Maddie to the couch, and with a gentle squeeze on Maddie's arm, got Maddie to sit down.

"We don't have to go to preschool. Mommy said so."

"She did?" Terry helped Maddie out of her coat. "Do you want breakfast?" he asked quietly.

Maddie shook her head.

"Guess why, Uncle Terry."

"Let me see..." Terry waited a few beats before giving up.

"We're going to be sick, so we don't have to go."

John gave a small laugh. "We don't want you making the other kids sick, so you'll be staying put until the flu blows over. Who's winning?"

"Me!" Lizzie smiled and held up a handful of large gemstone game pieces. "Can I give some to Debbie? She can't get any yet."

Though Terry wanted Maddie to eat, he couldn't force the food down her throat. He took off his coat and noticed the sober looks from Jake and Abby. That Maddie wasn't feeling well, was obvious, and Terry hoped they wouldn't ask any questions he couldn't answer within earshot of the kids.

"Are you both staying for lunch?" Abby asked, looking hopeful that the answer would be "yes."

"He promised to eat tuna fish with us," Ruthie said, as Lizzie's token advanced around the board.

"We're staying," Terry nodded.

Jake coughed into his shoulder, and gave a thumbs-up to Terry. "We could use you and Madison in this game."

"Thanks," Terry glanced at Maddie and decided he would be doing good to get her to rest, let alone play with the others. "Maybe later."

As Jake took his turn, John pointed to the hall with his chin. Terry nodded, and the two men left the living room to the cheers of Jake landing on a treasure box.

"Good, I was just about to call you." Izzy came from the master bedroom in a long skirt, and a pale blue sweater pushed up around her elbows. "John called me earlier from urgent care, and said something happened to Madison. I haven't told Abby or Jake yet-- I thought I'd wait until I knew more. John said she cut herself? On what? and how badly is she hurt?"

"Could we talk in the master bedroom?" Terry asked. He followed Izzy and John into the room, then shut the door. "I don't want the kids to hear, and I'd really appreciate it if this never got outside our family."

"Yes, if you say so, but what happened to Madison?" Izzy waited for an answer, and looked close to leaving to see Madison for herself.

Folding his arms, John waited with a fixed expression Terry recognized as concern.

Terry sighed. "I found out this morning that Maddie has been cutting."

"She's what?"

"Maddie has been cutting herself." Terry saw the alarm dawn in John's eyes, and Izzy's mouth fell open. "She cut herself early this morning, or last night, and that's why she looks a little washed-out right now. She's had nine stitches, but the doctor said they should heal nicely provided we take care of the wounds. So everything is fine." Terry winced, realizing he was beginning to sound like Maddie. "I know what this sounds like, but it wasn't a suicide attempt. She told me she's been doing this for a number of years. How many-- I don't know-- but this isn't a new development."

John and Izzy didn't look as though they knew what to say. It took John a full minute before he found his voice.

"Does she realize she needs to stop?"

"Yes, and if she still doesn't, I'll make certain she understands. I'm also going to contact Dr. Jacoby before lunch to get that recommendation. We need it badly. I want to also talk to our pastor, and get his advice."

"I don't understand, Terry." Izzy looked baffled. "Is this some kind of cry for attention?"

"No, she did it in secret and it was supposed to stay a secret." Terry ran a hand behind his neck, hoping his friends would understand. "This is probably Maddie's way of coping with things she can't handle. When life gets too much for her, she cuts."

"But how can that possibly help?"

"It can't. Any relief she has is fleeting, but up until now, that's been her coping mechanism. She's had to live with being raped, beaten, starved, and who knows what else since she was a little girl. Until now, cutting has been the least of her problems."

"Terry, she needs to stop."

"I know. And she will. If I have to watch her every second of every day, she's not going to cut again."

"But how can you possibly manage that?" Izzy looked overwhelmed. "You can't be around her all the time."

"Then I'll find someone who can."

"Who?"

"I don't know who--" Terry blew out a breath-- "I haven't been able to wrap my mind around this yet, but if I have to, I'll pay someone to live with Maddie. Maybe a retired nurse, a kind old lady who wouldn't mind earning some money babysitting a troubled woman. I don't know yet, Izzy. I haven't gotten that far. After we're married, I can stay close to Maddie all the time." Terry looked about the room, saw a comforter neatly folded on a chair in the corner. "Can she borrow that?"

"Yes, of course." Izzy went over and picked it up. "I think she should sleep here at the house, don't you? At least until you find someone to stay with her... John, please say something. What are we going to do?"

"Please," Terry accepted the blanket from Izzy, "try not to treat Maddie any differently than before. I'm going to handle this. I realize it's serious, and I'm going to treat it that way. But if we go in there and start behaving like she's just sprouted another head, we're only going to make her feel worse. Let me handle this."

"She should sleep here, though."

Terry nodded. "I suppose, but there's already so many in this house."

"Never mind that. That's not my biggest concern."

"She's welcome to stay here, but you're going to need more help than that." John didn't sound as overwrought as Izzy, and it helped to steady Terry's already stretched nerves. "When you need help with Madison, all you have to do is ask."

"But what are we supposed to do in the meanwhile? Stand by and watch?"

"We pray, Izumi, and wait for Terry to ask for help as he needs it." John put an arm around his wife, and tugged her into a hug. "Let's not flood them with good intentions. Trust Terry to do what he thinks is best for Madison."

Pushing out a sigh, Terry headed for the bedroom door. "I have to go check Maddie."

"Tell us when you need help," Izzy called after him.

The kids were still playing with Abby and Jake, their laughter mixing with the coughs and sneezes of those fighting the flu. Maddie sat on the living room couch, head back, arms at her sides, looking like a tired, worn out rag doll after a long day of being thrown about by a child.

She opened her eyes as Terry spread the blanket over her lap.

"Do they know?"

Terry nodded. "They won't tell anyone outside the family."

Her eyes closed, and he didn't bother to ask if she was hungry. If he offered food again, he knew Maddie would turn it down.

Later. He would feed her later.

Bringing Maddie here had been a good idea. The house had calmed her, probably because it was filled with people, and it was easier to draw from their calm than try to make her own. He stood by the couch and watched her fall asleep, amazed at the depth of the feeling in his heart.

He loved this woman. She had troubles he was still finding out about, but he loved her with everything he had.

Lord, please help her.

"I have gems now!" Ruthie held them up for Terry to see, a small girl celebrating a minor victory even though it appeared she was still losing the game.

Sometimes, it seemed, Terry had to look hard for the blessing, but it was always there. Terry smiled at Ruthie. His emotions were exhausted to the point of breaking, but God hadn't left them. He glanced at the hallway as Izzy and John came into the room, and realized what he'd just told them. "After we're married..." He'd said the words as though it were going to happen, not just something he simply hoped for, but actually married.

Take it easy, he told himself, and backed away from the thought. He couldn't think of the future too much, not when the present needed so much attention.

John settled in the recliner with his laptop, and Izzy made her way to the kitchen, saying she needed to clean the cupboards. Terry guessed she just needed to stay busy to keep from thinking too much about Maddie's problem.

"Is this game over yet?" Jake coughed into his shoulder while Ricky and Firefighter Stan played with the gemstones Jake had let the pair guard for him. "I don't suppose anyone else here is getting hungry?"

Ruthie looked to Abby with hope in her eyes. "Mrs. Doyle's cookies? Pleeeeease?"

The noise stirred the sleeping woman on the couch. Terry turned to find Maddie staring at him.

"Cookies after lunch," Izzy called from the kitchen, "but not before."

Abby called in return, "When are we eating?"

"At the same time we usually have lunch. If you're hungry, there's fruit cups and ginger-ale in the fridge." That little announcement prompted a minor stampede to the kitchen.

Terry glanced at the time and realized the entire morning had gotten away from him. He moved into the hall, went into the office to find some privacy as he fished the cell phone from his pocket.

"Please, God, let him be there." Terry tried Dr. Jacoby's number and prayed the doctor would pick up. The number answered and Terry's hopes fell. Even before Terry heard Dr. Potter give his name, Terry knew it wasn't his friend's voice. He had known Dr. Jacoby wasn't due until later this week, but Terry had been hoping, hoping for some help for Maddie.

"I'm a friend-- a close friend of Dr. Jacoby's," Terry added for good measure, "and I really need to get in touch with him. I don't know if it's possible, but maybe you could give me the phone number where he's staying? I promise not to tie up too much of his time."

"Okay, let me think." Dr. Potter breathed a sigh and it sounded over the phone. "Hiram needed to get away from work, so I volunteered to fill in until he got back from a much-needed vacation. I know I'm not him, but maybe I could be of some assistance?"

Steadying himself, Terry tried to explain.

"I have this friend, her name is Madison. She was sexually abused for a long time, has night terrors, won't eat unless I'm there to make sure she does, has trouble being alone, and has a marked hatred of men despite the fact she says she really likes me a lot."

"I see."

"And," Terry pressed on, "I found out this morning she's been cutting. Her belly is tracked with scars, and they're hard to look at. She says she's been cutting for years."

"May I ask how involved you are with Madison?"

"I'm involved. I'm in love with her." Terry forced himself to breathe. "I know she has strong feelings for me, but we need help. She can't go on like this, and neither can I. I'm in over my head, and I know it."

"What was your name again?" Dr. Potter asked, and Terry heard office sounds in the background. "I'm supposed to have a secretary, but she keeps calling in sick, so I'm here to fend for myself. Your name please?"

"Terry Davis. Dr. Jacoby helped my nephew, Jake Murphy, four years ago. I was hoping Dr. Jacoby could give me a referral, someone who can handle PTSD and self-harm."

"You're familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder?"

"Yes, I was abused as a child, and recognize the symptoms."

The fact that Dr. Potter was talking to a survivor, who was trying to help another survivor, wasn't lost on the doctor. "I'll tell you what. I'll call him at his vacation house, tell him your situation and pass along your number if he decides to reach you. How does that sound?"

"Thank you, that's very kind." Terry gave Dr. Potter his cell phone number, then hung up with the promise to not call again before Wednesday, the day Dr. Jacoby was due back to work. Dr. Potter hadn't asked for the promise, but Terry gave it anyway.

Even psychiatrists needed vacations.

Though the strain of being the one responsible for Maddie was strong, Terry wouldn't have had it any other way. If she needed everything he had, then so be it, he would stretch until he couldn't reach any further, then hope and pray it would be enough.

Should Dr. Jacoby call back soon, Terry used the office landline so his cell phone wouldn't be busy, and punched in the number of another friend. Taking a deep breath, Terry gave a brief rundown of the situation, and then had a heart-to-heart with his pastor.

* * * *

A new box of tissue was passed across the couch from Jake, to Ricky, to Abby, before it landed in Madison's lap. She didn't have a runny nose, so she gave it back to Abby. Who, in turn gave it to Ricky, who dropped it in Jake's lap.

Abby groaned. "I need to be working, not watching TV."

"Have you told Dennis you have the flu?" Jake asked, tugging out another tissue before giving the box to Ricky.

"I told him." Abby flipped to another channel. "He said to get rest and drink plenty of liquids."

"Sounds like good advice."

"I know, and I'm not complaining-- not really. I have the best boss in the world, it's just that I don't like sitting around all day, drinking plenty of fluids when there's so much work to get done."

"Mommy, cartoons."

"We saw cartoons this morning."

"Please, Mommy?"

From where she sat on the end of the couch, Madison saw a look pass over Ricky's head between Jake and Abby. Jake smiled, and Abby channel surfed to the nearest kiddie show.

"I hope these cartoons aren't turning our brains to mush."

"If they are," Jake laughed, "we'll never know."

"Izumi?" John called from the recliner. "Do you still need me to run to the store later today?"

"Yes," came the reply, and John went back to his laptop with a grunt.

The girls played on the quilt in the middle of the floor with their sticker books and paper dolls. Madison wished she had her notebook with her, so she could join them. Maybe it was best she didn't. Her belly hurt so much she didn't want to move.

Shivering, Abby rubbed her arms even though the young woman wore a sweatshirt and jeans.

"Do you want some of my blanket?" Madison offered, and untucked one end of the comforter. "It's a big blanket."

"Thanks." Abby smiled at the offer. "Ricky and Jake are warm enough, but I can't seem to shake these chills. How about you? Are you feeling all right?"

Madison nodded. She was grateful for Terry's sweater, for it not only kept her toasty, but it also covered the bloodstains on her shirt.

"I wish this flu would hurry and go away." Abby coughed, and Ricky handed her the tissue box. A small wastebasket sat off to one side of the couch, and every so often, someone tried to land a "two-pointer." The carpet around the basket was littered with misses.

Someone on the floor coughed, and John looked away from his laptop at the triplets. It was Debbie.

"Where's Uncle Terry?" Abby asked, cozying beneath the blanket. "He's missing out on all these cartoons." Abby's leg bumped against Madison's, but Abby didn't seem to notice the contact. "Maybe if we turned it to something tech-y, it might lure Uncle Terry away from his work. A special about the geopolitical ramifications of nanotechnology is on."

"That would do it," John smiled, and kept tapping away at his laptop.

"I'm hungry again." Ricky pulled another sheet from the tissue box, and wiped an already red nose.

Ruthie sighed as she flipped through her sticker book. "Me too."

The sound of a door opening got everyone's attention-- even though it wasn't food-- and Terry emerged from the hall looking tired. He stepped around the quilt, and Debbie smiled up at him.

"If you want, we can make room for you on the couch," Abby offered.

"Thanks, maybe later." Terry gave Madison a smile that warmed Madison down to her toes, then Terry moved off to the kitchen.

They sat watching the cartoons until Terry moved past them with a small paper bag, on his way to the hall. Minutes later, he passed by them, and went back to the kitchen.

Jake yawned, stretched his feet out and watched Terry go back to the hall.

"Dad, what's Uncle Terry doing?"

John didn't look up from the laptop. "Does he have to be doing anything? Maybe he just wants the exercise."

Abby laughed as Terry crossed in front of the TV, this time without the paper bag. He paused to pick up the tissue around the wastebasket.

"Dad says you and he are going fishing after lunch." Abby sniffed, snuggled the blanket up to her shoulders. "Mind if I joined you?"

Terry smiled. "Have I ever turned down your company?"

"Not that I can remember." Abby sighed with contentment and looked back at the TV. "It's nice being home again."

The cell phone in Terry's pocket went off, and Terry quickly moved to the hall before answering it. A door shut soon after, and Madison couldn't help being curious. She sat watching the cartoons for several minutes, and when one show ended and another started, she pushed off the couch and wobbled her way to the hall.

She could feel someone watching, and looked behind to see John studying her from the recliner.

"Do you need anything?" John asked.

Maddie shook her head, and John went back to tapping away at his laptop.

The office door swung open. Terry stepped into the hall with a cell phone pressed to his ear, saw Madison, and waved her inside. "Here she is. Hold on a moment, and I'll put her on the phone."

She went inside, and Terry closed the door behind her, all the while motioning her to the leather chair at his desk. "I'd like you to meet someone special. His name is Dr. Jacoby, and he'd like a word with you." Terry handed her the cell phone. "Dr. Jacoby knows about this morning."

"You told him?"

"I had to." Terry leaned against the heavy executive desk, folded his arms and smiled. "It's okay. He's a friend."

"But you said you'd never tell anyone outside of the family."

"He IS family. Talk to him."

Hesitant, Madison lifted the cell phone to her ear. "Hello?"

"Is this Madison, Terry's friend?" The voice sounded old, but upbeat, positive. "I wanted to say 'hi,' and welcome to our neck of the woods. Have you ever been to Upstate New York before?"

What that had to do with anything, was beyond Madison. "No, I haven't."

"It's a far cry from the big city, isn't it?" Dr. Jacoby sounded relaxed, as though he were taking a tour of the area-- either that, or making up a vacation pamphlet. "Around here, there's farms and agriculture, mountains, large expanses of sky. And of course the lakes and the great fishing. From what you've seen so far, do you like living here?"

"Yes."

"Is it because of the things I mentioned? or maybe it's something else?"

"I like it here, because I like Terry."

The answer made Terry grin ear to ear.

"I know Terry cares about you," Dr. Jacoby said, a smile in his voice, "and I'm very happy to see you care about him, too. It's all right to give the phone back to Terry now. It was a pleasure meeting you."

"Okay." Madison passed the phone back to its owner, then got up from the comfortable chair. She'd been curious what Terry was doing, and now that she knew, she wanted out of the office. He was talking to shrinks, and even though Dr. Jacoby had sounded nice, she really didn't want to talk to him.

Therapists were for crazy people. Okay, yes, she was crazy, but Terry was fishing for something he'd never catch and Madison didn't like to see him getting his hopes up for nothing.

"What was her name?" Terry pulled out a notepad and pen. "Dr. Carolyn Bennett."

The last name had Madison sitting back down. Bennet? Like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice?

"Do you have her number?" Terry scrawled in short, even strokes. "She sounds wonderful, but if she's as particular about taking on new patients as you say, will she even take my call? Do I need references, or something? Uh-huh. Thanks, I'd appreciate that." Terry gave Madison a smile. "Thank you, we really need this, especially Maddie."

Madison frowned, and folded her arms.

"Okay, thanks again for talking to me. I hope you have a pleasant vacation." Terry punched off the phone and blew out a breath. "That," Terry grinned, "was Dr. Jacoby. He interrupted his first vacation in ten years to talk to us, so I hope you know how special that makes you."

"Did he give a referral?"

"He did." Terry picked up the notepad. "The psychiatrist at the top of his list was Dr. Bennett. She's highly sought after because she takes on the hardest cases and has a reputation for not giving up. Because of that, Dr. Jacoby said she's not taking anymore new patients. But she's supposed to be the best. Among other things, she specializes in rape, incest, PTSD, self-harm, and marital sexual problems."

"I'm not going."

"Maddie, we need to work this out."

"No we don't."

A tired smile played on Terry's lips. "You like me, remember?"

Madison hoped she was scowling. If she wasn't, it wasn't for lack of trying.

"Besides that, you also need to deal with your cutting. If nothing else gets addressed, that has to be at the top of our list." Terry picked up the cell phone, slipped it into his pocket with a satisfied nod. "Dr. Jacoby is using his connections for our benefit, and calling Dr. Bennett, himself. Maybe he can swing it so she'll at least look us over. He's not making any guarantees, only that he'll try, and after he's had a good chance to talk to her, he'll call us back. Hopefully, that will happen before the end of the day, so we can get in line for an appointment."

"Terry, I'm never going to marry you."

Terry looked away, pushed out a sigh and didn't answer.

"Nothing is going to happen. Just because I talk to some shrink, doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind."

He turned his brown eyes on her, and held her in that one, gentle look. "If you had the chance-- if you were more 'normal'-- would you want to marry me?"

She kept quiet.

"Do you want to be with me, Maddie?"

"No."

He looked at her, and she bit her lip.

"Sometimes."

"Okay, then. Let's talk to Dr. Bennett and see what happens." Terry straightened, turned to open the slim laptop on his desk. "I'm not giving up on us, Maddie. And I'm not giving up on your never needing to cut again."

His back facing her while he did something smart with his laptop, Madison kissed her fingers over the sweater Terry wore. Just enough to graze the fabric and feel the warmth of its owner. How she wished she could be normal. For his sake.

A knock sounded on the office door and Madison jerked her hand away.

"Come in." Terry closed his laptop as John came inside. "It's time for lunch?" Terry guessed.

"Yup, tuna fish sandwiches, and there's more than enough for everyone. I think Izumi's trying to keep our strength up to fight the flu." John looked at Madison, then Terry. "We still on for fishing after lunch?"

Terry nodded. "Just give us a moment, will you? I'm not done with Maddie yet."

"Come when you're ready," John nodded, and closed the door as he left.

"I called my pastor." Terry looked at Madison and she sighed.

"Let me guess. You told him, too."

"He won't tell anyone."

"He doesn't have to. You're doing it for him."

"Maddie, please. I'm being careful." Terry leaned on the desk, and faced her with a frank expression. "Earlier this morning, when you asked if God minded-- I couldn't remember the passage I wanted. But Pastor Bill gave me the reference. First Corinthians, chapter six, verses nineteen and twenty. I have it here on my laptop." Terry opened the computer, showed her his Bible program and read aloud: "'Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.'"

Terry closed the computer. "Our bodies are not our own, they're the Lord's. When we hurt ourselves on purpose, we're dishonoring Him. He bought us by dying on the cross for our sins, and when His Holy Spirit came to live in our hearts, we became His temple here on earth. Do you understand?"

Madison looked away. "I don't know what you want from me."

"I think you do." Terry reached the distance between them, and gently touched her chin with his finger. "I want you to try, Maddie. I want you to try because God wants you to, because I want you to, and because you need to stop."

"I have tried."

"Maddie, I know this isn't going to be easy. Please, look at me." He waited until her eyes met his. "I don't expect this to go away overnight. I'm not an idiot. I know you're hurting, but I also know God is planning something better for you, something more than you're planning for yourself. And I'm not talking about you and me-- I'm talking about a life without cutting. A life where you have struggles, but where you turn to God instead of the knife. Maddie, you need to stop."

The words tugged tears from her, but she remained silent.

"God loves you, Maddie. I look at you and I see someone who survived, who not only stayed alive, but a beautiful soul who's trying to get past the pain long enough to find a life of her own. Whether I'm in it or not, this needs to stop. Can we agree on that?"

She nodded.

His hand reached for hers, and she slipped hers against his palm.

"I'm not asking you to do this by yourself, and neither is God. There's His great and precious promises to lean on, the comfort and fellowship of the Holy Spirit abiding in you, not to mention the friend you have in Jesus. You aren't alone." Terry's hand lightly caressed hers in a close, intimate gesture that had her backing away and longing to rush him with kisses at the same time. "You also have me. I'm in your corner, rooting for you each step of the way. I mean it when I say we're in this together."

"I'm scared, Terry."

"I know." He gave her hand a squeeze. "I am too, but that only means we need to trust Him more. Oh, Maddie. There's so much I wish I could tell you. There's things about me, about my childhood you don't know, things that will probably only make this harder for you than it already is. Maybe I should never tell you, I don't know. I only know I want to take you in my arms and make the hurt go away. I want to make you happy. I hope I can give you a fraction of what you've given me."

"What about your childhood?"

"When you smile," Terry's face lit up like her angel on the dresser at home, "I feel this overpowering joy. It's like no pain on earth could possibly hurt me, like I could live through all the tomorrows in front of me and be outrageously satisfied. My heart is so full, I wish you could look inside me and see it. There's a newfound joy that wasn't there before, and it's all because of you."

"Me?"

Terry smiled, and squeezed her hand again. "You and me, Maddie. We do this together."

A million questions came to her mind, but her heart beat so loud she couldn't hear them. She only knew that when Terry held her hand and looked into her eyes, she wanted to fight for him. But oh, how it hurt. She pulled away, until her hand was safely back on her lap.

"I emptied the bathroom cabinet, Maddie."

She blinked at Terry.

"I made sure there wasn't anything sharp hidden in the bathroom adjoining the office, then I took out most of the antiseptic and bandages and gave them to Izzy. If you cut, Izzy will help you clean the wounds, and make sure you'll get the care they need. I left enough in the bathroom cabinet for an emergency, but Maddie, I'm not trying to make it easy for you to cut."

She saw the earnest concern in Terry's eyes, even his desperation, and swallowed hard. He meant business.

"I've asked Izzy to hide all the kitchen knives."

Panic welled inside Madison. She stood, but Terry took her hand and held it so firm she didn't have the strength to run.

"When you have the urge to cut, Dr. Jacoby suggested I try to find you a substitute, something else to do that isn't as destructive."

"Like what?"

"Hold on." Still leaning against the desk, Terry slid out a drawer, picked out something, then placed it around her wrist like a bracelet.

"A rubber band? A stupid rubber band? You hide the knives and expect this to make it all right?"

He lifted her hand, snapped the rubber band hard enough to leave a slight red mark on her skin. Slight or not, it hurt.

"If this doesn't work, then we'll find something else. But I'm asking you to try, Maddie. Fight this with everything you've got." He looked at her and waited, and with every second that passed, she felt a greater need to answer.

"I'll try."

His eyebrows raised. "Would you promise me that?"

"I promise." Going to him, Madison propped her shoulder against Terry's, and couldn't help but smile when she heard him swallow loudly. It served him right, stroking her hand that way. The rubber band, she didn't hold against him.

"Okay, then." He stood, and let the momentum of it push her away just a little. "Izzy's waiting for us to come to lunch."

For several moments, Madison stood there and looked at Terry. Where had he come from, that he could talk to her with such gentle assurance? He was a man, after all, and men were animals, a bunch of brute beasts who only thought about sex. But Terry wasn't like that. There was a gentleness about him she couldn't understand. He was a walking contradiction, someone, to her way of thinking, who couldn't possibly exist in this pain-riddled world. Maybe he really was an angel. Or maybe, he really was just a very nice person.

"Lunch, Maddie?" Terry held out a hand, and sighed happily when she took it. "You and me," he whispered, lightly pulling her with him to the door. "You haven't eaten all day, and neither have I. We need to get something in us before we pass out."

That strong hand meant the world to Madison. It meant God was helping her, that she wasn't alone, that there was hope.

Hope.

What a strange word. It held a strong kind of magic that wasn't magic at all. Maybe it was faith, faith to keep going, to keep... hoping. It was easier to hope with Terry holding her hand, and Madison made up her mind to give him her hand every chance she got.

They came into the living room and found everyone eating tuna fish sandwiches on colorful plates and drinking sugar-free soda. The children sat on the quilt, picnic-style, enjoying their food and the stickers and toys scattered around them. Despite the room being cozily crowded, Abby had saved a spot for Madison and Terry on the couch. Even though Izzy sat in the recliner and John occupied a dining chair, no one had taken the two seats beside Jake and Abby. Everyone was probably saving the couch for the sick people, and since Madison wasn't feeling very well, they had saved her a seat. But they had left enough room for her and Terry.

A new feeling spread inside Madison.

It felt different somehow, coming into that room with Terry's hand around hers. It was as though they were making a statement, a fact. They were the same and yet different. They were together. The family had saved two places, side by side, and it meant they understood.

As Terry and Madison settled on the couch, Izzy got up and returned a moment later with two more plates of sandwiches.

"I've been waiting to ask ever since Brian left here last night," John said around a mouthful of whole wheat bread and tuna, "but what in the world happened when he got to your apartment? I never did find out."

"Mr. Donovan?" Abby looked to her Dad. "He was here last night?"

"He was." John nodded in Terry's direction, waited while Terry and Madison silently prayed over their food. When they were done, John picked up where he'd left off. "Brian dropped by here at-- oh, I can't remember what time-- it was dead of night, that I remember-- and he was looking for your uncle. When he didn't find him here, Brian guessed and took off for Terry's apartment. What I want to know is, what happened when Brian got there?"

It was nice to have something to talk about that didn't point to her emergency that morning, and Madison felt free to enjoy her sandwich. Nothing bad had happened with Brian, for Terry had already told her that much. Relaxed and happy, she cozied between Abby and Terry, and ate her food, relieved she had nothing to add to the conversation. Abby spread half the blanket over Madison's lap, and when Madison tried to thank her, Abby was too drawn into Terry's story to notice.

Izzy's blue eyes went wide with amazement. "Brian and Emily dated?"

"Then I was right--" Terry brushed some crumbs away from his mouth with the back of his hand-- "you didn't know they had a history as a couple."

"No, I didn't." Izzy shook her head, and passed Terry another napkin. "I can't believe Stan would do that on purpose, and to his own daughter."

Terry shrugged. "On purpose or not, the results are the same. Emily is alone."

"Let's hope not for long," John commented, and picked up another sandwich. "If Brian knows what's good for him, he'll make his move before someone else comes knocking on Emily's door." John sighed through his nose as he tasted the next sandwich. "These are really good," he said as crumbs tumbled onto his sweater.

"Mommy?" Ruthie showed her mother an empty plate. "I ate all my food."

"Thank you, dear."

Ruthie sighed patiently. "Can't we have cookies now?"

"Oh, I see," Izzy smiled. "Wait until everyone else is done, then we'll have the rest of Mrs. Doyle's tin."

Ricky took a drink from his sippy cup, then danced Firefighter Stan around his empty plate. The boy had not forgotten about dessert.

It didn't take much time for John to finish eating, then Terry, Jake, Abby, and Izzy. The kids had long finished their lunch, and were now staring at Madison's slow progress. After all, Izzy had said "everyone." Feeling the pressure, Madison tried to hurry through her second sandwich when a bite got caught in her throat.

"Don't rush things, Maddie." Terry gave her a sip from his soda can, and smiled when she was able to swallow.

Izzy got up to get the tin of cookies. Those four pairs of little eyes watching Madison from the quilt, were too much, and the cookies were mercifully divided among the people in the room, including Madison, before Madison could get down the last of her sandwich.

"Okay, everyone," Izzy said as they enjoyed their large, chocolate chip cookies, "we need to talk about making a change in our sleeping arrangements. Madison needs to sleep on our living room couch."

"We don't want her to be by herself," John added when Abby looked ready to ask why. "I'll explain later, after the kids are asleep."

"Why can't you talk now, Daddy?" Debbie, the precociously bright one of the three, got on her knees to examine the very best bite of her cookie that would include the most possible chocolate chips. Madison knew that was what the girl was doing, because she was doing that, herself.

"Later," John said, and Debbie went back to her cookie. Madison breathed a sigh of thanks. She really didn't want the munchkins to hear what she'd done.

"What I'm thinking is this," Izzy said, and began to explain the new arrangements. In order for Madison to have the couch, they needed to move Ricky, but because Ricky had the flu, Izzy didn't want to put the boy on the floor. That was out of the question. Madison was ready to volunteer for the floor, when Abby interrupted with a laugh.

"We could always go home, Mom." Abby broke off part of her cookie before popping it into her mouth with a smile. "We could just as easily go home, and be sick there."

"No, I want you here." Izzy sounded of motherly experience. "I can help take care of you, Jake, and Ricky better if you're here. Besides, you don't have the energy to unpack and set up house. So that's that. I'll sleep in the recliner, and John, Terry, and Ricky can take the master bedroom."

"Or," Abby suggested, "Ricky could sleep with me and Jake."

"Yes, but then where would your uncle sleep?"

Following the back and forth, Jake looked amused but thoughtful. He glanced over Abby, and gave Madison a kind smile. "Mom," Jake spoke up, "we could always get out a sleeping bag. Or better yet, the inflatable mattress. You don't need to sleep in the recliner."

With a groan, John shook his head. "I don't want my wife sleeping in the recliner."

"But the inflatable mattress is so much trouble."

"John," Terry waited a moment longer for Izumi to finish, "I hate to kick Izzy out of her bed. Maybe I should stay at my place."

"Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment," John said dryly, "but we need you here. And as far as Izumi is concerned, if I have to inflate the mattress with lung power alone, she is not sleeping every night in that crazy armchair. This family pulls together. We'll manage."

"How long are we going to manage?" Abby wondered out loud, and Jake bumped her with an elbow. "Okay. I still think we should go home. As soon as we don't have any fever, we'll get out of your hair."

"I don't mind a few tangles now and then," Izzy smiled, and the topic was left in favor of going fishing.

Then it hit Madison.

They were treating her like family.

She'd tried to warn them she wasn't going to marry Terry, and John and Izzy knew Madison had problems, but they were still treating her like one of their own. For the first time in Madison's life, she began to feel what it must be like to be loved by a family.

Sitting side by side, Terry's hand sought Madison's. He gave it a painfully gentle squeeze, and slanted her a look that had Madison's insides doing cartwheels.

"That is so sweet." Abby saw their joined hands, and Terry's cheeks blushed bright pink. "They're like teenagers in love. Aren't they sweet, Dad? Maybe we could nickname them?"

"Oh, no." Terry shook his head. "No nicknames."

"But that's not fair. You started calling us 'AJ,' and we never had a say in the matter."

John looked thoughtful. "TM? MT? I don't know, Abby. I think Terry's safe."

By now, Jake was laughing softly, and suffering a bout of coughing at the same time. Abby patted Jake on the back, and flashed Madison a smile.

"Men. Don't you love them?"

No, Madison did not, but stopped herself from saying it out loud. Though she felt alarm at Abby's use of the word "love," Madison decided it was all right. As long as Terry never used any of the L words in front of her-- love or lust-- then Madison hoped she was safe.

Warm and safe with Terry's hand wrapped around hers, Madison tried to enjoy what she could from the moment.


"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 ~

"Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you."
~ 1 Peter 5:7 ~

end of chapter