Chapter Five

Chapter Five

“I’m warning you, Cole. I am not to be trifled with. You know that.”

Cole rolled her eyes and raked a hand through his hair the same time as he paced his apartment. Addison didn’t care that it was late at night and he needed his sleep—well, in relative terms, he probably did. But he didn’t get more then five or six hours a sleep a night anymore. If he ever had any more, they were mostly filled with nightmares from his past.

“I know that, Addison. I just…well, you know how I was injured in that motorcycle accident. How can I even begin to get well?” he lied, “if you keep bothering me?”

“You said you would be a great help to this company, and—”

“I didn’t say that. I said that I would attend every meeting,” he corrected both sharply and bitterly. “That was my sworn oath, you know that, and I want nothing more to do with any part of this.”

“What about filing? You could do some filing work, organize the bills we get, make sure there’s always good money coming in and going out. You know.” Addison’s chuckle filled the line. “Sally does plenty, but you could do a lot more.”

Cole could just feel his blood on fire with never-ending anger. “I am not going to do something that ridiculous when you know as well as I do that I hate every piece of work you all do!”

“Oh, come on, you aren’t still on that, are you?”

Cole scoffed. “I can barely stand straight knowing where I am,” he grumbled.

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic, Cole. It’s not like I did anything with my own two hands.” He chuckled.

Cole scoffed, but when he heard someone knock on the door, his blood froze like icicles in Antarctica. He swallowed hard.

“I have to call you back,” he said. “Something’s come up, Addison.”

Addison sighed. “All right. Fine. But you better be there at next week’s meeting. This discussion is not over, Cole.”

It never had been, Cole thought, but half his brain was on whoever was at the door. “Whatever, good night.”

“Good night, bro. Sleep tight.” Addison laughed again, harder, and the line went dead.

Cole barely remembered shutting his cell phone off and flipping it to Silent mode as he walked to the door. He let the phone slip from his fingers to the little shelf by the door, and he was very cautious as he looked into the peephole.

The sight of Madison waiting sweetly on the other side made his breath catch in his throat. He should’ve never let her drive him home the other day, because, of course, she now knew where he lived.

She knocked again, three times before glancing down at something in her hands.

Almost without thinking, Cole undid the dead bolt, and flew open the door.

Madison gazed at him, and then looked at him from head to toe. “Were you asleep?”

He shook his head. “What…what are you doing here?”

“Figured you would be up.” She gently breezed past him, and set the two steaming, covered Styrofoam cups of something, along with a mini bag of something that smelled like chocolate, on the small kitchen table. “I remember those lines under your eyes, Cole.” She shook her head, and then slipped off her coat. “I may not always be smart, but I’m certainly not blind. So here, comfort food.” She motioned to the stuff she’d brought. “Hot chocolate and double chocolate chip cookies.” She grinned widely. “Sound awesome?”

Cole rose his eyebrows. He could not believe that she had come to his house specifically for this occasion only. He’d never heard of anyone doing such a thing before. No one, not even his mother, had actually done anything like that before. He wasn’t sure what he would even call the kind of friend Madison was to him.

He studied her for a long moment, and then heard himself ask, “Did you just happen to dollop my hot chocolate with whipped cream?”

She studied him back, and then a big grin slid across her lovely face. It made her look even more beautiful than she actually was, and it beamed a bright, sunny, sparkling light into him from head to toe. He had to admit that it was an awesome feeling.

“I made the hostess put a triple dollop of whipped cream on there just in case it all melted too fast. I put triple dollops on both cups of hot chocolate. Does that work all right for you?”

Cole felt himself grinning. Grinning! Something he knew for certain he hadn’t done in ages.

“Works just fine.” He chuckled. “The only problem is…it’s one o’clock in the morning.”

“That’s exactly why I won’t stay long.” Madison chuckled. “This is just a little snack to make you sleepy and hopefully make you sleep a lot better. Take my word for it. This cookie and this hot cocoa both will soothe you right to sleep.” She grinned, and then took one of the two little bags she’d brought, along with both hot chocolates. “Lead the way to the bedroom and I’ll prove it right.”

Cole swallowed hard. “Oh, so you mean right before bed.”

“Yeah.” She grinned, and then handed him the items. “Here. Good night.”

He looked at the items for a long moment, and then sighed heavily. “Could you…maybe…stay with me for ten or fifteen minutes?”

The grin completely wiped from Madison’s mouth, and she frowned.

“I-I get nightmares.” The confession had to be made. “A-Almost every night.”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment. And then finally, she swallowed hard and nodded. “This is comfort food. It’ll make you better.” She smiled wistfully. “I’ll sit next to you as you sleep. That’s how long it’ll take, you’re guessing, before one comes along?”

“Y-Yeah.” He nodded sharply. “I-I…I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t.” She waved a hand. “Cole, you are a dear friend to me. If I minded, I wouldn’t be there.”

“I’m pretty much ready now then.” He was wearing his pajamas, white flannel pajama pants and a matching Nike T-shirt. He took the cookie out of its wrapper, from her slender hand holding it, and had it eaten before he’d even finished leading the way to the bedroom doorway.

“My goodness, I hope you don’t daily starve,” he heard Madison say, and he winced. He led the way into the mostly dark room to the single bedside lamp lit by an unmade, full-sized bed. He climbed under the black and white-striped, warm bedsheets and let Madison sit beside him. She handed him the six ounce cup of hot cocoa, and he took several large sips. Comfortable silence lurked between them as he drank, and then he found himself asleep before he knew it. The last thing he felt was Madison’s cool, gentle hand slipping the cup from his fingers, and shutting off the bedside light.

Several minutes later, he woke up sweating, jolting up in bed only by her sweet voice.

Madison’s adorable face was filled with stark concern. She still had her coat and shoes on, and was still holding her own Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Her eyes were wide as, with trembling fingers, she reached up and gently touched his face hot with sweat and tears. She lightly stroked the tears from his chin, and then leaned back far enough to gaze at him worriedly.

He swallowed hard, and then leaned as far back as he could get to the bed headboard. Her vanilla perfume and strawberry shampoo mix—she was that close—was doing strange things to him. Really strange things. And he just couldn’t be this close to her in his bedroom without losing control. It wasn’t what he was raised with, or what God taught. He at least respected those parts of religion.

And for another thing, Cole did not want Madison to know for a single moment of his feelings to her.

He swallowed hard.

Madison continued gazing at him thoughtfully, and then reached out and took his hand gently. “What was it about?” she asked softly, speaking of the dream.

He swallowed hard again, and decided that it had to be said. “I was…running through a forest. A group of…people were following me with guns and knives.” He gulped yet again, and struggled to breathe. “That’s…that’s about it.”

Madison studied him for a bit longer, and then nodded. “All right. I’ll leave you for now,” she whispered, as if there was another person in the room listening in. “You have my number in case you need anything.”

He almost smiled, because the offer was so genuine. “I doubt it,” he murmured.

She raised her eyebrows, and then nodded as if she understood. Standing, she gently moved the sweat and hair from his forehead, leaning over him and bringing with her the fantastic scent of fresh strawberries and sweet vanilla.

Cole couldn’t decide which scent belonged to perfume and what scent belonged to her shampoo. But what he did know was that he could literally feel himself trembling as her lips caressed his forehead, and then she drew back.

She gasped at him tenderly, but he knew it had to be purely friendship. Who in their right mind would care anything more than friendship about him?

“Hope to see you soon,” she whispered. With that said, she turned swiftly, and left the room.

Cole listened for his apartment door to close before lying back down. He didn’t shut off his bedside lamp or tried to sleep until several minutes later. No one besides Madison had ever affected him this way before.

He wasn’t even sure if he liked it or not.

**********************

Madison gazed into the white chocolate raspberry mocha that she had ordered from Starbucks. She peeked through the single hole in her Styrofoam cup, and gave a long sigh. A sad sigh, one that she rarely had used before she’d even met Cole Whitworth. She didn’t understand why Cole was always acting the way he was. Why he was always acting the way he was, like every hour of his life, like his whole world was crumbling at his feet.

She shook her head in disgust, and in fatigue. Since the day she’d met him, she’d gotten even less and less sleep, because she couldn’t keep from praying about him, hoping to the high heavens of the earth that Cole would find the sunny side in life, the kind of life she knew and was now disappearing from her life. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but in the past few weeks, Cole had begun to mean more to her than a friend. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. For all she knew, Cole could be greatly annoyed by her constantly needing to make sure he was okay. He never looked happy, just always sad, and it was just depressing. Not depressing because he looked sad, but depressing because she couldn’t figure out why it just didn’t feel quite like sadness, but of something completely different.

If he wasn’t being sad, he was being constantly let down about something, and that was another thing that kept her wondering, keeping her eyes wide open at night, at what on earth it actually was.

In return, she was feeling not only out of place in her life but totally not herself altogether. She wasn’t feeling sunny anymore, and she had to read twice as much devotions every day plus her Bible just so she could be able to get through the next day with the help of God. She wasn’t sure if she was falling in love with him or—

Madison paused from dusting the bookshelf at the bookstore to stare into space. She couldn’t believe it. Was she really falling in love with Cole? In just a matter of weeks? It didn’t feel possible or plausible. One person didn’t take that short of time for the feelings to come, although it did explain why she couldn’t stay away from him for more than a few days.

Although it had been one whole week since she’d seen Cole last.

It explained so much else. But…maybe she shouldn’t jump to conclusions until she was absolutely positive.

“Madison? Are you with us?”

Madison glanced up to see her boss frowning at her from under his curly mustache. He was a humorous guy, so his eyes were still twinkling besides his frown, but she had to wonder if he was talking to her.

“There’s going to be a fifteen-minute meeting in our conference room in a few minutes,” he said, staring at her as long as Michelle was. “Be prepared.”

He turned away, and Madison breathed a sigh of relief.

Shelly stepped over to her, her face full of concern. “Are you all right, Maddie? You don’t look yourself, and you haven’t been acting that way, either.”

“I’m fine,” Madison lied, when inside she was wondering what was going on with Cole and why he hadn’t called her in a week when she’d so wanted him to. She’d prayed he would, because she’d thought that maybe, just maybe, the more time he spent with her usual sunny self, his complete attitude for life could be changed. “Let’s just go to the meeting, Shell.” She set her dust rag aside.

Madison could feel her friend’s gaze on her as she led the way to the conference room. But she didn’t want to explain herself. She didn’t want Michelle, Nicole, or anyone else to confirm the truth.

Maybe she was in love with him after all. And maybe it was one-sided, so maybe that’s why Cole was staying away from her.

Because of how she always acted, so charming and happy as her friends and family all said she was, maybe it was good that Cole was staying away. She certainly wouldn’t blame him.

After the conference meeting, Madison spent a couple more hours at work before heading home. She told herself on the drive home that she needed to act normal and not so different or unusual. Her friends and family were definitely worried, since she wasn’t acting at all like her happy and pippy self. She knew that, so maybe beginning tonight she needed to work on forgetting about her worries over Cole. Maybe she should just forget about him altogether, and let God handle the rest for good this time.

Madison parked in front of her condo in her usual parking spot, and then prayed briefly for the courage and strength to let it go. She got out of her car, collected her keys and purse, and pressed the Lock button on her key ring remote.

But the moment she finished climbing the stairs to her condo door, she froze.

Cole stood from the porch swing right outside Madison’s condo, and swallowed hard. He looked terrible, like he didn’t even know what sleep was anymore. Dark circles were under his eyes like black eyeliner, puffy and plain as day. She just wanted to make him lie down and sleep for months and catch up on it all. His hair was combed neatly, as if he was prepared for this meeting, and his shirt looked wrinkled from lack of ironing.

As if not sure what to do with his hands, he shoved them in the front pockets of his faded blue jeans.

“I…” He began, and moistened his lips. “I…don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Madison swallowed hard, and then reached up to curl a strand of honey blond hair behind her ear. She looked him up and down, and then gazed into his lost-looking, hazel-green eyes. One glimpse at that handsome gaze, and she knew. She knew. Nothing could prepare her for the violent blow suffocating to her chest. She was really in trouble now if she felt this strongly for him—she most certainly was in love with him, no matter how unsure she was of how it had exactly happened, or why it had happened so fast.

“W-Well.” She itched to hug all the dark emotions probably swirling inside him right out.

But she had to act right about this, Christian-like. First of all, it was probably unhealthy for a girl like herself to be around someone who might not even believe in God the way he acted, and she hoped God forgave her for thinking such a thing. She wasn’t sure if lack of sleep was causing her to think such stuff, but it was still true. Maturely true. She could not stay around Cole when he was this way, and wouldn’t give her neither the time of day nor any information she inquired about.

Today had to be the last time she ever saw of him if he still refused to tell her everything she was almost dying to know about.

“Well,” she began again in a hoarse, ragged voice. “You’re here, s-so…” She shrugged stiffly. “I hope to think you probably had a good reason for coming here.”

Cole swept his gaze over her, and it irked Madison to see pain come into his eyes. But it both looked and felt different than the usual pain she seemed to see on him. She could hardly explain it even to herself, but something was definitely wrong anyway.

“You…I haven’t seen you in a whole week, Madison.” He tried for a smile, and lost. “H…How are you?”

“I’m fine,” she lied, and hugged herself. “How are you?” She forced the words out, “Nightmares still there?”

He tensed, and she already knew the answer. “C-Cole…I don’t know why you’re here either…”

Cole looked up at her in an almost pleading expression.

She fought away the tears biting her. It had to be impossible to feel such longing; such want and need to even hurt whoever was making him look so terrible. What were the nightmares even about?

“But, Cole, I’m afraid nothing can become of this if you won’t…” She forced the last words out, “If you won’t tell me anything. I won’t see you anymore if you keep hiding such obvious pain from me, Cole, so just…” She clenched her teeth. “S-Spare me, okay, and just…” She closed her eyes briefly.

Cole gulped, but then his gaze shot to her move to hoist her purse strap higher on her left shoulder. “You’re trembling,” he murmured, and lurched forward.

Gasping, Madison stepped back. “Don’t, Cole. If you can’t tell me anything, then this will have to be the last time you ever meet me.”

On rubber legs, she walked slowly to the door and fisted the keys from her trembling hands. She was only a single unlock away to freedom away from him.

Cole’s cold hand wrapped around her left wrist gently, and she stiffened.

“Madison.”

She looked up at him, and swallowed hard in preparation.

He gave her a small, sad smile. “Please. Let’s…how about I take you out for ice cream. Huh? Then…then I promise I’ll try to explain everything.”

Shock shot through her like a bullet, and Madison almost lost her footing. “Really?” she asked softly.

He nodded, and tenderness came over his face, but Madison refused to think of that look as more than friendship.

“But first I need you to trust me, Madison. Please.” He smiled wistfully. “Whatever I tell you will be worth telling, then. I promise.”

Madison thought about this for a long moment, and then felt relief from the bottom of her heart. She could trust him. It was going to be easy.

“All right.” She grinned, and suddenly felt like her own self again. She was so pleased to hear he was finally going to tell her, or at least try to. “Let’s go.”

Cole chuckled, and for the first time in her life, to Madison it felt like her world was finally back in place again.

Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Madison shook her head at how on earth Cole must be feeding himself. Hadn’t anybody ever taught him how to make a homecooked meal? Preferably not. But she was not going to be apologetic. Cole deserved every slice in the thirteen-by-nine inch pan of lasagna she’d made. Even if that meant she wouldn’t get one. He might need the food a lot more than her. She’d eaten a big breakfast, after all.

She led the way onto the front white porch of her balcony from the stairs, where her second floor condo was located.

“Here we are.” She unlocked the door, already smelling the Parmesan and tomato sauce from inside. “My neighbor Brandi was so kind to watch the lasagna for me while I was gone. It must be done now.” She led the way into the apartment. “Just make yourself at home.” She threw her purse, shoes, and keys off to one side, and then bent to check the lasagna at the stove. Before Cole had come in Starbucks, Brandi had sent her a text message saying the lasagna was done.

“We’ll be ready to eat in a little bit.” She glanced at Cole gazing around her condo.

“Nice place,” he remarked quietly.

“Oh, thanks.” With the potholders, she gently took the lasagna out of the oven. “I know there’s such bright colors on the walls. The previous tenant must have painted those there, although I would never dream of painting over them. Such nice colors, like a rainbow, don’t you think?”

“Do you need any help there?” Cole asked as he walked into the kitchen, eyeing the lasagna hungrily.

“Nope, nope.” She set the pan on a potholder on her island counter. “Just sit yourself down and be comfortable. We’ll be ready to eat in a bit.”

“Great.” Another ghost of a smile traced his face as he sat on one of the padded stools, and Madison immediately wished he’d smile more.

Yet, she reminded herself as she carefully closed the hot oven door and shut the oven off, that whenever he did smile, it was lopsided and goofy, and one of the most appealing smiles she’d ever seen. He was a looker, she’d definitely give him that, but she wasn’t in the market for that sort of thing. It’d happened once, and despite her sometimes wondering if there was a husband God had planned for her, she doubted it would ever happen again.

Still, it was good to be happy in life, and better that than sad and lost like he’d so looked in the hospital. Poor guy. She couldn’t help wondering why he looked that way.

“Go ahead and dish up.” She got out some paper plates, plastic cups, and silverware.

“Nope. Ladies first.” He shrugged at her.

Wowzer. Madison shook off his kind notion. She didn’t deserve a fraction of generosity that he probably did. “No, really, Cole. I know you’re hungry.”

“That wouldn’t be polite.” He averted his gaze, as if a bit shy of making sure she was taken care of first. “Besides, we have to pray before we eat, don’t we?”

That made her wonder if he was a Christian or just said that because he thought or knew she was.

“All righty.” She sat down across from him, and then bowed her head.

“Go ahead and start,” he said, and bowed his own head.

She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut. “Dear Lord, thank you for this beautiful meal, thank you for supplying the ingredients in which to so make it, and thanks also for an awesome  new friend, and healing Cole’s injury. Thanks also for all your blessings, and may there be a goodly share on every table everywhere. Amen.”

“Amen,” Cole murmured.

After dishing a big slice of lasagna onto her plate, Madison gently nudged it toward him. “Smells delicious.”

“Yeah, it does.” Cole bit into it. “And it tastes delicious, too.”

“Oh, thank you, hon.” She grinned.

“Do you always make your meals homecooked?”

“Of course. Well, most of the time. Sometimes…you know. You just feel like eating a sandwich or sub or something instead, or else sometimes I go out to eat with a friend. We could do that sometime, too.” She beamed.

But Cole was gaping at her. “You make homecooked meals three times a day?”

“Most of the time I feel pretty up to it.” She swallowed her second bite of food. “I like cooking anyway. Ooh, and baking! It’s so much fun.” She grinned. “I have a doughnut maker, although the bakery makes better ones.”

“I think I might have to test that theory.” A lopsided grin implored Cole’s mouth, and Madison’s heart suddenly went haywire. What was wrong with her? She swallowed hard, determined to finish her meal without losing her appetite just by how handsome he looked. How pathetic. She hadn’t felt this way about anyone since Brian, and she’d only known Cole a few days. What was up with that?

And why was she even thinking about Brian Langford in the first place? She hadn’t thought of him in ten whole months. That had to be a record somewhere in a random record-making book.

“Why not be a chef or baker instead of an art teacher?” Cole asked, taking her momentarily off guard.

She seriously needed to get a grip on herself. It was just a smile, after all. She was trying to be a good Samaritan, the way Jesus had been in the Bible.

“Well,” she said, “I thought about that at first. But I love working with kids, and I want them to experience art and coloring. I want to watch their faces light up.”

“Sounds like a good plan, then.” He nodded, and then took another bite of her lasagna. He chewed thoughtfully, and for the first time in a long time, his face didn’t look so pale, lost or sad. He actually looked like he was enjoying himself. She had to wonder when that actually happened. “So what else do you do in your spare time?”

“I don’t know.” She had to wonder how boring he’d think of her if she told him.

But it didn’t matter anyway, because she did not have a thing for him! He was just one of those regular cute guys, although maybe a bit skinnier and paler than others.

“Well,” she decided to tell him, “I like to spend some time with my great-grandmother. She is a sweetheart. I also volunteer at the zoo, foster animals if they need my help—”

“Whoa, whoa.” Cole held up a hand. “You volunteer at the zoo?”

“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I love hanging out with the animals, and even the lions can be in good moods. Oh, and there’s the quilt I’m making for the town bazaar—”

“You make a quilt?” he asked, astonished obviously.

“Sure. I make one every year for our annual summer town bazaar. I always get a good profit.”

Cole’s eyebrows shot up as he hungrily finished the lasagna. “Wow, is there anything you can’t do?”

She chuckled. “Oh, stop. I bet you have plenty of fun stuff to do in your life, don’t you?”

Cole shrugged, and Madison took that as a no. She all the sudden wanted to teach him how to sew or play guitar the way she did. Or bake or cook. Something to keep that sad, lost look off his face.

A long moment passed, and then a sudden jingle broke the silence.

She watched Cole freeze, and then pull out his cell phone from the front pocket of his jeans. He stared at the it for a long moment, and Madison felt the taste of the lasagna turn into dust in her mouth.

If it was possible, Cole’s face grew even paler, and his eyes slightly widened as he continued staring at the screen and letting it ring. Then, his whole body started trembling, and Madison dropped her fork.

“Goodness, Cole, are you all right?” she asked gently.

But the moment his shoulders started quaking and his breath became a bit wheezy, Madison sprang into action. She recognized the clear signs of a panic attack. She set the phone aside, and then took a brown paper bag from the pantry.

“Here,” she commanded him sharply, holding it over his mouth. “Breathe in here. Deeply. Come on.”

Cole took several deep breaths, and she had to wonder what had triggered the attack. His eyes stayed connected to the phone on the counter, though, and Madison turned to swiftly knock the phone to the floor.

“Don’t look at that,” she said sharply, and then put both of her index fingers and thumbs on either side of both his eyes, making him look at her. “Look at me, okay, Cole? Don’t look at that. Look at me. Just think of nice, calm things.”

He nodded, and the color eventually seeped back into his face. He swallowed hard, and when his breathing became more normal, Madison gently removed the  bag from his mouth.

“You okay?” she asked him gently.

He nodded. ”Yeah. I’m just…” He shrugged. “I’m fine.”

Madison didn’t look convinced, however. “Cole, you’re really worrying me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He got up, determined to ignore that his panic attack ever happened. “Sometimes I get panic attacks.”

“Well, what triggers it?” Madison gently touched his shoulder.

“Nothing.” He looked away, and then swallowed hard. “Nothing at all.” He reached for his fork with trembling fingers, and then took a big bite of the lasagna so he wouldn’t have to answer any more of her probably prodding questions.

Madison studied Cole for a long moment, but then went back to her own stool with reluctance. She finished eating her large slice of lasagna, but she didn’t look her usual sunny self. She took a big swallow of milk, but her slender fingers were trembling slightly as if she didn’t know what to do with herself, or the situation.

That tortured look sent an invisible sword straight through Cole’s gut. He couldn’t explain what he was feeling, but what he did know was that he didn’t want to like the feeling. The phone call proclaimed his every fear. If Madison knew even a smidgen of what was going with his family, she would be lost. No doubt about it.

“You’re not going to tell me about the phone call, are you?” Madison quirked an eyebrow at him, and she set down her fork. Maybe she had lost her appetite. “Whoever was calling seemed to have scared you.”

“I told you it’s nothing, all right.” Cole meant to sound gentle, but it ended up coming out gruff. The last thing he wanted was to cause another bit of hurt to cross her lovely face.

Oh, boy, maybe he was going overboard here.

“Well, it’s not all right, Cole!” Madison shook her head so hard, her curls swayed from side to side. She was purely adorable. “It bothers me to see such a good friend being tortured like that, like his entire set of guts was being ripped out. If you get my meaning.”

Had he looked that bad? Cole barely noticed anymore. He’d felt more numb by the day, ever since the day after his twelfth birthday when his mother had sat him down and told him the doggoned awful truth: the truth of what their family did for a living. He’d finally felt pain again when his mother had died, but now he could barely feel his heart beating most days. He was not sure if he was depressed. Mostly it was just never-ending stress. His sleep had turned lost as well, and it certainly didn’t help that he had to have his entire family’s phone numbers on his silver, Blackberry cell phone.

“I’m not your friend,” he grumbled, and knew with every word it was true. “I never have been.”

“Oh, of course you are, honey!” Madison surprised him by wrapping his cold in both of her own. She held his hand so dearly as if he honestly meant the world to her, and he could not believe of the numbness wearing off him like novocaine. “You matter very dear to me, to the good Lord, too. And I trust very much that He will help you with whatever you’re dealing with, and certainly won’t mind if you tell me your troubles.”

“I can’t, Madison.” He tried jerking his hand away, but she held on tight.

She couldn’t know what her touch was doing to him. Like Band-Aids being ripped off quickly from skin, it was ripping off every bit of numbness inside him. More than that, it was causing good thoughts to melt into his brain like warm honey, and he couldn’t keep them at bay. The only thing that could was Addison’s phone call.

If he called again, he was doomed.

“I don’t believe that,” he croaked, and then swallowed the lump in his throat. Boy, he certainly wasn’t hungry anymore. “N-No one has ever been this good to me.”

“Oh, come now, that can’t be true.” She cocked her head at him so sweetly that his eyes blurred. How could this be possible? He was suddenly becoming attracted to her, and the mere thought of what could happen if his family discovered her terrified him. It made him want to kidnap her and take her away to Europe, anywhere safe from the other Whitworths. “What about your family?”

Cole winced as if twelve bullets had hit him, and he bit his lip to keep from screaming. How could this attraction be possible? How could he keep letting her do this? He had to put a stop to all this kindness. He had to keep her safe.

A too-familiar jingle suddenly pierced the silence.

He and Madison both glanced down at his cell phone lying on the floor. This time, the speed dial said Jack’s name that was calling. What if they traced his footsteps? They’d done that before, with the one girlfriend he’d had in high school…and watched her end up dead.

“I’ll get that.” The stool squeaked on the tile floor as Madison quickly rose to her feet. “Whoever’s upsetting you is obviously not in their right mind, Cole.”

Jingle, jingle.

“So I am going to definitely give them a piece of my mind.” She nodded with stark determination.

Jingle, jingle. Cole’s blood began to rise a temperature beyond boiling.

“Right here, right now.” She began to bend down.

Panic seizing him, Cole grasped her by the shoulders and gently shoved her against the fridge behind her. She stared up at him with wide, confused eyes. She was so close he could smell vanilla on her, a beautiful smell that definitely made him believe that she must be sent straight from heaven, from all those heavenly scents and places.

“Do not touch that phone,” he growled, and then swallowed hard. “I…I cannot let you.”

Madison narrowed her eyes.

In one fluent movement, Cole snatched the phone from the ground just as it went straight to voicemail, he knew, by a single beep. He shoved it in the front pocket of his jeans to deal with later, and then nodded to the door.

“I better go.” He nodded at her. “Thanks for the lasagna, but I’m not hungry anymore. Sorry. Have a good night.” He began to turn toward the door.

“Cole, wait.” Madison snagged his arm, turning him fully toward her. “Come on, hon, you have to tell me what’s going on. Something has to be going on here. Please. Tell me.”

“I can’t.” He dared to glance at her. “Please understand, Madison. Or at least try to. I have to…keep you here.” He couldn’t resist. He reached up, and curled a strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re too perfect to leave behind.” Had he really said that? “But…another time.” He nodded curtly, and then turned the doorknob.

“Call me.” Madison pressed a piece of paper into his hand. “Here’s my number, in case you forgot. Please. Call me.”

Cole studied the door across the hall from Madison, and then prayed for a first time in a long time that He would definitely keep her safe.

“I’ll think about it.” He swallowed hard. “Goodbye.”

It tore him apart to leave, but he had to keep her safe. She was so full of goodness, and if anything happened to her, he’d never forgive himself. And he’d certainly never forgive his family, just like he’d never forgiven them for the past one hundred and twenty deaths.

***********************

Hours later, three hours after Madison usually went to sleep, she was still awake thinking about Cole’s panic attack. What had caused such a thing in the first place? Why was he acting as if she was the world’s worst enemy? It didn’t make any sense, and it was especially not very pleasing to a Christian girl like herself.

Madison decided that she needed to think about this over some hot chocolate. And maybe, just maybe, she should call Cole and ask if he was okay.

One look at the dark lines under his eyes of what she had seen today told her he was probably still up.

Cheeriness is Contagious; Chapter Three

8 November 2019

Hello everyone,

 

Are you a morning person? Or are you the kind of person that needs a ton of coffee in order to feel revived, alert, and energetic? Or are you always feeling crabby in the morning, even on your best days? Madison starts to rub off her constant cheeriness on Cole in these beginning chapters as you’ve already read. Sometimes extra cheery people annoy me. Other times, I’m grateful to have them around as opposed to negative, grumpy people or people who complain a lot. For me, hearing other people complain about stuff they shouldn’t be complaining about is one of my pet peeves. Although, for myself, I do complain more than I should. But alas, we are all a work in progress – including Cole. Watch below as Madison begins to change his demeanor.

 

Chapter Three

“No way am I getting strolled around in that thing.” The next morning, Cole eyed the wheelchair Nurse Bettie had indicated.

The nurse quirked a challenging eyebrow. “Hospital regulations.”

“Fine.” Madison crossed her arms and met the woman’s glare. “If he does get to ride on it, we’ll make it look like a recliner instead of a wheelchair. And, I’m going to be the one pushing him to the door.”

“But—”

“Nope.” Madison shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I’m not taking what you say.” She reached forward without waiting for a reply from neither Nurse Bettie or Cole. She slipped the pillow at the back of the wheelchair, and then threw a small blanket she’d brought along over the back so it looked more comfortable. “There! Is that a dealio or what?”

“Fine,” the nurse said, and then reached for Cole’s left arm while Madison grabbed his other arm. Together, they helped him into the wheelchair.

Cole felt ridiculous as the nurse pulled out the foot rests, and he wondered what Madison must think of him. But one glance at her, and she sent him a bright smile before giving a quick frown in the nurse’s direction. She went behind him.

“I’ll push him.”

The nurse sighed. “But hospital—”

“Hospital regulations, my foot! Let me push him, and you can just walk alongside, and then wait instead of touching the wheelchair or any part of him, unless of course, he feels sick, while I go and get my car. Are we clear…please?”

Cole had never been so defended in his entire life. Madison sounded so serious, however, that he had to hide his smile behind his hand. For the first time in too long, he actually wanted to smile.

“Fine. Go ahead.”

“Thank you.” With that, Cole was being pushed out the hospital room door, and down a long white corridor. They stopped before double doors, and he braced himself.

“I’ll be right back, sunshine.” Madison sent him a wink, and then hurried out into the sunlight.

Minutes later, to Cole’s great surprise, a bright yellow—literally—VW Bug drove up to the curb and parked. Madison got out, and then took the wheelchair again. She had the nurse open the car door as they gently helped him into the passenger seat. After he was settled, the nurse shut the door, and Cole watched in amusement as Madison practically shoved the wheelchair at the nurse, and said something that actually made the nurse’s eyes widen. Madison briefly watched as the nurse stormed away, and Madison went to the driver’s seat.

“All right.” She clipped herself in, after him, and then brought the car into Drive. “Are ya ready?”

Cole raised his eyebrows. “What exactly did you say to her? She looked mad,” he said as they began to make their way out of the hospital parking lot.

“Oh, not much. Just told her if I saw him treat another patient so rudely, I might have her fired.” She chuckled. “I was only half teasing, but Nurse Balonga probably didn’t know that.”

He almost smiled. “I think it’s Nurse Bettie, Madison.”

“Whatever.” She grinned at him, and then gently stepped on the accelerator once they reached the road. “Say, are you feeling better today? I don’t think I asked.”

She’d already asked three times, but surprisingly enough, Cole didn’t mind. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“You didn’t have a rough sleep, did you?” She winced. “How hard can it be to sleep with an IV attached to your arm?”

“I’m a pretty still sleeper anyway.” He shrugged. “I slept okay.”

“Awesome.” Madison beamed at him once they reached the main highway. “I’m so proud of you for getting through this. You’re so brave to constantly chew the nurse and doctor both out.”

“Not like what you did.” It had to be said. “You should win an award.”

She chuckled. “Oh, stop.”

But Cole kept looking at her. She was dressed in a yellow T-shirt, jeans, and flip flops. Honey blond curls hugged her shoulders, and her violet eyes were alive with great enthusiasm. He had to wonder why she was so proud of him. He’d just had a gash to the forehead. Nothing major. He hadn’t had a concussion that bad. He hadn’t even felt sick once.

“You didn’t worry about me, did you?” he asked. “‘Cuz you know I’m fine.”

Madison waved a hand. “Worrying is natural. Besides, I know you are now. But I hated how those people treated you.” She shook her head with disgust. “As doctors, I hope they treat people a whole  better than that. Gee Louise.” She giggled. “I wonder if they even enjoy their jobs.”

Cole really, really didn’t know what to think of her. She was a constant ray of sunshine. “Where do you get all your energy?”

“Probably coffee.” She giggled again. “I drink like six cups of it every morning. It’s amazing I’m not hyper.”

“Yeah. Amazing.” So amazing that all Cole could do was stare at her. He hadn’t even met a woman like her. She was a too far contrast from both of his sisters put together.

Madison noticed, and then giggled again! “Oh, go ahead and say I’m weird. Or random. I probably deserve it. You must think how crazy I must be for a total stranger to give you a ride home.”

“Not really.” And she didn’t feel like a stranger either. The moment she’d been with him from his accident, she’d never felt strange. And she was so positive.

“Well, thanks. I really appreciate that.” She grinned at him. “Now where do ya live, silly?”

“I’ll show you.” Cole rambled off the directions to his apartment.

Madison kept the car alive with happiness and tease up until she parked in front of his apartment.

“The nice girl that I am, I’m going to make sure you get to the door okay.” She beamed at him, obviously no stranger to happiness. “You just got out of the hospital after all, and the doc had said that you had a mild concussion.”

Cole smiled wryly. He couldn’t help it. She was just so full of joy that he didn’t know what to do with himself. Besides, if he refused, he might hurt her feelings. That had to be a rare thing for her, being the way she was constantly joyful. It was almost ridiculous the way she was acting.

“I supposed I’ll lose the argument if I try to talk you out of it,” he said, and then grinned.

Madison killed the engine, and then motioned to his face. “That’s what I’m talking about, sunshine! Just a little bit of grinning. That’s all it takes to make everything better, don’t you agree?” She tossed him a wink, and then got out of the car, keys, purse, and all.

Cole led the way to his apartment door, and then unlocked it. “I think I’ll be fine here now, Madison. Thanks.”

“Don’t lie to me,” she warned teasingly. “It’s rough getting out of hospitals. I know, because my brother’s had two minor surgeries before.”

“I could never lie to you,” he said. “But anyway…thanks again.”

“Oh, no problem.” She waved a hand. “I should totally give you my number, though. Not because, you know, that I want to ask you out, but because in case you need anyway, dear.”

She called him dear? Cole raised his eyebrows. “I’m fine. Really. I probably won’t need it.” But just as the words were out of his mouth, a wave of sudden dizziness hit him. He needed to get inside ASAP.

But when everything suddenly started to swim from around him, Cole felt like he’d lost his brains. The apartment keys somehow had dropped to the floor, and Madison’s “yeah, right, silly” reply sounded way too far away. Like an echo, almost.

Addison’s threatening words, “I’m going to kill you if you don’t get this right” from yesterday echoed from around him, and before Cole knew it, his head had hit the floor.

******************

“That’s right. Just breathe. You’re all right.” Cole heard Madison say in another echo. He wasn’t sure how long it was later, but what he did know was that the moment he opened his eyes, the room was spinning again.

Madison’s blurry face was grinning over him. “You’re on the couch, sweetie. You just fainted, and I had to carry you inside. Are you still dizzy?”

Cole had absolutely no idea how Madison had gotten him into the apartment, much less on his couch, but she had. “Uh…” He suddenly felt a little sick.

Madison chuckled and then held something over him. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

He looked at the four fingers. “Four.”

She chuckled again. “Close enough. It was actually two, but I think we’re making progress. What do you think?”

“Ow.” He slapped a hand to his head. “It hurts.”

“Yeah, I bet it does.” Again, her voice was echoing. “I called your doctor, by the way. He said to just let you rest, so don’t even try getting up, mister. It’ll totally not be worth it.” She laughed. “My goodness, I wonder how you must feel right about now. But anyways, don’t fret. Just close your eyes and count to a hundred for me. Can you do that?”

Cole nodded and closed his eyes, though it felt like he was on a roller coaster, going round and round and round.

***************

The sound of a lawn mower was what woke Cole up the next morning. He found himself on the couch, covered up with two blankets. He gazed around his empty apartment, and then immediately felt grateful that his dizziness had ceased. He was feeling a lot better, except for some pain, but that he could definitely deal with. He carefully sat up, holding a hand to his forehead in case another wave of dizziness came about. He carefully got up, and then figured that Madison must have gone home. The clock in the living room said that it was eight-something in the morning. He would miss his first class, but that was fine. He didn’t much care for those classes nowadays anyway.

The moment Cole stood, however, and then took a real look around his apartment, he knew there was a definite change. The dishes in the sink were all washed and set aside. The coffee pot was on, with a full pot of coffee all ready for him. He was shocked. Madison had done all this?

Stepping forward, Cole froze. And then gaped.

At the island counter, there were four different kinds of fruit, all freshly bought. Oranges, apples, and bananas piled there. Stepping around the counter, he counted two or three bars of chocolate, a medium-sized case of French vanilla cappuccino, a new bottle of ibuprofen, and a new box of brown-sugar-flavored instant oatmeal. Madison had bought all this. He could not believe it.

At the far corner of the counter, though, was a note from under a last, but not least, new loaf of white bread. He studied the note, where Madison’s cursive, beautifully sprawled handwriting had her phone digits at the top. The note read: “If you need anything, just give me a holler. Figured you could use some extra food. Make sure and eat it or I will track you down. Hope you’re feeling better,  Madison Brooks.”

Again, Cole shook his head. He just couldn’t get over how a strange woman like Madison herself, no matter how welcomed she’d brought herself out to be, could buy all this stuff for him just because she was concerned. Or that she cared. But no woman in his life except his mother had ever done anything like this. Especially no one non-related to him had ever done anything like this before, and he was just in awe. But deep inside him, Cole felt a big swirl of emotions that he’d never felt before. It didn’t make any bit of sense to admit that he might possibly be a smidgen attracted to Madison Brooks, but it was also highly possible. Yet a pretty, sunny girl like herself probably had a boyfriend anyway. Isn’t that how it always went?

And why was he even wondering if she had one anyway? It wasn’t only none of his business, it was totally wrong altogether.

Cole decided to eat the stuff, and he did, but the whole next week of classes and constantly hoping Addison would never call bit into him. It kept him busy all the way through, but in the days when it wasn’t so busy, when he was driving back home at night, or when he was lying awake right before going to sleep, Cole thought about Madison. He’d wanted to call her and thank her, since he still had her number. It was lying beside his phone mocking him constantly, but what else would he say? Would he want to hear her joyful voice and then feel terrible that they couldn’t see each other anymore? What on earth did Madison even mean to him?

He didn’t know, but the following Saturday afternoon, a week later, Cole found himself in a Starbucks, staring into his hot chocolate, and wondering where he was going.

A couple left in the booth ahead of him, and to his great surprise, Madison was sitting two booths away facing him. She was eating something. When she looked up, her entire face brightened, as did part of Cole’s soul. She waved at him, and before he knew what was happening, Cole was standing and walking over to her booth.

“Hey, Cole.” Madison grinned at him.

“H-Hi.” He indicated the seat across from her. “Are you alone? Can I sit?”

“Sure.” She beamed. “Of course I’m alone. I very rarely come here with somebody.” She chuckled, and them motioned to his drink. “Hot chocolate, huh?”

“Yeah.” He nodded to her to-go, Styrofoam cup of something. “What do you have?”

“Oh, just a big coffee.” She finished chewing her large cookie, a quarter eaten off of it. She motioned to it. “You can have a bite if you want. It’s massive.”

“No, I’m fine.” He smiled at her gently. “I, um…was going to call….you.” He swallowed hard at her curious look. What was going on with him? “I wanted to…thank you for everything you did. And you didn’t even need to buy that stuff for me. I mean…that’s really nice, thanks.”

“You’re very welcome.” She cupped her hands around her cup. “I was afraid of leaving you, so I asked my friend Kristi to buy the stuff for me, and then I’d pay her back. I did so without even leaving you, even when you were sick.”

“Oh.” Cole grinned. He barely remembered that moment. “I’m…I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, it didn’t bother me too much.” She grinned. “So did you eat the stuff? You didn’t go hungry, right?”

“No. I still have some left, but I’ve been eating it.” Cole shook his head. Why was she even wondering? Why did she care so much?

“Well, since I’m a good Samaritan, you know. I wanted to make sure you had some stuff you needed. I did your dishes, too, because I thought you might not feel well enough to do them.” She shrugged. “Sorry if I interrupted any privacy.”

He chuckled. “What privacy?” he asked, and then he wished he hadn’t said that. His life was pretty private as it was.

“At least you’re better now.” Madison reached over, patted his hand, and then let go to take a sip of her coffee.

But Cole had to wonder why her touch felt like an electric zap straight to his heart. For about twenty seconds he couldn’t breathe normally. Which was extremely odd in his situation. He just wasn’t thinking straight.

“Go ahead and have it.” She motioned the cookie to him. “I’m pretty full. I’ve had a big breakfast.” Suddenly, another lightbulb seemed to have flipped on inside her head, because her face brightened even more if that was possible. “Say, you know, you should have a homecooked meal. You know, a whole three-course extravaganza kind of dealio. Let me ask you something, Cole. When’s the last time you had a homecooked meal?”

Her gaze briefly filtered over him, as if trying to guess why he was skinny as he was. Cole felt like he should hurry and buy a sweatshirt, even in the hot summer air, because maybe he wouldn’t look as skinny then.

“Um…” He had to think about the last time he had a homecooked meal. It’d been quite a while.

“All right, that settles it.” She slapped the table. “Sometime, I will definitely invite you over to my condo, someday, maybe, and you’ll have what you’re looking for.”

“In my defense, I do eat every day.” Cole knew that he looked skinny, but sometimes, the stuff that happened in his family and the company just made his appetite vanish, to the point where he sometimes even felt sick. Of all the bodies he’d seen in his lifetime, few of the killings he’d seen occur…it was a wonder he wasn’t thinner.

“Yeah, you probably do.” But Madison shook her head. “But in case you go hungry or run out of food, at least you have my number, right?” She chuckled, and then glanced at her leatherband watch on her slender left wrist. “Oh, my. I better run. I have to head to the bank before home. There’s lunch cooking and waiting for me there.” She grinned, and then stood. “It was really nice seeing you again, Cole.”

She was leaving? Cole wanted to seriously object, another new thing for him.

“You don’t have to go yet.” Had he actually said that?

“But I do.” Thankfully, she didn’t look taken aback at all. She grabbed her cup of coffee, and then patted him on the shoulder. “Take it easy, all right? Hope to see you sometime in the future.” She flashed him one last grin, and then waved. “Bye, Cole.”

“B-Bye.” Cole couldn’t help watching her leave, though, and again, the booth felt empty. Just like the hospital room and the apartment had both felt empty when she’d left. It was like he was never going to see her again, and suddenly, Cole needed to see her again. He didn’t understand why, exactly, but he just couldn’t let her get away so easily.

Before he could even make himself have second thoughts, Cole stood and hurried out of the building.

Madison had just opened her driver’s door to her bright yellow car when he hurried onto the sidewalk, clutching the crumbs of the cookie in one hand, and his cup of hot chocolate in the other.

“Wait!” he exclaimed.

She looked up, surprised, and then grinned. “Did you forget something?”

“Y-Yeah.” Cole swallowed hard. “I…on s-second thought, I think I might take you up on that…homecooked meal offer.”

“Really?” Pleasure seeped over her lovely heart-shaped face. “Well, I’ll be. Did you want to do it now? Do you like lasagna?”

Cole nodded, and then felt himself grinning like a fool. What on earth was wrong with him? He’d never acted this way before. “Y-Yeah.” He swallowed hard. “I love the stuff.”

“Well, awesome!” Madison gave a little squeal, and then clenched her left fist as if fighting to contain her excitement. “How about you follow me up there? That way you’ll know where I live in case you ever want to visit me.” She grinned. “Then I can head to the bank this afternoon. Sound like a plan?”

“It sure does,” he concluded. “S-See you there.”

“Yeah, see ya!” She clutched her cup. “Oh my goodness, this is going to be so much fun.” She got into her car.

Cole watched her for a bit before realizing what he was doing. Staring like an idiot. He sharply turned away to his car two cars down from hers, and got into his Mustang. He wasn’t sure how he could’ve parked in this lot without seeing her bright yellow car.

As he turned on the ignition, he seriously wondered what he would have done if he had seen it, went to a different coffee place or gone inside anyway.

The Art of Optimism; Chapter Two

11 October 2019

Hello everyone,

 

I wish I could be as optimistic in life as Madison is. Her spirit for giving and helping others is what first appeals to Cole – but I won’t give anything away. Personality tests try to tell us who we are, but they’re not always accurate. Only God knows us better than we know ourselves – and that’s the true art of optimism. He sends us into situations that we’re not expecting, but even we don’t like the situation at first, it always ends up in our favor and for our own happiness.

 

Keep reading to see how God switches everything around for Cole and Madison!

 

 

Chapter Two 

“He sounds spectacular.”

“I know.” Madison giggled as she stored books away in the bookstore, glancing at her co-worker and friend, Michelle Larson. “He’s a very handsome guy, but I don’t know. He just seems really troubled, for some odd reason.”

“I would be cautious, if I were you.” Michelle grinned. “You never know what kind of guy he is until the end sometimes, and it’s not always good.”

“Oh, please, come on. Just be optimistic. I am.”

“You always are.”

She chuckled. “I have a good right to be, Shelly.” She shrugged. “God’s love is amazing. He can make the smallest, most horrible things turn into the biggest and brightest, wonderful things!” She shook her head.

To this day she was still amazed at the unique power of God’s amazing love. He’d been the One who had made her into the sunny, happy-sunshine self she was every day from the day she’d been born to present day. All her life, every friend and, perhaps, some of the few foes, had constantly been impressed with her sunny self. She very seldom got mad, and she was constantly determined to see not only every day to the fullest and live it that way, but to look for many amazing things in each day, whether they were in nature or elsewhere. She knew that God was always watching out for her and those she loved, so it was so easy to trust in Him daily, for her, at least. Her wonderful parents had led her to look for the sunny side in the every day, and her brother’s own sunny self had brought him to be engaged to a wonderful person, also a Christian like she and her family so were.

“I guess that’s true.” Shelly shrugged. “But I guess that’s for me to learn and find out, huh?”

“Yeppers.” Madison nodded curtly, although she sent a silent prayer heavenward for His constant watch to be over Shelly and her family, more so than for her. She had everything she needed, but after Michelle had broken up with her boyfriend, her faith had spun into a pessimistic downturn. Madison hoped and prayed that Shelly would once again have the same kind of faith that she tried to daily. “But don’t worry, Shell. God, I’m sure, is leading you in the right direction, too.”

“You deserve it more than me, though, Maddie.” Shell quirked an eyebrow. “I mean, come on. How many bad things have happened to you and you’ve always seen through it so optimistically, and so faithfully? Unlike me.”

“Every person is different. Each Christian has their own unique styles and abilities, like how they pray, for example.” Madison patted her friend’s shoulder, and continued dusting the bookshelves. “I hope, though, that Cole finds his  heart soon. He seems to be so lost. I’m going to see him right after work, though.”

“I’d like to have known what was going through his mind the moment he met your sunny self.” Michelle smiled wryly.

“Hopefully he’s thinking that he’s hungry, ‘cuz I’m thinking of buying a package of those yummy doughnuts at the bakery before I head over there.” Madison giggled in excitement.

“Oh, Maddie, don’t you know that bringing in food for patients is against the hospital rule?” Michelle gave her a warning look.

But Madison waved it aside. “Not if I have anything to do with it.” She nodded with stern determination, and then continued working.

******

“I don’t think so,” Cole’s nurse told Madison later.

They were standing in the doorway of Cole’s hospital room. Cole was gaping at them with shock as Madison shook her head at Nurse Bettie. She was quite the beetle, Madison noted. She wasn’t sure how the woman could be so fierce and determined.

“Fine. I’ll eat them myself then,” Madison said. “I won’t share any with Cole, and I’ll save the rest for that.” She tossed the woman a big smile. “That way I won’t get into any trouble. Dealio?”

Bettie quirked an eyebrow.

Madison rolled her eyes, and then forced a smile. “It means, ‘deal?'”

“Deal.” Bettie neglected Madison’s extended hand, and left the room.

Madison waited until the door had closed behind the woman before she started giggling. Then, she hurried over to Cole’s table, and opened the package for him. “Hurry.” She smirked. “Before Nurse Baloney comes back.”

A faint ghost of a smile leered across Cole’s face.

Okay, it was almost progress, Madison thought. So far, all she’d gotten from him was either that or frowns. Cole was very difficult for her to read. She could usually sense people’s emotions so well, but Cole here was as talented hiding his emotions as a volcano sprouting lava.

Okay, bad comparison, maybe.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Cole asked, no ounce of amusement on his face as he took a bite of a mini chocolate doughnut. “You could get kicked out.”

“They’d have to call security to kick me out,” Madison determined, eating a frosted mini doughnut with him. The package had a mixed variety of kinds of doughnuts, twelve altogether. “But I bet not even then they’ll be successful. They’ll have to throw me over their backs screaming.” She chuckled at the thought. “But they should probably know I’ll be back the next day.” She glanced up at them, and her eyebrows shot up.

Cole was studying her as if she’d literally lost her mind, one doughnut halfway to his mouth. It was his second. Finally, he chomped into it. “Where’d you get these anyway?”

“At the bakery across from the bookstore. That’s where I work, remember.” Madison daintily wiped the edges of her mouth with one of the napkins she’d also brought along. “I figured that staying in the hospital for a few days really has to be the dickens dirt, so I decided to cheer you up. It adds to the coffee, don’t you agree?”

“I’m getting discharged tomorrow,” Cole said, and then gently shoved the mini doughnuts aside, as if full. But by how lean he still looked, Madison doubted it very much. Her brother could eat a whole package of doughnuts in one day and later regret it. “By then, you’ll wish you’d never met me.”

“How so?” Madison grinned at him. “You seem pretty awesome to me.”

He shook his head, and then looked away, all stone serious. “That’s because you barely know me.”

“What are you talking about?” Madison pushed the doughnut package back toward him. “I feel like I’ve known you forever. I shared both coffee and doughnuts with you. I call that knowing you.”

“Maybe in your world, not mine.” He looked away.

She laughed. “Do you think that I would believe that?”

He shrugged. “I hate telling lies.”

She didn’t get him. He was even tempting her sunny attitude to dampen, and that rarely happened. Very rarely, in fact.

“Keep eating.” She handed him another chocolate doughnut. “Here, I know you like these. By the way, my brother, Patrick? He can eat like three of these in one whole week. He tried to eat two in one day once, but he almost ended up sick.” She chuckled. “We all thought it was hilarious, even my mom, and she’s like the one who actually knows how to worry.”

Cole looked at her then. “You mean you’re always like this?”

“Always like what?” she asked, and then frowned lightly. “‘Course I am. My friends sometimes call me Maddie, Cole, although my family calls me Madison. You can call me anything you want, really. My grandpa calls me Mads, and my aunt calls me Mads-Pads, but I don’t know if I’d go that far with you.”

Another ghost of a smile hinted across Cole’s face. “Wow. What do they call your brother?”

“Well, his fiancée calls him Patty, which is weird. I call him Pat, Mom and Dad call him Pat, but he prefers Patrick.” She chuckled. “He’s twenty-four, only two years older than me.”

“I’m twenty-three,” he said gruffly, and the moment he did, pain laced his face.

Madison stood there momentarily staring at him, shell-shocked.

“Eat up, mister.” She again extended the doughnut. “I know you still have room inside you.” She grinned. “Tempting, isn’t it?”

Cole reluctantly took the doughnut, but just how he ate it made Madison wonder how much food he ate per day.

“By the way…” She finished chewing her own doughnut before swallowing, so she could talk better. She didn’t want to spit food at him. “I’m taking you home tomorrow, Cole. No suggestions or excuses. It’s hospital rule anyway. Right? Or did one of your family members change their mind?”

Cole looked down, and fingered his blankets like he had earlier. “No, they haven’t.” Sigh. “You can take me if you want.”

“Well, you don’t have to be so downhearted about it.” She waved a hand. “You live in Manhattan, right? It shouldn’t take too long.”

He looked up at her sharply. “Why are you helping me anyway? I don’t need any help.”

“I think I owe it to you.” She both playfully and gently punched his shoulder. “Besides, I adore helping people. Even animals. Did you know that I like to foster some animals for a living? It’s a side job. It’s not always fun, of course, but you know me. I like to think of the sunny side of things.”

Cole frowned hard. “Why?” he asked, looking at her as if it was the most ridiculous piece of information he’d ever heard of.

“Why not?” She shrugged a shoulder. “Life is to enjoy, and it’s the only life God ever gives you, except for eternally, of course. Right?”

“I…guess.”

“Glad you agree.” She slipped her third doughnut into her mouth, and then lifted the cover over the package. “You done?” she asked around the doughnut.

Cole nodded, but he looked even more sad.

Madison’s giggle sent him looking up, though.

She shook her head fiercely. “Just think what sort of ruckus I would have started if I’d argued with Bettie a bit more.” She giggled again. “Goodness gracious.”

Cole quirked an eyebrow. Ever since the woman had jumped into his life like one of those jumping beans, he’d been surprised at almost every sentence coming out of her bow-shaped mouth. She was cute and pretty, he had to give her that. She was also fun-sized, and couldn’t be more than five feet, four inches tall. His brother Addison was a six story building compared to her height, and he knew, at least, that he was way taller than her, five feet, eleven inches, to be exact. But the way she kept going really was beginning to irk him only a little.

Finally, Cole decided that he needed to know how she kept going the way she did. What kept her going, exactly? How come she was so constantly sunny?

But first, he needed to know one other thing.

“Can I ask you a question?” he asked, expecting a big and bright answer from her.

“Sure as shootin’.” She grinned at him, every one of her teeth meaning the brightness of her smile. It was exactly like a hundred-watt lightbulb.

“How come you’re so nice to me?” He had to ask. “You’re bringing me doughnuts and coffee. What’s with that?”

Not a single bit of light went out in her violet-blue eyes. She shrugged. “I don’t know. Does a girl need a reason to cheer up a Mr. Grumpy?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “I am not grumpy.”

Madison let out a trill of bell-like laughter, and crossed her arms. “Prove it, oh grumpy one.”

The statement sounded so serious and so humorous at the same time, despite her twinkling eyes, that Cole almost smiled. Every time he wanted to, though, he was starkly reminded of the pain so ready to meet him at home, or at “home.” The harsh reminder of what his family had planned for him if he didn’t stick to his quietness in every meeting. In fact, two days from now, he had to go to another meeting. Addison had decided to hit bimonthly meetings now instead of just monthly meetings. He had to be at every one if he wanted to sleep well at night, or not wake up in heaven instead.

“Maybe I’m not grumpy,” he decided firmly. “Maybe I just would rather see the seriousness of life.”

“What seriousness?” Madison obviously did not know the meaning to the word serious. “There is no such thing.”

“What about death?” Cole felt his whole body flinch at the very word, remembering his mother. “Isn’t that serious?”

“It is if they’re not a Christian.” Madison shook her head, her smile disappearing briefly. “That has to be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

She had a point there. As a trying Christian, Cole knew that for people who didn’t believe in God, death had to be the most horrifying thing ever. That’s why, despite their deadly sins, he hoped his family never had to deal with that.

“I better go.” Madison grinned at him. “I have a full evening with my dog planned ahead of me, but count your blessings, mister. I’ll be here right away in the morning to bring you home, and perhaps even chew Nurse Balogna out then. All righty?”

Cole nodded. “Sure. I guess I can’t stop you.”

“Of course not.” She tossed him a wink. “I’ll leave the doughnuts with you.” She waved, and then left.

But it wasn’t until she did that Cole realized how empty the room felt.

Baby Nerves; Chapter 1

13 September 2019

Hello everyone,

 

Well, we’re here. The month of our baby’s due date has finally arrived. I am so terrified and excited all at once. I plan to not use an epidural during childbirth, and I hope and pray that the delivery process goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible. We are as ready as we possibly can be, and the nursery has been thoroughly decorated. The only two beings in my life I have yet to surprise are my two cats, Lefty & Felix. I can only pray that the adjustment for them will go smoothly and really well – I’m even hoping that maybe they’ll “help out” or want to be best buddies with the baby.

 

For all you moms out there, do you have any interesting and unique childbirth stories? I’d love to read them! Please comment below 🙂

 

Until then, please enjoy the first chapter of “Time & Tide”:

 

One

Two months later

“I can’t believe he actually asked you out!” twenty-two year old Madison Brooks squealed with delight, glancing at her light blue-colored cell phone sitting between the driver’s and middle seat of her bright yellow VW Bug. She shook her dark, honey blond, long hair as she hit the left turn signal to pass the motorcyclist in front of her.

Madison’s best friend since second grade, Nicole Donovan’s happy laugh came over the speakerphone. “Ha! I know. But what else can I say? I guess those looks we’d cast each other in the college library finally paid off.”

“Bravo.” Madison shook her head as she turned back into the right lane of the four-lane highway. Hills and hills of countryside passed her by. She was just leaving Seattle, at the very edge of Washington State after shopping for a present for her cousin’s bridal shower coming up in a week. “You are one brave girl. But be careful, Nicole. You know as well as I do how co-worker relationships can turn from a blossoming to a dud relationship in mere weeks.”

“That was different. When you worked at the computer store last year, that was different, Maddie. He was a dud, while Jake is so cool! So awesome, I just want to spend forever with him. You know what he told me? He told me that he’d liked me for six months! He didn’t even get hired at the library until seven months ago!”

“You were so lucky to find that job.” Madison laughed, and then smiled at the small town approaching, just sixty miles out of Seattle. “Okay, hon, you know what? I’m finally at Lincoln. I’d better go, but I promise I’ll call you tonight.”

“I have that family reunion thing tonight, sweetie,” Nicole added, and laughed again. She was obviously just so excited about her upcoming date with her co-worker. “But how about I call you ASAP, and then we’ll go have a whipped cream mocha together?”

“Sounds great. Have a great date tomorrow, if I don’t hear from you, then,” Madison called, and sped down her car, reaching the town just yards ahead of her.

“Oh, I will! Bye!” There was a clicking of the phone.

But not a minute after Nicole had hung up, there was a loud bang from behind her, along with a sharp jerk of Madison’s car.

She gasped in time to see, through her rearview mirror, the motorcyclist she’d just passed sprawled in the ditch.

Thankful no other cars were surrounding her to go into town, Madison slowed down immediately, and parked her car on the side of the road a few yards from the man. After calling for an ambulance, she hurried out of her sedan, and ran to the man lying in the ditch. The legs were crossed in a non-normal way, and he was very still. His mortocycle looked crushed from nearby, but she didn’t care about that.

“Oh, my goodness!” Madison madly prayed that the good Lord would help this poor guy. She reached the man’s side, and then felt for a pulse. She silently cheered when she felt a very steady one. “Sir, are you all right?” she called loudly, wondering how he could’ve barely hit the back of her car, yet look so still. “Sir, please. Can you hear me?”

She reached up, and unsnapped the fasten from under the man’s helmet. Then, she gently tugged the helmet off strongly with one hand, keeping her other hand at the back of the guy’s neck.

She gasped the moment the helmet was off, at the small gash at his head, and immediately understood that he must have hit it. He groaned, and she let her gaze caress his strong jaw, lean appearance, and short, blond-streaked, light brown hair. He wore a white dress shirt and black slacks, as if he’d just come from somewhere formally, and she frowned. Who was he?

“Sir,” she called again, and then patted his cheek. “Sir, are you okay?”

He groaned again, and then opened his eyes. The deep, tormented-looking, hazel-green eyes met hers glassily, and she swallowed hard at the appeal there. But she shouldered that off.  Her ex-computer store boyfriend from last year had taught her to trust only some men, like her father and brother, and various uncles and male cousins in her family, or her very few guy friends.

“Hi, I’m Madison Brooks,” she greeted him. “An ambulance is on the way. What’s your name?”

Resting his head against the soft grass, the man closed his eyes briefly, but she didn’t miss the flash of pain. “C-Cole,” he stammered, and then winced.

“Okay, Cole, just sit tight.” She braced herself for his resistance. “And try to stay awake. You hit my car, sir, but I’m sure it was a grave mistake, so I won’t call anyone on you. I’ll just have it repaired myself. Okay?”

Cole nodded jerkily, although he closed his eyes again.

Madison bit her lip, praying that he’d stay with her.

The sound of the ambulance sirens, though, answered her prayers, but she couldn’t just leave him.

He’d hit her car. Maybe it was a sign from God that he needed help.

*************************

The next morning, Madison carried two Styrofoam, small cups of coffee in the Billings, Montana hospital, twenty miles from Lincoln, Montana. She’d waited all day yesterday for this Cole guy to wake up so she could come to the hospital and apologize for being in his way. Since he had a mild concussion, the doctor told her that he wasn’t going to be released until tomorrow. That meant that today she was going to see if he was awake. By her request, the doctor had called her last night, telling her he’d awaken then, but stated that Cole had said he had no family to contact, so his insurance was strictly his own. So far, he seemed to be a bit of a grump, but Madison was determined, with her usual sunny attitude, to cheer him up. She figured it had to be really difficult to sit in bed and feel so hopeless. The doctor had also said he hadn’t been very hungry, so she also hoped to change that. In her opinion, he looked a little weak with how plumb skinny he was. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but still skinny, and that unnerved her.

As for the family thing, she couldn’t possibly see how one could have absolutely no family, but if he didn’t have any visitors, she’d visit him. It was as simple as that, the good Samaritan she tried to be anyways.

As she reached the private hospital door, she asked the Lord to give her courage, strength, and the guidance to act any way according to His will.

She knocked, and she recognized the doctor’s voice saying, “Come in.” She walked inside, noting that Cole was asleep, and then smiled brightly at Dr. Lewis.

“How’s he doing today?” she asked, placing her cup of coffee on a table by the window.

The forty-something-year old doctor shrugged. “I was just going to see if I should wake him up. His breathing and heartbeat are both normal, though, and when I changed his bandage, the gash looked better and a bit more healed over than it had yesterday.”

Madison swallowed hard, now wishing she hadn’t had that second doughnut for breakfast this morning. “Thank you for that,” she said wryly, feeling disgusted.

She walked right over to the window, and drew open the blinds with one big sweep.

As soon as the morning sunlight beamed on Cole, he flinched awake, and then squinted up at the window, then briefly at her as if annoyed.

“Morning,” she called happily, and then walked over to his side to mostly shade him from the sun beams. “You look better this morning, Cole.” She glanced at the doctor. “Dr. Lewis was just going to wake you up, but I thought of a better way.”

“Hello, Cole,” Dr. Lewis greeted the man, who cast an annoyed glance at the wall past him. “Like I said last night, you have a small concussion.”

“Yes, you do,” Madison added brightly. “But it’ll get better very soon. You’re even being let out tomorrow.” She glanced at the doctor, who was frowning. “What?”

Dr. Lewis cleared his throat. “Anyway, as I was saying before I was interrupted…”

Madison shrugged, and then shined a big smile on Cole, who quirked an eyebrow as if only a tiny bit amused.

“You will be discharged tomorrow, but I suggest you eat a good lot today,” Dr. Lewis added. “You look a bit thin, and it’ll just be less on this lady’s nerves anyway.” He cleared his throat. “Again, I have to ask your last name, Cole.”

“My full name is Cole Douglas Whitworth,” Cole said softly, and again, Madison didn’t miss the brief flash of pain in his eyes at saying his name. “Does that answer your question?”

“Yes,” Dr. Lewis answered calmly, one to not be trifled with. “And, again, may I ask, should I contact any family?”

Madison swallowed hard, bracing herself for whatever annoyed remark Cole might say next.

Cole gazed down at his bed sheets for a long moment, until Madison thought he wasn’t going to answer, and then he closed his eyes briefly. “Even if you did contact my family,” he said softly, “instead of being concerned, they’d just…” He swallowed hard. “Laugh at me.”

Madison and Dr. Lewis exchanged confused glances.

“May I suggest,” Dr. Lewis added stiffly, “that even though no family will be contacted, someone will  need to drive you home. That’s the hospital’s orders. Besides that, the mechanic shop in Lincoln, Montana called, and they said that your motorcycle won’t be finished being repaired until a week from now…at least.” He held up a hand at Cole’s sharp look. “Also, Miss Brooks tells me here that you barely hit the back of her car.”

Cole glanced at Madison for confirmation. “I thought you said you wouldn’t make me pay for anything.”

“I did,” Madison said with a nod.

“Which brings me to also point out,” Dr. Lewis concluded, “that I doubt very much that gash came from the accident. It was obviously caused by something else. Would you like to discuss that?”

“No,” Cole said softly, playing with the sheets. “I’ll be perfectly fine, Doc. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Dr. Lewis nodded at Madison, and then picked up his clipboard from the little movable table over Cole’s bed. “A nurse will be in here to check on you every hour or so.” He raised his eyebrows at Cole, as if warning him to keep from getting out of bed, and he left the room.

The only sound that followed was the ticking of the room clock.

Madison slowly gazed over at Cole, and then sent him a bright smile.

Cole frowned, and then sat up straighter in his bed. “What are you really doing here, Miss…?”

“I’m Madison Brooks. Remember?” She smiled sweetly at him. “I’m the one who rescued you?”

Cole’s eyebrows shot up. “Well, I don’t need rescuing any more.” He nodded at her. “Thanks. But I’m fine now.”

There was a long moment of silence.

Here was Madison’s cue to leave Cole’s room and never look back, to completely forget about ever looking after him. But she was determined to do God’s will, so since it didn’t seem done yet, she walked to his side, and handed him the extra Styrofoam cup of coffee.

“I don’t know how you like your coffee,” she said gently, and set the cup on the movable table. She slid it over to him so he could reach it, and then broadened her smile. “Of course,” she added, ignoring Cole’s quizzical look at her. “If you don’t like coffee, I can get you anything else to drink. Or eat. Orange juice, apple juice. Or if you like hot drinks…maybe some tea? I like tea. Or water? Or how about a mocha? Cappuccino?”

“This is fine,” Cole whispered, and took the coffee from the table.

“It’s black,” Madison warned, “although I brought some cream and—”

“I like it this way,” Cole whispered again, and then took a slow, cautious sip of it. He paused, and then looked at the cup as if it was his salvation. “I thought coffee like this was not allowed in hospitals.”

“It’ll be our little secret,” Madison said, and then sat in the chair next to his bed. She studied him for a long moment as he took another sip.

Then, Cole looked at her. “If you want to know where the door is…” He nodded his head at where it was. “It’s over there.”

“I know.” Madison kept a smile on, as if she was determined to stay. “But I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Cole persisted. He couldn’t believe this woman. She didn’t look much older than he was, but her sunny attitude was beginning to bother him. What did she want? Money? Why was she even here? It couldn’t be to just help him. No one he knew ever did that.

“You have a bandage on your head, Cole, and the doctor said you have a slight concussion.” She shook her golden blond head. “You’re far from fine, silly.” She shook her index finger at him. “Besides, it’s Saturday. I don’t have to work today, so let me enjoy my day off.”

“Good for you,” he quipped, and then decided that  he’d better talk to her. She obviously was determined to stay, and he wasn’t like any other person in his family to just leave or else. Half the time, the “or else” meant a yet another murder he was forbidden to tell outside the business, lest he be their next victim.

He took a ragged breath, and then swallowed hard. The coffee turned to sand in his mouth, yet he continued drinking. He needed to ease the constant grief he felt every day of his life in the past two months over the loss of his mother, a grief no one else would ever have. After all these years, he still couldn’t believe how cruel the rest of his family was.

Yesterday, by opening his stupid mouth, he’d paid for his smart remarks. For an instant, his father had yelled at Addison for hitting him, but Cole knew that everybody thought, even his father, that he deserved it. Even if he had tried to defend his mother’s late reputation, the only one who ever had or who ever would.

“Where do you work?” he sighed out, deciding to do something besides sit in the room and feel sorry for himself.

“At a bookstore in Lincoln,” she stated happily. “That’s where I was going when you accidentally hit me.” She chimed out the words as if she hadn’t just said anything negative, harshly reminding him about his motorcycle, the only thing his brothers both liked about him. “Were you headed there, too?”

“I attend college at Montana State,” he said curtly, softly.

“Oh, me, too.” She grinned. “I’m now in graduate school for two years, going into art. I want to be an art teacher. Doesn’t that sound like so much fun? My best friend, Nicole was going into art, too, but then she changed her major. She now wants to be a dentist. But I guess colleges are all different anyway. She’s attending Washington State college in Seattle.”

Seattle. The one home Cole had ever known, except for his apartment in Manhattan. The place where his mother had died, for absolutely nothing in the world. His father, Byron had stated too many times that she’d been a pest, that with how her attitude and entire personality had gone, she would have eventually told the FBI about all the murders they’d committed in the past, although Cole had nothing to do with any one of them. He was determined to keep no criminal record in his sight, yet sometimes he worried that he’d go to jail one day just for knowing about all those nameless murders. His mother had wanted a good life, yet by a single mistake of marrying their father, she’d ruined all of their lives. Yet it hadn’t been her fault. Byron had been the one vowing that he was a good man, despite his great wealth. But when they’d married, Byron had taken on his late father’s legacy of the business, yet there had only been one murder before then. Every murder they had was inconsistent, completely innocent, and gravely hidden. Every victim’s family either had no family, or were murdered along with. They were mostly people who Byron or Addison had previously hired, and who later tried to tell someone about all the bad things happening from inside the business.

That was why Cole daily feared for his life. He’d rather live than have to suffer the torment his mother had gone through, being killed by her own family, hiring thugs to take care of her and all the rest of them.

“Have you ever been to the bookstore?” Madison asked him.

“Can’t say I have,” he said stiffly, and took another tried sip of his coffee.

“Well, you should sometime. It’s a fab place to work. My co-workers have become my friends. They’re so nice to be around.” Madison grinned. “I take it you’re in graduate school as well?”

He nodded. “I’m just going into business, math emphasis.”

“Sounds interesting. I guess all majors do in that way.” She thought hard for a long moment, and then her peaches-in-cream complexion looked guarded for several seconds. “If you don’t mind my asking, Cole Whitworth, what job do you have? Or don’t  you have one?’

“Not at the moment,”  he said carefully. “But my family…they….they have a big business.” If “big” was even the correct term to describe it.

Madison frowned for the first time all morning. Confusion was written all over her face, but the last thing Cole wanted to do was describe a single detail of the business. It would all turn into bad news, and since Madison seemed such a sweet girl, he hated to hurt her by letting gunmen come to her house…

He shook his head, mostly to get rid of that image. “It’s nothing.” He took another sip of his coffee.

“Oh,” was all  Madison said.

Just then, the door opened, and a nurse with a big grin walked inside.

“Hello, dear,” she greeted him, carrying a tray of food. “Ready to try some food today?”

Cole was ready to refuse, since his stomach felt too twisted to eat.

“Maybe something light to begin with?” She placed the tray on his table by the coffee.

“Yes, he will eat,” Madison remarked, and Cole looked up with surprise.

Madison was standing next to his bed, looking over the tray of food as if deciding for him on what he should or should not eat. “There’s only toast and orange juice here.” She frowned, and then glanced at the nurse. “Will you please get some soda crackers, Jell-O, and a small bowl of cereal? This can’t be all he eats for breakfast.” She fisted her hands on her hips.

“Right away, hon.” The nurse gave him one last smile, and then left to retrieve the items.

He frowned, and then glanced back at Madison. “What are you—”

“You are going to eat,” she told him, looking at him sternly. “And if you don’t, I might as well feed you.”

Now he was really confused. “All right, why are you helping me so much, Miss Brooks?”

“Madison,” she corrected instantly, and smiled. “I want to be a good Samaritan. You know. For God?”

God. The One Person Cole tried to count on as much as possible, despite all the  bad things constantly happening in his life. “O-Oh.” He swallowed hard.

“Besides.” She smiled gently at him. “They’re not going to discharge you until you’ve eaten at least two three-course meals.”

“Fine,” he sighed, knowing how relentless she was being. “You can help. But don’t feed me.”

“All right.” Madison giggled, a bell-like sound that momentarily filled the room with warmth. Then, she cocked her head at him. “But don’t look so guilty or frustrated, Cole. I’m just trying to be a good helper. You probably need it anyway, right?” She briefly glanced at his shoulders. “To get some skin on those bones?” She shook her head as if she couldn’t believe him, and then gently edged the table closer to him.

Cole couldn’t help feeling a smile start at the corners of his mouth. She was something else. He’d never met anyone as demanding  yet so kind, at least not since his mother had passed.

“All right.” He sighed, hoping his stomach accepted the food.  ”I’ll eat.”

“Thank you.” Madison beamed at him, and then walked over to the table by the window to take her own coffee and drink it.

The nurse came back inside with another tray, and set the plate of crackers, and two different plastic bowls of cereal and Jell-O on his other tray so it wouldn’t be so cluttered around him. “There. Want anything else?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” he said, and then stared at all the food he had to eat. And he had to eat it, too, or he was sure to get a good scolding from someone, either the nurse or Madison.

“Thank you,” Madison called as the nurse left.

Cole heard a chuckle come out of him for the first time in some months, at least. “I think she’s a bit scared of you.”

“She’d better be.” Still standing by the table, Madison rolled her eyes. “How dare she for feeding you so little to begin with. Your stomach has to be screaming with hunger by now, right?”

“Sure,” he said, and took another sip of his coffee before digging into the food….reluctantly. The hospital food was a little blah, but feeling Madison nearby, as if a new friend, was brightening his spirits a bit. He could hardly explain the feeling, so he kept eating to make himself behave better. She was just a helper, after all, and she’d probably be gone from his life in a mere few hours.

There was the sound of some jolly jingling, and he glanced over to see Madison punch in a button of her cell phone. “Hey, Nicole.” She grinned at him, mouthed, “eat,” and then turned her back on him to answer the call.

But as Cole ate, however, he couldn’t help hearing how delighted and unbelievably happy Madison sounded as she talked on the phone.

He was almost finished when he heard her gasp.

“Oh, Joan,” she groaned on the phone, now on her second call in the thirty whole minutes it’d taken him to force down all that food. He had to admit, though, that he did feel better than he had yesterday. “You’re kidding me.” She turned back, her face looking fallen, and Cole couldn’t explain it, but it felt like someone had punched him in the gut at that look on her face. She sighed heavily. “All right, fine. See you in a bit.” She ended the call, and then glanced at him, apologies deep in her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Cole, I hafta go.” She reached for her stuff. “I was called into work, because my co-worker Joan got food poisoning. She’s okay, of course,” she added as if she thought he might want to know, “but I need to fill in for her.”

“Go ahead.” He waved a hand. “I’ll be fine. I even finished my food, see?” He motioned to his mostly empty tray of food, filled with mostly empty, plastic dishes.

“Great job.” She grinned as if meaning the words. “But hey, I’ll see you in about five or six hours. ‘Kay? Hope you rest until then.”

She was coming back? Cole swallowed hard, appalled by her kindness. “You….You don’t have to.”

Madison stopped fidgeting with her purse to glance up at him.

“I mean…” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I’m a lot better now. You don’t have to come back. I appreciate your generosity, really. It’s just…”

“Just that I’m not going to leave you alone.” She shrugged. “I already called a church friend, and told them I’ll be into church late tomorrow, since I’m taking you home.” She smiled at him. “I’m not going anywhere. I rescued you, remember?”

That didn’t matter, Cole knew. Because if he became friends with this woman, his family might find out.

“Eat up.” She grinned. “I’ll come back later, and by then you better have eaten two full meals, mister.” She pointed her index finger at him. “Or you’re getting it good.” She waved. “Have a great afternoon!”

In a blur, then, Madison Brooks was gone, and Cole was gaping at the door as it closed behind her. He could not believe how she was acting. It was extremely generous of her. Why would she want to be so kind? Or even try? She didn’t know the kind of man he was.

Cole forced himself to finish his breakfast, although the rest of it just tasted like dust to the ends of the dreaded earth.

**********************************************************

A Change of Pace; Prologue

9 August 2019

Hello everyone,

 

Because of the fact that our baby is due in September, I won’t be writing regular blog posts for a while. However, in the mean time, you’ll still receive blog posts from me every month – all because WordPress has this wonderful system of scheduling blog posts to publish at a later date. My wonderful followers, I know you will remain faithful in reading my posts. Unfortunately, life happens and when it does, some things need to be put on hold for a while. Once the baby is born, I promise I will try my hardest to write my blog posts.

 

However, I’m looking forward to it! Now that we’ll have a baby at home, the humor for life which I always try to incorporate in my blog posts will only increase. I enjoy telling all kinds of stories, so of course that will never change. In the mean time, I’ve decided to publish a chapter of my work-in-progress book, “Time & Tide”. I hope you will all enjoy 🙂 I hope you all won’t mind if you happen to see a typo every now and then. All I ask is that you keep an open mind, and think only of the story at hand. This is only a work in progress, after all. 🙂

 

Prologue 

The day was partly cloudy, sunshine trying to beam through the clouds but not quite succeeding. In the city of Seattle, Washington, Addison James Whitworth tapped his fingers on a large, brown desk. Addison was the oldest in the Whitworth family. He knew he was going to get the wealthy inheritance once he and siblings’ father had passed. But that would be a while, of course. He still had time to help in the family’s “career.”

Addison had sharply cut, rich black hair that always looked slick and greasy, cool. He was twenty-eight years old, even though he looked thirty-five, and always wore a suit. He was sitting in a large room with white walls and darkly painted paintings. There was a small window behind him, creamy white lace curtains blowing in the breeze. He again tapped his fingers on the desk, a grave sign of impatience.

He slammed a button on a machine in front of him, beeping the company secretary. “Sally, have you heard from my father yet?” he demanded gruffly.

Sally Berg, the constant scared-stiff secretary, answered in a strained yet calm voice, “He said that he was going to be a little late, and that your siblings are on their way.”

“It’s about time,” Addison grumbled, and thanked the secretary sharply before leaning back in his leather armchair.

Still restless and impatient, he got up off his seat to the window, and gazed outside. The Seattle skyscrapers and other tall buildings could be seen in the distance, along with many other mansions and highly expensive complexes around the area. But the only reason that he could, however, was because Seattle was beyond the Whitworth gardens. The mansion he was standing inside was four stories tall, with many rooms not needed and not used. There was a huge garden surrounding the entire mansion, along with a big, wide, and tall front, metal gate that could only be opened if the arriver knew the password. Every one of his family members, along with every staff member in the mansion, who were also starkly hooked to the entire Whitworth company, a very wealthy business, knew that if they went outside the entire business’s resources, they would get fired. Being fired was the best thing that could happen to them, if they were lucky.

He just happened to be gazing out a third story window of his office, and wished that his father didn’t work as a lawyer on the side of the family business. It would make things a lot easier and safer, but then some people might still be curious, so for the umpteenth time, Addison Whitworth noted that perhaps his father was continuously doing what was best for the family, and for every one of his five children.

He cleared his throat, and then fisted out a cigar from his pocket. He lighted it, and then tossed the closed lighter on his large expanse of desk. He gazed briefly around the room, at the several lounge chairs and many bookshelves of dictionaries, various encyclopedias, and any other book his father or him had ever bought or owned. Most of them had to either do with history or politics, yet some of them were great novels, like “The Grapes of Wrath” or “To Kill A Mockingbird.” But those time periods was as far as it went for purchasing books.

Suddenly, the white, wooden door of the office flew open. Addison looked up just as a tall lady with shoulder-length, curly light brown hair and terrified, wide blue eyes entered the room. Wrinkles ordained her soft cheeks, and she had three different rings on various fingers of her left hand: a wedding ring, engagement ring, and a mother’s ring, doting five different birthstones. In Addison’s opinion, the ridiculous thing was a symbol of a mother’s great, adoring love for her five children. Yet all Addison had for his mother was resentment.

“Addison!” the woman exclaimed, her voice squeaky, and she hurried over to him in her formal wear of a tight, short-sleeved, blue blouse, and long, black skirt with matching heels. A diamond necklace glittered around her neck, along with diamond earrings. “You cannot do this, my son! You just cannot.”

“It has to be done, Mother.” He shook his head, talking around the cigar at the corner of his mouth. “If it’s not done, it’ll be an entire disgrace to the company’s business livelihood, not to mention this family.”

“This family has become a too-strict, no-good place that will just deteriorate as the years go by!” Amelia Whitworth reached forward and clutched both hands against her son’s suit coat. Her eyes were pleading with him madly as she looked up into her son, six inches taller than her. “I am your mother, my sweet boy. Your mother! How can you even dare to do this to your mother? All because of that man?”

Addison’s green eyes turned into disgust as he gazed down at his mother, and then clasped a hand around hers. He pushed her off him, and then stepped back. “That man happens to be my father, Mother.”

“Yeah, a father who uses his children for money, wealth, and dishonesty.” She shuddered, hugging herself. “I don’t understand why you have to do this. I just don’t. I raised you, your brothers, and sisters better than this, Addison! It even says so in the Bible—”

“You know we don’t read the Bible unless we are curious about a piece of history,” Addison snapped, and then scowled at her. “You are anything but a mother anymore…Amelia.”

Amelia’s gaze snapped up, and she threw a glare at her son. “How dare you call me by my first name! You’re my son! You’re supposed to call me Mother, or Mom!”

“Ha!” Addison shook his head, and then looked up to see two young women enter the room. “Ah, you’re finally here.”

“We would’ve been here earlier,” the youngest girl, nineteen-year old Emily Ladonna Whitworth remarked with an innocent toss of her long, dark brown wavy hair. She crossed her arms, and leaned against the wall. “But we couldn’t find Cole.”

“What!” Addison exclaimed, and stomped his foot. “This is a family meeting!” He ignored his mother’s scoff from behind him. “He’s every bit of family as the rest of us.”

Emily’s hazel-green eyes narrowed, daring Addison to say that she didn’t tell him so. Cole was being a disgrace to the family legacy as their brother. “Well, what do you know. So what are we supposed to do about it, huh?”

Addison quirked an eyebrow.

“Addison!” the second, twenty-one year old sister, Lorraine Jeanne Whitworth exclaimed at her oldest brother, disappointment lacing her beautiful blue eyes. She shook her head at him, her shoulder-length, light blond curls shifting. “How many times have I told you to stop smoking cigars?” She gave a face of disgust. “No wonder it smells horrible in here all the time.”

“They’re stress relievers, Lor.” He shook his head back at her. “And when it comes to Cole, why shouldn’t I have this right?”

“Ah, don’t worry,” twenty-five year old, short brother Jack Walton Whitworth proclaimed lazily as he stepped into the room behind his sisters. His green eyes looked darker against his wavy and short, dark brown hair. “The thugs will find him eventually. They always do.”

Addison rolled his eyes. “Oh, for the last time, Jack! Will  you quit calling them thugs?”

“Okay, fine.” Jack shook his head, coming to stand beside Emily. “I guess I can’t wait until Karl, Slade, Linus, and Russ get here, then,” he added sarcastically, with a lace of bitterness.

Almost all at the same time, the four siblings turned to gaze hateful glances at their mother, standing beside the window.

Amelia glared right back. “How dare you,” she snarled, clenching her hands around her crossed arms until her knuckles were white. “You’re my children!” Her voice broke on the last word, and she bit her lip. “How dare you.” She shook her head, and then looked away.

“Anyway,” Jack added as if neither one of them had even heard their mother speak. “When are we going to get this show on the road?”

“Yeah,” Lorraine chimed in, “are we having the meeting afterward?”

“Quite so.” Addison momentarily slipped his cigar from his mouth to blow smoke into the air. He ignored Lorraine’s roll of the eyes. “There are quite a few things Father and I need to discuss with you guys.”

“I wish it could’ve waited for another day,” Emily pronounced. “I have an accounting job to get back to.”

“Don’t we all,” Jack added wryly, and then a lopsided smirk braced across his mouth.

“Well. Let the show begin,” came another voice, and they all turned, even Amelia, to see a tall man with graying, dark brown, wavy hair, and piercing green eyes. Byron Gonzalo Whitworth looked strict and angry and determined, as always, and he leaned a bit on a cane, though he mostly used it to just look nice. He wore no wedding ring on his finger, however, despite him still being married to Amelia. Reading glasses were clipped to his single breast pocket, and he cleared his throat.

“Father,” Addison greeted the man, but he didn’t show as much respect on his face as the rest of his siblings did.

Jack, Lorraine, and Emily even showed more respect for their father by looking more formal and polite. Emily leaned away from the wall, Jack straightened his tie, and Emily cleared her throat and raised her chin.

But Byron looked around. “Where’s Cole?” he demanded gruffly.

Even though Emily winced, Addison remained in control. “The guys are probably looking for him, sir.”

“We couldn’t find him or contact him for the meeting,” Lorraine said to her father softly.

Byron huffed. “Boy! Can’t get him to do anything around here.” He shook his head with more anger than disappointment. “If this keeps up, he’s going to have to go, too.”

That statement brought Amelia looking up with surprised fright. “Not Cole,” she whispered, and then braced forward toward her husband. Addison tried to reach out to grab her arm, but she was too fast. She hurried up to clutch her husband’s jacket like she had with Addison’s before. “Not my youngest boy! Oh, dear, Byron, you wouldn’t!”

“It might have to be done,” Byron stated quietly, and then barely looked at her. “You…You are no wife of mine.”

Stark hurt blazed through Amelia’s blue eyes, and then she glared at him, finally letting go. “Nor are you a good husband,” she snarled, and then stepped back. “You’re nothing but an idiotic, pompous windbag.” She turned away toward the window.

Byron scoffed, untouched, yet showed no smile on his face. He rarely smiled. “Call me what you want, Amelia. But in the end…” He shook his head. “It won’t matter.”

Addison reached into his other pocket, and pulled out a small device. Pressing a button with his thumb, he talked into it. “Linus, where are you guys?”

“Headed upstairs,” came Linus’s faint reply.

“Good,” Byron huffed again as Addison tossed the device onto his organized desk. “We need to get this over with, the sooner, the better.”

Amelia shuddered, her eyes filled with tears as she kept her gaze at her feet.

“Sir?”

They all turned to see three big, muscular thugs stomp into the room, all dressed in black and wearing hefty belts with guns.

Linus Townsend, the biggest one, was clutching the collar of Cole Douglas Whitworth, the literal disgrace of the family. “I found him in the trees. I don’t know what he was doing.”

“Get off me,” Cole snarled, and then jerked away. His short, light brown, blond-streaked hair was messy, as if he’d been running his hands through it a few times. He wasn’t dressed formally, either. He had a nice white shirt that was not tucked in, and he wore a black tie very loose around his neck, along with black slacks and matching dress shoes.

Cole’s hazel-green eyes filled with unmistakable pain as he gazed at his mother in the corner.

“It’s about time, you idiot,” Addison snapped, momentarily taking out his cigar and clutching his mother’s forearm tightly at the same time. “What were you doing? In the trees, of all places?”

“Trying to hide, to figure out a way to stop all this nonsense,” Cole exclaimed in a high-pitched voice, and his eyes filled with tears. “Come on, Addison. She’s our mother.”

“More your mother than ours these days.” Addison shook his head, and a playful grin stood at the corners of his mouth. “Since you’re such a mama’s boy.”

Cole glared at him furiously.

“That’s enough, boys,” Byron said, and then looked at his thugs. He nodded his head toward Amelia. “Guys, go on.”

Three of the thugs went over and grabbed Amelia tightly just as her arms dropped to her sides helplessly, and tears began streaming down her cheeks. Russ, the smallest thug, fisted out a gun and held it at the woman.

“No!” Cole screamed, and he lurched forward, but Slade, the thug standing at the door, grabbed his arm. Jack grabbed the other arm, both determined to keep Cole back. He was supposed to be a good use to the company. “Please.”

His face very emotionless, Byron glanced at a piece of rumpled paper. “Amelia Whitworth, you are charged with being a conspiracy against this family…” He re-folded the piece of paper, and placed it back into the inside pocket of his white-striped, gray suit coat. “…And are ordered to die immediately.”

“So long,” Addison quipped, and then grinned.

“Mom!” Cole exclaimed, tears pooling in his eyes. His shoulders started shaking as he tried to struggle free, glaring at his oldest brother. “You cannot do this! She didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Of course she did,” Addison remarked.

“I suggest you shut up now, Cole,” Jack said angrily from behind Cole.

“Mom,” Cole whimpered, staring at his mother tenderly, yet very sadly as she choked on a sob, and gazed lovingly back at her son. “I love you.”

Amelia nodded, mouthing, “I love you” back, just as Russ cocked the pistol.

“No!” Cole yelled, and then squeezed his eyes shut.

A piercing gunshot hit the room, followed by a soft thump.

Emily gazed with interest at her nails, and then raised her eyebrows. “Can I go back to work now?”

“No,” Byron stated. “That’s enough, Emily.” He frowned at her. “There’s still business to discuss.” He glanced at Cole. “As for you, Cole…”

Cole glanced at his father angrily, being let go by Slade.

“You will not dishonor this family.” Byron pointed at his son with his rich black cane. “You will continue with your college studies, but I suggest you obey whatever we say. The next meeting is next month. You stay quiet throughout the entire meeting this morning, and continue doing so for the rest of the meetings unless you have something to say that you know will particularly interest us.” He shook his head. “You will do exactly as Addison or myself say, and that goes for the rest of your siblings. Otherwise, we’re through!” he added sharply. “Is that understood?”

Cole swallowed hard, and then gazed momentarily at his mother’s body. He swallowed again, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.

“Yes, Father,” he said softly.

Jack patted his shoulder, as if he was glad he’d finally agreed, and let go of him, too.

“Good.” Byron nodded, and then cleared his throat. “We need to discuss other business matters now, then.”

His face contorted, Cole gazed over at Addison.

From around his cigar, Addison grinned at him, but it did nothing to soothe Cole’s pain.
*************************

 

 

 

 

When God Surprises You~

12 July 2019

 

Hello, everyone,

 

God has been known to surprise me a lot in my life, but sometimes, I forget to thank Him. I think that’s our fault in those moments – that we forget to thank Him for all He has given us. Sure, we ask for things in prayer every day – but do we ever really think to thank Him?

 

There have been so many dark moments in my life, just like everyone else’s life, where I’ve found I could not have gotten through that tunnel of darkness if the Lord hadn’t been by my side. We must have that relationship with Him, though, and serve Him the way it commands in His Word, in order for it to make a real difference in our lives.

 

When I was a kid, I was extremely shy and quiet. Because of that, I often got ignored or put on the back burner. I often got made fun of and ridiculed. Everyone I knew were very outgoing and didn’t know how to deal with a quiet, shy person like me. That darkness a shy person feels can only be understood by introverts. To this day, sometime I’m still shy, but I’m 95% better than I was back then. I owe that only to God.

 

When I was in college my sophomore year, I decidedly disliked my major of mass communications that I was in. It wasn’t for me, and I simply had to find my way. A professor suggested I take up a degree in English instead, and once I changed my degree, my life was forever changed. I loved college classes because of that, and grew much more knowledgeable in my work as a freelance writer. Not only that, but my degree gradually landed me a job that I love. I owe these things to God.

 

In 2011, after a bad breakup with my first boyfriend, I wanted nothing to do with men for the rest of my life, which left me miserable, because finding my one true love had been my #1 goal and desire in life aside from serving God. But God surprised me: a friend introduced me to my future husband. I took a risk and after four months of getting to know him through our daily text conversations, he mustered the courage to ask me out. Then, at KFC, we met for the first time, and that meeting changed my life. Because of God, my husband is my #1 blessing in my life and my best friend. I owe everything I’ve experienced and love to God for blessing my husband in my life.

 

And finally, last year was when it didn’t look very hopeful for us to get a house. Also, we felt like God was making us wait for a baby. These two things were constant thorns in my side. And then, last December, God blessed us with the opportunity to finally get a house. Then, a week or so after we started looking at houses, I found out I was pregnant. And now, we’re perfectly happy in a twin home and will be expecting a kid in September! Although, I felt ashamed of myself for doubting Him in the times when I had. The day I got our pregnancy confirmed with a doctor, I was on cloud nine. The whole drive home, I could not stop praising and thanking God for His blessings. After waiting for what seemed like forever, crying about it and praying about it daily, I had resigned myself with the realization that if God willed for these blessings to occur, He’d make it happen. And He did! He understands each and every one of us better we know ourselves. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this entire past trial, it’s that God surprises us in His most perfect timing.

 

Believe that today! I can’t wait to see how God surprises my family and I in the future. So if you’re reading this, stuck in a rut and wondering how God will possibly pull through for you – believe this today, folks. God WILL come through for you! Yes, it will be within His most perfect timing, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The world doesn’t revolve around us, our needs, and our wants. God wants us to serve Him and lean onto Him – not out of weakness because we’re not weak – but out of love, respect, honor, and adoration toward Him. He knows what’s best for us. No, it may not be exactly what we prayed for, but even in time, you will see that God knows that His answer to our prayers – not ours – worked out better than any other conclusion we could’ve ever imagined.

 

Do you have questions about this or how to come to God? Or maybe you’re struggling and need a listening ear? Hit me up by an email message or a comment below! I always love hearing from my followers.

 

Also, once the baby is born, I recognize that I’ll have little to no time for writing. I understand that my writing may need to be put temporarily on hold. But that’s okay – you know why? Because I trust that God will surprise me, as He has surprised me in the past, and as He will continue to surprise me. And He’ll even surprise YOU! But only if you let him 🙂

 

Have a safe, happy, and fun July 🙂

 

JMK~