Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From Shattered Remnants Bk II - The Healing Queen


I didn't even try to hide my smile.  My mind cleared
and let me think beyond Regan's condition.  He was my
biggest worry, but I could breath again.  "Good," I said as
I pet his arm.  It still felt cool and damp.
     His eyes eased open and focused on me.  "I can't
believe you think so little of me."
     My guilt returned and froze me in place.  I had nearly
gotten him killed.  How could I ever regain his trust?
Zacairus' hand came to my shoulder as I tried to apologize,
but nothing came out.
     Regan closed his eyes and shook his head once.  "Not a
threat," he mumbled.  "I could have taken them both with or
without my sword."
     I choked on a chuckle and lost out to another smile.
"I know," I said as I took his hand in mine.  "But if they
knew that, they would have turned you into a porcupine."
     His lopsided grin was all I needed.  To have Regan in
good spirits meant he was already feeling better.  I winced
to think he might still be sore at me.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Oneiros - WiP - "Trial"

"What do you think you are doing?"  They all jumped at the sound of Garland's voice.  He sneered at the fire, "What is this?"
"This," Warwick spoke up with his head held high, "is a fire.  We use it to keep warm, cook meals, and for light."
The archer narrowed his eyes at the Storyteller.  He looked as if he was about to chastise the older man, but he kept whatever remarks he had to himself.
Glancing from Garland to Warwick, Christina tried to decipher their moods.  She wanted to believe they were only teasing, but she had a nagging feeling that Garland was still sore about the bridge and Warwick was tired of putting up with his dismissive tone.
"Since you have decided to join us once again, could I interest you in some stew?  I know it is not much, but that seems to be all we could manage this evening on our own."
Garland dropped his gaze.  Shame and irritation crossed his face before he hid it in he shadows.  He stalked to where Christina sat and snatched up his bow.  "We should be going."
Vetch groaned.  "But we're still eating!  Do you expect us to eat on the run?  No one can follow us know.  How are they gonna get across that gorge?"
The archer looked to Vetch slow and unsteady.  He tilted his head as if straining to see him.  "You may continue as you wish, young one.  Chris and I are moving on.  We have more ground to cover."
A low grumble came from Warwick.  "So you have decided to go on without us.  Are we slowing you down that much, boy?"
Garland didn't acknowledge him.  Christina, wide eyed, held her place.  Something was off.  This was not his normal demeanor.  Yes, he could be gruff, but this too bitter even for the archer.
"That is alright," Warwick answered himself.  "I assumed this would come eventually.  It is just like you to drag us out of our comfortable lives for some harebrained scheme to dash this poor girl across creation only to dump us at the first sign of trouble.  I would expect nothing less from a washed-up knight who cannot even save his own hide."
Slack-jawed, Christina stared at the older man for his embittered telling.  That was nothing close to their situation.  Perhaps Garland knew of an approaching threat.  Maybe if they went on their own, the others would be spared any more difficulties.  She hoped she was right.
Even still, she wanted their little band to stay together.  A cautious glance at the archer only left her wondering.
Garland's sneer darkened.  "I am happy to know I have lived up to your expectations, sir.  I will not bother you any longer."
He looked to Alkanet, "Your company has been dearly appreciated.
Next, he eyed Vetch.  "I know it is your ability to see them to safety.  Farewell."
"But …" Vetch was to his feet, "Wait, Garland!"
The archer had ahold of Christina's arm and was already pulling her to her feet.  She was too stunned to counter him … at first.
She jerked her arm free and gaped at him.  "What is going on, Garland?  What is wrong with you?  Where do you think we are going?"
He drew a deep breath and leaned down, bringing his face close to hers.  She fought back the urge to cough at the rank of alcohol on his breath.  "You want to go home, do you not?  You are my only responsibility.  You.  The others her have simply tagged along for their own interests.  This is not a game.  I have a job to carry out."
"That's not true," Alkanet spoke up.  "Not really.  We all feel responsible for one another.  The only interest we have is concern for each other."  She paused for a moment and stepped closer.  "And you are no longer a Knight, Garland.  This is no longer your job.  We are all here on our own.  No games, no tricks.  Just a group of friends looking to find some happiness."
Everyone softened at Alkanet's declaration.  The timid young woman spoke her mind clearly.  What more was there to say?
The archer didn't meet her eyes as he strained to form audible words.  "The Knights are no more.  That, I am aware of.  But I am responsible for her," he said as he waved his hand in Christina's direction.  "She wants to go home.  She needs to go home.  We are wasting time.  There is not a reason to drag this out any longer.  Let me finish this."
There was no more argument from the three remaining by the fire.  Christina stood quiet, still in shock at the way things developed.  She never imagined they would go separate ways.  She never imagined they would all give up so easily.
"Do what you must," Warwick said with a huff.  "We will not get in your way.  Move along, boy."
The Storyteller looked to Christina.  A sad smile tugged at his lips and added age to his wrinkled face.  "Take care of yourself, Christina.  Do not let anyone push you around, not even him.  We will be seeing you again.  Stay safe."
Garland staggered away shaking his head.  Christina frowned at Alkanet and Vetch, not knowing what to say.  She couldn't stand their disappointment anymore than she could Warwick's.
She hesitated too long.  "Come, Chris.  We have to move on.  Bring nothing with you.  We have all we need."
Turning to follow the archer, Christina felt lost.  In all the times before, she could sense his courage.  This was different.  An air of self-doubt trailed him.  He was not the same archer she had come to trust.  Garland was broken.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Shattered Remnants -The Veiled Heiress (WiP) - Recovery

He gaped at me in disbelief.  "When were you going to tell me?  Did you think I'd rat you out?"
I chuckled at how childish our conversation sounded.  It was as if we were back in training camp.  "Honestly, I hoped it wouldn't be noticed."
His expression turned to one of disappointment.  "He was a dead man.  I expected to come back and find you waiting with a body.  Even still, I never suspected Star Tears.  They're not on the front line enough to be a possibility.  Zeke gave them to you, didn't he?"
It still felt too early to discuss it.  I had no idea what kind of retribution I would be facing or if anyone else might be punished along side me.  I never meant for others to be pulled into the mess.  What was so wrong about saving a life?
"You're not going to talk about it, are you?"
"Zacairus, I don't want you to take any blame for this.  Maybe …"
"I have your back and you have mine.  I would have helped you.  We could have figured something out."
I flashed a nervous smile to keep a frown at bay.  I never doubted Zacairus' heart.  He would stand beside me every step of the way.  But we were from two different worlds.  What I did while being veiled would not have any effect on my destiny.  My path was cut for me before I was born.  Zacairus' life was still unfolding.  I couldn't let him risk his future for something I was going to do on my own.
"All right," he said with a pat on my shoulder.  "Have it your way.  Just let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
I shook my head, "Thank you, but … There is something you could do for me."
"Name it."
"Could you check in on Corbin?  See if there is anything he needs.  He didn't do anything wrong."
He puffed out a laugh and dropped his hands to his sides.  "You are facing the wrath of our captain and a band of officials and you are still worrying about the guy you don't know anything about?  Dea!  Stop and think about yourself for a moment."
What was there to think about?  "He didn't mention the Star Tears.  He knew very well what they were and he didn't mention them.  He wasn't the one who would have been in trouble for them, I was.  Why didn't he turn me in?"
"He probably knows you saved his skin.  You don't turn in the person for that."
"He doesn't know me."
"Perhaps he felt he owed you.  You save his life, he defends your career.  It's civil."
It was a goodness that was often reserved for the dearest of friends.  Chances were we would never see one another again.  Why would he care what happens to my standing within the Fortis.  He didn't seem to be one to consider the welfare of a Validius.  It was as if he resented everything about us.
"Dea."
"Hmm."
"You are thinking too much again.  Let it be."
The kindness in his eyes threatened to evolve into worry.  I wished he wasn't able to get in my head so easily.  He had a habit of scrambling my thoughts.  "Yes, sir."
He raised a brow unimpressed.  "Get back to work before Alton has you scrubbing the stables.  The kitchen is loosing its sting."
I gave a nod and pointed at the pile of dishes that had doubled.  "It's going to be a long night."
"But the plates will be oh so lovely for breakfast."
Zacairus jumped out of reach before I could push him away.  Chuckling as he left, he snatched a heel of bread from the rack beside us.  It was his usual prize for visiting me during my incarceration.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Shift in Time

It's been too long since my last post.  I'd like to say there is nothing new here, but that wouldn't be true.  It may even be safe to say everything has changed.  Some was planned, the rest was consequences.  Still settling in, so I'm not sure if this is going to be my new constant.

LONG story short:
Sold the house within a month of listing it.
Hubby was sick, too sick.
Housing market had very little to offer.
We found an apartment.
We have shrunk down to a one bed one bath apartment.
Lots of stuff is gone, mostly given away.
Simplifying is never complete.
Oneiros was shot down by Tor.
That's alright.  I cried like a baby, but I know I couldn't have handled the pressure that would have undoubtedly followed gaining a publisher, especially as awesome and epic as Tor.
New ideas and story lines happening.
Cello is kind of intimidating in an apartment.
It's been a year without grandparents, and that really, really sucks.
Learning to breath.  Is it ever as difficult as I make myself believe?

Yep, we're back to the apartment life.  I'm liking it so far.  It's much smaller than our house, but it's lots less to worry over and maintain.  That is a plus.  I was all excited about the gym and pool though I haven't used either yet.

I feel like I'm starting over in many ways.  But I do believe that is a good thing.  As long as I stay focused and honest, everything will fall into place.

My stories are still my escape.  I'm not sure why, but I've migrated back to the trusty notebook more than entering tales into Scrivener.   This may be the nerdy-writer-side of me, but I feel like they are safe there.  The world's a big place and I'm a small person and my stories are even smaller.  The hermit is winning.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cut From Always & Forever

Calming Beach


They planned to meet for lunch in the park, but she called an hour early and asked him to drive her home.  She was not feeling well.
The ride home was unusually quiet.  Madison was tense.  She radiated nervousness.  He let her be.  She would only clam up if he asked about her darkened mood.  In their time together, he learned to give her space.  She would eventually let him in.
But when they got to the house, it only grew worse.  Even though she looked visibly ill, she insisted on making him lunch.  He stood back and watched her fuss about the kitchen as she made chopped beef sandwiches out of leftovers from the night before.  She made two, but left the second one on the counter.
Madison set the table and handed Skyler a sandwich.  She then left the kitchen and went to the back of the house.  He assumed she went to lie down.
He worried for her.  She didn't get sick often, but the past few days she was not herself.  Something was off.  She was withdrawn.
Leaving his lunch untouched, he decided to draw her out.  He headed down the hall, expecting to see the back door open and find her sitting on the step with her feet in the sand.  Instead, the door was closed, the curtain drawn.
He peeked into their room.  She was curled up on the bed.  All the windows were closed and covered.  That was a rarity.  They always reflected her bright and cheery demeanor.
Skyler walked to the bedside and ran his hand down her arm.  She didn't move.  He eased down beside her.  Still no reaction.  He brushed away the curls that hid her face and tucked them behind her ear.  Her green eyes looked up at him.  He offered a smile.  She closed her eyes.
"What's wrong, Madison?"
She drew a deep breath.  If she had an answer, she kept it to herself.  He trailed a finger across the curve of her cheek and tried again.
"Is everything all right?"
Her eyes opened slowly.  She still avoided meeting his gaze.  He lay down next to her, forcing her eyes to see him.
"Madi."
He knew she disliked the pet name.  The twitch of her brows confirmed that she was not ignoring him.  He touched her arm again.  Irritating her would not help draw her out.
"I'm fine.  Go ahead and go back to work.  I'm just going to stay here awhile."
She closed her eyes.  She was not going to let him in.
Skyler got up and left the room.  He closed the door behind him.  As he went back into the kitchen, he picked up the cordless phone.  He peeked around the corner to make sure Madison did not follow after him, then dialed the office.
Julie answered with her habitual greeting.  "Hey, you," she chirped when he asked for Richard.  "Are you still on lunch?"
"Yes, so far.  Is Richard in?"
"Of course he's in.  Sit tight, I'll buzz you over."
Richard sounded as if he just woke up from a nap.  "This is Richard."
"Sir, I need to ask a favor.  I'm sorry for the short notice."
"Whatcha need?"
"Madison isn't feeling well and I don't want to leave her by herself.  Could I have the afternoon?  I'll make up for it."
"Take the afternoon and don't worry about it.  I think tomorrow is another slow day.  Call in the morning, I might just let you have two days."
"Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it.  Take care of the Misses."
He finished the call hoping he wouldn't need the second day.  But it was good to know it was there if needed.  Maybe taking Madison on a drive and getting her out of the house for a bit would cheer her up.  They could go to one of the inns that just opened.
A pot of coffee was started.  He then put a kettle on the stove in case she would rather tea.  Peppermint tea was gradually replacing her daily cup.  He set out their regular mugs.
Skyler then went back to their bedroom.  She didn't acknowledge him when he opened the door.  He sat on the edge of the bed and reached for her hand.  He smiled a hesitant smile as she interlaced their fingers.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
 A tiny sigh escaped her.  "Not yet.  But thank you."
"Anything I can get for you?"
She shook her head once.  "I'm fine."
"I love you."
Her eyes rose to his.  There was a sadness about them that caught him off guard.  "I love you too," she returned in a whisper.
He squeezed her hand.  "Always."
She closed her eyes once again.  She rubbed at her brow with the back of her free hand.  "Forever."
"Would you like some tea or coffee?"
She shook her head.  "I'm just going to sit here for a minute."
Skyler took her answer.  He didn't believe it, but figured that was the best he was going to get for the time being.  He situated himself behind her and wrapped his arms around her.  If she wanted to just be, he could live with that.
He simply held her.  The knowledge that she would not let him help her, and she would not talk about what was bothering her, ate at him.  He tried to think back to when her gloomy mood started.  It was difficult to tell.  She was quiet as of late, but not noticeably down.  That was new as of that day.  She was a tad on the moody side that morning, but nothing jumped out at him that would have brought it on.
Her warmth and steady breathing made him want to relax.  Perhaps there was nothing.  Perhaps he was reading too much into her moping.  He couldn't expect her to be all smiles all the time.
Time played tricks on him.  He didn't know how long he had dozed when he felt her stir.  The room was dark.  He recalled the curtains being closed.  His eyes looked to the window beside the bed.  Daylight seeped around the edges of the blinds.
Madison rolled out from under his arm.  He raised his head to check on her.  She turned around and kissed his cheek.  "You're fine," she whispered.  She ran her fingers through his hair.  He let his head back to the bedding, tempted to reach for the retreating sleep.
He listened as she left the room.  The bathroom door closed gently, and the sound of running water told him she was filling the bath.  She wanted to be alone.
Skyler got up.  Stretching, he gave into a yawn.  He could see light from the front room reaching down the darkened hallway.  It was still early in the afternoon.
He started for the kitchen.  Slowing for a moment as he passed the bathroom door, he listened for a hint as to what was happening on the other side.  He was met by silence.  The fragrance of candles and her vanilla bubble bath drifted from beneath the door.
Leaving Madison to her peace, he realized he had forgotten about the kettle on the stove.  Skyler hurried to the kitchen.  Taking a mitt, he grabbed the kettle from the burner.  He was relieved to see it still had some water.  It didn't all boil away.  Adding some water, he put it back on the burner on a lower setting.
The aroma of the coffee summoned him.  He poured a cup and sat at the table.  Watching out the lace-covered window, he tried to think of a way to cheer up his wife.
The next thing he knew, she is standing in the doorway of the kitchen.  She wore her hair twisted and pinned up on the back of her head.  She had donned the old, blue sundress she always wore when she was feeling bummed.  The faded dress hung on her and hid all her curves.  Its thin straps rarely cooperated with her.  They slipped from her shoulders on a regular basis.  She would then puff out an irritated sigh and tug them back into place.
He stood to fill a mug with hot water for her tea.  The little, black tin was in his had when she spoke up.  Her voice was a soft as a feather.
"I think I'm pregnant."
A multitude of emotions filled him at once.  Happiness.  Fear.  Excitement. Worry.  Amazement.  Her green eyes flashed with panic.  He was careful not to react too quickly.
Taking a teabag from the tin, he dipped it in the mug of steaming water.  The cool scent of mint tangled with the warmth of the coffee in the air.  He turned to Madison as he let the tag dangle over the side of the mug.
"We're not ready," she went on.  Worry lined her forehead.  "Are we?"  She shook her head and closed her eyes.  "I'm not ready."
Skyler set the mug on the counter.  He crossed the floor keeping his puzzled gaze locked on Madison.  As he neared her, he gently took her face in his hands.  Her soft cheeks were warm against his palms.  He thought he felt her tremble.
Madison gave her head a small shake, and then bit her lip.  "Are we ready?"
He leaned his forehead against hers and breathed in the lingering vanilla.  He spoke quietly in hopes to bring her some calm.  "We can be.  If you are pregnant, we'll be just fine.  But we don't know if we should even be worrying about it.  Let's wait until we know yes or no."
"I don't know," she said in a broken voice.  "Skyler, what do we do?"
Pulling her close, he wrapped her in his arms, hugging her against his chest.  He kissed her hair when she failed to relax against him.  "First things first.  Let's take a test."
There was not an answer from her.  He could tell she was fighting back tears.  Her deep breaths were forced and controlled.
"What do you say?" he asked as he gave her a squeeze.  "Hmm?"  Easing back, he stooped down to meet her shying eyes.  "Let's go for a ride and swing by the drug store."  Her brows knitted.  "You don't even have to go in," he offered.  "I'll run in and we'll be back before you know it."
"What if we can't stay here?" she said as she shook her head.  "What if Morgan finds us and we have to leave?"
She hadn't spoken that name since the arrived in the island.  There was not even a suggestion that she still worried they might be followed.  He thought she was finally comfortable.
"What if he does?"  He didn't mean it to be a question.  "We have options, Madison.  We'll always have options.  I don't think anything would change if we have a baby.  Then we would just have to remember to pack a car seat in the Rover when we go."
He flashed a smirk with the attempted humor.  She refused to lighten.  She was chained to anxiety.
"Come on," he said as she rubbed her arms.  They felt extra soft from her bubble bath.  "Let's go pick up a test.  We'll take it from there when we know a little more."
She seemed to steady.  With a stiff nod, she bit at her lip once again.  He interrupted her habit by stealing a quick kiss.
Skyler walked her out to the Rover, leaving their forgotten tea and coffee to grow cold on the counter.
The ride to town was quiet.  He snuck glances at Madison at her continued silence.  She rested her head on the door and gazed blankly out the open window.  Her knuckles were blanched as she wrung her hands.  Skyler reached over and took one of her hands in his.
They pulled up to the drug store he had in mind.  It was one they were familiar with.  They'd only shopped there a few times.  It was mainly a quick stop as they passed through on their way home.  The friendly staff and simple layout added to the convenience.
Skyler put the Rover in park.  He looked to Madison.  She was staring wide eyed at the front door to the shop.  "You don't have to go in if you don't want to."
She nodded.  "I do."  She gave a shrug and glanced at him.  "I think I should."
He offered a smile.  He knew she was again finding her spark.  She always had some courage in reserve.
Skyler made sure to hold her hand as they entered the store.  The cashier welcomed them after a bell announced their arrival.  Skyler was glad to see Madison perk up and return the young woman's friendly greeting.
They made their way to the needed isle.  Skyler fought back a chuckle when he saw Madison gape at the selection of pregnancy tests.  There were plenty to choose from, and then some.  His distraught wife looked a little baffled by the well-stocked shelves.
"Grab one," he said with a nod.  "I bet they're all the same."
She gave a nervous snicker.  "Sure thing, dear.  It can't be that difficult."
He didn't try to answer her sarcastic response.  At least her wit hadn't recessed too much.  She'd be back to her old self in no time.
They moved to opposite ends of the isle.  Looking over each box, they slowly met up in the middle.  Skyler had two boxes in his hand.  Madison had four.
"Difficult?" he said with a smirk.
She seemed to be somewhere between unsure and flustered.  "You pick."
Skyler took her selected boxes.  He added them to his fewer choices.  Putting them behind his back, he shuffled the six boxes around, and stopped with three in each hand.  "Left or right?" he asked, then shrugged his shoulders.
Madison raised a brow.  "We're seriously going to pick a pregnancy test like this?"
He nodded with a smirk.
She shook her head and puffed out a sigh.  "Chase would be so proud of you."
Skyler rocked side to side while Madison's gaze shifted back and forth between his concealed hands.  She bit her lip and narrowed her eyes.  He could almost hear the gears turning in her head.
Reaching out with an unsteady hand, she tapped his right elbow.  Skyler emptied his left hand onto the shelf behind him.  He then shuffled the final three choices in his hands, stopping with two in one hand, and one in the other.
"Left or right?"
He couldn't help by chuckle at the grumble that came from his wife.  She closed her eyes and raised her hand.  She drew a big circle in the air, then reached out and poked his left shoulder.  She picked the one being held alone.
"Ah," he sighed.  "Good choice."
"Which is it?"
"I don't know."
Madison bobbed in place like bobble head dog.  "Skyler!"
He laughed out and put his arm around her.  "Let's go."
"Which is it?"  He could feel her stare burn into the side of his face.
"We'll see at the register."
He caught her glancing back at the shelf where he left the other tests.  There was no way she could determine which he carried.  He let her ponder.  Perhaps it would be a good distraction for her.
Luckily, there was not a line when they made their way to the checkout.  Skyler set the box down at the register.  He pretended not to notice how quickly Madison surveyed the choice.  Either she was content with the selection, or she was too nervous to say otherwise.  She hooked her arm in his until they were finished.
Back in the Rover, Skyler started home.  He calmed some at the relief that seemed to have settled on Madison.  She was no longer wringing her hands or acting fidgety.  She even opened her window and let her hair down.  He was glad to see the change.
They had spoken in the past about starting a family.  They both agreed that it was something they wanted, but they also decided they would wait a while longer.  They needed to be certain they had a handle on their lives before bringing the innocence of a child into their world.  They wanted their children to have a normal and uncomplicated life.
Madison taking his hand broke his train of thought.  He looked to her and offered a warm smile.  She returned it, then winked at him.  "We're gonna be okay," she said quietly.
He nodded in agreement.  He couldn't tell if she was aiming to comfort him in some way, or if she was mostly saying so for her own sake.  As long as she believed it, he didn't mind either way.
When they pulled into the driveway, Skyler chuckled as Madison snatched the bag from between the seats and jumped out of the Rover.  She trotted down the sidewalk.  She peeked back at him every few steps as if to see if he was coming.
Skyler got to the sidewalk in time to catch a glimpse of her disappear in the front door.  She left it open just a smidgen, gave a quick wave, then was out of sight.  He heard the bathroom door close when he reached the first step.
They would know in a few short minutes the result of the test.  Butterflies filled his stomach.  Excitement and anxiousness converged on him.  He stepped in the house and guided the door closed.  Taking a deep breath, he told himself either result would be welcomed.  He wished it to give whichever answer would please his wife the most.
Madison had a casserole prepared for dinner that was waiting in the fridge.  Skyler went ahead and turned on the oven.  He could get it going while they awaited the verdict.
He was pulling out dishes for dinner when she joined him in the kitchen.  She set out the silverware without a word.  Her beaming smile said it all.
"How long do we have?" he asked.
She chuckled before answering.  "Four more minutes."
Skyler sat down at the table and held out his hands for her to come closer.  She followed his meaning.  She sat on his lap and gave him a kiss.  He hugged her to his chest.  "What are you thinking about?"
Easing back, she looked confused by his asking.  "You tell me."
"No," he said with a chuckle.  "I'm just wondering."
She continued to peer at him.  He knew she was teasing.  She always mused that he knew her thoughts without her having to say anything.  It was in her eyes.  They gave away her mood.  But they were hard to read at the moment.
"I don't know," she finally answered.  Biting her lip, she shook her head.  "I don't really know."
"You have to be thinking of something."
She shrugged.  "What about you?"
"Me?" he stalled.  "Well, I'm thinking these might be the longest four minutes of my life."
Madison laughed with him.  She leaned to hug him, nuzzling against his neck.  "Oh, come on."
"What?" he protested.
"I can think of worse four minute waits."
He nodded slowly and tightened his hold on her.  "Yeah, but this is now, and I'm still waiting for your answer."
Her sigh warmed the side of his neck.  "I'm trying not to get excited," she confessed.  "I'm trying not to think about it."
"All right."  He tugged at a curl that was tickling his cheek.  "How have things been going at the library?"
He felt her shrug.  "Quietly."
Not knowing how to take her answer, he fought back a smile until she laughed.  "I guess that's to be expected."
"That's what I've been told," she went on.  "It's good.  I'm glad they took me on."
"Good.  I'm beginning to get hooked on these lunches in the park."
"Me too," she agreed.
The sounding beep from the oven told that it was warmed up and ready to go.  Madison hugged Skyler tight once more, then got to her feet.  She took the casserole from where he had set it on the counter and slid it into the oven.
Skyler admired her from the place he held at the table.  He could tell her mind was still racing.  Her movements were automatic.  She was removed from the world around her.  Her blank eyes followed her fingertips as she set the timer on the oven.
The blinking, green numbers on the display reminded him of the time.  It had been five minutes.  The test was done.  Madison was delaying.
He stood and wandered to the coffee pot.  The machine had turned itself off long ago.  The black coffee within was undoubtedly cold.  Even still, Skyler poured some into his ceramic mug.
"Do you want more?" Madison posed.
He shook his head.  "I'll just put it in the microwave."
She looked to him and bit her lip.  She seemed to be holding her breath.  Then, with a quick nod, she turned and left the kitchen.
Skyler listened to the padding of her soft footsteps as she made her way down the hall.  He didn't know if he should go with her, or wait for her to come to him.  Did she want to be alone?  Did she want him by her side?
He could hear the light switch click in the bathroom.  It was followed by a silence that drowned out his thoughts.  All he could do was wait.
He didn't realize he was holding his breath until he heard Madison clear her throat.  She was coming back up the hall.  He hurried and set the coffee mug in the microwave and pressed a few buttons.
When he stepped back, it was just in time to catch a glimpse of Madison as she emerged from the hall.  She met his eyes, blinked, and bit her lip.  He waited.  She shook her head.
Skyler nodded in understanding.  He peered at her in attempts to see how she felt about the result.  She was still too distant.  Her daze was as strong as ever.
Unsure of what to do, he moved to her, pulled her into his arms, and held her for several breaths.  She returned a rather passive embrace of her own.  He kissed her forehead and wished he could read her mind.
"I'm sorry," she said in a weak voice.  "I shouldn't have said anything until I knew.  I got us all worked up for nothing."
He gave a sympathetic chuckle.  "Don't worry about it," he answered with another kiss.  "You're fine.  We're fine."
Madison leaned against him.  She puffed out a sigh.  "I know you want one.  I'm sorry."
Taking her face in his hands, he forced her to meet his eyes yet again.  He shook his head.  "You have nothing to be sorry for.  We're fine.  All right?"
She gave a hesitant nod.
"I love you."
A smile colored her face.  "Forever."
"Always," he answered.
It was a great comfort when she hugged herself to him as tightly as she did.  He held her close, breathing in the trace of vanilla that softened her skin.  The only thing he wanted more than kids was for her unwavering happiness.  He had more than he could ever hope for with each loving smile and sparkle of her eyes.
She gave a happy hum that warmed his heart.  She looked up at him and her eyes confirmed her peace.  That was all he needed.
"Now," she said as she eased back.  "Are you really okay with that old coffee or do you want some from the fresh pot I'm going to brew?"
He answered right away with a nod.  "Only if you're having some.  If you are, I'd love something a little more fresh."
"That's what I thought."
She seemed to be her usual self as they readied their dinner.  Skyler stayed with her in the kitchen though he knew she liked having the workspace to herself.  It might have just been him being paranoid, but he thought he would every now and again catch a certain sadness in her eyes.  I disappeared as soon as he focused on it.
Even through dinner, she kept up the believable front.  She was conversational, easily keeping up when he mentioned their hope of redecorating the living room.  Madison relayed a color-scheme she had been toying with.  She could even get it to blend throughout the house.
But as soon as the dinner was done and Skyler insisted it was his night to do the dishes, Madison slipped off in silence.  He let her be.  A few minutes of quiet never hurt anyone.
Then a few minutes turned into a few hours.  It was getting late.  Would she let the day end on such a gloomy note?
She was curled up with a pillow at the foot of their bed.  Skyler eased into the room and sat down beside her.  She didn't stir.
"I'm going to go for a walk," he said to her stilled presence.
There was not an answer from her.  Her eyes were closed, but she was not sleeping.  He could tell that much by the way her fingers fidgeted with a loose thread on the bedspread.
He leaned down next to her.  "Would you like to come along?  I was just going to head up the beach and check out the tide pools."
She mumbled her decline of the invitation.
Skyler brushed the curls from Madison's face and took her hand in his.  "Come on," he said softly.  "You would be sorry to miss such a sunset."
She seemed to think on it for a moment.  Her eyes slowly opened and met his.  He gave a smile hoping to encourage her.  After a few blinks, she sat up.
Skyler kept a passive hold on her hand as they strolled up the beach.  Madison was still rather distracted.  He let her have her quiet.  At least he got her out of the house.  Walks along the shore always cheered her up.
The sunset was gorgeous.  The reds and pinks of the feathered clouds reflected on the lazy waves.  The already beautiful waters came alive with the radiant colors.
Keeping their easy pace, Skyler glanced over at Madison.  He tried to decipher any change in her demeanor.  It was difficult to tell with the wind tossing the loosened curls into her face.  She didn't bother to sweep them back.
She was too busy fussing at the ornery straps of her dress.  They appeared to be taking turns slipping off her shoulders with the evening breeze.  She would get one back in place just in time for the other to fall.  Going by the tightness of her lips, she was rather pestered.
They were nearly to the tide pools when she slowed to a stop.  "Go ahead," she said as she looked back the way they had come.  "I think I'm just going to head to bed."
Skyler let her pull her hand free from his.  "Are you sure?"
She nodded.  "Let me know if you find any neat shells."  She shrugged, and then tugged at a rebelling strap.
He peered at the darkening beach ahead of them.  The tide pools were in sight.
But Madison didn't wait for any reply from him.  She turned away and started home.  Her bare feet left muffled prints in the loose sand compared to the fresh prints along the shining shore.
Skyler watched her as she walked on.  She was not coming around as he expected her to.  It was as if their little walk only added to her gloom.  Though she had a good lead on him, he trailed after her.
He caught up without hurrying his pace.  Her depressed lop covered far less ground than his longer strides.
Madison tugged the strap back onto her shoulder.  Skyler caught her hand as it came back to her side.  She flinched away as if she was frightened.
"It's just me," he said with a calm chuckle.  She lifted her head just a little to peek at him, but it was enough for him to see a tear streak from her wide eyes.
He stopped where he was and tightened his hold on her hand.  "Madison, what's wrong?"
She bit her lip in frustration.  After taking a deep breath, she shook her head in answer.
"Hey, now," he said as he moved closer, forcing her to meet his gaze.  "This isn't like you.  What's bothering you?"
There wasn't a verbal answer from her, but Skyler though he might understand.  Her eyes slid closed.  Her brows raised in worry.  She took another deep breath and let it out slowly.
"It's the test," he quietly posed.  "Isn't it?"  She bit her lip in response.  "You wanted it to say yes, didn't you?"
Her green eyes, shining with tears, blinked open.  She shook her head just the slightest bit.  "No," she answered in a tired whisper.  "I didn't think I was ready.  I didn't think we were ready.  We're just getting started.
"But then you were excited.  I know you were.  I could see it.  And that made me excited.  I thought of how wonderful it would be to have a family, I mean, you and me and a baby.  A real family.
"I didn't want it to say yes … until it said no."
She closed her eyes and bowed her head as she finished speaking.  Skyler could tell she was fighting back tears.  He stood there silently and did his best to find the right words to say.
A strap of her dress slipped from her shoulder.  Madison's brows matched her frown as she reached for it.  With a quick and gentle movement, Skyler's hand met hers to reclaim the fallen strap.  She froze in place at his touch.
"Come here," he said softly as he pulled her close.  He held her tight.  Her long curls caught in the stubble of his cheek.  "You don't have to answer," he started slowly.  "I'm just saying this so you won't worry about what I'm thinking.  I'm more than happy with having you with me everyday.  It means more to me than I could ever explain.  Yes, I let myself get a little excited.  I'm looking forward to the day when we decide to start a family.  But I can wait as long as you like.  I will wait as long as you need.  I love you either way.  Always."
He eased back just enough to find her broken-hearted gaze.  "Again, Madison, you don't have to answer.  Just think for yourself.  Did you want it to say yes?"
The stillness that followed his asking made him hold his breath.  He didn't want to put pressure on her, especially if she was distraught at the moment.  He only wanted her to be honest with herself.  He wanted her to push all her fears and doubts aside and see what her heart said.
Her teary eyes slid closed as she bit her lip.  Her brows tightened for an instant.  She then forced the saddest smile Skyler had ever seen.  "I didn't," she answered in a weak voice.  "At first, anyway."
Madison leaned her head on his shoulder.  Adjusting his hold on her, Skyler tucked the wind-teased curls behind her ear and kissed her cheek.  He was comforted by how lovingly she hugged him.
They walked home without another word.  The sunset went unnoticed by him, as he held tight to her hand.  He could feel the tension fade from her with each step silenced by swirling, warm sand.  When they reached the steps of porch, Skyler scooped her up.  She relaxed against him as he carried her into their house.