Monday, January 7, 2013

Always & Forever - Chapter Six

Madison kept her reply to herself.  Skyler didn't want her to stay and Chase didn't want her to go.  She disagreed with both, but seemingly had no say on the matter.
"Come on," Chase said as he backed out of the parking space.  "I'll even let you push the cart."
She lowered her gaze and surveyed the collar of his jacket across her knees.  It was an older garment, but well cared for.  That was a rarity for him.  The tan stitching along the dark denim made her think of summer time instead of the cold weather that surrounded her.
"He told me to go home," she said without looking away from the stitching.  "Skyler said for me to go back without him."
"Of course he did," he replied with a chuckle.
She bit her lip to keep from snapping at him.  There was nothing humorous about the situation.  She refused to accept his jesting.
"You're all he has left, Madison.  Just you.  Of course he wants you to go home.  He thinks you will be safer there."
"How would I be safer there?  They got him from there.  They wrecked our house."
"And that's exactly why I didn't put you back on a plane the moment you got here.  I'm not going to tell you where to go.  I think here and there would be no different safety-wise.  You have to figure out where you would do the most good.  Where do you want to be?"
That was an easy one.  "Here."
Chase gave a nod of satisfaction.  "Then I suggest that you behave and stay out of trouble.  Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself."
His approval was a comfort.  It did little to affect the overwhelming feat that Skyler would not be there, but it made breathing just a tad easier.  She was glad he understood.  "Thank you, Chase."
He shook his head.  "Not yet.  I'm not finished."  He wiggled in his seat as if preparing for a big speech.  "If you plan on staying here, no more of this 'Poor me, I'm gonna sit in a dark corner brooding' bit.  Sawyer sounds pretty confident about this.  It's far from over.  And you need to take good care of yourself."
He was being reasonable.  She gave a nod.
"Good.  Now, do you want to find a coat first or groceries?"
She chuckled and snuggled into the warm seat.  "That coat sounds pretty good."
"Good," he said with even more cheer.  "It's a deal.  Coat.  Groceries. Sleepover."
She looked at him sideways.  He answered with a smirk.  Once again, Chase's positive outlook helped pull her back.  His assistance was priceless.
Chase drove them back to the Magnificent Mile.  Madison laughed when he pulled up in front of a store that was only a block from his apartment.  "What?" he asked in a surprised tone.  "It's a good space.  These are never open."
She shrugged and shook her head.  "Nothing."  She leaned forward and looked out the window at his building and parking garage.
"I'm doing you a favor.  Would you rather walk through the snow in your island-wear?  I don't mind."
Madison shook her head again.  "You're so thoughtful."
"That's what I thought."  He cut off the engine and stepped out.  Madison followed after him.
The shop he chose had plenty to offer.  The racks were loaded with winter-wear worthy of the frost trimmed storefront windows.  Madison was quick to grab a long, brown coat with lots of pockets and try it on.
"Not bad," Chase said, and then yawned.  "If that's what you're into."
She peered at him.  "I'm only going to need it for a two weeks.  Three at most.  No use being too picky."
He bobbed his head and moved on to the next rack.  "That's cool.  Just sayin'."
Madison shrugged the coat off and put it back on its hanger, but carried it with her as she trailed him farther into the store.  He was acting suspicious.
"The one you ordered last year was fine, too.  It made you look like a bum, but who am I to judge?"
She smiled to herself.  The one he spoke of was about two sizes larger than she realized when she placed the order.  It, too, was a plain brown coat.  She felt like she was wearing a hand-me-down each time she put it on.  But she rarely wore it.  It was not worth fussing over.  The majority of her time was spent in the confines of the apartment. 
Chase wandered to the far side of the store.  He stopped in an area with much more fashionable coats.  They were the kinds she would love to have if she was to see more of the winter weather.  The short time she would see of it did not deserve such a trendy coat.
He didn't seem to notice her hesitation.  Chase pulled a coat from the rack and held it out to her.  He didn't wait to see her reaction.  He was back to scanning the collection of coats before she accepted it from him.
It was another long coat.  But this one was a green khaki color.  It had a zip closure with big, wooden button accents.  The two deep pockets had dark zippers across the tops of them.  A waist belt with a square buckle matched the zippers.  The tall collar was just a shade darker green than the rest of the coat.
What she liked the most about the garment was the heavy lining within.  She pulled off the hoodie, then tried on the coat, zipped it up, and leaned on the rack to strike a pose.
"Not bad," Chase said as he took the hoodie from her.  His brows bounced as he withheld a smirk.  "You look like you almost belong here."
He nodded, turned away holding up his finger, and strolled around to the other side of the rack.  There was a display of wool scarves set up.  Blues, grays, reds, yellow, and pinks hung from the arms of mannequins wearing slender, black coats.
Chase tugged a gray scarf loose and tossed it over the rack.  She held it up and shook her head.  "Really?"
"Everyone wears a scarf, Madison."  He pointed at the mannequin behind her.  "See?  Even he has one."
She nodded in understanding.  Scarves were pretty much a necessity when staying in Chicago.  Then again, she didn't feel she would be there long enough to warrant it.
"I'm done," Chase shrugged.  "Do you want the boring brown or the lively green?"
"That's my only choice?"
"Nope."  He walked up to her, took the brown coat away, and moseyed to the front of the store.  Chase hung it on its original rack and looked over his shoulder.  "That's your only choice."
Madison laughed at him.  She did like the green one better.  If he were not there, she would have stuck with the brown one.  It was more reasonable in her opinion.  Bland, yes.  But a coat was a coat.  She just wanted something warm, not particularly fancy.
She went to the front of the store and joined Chase at the counter.  A young man stopped sorting sweaters from a box and came to meet them.  "Found what you were looking for?"
"Yep," Chase answered.  He held up his hoodie.  "All I wanted was my hoodie back."
"I see," said Madison.  "That's how it is."
"Hey," he said as he hugged it to his chest, "Not even Tabatha gets to wear this thing.  This isn't just any hoodie, you know."
Madison nodded.  "Gotcha.  Thanks for letting me borrow it."  She matched his smirk and reached in her purse.  "I'll be sure to let Tabatha know the next time I see her."
Chase had his wallet out before she finished speaking, and handed a card to the cashier.  "It's 'The Hoodie'.  It's sacred."
"Don't take that card," she said to the young man behind the counter.  She pulled out her own and passed it to him.  "Thanks anyway."
Chase leaned over and peeked at the card she handed to the cashier.  "Sure, use a stolen card.  That always works."
The young man behind the counter looked up at them both.  His brown eyes widened as he paused in swiping the card, one in each hand.
Madison let out a sigh and turned to Chase with a glare.  He simply shrugged and nodded to the cashier.  "The first one would be safest."
"It's not stolen," she growled at Chase.  She looked to the cashier.  "It's not stolen.  Do you want my ID?"
The young man ran Chase's card through the machine.  He passed both cards back to their carriers.  "I believe you, ma'am."
Tucking her card back into her purse, she shook her head at Chase.  "That wasn't necessary.  But thank you."
Chase grinned.  The cashier handed him a receipt and pen.  Chase signed and passed it back.  "Don't mention it.  It's in The Hoodie's best interest."
She couldn't help but smile at him.  He finished at the counter and looked to her.  Madison held up the scarf, and then tossed it over his shoulder.  With another smirk, he wrapped it around his neck once and flicked the ends over his shoulders.
Chase took a bow and waved for her to go ahead of him.  Madison thanked the cashier and headed for the door, but before she could reach it, Chase dashed around her to hold it open.
She made a point to stop and zip up her new coat.  He nodded in approval.  "You don't have to push the cart if you don't want to," he said as she passed by.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, she waited for him to come beside her.  She knew he only went to the grocery store when it entailed the use of a cart.  He was as fascinated with them as he was with snow.  "As long as you promise not to run over my toes."
Chase started down the sidewalk with the bounce returned to his step.  "Maybe we should have set you up with boots, too."
He led the way to a store only a few doors down.  List in hand; Chase claimed the first cart inside the door.  He made noises of squealing wheels with each turn and throttled take off.
Madison was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they tackled the shopping list.  She held their place in line as Chase took the cart for a few victory laps around the store.  She exchanged smiles with women her age that had their children standing quietly at their sides.  Their eyes would wander at times to the grown man racing around with a well-stocked grocery cart when he would zoom by.  While they looked on with faint disapproval, their children squirmed with envy.
Once they had their purchases bagged, the two carried everything out to Chase's car in one trip.  He snatched up the weighty bags before Madison could and ended up carrying twice as much.
His drive back to the apartment was much more controlled than his time with the cart.  Satisfaction with knowing the eggs would not be scrambled in the short distance made Madison smile.  They were the only items she worried about.  She meant to hold them in her lap, but Chase took them and tucked them in a sack with the bread.
Back at the apartment, Madison called Richard as she put the groceries away to let him know how things were going.  She kept to herself about the part where Skyler wished her to go home, but filled him in on Sawyer and Chase's help.  He voiced his appreciation of the added assistance.  Madison could hear the relief in his words.
She spent what little was left of the afternoon putting together a dinner for her and Chase.  He was in his office the whole time making phone calls.  Madison kept the three files of the mystery witnesses close and glanced over them yet again.  There had to be something they were missing.
With the table set and meal prepared, Chase and Madison sat down for dinner.  It was not one of Madison's more spectacular spreads, but it was plenty for the two of them: Lemon pepper chicken breast with a tossed salad and corn on the cob.
Chase gave his usual praises for the hot, home cooked meal, and then readily dove in.  The conversation was sparse for the majority of the shared dinner.  They both had their noses in files and textbooks.  At times, one would speak up about something they've found to get the other's opinion.  That was the limit of their discussions.
When they were both finished, Chase returned to his office while Madison cleared off the table and put away the left overs.  She let herself cheat on the dishes.  They went straight from the table to the dishwasher.  No pre-rinse.  She wanted to spend more time on her small collection of files.
Madison opened each file on the table and arranged their papers across its width.  She borrowed a stack of sticky notes from Chase's office, and then pulled one of the tall stools from the counter over to the table.  From her raised perch, she jotted down thoughts and ideas on the stickies and stuck them to the edge of the table.
Of the three mystery witnesses, the one from New Orleans seemed to be their best shot at recruiting.  All three were family men, but that one in particular made the most recent and most noticeable withdrawals from Skyler's recovery account.
Madison matched up the times and amounts with the bank records.  One of the larger transactions went to a university.  It covered tuition and what she guessed to be textbooks.  It was not just any university, but a prestigious medical school.
With a good collection of notes on each witness, Madison began to concentrate more so on Mr. New Orleans.  The others had potential, but with her limited amount of time, she felt it would be wise to consolidate all her resources on one witness.  One amazing testimony would do more good than three sparse stories.
It was late in the evening when Madison stepped back from her research.  Her eyes were dry and ached.  Switching back and forth between the laptop and paper documents helped, but was still exhausting.
She looked to Chase's office.  His lights were on, but the room was quiet.  She wondered how he was managing, so she went to check on him.
He had his head down on his desk with a thick textbook propped up in front of him.  The music from his headphones had enough volume for Madison so hear it by the door.  He glanced to her when she peeked in.
"How are you doing?" she asked.
Chase dropped the headphones down to his neck.  "Doing good.  You?"
She rubbed at her brow with the back of her hand.  "I think I've found a few things, but I think I need to go to bed."
"Good idea," he said with a nod.  "I'm going to work on this a little while longer.  Go ahead and rest.  We'll see what Sawyer says in the morning."
"Do you need anything before I go?'
He shook his head and reached for the headphones.  Before he had them on once again, he cocked his head.  "Maybe some coffee?"
Madison nodded with a tired smile.  "I'll put some on.  Goodnight."
He bobbed his head.  "Goodnight."
She turned down the lights in the front room as she made her way back to the kitchen.  While it brewed, she put on her nightclothes and got ready for bed.  She opened the blinds in the bedroom and reveled in the city's winter-kissed glow.  She could have easily fallen asleep where she stood if not for the aroma of the coffee calling her back to the kitchen.
Picking Chase's favorite mug, a tall one with an embossed keyboard around its body, she filled it with the steaming coffee.  She nearly added a dash of creamer as Skyler liked it, but caught herself.  Chase took his black.
She set the mug on his desk and went on to bed.  A dreary sadness attached itself to her tiredness.  She could still feel the cool carton of creamer against her hand.  It reminded her of why she was not at home in her own bed, as did most everything that hinted at her life with Skyler.
The lonely time between curling up in bed and falling asleep was the worst.  Even her dreams made her miss Skyler's presence.  A major piece of her heart was missing.
She hugged a pillow to her chest.  It was in no way a close replica of Skyler, but it helped.  Even still, she missed his arms around her, the feel of his breath against her neck, and the comfort of knowing they were together, the way they were meant to be.
Mornings seemed to come earlier and earlier for Madison.  She felt as if she had only just fallen asleep when she senses the start of a new day.  The sun was only beginning to cast a golden glow on the snowy world when she awoke.
Normally, she would lie in bed and wait out the early hours and snuggle against Skyler.  If he were still asleep, she would simply watch him dream and match his breaths.  If he was already awake, they would hold each other in the quiet warmth of the morning while the shadows on the walls grew as the sun climbed higher into the sky.
But the empty bed she woke to only urged her to get up and find a way to bring him home.  She would never take another night in his arms for granted.  He'd be lucky if she ever let him out of her sight again.
As she sat on the side of the bed touched her feet to the plush carpet, the sounds of Chase's phone came from the main room. Madison held her place for a couple rings.  She got up to hurry to catch it after the third.
But when she opened the door, Chase was rolling over on the couch and reaching for the phone.  He answered it with sleep heavy on his voice.
"Hello.  Yeah.  No, I'm up."  He sat up and ran his fingers through his messy hair.  His eyes narrowed as he listened to whoever was on the line.  "When was this?"
He waited and listened awhile longer.  Madison leaned on the doorframe for a moment, but then decided it would be better for her to keep busy.  She made her way into the kitchen and started another pot of coffee for Chase.
"And what did he say?"
Madison figured making omelets would hold her over long enough to wait out his call.  It was not normal for Chase to do more listening than talking.  Cooking breakfast might keep her from planting herself on the couch and trying to listen in on the conversation.
"Is there anything we can do to help?"  He paused, and then looked back at her.  She froze in place.  The cold yolk of the egg she just cracked oozed over her fingertips.  "Yeah, she's here.  I know."  He shook his head.  "It wouldn't make any difference."
Chase stood up and stretched.  He waddled into this office while nodding his head.  His door silently closed behind him.
The call had to be from Sawyer.  That would be the only person who would know about the dilemma of whether she was still in the city or on her way back to the island.  Was there an update about Skyler?  Was he asking for her?  Would she get to see him once more, and be well received?
She shook her head and turned her focus to the mess she made with the egg.  Most of the yolk that seeped out landed in the pan.  There was only a small spill on the stovetop.  She wiped it up with a wet rag, and then threw the emptied shell away.
One omelet was finished and the second was almost ready when Chase finally emerged from his office.  Madison watched him out the corner of her eye as she added pieces of red pepper to the sizzling breakfast.  But neither the smell of the omelet nor the fresh coffee earned a fraction of her attention.
"Well," Chase started as he sat down at the counter.  "That was Sawyer.  There's been a change in Skyler's case."
Madison peered at him in anticipation of what kind of change occurred.  Was it a good change?  Was it a bad change?  Why was he taking his sweet time getting to the point?
He nodded as if he felt her mental push for him to continue.  "His sentencing hearing has been moved up.  It's tomorrow."
That was too soon.  Madison's eyes widened.  "But we're not ready.  We can't get any witnesses here by then."
"I know.  Sawyer said he would go with what he has if …"
She leaned over the crackling egg.  Why couldn't he just spit it out?  Was he still asleep?
"He's going to try to get it rescheduled," Chase said with a confused look on his face.  "The prosecution had it moved up.  But a different judge will be hearing the case.  Sawyer is going to let him know of our situation and ask for a little more time.  If he gets it, we'll just pick up our pace a bit.  If he doesn't, well, we'll just have to manage with what we have."
"And what would that be?"
Chase shook his head.  "Not much.  We need more time."
How could someone get the hearing moved up?  Why were they making things so difficult?
What was that horrid stench?
Madison's mind quit racing long enough for her to remember the egg in the pan.  She jumped back when she realized how much heat she was getting from the burner.  Grabbing the pan with one hand, and switching off the stove with the other, she frowned at the blackened mess that was once edible.
"I'm sorry," she muttered.
Chase snorted.  "What for?"
"I burned it.  I wasn't paying attention."
"Yeah," he said with a nod.  "I noticed."
She glared at him, and then stepped to the trashcan.
"You're forgiven," he smirked.
It took some encouragement from the spatula to get the egg to release its hold on the pan.  Ham, cheese, and peppers were hardly distinguishable from the peeling egg.  The smell of burnt eggs ruined what little appetite Madison had left.
"I'm assuming that one was yours."
She looked across the counter at him.  The grin on his face said that he was teasing, but her frustration made her want to throw an egg at him.
"Oh, come on.  I'll share."
Chase reached over the counter and grabbed a hotplate.  Madison followed his meaning and set the pan down.  She let herself chuckle when he finally burst out laughing.
"It's going to smell like that all day," she said with another frown.  "Yuck."
Still laughing to himself, Chase got up and jogged to the front door.  He pulled it open and fanned at the air as if he could push the foul smell out of the apartment.  He stood there for a while before propping the door open with the hall tree.  He turned around and shrugged.  "It happens.  But I'll still share."
"No, thank you," Madison said as she held the plate with the good omelet out for him.  "I think it's another bagel morning."
She moved about the kitchen and stuffed a bagel into the toaster.  Chase came back to the counter and poked at the omelet in front of him.  Madison expected him to scarf it down.
"Do you not want it?"
His head popped up and his eyes widened.  "What?  No!  I mean, yes!  I was just waiting for you."
She swallowed a surprised chuckle.  "Ok.  Thanks."  It came out sounding like a question.  She hurried to the fridge and found the cream cheese.  The toaster hadn't finished yet, but she bumped the lever and grabbed the bagel as it hopped up.
As soon as she sat down, Chase took a few bites of the omelet and chewed at it quickly.  "Don't worry about anything, Madison.  I know Sawyer will make this work.  He can recover anything no matter the time crunch."
"Did he say if there was anything for us to do?"
He nodded as he took another bite.  "He said to keep up our research.  We should go on as if nothing's happened.  But he did suggest we move a little faster."
Again his reasoning tickled her.  He couldn't give a straight answer.  Even still, she trusted his judgment.  If he said Sawyer could still pull them through, she believed him.  Not only was it worth a try, it was their only chance.
"Did you find anything new?"
Chase wagged his head.  "Not really.  You?"
"Hmm," she hesitated in calling her thoughts new on Mr. New Orleans.  "Maybe.  Kind of.  Not really."
He raised a brow.  Madison realized how much she sounded like him with that answer.
"Ok," she started.  "Those three files you said would be the biggest help, well, I think we need to concentrate on one.  The guy in New Orleans, to be specific.  I think that if we can get ahold of him, he would be the most likely to testify for Skyler."
"How come?"
She shrugged.  "Just a feeling."
Chase raised a brow again.  He was unimpressed.  "A feeling?"
"He's paid a tuition recently.  One of his kids is in med school.  He took out an amount close to it a few years ago.  He has another kid in law school.  This guy is doing better with what Skyler set up with than he would have with the company Morgan shut down."
"Can you prove that?"
"Maybe," she answered with a wince.  "If I can get ahold of him."
Chase nodded slowly.  That was all she got from him.  Whether or not he approved was beyond her.
"At least, that's what I would like to do."
"Ok," he said with a shrug.  "Go for it."
She was reluctant to accept his approval.  "But I won't have anything by tomorrow.  There's no way."
"Get what you can.  It's better than nothing, right?"
Madison nodded.  He was right.  But it would only be beneficial if Sawyer won them more time.  And only if she was able to actually contact Mr. New Orleans.  "I guess I better get busy."
Chase scraped up what was left of the omelet.  It looked to be a mouthful when he finally tackled it.  He gave another shrug.  "Where do we start?"
"A name would be helpful."

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