This post is a continuation of “Still In Love with Maddison Holt after All These Years.” I included Chapter One of the novel in that post and promised two more. Here’s the final installment:

SET FREE AMAZON FRONT COVERCHAPTER THREE

Exhausted beyond words, Maddison pulled up to the farmhouse, dragged his suitcase out of the trunk and himself up the steps. Since the lights were out except for the one over the stove in the kitchen, he knew he’d need to use his own key.

As he stepped into the kitchen, warm, familiar, homey smells surrounded him and soothed him. In the dim light, his eyes automatically sought and rested on the oversized wooden table that stood right in the middle of the big room, and on all of the white metal and enameled cabinets and appliances that flanked the two walls opposite the door. The stove and sink were modern enough to be convenient, but the cabinets had seen at least two generations of living in this house.

The sight of them, along with the hardwood floor, polished to a shine and scattered with colorful rugs, the dried flowers hanging beside the old wooden coat rack to his right, Uncle Matt’s worn Bible open on one end of the table where he’d had his bedtime snack … they all welcomed him and comforted him.

He crossed over to the table, seeing that there was a note propped against the napkin holder. He picked it up and switched on the ceiling light to see it better. It read:

“Dear Maddison,

Since you said you didn’t have any idea what time you’d be here, I didn’t wait up. I figured if you forgot your key,    you could pound on the door loud enough to wake me. Just come on in and get comfortable. Your room’s ready, and there’s loads of stuff to eat in the kitchen. Just sleep until you wake up in the morning. We’ll have plenty of time to talk after that. I love you, Maddison, and I’m sure glad you’re going to be here with me for a while.

Uncle Matt.”

Maddison grinned and spoke out loud: “Sleep until I wake up. If I do that, Uncle Matt, it may be two whole days before you see me.” He tucked the note into his shirt pocket, picked up his suitcase, turned out the lights, and headed upstairs to the room that was always reserved for him. Just before sleep claimed him, his mind recalled Beth’s engaging face, surrounded by tousled honey-colored curls, her deep golden eyes full of compassion as he’d told her about his brother. And with that unbidden image came an unexpected, quiet comfort that wrapped around his heart and led him to the first peaceful rest he’d had in weeks.

Not too many miles away, Beth was saying “Goodnight” to her mom and brother. They had talked over the plan Maddison had laid out. Adele, naturally wanted Lex to help her understand what had brought him to this place, but all he did was take her hand in his and say, “I’m just too tired to talk any more tonight, Mom.” She knew better than to press right now, so she just hugged him and told him to sleep well.

Just before he left the room, though, another thought struck her, and she asked, “But, Lex, what about the gun?”

“Mr. Holt took it. He said he had a way of getting it turned over to the police without getting me into more trouble.” He grinned and shook his head. “I just bet he can do it too.”

Adele had finally agreed to turn in after Beth promised to do so herself once she’d had a cup of tea. So Beth finally found herself alone in the quiet living room, snuggled into a corner of the sofa, sipping tea, and trying to gather and settle her erratic thoughts.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t tonight’s events that her mind kept returning to. It was last year … her engagement to Derek … and all that had happened since her mother had become ill. She had thought she knew Derek well enough to want to spend the rest of her life with him. They had dated regularly for about a year before becoming engaged.

True, he was selfish at times, but then most all of the men she knew were that way. Her father hadn’t been, but then that was another generation. The world was different now, so people were different. Besides, she couldn’t keep waiting all her life for some “Prince Charming” like she’d read about in all those romance novels she used to turn to during school years as a respite from studying.

Still, the force of Derek’s objections had come as a complete surprise. Their discussions replayed in her mind now, as they had several times this past ten months. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Derek had said. “You can’t honestly be considering messing up our plans and turning yourself into a nursemaid for months! I’m due for this promotion in two months, and we need to get the wedding out of the way, so you can make the move to Maryland with me.”

“But, Derek, to consign my mother to a nursing home, with a visit from me only once a month isn’t right. And you’re wrong about Lex. He won’t do just as well staying with our eighty-year-old aunt until he finishes school.”

“I thought you loved me,” he’d said, a wounded expression on his face.

“It isn’t a question of whether I love you. I love my mother too. She never failed to be there for me, to nurse me and love me through everything .… In fact, she was always there for all of us, never holding herself back. How could it be fair, the way she’s suffering already, for me to relegate her to some strange place, surrounded by strange people, when I’m strong and healthy enough to take care of her?”

“But that’s what those places are for.”

“Derek, I’ve always tried to live by what I see in God’s Word. You know that. I just don’t see anything in His Word that says it’s all right to shove our sick parents off into the hands of strangers when we have the ways and means to care for them.”

“You can’t expect every little decision you make to be covered in the Bible!” Derek had said.

“Actually, Derek, I think you can, at least to some extent. But that doesn’t matter. God’s Word does say to honor our parents. I know that obeying them comes to an end when we become adults, but honoring them is supposed to last their whole life, isn’t it? And I just can’t see that what you’re suggesting is a way of honoring my mother. I just can’t do it.”

It had been the same argument a number of times, and they had finally agreed to get some counseling from their pastor. He had tried to help Derek see that a few months, or even a year, of sacrifice for a loved one shouldn’t be considered as something destructive to the love between Derek and Beth. “If what you two have for each other is going to last a lifetime,” he’d said, “it’s going to have to withstand much greater stresses than this one over the intervening years.”

But Derek had remained adamant, and had even said some things to Beth that had been unnecessarily hurtful, so they had parted. He had maintained that she didn’t love him enough if she could make the choices she’d made, and after a while, Beth realized that probably she hadn’t, at least not enough to be the wife he wanted. Perhaps, after all, God had stepped in and shown her the truth before she made a bigger mistake, and both of them had ended up a few years from now broken-hearted by a marriage that never should have taken place at all.

The heartbreak she’d expected to feel had never materialized. She felt sad that their relationship had ended with bad feelings on Derek’s part, and for a short time, she had mourned not having the marriage she’d dreamed about for months. But she knew now that marriage to Derek wouldn’t have fulfilled that dream anyway.

She’d talked it over with the Lord several times the last few months, and she prayed again now as she had prayed those other times. “Dear Lord, I’m believing You to help Derek find the kind of woman he needs for a wife … one who sees things the way he does and who can appreciate him and his beliefs. … And maybe … maybe not … but just maybe, there’s a man out there who sees things the way I do.” She sighed. “I’ll admit it seems like a long shot, Lord, but if anybody can come up with a man like that, You can.”

Suddenly, in the midst of her prayer, she saw again a pair of black-lashed, searching gray eyes. Once again there was a sense of recognition. … Then the vision was gone, drifting away like all of her other thoughts and words, on a wave of exhaustion that finally forced her to her bed. Trying to understand any of it any better would have to wait for another day.


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