Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hands On: Chapter 22

Fortunately I was able to make it back to Madison’s condo without any more of his neighbors seeing me sans shoes, but now standing outside of his door it was my turn to take a few deep breaths. It was one thing to make up my own mind about us, and entirely another one to get him to change his. It was not easy to win arguments—well debates—with Mr. Reese as a rule. He was no pushover, and while I wasn’t one either, I still didn’t really relish the thought of butting heads with him over our hearts. The stakes were so high.

…This body says that’s not me anymore. But it’s wrong, Paige…
I placed my hand on the doorknob and turned it. I needed to convince him that that guy in the boxes and the one on the other side of this door were one and the same, and that I loved him.

…I am still that guy. And I know you see him…
Madison must have forgotten all about telling me that. He must have forgotten that it was the truth. I recalled thinking at the time that we had made such headway in our relationship, that the disability thing was resolved between us. Oh well. There wasn’t a schedule for these matters, right? I supposed both of us had plenty of our own words to eat.

Go ahead, win then. See if I care.
Maybe I could roll another double-six. I went inside.

Madison was waiting for me. Seated in his wheelchair at the dining room table, he was facing the front door, his composure completely recovered. No surprise there. After all he was a sensei. I quietly returned the set of keys to the bowl on the table in the foyer. I wanted to run to him and plant myself in his lap, and make him hold me in his arms, while I swore my love to him forever. Yeah—that was the ticket. If I was going to a movie. Which this wasn’t. Yes, I had forced the man I adored to rip the scab off of what must be his greatest wound, so I had to be as calm as a surgeon.
I strode into the great room and crossed it, meeting his unreadable expression with my own smiling one, the butterflies in my belly completely concealed. Only when I reached the table did I falter. Whatever Madison’s façade was now, the hint of red in his eyes, their faint puffiness betrayed him.

I gotta go.
I had never intended to hurt him, and the thought of Madison alone up here with his fears and tears, while I was plundering through his past, was almost enough to buckle my knees, and I was grateful to have the excuse of taking a seat at the table. My smile gone, I grabbed the open bottle of water on the table and turning it up to my mouth I drained it empty.

“There’s more in the fridge,” Madison said watching me, his face a study in equanimity.
“Sorry about that,” I made an apology, pushing out another smile. “Would you like some more?” I asked rising from the table.

“No, I’m good.”
I sat down again. And I smiled at him again, although Madison’s resolute regard was beginning to make me feel like a phony. There was this thing in the room, the proverbial elephant, and its presence was kind of my project like Madison had said. But how could I just launch into it? Where was I supposed to begin?

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Madison began it for me.
His tone was bare, flat, as if he were asking about the weather. It was almost admirable, the way his coolness rarely failed him. But poker-face or not, I knew that neither the question nor its answer was easy. But yes, I had found what I was looking for. 

“Yes, Madison,” I said, coolly but honestly. “I did. Thank you.”
The flash of furrowed brow revealed that he hadn’t been expecting gratitude, and if I hadn’t been meeting his eyes with my own I would have missed it, the crack as it were in his otherwise impenetrable visage.

Feeling a little embolden, I continued. “I love that picture of you with your parents and I think your grandparents,” I said. “It is them, right? Washington and Mrs. Washington. You know the one I’m talking about? You’re graduating from I think law school going by the fancy robe. And you’re standing between Jefferson and an older man. Your mom’s on one end and the older lady’s on the other.”

It was like I could see the memory coursing through Madison’s brain. The feelings it carried for him flushed his cheeks, even relaxed a little the tightness in his jaw. He shifted his weight in the chair.
“Is it a picture of your grandfather?” I asked, and not waiting for him to answer I added, “I love it that you’re all named after presidents. It’s a wonderful tradition.”

“It is,” Madison ultimately replied in a voice that was unmistakably warmer even if it wasn’t by a lot.
“Grandfather or tradition?” I sought clarification with a small smile.

“Both,” he answered and maybe he still liked me a little.
“Can I have it?”

“What?” said Madison surprised. “The picture?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I know your parents now. And it’s just such a great picture. Three generations of Reese men, all looking so proud and happy. It’s like history. I wanna make sure it’s safe.”

“For who, Paige?” he asked coldly.
For our children was what I wanted to tell him. But he would have to marry me first, and I realized I might be barely holding on to sleepover status.

“For the next generation of Reeses,” I said, and I meant that whether I had anything to do with it or not.
Madison smiled finally but it was dark. I knew what he was probably thinking, that Karen had enlisted infertility specialists too, to make it like it had never happened. But I wasn’t into make-believe. I just believed in what was possible. And it was possible.

“So can I have it?” I pressed.
“Paige--”

“It’s you, Madison,” I interrupted him firmly. “On one of the best days of your life. It’s your law school graduation, isn’t it? Mr. Magna cum laude.”
I offered a hopeful smile, but he didn’t say anything, and after a moment he looked away from me.

“It’s a beautiful picture of you, Madison,” I told him. “With your family. If I were Karen I would have taken it with me.”
He looked back at me. Yes, I was deliberately pulling off whatever scab had managed to grow back in this little time. Yes, it was painful, maybe agonizingly so, but the wound needed air and light to heal. Shutting it up in a box in the basement had not worked. Then maybe instinctively I added, “But if I were Karen I wouldn’t have left you.”

As these words traveled from me to Madison it was like I could see them moving through the air, and I was a little bit tempted to bat them down or yank them back, as they were heading for a wall. Besides saying them probably broke every counseling rule and sisterhood principle ever written, recited, or held sacred. After all Karen wasn’t here to defend herself, and it wasn’t fair to judge her, and the comparison was self-serving…and, and…and so be it. All was fair in love and war. Plus it felt damn good to claim it, to say to him that I could be better for him, better to him, than the beautiful woman who was claiming to love him always.
But evidently this was just the claim, the case, Madison had been expecting me to make. There was a lift in his shoulders, a squaring off, as he sat back in his chair. To use a baseball analogy it was an easy pop-fly. I could practically hear the ball land in his glove with a thud.

“Because you love me, right?” he said casually, jogging back to his dug-out.
Definitely I was out, but the game wasn’t over. I would get another a turn at bat. Maybe he had heard it all before anyway. There could have easily been others between Karen and me.

“Yes,” I replied. “I love you.”
“Karen does too, remember? Isn’t that how this all started?”

“No,” I threw him a curve ball. “It started with an email message regarding your parents’ visit.”
“What?” asked Madison clearly muddled again. “What email? What are you talking about?”

“You must have written her first because it was a reply. You know with that ‘Re’ in the subject line.”
“You read my email?”

He was more surprised than offended. I appreciated that actually, but I was proud to tell him that I had not.

“It was the night I was working on my application on your laptop,” I explained. “The message notification came in, you know in that little blue box at the bottom of the screen. I didn’t open it but it was there long enough for me to see who it was from, what it was about. I figured it had to be fiancée Karen, but no, I wasn’t sure. Until I discovered her book and put two and two together.”
“You should have read it,” Madison said dryly. “Maybe your math would have been right.”

“It wasn’t any of my business,” I replied.
“So you’ve just been upset about it all this time? A subject line on an email message?”

“You were making plans to see her, Madison. That’s what I was upset about. You’ve been seeing her all along, but you never told me.”
“Was I supposed to tell you? You know she lives in Atlanta. We were," he hesitated, "involved--”

“Engaged, Madison. And you lived together.”
“Fine,” he said sharply. “I have a past, Paige. Big surprise. You know that.”

“Yes, you have a past,” I agreed. “And today I know that past a little bit better. I know your past.”
For a millisecond Madison’s eyes widened, but this was the equivalent of the deer caught in the headlights for him, and I assumed it was probably a rare event. His own argument turned against him. That guy in the boxes and the one at this table were one and the same by his own admission. Now we could talk rationally again. To keep from gloating in his face I got up from the table and went to the fridge for another bottle of water, saving my big grin for the various containers of food items keeping cold there. By the time I returned to the table I looked sure of myself, nothing more.

“So can I have the picture?” I asked again as I unscrewed the bottle lid and set it on the table.
“What if I told you Karen was the photographer?” Madison asked as he used tenodesis to pick up the water bottle and take a drink.

That was a cheap shot, I thought, and very unbecoming of my gallant knight, but all was fair.
“I’d say she did a great job,” I said smoothly. “Good thing. I bet she takes lots of pictures in her research. Cultural Anthropology, right?”

Madison smiled crookedly, and I was a little hopeful, even though I wondered what he was thinking. But yes, I had done my homework.
Breathing deeply I went ahead and asked the new-girlfriend question, “Are you over her, Madison?”

“Yes,” he said.
His reply was immediate, unequivocal. But maybe it was too quick.

“She’s very beautiful,” I felt compelled to remind him. “And accomplished. I mean she writes books. She’s a scientist.”
Okay, so was I now trying to make up for disparaging her commitment from before?

“You’re beautiful and accomplished,” replied Madison.
Or maybe I was just fishing for compliments.

“Not like her,” I said staring at the bare dining area wall. I supposed Karen had picked its light caramel color. “If you laid our resumes on the table, side by side,” I continued while I played with the empty water bottle, squeezing and releasing it so that it made a clicking sound, like I was sending a Morse code. “Hers would look much better than mine. In fact, people like Karen don’t use resumes. I bet she has a CV, a curriculum vitae.”

“You’re not competing with her, Paige.”
I met Madison’s eyes again and let the bottle be silent.

“But FYI,” he said leaning forward. “You’re all the woman any man could ever want.”
I felt tears welling up.

“Derrick might have done a number on your head, but he was wrong, Paige. You have to believe that.”
“I will if you will,” I said.

“I know it.”
I shook my head.

“No. I mean about yourself, Madison.”
Leaning back, he sighed wearily and closed his eyes.

“Maybe Karen did a number on your head too,” I said. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to, but it happened. She left you and it made you doubt yourself. But Madison--”
“It’s not the same thing,” he argued quietly, shaking his head, keeping his eyes closed.

“Yes, it is. You couldn’t meet somebody else’s expectations and you blamed yourself for it. You blame yourself now. And based on what you said before, you’re blaming yourself for not meeting my expectations. Which is totally whacked, since I believe you’re the most perfect man I’ve ever known. Except for my dad maybe. But of course he wouldn’t fly me to the moon with an erotic massage or any of the other mystical things you do. That would be incest and he’d lose points. So you’re in separate categories. But still, I gotta give you Best in Show.”
A slow chuckle rumbled in Madison’s chest before it made its way to his throat and out of his mouth on a deep breath, leaving behind—finally—a gorgeous smile. And when he opened his eyes the golden-brown was warm again.

“You’re crazy, you know that,” he said.
“Okay,” I allowed, beaming. “But you must not mind it so much, since you believe you deserve me.”

“I said that guy in the pictures deserve--”
“No," I cut him off. "You said that today, but before, you told me that you are that guy. And you said that you knew I could see him. Well I’m looking at him right now. So no more crazy talk, okay?”

“I didn’t know you were wearing a wire,” said Madison sardonically.
“Don’t need one. I’m a social worker, remember? A trained listener.”

“I’m not a case, Paige.”
“The hell you’re not,” I told him. “Somebody’s couch would do you some good. But no, you’re not my case. You’re my man.”

He smiled again. It was tentative but promising, a kind of what’s-the-use look. I clasped my hands together to keep myself from reaching for him.

“Well you didn’t kiss me hello when I came home,” Madison said. “I would think that entitles--”
Before he could finish I was putting my butt into his lap, my arms around his neck, and my craving mouth to his. And he craved me back, holding me tightly, stroking my tongue with his, taking my breath away, and giving me joy. When we paused from kissing I nestled in his arms.

“I love you,” I sighed blissfully.
Madison took his arms from around me. Uh-oh the dreaded four-letter word had struck again. Taking my face gently between his hands, Madison looked into my eyes. He might as well get used to it, I thought defiantly, I intended to tell him this every chance I got.

“What’s the matter,” I smiled languidly, “too mushy?”
“When I hear those words, Paige,” he said, “I hear a promise.”

And he had heard it before.

“And you’re not sure I can keep it,” I finished for him.
His gaze was intense, as if he were searching for proof. Lawyers liked evidence. I wished that I could give it to him; not just proof that I would love him always but proof that I would never leave him, that there would never come a time when I couldn’t do it anymore. But there was no proof, except for what time would show us. We’d just have to have faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.   

“It feels right,” Madison confessed. “But my life is complicated, Paige. It’s not easy.”

I knew that, even though Madison usually made it look that way. And he really could use some grief counseling, which could mean some challenges as yet unknown. But it did so feel right. And all I wanted was a lifetime of looking into these golden-brown eyes.

“Nobody’s is,” I said. “We’re not dewy-faced teenagers, Madison. At this stage of the game, Complications ‘R’ Us.”

Turning my head, I kissed the calloused place in his right palm before taking his hand into mine. Then as he watched I wriggled my fingers beneath his curled ones.

“And see,” I showed him. “You’ve always been able to hold my hand.”

With our hands together I raised them to my lips and kissed each of his crippled fingers one at a time. The atrophied muscle was thin, smooth, and my Candy Man tasted sweetly of salt. Madison raised his left hand and covered mine with both of his.

“I love you, Paige,” he said, bringing my hand to the center of his chest and holding it there.

“You’re very tactile,” I replied, happy tears spilling down my cheeks and into my smile. “Very hands on.”

Finis

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65 comments:

  1. Just too wonderful for words.
    Thank you so much.

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    1. thank you! I'm so glad you like the ending.

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  2. Love it - I have no other words to say about it because it's just so good. Thank you for sharing your writing and your imagination with us on here.

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    1. Rose, thank you! It means a lot to me have such a kind review from you.

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  3. What a sweet and wonderful love story. You did marvelous! I felt so much for both Paige and Madison and it was such a treat to watch their tale unfold. I'm only sad that it's over!
    I so hope that you're full of ideas and will be posting a new story for us again, soon! :)

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    1. Thank you! I'd love to write for this blog again. It is great to be a part of such a terrific community of readers and writers. I am definitely a fan!

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  4. I'm so sorry to see this story end :(. But it was a wonderful journey. I really loved seeing these two come together. You're very talented. You should consider publication :D.

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    1. Hello Chie, I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. I really enjoyed writing it and sharing it. As I said to Rose above it means so much to me that you appreciate my work.

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  5. Wow! beautiful finale to a beautiful story! I'm going to have withdrawl symptoms now...'cause this story has been an addiction for the last few months. Dare we hope for an epilogue? :) Thanks for writing this beautiful story. Totally loved it. Pat.

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    1. Hi Pat,
      Thank you for generous review! I've been thinking of an epilogue, or perhaps a couple of short stories that will take us further along the Paige and Madison journey. To be honest with you, I miss them myself :-) but I will leave them for a bit for now.

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    2. I like the sounds of an epilogue and/or short stories! Please!

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  6. Thanks for this story - I'm sad that it's ended, but I think you finished it off neatly.

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  7. No! Not the end! I wasn't prepared! Sad to see it end. But thank you for writing and sharing. I hope to read more from you soon.

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    1. Thank you! I hope to contribute more to the blog too. For now though I'll just enjoy being a reader.

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  8. It is really sad to see this storie at the end. I hope you will be back soon with another amazing story for us to follow

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    1. Thank you for staying with the story, and I'm really glad you liked it. I do hope write more here, and for now it's just wonderful to be able read the other great work here.

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  9. I'm really sad that this story has finished. I really love Paige and Madison
    Have you thought of writing a sequel? When they start living together, starting a family ...

    Martha

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    1. Hello Martha, I'm really happy that you like Paige and Madison. I like them too. And, yes, I've been thinking about a short story or two that would take us further along in the story. So perhaps stay tuned. :-)

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  10. I've really enjoyed this story. Thank you for posting. I'm just sad to see it come to an end.

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  11. Thank you for this wonderful story. I'm sorry that it has come to an end. Please do not keep us waiting long for another,

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  12. Beautiful ending to a beautiful story! LOVE it. Greedy enough to request if you'd consider doing an epilogue!! :) Thanks, Anna Kerri

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    1. Thank you, Anna. I'm really glad you liked the story. Having been a fan of this site for so long it's an honor to contribute content. And I kinda miss Paige and Madison myself, so I think they may be back. :-)

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  13. Beautiful, Adele! This story has captivated me over the past several months and I looked forward to your updates every week. Madison and Paige are a lovely couple, you brought the characters alive. Would so love to read a sequel!! :) Thanks for taking the time to treat us with this story.

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    1. Thank you for sharing the journey with me!

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  14. OH GOODNESS!!! You've done it again! I feel all warm and fuzzy and squishy and even a little bit horny...ahem. Well, Paige is my hero and Madison is the best thing since sliced bread, but I grieve at the thought of no more chapters.
    I appreciate how much time and energy it takes to make such a fine product as this wonderful story has been. I'm just greedy for more of your wonderful words with these two. Perfectly imperfect and certainly not "starry-eyed teenagers", they give me hope thaat real love can exist.
    Thank you so much for your hard work. Of course, an epilogue with them adopting some great kid would be like the cherry on top.....just sayin.
    Delly

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    1. Hello Delly, Thank you for sharing this story with me. It's a treat to write for such readers as yourself. And as I'm always saying the interaction with all of you is really the gift in the experience. I looked forward--if nervously--to posting each week and then hearing from you. I'll miss that for sure! And since I'm already missing Paige and Madison too, I'm thinking they'll be back later. :-) And in the meantime, I hope I can write more stories worthy of such great readers as yourself.

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    2. Baby, you could write a shopping list and bring me to tears. I look forward to all your new adventures.
      Just think about it, adoption, jerky beuraucrats, wired legal system.....it could be great!
      Delly

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    3. Thank you, Delly! I like your plot suggestions too.

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  15. So sad it came to the end ... But was a amazing love story, I'm truly in love for Madison and Paige. A "season 2" would be perfect, you know, how they live together after all this. Thanks for share with us such great writer talent! Still waiting for more soon!

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    1. A "season 2"...I hadn't thought of it that way, but at least there could be a couple of reunion shows. :-) And thank you for your kind words re: the story. It was so fun to write and to share.

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  16. I love this story and I'm sad to see it end. :) I sincerely hope you'll consider a sequel or at least an epilogue - I love Madison and Paige and I'd like to see more of them.

    Thanks for sharing your amazing writing with us.

    -Mille

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    1. Mille, it's just an honor to be a contributor along with such terrific writers as yourself. For a long a time I have been a fan, and just wanted to pay back a little for all the pleasure I got from reading the works of people like you. Your generous reviews mean a great deal to me. Thank you!

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  17. I've been coming back to this site to read it again and again before commenting - I so loved this story. Loved the ending, neatly tied up. I was going to request a sequal or an epilogue, but looks like a lot of other readers have as well:) so I'm going to second it! Please consider a sequel or an epilogue. These characters are so lovely that I want to keep reading about them :) And thanks for taking us thro' their wonderful journey.

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    1. Maya, thank you! I'll say it again, I love this blog for the content and for the opportunity to interact with readers and other writers. I was nervous about every chapter, but all along the way getting immediate feedback was so helpful and encouraging. I think it's fair to say that Paige and Madison will be back. And I hope to share other stories here too. It's a privilege to write here.

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  18. All has been said, but I must add one word for your incredible and memorable characters:
    PERFECT!!
    That is what I feel this story is. Thanks.

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    1. Dear Pepper, Thank you! Your review really means a lot to me. As you might recall, this is my first go here, and about each chapter I was very nervous. Thank you for regularly commenting. It was very reassuring. I hope to write more for the blog.

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  19. I really enjoyed this story--loved seeing new chapters. I'm sorry to see it finished! Like others above, I hope you will consider a sequel. I think there is more story to tell with these two great characters. Wonderful job and thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I agree...I think there is more for Paige and Madison, so I'm pretty sure they'll be back. :-)

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  20. This is almost bittersweet....so sad that its over, but a beautiful story too. I hope you will write more, be it some kind of follow up on Paige and Madison or a new story. You are a great writer and would love to read more from you. Thanks! Liliani.

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    1. Dear Liliani, thank you so much for your kind review! For sure I'd like to write more here.

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  21. Adele, that was so beautiful. Loved the ending. Please consider wrting a follow up of these 2...we'd love to see how they're doing. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you! I'm thinking there might be more from these two. :-)

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  22. Tears in my eyes as I read this...happy tears:) Paige and Madison are such a great couple. Hope they find lasting love. You are a great writer and as the other reviewers said, you should consider publication. Also, as the other reviewers, I'm hoping you'd give us an epilogue :) Thanks you!

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    1. Thanks so much! As always I was nervous about even this final chapter--and perhaps more so. A good story needs a good ending, and as it all unfolded I just found myself going with the characters. I'm so happy they didn't disappoint.

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  23. I went back and re-read the whole story again and love it even more. Bravo! You did an excellent job telling this story.

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    1. Thank you! Thank you for engaging with Paige and Madison, and me. :-)

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  24. I'm sad that this story has come to an end. You did tie it up nicely. The finale was awesome. Beautiful dialogue. I so loved where Madison starts to chuckle at the end...read that paragraph multiple times:) I cannot end this review without requesting that you please consider writing a sequel or an epilogue. Please? Thanks for this great story.

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm thinking that definitely Paige and Madison will be back...so stay tuned. :-)

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  25. Adele,

    As the rare disabled male here, reading these stories to get a feel for the attraction of devotees (learning the term myself only recently) this gives me hope that there are ACTUALLY people out there such as yourself. I teared up several times during this story-and I do agree with many here that Paige and Madison are a winning couple--and more of their story needs to be told...

    Good work...

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    1. Dear Troy,
      Thank you so much for letting me know. I'm very glad that the story resonated with you, in fact I'm honored. As a writer one is always nervous when writing about another's perspective. It's easy to get it wrong, or make it cliché. It means a lot to me that you liked the story, and that Paige and Madison were "winning". And for sure I will be following up with their story...I hope you continue to visit the blog and enjoy the stories.

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    2. Thank you for the response back, Adele. If you wouldn't mind exchanging emails, I'd love to give you some ideas that I thought of in Paige and Madison's further story...

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    3. Hi Troy, It would be great to hear your ideas. That's the very cool thing about this blog--the opportunity to interact with readers. You can reach me via:
      adele8581@gmail.com

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  26. I cannot believe that this story is over! This has been my favorite story (the archives included). I hope you conceive and write another story in the same vein. Please! Loved this one!!!!!

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! I definitely plan to contribute to the blog again. This has been a wonderful treat for me, and I just hope I stay worthy of such great readers as yourself.

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  27. Adele, I read the ending last week and didn't get to reivew. It was a lovely story. I agree with every other reviewer that said that Paige and Madison are a winning couple. Really hope there's a follow up soon. Eagerly awaiting it!! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks so much! I think there's no way we don't get to hear from Paige and Madison again, given all the generous feedback. I didn't really write the story with a sequel in mind but hearing from readers like yourself makes me think I really should revisit them....And thanks too, for coming back to the post to leave your review. It means a lot to me!

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  28. I visited this blog after a really long time and found this story. And read it all in one go. You did a great job with the story, Adele! Love Madison and Paige! Like the others that reviewed, I look forward to a follow up. I'll be visiting this blog often now expectantly:) Thanks for writing this story. Deni

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  29. Dear Deni,
    Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the story. It was a delight to write it and to share it with the readers here. I am sure there will be a follow-up, so do come back. And I hope to write other stories to post here as well. I really appreciate the opportunity to interact with readers such as you. Thanks again!

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  30. Wow! This story is easily one of the best here in this blog. I had to read it in one sitting! Hope you're considering follow ups soon? Thanks!

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  31. Wow- just wow. Fabulous story, read in one go.

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