Cooking with Madeline by Danielle SmileyFace

1. The Greatest Love (Version 1: Part 3) by Danielle SmileyFace

2. Surprises Around Every Corner (Version 1: Part 4) by Danielle SmileyFace

3. Laughter is the Best Medicine (Version 1: Part 5) by Danielle SmileyFace

4. Through the Gates of Change (Version 1: Part 6) by Danielle SmileyFace

The Greatest Love (Version 1: Part 3) by Danielle SmileyFace
Author's Notes:

Part 3:

Please read the two part "Madeline Series" stories first- as they set up the scene for both this version and The Empty Cottage by the Lake.  

Disclaimer: Well, folks, here we are again... sorry it's been so long. Jarod, Miss Parker, etc. belong to NBC. They would belong to me if I was a millionaire. But I'm not (yet), so I'm afraid I can't buy NBC and give our favorite show a consistent time slot and the promotion it deserves. It also means I can't give Lyle lots more air time- sorry Sarah. *g*
"The title is based on the song "Hands", by Jewel...
Author's Note: Another reference to Michaela.. I promise her story is in the works. : - )

Madeline Series Version 1
by: Danielle : - )

Early 1998
Catonsville, Maryland
A Small Restuarant

"Hi." Madeline said shyly. She was just realizing that talking to someone on the phone was completely different from actually meeting them face to face, for the first time.

"It's great to finally meet you!" Jarod said warmly as he took her hand. The sincere warmth in his dark brown eyes helped put Madeline at ease.

"You, too." She smiled and knew in her heart that what she was doing (and about to do) was completely right.

"Angelo says 'hi." She continued easily now.

Jarod smiled fondly, "I wish I could have taken him with me the last time I was at the Centre."

Madeline couldn't keep the broad grin off her face at this perfect start to what she had to say to Jarod today.

"Let's get him out. Let's get them all out." She said, staring intently at his face.

"What?" He blinked, clearly not expecting that.

"This is what I wanted to see you about. I want to rescue Angelo and the other children at the Centre." She said with an intensity that made the brilliant Pretender nervous.

"Madeline, you don't know what you're getting yourself into. You don't understand. And what do you mean, other children?"

"There are like, a dozen children at the Centre, only a few of them aren't really children anymore. But, yes, I do understand. I understand that these kids are put through Hell in that place- maybe even worse. I've seen them, heard them talk about it. I've seen the DSA's about it, Jarod. I know what a horrible place the Centre is."

"Maybe you do, but-"

"But nothing! I know more than a good 99% of the people who work there! And those that do know are too scared to do anything about it."

"But they have a reason to be scared! You don't know what they'd do to someone who did what you're talking about doing."

"They'd kill me like they killed Catherine Parker." She said this quietly, but with no less determination.Again all Jarod could do was blink.

"Catherine Parker rescued some of the children in the last '60's. The found out and killed her. Miss Parker's mother didn't commit suicide." Madeline was leaning forward in her seat as she continued to speak in a voice full of passion and determination.

"I know that." Jarod couldn't believe she had found out in a matter of months while it had taken him years. "Did you tell Miss Parker this, any of it?"

"No. She's not ready to hear it yet."

Jarod sat back in his chair, wondering where she had acquired such wisdom and insight at such a young age.

"They might find out you did it." Jarod saw how set she was on doing this, and knew he had to dissuade her.

"I'm sure they will eventually figure it out." She stated calmly.

"They'd probably kill you."

"Yes." She simply said.

"How old are you?"

"I'm seventeen."

"You're still so young! You've got your whole life to live!"

"It's not worth living knowing I had the chance to save them and didn't." She held up her hand to stop him as he opened his mouth to argue, then continued speaking directly from her heart, "I couldn't live with the knowledge that those children were being tortured and I didn't do anything about it, Jarod, don't you see? It would kill me more surely than they would."

"Guilt does not cause death, Madeline, or I'd have died long ago!"

Madeline just rolled her eyes, not having the patience to explain about literal translations and figures of speech.

He started to continue, "It wouldn't-"

She was furious now, her face dark, "It would! And don't you dare try to tell me how my heart and conscience would react!!" She was crying now, tears sliding down her face, "I'm a religious person, Jarod. In the end I'll be standing before God no matter what I do, and I can't stand before Him someday and try to justify why I---who had the freedom to act----didn't help them. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Jarod held up his hands to show her he had no more arguments against what she said.

"Catherine Parker was a wonderful selfless person. Do you know how much I wish I could make Park see that? But her father..." She trailed off, unsure of how to word it.

"May have had something to do with his wife's death."

Madeline nodded, her sad eyes matching his.

"He's made Park hate her mother, think she was selfish and weak. How can I make her see that it's the complete opposite?" Despair tinged her voice now.

"I don't know." Jarod admitted, "I've stayed up night after night trying to answer that question, but nothing comes."His voice carried unutterable sorrow.

"I don't want to die anymore, Jarod. I'm happy and safe, and know how much potential lies in my future. But I'm willing to give it up to save them. I had a great life before my mom died, and this year has been great too. Just about all those children have no memory of anything like that. And they deserve it. I've had my chance and now it's their turns. Am I making any sense to you?" She ended earnestly.

"Yes, I can understand it." He paused, wondering if he should continue. After a moment he did, "Catherine Parker described it in much the same way."

"What? How do you know?" Madeline watched him closely.

"In one of her safe deposit boxes I found her diary. She started keeping it when she was first forming her plan to rescue us. She wanted her daughter to find it someday. She was sure they'd find out, too, and wanted her daughter to know the truth because she didn't think her husband would give it to her."

"She sure hit that nail on the head." Madeline commented.

"Nail?" Jarod was lost.

"Never mind... Did you send the diary to Parker yet?" She wasn't sure if Miss Parker would show her something so personal.

"Not yet." He admitted, "It's another thing I don't think she's ready for."

Madeline nodded comprehension, "Do you have it with you now?"


"Do you think it would be okay for me to read it?" She asked hesitantly.

"Sure." He shrugged easily.

"Good." She smiled, "I'm not sure when I'll be able to meet you again, but I should have some weekend competitions coming up in the next couple of months. I can just tell Park they last longer than they do, or start a day earlier, so we can meet again."

"Okay." He said, nodding in a pleased manner, "I'll bring the diary for you to read."

"Thanks." She meant it from the bottom of her heart.

"Madeline." He said in the most serious voice she had ever heard him use, "Promise me you won't try anything before we've had time to plan it together."

"Don't worry, Jarod, I'll be good."

He nodded shortly, "You leave now, and I'll wait a few minutes before I go."

"'Kay." She stood to go. Jarod stood, too, to walk her to the door.

Surprises Around Every Corner (Version 1: Part 4) by Danielle SmileyFace
Author's Notes:

Part 4:

Special thanks to my great beta readers, Vash and RaChell, for their invaluable help.  =)

Slight update 9/3/13 for aesthetics and minor changes. :)

Surprises Around Every Corner
Madeline Series Version 1, Part 4
By Danielle =)

Disclaimer: Lightning still hasn’t struck my submarine, hence “The Pretender” doesn’t belong to me.

2/27/10 Dedication: Dedicated to RaChell for giving me such a warm welcome upon my return to MP.


“Wow.” Madeline murmured under her breath at the breakfast table one spring morning.

“What?” Miss Parker didn’t look up from pouring herself a cup of coffee.

Madeline put the paper down.

“Steve’s dead.”

Surprise flitted across her guardian’s face, but Madeline couldn’t see it from the table. Miss Parker turned around slowly, taking a careful sip of the steaming beverage as her mask once again fell into place. She leaned against the counter nonchalantly.

“Your step father?”

“Yeah, the police think it was a drug deal gone bad. He was beaten unconscious and apparently choked to death a couple hours later on his own vomit. The police went through the apartment and found a huge stash of drugs. I guess he turned to dealing after I left.” she looked down, deep in thought for a moment; then turned troubled grey eyes upwards, “Do you think it makes me a bad person to feel kinda glad they said it looked like he was beaten slowly over a long period of time?”

“No, Madeline, no one could blame you for that after what he put you through.” She said kindly, but then turned back into the Miss Parker everyone else knew her as to bite out, “That bastard got what he deserved.”

“I feel better now that he’s dead… like, safer. I think I’ve always been a little afraid he’d come back for me.”

“I wouldn’t have let that happen.”

“’Cuz I’ve grown on you, haven’t I?” Madeline couldn’t resist lightening the mood, eyes twinkling.

“Don’t tell anyone-” Miss Parker started.

“…It’ll ruin my reputation.” Madeline finished with her. She grinned impishly and got up to put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher before heading off to school with a light heart.


Jarod finished reading the same article a few hours later, glad that Madeline’s stepfather had gotten what he deserved. He wondered if Miss Parker had heard the news and couldn‘t resist calling to find out.

“What?!” Greeted him on the other end of the line a moment later.

“Have you read the paper this morning, Miss Parker?”

“What paper?” she seemed distracted.

“The local paper I know gets delivered to your doorstep every morning around 7. Today‘s issue had a very interesting article on page 4 about a certain dead drug dealer.”

He knew that would get her attention. The other end of the line was quiet for so long, he thought he’d lost the connection.

“You’re taking a big risk if you’re near enough to have seen the paper, Jarod.”

“I‘m afraid I‘m nowhere near Delaware, Miss Parker. The paper just happens to have an online edition.” then his voice turned serious, “Did Madeline see it?”

Her eyes narrowed with displeasure and she practically growled, “What do you know about Madeline?”

“I know she’ll sleep a lot better now that that creep is dead. You have to admit it would‘ve felt good to beat him half to death.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked after a moment.

“I know you’re not the Ice Queen everyone makes you out to be, Miss Parker. Caring for Madeline isn’t something to be ashamed of. I wish I‘d been there to get in a few blows and I haven‘t even met the girl.”

“Too bad someone else got there first. It would‘ve been a nice addition to your growing resume.”

“Speaking of my growing resume, I start my new job in a few hours. Give my best to Madeline.”

He hung up before she could reply, partly because he knew it drove her nuts. He almost felt like she was hiding something from him, which in any other conversation wouldn’t have disturbed him anywhere near this much. He knew Miss Parker had changed a lot since they were kids, but surely she hadn’t hardened enough to actually kill a man. Or had she? his inner voice asked.

Miss Parker put the phone back in it’s cradle with shaking hand, disturbed by the conversation as well.

Did he know? she replayed the conversation over in her mind, searching for the answer. Why else would he have called, if he hadn’t suspected her?

There’s no way he could possibly know, she tried to reassure herself a few minutes later. The article gave no hint whatsoever leading to her as a suspect in Madeline’s stepfather’s murder. She worried briefly about Jarod’s thirst for justice coming down on her head next. But no, Jarod only sought justice for good people who were wronged.

The bastard was surely in a hellacious amount of pain when she left, but she knew enough to know that the beating she’d given him, while brutal, hadn’t been enough to kill him. That sorry excuse for a man killed himself by getting drunk enough to choke on his own vomit after she left.

Not my fault at all, she decided, then chided herself for allowing Jarod to cause that brief moment of doubt. The matter was instantly forgotten as she got back to finding said escaped lab rat.


Madeline still couldn’t help but be slightly awed every time she entered the Centre. Because of her connection to the Parker family, she had a permit to park in the gigantic parking garage for her weekly therapy sessions with Sydney. She’d been living with Miss Parker for nine months and was by now a familiar figure around the building.

Occasionally she’d get stopped by an eager-to-impress new Sweeper or security guard, but she’d pleasantly explain who she was and suggest they call Miss Parker for confirmation.

The first time she’d innocently suggested that, she’d been surprised to see the look of fear Miss Parker’s name brought to the young guard’s face. She soon came to realize that her guardian was much respected and feared throughout the imposing building and would propose calling Miss Parker to make them sweat a little, just for the fun of it.

She hadn’t run into any hassles recently, though. She smiled and said a friendly greeting to those whom she came across regularly. She entered the empty elevator and pushed the button for SL-15. The doors were nearly closed when a hand reached in and stopped them from closing fully. An attractive man in his mid-30s followed the hand into the elevator. His smile was friendly, but Madeline got the distinct impression that he was anything but. In a word, he made her skin crawl. She politely returned the smile and was dismayed when he chose a floor five levels below hers.

“I haven’t seen you around here before.”

“I’m just here for an appointment.” she replied, hoping that would be the end of it.

He looked her over appreciatively as he took a step closer and raised an eyebrow.

“You’re awfully young to have business at the Centre, on SL-15 no less. Who are you here to see?”

He seemed so much more suspicious and hostile than the people she usually met that it sent a cold chill through her, making her so nervous that she could barely stammer out Sydney's name.

“Who let you in? They should have had the doctor meet you in the lobby!” he chastised.

“I have regular meetings with him. If you have any concerns, you can contact Miss Parker. She knows I’m here.”
Madeline felt certain that would put an end to his uncomfortable line of questioning. Unfortunately, though, this man didn’t seem to mind hearing that tidbit. In fact, he became more interested and gave her another unnerving once-over.

“How do you know Parker?”

She was saved from answering as the elevator doors opened. She audibly sighed with relief when Sydney entered.

“Hello, Madeline.” he greeted her with a smile and stepped in between the two passengers. She smiled gratefully at him.

“Mr. Lyle.” was said with less enthusiasm, and Madeline was glad to know she wasn’t the only one who apparently didn’t like the man.

“Doctor.” Mr. Lyle replied coolly.

Despite the fact that the girl seemed to be hiding beneath a sweatshirt easily two sizes bigger than necessary, she carried herself with a natural poise that made him think she must be a dancer or something similar; so he imagined she must have a killer body under all that fabric. And the fact that she knew Miss Parker and Sydney piqued his interest all the more.

They traveled the remaining few floors in silence. Lyle stayed behind when Madeline and Sydney got out but Madeline could feel his eyes on her until the doors closed fully.

“Whoever that Mr. Lyle guy was, I hope I never cross paths with him again! He creeps me out worse than Raines!!”

Their hour long session revolved around that and similar topics. Broots was waiting in the large outer room of Sydney’s space when they exited.

“Broots, would you mind walking Madeline to the garage elevators?”

“No, not at all!” the balding technician agreed pleasantly.

They chatted easily the whole way about Debbie’s pleas to get a white rabbit like her idol, Miss Parker’s. Broots wasn’t sure if she was old enough to take care of a pet, so Madeline told him about growing up with Siberian Husky dogs and how beneficial the responsibility was. She wistfully told him about the two gorgeous red and white dogs that had been a part of her father’s life even before he met her mother. Not long after their wedding, they adopted a third Husky, black and white. Madeline came along not long after that addition and had always considered that one “her” dog. Her stories of the dogs’ antics made them both laugh, and before they knew it, they were standing next to Madeline’s car.

“Thanks. I’ll see you later.” she smiled warmly. Broots was so awkward and sweet- she loved him to death. She headed home in good spirits, the sinister Mr. Lyle out of her mind.


It was another six weeks before Madeline ran into Mr. Lyle again, this time leaving the Centre.

“Hello again. Madeline, isn’t it?” he may have come off as simply charming to anyone else, but Madeline had seen a similar look in men’s eyes far too often to buy it. He was sizing her up like she was another potential conquest.

“Mr. Lyle.” she did her best to channel Park’s fear-nothing-and-no-one attitude, trying to bury her unease in the hopes that he wouldn’t be able to detect it. She was certain he was the type who’d feed off of it.

She tried to leave the interaction at that, moving around him. He took a quick step forward in an attempt to block her exit but she deftly maneuvered around him. Thank goodness for gymnastics! she thought as the elevator doors quickly opened for her. Luckily, the elevator to the parking garage was full of employees heading home for the weekend, and he didn’t follow her in. She took a shaky breath, feeling his eyes on her again until the doors closed fully.


Madeline approached her coach with an important question later that week. Since her run-in with Lyle by the elevators, she hadn’t been able to shake the dread his presence caused her. Despite the fact that he hadn’t actually done anything to her during their two brief meetings, she felt violated by his stares and apparent interest in her.

On the one hand, she wanted to tell Miss Parker about it because she had a feeling that Park could do just about anything. On the other hand, though, she didn’t want to worry the woman; who had more than her fair share of stress. Never having been one who wanted to burden others, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“Jackie, do you know where I could sign up for a self defense class?”

“It’s funny you should mention that Madeline- I was having lunch with a friend of mine the other day and he was talking about setting up some local self defense classes. He asked if any of my girls would be interested.”

“I would definitely be interested.” Madeline told her eagerly.


Mr. Lyle picked up the phone on the first ring.

“Miss Parker’s ward just arrived, Sir.” the Sweeper on the other end informed him.

“Thank you, Robert.”

Miss Parker had Sam. Raines had Willie. Lyle had Robert. Getting the man as his pet Sweeper had been a stroke of luck. The burly man’s loyalty had been easily bought with an extravagant salary, and so far he’d proven worth every penny by helping Lyle clean up some messy personal situations. He’d given the man orders to alert him when Madeline was on premises.

He leaned back in his expensive leather chair and looked at the clock on his desk, making careful note of the time. Despite, or maybe because of, how skittish Madeline had been during their previous meetings, he was drawn like a moth to a flame. Underneath her unassuming façade, he sensed a very strong will. Mr. Lyle liked challenges, and sensed that breaking her will would be a formidable one indeed.

Madeline left Sydney’s office in a relatively good mood despite the serious nature of their sessions. He had told her Miss Parker should be in her office catching up on paperwork and she had decided to pop in and invite the woman to lunch. She knew Park liked to keep her personal and professional lives well separated, so she‘d understand if her offer was turned down. It doesn’t hurt to try, she reasoned.

She headed up to the main lobby and started across to the bank of elevators that would take her to the executive offices.

From behind her, a hand came down on her shoulder and she tensed reflexively. She turned towards Mr. Lyle, who was smiling apologetically.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s all right,” she gathered herself quickly, taking comfort in her recent self defense classes.

“Would you care to join me for lunch in the executive cafeteria?” he smiled winsomely at the girl by his side, grabbing her elbow and trying to lead the way.

She stopped dead in her tracks, saying “No, thanks.” so seriously he thought she must not have heard him correctly. He turned on the charm a little higher.

“Come on, Madeline, don’t make me eat alone.”

“Sorry, but no.” she stated firmly, looking him squarely in the eye.

He affected a wounded expression as he asked why.

“For one, I’m only sixteen.”

“I know that! I only thought that since I work so closely with your guardian, we should get to know each other. What kind of a man do you take me for?!”

She decided she might as well lay it all out on the table because he wasn’t a man to look past any lies she might try to placate him with.

“Everyone else may buy this good-guy act you’ve got going, but I don’t.”

He saw the truth of the quiet statement in her eyes, and realized that the rumors he’d heard about how she ended up on Miss Parker’s doorstep must be true. Getting to know her in the hopes of gaining Parker‘s trust looked like it wasn‘t going to work. And continuing to try would only risk bringing Parker’s wrath down on his head, something he definitely did not want. Raines had told him all about how and why the doctors had to redo his skin graphs recently.

He doubted a little guilt trip would work, but couldn’t resist a last ditch effort.

“You’ve mistakenly characterized me as someone I’m not, but if you don’t care to challenge your prejudices, then it’s your loss.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Enjoy your lunch, Mr. Lyle.” with that, she pulled herself up a little straighter and turned back in the direction she’d been heading.

She stood in front of the impressive cherry wood doors leading to Park’s office, wondering if she needed to knock. She didn’t usually knock on Sydney’s door, but he was expecting her. Since Miss Parker wasn’t expecting her, she figured she should probably knock. She hadn’t been inside Park’s office yet so she wasn’t sure how large it was. She knocked firmly on the door and heard a familiar, “What?!”

Assuming that served as ‘come in’ as well as ‘hello?’ on the phone, Madeline pushed open the door and entered.


Miss Parker looked surprised to see her.

“Madeline! What are you doing up here?”

“I hope it’s okay I came up without calling from Sydney’s office,” she began uncertainly, “But I wanted to see if you’d had lunch yet.”

“You probably should call in the future because I don’t spend a lot of time in my office, but it’s fine. Besides, it’s high time I took a break. I take it you haven’t eaten yet either?”

“Nope. Do you want to go downtown?”

“We can just go to the executive dining room- the chefs there are as good, if not better, than any downtown.”

“Am I allowed to?” Madeline wondered.

Miss Parker got up from her desk with a smile, “You’re with me.” she said simply and led the way.


“I’ve got my appointment with Sydney at one. Do you want me to go with you to the cemetery later?” Madeline asked Miss Parker when she came downstairs that Sunday morning.

Miss Parker looked up from the morning paper she was trying to read, surprised that Madeline had remembered today was the anniversary of her mother’s death- she’d only mentioned the date once. Then again, Madeline knew full well the significance of the anniversary of a parent’s death.

Parker smiled appreciatively and nodded, not quite trusting her voice.

Madeline sat down across from Miss Parker with her cereal and juice, noticing for the first time Park’s tailored pantsuit.

“Are you going in to work today? You don’t usually go in Sundays.”

“Just for a little while to take care of a small problem with a client.”

Madeline figured it must have something to do with Jarod, since chasing him was all her guardian really did. She found it amusing to listen to all the different ways Miss Parker phrased it.

“I’m coming right back home after my appointment.” Madeline informed her as she put her dirty dishes away and headed outside for her morning run.

Running had started as a temporary way to get her stamina and lung capacity back up for gymnastics. She soon realized how much it energized her and got her days off to a good start, so she got into the habit of running at least 5 days a week. Weekdays, she got up at 5am to get in a good run before school, but on weekends she enjoyed sleeping in.

Today, Sunday, she was heading out a little after 10. She ran three laps around the lake, each lap being about three quarters of a mile. She didn’t listen to a Walkman when she ran because she enjoyed the sounds of nature and liked to be aware of her surroundings at all times.

After her appointment with Sydney, Madeline surreptitiously headed to the old supply closet she frequently used to enter the ventilation system. Sydney had mentioned the fire security test being held today, which she assumed was a fancy way of saying fire drill. The Centre seemed even more empty than a typical Sunday because of the test, so it was the perfect opportunity for a brief visit with Angelo.

Not surprisingly, he was waiting for her with the grate opened. He always seemed to sense when she was coming to see him.

“Madeline sad. Daughter sad, too. Daughter not alone this year.”

“No.” Madeline smiled softly at him, “We’re going to the cemetery together later.”

“Good friend.” Angelo nodded approvingly, causing Madeline to smile widely this time. She never could stay unhappy long around the strange man-child.

He turned around and crab-walked away in that peculiar way of his. Madeline may have been a flexible gymnast, but that mode of travel had never been comfortable to her so she quickly scrambled after him on hands and knees. They ended up outside of Sydney’s office, hearing Miss Parker say, “The tech room is the first place they would look.”

“Who? There’s nobody here!” Broots replied in consternation. Madeline knew Debbie had dance classes on Sunday afternoons, and that Broots enjoyed being there to support her.

“The people trying to kill my father!”

Madeline’s eyes widened in shock at that. It did seem quite fitting, though, for them to kill Mr. Parker on the anniversary of his wife’s murder.

Sydney came in a few minutes later, asking if she’d been able to reach her father.

They walked towards the center of the room to continue the discussion, leaving Broots to continue his search for the Arkham file. Angelo and Madeline moved around the periphery of the room to get closer to Sydney and Miss Parker.

“Daughter sad. Everyone sad.” Angelo said and began to crab-walk towards his stash of DSAs. As he began searching, he reiterated, “Daughter sad.”

Madeline didn’t know what was on the disk he was looking for- most likely something to do with the day Catherine Parker died or to help Miss Parker figure out who was behind her father‘s assassination order. When he found the one he needed, he stuck it in a box of Cracker Jack and they headed off again.

Suddenly, the lights around them went out and alarms started going off. Madeline grabbed Angelo’s ankle to stop him.

“What’s going on? Would all the power go out for a fire drill?”

“No fire drill. Arkham.”

“This is getting serious, Angelo, I think I’m going to cut my visit short today and get out of here. Whatever’s going on, I can’t risk getting caught. Can you get me to the parking garage from here?”

“Lockdown. Garage no good. Lobby good.” Angelo headed back the way they had come.

After crawling for what seemed like an eternity to Madeline’s knees, they approached a vent to the lobby. Madeline was about to stick her head out when they heard footsteps approaching and she shrank back.

A man picked up the phone on the wall near them.

“Give me the sim lab. This is Hayes.”

Madeline realized that the inter-Centre phones probably wouldn’t be working as Hayes found no one on the other end of the phone. Just then, seven shots rang out in quick succession and he fell to the floor. Madeline covered her mouth in horror and quietly moved further from the scene. Angelo followed a moment later, looking equally shocked.

“I want to get as far away from here as possible.” Madeline whispered urgently.

“S L 26.” Angelo said slowly.

Madeline knew it was rarely used, and that the assassin would probably take Mr. Parker out shortly after his helicopter landed; so SL-26 would offer them relative safety while she figured out what to do.

Angelo nimbly exited the vents near the elevators at SL-26. Madeline awkwardly crawled out a few minutes later, standing up painfully. She took some deep breaths and arched her aching back, then went to the pillars in the middle of the hallway, leaning against one wearily. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths to steady her frayed nerves. Jarod had warned her that sneaking around the Centre was a bad idea and she wished with every fiber of her being she had listened to him.

She tensed up when she heard a shout which sounded suspiciously like Park coming from the elevators . As Madeline and Angelo quickly moved to the far side of the pillar, the yell was followed by three bangs against the wall and the elevator doors opening.

Madeline couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she could recognize Park’s voice, as well as Broots‘. She huddled against Angelo‘s back, praying the two wouldn’t see them.

“Oh!” Miss Parker cried out in surprise when she came around the corner and saw Angelo. She reached around him and pulled Madeline out, stating, “I’m officially in hell!! What the hell are you doing here? You should have left hours ago!”

Madeline started babbling, hoping fervently that Park would believe her off-the-top-of-her-head story.

“Well, I had to go to the bathroom before I left, so I used the one by Sydney’s office, and as I was washing my hands, all the power went out and alarms started going off. The elevator wouldn’t work and no one was around and I tried to find Sydney but he was gone, too. Then he,” she motioned towards Angelo, “Came out of the vents and told me to come with him and I thought he meant to get me out of here but I have no idea where we are and-” she took a quick breath, “Did you get shot?! What the hell is going on, Park?” Madeline let the fear coursing through her show plainly on her face to further sell her story.

“It’s just a scratch. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Madeline inwardly breathed a gigantic sigh of relief that Park didn’t seem to be questioning her story.

“Broots, how’s the Arkham file coming?”

Broots sat down to check on his computer and Angelo followed him. He leaned over the tech’s shoulder and typed furiously at the keyboard.

“He’s speeding it up!” Broots exclaimed a moment later.

He and Miss Parker discussed what was on the file as Madeline tried to make herself invisible again.

“Toy surprise.” Angelo held out the box of Cracker Jack to Miss Parker.

“ I told you I don't want any.” she growled.

“Surprise.” he held it out again and Park reluctantly reached inside.

“It's a DSA.” Broots stated the obvious.

“And it's dated the day of my mother's death.” Miss Parker whispered and handed it to Broots to set up.

The four of them huddled together to watch Mr. Parker and Sydney discuss Catherine’s “suicide”. Madeline linked her arm through Miss Parker’s good one, silently offering support. Not for the first time, she wondered how the DSAs were always able to zoom in at the right moment. It’s like the Centre had it’s own editing department, splicing feeds from the various cameras in a room to make it look more like a movie than traditional security camera footage.

“Life goes on, Sydney.” a young Mr. Parker told the psychiatrist calmly towards the end.

Once Sydney left, he sat down on the stairs and started to cry.

“Daddy sad. Must save Daddy.” Angelo implored, once it was over.

“Okay.” Miss Parker took a deep breath and tried to think.

“Madeline, I want you to stay with Angelo. He’ll keep you safe. Once I get the power back on, Angelo, get her to the parking garage. The building should be clear, and you should be able to get out without anyone seeing you. No one can ever know you were here today, do you understand?” she looked intently at Madeline, then at Angelo and Broots, assuring their silence.

Madeline gave her a grateful hug and whispered, “Be careful.”

Madeline made it out of the Centre without running into anyone- the parking garage and grounds were eerily empty and silent. Madeline pulled into the driveway at 7:15.

She nervously paced around the house, hoping for Miss Parker’s sake that Mr. Parker was all right. She personally couldn’t stand the man because of the callous way he treated his daughter, not to mention all the things that went on under his control at the Centre. Somehow, though, Park still loved him, so Madeline couldn’t wish anything bad happening to him, because of how it would affect her guardian.

The phone rang at 7:47- she was keeping a very close eye on the clock, nervously checking it every couple of minutes.

“Hello?” she asked, hoping it was Park.

“Madeline, is Miss Parker home yet?”

“No, Jarod, not yet. Someone tried to kill her father, but I haven’t heard from her and I‘m getting worried.”

Jarod was silent for a minute, clearly not expecting her to know about the planned assassination.

“She was able to save him. How do you know about it?”

The whole story came pouring out in one gigantic rush as she continued pacing and keeping watch on the driveway.

“Oh god, Jarod, do you think I’m going to be in the worst trouble ever?” she worried once she’d finished.

He stayed silent briefly again as he went over her story for holes.

“It sounds like a plausible enough story. You just really need to stay away from the air vents for a while to be safe.”

“Trust me, I’m not sneaking around the Centre again any time soon!” she promised fervently, “Park’s home- I’ve gotta go. Thanks, Jarod!”

Madeline’s stomach was in knots as she watched the car pull into the driveway at exactly 8:14. She sat on the couch and tried not to fidget.

Madeline was a very honest person by nature, and had never intended to start snooping around the Centre when she met Angelo during that early therapy session while Sydney had stepped out. She didn’t like to lie to the woman who’d literally saved her life and opened up her home to her. Madeline just felt compelled to figure out what was really going on at the Centre so she could stop it. She’d never felt more driven by anything in her life, not even the desire to succeed at gymnastics had ever been so strong.

She hoped that with Jarod’s help, Miss Parker would come around to their way of thinking and the three of them could shut the Centre down. Until then, though, she had to keep her extracurricular activities a secret.

“Is your father all right?” she asked to keep up appearances, twisting around on the couch when Park entered the living room.

Miss Parker sat beside her with a heavy sigh and told her he was. She was missing the jacket she’d been wearing that morning. Her left arm with in a sling, and she had a cut along the top of her left cheekbone as well as a split lip. Her hair was a mess, and the stress of the day was written plainly on her face.

Madeline rested her head on Parker’s right shoulder, both taking reassurance from the other.

“Are you ok?” Madeline whispered after a moment of tired silence.

“It was just a small flesh wound. I‘ll be fine.”

They shared a brief silence again.

“I‘m sorry.”

“What? Why?” Madeline felt like she should’ve been the one apologizing.

“I never wanted you to get mixed up in all this… insanity. I don’t know how I’m supposed to explain this to you.”

“I’ve had worse days.” Madeline pointed out calmly, leaving it at that, “I’m sorry we didn’t get to the cemetery.”

“My father wants to go with me in the morning.”

Madeline knew he had never gone with Park in all the years since her mother died.
“At least something good came out of the day, then.” Madeline lifted her head and smiled slightly. She was about to breathe an internal sigh of relief and head to bed when Park spoke.

“How did you and Angelo get to SL-26?”

“Through the air vents- I don’t know how but it seemed like we crawled forever. He said we‘d be safe there.”

“He did?” Miss Parker raised an eyebrow suspiciously.

“Well, not in so many words. Is he, like, brain damaged or something?”

“You could call it that.” Parker muttered under her breath.


“Nothing. Just stay away from him.” she ordered.

“Is he dangerous? He seemed like a good guy.” The comment came out of her mouth before she could stop it. It seemed she wasn’t the only one, because Parker’s next words surprised her.

“Everything about the Centre is dangerous.” they were spoken almost to herself, as if she’d forgotten Madeline was there. Her eyes widened slightly as she realized what she’d just said, but Madeline thought it best to pretend not to hear her.

“I’m going to bed.” Madeline announced.

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Madeline couldn’t help but notice the slight grimace on Park’s face as she stood.

“Can I get you anything before I go up?”

“No, thanks, Madeline, I’m fine.” her next words held a note of warning, “Just remember- today didn‘t happen.”

“Okay. Good night.”

They went to their respective rooms and both took a long, hot shower to try to wash the day’s events away before sleep quickly claimed them.

Laughter is the Best Medicine (Version 1: Part 5) by Danielle SmileyFace
Author's Notes:

9/3/13- Just made some minor cosmetic changes. :)

Laughter is the Best Medicine
Madeline Series, Version 1, Part 5
By Danielle : - )

Disclaimer: This fic contains spoilers of the episode entitled "Homefront". So if you haven't seen the ep yet, don't blame me if you read this! Everyone and everything appearing in this fic belong to NBC and MTM Entertainment, except for Madeline and her involvement in the Centre, which belong to me.

Author's Note: 12/14/98: I'd like to dedicate this fic to Ra-Chell, Sandee, AG, and Carolina, to whom, in my haste and joy at the beginning of this episode, I sent a spoiler post expressing my delight. I'm sorry if I ruined it for you, it hadn't even occurred to me that your different time zones had yet to see it. And I apologize for any mistakes and admit they belong solely to me because I want to get this out and distributed ASAP and am not sending it to my wonderful proofers AG and Nirvana like I normally would...

2/23/10: Due to additions to the series, this story was originally part 4, but it’s moving down to ensure that the new additions fall within the episode timeframes. =) I didn’t make any changes to this part other than that and fixing some spacing issues.


Madeline had only been at the Centre a few minutes, and had just met up with Angelo in the air vents. Before long they were cruising the vents looking for some amusement.

They came to a rest behind the vent that was just inside the door of Miss Parker's office. They could hear into the hallway and had a good view of the room.

Madeline thought she could hear Miss Parker clicking down the hall and Lyle's voice gradually got near enough for them to hear that he was upset, "... but theft. Simply taking for the taking, has always escaped me as an admirable criminal pursuit."

Madeline looked at Angelo, wondering what he meant. She soon had her answer as Miss Parker answered her brother.

"A little bitter about your car being stolen?"

Madeline opened her eyes wide in surprise, then shared a grin with Angelo.

"Ten miles on the odometer, three hours filling out police reports, five pages of insurance fine print!"

Madeline quickly brought a hand to her mouth so they wouldn't hear the laughter that threatened to make itself heard. This is too funny! she thought, but could not trust herself to speak.

She was about to leave and go somewhere she could laugh unheard when Miss Parker sweetly said, "I know it's a little late to stop the happy fellows at the chop shop this time but..." she moved to her desk, "I saw this and I immediately thought of you."

She pulled the Club out from behind her back and handed it to her brother with the biggest grin Madeline had ever seen grace her guardian's face, "Consider if a little preventative medicine."

That was it- Madeline turned and left as quickly as possible while not making too much noise. Angelo followed and as they left, she thought she heard Lyle say something about hoping to get his car back in one piece.

Once safely deep within the air vents, Madeline stopped and started laughing, a loud, deep laugh that left her gasping for breath. She laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks and her sides felt ready to split.

Angelo stared at her in confusion for a minute, then couldn't resist letting the laughter claim another victim. When Madeline heard him, she stopped momentarily to look with wonder on her friend, who was by now helpless with childlike laughter. It
gladdened her heart and soon she joined in again.

Neither could have said how long it was before they stopped laughing and lay side by side gasping for breath and pulling their sleeves down to wipe their eyes but once they had regained control, Madeline got up and said, "Come on, we might miss more."

They ended up outside Broots' room, after finding Parker's empty. Broots was speaking to Sydney, "Actually, it's fifty-nine million, nine-hundred thousand, six-hundred and twenty dollars. It's not every day we get ripped off to the exact penny!"

For the second time that day, Madeline raised her hand to her mouth to stop the burst of laughter that bubbled up in her gut when she realized that they were talking about Jarod and that he had just stolen almost $60 million dollars from the Centre. Her hand also prevented her from rejoicing at Jarod's latest attempt to taunt his former captors.

Even though Madeline had originally mistrusted Jarod, she now trusted him completely and was preparing to help him save Angelo and the rest of the children (even though he didn't know it yet).

Then Lyle came into the room and she refocused her attention on the frustrated words he spoke into the phone, "Once again; Officer, it's a black, 500 SL convertible, license plate Lyle 1... Well, it just didn't vanish."

Miss Parker came up behind him and shoved something into his chest. Madeline and Angelo couldn't tell what from their vantage point. Park grabbed the phone from her brother's hand and cheerfully and warmly said into it, "Found it. Thank you. Have a nice day." Madeline could tell she was enjoying torturing her brother.

"Jarod!" Lyle spat out.

Madeline listened happily while Broots described his invention, The Hound. Lyle wasn't listening, he was opening the package his sister had given him. He was at the perfect angle for Angelo and Madeline to clearly see what was in it. It was his license plate, they could clearly see Lyle 1 on the beat up, slightly burned metal.

Madeline and Angelo looked at each other and grinned.

Broots finished his explanation with, "Too bad it doesn't work for cars."

That was too much for Madeline to take. She barely got away fast enough before cracking up.

After that bout, she looked at Angelo and said, "If laughter really is the best medicine, then after today we are set for life, Angelo. Jarod rocks!! That's all I have to say."

Through the Gates of Change (Version 1: Part 6) by Danielle SmileyFace
Author's Notes:

Author’s Note: 2/22/10- I haven’t written a fic in probably at least 8 or 9 years, but I recently watched all 4 seasons and the two movies (in less than a month!), and my Pretender obsession came back in full force, or maybe even stronger. I thought I might try my hand at a couple more Madeline fics, new ones as well as potentially finish one or two I never got around to finishing like I’d planned. We’ll see what happens!  

Edited 9/3/13 for minor changes.

Through the Gates of Change
Madeline Series-M Version 1, Part 6
By Danielle Smiley-Face

Disclaimer: It’s been 10 years, but unfortunately, I still haven’t won the lottery, so the wonderful series known as “The Pretender” still doesn’t belong to me. *sigh*


Madeline drove along the road to the lakeside cottage as the sun was setting. The high school junior was more than pleased with the way her gymnastics routines were coming along and couldn’t wait to tell Park that her coach had just entered her into her first real competition since returning to the sport. It was a little over a month away, and she hoped her guardian would have enough advance notice to take the day off work to go with her.

When she pulled into the driveway, she was dismayed and a little curious to find her normal parking spot taken up by a red truck that had “Gates’ Restoration” across the side. Park hadn’t mentioned anything about having work done to their house. She parked behind Parker’s black sedan and climbed the stone stairway up to the front door.

Madeline stopped short at the entrance to the dining area when she saw an attractive man in his mid 30s standing with Miss Parker by the far wall.

“Hi Madeline.” Parker greeted her a little more cheerfully than she normally would in someone else‘s presence.

“Hi.” the girl replied tentatively, casting apprehensive glances at the stranger.

“Madeline, this is Thomas Gates. He’s going to be sprucing up the paint in here. Thomas, Madeline.”

“Nice to meet you, Maddie.” Thomas said warmly, beginning to step forward with hand outstretched.

She looked at him sharply, “Don’t call me that!”

He apologized easily but she didn’t return his smile.

“Umm, yeah. I’ll be upstairs.” she muttered before turning on heel and gracefully hurrying up to her room.

“I’m sorry about that- her father was the only one who called her Maddie.” Miss Parker felt the need to explain.

Thomas looked questioningly at Miss Parker, “Is she your daughter?”

“No!” Parker was quick to reply, “I adopted her two years ago.”

“I knew you weren’t as tough as you pretend to be!” he smiled mischievously.

Miss Parker had a strange urge to get pulled into his twinkling eyes, but just asked in a tone that was all business, “When can you start?”

“How about a week from Monday?”

“All right. It will have to be done during the day, when Madeline is at school.”

He was definitely drawn to her and would love to drag the job out as long as possible in order to have more contact with her, but he knew she was an incredibly smart woman and didn’t want her to think he was taking advantage of her. His honest side made him contradict her.

“I’m sure I could get it done in two days if I was able to work through the whole day. I‘ll just be in your way for a week otherwise.”

She raised an eyebrow icily.

“During school hours only. If that is not acceptable, I‘ll find someone else for the job.”

“Client’s wishes.” he said amicably, although confused.

“I’ll have a key made for you and leave it under the back door mat.”

“That sounds like a plan, Miss Parker. Enjoy your weekend.”

He smiled warmly at her and let himself out before she could reply. She was very unsettled about how drawn to him she was. He made her feel something Miss Parker decidedly did not like to feel, and that was out of control. He did not seem at all intimidated by her; and no matter how many sarcastic quips she fired at him, he still seemed intent on pursuing her. Miss Parker was suddenly finding she didn’t like changes to the status quo any more than Madeline did.

Ahh… Madeline. Miss Parker had read the apprehension in the girl’s eyes when she entered the room, and knew well where it was coming from. She only hoped that by insisting that Thomas work while Madeline was out of the house, the girl would be okay with it. She headed upstairs to fill her in on the situation.

The door at the top of the stairs was closed and Parker knocked and announced for clarification, “It’s me.”

She heard the click of the lock a few seconds later. She’d never known Madeline to lock the door before. Madeline opened the door before settling back on the cushioned window seat she loved. Parker sat beside her and they stared silently at the moonlight sparking over the lake for a few moments.

“When this was my room growing up, I used to love sitting here, reading for hours. My mother would have to drag me away for supper.”

Madeline turned to see a wistful smile on Miss Parker’s face, and couldn’t help smiling in return. She knew Miss Parker didn’t usually feel comfortable talking about her mother so it was always a treat when Park opened up to her about a pleasant memory from her childhood. She only wished Park had good things to relate about anything more recent.

The teenager remembered her news, and thought that might bring some joy to her somber companion.

“I entered into my first competition, for next month. It’s only a little regional thing, but it’s a good sign that I’m ready, and Jackie has faith in me.”

“Madeline, that’s great.” Parker smiled warmly.

“It’s on a Saturday afternoon. Do you think it’s far enough in advance that you could take the day off work? It’s only in Dover, so we’d be there and back the same day.”

Though she tried to offer the invite casually, Miss Parker saw how much her being there meant to the girl.

“As long as I don’t have a last minute business trip, I will definitely be there.” she promised sincerely, causing Madeline to smile brightly.

Madeline knew that “last minute business trip” was code for “a lead on Jarod”, but definitely wasn’t about to let slip that she knew anything about Jarod or Park’s real job duties.

“So, I didn’t know the house needed painting.”

“It hasn’t been painted since I moved in, and there‘s that water mark from last winter. Thomas will only be here during the day, while you’re at school.”

“But he’ll have a key, right?” Madeline worried.

“Yes, but he seems like a good, honest man. I had a friend run a background check on him, and he’s such a model citizen, it’s disgusting. Tell you what- as soon as he’s done, which will be by the end of next week, we’ll change the locks, ok?”

“If you have to go on a business trip next week, can I sleep over Amanda’s?”

Normally, she had no problem staying home alone when Parker went out of town. Knowing a strange man had a key to their house scared her to death. She’d come a long way in her work with Sydney, and knew her blanket fear of all men (except for Jarod, Angelo, Broots, and Sydney) was irrational, yet she hadn’t managed to shake it. Especially when they invaded her personal space.

Miss Parker agreed and decided the subject was settled so she moved on to the question of dinner. They both enjoyed cooking, so she homework was put aside and the unlikely pair went downstairs.


Over the weekend, Miss Parker went on one of her business trips. As he often did, Jarod used the opportunity to call Madeline to say ‘hi’. He could tell she was troubled and asked what was going on, although he thought he already knew the answer.

Jarod knew almost as much about her as Park did, so she explained in a rush about Thomas Gates and the impromptu painting project Parker was having him undertake.

“He’s a good man, Madeline. You have nothing to worry about with him.”

“Jarod,” she began in a tone that made him picture her eyes rolling in annoyance, “I know you somehow know, like, everything that goes on at the Centre, but there’s no way you know about some random painter.”

“He’s not some random painter, Madeline. I met him on a Pretend a few months ago. He’s a good man. You trust me, right?”

She knew Jarod well enough by now to trust his instincts when it came to people, and to know that he would never willingly put her or Miss Parker in even a remotely dangerous situation. He’d drop clues all day long that would drive Park mad, but would never intentionally cause her pain.


School got out an hour early on Thursday because of a burst water main in the cafeteria. Madeline knew Thomas would probably still be working. She had overslept that morning and left her gym bag at home in her rush to get to school on time. After learning that Jarod knew and trusted Thomas, she felt comfortable heading home to grab her bag.

She arrived home to find him hard at work. He wasn’t painting like he was supposed to be, though. He was enlarging a basketball-sized hole in the wall.

“When did Park tell you to do that??”

“I was up on the roof earlier, and I noticed there’s a whole other room behind this wall. I‘m sure you two could use the extra space. I figured I‘d surprise her with it when she gets back.”

“Just trust me on this one- it was her mother‘s room, and surely you‘ve discovered by now how touchy she is when it comes to her mother. If you want to live to work another job, you’ll patch up that hole and we’ll pretend this conversation never took place.”

“Thank you for your advise, Madeline, but the wall is coming down.”

“It’s your funeral.” she muttered as she went to grab her gym bag.

“She didn’t kill me.” were the first words out of Thomas’ mouth when Madeline walked in the next day.

“How close did she come, though, seriously?”

“Well, if looks could kill, I’d be dead. She told me in no uncertain terms to put the wall back up.”

“Then why the hell is the hole bigger than when I saw it this morning? Thomas, you’re a nice guy so I don’t want to see something bad happen to you. You need to patch it up like she said.”

“At the risk of being shut out of her life, I’m doing this for her, whether she knows she wants it yet or not.”

“Okay, well, forgive me if I don’t want to be around to be a witness to your execution. It was nice knowing you.”

Madeline decided to spend Saturday night at a friend’s house to give Park a chance to calm down from the explosion that was sure to follow after seeing the new door. She was more than a little concerned to pull in the next morning to find Thomas’ truck still in the driveway. She knew Park was going to be really upset with him, but surely she wouldn’t have actually killed him!

She opened the front door quietly and glanced around apprehensively. A gorgeous wooden door led to Catherine’s room, and the end table was attractively arranged next to it. Nothing else looked amiss. She followed the smell of coffee into the kitchen, not quite sure what she expected to see.

Thomas Gates standing in front of the coffee machine shirtless at 8 in the morning definitely hadn’t been a possibility.

“Hi.” she said softly, so as not to wake Miss Parker, who she could see still sleeping through the partially closed bedroom door.

“Hi Madeline.” he greeted her sheepishly.

“So I guess she wasn‘t so upset about the door, huh?” she raised an knowing eyebrow.

“We came to an understanding about it.”

She let out a small laugh and glanced at the open bedroom door with a smirk beyond her years.

“Uh huh. I‘ll be upstairs.”

It soon became commonplace for Tommy to spend the night, but Madeline was perfectly at ease with him by then. She enjoyed his company and seeing the joy and relaxation he was able to bring out of Miss Parker.

She’d roll her eyes good-naturedly when she came upon them kissing in the kitchen or snuggled close together watching tv, but inwardly she enjoyed seeing them together like that. Though she felt slightly guilty for eavesdropping, sometimes she couldn’t resist sitting at the top of the stairs out of sight after saying her good-nights. She enjoyed listening to their easy banter and the clear affection in their voices.

She wasn’t quite consciously aware of it yet, but seeing Park find such happiness was helping to repair her own battered soul as well as show her that not all men were an evil to be avoided.


Madeline was at the dining room table doing her homework when the front door opened.

“Hey, Park. You’re home early! Going on another business trip?”

“I wish!” Parker signed heavily, “My father is having a little family get-together tomorrow night, but his house is being worked on, so he wants to have it here!!”

Madeline couldn’t quite understand why that seemed to be such a big deal, aside from the fact that it would be Thomas’ first introduction to the family. Madeline wasn’t sure if Park was worried her family would scare him off.

“Okay. I’ll take the night off gymnastics. What do you want me to cook?”

“It can’t be a simple little meal when it comes to my father! Of course he says ’dinner, drinks, nothing fancy’, but he’s expecting it to be. I’ve got to find a cleaning service to come out first thing, find a caterer, decide on an appropriate menu…” her shoulders slumped, “Try to prepare Tommy for meeting my family. And you‘ll need a nice dress. I‘ll give you money and you can go shopping after school tomorrow.”

“Thomas is a great guy. Your family can’t not like him.” Madeline tried to reassure her, although with Mr. Parker, you could never be sure. She had realized not long after meeting him that his continued dislike of her wasn’t completely personal, per se, it was just his way.

Parker muttered something Madeline didn’t catch as she headed for the phone book in the kitchen.

Madeline was watching Debbie after school the next day so they went shopping together. Debbie was delighted, sharing stories of the time she had to stay with Miss Parker and they went shopping for similar outfits. She especially seemed to enjoy recalling the horrified look on her father’s face when he saw them dressed alike.

It only took a few stores for Madeline to find a lovely, deep purple dress that was flattering and brought out the blue in her eyes, but something she didn’t think would attract much more unwanted attention from Lyle than usual.

She dropped Debbie off at the Broots’ and found the cottage bustling with activity, even though the dinner wasn’t set to begin for another three hours. There were two maids polishing the tables and dining room chairs. A waiter was putting the finishing touches on the table dressing and she could smell something wonderful coming from the noisy kitchen, which turned out to have not one, but two, very professional-looking chefs efficiently and quickly preparing the meal.

A harried looking Park was going over the evening’s course of events with a waitress. Madeline caught her eye and smiled supportively before heading upstairs to try and get some homework done.

Miss Parker came up a little later and sat down on the window seat with a small sigh.

“Did you have luck finding a dress?”

Madeline got it from the back of the bathroom door and held it up for inspection.

Miss Parker nodded approval.

“Are you doing all right?” Madeline asked her.

“I just know something’s going to go wrong. I’ve spent all day making sure everything goes perfectly, but something is going to go wrong.”

“Everything’s going to go great.” she managed to make it sound sincere, although Park wasn’t the only one nervous.

Madeline was more concerned about having to spend the evening around Lyle. From the moment they had met, he sensed her discomfort and seemed to enjoy trying to intensify it. She planned to stick with Tommy and hoped to avoid Lyle as much as possible.

“Everyone’s getting here at eight.” she reminded Madeline before rushing out the door.

Madeline went downstairs at half past seven.

“You clean up well.” she teased Tommy with a smile.

“Thank you, young lady. You look lovely this evening.”

“Thanks.” her smile got wider and her nerves calmed a bit knowing he was on her side.

“Where’s Park?”

“Still getting ready.” He gestured towards her room, “I don’t understand why she’s so nervous. I’m the one meeting her family!”

“I think Mr. Parker’s got really high expectations and she doesn’t like to let him down. She said she was sure something‘s going to go wrong, even though I‘ve heard her go over the game plan with the staff at least half a dozen times.” Madeline shrugged.

When Park emerged from her room, she looked simply stunning. Madeline could only hope that one day she’d be as graceful.

She and Thomas walked over and overheard her telling the waitress the schedule.

“Um, ah, drinks first, then dinner, then I'll climb up onto the top of the roof and jump head first onto the driveway.”

The woman looked at her strangely and Parker told her it was an old family tradition. Thomas leaned in and gave her a reassuring kiss. Madeline smiled when Thomas stopped her nervous fussing by assuring her that she looked incredible.

The doorbell rang and Miss Parker answered it to find her father and Brigitte, also not one of Madeline‘s favorite people, but still preferable to Lyle.

“Angel!” the old man greeted as warmly as he ever seemed able to.

When Brigitte asked if they could come in, Park replied with, “Well, looks like you’re already in.”

Madeline’s jaw nearly dropped when Brigitte said, “We appreciate you hosting this little shindig. Damn floors. You know how slow construction workers can be. Morons with hammers.”

“Bridget…” Miss Parker warned.

“Brigitte.” the brunette corrected.

Madeline loved how Park always intentionally mispronounced her name, and the fact that it never failed to get a rise out of the blond.

“Whatever.” Park easily dismissed her, returning her attention to her father.

“Daddy, this is Thomas.”

“The construction moron. Don't worry, I left my hammer in my other outfit.” he shook hands with Mr. Parker with the friendly smile that came so easily to his lips.

“I've heard a lot about you, son.”

“Well, don't believe everything that you hear.” Thomas joked.

“Like what?” he asked in all seriousness.

Madeline wondered why Park hadn’t thought to share a few key bits of information with Tommy earlier, like the fact that her father had no sense of humor whatsoever.

Madeline decided now would be a good time to step forward and greet their guests as well. She got an insincere smile from Mr. Parker and an equally insincere kiss on the cheek from Brigitte. She stepped back apprehensively when she saw Lyle coming up the stairs over Brigitte’s shoulder.

“Hi. I hope I'm not late.”

“Tommy this is my... brother, Lyle.”

Madeline couldn’t blame her for hesitating to call Lyle her brother.

Lyle actually sounded sincere when he said, “So this is the lucky guy who won my sister's heart.”

“Yeah. I'm the lucky guy.” Thomas replied with an affectionate glance towards the woman in question. Madeline’s jaw dropped a second time when he innocently asked, “What happened to your thumb?”

That was another subject Madeline knew Park really should have mentioned as being off limits.

“Who needs a drink?” Miss Parker headed towards the bar.

Mr. Parker did away with his daughter’s seating arrangement, which had thoughtfully put Madeline as far away as possible from Lyle; claiming he wanted his “two best girls” on either side of him. He placed Lyle next to Brigitte, and Thomas across from Lyle, next to Miss Parker. Madeline was at the other end of the table, uncomfortably close to Lyle. She surreptitiously moved her chair closer to Thomas’ side
of the table first chance she got.

The meal had a few road bumps when it came to conversation, but otherwise, everything went off without a hitch. Madeline could only wonder what Thomas was thinking at the many lines of tension running rampant through the air.

“Oh, I thought the dinner party from hell would never end.” Park said in relief as she closed the door behind her departing guests.

“Good night.” Madeline gave Park a hug.

“Good night. Thank you, Madeline.” Park smiled wearily.

As Madeline headed for her room, Thomas came out of the kitchen with a cup of tea and handed it to Miss Parker.

“I made something to help you sleep.”

“Hmm.” Parker took an appreciative sip.

“Well I thought that tonight went, ah, pretty well.”

Madeline stood at the top of the stairs, interested to hear Parker’s response.

“Nobody died.” was as much of an agreement as he got.

“Brigitte seems like a nice person and she makes your father happy. “

“It's so hard to watch him throw his life away like this.”

“Then don't. If it's making you this miserable, maybe you should stop spending time with them.”

“They're my family.” Madeline heard Park defend weakly.

“Maybe you should think about... starting a new one.”

Madeline smiled and crept up the last few stairs to her room, closing the door gently behind her. She liked Thomas more and more every day.

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