Helios Exposed Teaser

exposed-verticalThe Helios Chronicles is an adult romance series that follows the lives of Andrew ‘Helios’ Harrison and Madison Ellis as they fight for their love in a world set on tearing them apart. In Book 2, Helios Exposed, we will find out whether or not Andrew and Madison can survive a life in New York City, where they find that things aren’t as simple as they hoped they would be. They soon discover that there are just as many enemies back east as there were on the west coast. When everything begins to crumble around them will their love be enough to hold them together?

Adult Content: Language, Violence & Sexual Situations

Excerpt from the upcoming novel, Helios Exposed by T.M. Witko

PROLOGUE

August 2012

The last day of the festival consisted of a huge beach extravaganza. Madison and Andrew were amazed by the many booths and vendors that encompassed the park overlooking the beach. Of course the Bennett’s were VIP’s, so they were allotted early entrance into the festival and a separate shaded area to sit. The afternoon was filled with more wine and food than Madison ever imagined was possible, and lots and lots of laughter.

“You know, I’m not a wine drinker but I have tried some great stuff since being here,” Andrew said as he sipped his wine.

“I have too. I’m going to hate to leave this place,” Madison concurred, squeezing Andrew’s free hand.

“This is one of our favorite festivals,” Liam stated. “The surroundings are breathtaking, the people are kind, and the atmosphere is welcoming.”

“Plus, we always have some down time to play,” Jayden interjected.

“Speaking of which, what are your plans for the evening?” Elias asked.

“Callie wants to hit up Tonic tonight,” Jayden said and then looked over at Madison and Andrew. “You guys want to come?”

Madison glanced at Andrew who looked ambivalent. That wasn’t exactly what Madison had in mind for their last night.

“I kind of want to hang at the beach tonight and watch the sunset. Is that alright?” Madison asked, not wanting to upset her friends.

“Of course it’s alright, that sounds very romantic,” Callie said sweetly as she hugged her. “Don’t forget to bring an extra blanket to cover yourself up,” she whispered in her ear and Madison couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face at the realization that Callie knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“What about you two?” Andrew asked curious.

“Oh, I think we will just relax indoors tonight, maybe light up the fireplace,” Liam said, glancing at Elias who gave him a sexy smirk.

“Well, that sounds pretty good,” Madison said with a smile.

When the event ended, they all went their separate ways, Callie and Jayden to get ready to go clubbing while Elias and Liam were headed to their suite for a romantic night alone. Madison snatched the duvet off the bed and then the lighter blanket in the closet. Andrew was watching her peculiarly.

“What are you doing?” Andrew asked, curious.

“I want us to go down to the beach. The sun will be setting soon.”

He smiled and grabbed the duvet and blanket from her. “Are we supposed to take these out of the room?” he asked as they entered the elevator.

Madison shrugged. “Probably not, but…” she paused and got a mischievous glint in her eyes. “We are the very special guests of the Bennett’s and the manager said we could do anything we wanted.” She winked.

“I’m not sure that’s exactly what he said, but you’re right, that guy was kissing Elias’ ass so much I’m a bit surprised Liam didn’t smack him, telling him that ass was his,” Andrew laughed.

Madison snorted. “I know. Well, what can we say? We are in the company of rock stars.”

They made their way down to the beach, no one stopping them to ask why they were bringing the presumably expensive bedding of the hotel outside. The sun was just starting to drop below the horizon as they laid out the duvet and sat down. Madison drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.

“It’s breathtaking, isn’t it?” she asked dreamily.

Andrew smiled at her, running his hand down her spine before looking out at the sunset. It truly was magnificent. He had never really paid much attention to the setting of the sun, aside from the fact that it marked nighttime. He had always dreaded the night because bad things happened at night and usually if he hadn’t found a place to crash by sunset, he knew he was sleeping on the streets. But this was different, watching it with Madison. Her face expressed all the awe and wonder of someone who had always been loved and cared for. She saw beauty in the world and in him and it amazed him that in spite of everything, she knew she still wanted him with her.

“It’s almost as beautiful as you,” Andrew finally replied as he kissed her temple.

She turned towards him, reaching one of her hands to cup his face. He brought his lips to hers, unable to stop the force that always drew him to her. Their kiss was filled with all the passion and love they felt for each other. He laid her on the blanket and settled between her legs as he brought the blanket up and over them. Madison wanted him, but more than that, she needed him, always.

“I love you so much, Andrew,” Madison stated as she grasped his face in her hands.

“And I love you, just as much, Madison,” he replied before their lips touched once again.

They kissed sweetly yet fervently under the stars, the ocean serving as the soundtrack to their lovemaking. They weren’t sure if anyone else was around but neither cared at that point. All that mattered in that instant was each other and the life they would be sharing together. Madison knew that things would be different in New York, but she couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the journey they would soon be on.

1 Friend’s Day

It had been six weeks since the decision had been made to move, and the time seemed to be flying by. Madison and Andrew spent every night together and most weekends with Jayden and Callie. It seemed as if every weekend they were off for several hours here and there, just to spend as much time together as they could before the inevitable departure arose. Madison glanced towards the bathroom and set her coffee down. She made her way to the door and knocked on it gently.

“Grans, how ya doing in there?” Madison asked at the bathroom door.

“I’m fine, Maddie,” her grandmother hollered over the roar of the shower.

Madison smiled and walked back to the dining room and sipped her coffee. Her grandmother had improved significantly. She got around with little to no help from her granddaughter anymore. Although Madison was ecstatic about this, she was also a bit sad as it proved to be a clear indicator that time had indeed sped up. When Dr. Meyers informed them two weeks ago that her grandmother had healed as completely as someone her age could and that she didn’t need anyone staying with her anymore, Madison’s heart sank and her stomach turned. The date was now set. Labor Day weekend, she and Andrew would leave. Madison glanced up when she heard the shower stop. She listened closely; making sure her grandma was not struggling in any way. Not hearing any sounds indicating her needing help, she turned to the door, hearing a knock.

“Are you ready?” Callie asked, bouncing in place.

Madison smiled. “Yeah, hold on a second, let me tell grans I am heading out.”

“Is that your friend, Maddie?” her grandmother asked from behind the bathroom door.

“Yes, we are getting ready to leave. Are you sure you don’t need any help?” Madison asked.

“Maddie, go, have fun. I will see you tonight.”

Madison sighed and walked away. Callie linked arms with her as they left the house. Today was individual friend’s day, as Madison liked to call it. It was Madison’s alone time with Callie and Andrew’s alone time with Jayden. The boys had decided that they were going to ride motorcycles while Callie and Madison had decided they wanted to spend their time shopping and pampering themselves a bit before the going away party later that evening. Madison and Andrew were leaving early in the morning so that they would have four full days to get to New York. Madison was proud of the fact that Stella could indeed pull Andrew’s Harley, although she had to install a tow hook for it to happen, something that Andrew and Jayden had taken care of last week before they spent one last weekend frolicking at Lake Isabella.

“I think I’d like to get Andrew a suit. I mean, I love the way he dresses, but there are occasions where I will want him to attend work functions with me and he will need a suit,” Madison said casually as the two women strolled through the mall.

They had already bought several new items and had pampered themselves with manicures and pedicures along with a haircut. They had even picked out a few items from Intimates to surprise their men with. Of course, Madison would have to wait on that since Andrew would be spending his last night at his aunt and uncle’s house.

“I don’t know, Madison. You should probably do that in New York when he’s with you. Once, I bought Jay a suit and it fit him all wrong and Liam pulled me aside, told me that men need to be fitted for a suit the first time and then once you have their measurements, you can pretty much buy any suit you’d like and it will look good.” She shrugged and then smiled. “Then he gave me Jay’s measurements. He was very sweet about it and told me what a kind gesture it was for me to do.”

“Hmm, well, that’s a good point. Liam and Elias would definitely know about suits. Those men dress impeccably. Alright, well, I will definitely need to take him somewhere. Maybe I can ask one of the guys in the office where the best place to buy a nice suit is.”

“Are you nervous about leaving?” Callie asked quietly.

“No, I’m just…” Madison sighed and glanced at her friend. “I hate the idea of leaving. I’m gonna miss my grans like crazy and I’m gonna miss you and Jay just as much. I wish I could just take you all with us,” she said looking down.

“Madison,” Callie said, placing her finger underneath Madison’s chin and lifting her head up. “Friendship and love aren’t things you can really see, it’s something you carry in your heart,” she said as she tapped her own heart. “So it doesn’t really matter where we are or how far away we may be at any given moment, what we feel inside and our friendship will remain.”

Madison nodded as tears streamed down her face and she wrapped her arms tightly around Callie. They held each other for several minutes before finally giggling at the fact they were in a mall crying in front of an Abercrombie and Fitch store. Callie held Madison’s hand firmly.

“Let’s go eat a truck load of ice cream and pretend that you aren’t leaving tomorrow,” Callie suggested with a wide grin.

Madison smiled as she wiped under her eyes with her free hand. “Sounds like a perfect plan.”

~*~

Jayden and Andrew had ridden all through the mountains before Andrew took him to the spot that he always took Madison. Andrew was a bit hesitant but he felt like it was something he needed to share with Jayden as he had been thinking about it for quite a while now. Andrew pulled over and smiled at the fact that he parked in the same spot he always parked with Madison. He got off and waited for Jayden before walking a little bit ahead of him.

“What are we doing here?” Jayden asked, coming up next to him.

Andrew sat down near the edge of the same canyon he and Madison had looked over the very first time he brought her here. Jayden sat down next to him, looking out across the small canyon.

“Wow, that’s some view.”

“I brought Madison here after the lake incident, after your parents bailed me out.” Andrew smiled and licked his lips, remembering his and Madison’s first time. “We had sex on my Harley over by that tree,” he said, motioning his head towards where they were parked.

Jayden chuckled. “No shit!”

Andrew smirked at him and nodded before turning back to the scene before him. “I used to come here to sketch all the time, but now when I come here, all I see is Madison,” Andrew said with a wry smile.

Jayden grinned and watched as Andrew looked on, seemingly lost in thought.

“When I first got out of prison, I never left my room. I spent the first year only leaving to eat, go to the bathroom, and to see my PO.” Andrew shook his head. “It was like I was still in prison, except my room was now my cell. After Jimmy caused trouble for me, I couldn’t get a job in town, so I was working pretty minimally wherever Aaron could find something for me,” he said with a sigh.

“Jimmy’s always been an asshole, Andrew. All through school he acted like he was better than everyone else. He hated me with a passion because he knew I didn’t care what he thought of me.” Jayden frowned. “He and I have fought many times.”

Andrew shook his head in disgust. Andrew then smiled as he remembered where Jimmy was and knowing that he wouldn’t be the big man in prison. Andrew glanced at Jayden who was now looking out into the canyon, which was still vibrant with color.

“Aaron and Olivia tried to engage me but it just wasn’t happening. When I first got the Harley, I just rode it with no rhyme or reason. I had no real plan, and then I found this place purely by chance. I remember stopping and feeling a pull to this,” he said, waving his hand to emphasize the landscape. “I sat right here.” Andrew looked down, indicating where he was currently sitting and then shook his head slightly. “I felt so lost and confused. I didn’t know what my purpose was. I kept hearing Aaron say that this was my time to fly. That I was free like the Phoenix, but I just couldn’t see it. But as I sat there wallowing in self-pity, something… happened. It was weird, but there was this tiny spark of faith that started to build inside of me.” He sighed. “I sat here for hours before finally going back to the house.”

“This place is very… peaceful,” Jayden said, glancing at him.

“It is. There is a gentle calm about this place, and when I’m here, I have this sense of tranquility that overcomes me. You know what I mean? Like my heart slows down and I can breathe and, I don’t know, things feel hopeful.”

He glanced at Jayden who was nodding. He hoped that he could feel that as well. Andrew turned back to the breathtaking sight before him.

“When I got back to my room, all I did was draw. Everything I could remember, and what I couldn’t remember, I waited to draw until I could see it again. I ended up coming back here daily for several months until this was all in my head and I could see it clearly.” He smiled and glanced at Jayden who was looking out across the canyon again. “Aside from Madison, you are the only other person that knows about this place. I…” He paused as Jayden turned to him. “This place is very special to me and I wanted to share it with you.”

Jayden closed his eyes for a second, nodding.

“I thought, maybe, you know, when you have those nightmares about what happened to you and your parents, you could come here and it would make you feel better like it did for me,” Andrew said with heartfelt sincerity.

Jayden’s eyes shot open, tears stung his eyes in the hot sun as his throat constricted tightly. His mouth opened, but he wasn’t able to form any coherent words. Andrew placed his hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly before taking a deep breath and looking back out over the canyon area. Jayden inhaled deeply and turned to the scene before him as well.

“Thank you, Andrew,” Jayden finally said after several minutes had passed.

“You’re welcome, Jay,” Andrew replied.

They sat in silence as they both thought about the lives they had led up until that point, and how, in such a short time, their friendship had grown so deep. Neither was looking forward to not being able to see each other for such a long time. After much time had passed, both men looked at one another. Jayden offered him a small smile that Andrew quickly returned.

“We should head back soon,” Jayden said, chuckling. “You don’t want to miss my parents big ‘going away’ production.” He winked.

Andrew laughed and stood up, reaching his hand down to help Jayden up. “Heaven forbid, but seriously, there is no way in hell that Madison would miss the opportunity to ogle your fathers one last time,” Andrew said with an eye roll.

Jayden laughed and put his arm over Andrew’s shoulder. “Welcome to my world man. I swear to god, girls don’t seem to care that they’re gay. It’s the strangest thing,” he said shaking his head.

When they got back to their bikes, Andrew threw his leg over his Harley and grinned at Jayden. “I’ll race you.”

Jayden literally jumped on his bike, starting it with a roar and a huge grin. “You are so on,” he said, pulling out ahead of him.

2 Farewell Gathering

Madison pulled up to the Bennetts’ home and could already see that Aaron, Olivia, and Andrew were there. She looked out the window and saw smoke coming up from the back of the house. Madison had never actually been in their backyard so she assumed that must be the barbecue. She glanced at her grandma, who was looking at the house as well, a forlorn look on her face.

“You okay, Grans?” Madison asked concerned.

Her grandmother turned to her. “This is really it, isn’t it?”

Madison could already feel the tears forming in her eyes. “It is, Grans.”

Her grandmother nodded and turned back to the house, opening her car door. Madison quickly exited the vehicle, grabbing her potato salad from the backseat before making her way to her grandma. They locked arms with one another as they casually strolled to the door.

“Are we supposed to walk inside?” Grans asked confused.

Madison nodded. “Yes, Liam told me to just come inside and put my salad in the fridge. He said they would all be out back.”

Madison did as instructed, placed her salad in the huge side-by-side refrigerator, and guided her grandmother towards the patio door where they could hear laughter and music. Andrew spotted her at the sliding patio door and jumped up as if he were on a spring. He kissed her the minute he reached her and then leaned down to kiss her grandmother on the forehead. He winked at Madison as he took her grandmother’s arm and led her to a nice chair near his aunt and uncle.

Madison took a moment to eye her surroundings. The backyard was monstrously huge. She had no idea it was as big as it was. There were two sets of fruit trees that lined the walls on both sides that seemed to serve a few purposes, one, shade, two, privacy and three, well, they smelled wonderful. There was a gazebo nestled in the corner that looked like it had a sunken-in Jacuzzi and to the back of the yard was a pool. But what struck Madison the most was that on the opposite side was a huge barbecue pit, like the ones that you might see in the south. Madison smiled and shook her head at the enormity of the place.

“It’s nuts, isn’t it?” Andrew asked, kissing her temple.

Madison nodded and pointed at Jayden. “You have been holding out, buddy!”

Jayden laughed. “Sorry, Madison.”

“Hmm, just for that, none of my famous potato salad for you,” she said arching her brow.

Now, he gave her a pout. “Ah, come on, Madison. Don’t be like that.”

“Do you want something to drink?” Andrew asked with a chuckle.

When she nodded, he walked to the huge cooler and got her a soda. Madison strolled over and gave both Aaron and Olivia a hug as well as Callie before taking a seat in one of the large lounge chairs. Andrew brought her the soda and motioned for her to scoot forward. He slipped in behind her and pulled her back to him, which was exactly where Madison wanted to be. Everyone talked and visited about nothing in particular, while Liam and Elias were grilling several items.

“How does everyone want their steaks?” Liam asked as he approached them.

Everyone told him their preference and Madison watched as he walked back to the pit with Elias. He whispered something to him, which made Elias actually blush and nudge him away. Liam laughed and ghosted his fingers along Elias’ back before walking inside the house. After a lot of small talk, because no one wanted to talk about the inevitable, Elias brought over a plate of steaks and set them on the table that Liam had ready. Madison and Olivia had both tried to help but were promptly shooed away. Jayden had then informed them that his dad was very particular about stuff like that. The table was perfectly lined with food and freshly picked flowers in strategically placed bowls as well as tiki lanterns behind the table and at the ends. The whole scene looked as if it belonged in some home and garden magazine.

“The mediums are here. Aaron, your rare is at the end and as requested, it is still mooing,” Elias said chuckling. “Callie, your well done is over here.” Callie smiled up at him.

“Everyone, please, eat,” Liam said with a gallant wave to the table of food.

“Damn, you guys sure know how to throw a barbecue,” Madison said with a whistle.

“Well, I am from Texas,” Elias said, tipping his head as if he had a cowboy hat on.

“Duly noted,” Madison giggled as she took Andrew’s hand.

Madison had not been kidding when she said the Bennett’s knew how to do up a barbecue. There were steaks and four different kinds of salads, fresh fruit from what Madison assumed were the fruit trees in the yard, husked corn on the cob that had come off of the huge pit that Liam and Elias had been working. There were even homemade tortilla chips along with what appeared to be mango salsa. She couldn’t imagine how they expected everyone to eat all of it.

“I told you it would be a production,” Jayden said, nudging Andrew.

“This is a lot of food,” Andrew noted, shaking his head.

“Oh my GOD!” Madison mumbled through a mouthful of chips and salsa. “Is this homemade?”

Elias laughed. “Yes, it’s a family recipe. I’m glad you like it.”

“Everyone likes your salsa,” Liam inserted with pride.

The next several hours were spent eating and eating until no one could eat anymore. The conversations were fun and exciting as people shared funny stories for entertainment. The soundtrack for the evening consisted of a mixture of what Madison deemed ‘street music’ along with some of the popular Tejano music currently out. It reminded her of New York and the block parties she had attended as a teenager, especially the ones in Spanish Harlem. Liam and Elias glanced at each other as one of Santana’s songs came on. Jayden grinned and then stood up, taking Callie’s hand as he led her away from the tables. He immediately pulled her closer and started dancing as if he belonged in the actual video for the song.

“Do you mind if we dance?” Elias asked, looking at the remaining couples present.

“Of course not,” Olivia said immediately.

“Ma’am,” Liam asked looking at Madison’s grandmother.

She smiled. “Thank you for asking but it isn’t necessary. I may be old but I can still spot love in these old eyes of mine. You don’t need my approval.”

With that, Elias took Liam’s hand and they joined Jayden and Callie. It was clear that this was some family thing that was just beautiful to watch. There was nothing odd or strange about it, instead it was lovely and sweet. When the song changed, everyone clapped for them and all four made exaggerated bows. When they sat down, they were laughing.

“My dads taught me how to salsa to that song and then every time it came on, which was a lot, we would all dance to it,” Jayden said excitedly as he snatched a handful of chips off the table.

“My husband and I were like that, anytime Frank Sinatra came on he would take me in his arms and we would slow dance,” Grandmother Downing said with a smile.

Liam grinned and walked over to where the music was playing and fiddled with it for several minutes until suddenly the crooning voice of the one and only Frank Sinatra was belting out, The Way You Look Tonight. Without hesitation, Andrew stood and walked to Madison’s grandmother, reaching his hand out to her.

“May I have this dance?”

Madison couldn’t contain the smile on her face at watching her grandmother blush profusely as she stood and danced sweetly with Andrew. It was an interesting sight to behold. Here was a heavily tattooed man that to an outside observer appeared hard and possibly dangerous, dancing with an old woman with long gray hair that was resting her head against his chest. If anything spoke to not judging a book by its cover that certainly did. Madison glanced at Olivia and Aaron and Olivia had one hand gripping Aaron’s tightly while she was wiping tears from her eyes with her other one. When the song ended, Andrew gave her grandmother one of his radiant smiles as he helped her sit down.

“Should we, you know?” Andrew asked, sitting next to Madison again.

Madison sighed and nodded. She dug in her pocket and pulled out her car keys, handing them to Andrew who walked back into the house. Everyone turned to Madison for answers but she just smiled, she was not doing this without Andrew. They had talked over a month ago about wanting to do something special for their friends and family. She hoped they would like what they decided on. A few minutes later Andrew returned with five packages. He leaned them against his chair as he took his seat, holding Madison’s hand.

“Andrew and I wanted to do something for all of you, as a way to thank you for everything you have done, the love you have all bestowed on the two of us and for your understanding as to why we need to leave,” Madison began.

“Madison, that really isn’t necessary,” Callie said, her voice shaking slightly.

“Yes, Callie, it was,” Madison said firmly, she then turned to Andrew, “Let’s start with Elias and Liam.”

He nodded and flipped through the packages and found the one marked E&L. He stood and walked over to them, handing it to the two of them who were looking at him in shock as they were not expecting anything. Andrew sat down again and took Madison’s hand. Everyone watched as the Bennett’s opened the paper and then both inhaled sharply. Elias and Liam were surprised at what they were seeing. It was a framed drawing of the two of them. They were standing in the center of a crowd of people, their hands almost touching with their eyes locked on one another. In the background there were a lot of people drawn smaller than Elias and Liam, some were dancing, some talking, some toasting with glasses of wine but all were barely visible as Andrew had drawn them with less detail and more diffuse so that the focus would be the Bennett’s.

“What is it?” Jayden asked, curious why it looked as if his parents were about to cry.

Liam turned the picture around so everyone could see it.

“Oh god, Andrew, it’s beautiful,” Olivia gasped.

“We wanted to do something special, that was reflective of how much you have meant to us and to be honest that right there is how we see the two of you,” Madison stated firmly.

“You two have helped us in more ways than we could ever repay and I know it isn’t much but this is our way of saying thank you for everything you did for me, for us,” Andrew added.

Elias and Liam were still staring at the picture. The detail was exquisite. It belonged in a gallery versus on their wall. Liam touched their almost joined hands and looked over at Elias whose eyes were drawn to every little detail in the picture, mesmerized by the accurate depiction of him and Liam.

“Thank you for this,” Liam finally said, swallowing hard.

“You’re welcome,” Madison and Andrew said in unison.

Andrew then brought a package to both Callie and Jayden. Callie excitedly opened hers while Jayden seemed hesitant. Callie squealed when she saw the picture, which was of her and Madison, some were of the two of them on the beach, some holding bags and the larger one in the middle was of her and Madison walking with linked arms, the way they always seemed to walk with one another. In every picture, Callie looked as if she was floating on air, their faces were joyous and full of life. Callie jumped up screaming and ran across the way, hugging Madison tightly and then wrapping her arm around Andrew as well, pulling him to her.

“I love it,” she said kissing them both on the cheeks.

As she sat back down she smiled at Jayden. “Go on, Jay, open it.”

He took a deep breath and unwrapped it carefully. He had a tenuous hold on his emotions and was extremely worried that he would have some kind of panic attack if he didn’t keep himself in check. He felt a tear slip out of his eyes as he saw what Andrew had drawn. He looked across at Andrew and then back down at the picture.

“Oh, Jay,” Callie said resting her head on his upper arm.

Jayden smiled as he traced his fingers along the various pictures, most were of him and Andrew doing things, motorcycle racing on Piute Mountain, racing boats at Lake Arrowhead, on their jet skis at Lake Isabella, and paddle boarding in Santa Barbara. But the central picture was of him and Andrew, sitting with their legs drawn up, looking out onto the canyon.

“This was today. How…” Jayden muttered, still looking at it.

“I have been thinking about it for a long time but I hadn’t taken you yet. I meant what I said about it,” Andrew said confidently.

Jayden nodded. “I’ll remember,” he said with a sigh. “Thank you.” The words seemed to be choking in his throat. “This is…” He wasn’t able to finish his thought.

“You’re welcome, Jayden,” Andrew said and then looked at Madison, “Let’s do the last two at the same time, okay?”

Madison nodded not sure how much more she could manage without turning into a sobbing mess. She picked up the picture marked Grans while Andrew grabbed the one marked Auntie. Madison sat next to her Grans as she handed it over to her. Madison had asked Andrew to draw a picture of her Grans in her chair with Madison on the arm, hugging her. She had wanted her Grans to always be able to see that, their special way of connecting to one another. Andrew had actually taken it a step further and drew two Madison’s, one on each arm of the chair. The first one was Madison as she was now, an adult who loved her grandmother, while the other was Madison as a little girl, clinging to her grandmother’s arm. When Madison had seen it she cried for an hour. Andrew had thought he had done something wrong but Madison had reassured him that it was perfect.

“Oh, Maddie,” Grans smiled and breathed in hard, she then turned to Andrew who was watching her. “Come here, Andrew.”

Andrew set his package down and walked over to her. She handed the picture to Madison and grabbed his hands forcing him to kneel in front of her.

“What you did in that drawing was extraordinary. I can’t thank you enough for it.” Andrew started to say something but Grans shook her head. “Now, when you first started dating my granddaughter I was a little concerned but you showed me that you are an honorable man. Don’t let anyone tell you differently just because you don’t ‘look’ like what they might think an honorable man should look like. Mr. Bowers appears honorable but we all know that he isn’t. Looks are often deceiving.”

Andrew closed his eyes and nodded.

“I am glad that you will be going with my Maddie to New York. I know that you will look out for her and that you will make her happy. Knowing that she has found someone to love with her whole heart who also loves her in return makes the sadness of her leaving go away. You take care of my granddaughter, Andrew.”

“I will, ma’am.” The sincerity in Andrew’s eyes told her what she needed to know.

“Thank you for bringing my Maddie back,” she whispered as tears began to flow down her cheeks.

He smiled as she pulled him into a tight hug. When she released him he glanced at Aaron and Olivia. Olivia was already crying and he wasn’t so sure how she was going to take the drawing he did for her. He had been a little torn on what to do. He and Madison had talked and talked about it. It was the hardest one for him and then he remembered how she had felt bad that she hadn’t taken him when he was a boy so he played on the theme he had done with Madison’s grandma. He turned to Madison who nodded at him. He took a deep breath, picked up the last picture, and handed it to Olivia and Aaron. He then kneeled down before them, his lip between his teeth as a worried expression settled on his face.

Olivia wasn’t able to unwrap it, so Aaron did. His smile spread as he looked at the picture before him. There were two large drawings on the canvas along with a couple of smaller ones. The first was a picture of Olivia sitting on the couch reading a book to a little boy who was lying down with his head on her lap. The boy looked happy. He was wearing a pair of striped pajamas with one of his bare feet dangling off the seat cushion while he rubbed his sleepy eyes. The second large picture was of Andrew sitting on his bed while Aaron talked to him. Aaron’s hands were up as if he were describing something; he wore the compassionate expression that seemed to come so natural for him. In the space between his hands was a picture of a Phoenix. In the other blank spaces, Andrew had drawn a couple of smaller pictures of Aaron and Olivia together, one of them kissing tenderly and the other of them embracing, looking into each other’s eyes.

Aaron breathed in deeply, his heart filled with both love and pride. Meanwhile, Olivia couldn’t draw her eyes away from the picture of her and a young Andrew. How it should have been. Her heart broke for that little boy in the picture. But, somehow she didn’t believe that was the message she was supposed to get from it. She had a feeling that Andrew wanted to reassure her, to show her that he forgave her for not taking him so long ago. She traced the outline of the boy before finally looking up to meet Andrew’s intense eyes.

“I wish it could have been like that, that you could have been my mother,” Andrew’s voice cracked slightly as he fought back his tears. “I’m glad that you never gave up hope in trying to find me,” he finished, feeling tears falling from his eyes.

Olivia couldn’t speak because her throat felt as if it were trying to close up on her, she couldn’t see because her eyes were blurry from the tears she was not able to contain any longer and she was unable to move because every inch of her was experiencing a pain she knew would remain until Andrew returned, if he ever returned.

Andrew could see her struggle and wrapped his strong and capable arms around her. He swayed with her, whispering to her that it would be okay. Aaron put one hand on the back of Andrew’s hair and the other on Olivia’s back. Aaron tapped his forehead to the two of them, telling them in his always calm and comforting way that they would always be together. He knew how difficult this was for Olivia. He had spent the last six weeks reassuring her that it would be okay and that Andrew would come home if it wasn’t.

“I love it, Andrew,” Olivia finally found her voice.

“We will cherish it always,” Aaron earnestly concurred.

“Now that we have successfully made everyone feel like crap,” Madison said nervously as she glanced around and saw not a dry eye amongst them, but before she could say anything else the song changed and Frank Sinatra began crooning New York, New York. Madison huffed exaggeratedly, “Really, Frank, really?”

Madison shook her head and Callie broke out into a fit of giggles as she jumped up and hugged her friend tightly.

“I’m going to miss you so much,” Callie smiled brilliantly at her, refusing to feel sad.

“I’m gonna miss you, too,” Madison smiled at her friend’s always exuberant outlook on life in general.

“Is there dessert?” Jayden asked in the background, slapping his hands on his thighs, needing a distraction, quickly.

Callie smiled and shrugged. “He loves pie.”

“Well, who am I to deny a man pie,” Madison laughed and stood, taking Callie’s hand as they strolled to the kitchen to get the desserts.

The party went on for another couple of hours as everyone finally addressed the elephant in the room and began talking about New York. It started uneasily but ended with a lot of laughter and jokes. As things started slowing down and the girls were helping to put away the remainder of the food, Elias pulled Andrew aside.

“I can’t thank you enough for the drawing. That means a lot to us.” He reached in his pocket and handed Andrew a card. “Turn it over.” Andrew did and saw several numbers listed. “Please, if there are any problems, whether it is with probation, anything, please call me. That’s all my numbers as well as Liam’s. There is no way you wouldn’t be able to reach at least one of us.”

Andrew sighed. “Do you think I’m going to need an attorney?”

He shook his head. “No, but you might need a friend.”

Andrew swallowed and nodded.

“I know what it’s liked to be judged. I thought I could control everything in my life but I couldn’t.” He took a deep breath and then glanced at Liam. “He wanted to leave Texas before it happened. Things were getting crazy but I refused. I was being stubborn. Texas was my home, my career, my life and I didn’t want ignorance to force me out. But…” He hesitated and turned back to Andrew. “Sometimes you need to know when to leave a place.” He looked at him intensely. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Andrew glanced at Madison and nodded. “I’m really scared,” he said uneasily, “But I’m not sure if I’m scared more about messing up.” He turned to Elias, “or her realizing that she’s too good for me and that she’s wasting her time.”

“Madison loves you, Andrew. I can’t imagine that will change.”

Andrew turned to Madison again. He had no doubt that she loved him but he worried that somehow being with him would cause her pain and sorrow, something he didn’t want for her at all. He saw her stand and then her grandmother stood as well.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bennett,” he said as he started to walk away and then stopped, turning back to him. “No one has ever really had faith in me so thank you for believing in me. If you hadn’t stood up for me I would have been in jail versus on my way to New York with the most amazing woman on earth.”

Elias smiled. “You’re welcome, Andrew. Good luck.”

Andrew’s lip quirked up into a small smile, he raised his card. “Thank you for this as well.”

Elias nodded as Andrew turned around and headed over to Madison.

“It’s getting late. I’m going to take Grans home.”

“Let me walk you out.” Andrew took her hand.

After her Grans was in the car, Andrew walked Madison to the driver’s side, kissing her passionately. She immediately entwined her fingers in his hair, moving his mouth ever closer to hers. After several minutes had passed, he reluctantly pulled away.

“I’m going to miss you,” Madison said kissing him again.

“I’m going to miss you too; thankfully it’s only for one night. You’ll be at my place early, right?” Andrew asked.

She nodded as she opened her door and got inside. Andrew leaned in and kissed her one last time before turning to her grandmother.

“Bye, Grans.”

She smiled as he shut the door. Madison watched him walk back inside and then she headed home. She and her grans were both quiet. Madison changed immediately when they got inside the house. She lay on her bed staring at the clock. She then turned to Andrew’s side, wondering how she managed to sleep by herself for so long. She smiled as she got up and walked into her grandmother’s bedroom, sliding in behind her, like she used to do every time she spent the night at her house when she was a little girl.

“Grans, is it okay if I sleep in here with you?” Madison asked quietly.

“Missing Andrew?”

“Yes but…”

“Of course you can, Maddie,” her Grandmother replied before Madison could finish her sentence.

“Thank you, Grans,” she said as she put her arm around her. “I’m going to miss you so much.”

“I’m going to miss you too, Maddie.” She then rolled over and looked at her. “Promise me that you will try to get along better with your mother.” Madison rolled her eyes and her Grans shook her head. “She wasn’t always like she is now. She was once in love, as much as you are with Andrew. Your father’s death destroyed her. She was never the same afterwards. How would you be if something happened to Andrew?”

Madison closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She couldn’t even fathom how she would respond if Andrew were gone.

“Just think about that. I know she can be cruel sometimes and that she doesn’t always understand you but… I lost my daughter a long time ago and one day I will be gone and…”

Madison’s eyes shot open. “Grans, don’t you dare talk like that,” she interrupted her.

“Oh, Maddie, I won’t always be here and when I go she will be your only family, and despite what you think, you need her and she certainly needs you.”

Madison sighed. “Okay, Grans, I’ll try but it goes both ways you know.”

“I know, sweetheart,” she said touching her cheek. “Now, go to sleep, you have several long days ahead of you.”

Her grandmother rolled back over and Madison again wrapped her arms around her. “I love you, Grans.”

“Near or far, Maddie, I will always love you,” She replied as Madison squeezed her tighter.

~*~

Andrew, Olivia and Aaron stayed for another hour before they also headed home. Olivia continued to look at her picture while Aaron drove. As they got to their house, Andrew turned to his Harley on the motorcycle trailer Madison had rented. He and Aaron had secured it earlier in the day. He still couldn’t believe he was leaving in the morning.

“I’m going to make sure I have everything, one last time,” Andrew said as he made his way back to his room.

He looked around and everything he owned neatly fit into one duffle bag and one backpack. He sat on his bed and looked up to see his aunt. She walked in and sat down next to him, holding a couple of pictures in her hand. She breathed in deeply and then handed him the first picture. He looked at her strangely and then the picture.

“Is this…”

She nodded. “Yes, we were twelve there. She was always so energetic and full of life.”

Andrew stared at it. She was young but he definitely could tell it was her. She was wearing the same carefree, on the verge of doing something completely insane expression that he always remembered. But inherently she looked really happy. He started to hand it back to his aunt but she shook her head.

“I want you to have that.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I found it a long time ago and after we lost contact with all of you I often stared at it, wondering if I could have done anything more.”

“I don’t think you could have.”

She shrugged. “Maybe. I also have something else.”

Andrew watched as she handed him another picture, this one a little larger. He turned to her, his eyes immediately watering. “Where did you find this?”

“I was going through my old photo books and there it was.”

“Can I have this?” Andrew asked turning back to the picture of him and his parents.

The picture was the only formal portrait they had ever taken. He was four at the time. It was before his parents started using again, before they left Chicago, before his life changed so drastically. As he looked at the picture, they seemed like a normal family. His dad was wearing slacks and a button down shirt while his mom practically glowed in a pink dress. Andrew sat on his father’s lap in an outfit that matched his father’s with his hair wild and all over the place. His eyes were beaming with a healthy mixture of happiness and mischief.

“Of course, Andrew. I thought I had it and well, I know you don’t have any pictures of them and that your memories of them probably aren’t the best.”

“You know, it’s weird, since I told Madison what happened I have had other memories of them,” he said with a half-smile that didn’t hide the sadness he felt.

“I’m glad to hear that. Just remember, Andrew, you will always be welcome in our home. No questions asked,” Olivia said with a smile.

Andrew frowned. “Why does everyone act like they are expecting me to fail?”

“Oh, Andrew, it’s not that at all. I think it’s…” She paused and touched his cheek softly. “People want to make sure that you know that you are not alone and that no matter what happens you will always have a place. We love you, Andrew, and want you happy and if that means you need to leave then I am all for it.”

He nodded and got up, walking to his backpack. He pulled out one of his drawing notebooks and slipped both pictures inside of it. Olivia got up and walked towards the door. She knew this would be one of the most difficult things she had ever done but she also knew that she needed to let him go. He loved Madison, as much as she loved Aaron, and he needed to be with her. She just hoped that everything would be okay, he deserved happiness.

3 On the Road

Madison felt her grandmother move and knew it was time to wake up. She had all of her clothes packed and in the car already except for the outfit she would be wearing today. As her grandmother moved to the bathroom, Madison changed clothes and made them a light breakfast. They sat quietly and ate, unable to find the right words to say. Madison stayed until the very last minute before giving her grandmother a tight hug.

“I love you, Grans,” Madison whispered against her.

“I love you, too, Maddie. Now go, you have a long drive ahead of you.”

Madison smiled and kissed her one last time before walking out the door. She hated leaving but when she saw her grandmother’s door close, she knew it was time. Of course Madison didn’t see the look of despair on her grandmother’s face as she finally allowed herself to cry over the absence of her granddaughter. Madison sighed and pulled out of the driveway. It didn’t take long to get to Andrew’s place and when she arrived she came upon Aaron and Andrew standing around the motorcycle, talking, but not looking at one another.

“I’m going to miss you, Aaron,” Andrew said kneeling to check the bindings on the bike for the hundredth time just that morning.

“I’ll miss you too but you know… I am always just a phone call away,” he said with his trademark smile and hand on his chest move.

Andrew nodded before he heard Madison approaching.

“Is everything okay?” Madison asked concerned.

“Yes, everything is fine. Andrew just wanted to check his bike again,” Aaron said with a wink.

Andrew smiled at Madison and kissed her lightly. “Let me get my things.”

Madison nodded and watched as he walked away.

“You’ll take good care of him, won’t you, Madison?” Aaron asked and Madison turned, startled by his question.

“Of course I will.”

“He’s been hurt by so many people, people who were supposed to take care of him. I know he’s a grown man but inside, he’s still that little boy in the picture, needing nurturing and love.”

“I won’t hurt him, Aaron, and I won’t let anyone else either,” Madison answered with conviction. “I love him and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.”

He smiled. “Of course, please don’t take offense. He’s like a son to me and I am protective.”

Madison closed her eyes as her brows furrowed. She knew that Andrew leaving with her probably seemed very crazy to everyone, but they loved each other. She took a deep breath; trying to calm her racing heart, when she felt a hand rub her shoulders softly and a kind voice begin talking.

“Your love for him means a great deal to us. It’s the only reassurance we have that he will be fine. He’s putting all of his trust in you and so are we. I know that is a lot to take on, but I…” He paused and took a deep breath. “I had to be sure, Madison.”

Madison nodded.

“What’s going on?” Andrew asked, coming outside with his bags and Olivia in tow.

“Nothing,” Madison said, looking at him with watery eyes. “Do you think you can hook this up, Helios?” Madison asked with a smile, trying to ease the discomfort she felt.

Andrew grinned and tossed his bags on the backseat. “Yeah, Aaron, can you guide me?”

Madison watched as they hooked the trailer to the car. Olivia stood beside her with her arm around Madison’s waist.

“You take good care of him,” Olivia said, squeezing her tighter.

“I will, Olivia,” Madison replied, swallowing hard before looking up to her. “He’s everything to me.”

Olivia offered her a genuine smile and then turned back to Andrew and Aaron. “I could never have children. We tried and tried but it just wouldn’t happen. Finally I got checked and found out I was…well, I would never be able to conceive.”

“I’m so sorry, Olivia.”

“I didn’t know at the time that Andrew was supposed to be my child. That God was trying to gift me with this beautiful little boy.” She sighed before continuing, “I think my infertility was my punishment for not taking him when I could have and for the pain he endured because of it.”

Madison gasped and Olivia turned to her, tears streaking her face.

“It is with great difficulty that I am letting him go. I know he is an adult, but to me, he will always be the little boy I abandoned to a crazy mother and an abusive father.”

Madison shook her head. “Olivia, there is no way you could have known what would happen to him or that you would not have another chance.”

Olivia winced and continued to watch the two most important people in her life.

“But I will say this; you have been more of a mother to him in this short time than your sister ever was,” Madison continued with conviction.

Olivia turned away and wrapped her arms around her stomach, trying to control the overwhelming feelings she was having. Andrew and Aaron both walked up to them. Aaron was well familiar with Olivia’s body posture and knew this was related to Andrew. He immediately kissed her temple.

“I’ll let you say goodbye,” Madison said as she walked to the car.

She got behind the wheel and watched as Andrew hugged both Olivia and Aaron. They talked for a few minutes and then he walked over to the car. He slid onto the passenger seat and immediately grasped Madison’s hand. He turned to her, his eyes bright as the sun.

“You ready to hit the road?” he asked with one of his sexy smiles.

Madison nodded. “I’m ready if you are.”

“I’m ready. I love you,” he replied sincerely.

She immediately felt better. “I love you, too.”

Madison pulled out and they started their trek towards New York. She handed him her phone and he immediately dialed Jamal, leaving a message telling him that they were on their way. That was the condition of his travel. He had four days to arrive before a warrant was issued for his arrest and in those four days he was to check in when he left an area and when he arrived for the night. Madison had loosely mapped out their route figuring on driving no more than twelve hours a day. It was, after all, almost three-thousand miles away and approximately forty-five hours. Madison had done it in three days on her way up; she slept very little and drove extremely fast. She couldn’t do that this time though, not pulling Andrew’s Harley. Her plan was to make it to Grand Junction, Colorado that evening as she had no desire to cross the Rocky Mountains at night.

“Do you want anything?” Madison asked as she pulled into the large parking lot in Barstow where the Starbucks was located.

“Just a plain coffee, none of that fancy stuff you like,” he said with a smile.

Madison laughed as she entered the coffee shop and ordered their drinks. When she returned with their coffees, she found Andrew leaning against the car, looking at a gas station across the way a bit. He looked deep in thought and she almost didn’t want to disturb him.

“Here ya go, Helios,” she said handing him the cup. “You okay?”

“I hitched a ride from this really nice older couple, right over there.” He pointed across the street to the Chevron station. “They tried to convince me not to run away, that whatever my parents did, they were sorry for.” He shook his head slightly. “That seems like a lifetime ago,” he said almost reverently.

“It was a lifetime ago. You are a different person now than you were then, and you know what?” She paused until he turned to her. “We are on this new journey together.”

He smiled and kissed her lightly. “Come on, babe, the sooner we get on the road, the sooner we will get to Colorado, and the sooner I get you in bed,” he said before kissing her soundly.

“Mmm, I like the way you think.” She grinned before tugging on his perfect bottom lip.

~*~

Madison and Andrew had been driving for two days. They had made it to Grand Junction in good time but the drive to Omaha was long and tedious. It took over three hours to get through the Rocky Mountains alone, and by the time they were done, Madison’s nerves were shot so they had stopped at a truck stop outside of Denver to stretch and settle down before getting back on the road. Madison had driven through Nebraska at night when she came to California just three months ago and thought the place must be desolate because there were so few lights to guide her. As she had gone through it again in the daylight she felt that driving at night was almost an easier ride. Andrew had dozed off midway through the state and, for the first time, Madison considered killing him. That drive was the longest stretch of road she had ever been on, endless fields, which had been beautiful on mile one, were monotonous and deafening by mile three hundred and eighteen. She had never been more thankful than she was when she parked at the Days Inn just outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa right on the border of Nebraska. As they entered their room, Andrew dropped their bags on the floor and plopped on the bed.

“I saw a steakhouse a few blocks away, want to go there to eat?” he asked as the back of his head hit the pillow.

Madison nodded. “Sure, that sounds good. Do you want to walk or take the bike?” Madison asked, knowing he would want to ride.

“Pssshh, ride, of course,” he said, jumping off the bed and coming up behind her.

Madison grinned. “Then let’s go, baby, I’m starving and I don’t want your sexiness to distract me.”

He laughed and swatted her behind as he headed for the door. “Meet me outside, woman.”

Madison laughed and gathered her things before locking the door. They traveled the short distance to the restaurant nearby. Dinner was light and fun but both were quick to finish their meal, wanting to be alone. Once they arrived back at the room, Andrew tried to lead her to the bed but Madison shook her head.

“Just a minute, Helios, I need to book our room for tomorrow.”

He sighed dramatically and plopped on the bed in an exaggerated gesture, causing Madison to laugh. He then sat up and watched as she went to the little table and fired up her laptop.

“So I was thinking Cleveland, that’s about eight hours from New York,” Madison suggested.

“How about… Detroit?” Andrew asked in almost a whisper.

Madison spun around in her chair. “You want to go to Detroit?” The shock in her voice was evident.

He looked down and then got up, walking over to his backpack. He pulled out his sketchbook and then the two pictures Olivia had given him. He sat on the edge of the bed and motioned for her to sit with him. As she sat down, he handed her the pictures.

“That’s my mom and Olivia.” He tapped said picture. “And these are my parents. This was when we lived in Chicago. I was four in that picture.”

Madison smiled as she focused on the little boy sitting on his father’s lap. They all looked so happy. She couldn’t imagine, looking at them in the picture, that they would be capable of doing the things she knew they had done. Andrew looked a lot like his dad, except he seemed to have his mother’s hair and eyes. The other picture was a cute one of Olivia and his mom as little girls and she couldn’t help but grin at the reckless abandonment his mother seemed to have even at that young age. She had this air about her that said ‘oh, just try and hold me down’.

“My mom is buried in Detroit. I…” He swallowed deeply. “I would like to go to her gravesite.”

Madison nodded. “Of course.” She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Whatever you want, baby.”

He tapped his head to her temple. “Thank you.”

He brought his lips down her jaw line until they were on hers, enveloping her in a searing kiss, breathing her in as his mouth molded to hers and their lips became one. He laid her down, moving his hands underneath her shirt. She fisted his hair while their kiss intensified.

“Madison, I…”

She didn’t allow him to finish as she pulled him back to her. His body seemed to be trembling and then suddenly he had flipped her over, undressing her quickly. Their lovemaking became wild, almost primal as Andrew tried to fight the fear that was rising within him. For now, he would release it through sex, and tomorrow, well, he would figure that out then.

4 Ghosts of Detroit

They left early the next morning. Detroit was a twelve-hour drive, depending on traffic. Madison started out the trek, taking the first six hours, stopping several times along the way before finally switching over in Joliet. Madison noticed that the closer they got to Detroit, the tenser Andrew became, as evidenced by the grip he had on the steering wheel. Finally, Madison placed her hand on his leg and rubbed soothingly. He glanced over at her with a nervous expression on his handsome face.

“Baby, it will be okay,” Madison said reassuringly.

He nodded and continued to drive. After a while, he pulled off at the Jackson exit, which wasn’t where they were supposed to go. His face looked determined; he swallowed and pulled to the side of the road. He stared outside for a long time before opening the door. Madison got out as well and tried to figure out where they were and why they had stopped. As they crossed the road, she saw it. Two large towers, twelve-foot fences, and razor ribbon wire were a clear indicator to her that they were at a prison.

“Are we… going inside?” Madison asked unsure.

He shook his head. “Baby, you can’t just go to a prison. It has to be pre-approved. They have to run background checks and I’d never get approved anyway.”

“Oh,” Madison replied, looking at the huge fence and the entwined wires. “Why wouldn’t you get approved?” Madison asked curiously.

“Because I have a criminal record,” he stated plainly.

Andrew continued to stare at the concrete wall, unsure why he felt the need to pull off in the first place. He sighed as his eyes closed, remembering in detail the day his father was sent to prison. There was still a part of him that felt guilty. If he had done what his father had told him to do, which was watch for police, instead of looking for food to feed his starving belly, then maybe things would have been different.

“Andrew,” Madison said, touching his arm, lightly. “Baby, someone is coming.”

Andrew shook his head and his eyes opened slightly as he tried to get his bearings again. He glanced at Madison, who had a look of panic on her face. His brows furrowed as he pulled her close to him, trying to ascertain the threat and then noticed two guards coming their way.

“You’re not allowed to loiter in this area,” one of the guards said in a deep voice.

Andrew moved Madison behind him in a protective manner. “We were just passing through. We’ll be leaving now.”

“What’s your name?” the other guard asked.

“Andrew Harrison.”

The guards looked at each other and then back at him. Andrew knew then that they were familiar with his father, which could be either good or bad.

“We’re on our way to Detroit…” He sighed. “Look, my father is in there. I was… curious.” He grabbed Madison’s hand. “Come on,” he said firmly as he started making his way to the car.

The guards watched until they got inside the vehicle.

“Geez, what was that about?” Madison asked, terrified.

“We must have been too close. They have sensors that alert them if anyone is too close to the fence. Did you see the look on their faces when I said my name?” Andrew asked as he pulled the car out.

“No, I was too busy trying not to freak out,” Madison replied with a nervous chuckle.

He smiled but only slightly. “They knew my father. I could tell.”

“Do you think they will say anything to him?”

He shook his head. “I doubt it. That’s not how guards interact with prisoners.”

“Skylar Chase’s husband was nice to you.”

He smiled. “Yeah, that’s true.”

Andrew drove the rest of the way to Detroit in relative silence, lost in his own thoughts. When they arrived at their hotel, he parked in an area that would be easy to get the car and trailer out of. They checked in and Andrew quickly unleashed his Harley. Since they had left so early from Council Bluffs they had arrived in Detroit close to six in the evening. Madison walked out to him and smiled.

“Where to first, baby?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his waist.

All of a sudden, his calm and cool demeanor shifted. He stepped back from her and his hands went to his knees. He took several deep breaths and looked completely lost.

“Hey, babe, ya know, I’m kind of hungry. Can we eat before we do anything else?”

Madison wasn’t really hungry but she was hoping to distract him a bit from whatever ghosts were haunting him. A few seconds later, Andrew stood up, seemingly relieved. Madison smiled and got on the bike, patting the front seat. He nodded and took a deep, steadying breath before he got on the bike as well. Madison’s arms locked around his waist and Andrew squeezed them before finally starting the Harley. As Andrew drove through Detroit, he was flooded with memories as they passed places he remembered as a child and adolescent. His stomach was turning, and he questioned whether it was such a good idea to come to Detroit after all. He felt his heart sink as he slowed down, realizing where he was. He immediately pulled over, needing a second to regroup.

Andrew jumped off the bike, nearly taking Madison with him. He was staring at a building across the street. Madison heard noises and turned momentarily to see several people playing basketball in the run down court behind her. She was worried about Andrew and was now very concerned that maybe it was a bad idea to be there. His expression at the moment was strained, a mixture of terrified and lethal. She touched his arm softly, as she had done earlier at the prison and he blinked several times.

“We lived right across the street. Right where that store is,” he said slowly.

Madison looked across the way. She took his hand in hers, gripping her fingers around his.

“That’s where… it happened,” he continued.

Madison took a deep breath and watched him, his face twisting into something hostile and fierce.

“I don’t know why I came here. This is stupid,” he spit out angrily.

“Then let’s go, Andrew. Screw it and screw them for hurting you and making you feel like crap. I know they were using and that they were unstable, but you were a little kid. They were supposed to protect you. You don’t owe them anything,” Madison spilled without thinking.

He closed his eyes. “Come on, let’s go,” he said, jerking her hand as he moved back towards the bike.

He drove down several more blocks before stopping at a diner. They ordered quickly but were quiet throughout their meal. Andrew only picked at his food, eating very little, not sure if his stomach could actually hold any food at the moment.

“Maybe we’re here so you can say goodbye to them once and for all,” Madison said quietly.

He looked up. “What do you mean?”

“It’s like that story Aaron told you about the Phoenix.” When he looked even more confused she continued, “Well, Aaron said prison was your ashes but maybe you can’t truly fly until you let go of the ashes here as well.”

He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes.

“There’s a part of you that’s still here, Andrew, and, I don’t know, maybe it will always be here, but I think there was a reason you wanted to come to Detroit in the first place and until we do whatever that reason was, you will carry this anger with you. I mean damn, baby. Your whole body posture has changed in the short time that we’ve been here, it’s like your whole aura is off or something.”

He quirked the corners of his lips up, just slightly. “My aura?” he questioned.

“Yeah, your aura, I heard it on Oprah so you know it’s true,” Madison said with a wink.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a sigh.

“You have nothing to be sorry about. I just don’t know how to help you.”

“I don’t know how to help myself,” he said with another sigh and then motioned his head towards the street.

Madison turned around and looked across the street. It was then that she noticed that there was a cemetery there and wondered if that was where his mom was buried. She turned back to him, reaching for his hand across the table, which he willingly gave her.

“I will support whatever you want to do. Do you want to see her?”

He closed his eyes and after a moment he nodded just slightly.

“Okay, babe, let’s finish up first, okay?”

He nodded again and started slowly eating his food. When they had finished, they held hands as they walked outside the diner.

“Should I get flowers or something?” he asked, swallowing hard as he looked down the street at a floral shop.

“That’s up to you, Helios. Whatever you do is okay.”

“She liked those purple flowers. Do you know what they are?”

“Mmm, could be a few things. Why don’t we take a look and see what they have.”

She led him towards the florist and after perusing the flower store, they came out with a bouquet of purple orchids. They walked across the street and Andrew stood at the entrance. He had never actually been inside the cemetery. He closed his eyes, trying to picture where she was buried and remembered the only time he had come there. At that time, he didn’t want to go but he remembered his social worker telling him that one day he might want to visit her gravesite. Andrew opened his eyes suddenly and looked at the flowers in his hands.

“Her grave is in the fourth row on the southeast side,” he said with determination.

He took Madison’s hand and they strolled leisurely through the graveyard. Truth be told, Madison hated cemeteries. She only visited her dad’s grave once and had not gone one single time while she was in California. When they found the fourth row on the southeast side of the lot, they looked at each of the markers trying to find hers. Andrew inhaled sharply when he saw her name.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” Madison said tenderly and then added, “I’ll just be right over there, okay?” He nodded slowly.

Andrew kneeled down and removed the weeds from her headstone, which was simply a plate in the ground that said Kimberly Anne Harrison, Beloved Wife and Mother. He wondered why it didn’t have sister on it and then he remembered that she had said she had no family. He set the flowers over her name and then dug in his pocket for the picture that Olivia had given him. He placed the picture underneath the flowers.

“I wanted you to have that. I think Aunt Olivia would want you to remember that you were her sister too.”

He stared at the gravesite, the picture he had set down in stark contrast to the coldness of the plate. He glanced around the ground and found a small rock. He removed the picture and flowers and unwaveringly scratched out the word sister and daughter under the words wife and mother. He then set the flowers back down and glanced at the picture again before setting it back underneath the flowers. He sat down with his legs drawn up.

“I like that picture. You seemed so happy. That’s the image I have of you now, Mama. I don’t want to remember or think about what it was like in the end. How your eyes had no life in them and how different you became.” He closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears that wanted to escape. “I hated you for so long, but ya know what? I don’t anymore.”

Andrew glanced at Madison who was standing uneasily near a large headstone. She gave him a small smile. He breathed in deeply before turning back to his mother’s gravestone.

“I can see how you can love someone so much that they become everything to you. Your life is no longer your own as their happiness exceeds your own. I know that’s what Dad was to you and I can really understand how hopeless you must have felt knowing he wouldn’t be with you anymore. I don’t know what I’d do if Madison wasn’t in my life.”

Andrew traced his fingers along the etching on the nameplate. He wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to say or do.

“I’m moving to New York with Madison and I just wanted to come by and say that…” He paused and rolled his shoulders before looking down at her headstone again. “I forgive you, Mama.” His breath hitched at the words he spoke. “Do you hear me, Mama? I forgive you. I really can’t carry all of this shit anymore.” He sighed and stood up. “I hope that you have forgiven yourself too.”

He started walking away and made one last glance at her grave. He knew that he would never be coming back again. This chapter of his life was officially closed. He felt a peaceful calmness wash over him and for a moment he felt as if he really could fly. When he approached Madison, she immediately wrapped her arms around him. He rested his head against hers and knew that wherever she was, he would be happy.

~*~

The next morning, Madison and Andrew headed out early as New York was still a solid ten to twelve hours away depending on traffic. The previous night had been pretty solemn. Andrew had held her closely most of the night, he didn’t seem to be having bad dreams, but he couldn’t let go of her either. Andrew had started out the drive on their last day as Madison wanted to be the one behind the wheel as they drove into New York. She knew where she was going. As they crossed into the city, Andrew stared at the massive buildings and the enormous quantity of people walking about. As planned, they dropped off the trailer first.

“Helios, sweetheart, you’re gonna need to keep an eye on me. The traffic is crazy and I don’t want to lose you,” Madison said as he got on his Harley.

“I’m sure I can follow you,” Andrew said with an arch of his brows.

She bit her lip. “Parking is awful in Manhattan. I think the Harley can fit in my space with me but I know someone will probably say something about it.”

“Should I park on the street?”

“WHAT! No way,” she said with a frown. “We’ll figure out the parking later, okay?”

He nodded and started his Harley as Madison pulled out of the Haul-it dealer. Traffic wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was still bad as she worked her way through midtown. Madison was nervous about what Andrew would think of where she lived. She had a nice place in what was considered the theater district, off of 50th street and Eighth, just ten blocks from Central Park. Her complex was nice but not extravagant, yet she still paid upwards of thirty-five hundred a month for it. Madison glanced in her rear view mirror, making sure he was still behind her. She pulled into the underground garage and waved for Andrew to pull up beside her.

“Baby, that’s my parking slot. I think if you park closest to the wall, then I can pull in next to you and still be within my space. I just won’t be able to open the passenger door but I don’t need to because if we are going somewhere in it then I can pull out.”

Andrew looked at the spot, thinking that it was going to be a tight squeeze. Finally he smiled at her concerned face. She was chewing on her lip and her brow was furrowed.

“It’ll fit,” he said before pulling in as close to the wall as he could.

Madison took a deep breath and pulled in beside him. He smiled at her as she got out and popped her trunk. Madison had a suitcase and two duffle bags. Andrew grabbed her bags along with his and was maneuvering them when Madison quirked her brow at him and crossed her arms.

“What?” he asked.

“Andrew, are you seriously going to try to carry all that up?”

“I’m not going to try, baby. I’m going to do it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Let me at least take the suitcase.”

He shrugged and then let go of the handle. Madison felt giddy. It had been so long since she had been home. By the time she got to her door she was practically bouncing. She had left the place completely clean so it was immaculate when she walked in, just a little bit stuffy. She immediately went to the windows in the living room and opened them to let some fresh air into the apartment. She turned to Andrew who was standing near the dining room table.

“Well, what do you think, Helios?” Madison asked as she took his hands in hers.

“This is… Wow!”

“Let me show you where everything is,” she said enthusiastically.

Andrew felt like he shouldn’t touch anything because everything looked expensive. Her dining room was small with an oval shaped mahogany table and chair set. She took him into the living room space where she had a dark couch with matching chairs, a large oval coffee table with two small end tables, one between the chairs and one at the end of the couch. There was a nice entertainment cabinet that matched the tables and above it, mounted to the wall, was a large flat screen television. She also had a couple of large trees, one by the entertainment center and the other by the couch. The windows were nice and large, letting a lot of natural light into the room.

“Obviously this is the living room. I just have basic cable because I am never home enough to really watch anything but I do love movies, as evidenced by the large array,” she said with a grin as she motioned towards the movies like they do on game shows.

“The bathroom,” she said pushing a door all the way open, she then walked into the other room, “and this is our bedroom.”

He smiled at her use of the word ‘our’ and glanced around the room. It was a nice size room with a large king size bed and, once again, matching dresser and nightstands. There were large windows that took up most of one wall and a small amount of another. Madison sat on the bed and pulled him between her legs. He glanced at her as her fingers moved to unbutton his jeans.

“Madison,” he moaned as she touched him.

He stepped back, pulled his shirt off, and pushed his jeans to the floor, toeing his Nikes off as well. Madison had been undressing but stopped as he stood there naked in front of her. He brought both his hands to his hair and ran his fingers through it before crawling atop of her.

“See something you like?” he asked, his voice dripping with sex and innuendo.

Madison licked her lips and nodded.

“Get undressed, Madison,” he said so close to her mouth that she could feel his warm breath.

Madison wiggled out of her pants as he rolled off of her, leaning up on one elbow as he enjoyed watching her scramble to remove her clothing. When she had removed the last of the offending articles, she pushed him back on the bed. She started kissing down his well-defined chest and torso while he moved his hands behind his head. She smiled up at him before straddling his hips with her back facing him. She glanced over her shoulder, giving him what she hoped was a smoldering look.

“Welcome home, baby,” she whispered.

to be continued…

Read Helios Exposed February 21st to find out what happens next!