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Madison's Doubts

Author's Note: This is a romantic companion piece to my romantic suspense short story, "Vivian's Diamonds."

The rosebud glowed in the candlelight of the San Francisco pier-side restaurant, and the strains of classical music wafted gently over the muted murmurs of other diners, but Madison only toyed with her garlic-roasted crab. Across the table, Connor was quiet, as usual, but his eyes kept flitting to hers and then away. His fingers fidgeted with the linen napkin, his coffee spoon, the salt cellar.

She knew it was her uncharacteristic silence that made him nervous. Her heart scrambled around in her chest, while sweaty palms crushed the tablecloth pooling in her lap. Her mouth burned. She gathered her courage to express her anxious thoughts.

Connor, I'm almost 31…

No, no. Connor, we've been dating for 3 years now…

Hm... Conner, I said I'd wait for you to be ready...I said I'd trust God to speak to you about marriage...But haven't you heard anything yet?!

Too blunt? She couldn't do this. Oh, God, if I bring this subject up, does it mean I don't trust You and Your timing? Have You not spoken to Connor yet? Or...is it because he doesn't love me enough?

Stalling, she studied a couple by the window. The man had Connor's short blonde hair and aristocratic features, but the man's face was somehow drawn harsher than Connor's serene, strong countenance. The woman at the other table shared Madison's straight brown hair, but had paler, plainer versions of Madison's dark brows, lashes and eyes, full lips and Kewpie-doll chin.

It looked like a business dinner between coworkers. The man chatted on, oblivious to the stars shining from the woman's eyes, the dreamy smile curving her lips.

Madison felt sorry for her. But unrequited love had nothing on a woman trying to trust in God's timing while her biological clock ticked.

She turned back; Connor's concerned eyes questioned her. She marvelled that God had brought him into her life.

She remembered seeing the light in his eyes, the broad grin he couldn't hold back, the relief in his sigh as he signed the title to his house, after years of saving and investing. She remembered his open, hearty laughter over the phone as he confessed how he accidentally insulted the overseas administrative assistant with his execrable French. She remembered her shock at answering the phone and hearing his voice on the very day he returned from an exhausting business trip of 12 international offices in two months. "Hi, honey! Let's have dinner! I can't wait to see you!"

She had put off mentioning her insecurities. She kept telling herself it was something they needed to discuss face-to-face, not over the phone. And now she couldn't even bring the subject up.

Lord, I thought I needed to talk about this, but…am I pressuring him? Please tell me what to do!

She glanced down and realized her half-eaten crab had disappeared. When dessert came, she took only a desultory bite of the tiramisu. She looked toward the windows again, seeking out the business couple, but different diners now sat at their table.

Connor blurted out, "I got an offer for a promotion."

She had to mentally slap herself out of her stupor. "That's great. But…more travel?"

"No, less travel, but…relocation to the Houston office."

Her heart slammed to a stop, and an ache bloomed from her chest, tightening her shoulders, clenching her stomach. Then her diaphragm spasmed, and she gasped in a strained breath.

Well, I got my answer. At least I didn't make a fool of myself.

She barely heard the explosion. The booming sound rattled the windows, shuddered through the walls and trembled in the wooden floor. It took her a moment to realize it wasn't in her mind--a boat had blown up right outside the restaurant windows.

She finally registered the shrieks and cries, the bodies jostling her chair as people stampeded toward the doors. Connor threw a few bills onto the table before moving to shield her from the crowd as he held her jacket open for her, and picked up her purse.

Outside, flames engulfed a lone fishing boat moored to the pier just opposite the restaurant. Madison heard snatches of cell-phone conversations: "…a gasoline fire?..." "…so strange!…" "…maybe illegal activity?…"

Connor swept her away from the noise and bustle, to the side of the parking lot. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "This isn't a very romantic end to our dinner."

Romantic?! Madison felt a frisson of anger. Was he high? He was breaking up with her! But she clamped her mouth shut on the biting words and felt them cut her throat as she swallowed.

His eyes were darting again, and his fingers scrunched his coat. Madison stood mute, despair chilling her body. Her throat burned, but her eyes felt dry and scratchy. She looked around, to avoid watching Connor.

Her heart thudded to her stomach. There in the shadows was the business couple, the man's arms cradling the woman close. His kiss drank her in as if she were the only thing he needed to live.

Madison's dry eyes started to pool, but she couldn't begrudge the woman for a dream finally realized. She remembered feeling sorry for the woman earlier; how ironic that she found happiness just as Madison lost hers.

The explosion had mirrored the bomb Connor had just dropped. Her eyes returned to the milling crowd, but detached from them, she suddenly realized the senseless panic. No building or person was in danger. The fire department would put out the flames, and life would go on.

Life would go on.

Her heart skipped a beat, and then she was suddenly able to breathe deep again. She was panicking needlessly like those alarmed people. She was worried about her future, worried about her biological clock. She had forgotten Who worked all things for good for those who loved Him. She had forgotten Who gave her strength, Who cradled her in the palm of His hand.

She heard herself say, "You should take the promotion in Houston."

Connor's hands stilled. His eyes fixed on her with an emotion she couldn't read. She reluctantly added, "If you're worried about me…"

He swallowed. Hesitated. Opened his mouth, then closed it. Madison closed her eyes.

His soft voice interrupted her darkness. "After they offered the promotion, I wondered if…we should break up."

She was going to lose it. Lord, please help me not to cry…

"I couldn't ask you to move," he continued, "or keep up a long distance relationship." She heard him swallow again, pause again. He stumbled forward, "And the thought of leaving you was so painful, so awful, that I ran out and got you this."

Her eyes flew open. Something sparkled in the palm of his hand.

Tears gushed into her eyes; the ring was just a blurry star as he slipped it on her finger.

"Madison, remember, you said you'd wait and let God speak to me about marriage for us? My fears about losing you were a clear sign from God. We can stay here or move to Houston, whatever you're comfortable with. But please marry me. I love you."

She couldn't speak. Oh God… Oh God… Thank You God…!

She sniffled and hiccupped. He laughed and folded her in his arms.

"I'll take that as a yes."